Hidden Gems (Reviews of the Indie or Obscure); Hit the Streets: Defend The Block

“We’re not your classic heroes. We’re not the favorites. We’re the other guys. We’re the guys nobody ever bets on.”

The Shoveler: Mystery Men

Superheroes have been a part of our culture for nearly a century, and have pervaded many forms of media in entertainment. Tabletop RPGs are no exception. Since the hobby began back in the 70s with the earliest editions of D&D, other genres wanted in on the action too, and superheroes were no exception. Many titles were written and published, from existing properties like DC & Marvel, to original and unique settings created just for their game, to simple open ended sandbox world creation. The biggest hurdle had to be how to mechanically handle and quantify rules governing the ever growing gamut of superpowers that is still growing to this day. Many games have tackled this with varying degrees of success. Some went super-crunchy have attempted to create exhaustive lists and stat of every conceivable individual power that they could bring to mind. Some pared down powers to base effects and modifiers to modularly “build” and customize powers “from the ground up”, allowing reskinning to suit the theme of the hero. This saved time and space by not having to list separate entries for every possible type of blast/attack, force field, or energy manipulation powers, (One for lightning blasts, one for fire blasts, etc. etc.) allowing you to buy the base effect and customizing as needed/desired. As of more recently, publishers of superhero games have been trying a “rules lite” or “narrative” approach to powers and, when coupled with the base mechanics of the games themselves, it works pretty well. Basically, you either have the power or you don’t, and having a power just gives you “fictional positioning” to be able to do anything, or take any action with the power that makes reasonable sense for that power. (So someone with “heat vision” could use it to attack an opponent, or use it to weld steel cables together in order to prevent a bridge collapse, but on the same note it could never allow them to time travel or conjure a plate of spaghetti out of thin air.) This may, depending on the setting or GM include using common comic book tropes for said power. (So characters with superspeed can not only travel considerable distances in the blink of an eye, but they can also disassemble enemy weapons with blinding speed, or make use of the common tropes of running up/down/across the sides of tall buildings or across the surface of water.) While most superhero games tended to try to recreate the full spectrum of superhero comic book stories in their full 4-color glory, others tried a different approach. Some focused on certain tropes or niches in the superhero genre. Some focused on a particular tone, such as being super gritty/realistic, or hearkening back to the goody-goody Silver Age of heroing. This is where you’ll find terms like “Cosmic” or “Street Level” campaigns, and the like. That being said, I now move on to the game featured in this review.

Hit the Streets: Defend the block is the brain-child of Richard Rogers and published by Lost Highway games after a successful Kickstarter campaign. (Backed by yours truly.) HtS:DtB began its life as a hack of “1%er – The Outlaw Motorcycle Game” by Creepy Doll Studios titled “1%er Supers” and being playtested by members of The Gauntlet gaming community (including myself). This game has won the 2019 BAMFsies Award for “Best in Superhero Gaming”, as well as “Judges Spotlight Winner” in the 2020 Ennies.

Hit The Streets is a game about street level superheroes who band together to try to protect and improve their neighborhood. That’s not to say that globe trotting superheroes and even some cosmic level galactic defenders don’t exist within this setting, they do, but YOU AIN’T THEM. You and your team are more concerned with the day to day goings on of your neighborhood and the safety and well being of your friends and neighbors in it. If your world has their Justice League or Avengers level teams fighting evil from their satellite base or mansion, you are more like the heroes of “Marvel Knights” or Daredevil, fighting the good fight before crashing for the night in your junky loft apartment.

Character creation is quick (I’ll get into that later in this review), and a lot of your “session 0” will be spent on fleshing out the “hows and whys” your team came together and creating your neighborhood. This is where the game shines. You don’t just make characters and leave the setting and plots solely up to the GM. No, you, the players will work together with the GM to create and map out your neighborhood. You first basically name your team, decide on a purpose or reason for coming together in the first place. Are you Secret Guardians who protect the area, and unbeknownst to the locals, are living among them? Do you run a “Heroes for Hire” type agency who take on paying cases, or are employed/contracted by some local business or other interest. Maybe you’re just a team of wannabes trying to make it into this superhero gig, or even former criminals who are trying to make up for their past deeds. Once that is done, you will answer a questionnaire about how you typically relate to each other and figure out a little team history. Next is your rivals. Basically, you have a rival team that you interact with on a semi-regular basis, be they a rival hero team that is competing for the spotlight or public affection, a local street gang that has taken your interfering with their operations personally, or even an outright supervillain team. Once that’s done, you get to map out the neighborhood, listing important or otherwise featured locations (Professor Coffee in Scoville Terrace area in Gauntlet City makes some GREAT iced mochas.), and name any prominent locals, friends, family, etc. that your heroes generally care about, as well as any big or troubling issues that may be plaguing the area. (In the game I played, a corporate mogul from a chain of dept. stores {“Allistair’s, we’ve always been here.”} was wanting to engage in some gentrification of the area, and was corporately backing our rival team who were technically superheroes, but at least some of them were taking some shady liberties by running a “protection” racket on multiple businesses.) Of course, the trick here is to, as another game puts it, “Make maps, but leave blanks.” So you have some established locations or people, but you can always add more during play to make it a vibrant and growing setting.

Characters, referred to as “Super Powered Beings” or SPBs for short are the heart and soul of the game, as with any game really, and are easy to create. You start with some basics, you make up their Name, their “Cape Name” (note: if you look on page 13 in the block about “Cape Name” the example mentioning “Tim” is actually me. You can also see this in one of the linked videos below.), Look, decide what their Real Job is, and their Role on the team. Most of these are self explanatory, but Role needs to be expanded upon. There are 6 Roles for SPBs in their team. Leader, The Glue (Team Mom/Dad, Big Brother/Sister, etc.), Wild One (The daredevil or loose cannon, or possibly prankster), Con Artist (The “face”, fast talker or manipulator), The Brick (The muscle of the team.), and the Strategist. While the Role is really more of a guideline for how your character generally behaves, it does have a mechanical aspect in that if any action you are taking can be described as “fulfilling your role”, you get to add 1D to your dice pool. (More on dice pools and action resolution later.)

Next, your SPB has 2 “modes”. The first is “Be Normal”, and the second is “Be Super.” One will have a rating of 1, the other 3, you choose when creating your SPB. Basically, they will either be more in their element when doing everyday things, or will be better at superheroics.

Next are your stats. Each SPB has 6 stats as follows. Your SPB will have 2 of these stats at 3, 2 at 2, and 2 at 1, as selected by you.

  • Head: Covers thinking, deduction, perception.
  • Jaw: Covers talking, persuasion, deception, intimidation, or basically anything that can be done through speech.
  • Heart: Heart is used to help summon Captain Planet, JUST KIDDING. Covers compassion, protecting people, understanding, connecting with other people.
  • Hands: Cover basically anything strength or dexterity related. (Punching, lifting, etc.)
  • Feet: Covers actions involving speed, reflexes, dodging, running and jumping.
  • Tools: Covers anytime you use tools, gadgets, vehicles, or even appliances.

These 6 stats cover pretty much anything a normal person can do, as well as SPBs, but fear not, you also have Powers to aid you in your crusade.

This game has 9 powers. Now I know what you’re thinking. That’s not a lot, but let me assure you, the way powers are formatted in this game, and that they are highly reskinnable, this is plenty and gives you a broad range of thematic choices. Powers do double duty in this game as well, not only do they give you “fictional positioning” to be able to do some really amazing and quite frankly super things, but if you are using this power for an action, you get to add 2D to your dice pool. (With 2 exceptions) All SPBs chose 2 Powers, once chose, they need to be described and detailed, this gives you the ability to skin the powers and describe how they function, work, and appear when used.

The Powers are:

  • Super Stat: This lets you raise one of your stats rated at 2 to 6. So Super Head makes you one of the smartest people in the room, Super Jaw makes you super charismatic, Super Feet hyper fast, etc. (Note: This power doesn’t add 2D to your dice pools because it’s factored in with the stat increase already.) Basically, this can be skinned to be Genius intellect, Super Reflexes, Super Strength and the like.
  • Super Movement: Running, jumping, climbing, blink teleporting, etc. this power gives you some superhuman method of getting around. NOTE: Flying is expressly excluded from this power’s purview. It’s not very “street level” if you can just fly away, or battle hundreds of feet above the city. Sorry, them’s the brakes.
  • Defense: This power reduces all Spark damage by 1. (More on Spark later.) This is the other power that doesn’t add 2D to your dice pools. This power is always on, and can be skinned as body armor, impenetrable skin, force field, regeneration, danger sense, enhanced reflexes or otherwise “being crazy good at getting out of the way”.
  • Perception: This power covers the ability to sense, see, or otherwise detect things. Possible skinnings can be: X-Ray Vision, Super Senses, Radar Sense, Mechanical or Computer interface, Clairvoyance or other sensory ability.
  • Mental Ability: This is your catch-all psychic/psionic power. You can have ESP, Telepathy, Memory Alteration, Mind Blast, or Mental Illusions with this power.
  • Body Modification: This power lets you change your own body in useful ways. You can be stretchy and elastic, or be able to become intangible, Grow or Shrink, shapeshift into the likeness of someone else, or possibly an animal or other object. You choose when you select this power.
  • Substance Control: This give your SPB control over a particular substance, energy, type of object or even magic. You could control elements like earth, water or air, energy like electricity or fire. Manipulate plants, or controlling machines, this power lets you do that.
  • Highly Trained: This is pretty much a catch-all power that covers what the others don’t. Sometimes your SPB doesn’t actually have any “true” superpowers, but is just super crazy good at a particular thing or two. Batman has this power in spades. Explain how your specific training applies to a given situation, and you get a nice shiny 2D to add to your dice pool for that action.
  • Gadgetry: Your SPB is an inventor. They can either whip up handy gadgets or devices quickly, or you “just so happen” to have on hand if such a device can be described as being portable enough to carry in a pocket or on a belt. When all else fails, see if you have a gadget for the job. You can do TONS of stuff with this power. Need to cut a padlock? Just produce your handy dandy laser cutter from your utility belt. Need something to protect an innocent from collateral damage? Maybe you can build a force field projector if given time. Want to fly across town to the mall, NOPE. Nice try, the “no flying” restriction applies to this power too. Clever of you to think of trying this, though.

As you can see, these 9 powers can be interpreted and skinned to make just about any power you can imagine, within reason of course. You’re street level SPBs, so keep in mind that none of your powers will be Earth shattering. (Well, unless you take Substance Control and apply it to controlling earth, then you can shatter small bits of it in a localized area if you like, but not the whole thing.)

To finish up character creation, you determine your starting Spark. Roll 1D+6. This is your starting spark. But remember, your starting Spark isn’t your MAX. There is no MAX limit for Spark, but it will always fluctuate up and down throughout a campaign. Spark is that quality that SPBs have that drive them to fight crime, help the innocent, and try to make the neighborhood a better place. It’s your self confidence and confidence in your team, and is what keeps you going when the chips are down. Hit The Streets doesn’t have an actual HP system, so Spark fills in that niche too. When you run out of Spark you are “Down and Out”, this could mean knocked out, or possibly panicked, or overcome with crippling self doubt, the player chooses how being “Down and Out” manifests itself. If so inclined, the player can choose at this point to make the “ultimate sacrifice” and have their SPB die if they feel it dramatically appropriate and want to try playing a new SPB, but that’s just an option. Death, too, is the player’s decision. At any rate, you can’t do anything “super” while your spark is at 0, but luckily there are ways of regaining it. (More on that later.) Another thing Spark represents is inner reserves for an SPB to push themselves beyond their limits for a moment. You can spend Spark on a 1 for 1 basis to add 1D to any dice pool. But be careful not to spend too much. But what do you do when you get low on Spark, or drop to 0? There are ways to regain Spark so you can resume the good fight. You can do Charity Work, Patrol the Neighborhood, or have a “Bonding Scene” with one or more of your teammates. Charity Work typically has SPBs roll Normal+Heart, while Patrol uses Super+Heart, against a difficulty (usually 2) If you succeed, you gain 1 Spark, plus 1 additional Spark per extra “Pow” (More on that later.) Bonding Scenes usually have the GM awarding anywhere from 2-5 Spark based on role-playing and how many the GM feels appropriate. These scenes could easily be glossed over or role played out. Sometimes it’s that encouraging word from that other volunteer at the soup kitchen, or that smile on the homeless child’s face when you hand them a Christmas Present “from Santa”, or seeing the shop owner’s business back up and running after that robbery you stopped that restores your spirit. Sometimes just some camaraderie with your teammates does the trick. (In the game I played, my team gathered at my character’s loft apartment above his junk store to play some copyright safe retro video games on his collection of systems. My character totally dominated in Dario Kart on the Pretendo Entertainment System.)

Task resolution is also simple and straightforward. Hit the Streets uses d6s and a dice pool mechanic. When you attempt an action, the GM sets a difficulty, and you build a dice pool from the appropriate Mode, Stat, and if applicable, Power, then decide if you want to spend Spark to increase your dice pool. You roll your dice pool and count the dice that roll 4-6. These are called “Pows”. Pows are good, you want lots of Pows. Pows are compared to the difficulty set by the GM. If you equal or exceed the difficulty, you succeed at your action, and additional Pows make your success even more spectacular, but there is often a risk. Each 1 rolled is called an “Oof”. If “Tension” is in effect (if the conflict you are in has the risk of hurting your SPB emotionally, psychically, or physically, Tension is in effect.) then each Oof rolled will cause you to lose one spark, to a maximum of the difficulty of the roll you were performing, even if you succeeded. (Example: if you were performing a difficulty 3 task, then you can lose no more than 3 Spark, even if your roll resulted in 4 or more Oofs.) This method of task resolution gives you a wide range of possibilities and it’s always possible to think of clever way to pair a power with a stat that it isn’t common to be paired with to try a unique stunt or trick to take down a bad guy. Usually Super Movement is paired with Feet, but you may pair it with Fist to make a “charge” attack, or to use your momentum to push your opponent into a nearby pond (after finding out that water cuts out his powers). Combined with the narrative way powers function in this game, and the mixing and matching of Stats and Powers, your SPB can do a lot and be really creative the way heroes in comic books do. When they lose spark, they could either be getting injured or discouraged, which depends on how the GM describes it. Either way, it isn’t boring and you can really come off looking super bad-ass with quick thinking and good rolls. All of this combines to make for a truly street-level feel of superheroing. So, grab your armor, slip on your cape, and put on your utility belt because…

“There’s no use waiting for the cavalry, because as of this moment, the cavalry is us.”

The Shoveler: Mystery Men

Hit the Streets: Defend the Block is available at DrivethruRPG.com in both .pdf, and Print on Demand

Below are videos of actual play. The first one is the aforementioned play-testing that I took part in. The 2nd is another actual after the name change to Hit the Streets: Defend the block, the successful Kickstarter campaign and I think after publishing too.

Published by Tim Osburn

Has been gaming on an off since the late 1990s. Enjoys both tabletop board games as well as TTRPGs.

2 thoughts on “Hidden Gems (Reviews of the Indie or Obscure); Hit the Streets: Defend The Block

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