My twin loves of TTRPGs and superhero comics make me always on the lookout for new and interesting superhero RPGs. Since I’m GMing a campaign of Masks, I like to read other systems to see if there’s any good ideas I can adapt. Since I’ve quite enjoyed Sentinels of the Multiverse, I picked up the Sentinel Comics spinoff RPG, but it was the recent System Mastery podcast episode about it that convinced me I really needed to give it a try.
Though my current campaign schedule is too booked up to add another game, I wanted to at least get a taste of Sentinel Comics’ detailed character creation. What better way to do that than see how well it could make my favorite comic book character, Squirrel Girl.
tl;dr: Quite well. Read on!
Let me start with a quick summary of how Sentinel Comics describes characters.
A hero is defined by their powers, which are superhuman aspects either innate or granted by a mech suit or the like, and qualities, which tend to be more “learned” characteristics. Each of these has an associated die size, depending on how powerful it is (D6, D8, D10, or D12, bigger is better).
During gameplay, you perform an action by picking the power and the quality that the character is using, and rolling both of those dice along with a “Status” die that reflects how desperate the situation has become. (If you don’t have an applicable power or quality, you roll a D4 in that slot.) Your degree of success is then based on the middle of the three values that come up (a.k.a. the “Mid die”).
Additionally, characters have special abilities that let them do more powerful actions than the basic, catch-all abilities of Attack, Overcome, Boost, Hinder, Defend, and Recover, by, for example, using the Max die instead of the Mid, or adding in additional other effects.
Character creation in Sentinel Comics is eight steps that lead you through a process for choosing the powers, qualities, and abilities of your character. Ideally, you’d follow along in the book, but I’ll still do my best to describe how it goes here.
In several of those steps you’re directed to choose from a table (e.g. Background, Power Source). The rulebook’s “Guided Method” tells you how to roll on those tables if you want an element of chance in your character, but I’ll be using the “Constructed Method” to just pick what matches Squirrel Girl the best.
Specifically, I’m going to build the Squirrel Girl from Ryan North and Erica Henderson’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, the series(es) that took Doreen from being a comic relief supporting character to someone with real depth, heart, and a ton of great friends.
Other than the panel for Marvel Super-Heroes #8, all of the comics in this post are taken from either The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (2015) or The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (2015–2019), with words by Ryan North, art by Erica Henderson, and colors by Rico Renzi.
(I might as well say: definite spoilers for The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (2015) #1–4, and some references to other early issues as well. )
Step 1: Background
The first step in Sentinel Comics character creation is to determine where your character comes from. Options include Military, Tragic, and Former Villain. Since Doreen grew up in a modest ranch-style house in Canada, and is an undergraduate at Empire State University, it makes sense to go with Unremarkable. We’ll get to the powers of a squirrel later, but for now we’ll start with the powers of a girl.
This choice gives us a D10 and a D8 for our first two qualities. One of the options is Close Combat, an accurate match for Squirrel Girl’s fighting style, so we’ll pick that. It wouldn’t be a Squirrel Girl fight if she’s not jumping on people, throwing punches, and tossing folks around.
For the second quality, I want to start bring in what actually makes Squirrel Girl unbeatable, because it’s not her physical power. She uses her brain to give herself the edge she needs to overcome problems. More often then not (see her encounters with with Kraven, Galactus, and Hippo) she can find a solution that eliminates the conflict altogether. To represent that, let’s pick Insight to capture how she can read people and determine what’s really going on.
Between the two of them, I think Insight is the D10 and Close Combat is the D8.
This step also gives us a choice for our first principle. Each Sentinel Comics character will end up with two. They give triggers for roleplay, suggestions for Minor and Major Twists that the GM can use, and special Overcome actions that generate Hero Points (the closest thing Sentinel Comics has to XP). Unremarkable prompts us to choose from the Identity category of principles.
Looking down the list (Principle of Ambition, Principle of Detachment…), the choice is obvious: Principle of Peace. Its description reads: “You believe that the ultimate goal of your mission is peace, and that violence is usually not the answer. While not necessarily a pacifist, you can almost always come up with a non-violent solution to problems.”
The only way to make this any more accurate to Squirrel Girl would be to add “…even if you usually do lead off with violence.”
Step 2: Power Source
Where does Doreen get her powers? She used to think she was a mutant, but it turns out that that is neither medically nor legally the case. Nevertheless, something about her RNA or her DNA absolutely falls under Genetic for a power source in Sentinel Comics.
Let’s see where this gets us with our first three powers. We’re carrying a D10, a D8, and a D6 over from the Unremarkable background. She absolutely has the proportional speed and strength of a squirrel, so we’ll need to represent that. It would also be nice to get a power that we can pair with her Insight quality for non-physical problem solving.
But before either of those, we simply must choose a power for her most important asset. It was with her in her very first appearance defeating Doctor Doom. Her signature weapon, you might say: an army of squirrels.
This is a place where Sentinel Comics’ narrative focus is really great. We’re going to use Signature Weaponry, and flavor it as an army of squirrels1. In the comics we’ve seen her direct them to Attack, to Overcome, and certainly to Hinder. Later on, we can pick abilities that will reenforce this flavor.
Now to the other two powers. Agility is her most squirrelesque physical trait, even more so than her super strength, so we’ll start there. For her third power, let’s reflect that non-physical problem-solving she can use with the Insight quality, so we’ll go to the list of Intellectual powers and take Deduction. (Don’t worry… we can still take Strength later.)
As much as we love the Squirrel Scouts, they are only as effective as, well, squirrels, so we’ll give them the D8 and save the D10 for Agility. A D6 in Deduction seems right. Doreen is clever, but not supernaturally so.
Now we get to fill in our first abilities! Two Yellows and a Green.
For our first Yellow, Area Assault (“Attack multiple targets using [power], using your Min die against each.”) is a perfect thematic match for Squirrel Scouts. Many targets, small damage.
For the other Yellow ability, Danger Sense (“When damaged by an environmental target or a surprise Attack, Defend by rolling your single [power] die.”) on Agility is a pretty good fit. While she doesn’t quite have the Spidey Sense that this implies, using her agility to avoid the environmental damage of Tony Stark’s laser alarms is literally a full page panel in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (2015) #2.
Then we get a Green ability. Either of these could work well.
Growth (“Boost yourself using [quality]. That bonus is persistent and exclusive.”) I see working with Insight. This is her noticing something about a situation and turning it into an advantage, which is peak Squirrel Girl.
Rally (“Attack using [quality]. Other nearby heroes in the Yellow or Red zone Recover equal to your Min die.”) with Close Combat could also work, since Doreen fighting to bolster her allies is well within character. That being said, I’m a bit unsure of what the Squirrel Girl flavor on this move would be.
Since I really want to emphasize Doreen’s intellectual problem solving, I’ll choose Growth. And with that, we move on to Step 3!
Step 3: Archetypes
This step gives us an additional source of powers and qualities based on how the character fits in as a super hero. Some examples are Speedster, Reality Shaper, Flyer, and Marksman. While there’s an argument for picking Physical Powerhouse, strength isn’t Squirrel Girl’s most defining quality the way it is for, say, The Hulk. Close Quarters Combat is the best fit.
Close Combat is a requirement for this archetype, but we already have it from the Unremarkable list in step 1. The Genetic power source is giving us a D10 and 2 D8s for this step, so we can pick three powers or qualities, though we have to pick at least one power.
For a power, let’s take that Strength that we didn’t before. Doreen’s super strength comes up enough that we would be remiss to leave it out. D8 feels right for it. She’s stronger than normal humans, but not exceptional for a super hero.
We also have the choice of taking Mobility or Technological powers. Leaping would make sense for Squirrel Girl (for example, her jumping from the ground through the chimney of the Avengers Mansion in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (2015) #1, or taking her mom and Nancy on the Squirrel Girl Express in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (2015–2019) #1), but it seems covered well enough by Strength or Agility that we don’t want to waste one of our choices on it. The Technological powers don’t match Squirrel Girl either. Her aptitude for Computer Science is notable, but not superhuman.
Instead, let’s use our other two choices for qualities that compliment our existing powers. Remember that most rolls are done with three dice: one for a power, one for a quality, and one for the status. Since not having an applicable power or quality means you’re rolling a D4 in that slot, it’s good—for at least the things your character is supposed to be good at—to have qualities and powers that you expect to use together.
We have Close Combat, but we should take a Physical quality that we can use along with our Agility or Strength for non-fighty challenges. With the amount of flipping and jumping that Squirrel Girl does, Acrobatics feels right.
Doreen is a socially adept character, so it’s no surprise that several of the Social qualities fit. We took Insight before and, though Doreen does chat enough that Banter is a possibility, the real choice is between Leadership and Persuasion.
We see Doreen’s leadership capability all the time: organizing the students who have been sent back in time, coordinating Nancy, Chipmunk Hunk, and Koi Boi as they’re setting up against Ratatoskr, and, arguably, any time she’s directing the squirrels. We’re going to want something we can roll with the Squirrel Scouts power, and Leadership is a great candidate.
On the other hand, Doreen is consistently trying to persuade people. She gets Kraven to go straight. She convinces Hippo to get a job in demolition instead of robbing banks. She even talks Galactus out of eating Earth. When half of all Squirrel Girl stories involve her talking someone out of something, Persuasion feels like a really strong fit.
Now, we are going to get one more quality in the next step, and it’s a custom one we make up based on our hero’s backstory. It’s because of that that we’ll choose Leadership here, to represent directing the squirrels and co-ordinating her team.
Is Squirrel Girl better at leadership or acrobatics? It’s tough to say, but I think at least in the comics she’s very rarely unsuccessful at anything around movement or agility, so—as much as mechanics-wise I’d like to have a D10 to pair with Squirrel Scouts’s D8—Acrobatics should get the D10 and Leadership the D8.
This step’s not over yet because now we need to fill in some abilities! We get three Green and then one Yellow.
Because of our archetype, one of our Green abilities has to use Close Combat. For that, let’s go with Offensive Strike (“Attack using [power/quality]. Use your Max die.”). It’s useful to have a strong, straightforward attack. This is Squirrel Girl just getting in there and taking out a room of mind-controlled Avengers.
Flexible Stance (“Take any two basic actions using [power/quality], each using your Min die.) could work with either Squirrel Scouts to represent them splitting up and doing several things, or Agility for Squirrel Girl’s squirrel-like mobility. If we chose Squirrel Scouts, though, there’s some move redundancy with Area Assault, so let’s choose Agility.
We absolutely need to use Squirrel Scouts for our last Green action, though: Precise Strike (“Attack using Squirrel Scouts. Ignore all penalties on this Attack, ignore any Defend actions, and it cannot be affected by Reactions.”). Why this ability, you ask?
Our Yellow ability should be something that happens in the middle or end of a fight. How about Throw Minion (“Attack a minion using [power/quality]. Whatever that minion rolls as defense Attacks another target of your choice.”)? It’s literally part of how we’re introduced to Squirrel Girl in the first issue. Strength seems like the right call, and we can use it because we don’t have it in any of our Green abilities.
The final part of this step (whew, it’s a long one!) is to get our second principle. This time we’re choosing from the Responsibility principles and, unfortunately, it’s somewhat of a process of elimination.
While Doreen does have a secret identity, it’s nominal at best and rarely factors into her stories, so Principle of the Mask isn’t a great fit. She also has a family, though they mostly show up to embarrass her in front of her friends (to at least Nancy’s delight), so neither is Principle of Family.
Squirrel Girl at first glance doesn’t feel like a traditional detective, but because so many of her stories are about finding a weakness, or the hidden truth that turns the situation on its head, Principle of the Detective is our best match. It says: “You can always tell when an important piece of information is being left out or obscured, though you might not know exactly what it is.”
Step 4: Personality
This step determines our configuration of status dice and our “Out Ability,” which we use when we’re knocked out of the fight. A lot of the choice here is how we want our status dice to progress as the scene plays our or we lose health. Do we want to be stronger at the beginning of the fight or at the end?
The way I describe Squirrel Girl’s strategy is that she always fights first. She leaps out of a tree fists first shouting “you’re a dude who suuuuuucks!” She tried to fight Galactus! It’s her first instinct, it’s her go-to, and it almost never works. She tries something, it fails, she thinks, she investigates, sometimes she gets captured, she figures out the real solution, and then she comes out on top.
Because of that arc I’m picking Natural Leader. Besides reinforcing Doreen’s previously-mentioned leadership abilities, it has escalating status dice. She’s a D6 in Green, but then grows to a D8 in Yellow and finally D10 in Red. That improvement as circumstances get more dire—while certainly not unique among superheroes—feels very Squirrel Girl to me. That the Out Ability is a boost to allies is also very in-character. I picked Insight as the quality to use it with because I definitely see a subdued Doreen still calling out advice from what she’s noticing.
At this time we also add in our custom quality that I mentioned before. I was tempted to put in something like Partially Squirrel Blood and leave it at that, but I think her squirrel side is actually well-represented by the other powers and qualities.
What I want here instead I’m calling #1 Pal. Doreen’s whole character is defined by friendship, by caring, by compassion for others. We see it with her ever-growing group of friends. We see it with her enemies. We see it with her ever-growing group of friends who used to be her enemies. I mentioned persuasion before. Yeah, she’s persuasive, but it’s not car-salesman, fast-talking, convince-you-of-anything persuasive. She’s persuasive because she connects with people. She sees who they really are and she cares enough about them that she truly wants to help and they believe it.
And when a villain is beyond help?
Anyway, it gets a D8.
We have a fair bit of choice when picking our two red abilities in this step, since we could choose from among the Athletic Powers, Hallmark Powers, Intellectual Powers, Physical Qualities, and Social Qualities lists.
If we wanted even more Squirrel Scouts abilities we could pick one of the Hallmark Powers options, but we already have two (as tempting as Ultimate Weaponry is).
Let’s instead go to to the Social Qualities list and tap into a side of Squirrel Girl that’s a significant part of her character but we haven’t yet brought in: her willingness to put her body on the line to defend her friends. Heroic Sacrifice (“When an opponent Attacks, you may become the target of that Attack and Defend by rolling your single Red zone die.”) fits this perfectly. (And hey, our Red zone die is a D10. Not too shabby.)
For the other red ability, the Social Qualities’ Ultimatum (“Hinder using [quality]. Use your Max + Min dice. Boost yourself or an ally with your Mid die.”) will give us a way to Hinder using Insight. We already took Growth that lets her boost herself with Insight, but this gets us the other side of Squirrel Girl’s awareness and understanding: spotting weaknesses that she and her friends can take advantage of.
Step 6: Retcon
Now we have the opportunity to tweak one thing that we’ve already done to try and match our character concept better. We can swap dice, change the power or quality used in an ability, or even add a power or quality at D6.
This could be our opportunity to bring in Leaping officially, or add the Squirrel-a-Gig as a Signature Vehicle. Should we swap some dice to make #1 Pal a D10? Though, wait, it’s a Ryan North book. Computer Science comes up all the time! Shouldn’t she have Technology?
I think, though, that the right call is to add the Presence power at D6. This is Doreen’s force of personality that’s so tied with those Leadership and #1 Pal qualities. If I think about the climax of the first arc with Galactus, which is the defining Squirrel Girl story for me, there’s a Strength/Close Combat roll when she kicks him, a Deduction/Insight roll to discover what he really wants, and Presence/#1 Pal roll to convince him to trust her and try the nut planet.
Step 7: Health
This one’s easy! Choosing to take the 4 rather than roll a D8, our max health ends up at 32.
Step 8: Finishing Touches
And now, to fill in the physical description, pick which uniform we want to go with (the one Nancy made at the beginning of the second series, of course) and wait… what’s this, rulebook?
“If you haven’t renamed your abilities yet, go over them and come up with some snappy names that fit your hero, filling them in the Name slots in the ability section of your hero sheet.”
Custom ability names?!? Get out.
Growth: Boosting with Insight. You are now Think, Squirrel Girl, Think.
Offensive Strike: Our strong physical attack. Gotta be Eat Nuts, Kick Butts.
Flexible Stance: Doing two things for one action. Let’s reference our girl’s theme song and choose Yes She Can, Easily.
Precise Strike: This is the squirrels-getting-in-Whiplash’s-mouth move. We should just use what Doreen called it: Chuk Chitty Chit Chit Chkk!!
Danger Sense: Avoiding damage with agility? Saw this already: Squirrel Agility Abilities, What What!!
Area Assault: This is squirrels attacking multiple targets. We really should have Tippy-Toe in here somewhere, and we can do it with a Nancy quote as well: Tippy, Go Nuts.
Throw Minion: Remember when she threw the muggers? Reevaluate Your Life Choices.
Heroic Sacrifice: Jumping in to defend her allies? I’ll reference her fight with Brain Drain and say Nobody! Threatens! To Eat My Friends!!.
Ultimatum: Using Insight to both Hinder and Boost. You know what fits here and is an ongoing gag that we haven’t mentioned yet? Deadpool’s Guide to Super Villains.
And that’s it! Here’s the final PDF. I hope you learned something about Squirrel Girl and/or Sentinel Comics.
I’m so used to the playbooks of Powered by the Apocalypse games that a character creation process that’s like its own little game in and of itself is a real treat. (If I were to be a player, I would probably take my chances and roll on the tables to see what comes out.)
Nevertheless, when thinking about a new superhero RPG, the question I have to consider is “why run this instead of Masks?” Perhaps that’s best answered by “because The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is not a Masks story.” I mean, what playbook would she be? A Protégé to an unwilling Tony Stark? Possibly a Bull, but who’s her rival? A Janus who’s out to all her friends and only occasionally goes to class?
I could see Squirrel Girl as a Beacon in an (ugh) New Avengers game, but her own story is not one of struggling to understand who she is while navigating the influence of others.
She knows exactly who she is2, and her stories are about being smart and compassionate and using even the non-superhuman parts of herself to do heroic things. And I think that this character build in Sentinel Comics would really do that.
- Another way of doing this might be to take the Minion-Maker archetype in Step #3 and use its rules for bringing out ally Minions. “Making” would be flavored as “calling” and the individual Minions would be groups of squirrels. Though this would be the perfect way to represent the Squirrel Suit from The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (2015) #3, where she leaves a group of squirrels behind to fight bank robbers, it’s less true to how her squirrels generally work in the comics. She’ll call on them to attack, or restrain, but they don’t typically operate independently the way they would if they were their own Minions. She does her own thing, and then sometimes they help out.↩
- Danger -1, Freak 0, Savior +1, Superior +1, Mundane +3 (locked)↩