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Ralph Hinkley (William Katt in Greatest American Hero)

Greatest American Hero

(Ralph Hinkley)


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Context

The Greatest American Hero was a 1981-1982 super-hero comedy TV show. The hero was given a super-powered red costume, but lost the instruction booklet.

Ralph never actually went by the moniker “The Greatest American Hero” but that name has been used in this writeup for ease of reference.

This profile is primarily based on the first season, though information from viewing of subsequent seasons and other research has been included. The game stats are for Ralph at the end of the series but before “The Greatest American Heroine”, though the history covers that one-episode spinoff as well.


Background

  • Real Name: Ralph Hinkley
  • Note: The character was renamed Ralph Hanley after a man named John Hinckley attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in real life during the show’s first season, but this change was reversed by the start of the second season.
  • Other Aliases: Many of his students referred to him as Mr. H and he once sarcastically used the alias “Captain Gonzo”.
  • Marital Status: Remarried
  • Known Relatives: Pamela “Pam” Hinkley née Davidson (wife), Kevin (son), Alicia (ex-wife), Paula Hinkley (mother), Alice Davidson (mother-in-law)
  • Group Affiliation: None
  • Base Of Operations: Los Angeles, California
  • Height: 5’8½” Weight: 150 lbs
  • Eyes: Hazel Hair: Strawberry Blond


Powers and Abilities

Ralph Hinkley has years of experience as a high school instructor, both in classroom settings and on extended field trips. He is a decent boxer, enough so to assist in training students in the basics of the art (in DC Heroes RPG terms, Martial Artist).

Given his desire to keep his identity secret, he became quite adept at sneaking around (Thief (Stealth)).

The (sort of) famous red suit

The supersuit given to him by aliens gave him:

  • superstrength (enough to catch and redirect a crashing space shuttle)
  • a degree of invulnerability (sufficient to easily ward off small arms fire, though he could be injured by head-on collisions with buildings or moving trains)
  • supersonic flight
  • high-speed movement
  • a form of extrasensory perception
  • and many other abilities

When Ralph uses his suit’s extra-sensory perception the scene he is viewing appears to him (as well as others he is in contact with) in the center of a circular multi-colored nimbus projected against the wall.

Having lost the instruction book for his suit, Ralph’s uses of its powers were often erratic. While he was able to activate some of them without any problems, many others were far less controlled. Numerous abilities were only accessible on very rare occasions, with Ralph being unable to determine how to trigger them again (Omni-Power).


Video

1080p version of the GAH intro sequence with the theme song.


History

Ralph Hinkley was a very devoted high school teacher specializing in remedial education for troubled youths. His life was changed when a group of aliens provided him with a special suit that provided the wearer with superpowers.

He was entrusted with the suit to help others but required to keep his abilities secret from the general public while doing so. Ralph misplaced the instruction book on the way home and thus found himself forced to figure out how to operate the suit by trial and error.

Allies

To aid Ralph on his mission, he was partnered with an FBI agent named Bill Maxwell. Maxwell was able to inform Ralph about various situations that would benefit from his attention and also assisted him in resolving those cases. Despite their profound differences in personality, Ralph and Bill became good friends.

Encounter with the alien ship in Greatest American Hero

Pam, Ralph’s girlfriend was quickly entrusted with his secret and with helping out on “scenarios” (Bill’s favored term for their adventures). This brought Ralph and Pam closer together and they eventually married.

Adventures

Ralph discovered that others had been entrusted with the suit before. Eccentic millionaire JJ Beck was one such person, having made his fortune abusing the suit’s abilities before it was taken away by the aliens and then having lived with the regrets ever since.

Beck sought out Ralph’s and Bill’s help to prevent corrupt partners from taking over his business. The ailing Beck was then taken away by the aliens, apparently forgiven for his sins.

A serious fall-out between Ralph and Bill was resolved when the aliens returned to explain the reasons for giving Ralph the suit — their planet had been destroyed by environmental abuse and they sought to help others avoid that same fate.

The mission solidifies, and then it’s over

Realizing the larger stakes of their missions helped the two men set aside their differences and pursue their work with greater devotion. The aliens provided a second instruction book, which Ralph once again quickly lost while practicing his newly-discovered shrinking ability.

The Greatest American Hero (William Katt) in and out of costume

After several years as a secret hero, Ralph’s abilities accidentally became public knowledge. While he reveled in the celebrity at first, it began to interfere with his heroic work. The aliens returned to fix the situation.

Ralph found a worthy successor to take the suit and the aliens erased everyone’s memory of Ralph’s exploits with the exception of Ralph, Pam, Bill, and the new hero, Holly Hathaway. Wishing Bill and Holly well, Ralph and Pam retired to normal lives.


Description

Ralph is a middle-aged man, clean-shaven with curly hair. He usually wears beige, blue, grey, or khaki suits with a tie. His supersuit is red with white detailing and a black cape.


Personality

Being an idealistic, gentle soul, Ralph’s devotion to making a positive difference in people’s lives began long before he became a superhero. He takes personal responsibility for making sure that the troubled students in his charge were doing well academically and in their personal lives.

He spends many weekends taking them on special field trips in hopes of expanding their horizons.

Ralph was willing to try whatever it took to gain his students’ trust and respect. He even went so far as to agree to a boxing match with Tony Villicana, “the toughest guy in the school”, to demonstrate that he had the skill to properly train his pupils.

Fighting to a draw, Ralph earned Tony’s high regard and Villicana could thereafter be found with the other students helping Ralph with various charitable and educational weekend activities.

Dedicated

His dedication comes at a price, as Ralph often struggles with accommodating the needs of his students, his son, and Pam. This juggling act became even more difficult when Ralph got the suit. He occasionally gets depressed over his inability to give everyone in his life his full attention at all times.

Likewise, when Ralph makes mistakes, he sometimes fears that he is not up to the responsibilities he has been entrusted with. That same sense of responsibility helps him overcome these doubts, simply because he refuses to let them prevent him from doing the best that he can.

Greatest American Hero logo

Ralph’s liberal outlook is in great contrast to Bill’s hard-line conservative views, but both men nevertheless highly respect one another. Though their methods clash, both of them want to serve the public good and that shared goal bridged their differences and allowed them to become good friends.

Pam’s pragmatism helps ground Ralph’s idealism and thus allows him to better achieve those ideals. That same relationship extended to his partnership with Bill as Pam provided a balanced center to the two men’s opposing ideologies.


Quotes

“I… I lost the instruction booklet.”

A little boy giving Ralph advice on how to fly: “You’re not doing it right, you have to take three steps and jump with your hands out in front of you.”

(Screaming and yelling while flying)

(When Bill insists Ralph become a full-time superhero) “I’m not quitting my job. How am I supposed to eat ? Go down to the welfare office and stand in the superhero line ?”

(Explaining the suit to his girlfriend Pam) “Look at it this way, you’re one step ahead of Lois Lane. She never found out who Clark Kent really was.”

Tony Villicana: “Pick your friends carefully huh ? Alright, so maybe I’ll pick a friend.”
Ralph: “Who ya gonna pick, Tony ?”
Tony: “I’ll pick you.”
Ralph: “Hey, Tony, thank you. Thank you. I accept.”

(Noticing a phone booth as he’s about to pull off his clothes to reveal the suit) “Never !…Ah, what the hell.”

“It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s… Ralph Hinckley.”

Bank Robber: “Who are you ?”
Ralph: “The tooth fairy.”

Ralph: “I thought it over and, uh, what I think is that just because this suit is screwing up my life, my career, my relationship with Pam, and the way I view society, that’s no reason to get so depressed, because like it or not, Bill, I have a responsibility. This world needs its heroes, you know. This society needs someone that they can look up to.”
Pam Davidson: “We got that straight from the Lone Ranger.”


DC Universe History

Ralph, Bill, and Pam were active on the American west coast, which traditionally has not been a major focus of DCU stories. Between that and the covert nature of his activities, it would be easy to simply assume Ralph’s career followed pretty much the same course in the DCU that it did in the series.

Ralph and friends simply never attracted enough attention to be widely known to other superheroes.


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

Ralph Hinkley

Dex: 03 Str: 02 Bod: 03 Motivation: Upholding the Good/Responsibility of Power
Int: 06 Wil: 05 Min: 05 Occupation: High School Teacher
Inf: 05 Aur: 05 Spi: 05 Resources: 004
Init: 016 HP: 035

Skills:
Martial Artist (All Subskills except Techniques)*: 03, Thief (Stealth): 04, Vehicles (Land)*: 03

Advantages:
Attractive, Expertise (Academics, Lone Ranger Lore), Familiarity (Card Tricks), Sharp Eye

Connections:
Pam Hinkley née Davidson, Attorney (High), Bill Maxwell, FBI Agent (High), Little Green Men (Low), remedial students at Whitney High (High), Holly Hathaway (Low — while the Hinkleys were planning on “retiring” to a normal life after giving Holly the suit, they could probably call on her if needed and vice versa)

Drawbacks:
Innocent, Miscellaneous (Ralph invariably loses every copy of the instruction book for the suit, leading to the difficulties discussed in the “Sharp Dressed Man” section below), MIF (Flying), Secret Identity

Equipment:
THE SUIT [/Str/: 13, /Body/: 12, Comprehend Languages: 14, Danger Sense: 08, Energy Absorption: 10, Extended Hearing: 03, Flight: 13, Invisibility: 08, Omni-Power: 08, Postcognition: 08, Pyrotechnics: 08, Remote Sensing: 14, Sealed Systems: 04, Shrinking: 12, Super Breath: 05, Super Ventriloquism: 03, Superspeed: 06, Telekinesis: 06. Drawbacks — Miscellaneous (Only Ralph can use the suit’s abilities, the suit’s abilities do not function in the 4th dimension, Ralph has difficulty controlling many of the suit’s Powers (see Sharp Dressed Man for details), Bonuses & Limitations:

  • Italicized BODY only provides Partial Coverage (-3CS Trick Shot to bypass);
  • Danger Sense will alert Ralph to threats against others in contact with him as well as himself;
  • Energy Absorption is Catastrophically Marginal but instead of paying HPs to activate it Ralph instead suffers a related Power Complication Subplot for the rest of the current scenario for which he is not awarded additional HPs;
  • Ralph must run forward three steps before activating Flight;
  • Danger Sense, Postcognition, and Remote Sensing are visual only (usually — occasionally there was audio as well) and require a flat surface for Ralph to project his vision onto (though it can still only be seen by Ralph and those touching him);
  • Postcognition and Remote Sensing require concentration — Ralph couldn’t make any Movement or Dice Actions while using them;
  • Postcognition only works in conjunction with Remote Sensing to see the current location of the owner of the object being examined, only functions if that person is conscious, and is best used with objects associated with the subject’s head such as a hat (+1CS to OV/RV of Postcognition checks using items that do not fall into that category);
  • Pyrokinesis only works on objects behind Ralph, adding a -1CS to AV);
  • Super Ventriloquism represents loudspeaker-style amplified volume
  • Superspeed does not add to Initiative (-1FC]

Sharp Dressed Man

Due to losing the instruction book, Ralph is unable to control the suit’s Omni-Power. As a result, his suit’s Omni-Power does not cost any HPs to activate but is completely under the GM’s control as to when it is triggered and to what effect.

Sometimes, the ability in question is a momentary convenience that Ralph is not able to reliably trigger, such as creating a flameless version of Flame Being by rubbing his hands together at superspeed or mentally controlling animals.

Other abilities were temporarily activated by environmental triggers, such as developing a Fatiguing version of Control after exposure to radiation or an Always On version of Magnetic Control after an accident involving a spacecraft.

In the former cases the Power only lasts for the duration of the current scene, whereas in the latter cases the Power may last for the rest of the scenario (and turning it off may in fact be part of said scenario, since those Powers tended to have inconvenient Limitations).

This lack of control also extended to some of the powers he did have regular access to. Any use of Flight other than straight-forward movement required an Action Check with Ralph’s DEX 03 as AV/EV versus an OV/RV of 02/02.

RAPs equal to or above the RV indicate a successful maneuver, getting RAPs less than full RV still indicate a successful maneuver albeit clumsily executed, and failure to get any RAPs means Ralph tumbles out of control or collides with something (GM’s choice).

Sharp-dressed man (continued)

Landings were even more difficult, requiring the same Check above versus an OV/RV of 04/04. Carrying heavy objects helped his in-flight balance, negating the need for the Flight maneuver Check and reducing the landing Check OV/RV to 02/02.

Other erratic Powers include Comprehend Languages, Danger Sense, and Sealed Systems, which effectively have an R# of 07. No repair is required for failure — the Powers are simply unavailable for the rest of the current scene if the R# is rolled when they are used.

Ralph can periodically purchase new Powers for the suit. Unlike the usual instances of adding an ability to a Gadget, this represents Ralph discovering how to use a previously unknown or uncontrolled ability that was already present. Thus, he does not need to make any Gadgetry or Wealth Checks to add the ability; it is instead purchased as a normal Power.

Examples of this include learning how to use telekinesis from J.J. Beck and discovering how to use Shrinking when gaining a new instruction book (only to lose said book again). Given the often-abstract means to activate the suit’s Powers (such as having to visualize white paper to use Telekinesis), it is easy to understand why working out the suit’s abilities without instructions was a very gradual process.

The suit did not need to be completely put on before it functioned; even wearing part of it was sufficient to allow Ralph access to its abilities. He also seemed unable to use the suit’s abilities when it was covered by other clothing.

Sharp-dressed man (yep, still continued)

When he was pitching on a baseball team he only threw 200-mph fastballs when he pulled up his baseball uniform sleeve and pulled down the sleeve of the suit, which he was wearing underneath the uniform. This may simply be a psychological quirk on Ralph’s part.

While the suit did not cover his head or hands, this did not always appear to be an actual vulnerability. As one example, Ralph was able to rub his uncovered hands together at superspeed until they glowed red with heat without suffering any injury or discomfort.

On the other hand, blows to Ralph’s head tended to affect him normally even when wearing the suit, so he tended to instinctively protect his exposed head when attacked.

Generally speaking, Ralph’s head and hands are protected from the negative side-effects of using his Powers (the aforementioned Flame Being, punching objects using his superstrength, flying at supersonic speeds, etc.) but attacks from external sources affect them normally.

By Ethan Roe and Roy Cowan

Source of Character: The Greatest American Hero (TV series), character played by William Katt

Helper(s): Azrael, Sam Breashears, William Chamberlin, Morgan Champion, Chris Cottingham, Eric Eick, Alan Wilkinson, Ethan Roe

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