Monday, March 16, 2020

The Superhero Game

Leftover notes from a game I was going to make for some friends. I don't know that this fully works but it works enough, as well as a lot of those one-page rpgs do at least.....

Origin Story: This grounds you in a place and background, and the attendant connections, experiences, and knowledge you possessed before becoming a super-person. This is also how well you can relate to your friends, enemies, and strangers, like a normal person.
Secret Identity: This number represents your real-world "job" and lifestyle; the kind of skills you could reasonably study up without super-abilities; and your ability to balance your private life and your public life, even if your "private life" is "Billionaire playboy who is Iron Man sometimes." It comes with a suite of job contacts.
Alter Ego: These are your powers and abilities beyond mortal men. Name something you can't do. This is that, as well as your general standing and connections in the super-world.

You give each of these a descriptive name/trait like Over The Edge or Risus so we know what capabilities are or aren't implied.

Rate one at d10, one at d12, and one at d20, in order of how important each of these is to your hero concept. The name of the game is to roll low. When you're rolling against an opposing character/force, the DM will roll whatever die assigned to that baddie. The lower the die, the badder the dude. When rolling against a modeled difficulty the DM rolls the same die as the player.

Low roll wins. The DM always has the option of trying to roll the next highest die and try to roll a lower number on a larger die. The player and DM can go back and forth like that until one side fails, upt to 1d20+1d10. The Players on the other hand always have the option to roll against any challenge - even ones normally outside of their skillset - using a d100, as a sort of Luck mechanic. The DM can't try to one-up a successful d100 roll.

Every time a player rolls the max number on one of their die actions, they take a point of Struggle. As long as you can roll over your Struggle on your Hero Dice you're still up and fighting. If you fail a Hero roll you might be temporarily taken out of the fight from harmless incapacitation, injury, or mortal peril. Don't worry about that too much, mortal peril is always relative with superheroes and isn't the obstacle to overcome it would be for us normal dudes. Hero Dice increase by level:

Level 1: 1d6
Level 2-3: 2d6
Level 4-6: 3d6
Level 7-11: 5d6
Level 12: 6d6

The DM rolls 1d100 and gives that out as XP at the end of a session but can give out XP for other things. Every 2000XP you can Advance and take one of your three attributes down a die size. If this happens mid-session then everyone is awarded some kind of inspiration/rallying bonus by the DM. Call every "level" after 5000XP from here on and add another Hero Die for every two levels

At level 12 you've gotten every trait down to a d4 so every "level" after that you can start generally making permanent improvements in the world (Domain play in a super game?) starting at d20+d10 (instituting a global teleportation network for example).

(Alternatively, use the TSR Marvel Super-Hero Universal Chart and rate one at Remarkable, one at Excellent, and one at Good. Use your Alter-Ego for HP, Origin Story for Karma Points, and Secret Identity for Resources and Popularity. DM has the option to use built-in Karma mechanics to allow rewards but because that game hatttttes advancement your characters will be pretty stable, so allowance should be made for improvements in-fiction)


For super powers do one of three things:

1) Just say "Like Iron Man" and your character's strengths and abilities will be assumed from whatever the DM knows about Iron Man. Not what you know, what the DM knows.
2) Do a random roll on the Ultimate Powers Book from TSR's MSH at and figure out coverage and limitations as we go
3) Name an obscure or obtuse Grant Morrisony superpower and define it with three things it CAN do and three things it CAN'T do

For feeling out the range of your abilities you can try a stunt and depending on how much of a reach the DM may either let it happen or make you do a harder roll starting with d20+10/d30. Next time you attempt it it's an easier roll, and it keeps getting easier until you're making your normal roll. If you make it there before three failures then this is something your guy Can Do. If you fail three times before you lock in a stunt this is something you Can't Do and those times it worked must have been one in a million chances. You can develop any number of things you Can Do until you've developed a list of five things you Can't Do. Feeling out "stunts" for your Secret Identity and Origin Story are up for grabs too I guess? DMs won't make you work for something that should be obvious gets, though, so you can rack up Can Dos quickly.

Also, you can earn a POW! Point by voluntarily attempting a harder roll than you have to. You get the PP (heh) whether you fail or succeed, and you can spend the PP to let a fellow hero have an easier roll. You can't have more PP at once than your level number.


  1. I am all about the obscure or obtuse Grant Morrison-y powers.

  2. I personally like the concept. I'd really like to see more (or any) superhero games that don't rely on hundreds of pages of abstract power lists and their point costs to make heroes.

  3. I really like the idea of putting more weight on your character's origin story and secret identity. I feel like those don't get enough playtime.