Thursday, August 11, 2011

Practical Character Creation for Supers (part 1)

My character concept is: I can do anything! Of course, I can
afford it -- I'll be blue, naked, show no emotion, have a
dysfunctional relationship, be feared by various segments of
society, and have a mystery ubervillain secretly plotting my
downfall as part of his/her masterplan.

I don't have much of a preference between character generation and character creation. It really depends on the RPG itself and the players and the GM.

When dealing with superheroes, however, I truly prefer character creation over character generation. If it's a mixture of both, I prefer the lion's share to come from character creation -- because I don't want to be playing a superhero that doesn't interest me, or worse, has a ridiculous combination of powers that's difficulty to rationalize (and that's something I'm pretty good at).

For the HERO System, there are a couple of great guidelines for character creation [ 1 | 2 ], but I'm going to go at it from a "I wanna be able to do stuff" point of view first, before I swing back towards character concept.

Now, there's a fantastic section in Champions 4th Edition that explains superhero character creation for an RPG from a pragmatic standpoint. It breaks down your character's abilities into four general categories: Offensive capabilities, Defensive capabilities, Movement capabilities, and the "X-factor". If you build a character lacking in any of the first three categories, you'll probably find your effectiveness as a lone hero or a teammate somewhat less than optimal. If miss out on the last category, you become a bland character -- or worse: a wanna-be of some existing superhero.

Offensive capabilities

When thinking about offensive capabilities, understand that -- unless you're Superman -- you can't cover all the bases that well. But you can try, dammit.

Assuming that you can still retain your core rationale for character and power while doing this, you have to think about
  • combat range -- can you attack something well at close range? how about at long range?
  • rate of attack -- how often can you attack in comparison to others
  • multiple attacks -- not necessarily the same as rate of attack, this asks how many targets your attack can handle at once
  • area effect attacks -- not necessarily the same as multiple attacks, this asks if you have an ability that can affect everyone and everything in a given area
  • accuracy -- having a high damage attack is great, but if it can't land on your opponent or if it has a chance of hitting a teammate (see area effect attacks), it's not really that useful
  • power of attack -- being able to hit someone is great, but if it's the equivalent of hitting a tank with a scented stuffed animal, forget it
  • banes -- essentially, keep track if your attacks can potentially do more damage or have greater effect on certain types of villains

Defensive capabilities

In terms of defense, you have to ask yourself:
  • Does my character take hits, or avoid them?
  • Do I want to have one broad type of defensive solution, like a force field, or a bunch of smaller defenses?
  • What possible ways can my defenses be negated, and what do I need to do to avoid those negations or minimize their effects on me?
  • If I am hit with an "x" type of attack, is it acceptable for my character as imagined to (a) ignore it; (b) shrug it off; (c) wince; (d) be stunned; (e) go unconscious.

Seriously, give some thought to this. There's nothing worse than jumping in to save the day only to be one-shotted by a hold-out pistol because you tried to over-optimize your character.

You can check out Part 2 here.


  1. The only thing I dislike about this approach is its rather "gamey." I'd rather players think of a concept that would include a natural cluster of powers. Now, I'll grant there are some perfectly good comic book concepts that would be challenging to game (Cypher of the New Mutants, perhaps, would be one), but a lot of forethought specifically into combat capabilities makes me nervous.

  2. It is indeed a "gamey", pragmatic approach. I do find however that it's quite easy to rationalize something in each of the four areas given most character concepts.

    They need not be combat monsters, but -- especially in point-buy systems -- they should have given some thought to each of these areas. If not, they have no one to blame but themselves.

    Of course, "character concept" -- which is critical to the point-buy system I'm most familiar with -- is a whole other topic I'll have to tackle after these four categories.


That's my side of things. Let me know what you think, my friend.