Fantastic tabletop roleplaying games, be it classic dungeon crawling systems like dungeons or spectacular superhero role-playing games like Mutants & Masterminds, often have rules and game mechanics to represent people with superhuman abilities such as magic or mutations. These “superpower rules” are generally the end product of countless hours of playtesting, carefully calibrated to be fun for players but not so overpowering as to invalidate other superhuman abilities in the RPG. However, it is possible for DMs and/or players to create their own homemade superpower rules for their own original RPG campaign; They just need to understand what makes certain superpowers interesting and how they fit into the core principles of the game system they are using.
Not long after release and resounding success from early on dungeonsTabletop game designers jumped on the bandwagon with their own RPG products – dungeon-crawling games with simpler or more complicated rules than D&D, along with RPGs built around genres alongside sword and sorcery. The first role-playing games in the superhero genre, Superhero: 2044 and villains & vigilantes, was released in the late 1970s and was packed with interesting, unique rules for creating superhero characters and simulating the crime-fighting stories so iconic of Western comics. However, the rules for superpowers in these systems were very minimal and vague as the designers of this game wanted GMs and players to design their own custom powers.
More modern tabletop role-playing games with superhero themes such as Mutants & Masterminds and the mythical fantasy game sublime Simulate the diverse abilities of superheroes and demigods by giving players rules for very abstract abilities—fast movement, supernatural strength, invisibility, hurling non-physical projectiles—then have players add narrative to their characters’ power sets Add flavor and unifying themes. In such systems, a martial arts roleplaying pc that augments its movements with “Qi” life energy could have the same powers as a pc with insect body parts. Both those classless “point buy” RPG systems and D&D-Style class RPG systems can be “hacked” by Game Masters or players looking to introduce new types of superpowers into the game – especially if they follow the tips and tricks below.
To design new superpowers, explore RPG design principles like D&D’s Bounded Accuracy
When designing superpower rules for tabletop roleplaying games—what these powers can do, what dice players should roll when using them, how often these powers can be used—GMs and players should always try to understand the basic design principles of the roleplaying system that they are use to ensure that the forces they design are balanced. In the rules of dungeons 5e for example there is an unspoken design concept called “Bounded Accuracy” where a player rolling a d20 on skill checks, attack rolls or saving throws should not get a higher result than 31, even with attribute bonuses, spell buffs, enchants items and so on.
This hard limit on the possible outcomes of dice rolls is added D&D 5e lets Dungeon Masters continue to challenge high-level players with worldly obstacles. This can include locked doors or swarms of weak but numerous monsters – while allowing players to build effective characters without having to rely on magical weapons and armor. Consequently, anyone trying to design a new character class, spell, or superpower for D&D 5e must adhere to this Bounded Accuracy principle if they do not want to stop the game.
When designing new D&D power rules, consider opportunities for developing superpowers
Most tabletop RPGs are inherently about growth and ingenuity. As a classic RPG campaign continues, player characters “level up,” unlocking new abilities while improving the effectiveness of old abilities. For the same reason, tabletop RPGs centered around gods, mythical heroes, or other superhuman beings should offer players ways to improve or expand the scope of their PC’s superpowers (unlike Western comics, where superheroes have a fixed Set of Gain and Keep Superpowers or Gadgets).
in one D&D-style RPG system with character classes, players frequently unlock new abilities and spells within their class’ area of effect while rolling bonuses for old abilities increase. Other superhuman RPG systems, homebrew or otherwise, may have more free-form rules to represent how precisely or creatively PCs can use their superpowers. For example, the system-independent superhero tabletop role-playing system Authorize introduces six special “Edge” attributes, referred to as “Edge”. Control, destruction, movement, protection, spectacleand utility, depicting a PC’s talent for using their power in delicate, precise, or brutal ways.
This range of skills in Authorize are mechanically similar to the magic rules Mage: the Ascension, a gothic-punk RPG about modern-day, reality-warping spellcasters. In the above system, players improve their PC’s magic by adding “points” to the results of magic affinities, such as: force, time, matter, spirit, or Entropy. The higher these scores, the more dice a player can roll when their character attempts to cast new magic in those special categories.
Study the power creation rules of superpower RPGs when hacking RPGs like D&D
Chris Birch, the founder of games company Modiphius Entertainment, once said that this is what tabletop game designers should do “Read so many role-playing books [they] don’t go around claiming [they’ve] created the “ultimate game” that no one ever thought of because it’s probably been made before.” With that in mind, if a DM is designing a brand new tabletop RPG where players can design their own custom superheroes with custom superpowers, they should study the rules and design principles of other superhero-focused RPGs.
Even if a game master hacks an existing RPG system dungeons, It’s still a good idea to study the rules and approaches of role-playing games where players can build their own superpowers. Mutants & Masterminds and Trinity Continuum: Aberrant are good examples of the Build your own Superhero RPG, as well as the sourcebook funded by Indiegogo Requirements: From the Ashes, an upcoming addition for Sublime: 3rd edition This allows players to design fantasy heroes who gain themed powers from gods great and minor. By understanding the internal logic of the superpower design rules in these games, GMs can adapt their design principles to the RPG they are trying to modify.
Next: How to test your own tabletop RPG designs
Taika Waititi has a hilarious reason for a nude Thor scene in Love & Thunder
About the author