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View Full Version : Powers and Limitations/Weaknesses: How to set it up?



Mr. Mask
2013-03-26, 09:34 PM
Some of you might have heard of Death Note, Code Geass, Superman, Vampires, or other such creatures. Who am I kidding... ALL of you have heard of at least two of those things!

The thing they have in common, is super powers with limitations, and sometimes drawbacks. If you think about it a moment, you probably see how these guys aren't so interesting without those vulnerabilities.


So, I bring the question to you wise sages of pop-culture: How does one go about designing these? How do you invent the deathnote, or the vampire, the geass or superman? Generally, I feel you start with some particular, interesting strength--then expand upon it to make the power more deep and interesting.

I get that basic idea... but the "how" is giving me trouble. I can't just tack on weaknesses--they have to work out to be interesting for story/gameplay, and preferably make sense.


So, how would you go about it, designing an amazing power with weaknesses, limitations, and depth?

saxavarius
2013-03-26, 09:49 PM
Look at things like anime (code geass comes to mind), comics, and games. Give a drawback that makes someone reluctant to use their power (stop time but you age faster the more you use it). get creative. There were two green lanterns (can't think of which ones) that were weak to the COLOR yellow or wood. Seriously go nuts, get weird; you players will remember the odd weaknesses more than the boring semi-predictable ones.

Kornaki
2013-03-26, 10:19 PM
Weaknesses like kryptonite are bad for gameplay from a mechanical standpoint... superman just roflstomps every encounter until he gets to kryptonite, and then someone else does everything. None of the encounters are particularly interesting for superman though - he either wins or sits it out. Only the kryptonite encounters are interesting for the other players - the rest of the time they just watch superman smash face.

So a weakness (and similarly a strength) should be something that can come into play every encounter, or at least most encounters, as opposed to by DM fiat when it occurs. Vampires and sunlight is another example - the players will never go out during the day, so it's up to the DM to decide how much that punishes them on a story level, which isn't very good mechanically.

Preferably the weakness occurs whenever the strength is used, otherwise they'll just spam the strength and hope the weakness never hits. For example, vampires can drain blood to heal but are repelled by holy symbols - they'll just drain blood every chance they get, and if holy symbols pop up well, they'll just have to try to avoid that.

A more interesting mechanic might be that vampires can drain the blood of holy men for super strength for the next 24 hours. But they're also repelled by holy symbols. Now instead of just cursing holy symbols and the DM when they show up, and going around sucking blood, the players are simultaneously wary and excited of the opportunity that exists when they fight a priest.


Powers that have plot weaknesses, like using a Death Note has a risk of being caught by a super detective, are also weak mechanically because it is again up to DM fiat to decide if they're caught. And typically it will be something like "I use it in a way that prevents me from being caught." And then you either roll an intelligence check to see if he gets caught which is lame, or you ask him to describe more details and now you've assigned yourself the task of figuring out whether a monthlong police investigation with no metagaming can figure out the pattern of kills, which is something you can't really do

Jay R
2013-03-26, 10:52 PM
My experience, particularly with Champions and Flashing Blades, is that weaknesses work well with an involved DM, and work poorly otherwise.


Weaknesses like kryptonite are bad for gameplay from a mechanical standpoint... superman just roflstomps every encounter until he gets to kryptonite, and then someone else does everything. None of the encounters are particularly interesting for superman though - he either wins or sits it out. Only the kryptonite encounters are interesting for the other players - the rest of the time they just watch superman smash face.

Good example. The problem you're documenting is primarily that Superman is so much stronger than anyone else. It has nothing to do with Kryptonite. In a well-balanced game, that doesn't matter.

The correct use of Kryptonite is to set up hard choices. Lois Lane is held by Kryptonite chains. Superman *has* to try to rescue her anyway.

But I agree that I prefer weaknesses that weaken, rather than completely neutralize, the hero. The ideal Kryptonite reduces Constitution, or some such, rather than making him collapse.

(And if one hero is that much stronger than the others, then you use multiple threats. Superman has to try to stop the flood while the others evacuate the town, or he has to fight the super-strong villain.)


So a weakness (and similarly a strength) should be something that can come into play every encounter, or at least most encounters, as opposed to by DM fiat when it occurs. Vampires and sunlight is another example - the players will never go out during the day, so it's up to the DM to decide how much that punishes them on a story level, which isn't very good mechanically.

As a player, my ideal power weaknesses are ones that we would all assume anyway, simply because it makes sense. My fireball doesn't work underwater or in vacuum, for instance. My rubber character doesn't stretch in freezing cold.

It's the DM's job to use my weakness, not mine.

prufock
2013-03-27, 07:47 AM
Are you talking about how to model it or how to invent it?

To model it, basically this (http://www.d20herosrd.com/2-secret-origins#complications).

To invent it, take your power, figure out how/why your power works (comic book logic is fine here), then research the heck out of it through wikipedia. You will definitely stumble across something that can be defined as a weakness.

Yora
2013-03-27, 07:58 AM
Good design starts with a mundane character to which you add a few well selected and limited powers. That way, they have all the limitations of normal people except for where their specific powers apply.
Starting with omnipotence and then taking on a gimick that creates new weaknesses like Superman or the more dumber Shonen-Anime, does tend to result in silly characters and plots in my oppinion.

Arbane
2013-03-27, 11:14 AM
Remember, a disadvantage that never comes up _isn't a disadvantage_.

Mark Hall
2013-03-27, 02:27 PM
Look at things like anime (code geass comes to mind), comics, and games. Give a drawback that makes someone reluctant to use their power (stop time but you age faster the more you use it). get creative. There were two green lanterns (can't think of which ones) that were weak to the COLOR yellow or wood. Seriously go nuts, get weird; you players will remember the odd weaknesses more than the boring semi-predictable ones.

Alan Scott, the original (Golden Age) Green Lantern was vulnerable to wood, while most Green Lanterns in the silver age and later were vulnerable (i.e. their ring's constructs would not work on) to yellow. This ended with Kyle Rayner, and was retconned into being that yellow was the color of Fear, and Fear was one of the few things that could break Will, which powered the Green Lanterns.

--Superhero in the Playground

Jay R
2013-03-27, 05:34 PM
Remember, a disadvantage that never comes up _isn't a disadvantage_.

Depends on what version of "never comes up" you're using. A disadvantage that affects my play at all times to make sure it doesn't become active is in fact a disadvantage.

Assume a D&D character with a pathological hatred of elves. But to avoid having him attack the elves, the party always avoids them. Every time it would help the party to talk to the elves, they go elsewhere instead, and never get any help from the elves.

The hatred didn't come up in the sense of having him attack elves, but it affected their choices and limited their options. That is a perfectly good use of a disadvantage.