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Michael Hopcroft

Powers as Keywords

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In the Supers genre, I'm torn between using a single keyword to match an entire powerset (like The Fastest Woman Alive!) and risk a player spamming it to the point of nonsense, or whether players should be asked to list and spread their points to each power (so Faster than a Speeding Bullet!, More Powerful that a Locomotive!, and Able to Fly Higher than any Plane! would each be their own keyword).

Some extensions make sense (being able to read an entire book in a few seconds might be no sweat to The Fastest Woman Alive!), some may need clarification (Does being Able to Fly Higher than any Plane imply the ability to breathe at those altitudes, or even in near-vacuum conditions?) and some would really be stretching it ("I'm The Fastest Woman Alive! I can throw 800mph fastballs!")

Mind you creative use of Keywords that represent superpowers should be encouraged. But which is the better approach! Should the guy who's unbelievably strong and is also bulletproof because his body is so dense have to buy separate keywords? And should GMs set limits on how may keywords a superhero/heroine should be able to take at character creation?

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I'd go with the former, if you're a speedster then that's important enough to be a keyword.

Yes, that can make them very powerful, but I'd also say that the keyword itself can be a weakness. Both in personality (speedsters are often impatient, reckless, and easily irked by their slower companions) and more drastic manifestations (like a crippling weakness to some type of object.)

And of course the usage of other keywords can be encouraged. Many secret identities/dayjobs can have skills and connections that raw superpowers can't match.

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What I do, when running SuperHeroQuest at conventions, is to have each Super Power as a keyword, then have Breakouts to describe things they can do with those Super Powers.

So, someone could have Spider Powers (Throw Web, Sticky Web, Swing on Web, Climb up Walls, Spidey Sense) or Spider Powers (Paralysing Venom, Jump at Foe, Cocooning Web, Turn Insides into Mush, Terrify Insects), both describe the powers of a Spider and both describe a very different Super Hero. Someone could also have Move like a Spider and Webbing as different Super Powers, it all depends on how they Players see their Super Hero.

In your example, you could have Fastest Woman Alive (Faster than a Speeding Bullet, More Powerful that a Locomotive, and Able to Fly Higher than any Plane), but is your Fastest Woman Alive 10M2 better than Speedy Girl's Fastest Woman Alive 15M3? I tend to encourage generic powers such as Ultra-Fast, so the numeric values determine how good they are with that Super Power.

14 hours ago, Michael Hopcroft said:

Mind you creative use of Keywords that represent superpowers should be encouraged. But which is the better approach! Should the guy who's unbelievably strong and is also bulletproof because his body is so dense have to buy separate keywords? 

I would have those as Breakouts of a Keyword. So, Ultra Dense (Strong, Bulletproof, Tough, Heavy) might work.

14 hours ago, Michael Hopcroft said:

And should GMs set limits on how may keywords a superhero/heroine should be able to take at character creation?

Personally, I wouldn't restrict the number of Super Powers, although I normally allow 3 for a convention game, with up to 5 Breakouts. If they haven't finished chargen in 5 minutes, they have to stop adding Breakouts, but can add them later.

The Super Powers should reflect the Super Hero they are trying to create. Most Super Heroes are quite simple and have one, or two Super Powers. Even Superman has one main one, Kryptonian (Fly, Laser Beams from Eyes, Freezing Breath, Bulletproof), and a secondary one, Clark Kent (Secret Identity, Journalist, Crush on Lois Lane).

Above all, with Super Hero Games, it is important to allow any powers the Player wants. Super Heroes are traditionally unbalanced and some are better at some things than others. Sure, you can impose a 5 point, or even 10 point, penalty on using a Super Power that doesn't really apply, but normally what's the point?

What I tend to do is to say that a Super Power can be used to do things that are obviously covered without penalty, can be improvised to do things you have done before at -5, can be improvised to do things you haven't done before at -10 and can use a Breakout without a penalty. So, taking Spiderman as an example, he has Swing on Webs as a Breakout, so he can swing from a skyscraper through the doors of a passing helicopter, at no penalty; could use a web as a parachute at -5 as he has done this before; could use the webs to warn of an enemy's approach with no penalty, as it is something that spiders normally do; or could use the webs to make a protective cocoon when falling out of a plane at -10 as it is the first time he has tried this.

For me, the flexibility and narrative elements of HeroQuest make it perfect for Super Hero games.

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I would think there could be only one Fastest Woman Alive (She wouldn't be the Fastest Woman Alive if there were another woman who was faster), but that may be a world-building question.

The project I'm starting is based around powers based on Zodiac signs. Sagittarius is a superhuman archer, Scorpio's punches can penetrate anything (like a scorpion's sting), Cancer's defensive shields are nigh impenetrable (like a crab's carapace), etc. These powers are only "on" when called upon, so in her personal identity Scorpio doesn't puncture everything she touches. So the Zodiac sign affiliation would be the main power, with Breakouts for specific tasks?

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3 hours ago, Michael Hopcroft said:

I would think there could be only one Fastest Woman Alive (She wouldn't be the Fastest Woman Alive if there were another woman who was faster), but that may be a world-building question.

Arguably, superlatives and hyperbole are how others would describe a character, or how you'd describe yourself, whether or not it's an objective and definitive statement.  That's part of the fun of HQ, depending on how you run your game (i.e., a world-building question).  Thus, Fastest Woman Alive 17M4 can be interpreted in your game as:

  • Fastest Woman Alive...until proven otherwise
  • Fastest Woman Alive, as dubbed by the local and/or national media
  • Fastest Woman Alive, in my own (not-so) humble opinion
  • Fastest Woman Alive, definitively, full-stop; the next highest stat in the game can be no higher than 16M4

(Personally, I'm a fan of Running Guy's declaration from The Tick:  "I run faster than ten fast men!")  As a superhero trope, it's a classic staple of debate and contest, with plenty of heroes and villains claiming the title of Strongest of Them All, for instance.  Let them all claim the same title, then let their stats in play establish who's who.  How many issues involving a knock-down, drag-out between The Hulk* and The Thing* have been predicated on this very argument?

!i!

[Edit:  *For the record, I'd give The Hulk higher strength stats than Ben Grimm, but I'd let Ben augment with strategic/tactical skills to a near standstill.  That said, I'd let The Hulk eventually augment with Blind Fury 10M7 and call the fight in his favor...as usually plays out in the comics.]

Edited by Ian Absentia

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On 10/16/2019 at 6:36 PM, Michael Hopcroft said:

I would think there could be only one Fastest Woman Alive (She wouldn't be the Fastest Woman Alive if there were another woman who was faster), but that may be a world-building question.

And that could be a scenario in itself. A woman runs faster than The Fastest Woman Alive, or comes pretty close and might beat her. What is she going to do about it? What happens if she is beaten and is no longer the Fastest Woman Alive? 

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14 hours ago, soltakss said:

And that could be a scenario in itself. A woman runs faster than The Fastest Woman Alive, or comes pretty close and might beat her. What is she going to do about it? What happens if she is beaten and is no longer the Fastest Woman Alive? 

The woman formerly known as fastes woman alife?

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