Handling Powerful PCs

There are times when a particular player has struck on a character design that seems to be unstoppable, and despite what we just said about playing to your players’ strengths, having no fear of defeat isn’t nearly as much fun as facing a genuine threat and then defeating it. The key is the sense of accomplishment. Players don’t get that from merely wandering through a story you’ve already determined the outcome of, and they also don’t get it when they can tear through the story like wet cardboard. So here are a few standard “unbeatable” superhero archetypes and how to beat the snot out of them.

The basic strategy is, instead of trying to attack the most powerful aspect of a character, you simply avoid it. This is a matter of lateral thinking. If they have a high DR score, find a kind of attack that doesn’t rely on damage to defeat the character. DR, for example, is useless against grappling, and a grappled character can’t do much of anything. A character with a hideously high Strength score might do disgusting amounts of damage per round, but only against things he can hit. Send an phased villain against him, one who has some attacks she can use while phased, and he’s out of luck. Whatever they’re strongest attack is, make a character who can barely be affected by it. Whatever their strongest defence strategy is, simply avoid it and use a different kind of attack. It’s pretty simple once you get the knack of it.

 

The Blaster/Sniper

Blasters put all of their energy into striking from a distance, which usually means Energy Attacks, but they can also be fantastically skilled snipers. Blasters usually stay out of the fight and fire into it. They’ll take secondary abilities like Stealth, Flight, or Invisibility. Anything that keeps them from getting hit. Blasters are best taken out by other Blasters, NPCs who are better hidden and/or just out of firing range. Extending your NPC’s range to the maximum can be just as helpful with Blasters as extending a mêlée fighter’s reach. Also, a Blaster who can’t see is useless. Blind him and he’s just a target.

 

The Tank

Tanks are characters who’ve pumped all their abilities into defence. They usually have extremely high Defence scores, DR coming out of their pores and have layered on armour to the point where they can’t move. Toss one or two powerful attacks on there, and they can just wade into fights and nickel down the enemies at their leisure.

Tanks are built to withstand all kinds of physical attack, so don’t attack them physically. Hit them with chemical attacks, like sleeping gas or even good old tear gas. They’re almost always fighter classes, though, so they’ll have high Fortitude saves. If your gas attacks aren’t working, hit them with mental attacks. A well-placed spell or psi-power can turn a team’s biggest threat into it’s biggest liability. Don’t be afraid to take over people’s minds and make them fight their team mates. It’s a staple of comics. Use it.

 

The Flyer

Flyers aren’t as much of a problem as they might seem like, but they can be annoying. A flying hero can ignore obstacles like buildings and walls. They just go over them. That’s what makes Flight so useful. They can also stay totally out of range in a fight. Flying Blasters are particularly challenging. Much like you fight Blasters with Blasters, fight Flyers with Flyers. Just send a flying villain against the flying hero, and you can properly occupy it and thus even the odds. As for limiting their range of movement, flying is kinda useless in close quarters, so set a few fights in the sewers and see how much value they get out of that Flight power. The goal is not to kill them but to keep them guessing, keep them on their toes, keep them working to stay one step ahead so that their victories are always meaningful.

 

The Hidden Mystic/Mentalist

A smart Mystic or Mentalist stays well away from the fight, and emulates the Blaster in many ways. A really smart one doesn’t even let others realized they’re in the fight at all. If she sits in a parked car a block away from a fight or in a café on a second floor, over-looking the fight, she can wreak a lot of havoc and you’ll never even know she’s there. The solution here is to remember that anyone using powers is detectable. Power Detection is your friend. Surely, someone has realized that this team has a “silent member,” so the next time they go up against that team, they’ll be prepared. They’ll sneak up on the little bastard, sitting in their comfy little café, and bonk them on the head. Judicious use of Metapowers can be a real help here, too. Suppressing or even stealing their powers puts the shoe on the other foot.

 

The Speedster

Characters who are built for speed usually employ a particular strategy: run into combat, deliver a series of attacks in a single round (using Bonus Actions), and then run out of the combat entirely (using Spring Attack). Doing this almost guarantees that the speedster can never even be targeted, let alone hit. Simply running around a corner can keep them from taking damage at all. The solution to this is extremely simple. Sacrifice an action and Ready an attack against the speedster. No matter how fast a character moves, you can still Ready an action for “the next time that little bastard tries to kick me in the neck.” Feel free to Ready the NPC’s nastiest attack.

 

Villains Cheat

The last thing to remember when facing players who seem to think they have the system all figured out is simple: villains cheat. That means that you should feel free to have them dangle old ladies and school-children off the edges of suspension bridges to get the upper hand on your heroes. Superheroes have to follow certain basic moral principles. Villains don’t. There is a danger, of course, that the old ladies actually fall in the water, but instead of holding back, not actually dropping the ladies into the water, use it to up the ante. If you drop them, the heroes now have a search-and-rescue job on their hands, and then they have to do triage, and then they becomes an impromptu ambulance service, and on it goes. Meanwhile, the villain is long gone.

In the same vein, allow villains to break the actual rules of the game every so often. Give them enhancements or even whole powers that aren’t in the system. Allow them to do things that they’re not supposed to be able to and don’t feel that you have to make any excuses for it. Make a sniper whose bullets pass through DR, just because it’ll scare the bejezuss out of the players. It’s not cheating because as the GM, it’s not your job to win. It’s your job to make the game as fun as possible, and a big part of that is maintaining a threat level that gives the players a feeling of accomplishment. Don’t go over-board, of course. If the players get the sense that they can’t rely on the rules at all, they’ll start to not have fun any more, but having one element in every game that’s simply outside the rules isfine.

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