What Makes a Superhero

A lot of this game is deliberately left open to your interpretation. We don’t, for example, have detailed descriptions of exactly what an Energy Attack: Concussive looks like or the fantasy-physics behind it because we’d like to leave that kind of thing up to you. Flavour, description, and storytelling are the job of the players and the GM, and it’s a fun job, so we’re not going to take it away from you.

The superhero genre is also wide and varied—it spans pulp, detective/crime fiction, science fiction, modern fantasy, action/adventure, romance, comedy, and other genres—so the best way to allow you to experience that  variation is by keeping our descriptions fairly, well, generic. So think about how you want your powers to appear and how you want your character to appear. It’s all up to you. There are lots of different superheroes, from tuxedo’d mystics who dash through the night, to spandex-clad aliens, to cyborg battle machines, but to give you a place to start, in this section, we’ll talk a little bit about the feel of superhero stories and a related genre or two.

Never forget, though, that no matter what we say about how superheroes usually act, the whole point of an RPG is that you are in charge of your own story. You don’t have to do any of the things we describe below when you play your characters. The superhero genre is extremely flexible. If you want to forgo a costume, go ahead. If you want to be a hero without powers, there is ample precedent for it. If your origin story is that you flipped a coin after getting powers and it was heads (hero!), that’s a kind of origin in and of itself. You do not have to have a secret identity if you don’t want one. You can just go by your real name. Powers, mission, and persona are just guidelines for the most typical kind of superhero. You can do whatever you want. If you and your gaming group are all having fun, you are by definition playing the game “correctly.”


Mission, Powers, and Identity

There are three things that most superheroes, despite their great variety, have in common: a mission (M), a set of powers (P), and a heroic identity (I). (These paragraphs are largely based on Peter Coogan’s Superhero: Secret Origin of a Genre (Monkey Brain Books, 2006).


The mission of a superhero usually describes why he or she is driven to fight monsters, criminals, or international pseudo-military groups bent on world domination as well as why she might be compelled to defend innocent people from the random accidents of the world. It can be something as vague as an injunction from a dead family member, a desire to keep people from a tragedy you experienced, or a dedication to an ideal or cause. Your mission isn’t a set of marching orders. It’s the way you look at the world and your place in it. It’s a lot like an Allegiance, but more heroic.


Under the rules of this game, powers are a particular kind of in-game effect, different than skills or feats, for example. They have Origins and run by set rules, but in the sense of the superhero genre, your “powers” can be a lots of things. In this sense, powers are whatever you rely on to do your superheroing. A single Super ability could be your whole suite of powers. A metric crap-tonne of useful skills could be your powers. Mastery of a particular feat tree could be your powers.


Your superhero identity is a combination of your name, costume, and origin story. The first two usually tell a very shortened version of the last. If you have animal powers, for example, you might name yourself after that animal. Your costume could have a stylized symbol of that animal. The point is that your appearance (your name and costume) reflects where you came from, how you got your powers, and/or what you stand for.

Your origin story, which is different from a power’s Origin, usually entails getting your powers, facing a personal tragedy or significant personal event that drives you to be a superhero, or some combination of the two. If you witnessed a heinous crime or were personally damaged by it, you might dedicate yourself to eliminating crime, for example.

A slightly thinner, but perfectly acceptable, origin story involves getting powers and deciding what to do with them. You might have been working in your secret laboratory and discovered a chemical that made you telepathic. You might have encountered a powerful, cosmic being who gave you powers so that you could serve it. You might be the victim of a tragic accident that resulted in being rebuilt through bionic technology. The possibilities are practically endless. After you got these powers, you then chose superheroism.

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