• The Infractions Forum is available for public view. Please note that if you have been suspended you will need to open a private/incognito browser window to view it.

Is there a system which handles supers and normals equally well?

Stephen Tannhauser

- - -
Validated User
Inspired by one of the subpoints of the "What's Wrong with GURPS?" thread below.

Let's say you wanted to run a game where some players would be running superpowered heroes... and others would be running perfectly normal humans. Is there a system which will let you do this?

Systems suited to high-power heroes (MEGS, Marvel, even Powergame) seem to break down at the low end of the scale because there is almost no significant variation among normals. Systems suited to normal-power heroes (GURPS, D&D, Warhammer, etc.) break down at the high end of the scale because they can't handle superpowers without getting either insanely complex or too darn slow.

Leaving combat out of it -- let's assume that the people playing normal humans knew they wouldn't survive going up against supers, and intended to avoid it, and that that tension and fear was part of the game -- is there a system where the basic mechanics, the odds-calculation and the die-rolling, works equally well and allows significant, interesting variations in both types of scales?


Registered User
Validated User
In Exalted, what an attribute or ability score means changes depending on whether the character is mortal or Exalted. Also, difficulty ratings go up for mortals. Mortals can take less damage, and they don't get the benefit of the "a roll of 10 equals two successes" rule.

I think this works quite nicely to separate mortals and Exalted in the setting, keeping them both playable but on two different power scales.

Atom Man

Man of Many Atoms
Validated User
The answer is yes, but ...

... it's a pain in the ass.

This is one of the things that WEG tried to do with DC Universe.

The way strength and lifting/damage potential is scaled in that game, you have three or four value ranges. Within a given range, you've got reasonably good differentiation. Thus, if you have two "normals" fighting each other, strength differences can make a pretty big difference. It takes awhile to get used to the sudden jumps in those ranges though, and until you get used to it you must constantly refer back to the charts.

But the d6 system still has a problem with high-powered heroes. Do you really want to be rolling 35 dice every time Supes punches someone? Moreover, the damage bonuses for superstrength are fairly small in relation to the number of body points that characters are given. I mean, it should never take Supes two punches to put down a common cat-burglar, should it?

Although I've never seen the game, I understand that Ray Winninger modified MEGS for his Underground game by making geometric charts that increased by 1.5 at each AP level rather than by x2. This essentially "halved" the graininess of MEGS at lower levels. The drawback is that it's harder to do 1.5 calculations in your head than simple doubling, and MEGS does require its share of fast calculations on the fly.

The White Wolf Dice Pool techniques (Aberrant, etc.) have about 5 categories of normal attributes and 5 of superattributes. frankly, I'm not sure that this is any less grainy than the old Marvel Super Heroes Game that had 11 or 12 total categories.

My personal solution has been to use MEGS (DC Heroes or Blood of Heroes, specifically) for superhero games, and other systems, such as d20 or WW or even d6 for lowered powered genres. After all, to guys like the Hulk, Doc savage is just another "puny human" anyway.


New member
Validated User
BESM 2nd Ed.

I find that BESM 2nd Ed. handles different power levels pretty well. With the Tri-Stat system and its point-based character creation, it's easy to make your superheroes one point level (let's say 50) and your everyday mortals another (20). I find that the system itself doesn't favor one power level over another, which makes it good for what you're looking for. But of course, YMMV.

Jesse Scoble

Lord of the Furbies
Silver Age Sentinesl

BESM does a great job...

SAS will probably do an even better job, as it scales to encompass a much wider range, from 10-20 point Normals to 250 - 300 point Major Movers&Shakers.


Atom Man

Man of Many Atoms
Validated User
I think we have two seperate topics going on here.

Most super hero games employing a point-building system have pretty wide ranges. That's the advantage to a point-building system. And if you don't like the way the game initially limits points, it's the easiest thing in the world to change.

The tougher thing is action resolution. That's what I thought the "scaling" problem addressed. How do you develop a system that can cover a huge range of qualities without either getting cumbersome on the one hand, or grainy on the other?

Tim Gray

Validated User
Atom Man said:
How do you develop a system that can cover a huge range of qualities without either getting cumbersome on the one hand, or grainy on the other?
You probably can't. But graininess isn't necessarily a problem. In fact many games pretend to be less grainy than they actually are with attribute scales - in D+D, for instance, the purpose of the 3-18 range seems to be solely to generate modifiers, which have a much more restricted range. If you didn't have to make it compatible with previous editions you could just use the modifiers to start with.

The trick is how you use the graininess, and what other aspects the system has. Skills, for instance, are generally on the same scale for powered and unpowered characters. Some have special "hyperskills", but the general model is that skill comes from training and experience rather than radiation. That's how Batman and Hawkeye work. So it's important that skills have a significant effect. For instance, both incarnations of the Marvel Super-Heroes game have skills as on/off, (effectively) dropping difficulty by a step if you've got the skill; the system says skill is not important. Aberrant gives skills a 5-point range, allowing for development and distinctions, and a greater role (eg your Might skill is a factor in attempting to lift cars).

You can also allow unpowered characters Advantages and Disadvantages (or whatever you want to call them) like "Tough as Nails" or "Unbending Will" which apply in more specific cases than attributes. Maybe powered characters have access to more of these, but many are legitimate for ordinary people.

Then there's setting stuff, eg how much damage do Really Big TechnoNightmare Guns do, and how does that compare to super-toughness?
Last edited:
Mayfair's DC Heroes

I'm not familiar with a lot of the newer games. BESM 2nd may be perfect.

But... The best superhero game I knew of that scaled amazingly well was the Mayfair version for DC heros.

All attributes (all everything, really) was set on an open ended scale that doubled every point you increased the value.

So: Jimmy Olson has a strength of say 3. Somebody with a strength of 4 is twices as strong as Jimmy Olson. Somebody with the strength of 5 is four times as strong as Jimmy Olson and so on. This way, Superman is in... not sure about this anymore, but I think somewhere in the twenties.

One of the beauties of the system is that everything gets rated on the same scale. A boulder is assigned a weight. The weight matches the same scale. So if Jimmy needs to lift a boulder of weight 8, he can't do it (though, an exceptional roll of the dice *might* pull it off, but the odds are really bad.)

Speed, distance, the knowledge contained in an encyclopedia... Everything was completely scaled in Greg Gordon's elegant design.

The game also contained an open ended rolling system, so sometimes you *will* send that bad guy through three brick apartment buildings. And it had Hero Points, to increase the odds of an action's success. (I know we're used to these features now, but the game came out over a decade ago and again, Greg did a great job with them.)

It is, of course, a little coarse at the bottom of the scale. Jimmy Olson and Christoher Kubasik are going to have comprable strength scores. That said, a olympian weight lifter or a karate expert is going to have higher scores than either of us.

And if you *really* needed to get the lower end less coarse you could change the scale so that every two to three points doubles... Though this would take some of the smoothness out of play and hype up the values for the higher end. (Galactus would be in the upper triple digits in his stats -- at least.)

I don't know how easy it would be to find a copy o of the game -- but it seems as if every game ever printed is on the market somewhere.

No system will be perfect in this regard, but I can't recomend it enough to handle this issue.
Top Bottom