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


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Of course I felt Mayfair's Megs system (DC, and BOH) had a problem because of this: Two ordinary mortals who are obviously physically distinct--say a football player and some nerd on the street, may have had /exactly the same attribute/ score--because 1 point higher in the game is double the lifting ability so if person can lift 200 lbs, and another can lift 350, they are both rated the same (roughly) this is really grainy--better to have mid ranged ranks somewhere because 150lbs is the difference of carrying one person, or two..

Marvel Saga was pretty good because even normal humans could succeede at even difficult tasks. But it wasn't always /realistic/..

Atom Man

Man of Many Atoms
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Tim Gray said:

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 why Batman works. 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, dropping difficulty by a step if you've got the skill; the system says skill is not important. Aberrant gives skills a 5-point skill, 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 applly in more specific cases than attributes. Maybe powered characters have access to more of these, but some 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?
I agree with many of your observations.

Taking things in order, I agree that the attribute span in D&D is largely illusionary. All other things being equal, if you took two fighters, one of whom had a strength of 10, and the other of whom had a strength of 15, and just had them whack away at each other, the random roll of the dice would allow the weaker one to win a significant percentage of the time. The attributes are far more important when it comes to things like skill checks, which are often viewed as a secondary aspect of the game. But there's something about player psychology that feels a lot stronger at 15 than at 10. Go figure.

I also agree with your observation that MSH devalues skills. It's funny, because few people seem to realize that. Even stranger is that some of the same people bitch about the treatment of skills in MEGS, which actually does allow skills to be purchased independent of attributes.

Modifiers are fun. Though they often perform the same function as a higher attribute, there is something more sexy about a character with "lightning reflexes" or "intimidating grin," than simply boosting DEX or Charisma by a point or two. Again, it's largely just psychological packaging.

Part of what's going on, I think, is that someone playing Conan or Batman feels that, skills aside, they ought to be able to beat the bejeezus out of the average banana salesman, and they resent the fact that some systems lump their attributes so closely together.

The other thing I've noticed is that no one gets too torn up about graininess in mental or social or mystical attributes. It's the damn physique thing that drives everyone nuts.


Retired User
There really is no system solution to your question. The real problem as I see it is whether your players are Die oriented or Story oriented.

A good plot that allows normals to do what they do best, blend in, as oppossed to fighting supers; is key to a balanced group.

This doesn't mean that normals can't be effective in combat with a super; there are weaknesses that can be exploited by a smart or conniving normal.
Whether the weaknes is a flaw of physical nature(as in a chemical or material substance), Pschological, or of a mystical nature. Anormal should be able to lay low a super given the correct situation, no matter how rare.

The true balance of any game lays with the Gamemaster and Players, NOT THE SYSTEM.
Hero System

Otherwise known as Champions. I'm not surprised that no one mentioned it, since it's bascially been in limbo for most of a decade.

The Hero System started with Champions, but had add ons for stuff like Fantasy Hero in the 'heroic' (non-superhuman) level of play. For those games, you had more realistic hit location rules, less effective armor, etc. If you wanted a 'normal' human in a group of supers (like Batman) you'd just crank up his defenses, speed, and martial arts abilities to make him competitive even if he couldn't throw tanks or bounce machine gun fire.

By contrast, GURPS started with a rather low-power, very realistic base, and doesn't seem to adapt well to higher levels. I think MEGS/DC is on the other level- it was designed around godlings like the pre-Crisis Superman, and that made normal human characters rather generic, although the 2nd and 3rd Editions smoothed out a lot of its problems.

James Gillen
when do I get to be an Adept, anyway?
Stephen wrote:
> 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?

Yes. Diceless. I've ran a PBeM that mixed MSHAG Superhumans with White Wolf Werewolves, Mages, and normals.


[b]The quest for the Perfect System[/b]

Well, if you're into Storyteller, Aberrant might work for you. It has a quite detailed power system, and something called 'Mega-abilities'. Basically they give you automatic successes when you roll, so you're always assured a minimum success, at least when your opponent is a regular guy. And as the designers put it 'normal people crunch real good'.

On the flip side, character design can be hell for inexperienced players, you need to roll shitloads of dice, and -- as it's set in the Trinityverse, and quite well integrated in it, too -- there's only rules for mutants, not gadgeteers, aliens, or any other genre fixtures. But within it's self-imposed limitations it's actually pretty good.

But perhaps you should take a look at RISUS. It's insanely simple, and designed for comedy, but with a few tweaks here and there it could make a fine superhero system.

Also, DC Heroes does have its flaws (grainyness at lower levels of power), but the way it scales powerlevels is truly inspired, and very true to its source material. Even this former Champions fiend admits that the DC Heroes RPG has elegance in spades. : )

(Our group came up with a fix for the grainyness at 'regular guy' levels by adding a decimal. So it you're Regular Guy Construction Worker you may have Str 3.8, whereas Regular Guy Bank Teller has Str 3.3. Resolve conflicts as usual, but in cases of ties, the highest decimal wins.)

Ian Cooper

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I was going to promise myself not to mention my group's favorite for a while, but as regards this thread:

One of my group suggested using Hero Wars to run supers games. Two aspects make it workable. One is that one method of character creation uses a 100 word narrative, from which abilities are parsed. The other is the concept of masteries. Skills are rated 1-20 but each mastery you have (one per full 20 so 27 is written as 7W, 7 and one mastery) bumps the contest result in your favor. Masteries cancel each other out so two people at 7W3 (7 and three masteries) act as though they were both at 7 against each other, Hell, you can read it here: Hero Wars sample chapters my explanation has probably left you dazed and confused.

We have not tried it, but I think it would work. Maybe one day...

Ian Cooper


Registered User
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We tried for this with JAGS

The JAGS system was originally an attempt to reconcile supers with GURPS. We really, really liked Hero (for supers) but felt it didn't do so well in some more low-level genres (horror, military games, etc.)

We liked GURPS's attention to lower-power-scale characters and the detail on ordinary people. We just could not make it work to our satisfaction for supers--so this is what we did:

JAGS's basic rules focus on the normal character. Super powers are bought from a separate pool of 'points' (they actually use letters so you have a Class E Power Beam, or whatever). Super stats are handled as abilities (so you get Toughness for Super Constitution, Super Strength (like 5 different types), Super Agility, Super Speed, etc.)

We were very conscious of trying to build a 'balanced' and 'realistic' game (meaning those words fit our concpetion of balance and realism--not some objective standard). The idea we were shooting for was to have detailed normal characters and a fully functional balanced super-powers system adjunct to that.

Did it work? Well yes and no, obviously. What we have will be found to be overly complex by some people (although less so, I think than Champions), it doesn't have Hero's awesome flexibility (instead of power limitations and advantages we went with a larger list of less generic powers) and, of course, some people won't like the other decisions we've made here and there.

Finally true balance is probably impossible to achieve and realism--or even truth-to-gener is meaningless in the context of super heroes (which comics? Which characters? which authors?).

For a published game system, I'd choose Hero in a heart-beat although I'm not that familiar with BESM--my understanding is that it's a bit lighter on rules and also very flexible with a lot of flavor.

If you're interested you can check out JAGS (and our Supers rules) here:
Four games I can think of that would handle both superhumans and standard-issue people are:

FUDGE: the scaling for smaller and larger could be used as power levels.

PALLADIUM: The concept of "mega-damage" could be used to rate superpowers, and essentially normal folks would use the normal rules.

POWERGAME: This is a free superhero rpg from a young, innovative Finnish designer. Works on "power levels" which are somewhat grainy but the overall effect is superheroes are at a higher power level, hence throw more dice but you don't need dozens of dice. URL is

IMAGINATION'S TOYBOX: This was a free game, is being revised for publication, by Berin Kinsman (known as Uncle Bear). This has a scaling system whereby the results of the dice are greater for superhumans. URL is
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