Today I thought I’d share a few thoughts about playing super-powers in Fate, and ways to add tough decisions into your homebrew games.
My recent pondering from super heroes came to mind recently when watching trailers for Ant-Man and the Wasp, which feature a villain I was unfamiliar with: The Ghost. One wikisearch later revealed that in the Marvel comic canon, the Ghost is a spy and saboteur whose tech allows them to be invisible or intangible, but not both at the same time.
This stuck with me for longer than I expected, and I soon began seeing how a similar system would be useful in a Fate Core roleplaying Game.
A Problem I Have When Running Fate
I have loved Fate, currently love Fate, and will likely love Fate for a long time to come. That being said, I have a problem making a game difficult enough for my players. Sure, I’ll make a villain have high stats and a few stunts, but my willingness to let my players invoke most anything under the sun, and generally say yes to most any approach, can lead to the boss villains that are beaten a little too easily. The players have never complained, but deep inside, I feel like there’s a way I can make the game more suspenseful for the players.
Which brings me to the next part: good superhero comics are all about CHOICE. If a comic teaser asks, “Will [Insert Hero] live or die?”, the answer is always “live” (with the rare “die and come back to life later,” which doesn’t really count.) However, despite their godly powers, superheroes will sometimes have to make choices that affect their world in a more permanent way: will Spider-man catch Gwen Stacy or Mary Jane? Will Superman reveal his identity to Lois Lane, or keep it a secret?
Those, a GM might be able to increase the tension and difficulty in a way other than bumping up the bad guys stats. Here are some ways how:
When using the powered skill against an unnamed NPCs or obstacle, the hero automatically wins, assuming the player can describe how in a narrative way (this is based on Gifts from the Fate World “Wild Blue” by Brian Engard). Against named NPCs or obstacles (ex. The Sonic Osteo-Forcefield), the hero gains a bonus of +4.
How do they get / use the power?
Either-Or: Similar to The Ghost, each hero on a team has exactly two powers, but can only use one at a time. They can switch over at the beginning their exchanges. It is particularly fun to focus on a defensive and an offensive skill, letting the player decide whether to leave themselves open to counterattacks.
Here are a few sample “two-power” heroes I happened to make a while ago:
Thornado – spikes and wind powers
Rubber-brand – elasticity and fire powers
Jump Start – superspeed and electricity
Sea Monkey – water powers and wall-climbing
Cyberpuck – magic and hacker
Ultra-Boy Style – This variant is inspired by one of my favorite Legionnaires: Ultra Boy (not to be confused with Ultraman, the evil Superman from another dimension… yeah, comics are weird when you describe them out loud). Once per scene, a player can choose a skill or approach to go “Ultra,” which lasts until the end of the scene. However, no other gifts or superpowers may be used, meaning the hero is mortal in every other way.
Note: It could be possibly to have the Ultra-power be switched over at the start of every exchange with the cost of a fate point, but I fear this would be too strong.
Dial H for Hero Style – In this variant, the player gets to pick skill that there’s boosted for the entire scene, with the small exception that it can’t be the same skill as any other hero. Or, to make it even more chaotic, randomly pick two different skills, and have the player pick one. Once you know the skill, pick an appropriate superpower that ties in with it. (Ex. Empathy = telepathy; Athletics = superspeed.)
If you have any superhero variants you’ve found useful, please pass them along!
Lastly, a shameless plug:
Be sure to watch this space for the upcoming Kickstarter for “Dungeon Tours Ltd,” a comedic/con-job Fate adventure set in a fantasy world. Coming soon!