X + Y = Z

or

I Have Superstrength Because

Just a quick thought here. I’ve been working on writing up guidelines for character creation in Four Colors al Fresco. Unlike most RPGs, balance and point costs aren’t really a concern–but that doesn’t always mean it’s easy. Because unlike most modern supers games, not just anything goes–if your character doesn’t fit into the pseudo-period setting, it can be jarring. However, in my experience, both creating characters and watching others create them, the hard part is not fitting into the setting, it’s worrying too much about “logic”. 

For supers in general, let’s face it, logic–even symbolism–is often in short supply. I just stumbled on to this description of the powers of a character from one of the mainstream comicbook worlds: 

[Can] Merge his body with his own shadow, giving him enhanced strength and vitality. As a shadow, he can fly, as well as envelop enemies, showing them their dark side. He has also shown the ability to enlarge himself and cover the world in darkness.

Let me just focus on that first sentence. Normal human + shadow = super-strong, super-tough human? Because shadows are really strong? Now, I’m not trying to critique that. I’m running a game of Four Colors al Fresco, and one character’s basic concept was

A discovered mistress who was poisoned by cantarella but miraculously survived, and the poison gave her awesome powers.

When we were still creating the character, I quite seriously suggested that the nature of those powers could be just about anything, because that’s just how things work in the supers world (Renaissance or otherwise). The player eventually settled on very much poison-flavored powers (poison touch, “poison” tongue (setting people against each other), healing poisonings) and a character who was frail on appeared to be constantly on the verge of death, but not because that’s any “more logical” than if she had been, say, super-athletic due to the poisoning. 

Heck, even if you want to be “realistic”, most people who are sickly as kids continue to be sickly–but Teddy Roosevelt appears to have overcome “incurable” chronic conditions to be one of the most physically fit and active adults. But this isn’t the real world–this is a comicbook superheroes world. So, back to the top: 

X + Y = Z, if you want it to, and pretty much no matter what X, Y, and Z are (though X is usually “normal person”). If you have cool ideas for Y (the origin of or reason for the character’s powers) and Z (what those powers are), don’t worry too much about whether it “makes sense” that Z stems from Y. Instead, worry about how you can tweak the flavor of Z to reflect Y. Reword the Power, Weakness, and/or Power Stunts to reflect the putative source, but simply stating that it’s the source is sufficient–you don’t need to justify it. In short, if you say that X + Y leads to Z, then it does. Nobody should be taking that away from you. But the better you explain why/how you get to Z, the happier everyone is going to be. People like their worlds, even superhero worlds, to make some sort of sense, even if it’s the sort of sense that doesn’t stand up to rigorous scrutiny. 

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