Writing Superpowers

As a part of the discussion about Heroes Rise, people discussed how it could be possible to give the player the choice of multiple superpowers. The choices available all seem unsatisfying:

  1. The player only gets one set of powers. This is easiest for the writer, but least satisfying for the player. The author can afford to go into greater depth with exploring the development of the powers.
  2. The player gets a choice of powers, but they’re functionally identical (i.e. jetpack vs. levitation vs. superjumping) in most situations. Pretty straightforward to write, slightly more satisfying for the player. You can throw in the rare occasional choice that’ll depend on the exact skinning of the power.
  3. The player gets a wide range of powers but the scenes are railroaded so that the powers don’t impact the direction of the story. This is unsatisfying for repeat players and still involves a lot of writing.

I propose then:

  1. The player has a wide range of power choices, but the powers are all tightly constrained in the applicability. Powers like super-hearing, night-vision, flexibility etc. are all situation-specific. Powers to avoid offering would be stuff like flight and energy beams which you could expect to use everywhere, anytime.

This narrowing down means that the player can use the powers as alternative ways of solving specific problems. The choices and consequences can then be highly tailored and have unique effects without imposing too much of a writing burden on the author as each power won’t have to be applicable for every single choice.

The player will have less of a power fantasy, but they’re offered a greater choice in power selection and those powers can have more of a unique effect.


Agreeing on the proposal:

At the end of the day, superpowers are no different from ‘plain’ weapons.

It sorta boils down to how good the author is at accounting for what what you can do could and would be applied in a situation. Example:

In HR it didn’t make much sense that you could NOT pick your powers (seeing that the author went on and on about how many different powers and abilities are there) and the massive amount of railroading even ridiculed the fact that you had powers at all. Because it didn’t ever matter what you do.

Compare Hero Unmasked, in which you, as such, don’t have ‘superpowers’ in the classical sense. You (and your twin) are athletic proteges and you have increased healing. But that you can do that is the reason you, or better your twin, became a hero. The actual heroing in HeUn in done by applying what you can do to the situations you are in. Battles offer you the choice between approaching things with most of your stats, and depending on how good/bad they are the outcome changes, and how the story progresses from there is always comprehensible.

Again, at the end of the day, superpowers are like regular weapons.

Imagine you have a game were you can pick your preferred weapon and you pick a crossbow (and maybe a rapier for close combat)
This gives a pretty good idea of what your fighting style is like and the game should account for that.
Like, if you have a crossbow, the task to kill the corrupt magistrate would be easier done by shooting them from the shadows of the rooftops than confronting them in the streets or breaking into their house at night.

It should be handled similar with superpowers.
A hydrokinetic (water wielding) or someone with sound based powers are more likely to fight from the distance, while a hero capable of turning into/being made of stone/steel/etc or one with superstrength will go into melee fighting. Mindcontrol and illusion powers might make a character be more defensive, sneaky, while a pyrokinetic (fire) would be more on the offensive side.

And then there’s tech-based heroes that don’t (as above) have no ‘real’ superpowers, but make up for them with ingenious gadgets.

In a game a writer could approach this by asking the player for their preferred style first and then offering a list of ‘fitting’ powers (including the option to pick a more ‘unfitting’ one, thought this’d be even more writingwork)

EDIT: If I may elaborate, allow me to give an example of how this could look (imagining you start as a rookie hero)

You always knew you’d one day become either a superhero or a supervillain, given your powers. The same powers that gave you a very good idea of what kind of superpowered personality you will be, seeing they are:

Raw offensive powers, great for a direct, head on approach to crime fighting... or crime committing.

Oh, so you…

  • I have superstrength, nothing stops my punches and I can bench trains
  • I’m a pyrokinetic, I can burn through everything
  • I can shoot pure energy about. PewPewPew
Sneaky defensive powers, great for working from the shadows

Interesting. More precisely you…

  • I’m an umbrakinetic. I can control shadows. Boo!
  • I’m a masterful illusionist. See this statue? Now you don’t.
  • My voice is a weapon. You should see how often I have to replace my showerhead. One day I’ll learn…
Actually *cough* I don't have *superpowers* as such...

Now that is a surprise. I take it you…

  • Building gadgets has always been my passion. With what I have I should be able to keep up with the superpowered folks of Cornucopia City.
  • It might not be on a ‘super’ level, but I’ve always been a very good athlete and fighter. And hey, most superpowered folks can get knocked out with a well-placed punch

As example. Then maybe allow the player to say that even though they have these powers, they’d prefer an approach unexpected with these powers. And maybe allow them to pick a secondary power.


Interesting that you wrote this thread while I was preparing to post my WIP… I guess I have gone for a mixture of 2-4, depending on the situation and the power.

1 Like

I would disagree. I (as a reader) find a well-utilised single powerset far more interesting than a story where the powers don’t really do anything. As you mention, this is not something you can do with option 3, and it always feels a little forced with option 2. I guess option 4 could fix this, but there would always need to be a way for any MC to progress without a certain power, thus meaning that no power is necessary for the story.

One other thing to consider is that a story will often work better if the story and the power are written around one another. The writer can spend time looking at the ramifications of any single powerset, and multiple different uses in any one circumstance, without having to worry what the situation would be like for different powers. Only option 1 offers this, and I feel that option1 stories can benefit greatly from it.


I think the issue with #4 is that you’re hard-pressed to come up with a variety of powers that will be satisfying to have while still having only minimal applicability to most situations. If literally the only power you have is super-hearing, you super-suck.

People who play as the superpowered MC choice in my game will not be able to solely rely on her matter manipulation ability because it takes her a lot of time to do it, which isn’t always a possibility in some situations. Powers like that can work for #4, but I’m acutely aware it could also increase reader frustration in that they are a powered individual who still has to spend a lot of time using regular punches, guns and gadgets to get through situations. Only time will tell if it proves a good way to go or not.

I believe that’s pretty much the solution I came up with albeit not in a purely superheroic setup but more of a Batman/Arrow type vigilante setting where most masked types are just highly trained or well-equipped normals. There is to be the option of setting either a physical or intellectual focus for your character, be equipment-based or have a minor superpower. Essentially the equipment or superpower would be an asymmetric cheat to automatically overcome a variety of stat checks but it would not line up with any one stat. Since it’s only a part of a part of the characters and optional however this would also not be a huge focus of the narrative or exposition. So there’s that.

That said, I can see an argument to be made for the first three varieties depending on the story. In stories like The Orpheus Ruse or A Wise Use of Time almost the entire story hinges on your particular talents. Without them you wouldn’t be in your respective predicaments. It can be satisfying for the player if they’re into the power being focused on. I think the caveat for player happiness here is being straightforward with the advertising. ‘Your character possesses power X.’ as opposed to ‘create your own superhero’. Not perfect but at least players know what they’re getting into.

Then there’s the fact that some Choicescript stories are more game-y and less focused on storytelling. While not necessarily my cup of tea those could get away with having a reasonable amount of choices and personalization as well as the exposition and different consequences to make them special but at the expense of the actual story. That’s speculation on my part, admittedly, since I’m not aware of a superheroic game in that vein.

What I actually meant to get at though is the consideration just how relevant the superpowers are to the story. Is the story more of a social critique of a fictional world containing superhumans and how it deals with them or even a parable on human shortcomings (probably best exemplified by the X-Men during their better runs but also consider Astro City or the setting of the RPG Aberrant)? Or is it just about beating the bad guy and saving the world? While customization is fun and not all superpowers are for everyone (I never touched THP Redemption Season cause I didn’t care for the protagonist’s powers), is total customization really necessary for telling a good story?

Again, I like your proposition. It’s a good one but I’m not averse to having no choice on the makeup of my character’s powers if it makes for a tighter story… Understanding that this limit might lose a few players that don’t care for the powerset.

For Community College Hero 2, I went what I will call Approach 5.

I’m offering three different “power” paths, each with unique scenes as the MC becomes more awesome and gains powers/abilities.

So I’m trying to walk the tightrope between:

A) giving the player agency/customization with some depth to the power paths that is not just “window dressing” while

B) not creating such a clusterfudge of combat choices that I dread writing each and every combat scene or otherwise make coding so difficult that the project proves to be unfinishable (that is a word!)


I want to hear from @Eric_Moser and those that have experience with super-powers. Guess I got ninja’d there? :woman_shrugging:

If this project is the one I tested, I believe your writing was done well enough - I’d also like to hear more from you.

Super-powers can be of many different back-grounds and of many different types - Iron Man’s tech or Thor’s magic are but two examples, so writing of these “powers” is something many authors of different genres can be experienced with.


I guess I ninja’ed you, @Eiwynn. I am a stealthy, slightly fat, middle-aged ninja of death!


When I tried to write something, I simply used powers as a stat boost.

Example: one of them was super speed and it boosted the “physical” stat up to 80. Then I coded the thing in a way that would prevent the other powers to get this high.

This way, I had to write one paragraph for the power (if physical>=80) and one for the others (*else).

I think @Eric_Moser did something like this in CCH1 with the Acrobat.

Of course, I had only three powers so it wasn’t a problem, but for more, I think using something like

Set speed true

Could be the solution.

1 Like

If I recall, the power you chose was power nullification (i.e. bringing others down to your level). I’d say that this fits well with the “powerless hero” theme of the first story, something you wouldn’t have been able to do if you’d just given the MC their choice in power.

I worry that this could get into the 4 (or I guess, 3) point trap, where at every choice you have to choose the one you have the power in to proceed, which is never enjoyable.


Sure, but I’m imagining the archetypical game of this kind would allow you to take multiple powers, possible more and more as the game proceeds.

This is a reasonable point. If the focus is on the power, on exploring its ramifications, uses, and expanding its usefulness, then honing down on one powerset is definitely the way forward.

Ah that’s definitely a solid choice. This way way the power use is always essential, but the player has multiple choices at their disposal and the writing burden shouldn’t be absolutely unmanageable. Though, potentially, you’d be writing nine choices for every fight scene if you have three per power set.

However, I will day one necessary downside to this is: the player makes one choice of playstyle at the beginning of the game and then roleplays that choice throughout. There are ways of giving decent follow-up choices though later on down the line.

1 Like

See I disagree a bit here. I’ve found “crappy” powers MUCH more fun to write. Hell, almost all my NPCs have crappy powers. If I had more stones, I’d give the MC only “crappy” powers but I decided most readers will want some “awesome points” so I’m making a concession there.

But I’d be much more interested in reading or playing a story with heroes with limited powersets that need to learn to work together or tackle problems in creative ways as opposed to reading about more of the same “god like” or “classic heroes” with awesome power sets. It just seems like that’s be done so much already. Hell, the MC in Heroes Rise was practically a god by the end.

And with superhero stories, as with all stories, isn’t the important plot element why the MC does what the MC does, as opposed to how? Other than some style points or flavor text, does it really make any narrative difference if the MC knocks out the bad guy with a superpunch or eye lasers or whatever? I mean, depending on your story, it could make a difference, but I’m having a hard time visualizing why it would.

I think sometimes with superhero stories we get distracted by the mechanics because of “powers!” but again I think there are much more important narrative considerations.


In some regards this is a great option, as it gives the players more choices and may not automatically multiply the effort required from the authors. However, I see a pair of risks if the powers are constrained too heavily:

  • Situations where the players can use their characters’ powers may be so rare it effectively stops being a superpowers game.
  • Players are given options to approach challenges primarily from the situations that advantage their characters’ powers, effectively increasing authors’ workloads to nearly the “any power at any time” level.

As with all things, there are certainly ways to work around or mitigate these risks. Even if players may choose night-vision, authors needn’t add a “Wait for nightfall, then cut the lights.” option to every single challenge they’ve written. At least some of the challenges must include useful options for each possible choice of powers—Why bother including the powers otherwise?—but not every single one.

Another option would be to include a handful of mandatory primary powers, then give optional secondary and tertiary powers to customize the players’ characters. In the WIP Fallen Hero by @malinryden (I believe it’s complete and in closed beta testing now,) all MCs start with mind-reading, possession, and even limited non-possession mind-control powers. However, players are also given choices to customize the powered armor they purchase partway through the game. They can take some, but not all of: Extra armor to shrug off blows, higher-power motor assists for greater strength, jump-jets, a system to enhance their baseline psychic powers, and possibly more options I’m forgetting.

Because the extra abilities are, well, extra, it’s much more forgivable that many scenes don’t use them, or use them in limited ways.


I’m with @ParrotWatcher,I don’t think only having a single power is less satifying. In many cases I’d prefer to be assigned a power (or only have a couple to choose from) and have it make a big impact on the story, rather than having a lots of choice but little impact (unless the author is willing to write a heap more on it which is a big ask). Nothing wrong with lots of customization and you can get great stories from it, but they’re two different ways of approaching a story, not necessarily better or worse. Only having narrow powers can actually cause problems. For example if I selected super hearing but I needed super speed to complete a task using super powers, I’m just stuck doing things the mundane way which I’d argue would be more frustrating, not less in a superhero type story.


I don’t know if you ever played Deus Ex (the original or Human Revolutions) but I’m imagining superpowers working in a similar way to augments in that: each major set-piece would offer at least one situation where you could use your power or a combination of your powers to good effect, and that could be written to have a significant impact on the way the whole scene plays out; however each choice-block or individual challenge wouldn’t require every power to be an option.

That a nice compromise if you’ve decided as a writer to go all-in on exploring and developing a single power-set. And it can even be done in terms of customising that existing power-set with optional aspects (like, if you had spider-powers and could web stuff and climb walls regardless, but could optionally decide to develop web traps or springy trampoline-webbing).

Sure, I wouldn’t want to say the single-power approach is always unsatisfying, but I do think it can in some superheroic settings it can be a wasted opportunity. I’d always rather give players a breadth of choice where possible and give them lots of little applications of those choices than give them no choice but enable more of a power fantasy. I realise that’s not a craft issue though, but a matter of taste.

That’s going to depend on your story’s genre and how realistically you want to handle the fallout of the MC’s actions.

If your MC uses super-speed or invisibility to drop a power-blocking device down the villain’s pants before turning it on, the villain will be largely unharmed, no matter how serious or silly the setting. Unless they were flying then fell out of the air? Maybe don’t do that in a realistic setting.

If the villain is being punched unconscious, they’ll be similarly unharmed in a more genre-conforming setting but waking up with varying amounts of permanent brain damage in a more serious and realistic one. Possibly even dying without ever waking. Punching people unconscious is dangerous… for the one receiving the punches.

Eye lasers powerful enough to defeat a villain outright will cause burns, permanent blindness, amputation, or death in a serious, realistic setting. “Safe” realistic lasers will be little more than annoying or distracting, and may still cause eye damage anyway. However, lasers are limited to burning hair and clothing (and possibly bruising muscles) by most genre conventions. In that case, zap away!

If there’s no consequence to the how, then the why genuinely will be all that matters. If there are consequences to the how, it starts to share some of the why’s importance.

I guess it’s going to depend whether you’re writing a story “about Superheros” or a story “about people with superpowers.”


I think it’s always kinda interesting that this crops up with superheroes, but notsomuch with magic. I guess because superpowered universes tend to go more all-out in terms of powers?

The trick with number 4 is that you have to give me lots of situations to use my powers, or I’m going to get bored real quick. (And probably start noticing situations where I could make the powers work).

The main thing is that whatever you do, I need to be able to have flexibility in what I can do. If you give me superstrength and expect me to brute force my way out of things via choices or railroaded consequences, I’m going to get frustrated. If you give me superspeed, but only for one type of situation, I get bored. If you let me choose my powers and it all amounts to functionally the same, then, I’m starting to feel railroaded.

If you give me a large set of powers to choose from, but only let me use them every so often, I start counting all the times I could have totally used my powers. I am a science nerd with a pet interest in psychology. I’ve been playing what-if scenarios with Mind Powers and Anti-Gravity powers for ages. Even if I can’t match you for quantity, I can guaruntee that I can think up different approaches than what you’ve presented; the trick is keeping me entertained enough that I’m not looking for them.

I really love this setup when it happens. From a player standpoint it makes me feel like such a badass when I manage to take down Mister Invincible with an ingenious application of my ability to talk to cockroaches. Or my empathic understanding of their favorite color.

I’m playing a tabletop at the moment where everyone is kinda bad at their superpowers (except me. I’m just bad at having superpowers). We fail and get in our own way as often as not (err… more often than not). So when we win, it is amazing.


I think it’s because superpowers are highly individual. Ideally anyway.

Conversely, a lot of superheroic characters don’t exactly have very deep personalities. Of course, the best superheroes are iconic and an icon probably needs to be able to be summarized in a few short sentences.

Magic in actual stories about wizards and whatnot is actually often ill-defined on any metric. Gandalf waves his staff around and says a few words in Elvish. DnD spells are reduced to how many of which dice you roll and generations of players never said ‘where’s the magic in this?’. In Harry Potter everyone pretty much draws from the same canon of spells. This magic seldomly has any specific character. There’s the occasional unique spell but even then it’s one in dozens the caster knows.

Personalization of magic is just not classically a hallmark of Wizard stories. Which is a shame, it occurs to me.

1 Like