Entering warpspeed and single power superheroes

Wil Wheaton as commander of a Federation starship? I’m in.

I’m quite enjoying not blogging so this is me, not blogging, right now. This is not a blogpost. It’s just random words on a page. Not a blogpost at all. Nope.

What I have been doing is thinking about superheroes with just one superpower. There are entire superhero teams where the majority of team members have just the one power (The Legion of Superheroes come to mind), as well as more mutant superheroes than you can shake a stick at (Cyclops, Gambit, Magneto, Shadowcat & Rogue to name a few). Not that shaking a stick at mutants is generally a good idea.

They are a particular challenge to both create and play, sitting as they do one step up from those with no superpowers as all (or, as we like to call them, “Batman”) and those with more powers than writers know what to do with (I’m looking at you, Mr Clark Kent). Single power superheroes just have the one special ability to call their own, so they are dependent on the other team members to cover any weaknesses they have. On the upside, emphasising just one power means they become the absolute iconic master (or mistress) of that power and every game session is an opportunity to come up with clever and creative uses for their ability. Why play Some Random Magnetic Dude when you can be Magneto himself, right?

For example, a hero with the power to teleport themselves and others can use that to transport innocents to safety, allies into the warzone and large blocks of concrete into villain’s chest cavities (what can I say? I have evil-minded players). Teleport multiple times in a single round and your hero can surround a villain, all by himself. Which is pretty cool. You’re not a hero who can teleport and do other stuff – you’re The Teleporter. Any other teleporting hero or villain is just second place, at best.

Creating a single-power superhero in a points-based system such as Mutants & Masterminds 3e or DC Adventures is a great test of the system and your character generation talents. With just one power to work with, you’re going to hit the Power Level cap pretty easily and still have loads of points left over to spend on other things. This means you can fully round out the character with skills and advantages or use Alternate Effects to represent clever uses of their single power. The Teleporting hero above could have Duplication (M&M3e p94) as an Alternate Effect to reflect his ability to teleport so quickly he appears to be in multiple places at the same time.

In-game, your single power superheroes can use their Hero Points to come up with on the spot uses for their lone power. If it works, think about spending a Character Point to make it a permanent part of your repertoire in future sessions. You never know – that one silly stunt you pulled against Killer Mole could become your own signature  Fastball Special with a little more practise.

Looking at the game in those terms, the list of superpowers stops being just a list of superpowers  and becomes a whole list of possible characters. Do you want to play the best Flyer, Illusionist, Healer, Leaper, Mind Reader, Swimmer, Transformer, Morph or Nullifyer? Then take that one single power (plus Alternate Effects, if any), and make it so!

What single superpower would you take to make your iconic superhero?

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3 Responses

  1. Joshua says:

    Superspeed, of course.

    Though all Legionnaires get a flight ring in addition to their innate powers, and many of them have multiple powers.

    This kind of thing is (if I may be excused for saying so) pretty much the reason I wrote Kapow!

  2. Adrian says:

    Telekinesis is an obvious one, but two I really like are Density Manipulation and Gravity Control. I briefly had a Marvel RPG character named Heavy G with the latter power.

    Light Manipulation is another one I’ve always wanted to try.

  3. DarkTouch says:

    The Energy Controller archetype is the obvious choice. You want a single power that can cover several different uses. Usually I look to cover four areas with a single power: Attack, Defense, Movement, Senses/Misc.

    The very first M&M character I built had tactile photokinesis. Light armor, explosive touch, lightspeed ‘teleport’, and darkvision. All ‘one power’ but lots of different effects.

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