The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

The D&D Superhero

Although characters in D&D are frequently heroes, they don’t really resemble what most people think of when they think of superheroes; more often than not D&D characters resemble heroic mercenaries.

A superhero is a type of stock character possessing “extraordinary or superhuman powers” and dedicated to protecting the public and has some visual characteristic (typically an outfit) that makes him/her identifiable.

I have been musing of late as to what it would take to turn a D&D game into a superhero game. You might wonder why do this at all when there are dedicated superhero rpgs? Well, for one, this is just a thought experiment, and second I have no idea whether it would be easier to bring the superhero to the fantasy world or the fantasy world to the superhero.

Superman. Need I say more?

The Typical Fantasy World isn’t a World for Superheroes

It’s not a total accident that D&D heroes aren’t superheroes. Superheroes need a world where they are special; typical D&D worlds have the heroes being just another group of characters. Additionally, many superheroes work best in a large urban environment, something that is often lacking in D&D worlds (obviously not all superheroes are urban, but it is very common). I think to have a D&D superhero game the world must be one that is ruled by the civilized races; there might be rare pockets of evil, but for the most part there shouldn’t be massive clans of baddies. Instead the evils of a superhero game must be hidden within the civilized world.

Superheroes don’t go Looting

A staple of D&D games are heroes stealing from their fallen enemies (and sometimes comrades), plundering ancient ruins, and gouging the people they are helping – and those are the good guys. These traits aren’t really appropriate to a superhero game, and would need to be eliminated. With the right group of players they might just go away with the mood change, but mechanics could be needed with players who don’t want to get away from the mercenary way.

Superheroes Start Stronger, but Progress Slowly

A feature of D&D is how the characters start lowly, but can rapidly rise to almost god-like powers. This is very unlike superheroes. A superhero campaign should see the characters start at a mid-level, but then progress at a much slower rate. In older editions this might be taken care of just by the lack of gold based XP, but in newer editions a mathematical factor would need to be introduced. I would think that reducing the XP earned by 95% would be a good answer.

Magic Items Need to be Really Special

Magic items would be a center piece of any D&D superhero game. Heroes and villains alike might have their whole identity built around a particular magic item. There aren’t many book magic items that would be a good for this purpose – DMs and players would need to work together to come up with creative magic items. These could range from Batman like items that are very visible tools, to articles that are not obvious, but grant very super powers.

The Killer Superhero

Some superheroes kill, and D&D has rules for non-lethal damage, but I still think that in order to properly integrate superheroes into D&D one might want a rule change to damage. Perhaps PCs and NPCs in negative hp are unconscious, but not dying. Also there would have to be almost an expectation of dramatic bending of the rules; D&D players would likely get upset if a nearly defeated villain mysteriously disappeared, but sometimes that happens in comics.

A Final Thought
Mixing two genres is not without its complexities, and the resulting hybrid often is not what was intended. But it can be a lot of fun.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.


November 16, 2010 - Posted by | Campaign Ideas, Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , ,


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