Building Super Powers

The Formula

Powers and Abilities

A hero’s powers and abilities are what make him “super.” Some “supers” are actually normal human beings whose abilities come from intense training or newly invented technology – though both types tend to be a little better than any real human being could become. Most have actual abilities of the sort described in GURPS Powers pg 121.

To make a heroic adventure work, a character’s abilities need to serve three main functions:

  • He should be able to defeat or incapacitate several ordinary human beings in a hand-to-hand fight, either by wading into combat with them or by taking them out of action from a distance.
  • To keep them from just shooting him, he should have some ability that protects him from gunfire.
  • He should be capable of some feat that amazes and impresses witnesses to his story.

Individual members of a full-time team may not neccessarily have to have all three types of abilities; since they can cover each other’s weaknesses.

Heroes who have solo careers shoud have the full set.

What is a Power?

A “power” is an exotic or supernatural gift that you can direct in different ways to produce a number of related effects. A good example is Telepathy (see p. B257): the capacity to channel your thoughts in order to affect others’ minds. This might let you read minds, transmit thoughts, and lash out with bolts of mental energy. Yet all of these things are just manifestations of a single power – the power of Telepathy.


Each power has a source: the origin of the energy the wielder manipulates to produce its effects. This is normally chosen from the list under Advantage Origins (see p. B33) – for instance, Telepathy is “psionic”.

Example: The “chi” and “psionic” sources suggest that the power comes from within – from the user’s body and mind, respectively. Most other sources imply that the user is channeling external energies: the will of a god for “divine,” servitor spirits for “spirit,” mana for “magical,” and the energy of creation for “cosmic.” A few straddle the line, and suffuse the user and his surroundings; see Nature (Powers. 28) for a source like this. It’s important to be aware of this distinction, as it can affect how powers work in play (see Channeled Energies, Powers. 24).

For more on sources, including a discussion of which sources are appropriate for a given genre and campaign type, see Origins (p. 179).


A power also needs a focus: the item it manipulates or the concept it revolves around. This can be broad, but should be well-defined and fit into one of these categories:

  • A form of matter or energy, or its absence (e.g., air, cold, darkness, earth, electricity, fire, light, radiation, sound, vacuum, or water).
  • A natural phenomenon (e.g., death, disease, volcanic activity, or weather).
  • A supernatural phenomenon (e.g., astral projection, second sight, or the will of a specific god).
  • A class of targets (e.g., animals, computers, living bodies, plants, sentient minds, or spirits – or other powers of one particular source).
  • An abstract notion (e.g., good, evil, the future, or probability).

Anatomy of a Power lab.jpg

In addition to its source and focus, a power has three game-mechanical components:

  1. A set of advantages that represent different ways the power can manifest. These are known as the power’s abilities.
  2. A special modifier — most often a limitation — called a power modifier. This turns any advantage that has it into an ability within the associated power.

Each power has a list of abilities: advantages that make sense as manifestations of the power, given its focus. For instance, Telepathy offers such abilities as Empathy, Mind Control, Mind Probe, Mind Reading, Mind Shield, Mindlink, Possession, and Telesend (for a complete list, see Telepathy, p. 134). What these advantages have in common is that they lend themselves to interpretation as direct interactions between sentient minds.

A power’s abilities usually have a number of structural similarities. They might all be physical or mental, or supernatural — or perhaps they all depend on rolls against the same attribute. This is a suggestion and not a requirement, but the GM should definitely bear it in mind when designing powers. A power will seem contrived if its abilities belong to many different classes of advantages that work nothing alike.

It might be necessary to modify or qualify an advantage to better meet these goals before allowing it as an ability. For instance, Telepathy lists Affliction and Innate Attack as abilities, but only when they cause fatigue, stunning, incapacitation, temporary mental disadvantages, or DX, IQ, or Will penalties -– and only with the Malediction enhancement. These restrictions serve to exclude such attacks as fire bolts and death rays, which are inappropriate for Telepathy as depicted in most fiction.

The GM need not treat a power’s list of abilities as exhaustive or prescriptive. If a player provides a reasonable explanation for why an advantage that isn’t on the list would suit a particular power, the GM should be generous.

See Choosing Abilities (p. 9) for a detailed discussion of how to choose appropriate abilities for a power.

Power Modifiers

Each power also has a power modifier: a limitation or enhancement that turns an advantage into one of the power’s abilities. An advantage must have the relevant power modifier in order to be part of the power; there are no exceptions.

Example of an Ability or Power:

Blaze is a mutant who can create a stream of fire much like a flamethrower, below shows how this is built in game terms.

Fire Stream
Source: Elemental
Focus: Fire
Burning Attack 8; (Skill used Innate Attack Projectile) Jet increased range x4 (+30%) Power Modifiers Elemental: Heat/Fire (-10%), Mutant (-10%) 44 pts.

in the Ranged Attacks section this power looks like this:
Of course the reason the skill level is high only because the character is highly skilled with her powers.

Building Super Powers

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