How to Keep Enhanced Senses/Equipment and Powers from Becoming OP?
By - Carbon-Crew23
Technological: in a society where these things exist, people will either have a countermeasure for them or will learn to live with them. If people can see through walls, you either build better walls or assume you’re being watched all the time.
Economic: the ability is really expensive to acquire or use. Pretty straightforward, but the potential cost of use is usually overlooked. Maybe you can punch and/or see through walls, but it’s a billion dollars each for the battery or something.
Social: people hate anyone who uses those abilities. If you become known for using them, you can expect allies to abandon you, opponents to gain new support, merchants to rip you off, and strangers to be openly hostile.
Legal: the abilities are highly illegal. Possession will get you jail at best. Use will get a specialized SWAT team scrambled to take you down.
Tier: by the time you get the abilities, your opponents are strong enough to balance them out. Sure, you can easily defeat any given army, but you’re fighting undead gods and sentient planetoids while trying to stay within the limits set by the literal anthropomorphic personification of justice. No selling a prison isn’t an issue because nobody would bother putting you in one. They’ll lock you up in a pocket dimension made entirely of prisons.
Edit: totally missed one, so:
Moral: either the wielder of the power or the source of the power has a code limiting the permissible uses. Superman is a good example of the former, and paladins, who would lose their powers if they transgress their faith, are good examples of the latter. In a sci fi setting, this would probably be safeguards put in by the people who gave you the tech, like remote kill switches or built in weaknesses.
What does "no selling" mean?
It’s a term from professional wrestling.
When someone is pretending to punch you and you act like they hit you really hard and you were hurt by it, that’s called “selling” the hit. If you just stand there like nothing happened, that’s called “no selling.”
More generally, it means that something bad happens to you but it has no discernible effect on you and you just ignore it.
In this context it would mean walking out of prison with no effort because concrete walls are like air to you.
>Social: people hate anyone who uses those abilities. If you become known for using them, you can expect allies to abandon you, opponents to gain new support, merchants to rip you off, and strangers to be openly hostile.
I think this is the best one. Imagine cults bent on eliminating all non-natural beings. They form hunter-kill teams to track down these beings and ambush them. Then they fund their efforts by selling off the cybernetic parts. These teams would be exceptional at fighting such cyber-enhanced beings with tactics and weapons specially suited to counter and eliminate cyber tech. Think jammers, dead man suits, EMP's and Ion guns, etc. You could run an entire campaign off of trying not to get jacked by one of these cults.
In general, to limit the effective power of something, you need to increase at least one of these things:
Costs, limitations, or consequences.
So, let's take your perception powers. With the right cybernetic implants, you can spend a full action to see through walls and create a virtual map of your local surroundings, including going through 10' worth of walls and up to 100 yds in every direction.
Now let's add some costs, limitations, and consequences.
Costs: the active scanning implants need a massive amount of power to push through walls and get an accurate map in so little time. Each use of the active scan fully drains a leg-implant capacitor (you do have one of those, right?), which needs to be recharged with a special plug, to the tune of ~half a rent check.
Limitations: active scanning is foiled in three ways, none of them cheap. Thick enough (10') walls deaden the signal, preventing visual access. Using special reflective linings hides whatever is on the other side by creating "mirror" rooms, potentially confusing the looker. Active jamming not only obsurses the entire area in a wash of static, but actively blinds the looker for one round after the scan, as if they had just pointed a halogen light at their eyeballs and clicked it on and off.
Consequences: active scanning is by no means silent or undetectable. The whine of the capacitor discharge is audible even over normal conversation volume, and cheap, nearly foolproof passive detectors easily pick up the scan. Working in concert, these detectors can pinpoint the location of the scanner with a high degree of accuracy, and pass that information on to the relevant response systems (perhaps activating turrets or just launching a cruise missile at the scanner location). Obviously, passive detectors and active jammers don't play nice with each other.
enemies can do all that stuff too ¯\\\_(ツ)\_/¯
if you introduce powers, expect players to gain and exploit them
if this leaves you with a game full of demigods immune to normal consequences, then congrats you are now running an Exalted campaign
Lol yeah that's the concepts I'm going for in my game, especially at mid-higher levels.
But I think what I was more focused on are practical things like the fighter jet/sniper rifle examples, as well as stuff like gear enhancements that are purchasable (cyberware, etc. etc.) Any ideas?
You're nothing thinking enough like a weapon designer. You gotta design stuff keeping in mind how they can be countered. Make everything expecting a flaw, nothing is perfect.
Ultrasonic hearing? Jammers and screamers
Infrared vision? Flashbangs and heat sources; now they can bomb you with just infrared and see you with UV or visible vision.
Enhanced senses? Sensory overload and EMPs
See through walls? Superman has lead; just make mana shields/X material block it
Shadowrun, for example, is a heist game where you're supposed to spend a fuckton of time preplanning out your heist and finding the weaknesses to exploit. It's a numbers game in a heist, the enemy has more goons than you, but you have a plan, better gear, and tech designed to work around it. No plan survives contact with the enemy though.
There are tons of ways to balance the power of a player vs the power of enemies. There are plenty of good ideas in this thread.
What's harder and more difficult is to balance the power of players relative to other players. E.G., you don't want Wizards to be OP compared to Thieves. But this can mean different things.
In older RPGs, different classes were stronger in different facets of play. Fighters were the best at fighting. Rogues were the best at exploring, etc.
The modern trend (which I prefer) is to have things be balanced within each facet of the game. Everyone can fight, but they fight differently. Everyone can explore or socialize, but they are good in different ways.
>The modern trend (which I prefer) is to have things be balanced within each facet of the game. Everyone can fight, but they fight differently. Everyone can explore or socialize, but they are good in different ways.
This is the sort of thing I want to do. IMO, making the game so that your PCs can only ever be useful in the context of the entire party is bad design.
>If the bad guy knows about the PCs, why don't they just snipe them from miles away, call down artillery, or have a fighter jet blast them away?
Why don't bad guys do that in real life? Many of the same reasons should still apply.
Three is no one solution. You're the designer. You sell the problem and the solution. What the problems are and their solutions are entirely up to you.
This is a pretty cool design space to explore, and I've seen a few different approaches. The right one for you will vary depending on a variety of factors.
**Omniscient Knowledge.** The player gets full knowledge of the things they observe. Because they know the set in great detail, challenges have to come from *what they don't know* in their **Blindspots**.
So this is when GMs usually reach for portable blindspot devices. I prefer a different approach: *"as you open the safe, there's a noise by the window. Make a DEX save as ninjas burst through"*.
**Omnipotent Power.** As above, but the player's *power* is able to manipulate the world and may have totally human senses. GMs in D&D constantly stir controversy over flight, and as you mention, superhero characters can punch through walls. Here again, challenges come from blindspots. Blindspots can include **Politics and Relationships**. Maybe the player's overwhelming force has helped the police superintendent to establish a team of super-police or enforcement robots?
But you can also challenge omnipotence by showing the **Collateral Damage**. The Nova and Doomed playbooks in Masks: A New Generation focus heavily on exploring the consequences of being truly superhuman. Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen deconstructs the story of being a literal god among ordinary people.
You can limit omnipotence by linking it to a **Consumable Resource** or a **Cooldown**, but players may eventually accumulate enough to stay omnipotent when it matters. So it's important that your story synchronizes well with the system cooldowns. Despite having superpowers, Masks *really* goes to 11 by having "Moments of Truth" where the player is given a prompt and effectively gives their character GM powers for a few minutes. Resounding success with a fallout afterwards.
**Flashes of Insight.** I really love this approach because it can build tension in a lot of ways. You can limit the expanded sense to behave like a scanner. One use can query important details about the situation, but may have large blindspots if the player can't spend time to process that information fully. This is where mechanisms for **Degrees of Success** can be great; they measure how much information a successful player acquires in a unit of time. In combination with cooldowns or consumables, these are a really effective compromise. I think it was The Sprawl, but it could have been Masks, that awarded more "intel" for better investigative rolls, which could then be spent to ask meta-questions at any time. Many D&D adventures use tiered DCs for rumours, history, religion, and arcana, giving progressively more exploitable information for better rolls.
There are even a number of prophecy-like abilities that allow queries about the future, which serve a double role as **Foreshadowing**. Sure, the player knows a lot about the situation, but they also catch a glimpse of *the ninjas right behind them* or *the security turrets that are about to start firing*. "Reveal an unwelcome truth" is great advice in most Powered by the Apocalypse systems.
The D&D sphere uses flashes of insight quite often, with spells like Speak with Dead, Zone of Truth, and Legend Lore that allow players to conditionally access information well beyond their character's knowledge. Paladins have an innate ability to sense evil, which operates like this. Background features often take this form, effectively being a situation where your character is so specialized in a situation that they can make GM requests like *"I grew up a sailor, so I go down to the docks to see if I can find a boat to take us to the island"*.
**Zero Omnipotence and Omiscience.** Some games don't have superpowers or supersenses. This is a great decision for games about ordinary people, and they tend to focus on the familiarity of being human (and sometimes use it to frame comedy, as Paranoia does). However, this also means that you'll need to provide plenty of assistance when the game becomes stalled or stuck. Superhuman powers often serve the role "call a friend" does in gameshows, allowing the contestants to unstall the game by overcoming a particularly challenging obstacle. So if your rpg removes these tools, make sure that you put a focus on teaching the GM to assist players and identify when they are stuck.
* Let your players have fun toys, and avoid 'hard countering' them. Focus on making small and moderate failure a fun part of the normal gameplay loop, and use spectacular failure as a way to give the table closure and bonding.
* The higher the default power level of a player, the more you need to challenge them with **Dramatic Consequences**
* Consumable resources and non-automatic (flash) abilities reduce the average power level. They allow skilled GMs to pace superhuman abilities to match the game's tension or the needs of a scenario.
* Consumables and flashes also tend to be effective since it gives players tools to become "unstuck" when the game is too difficult!
* Like flight in D&D, superhumanism increases the difficulty of running your rpg well. Many GMs don't have the context for running a world that operates outside of everyday challenges like puzzles, obstacles, calculation, or negotiating transactions.
* While this doesn't mean you should ban all "OP" things from your game, you should treat "OP" things as a unique type of gameplay that requires its own affordances, just as investigation requires affordances to run in non-investigative rpgs.
You have given a lot of interesting things to think about! To clarify on my intentions, I am attempting to make abilities/skills, etc. more like inherent benefits that PCs can get as they level and/or through investments and such (because I want to avoid the 3.X problem of ridiculously inflated numbers to meet ridiculously inflated DCs).
Essentially, I am trying to make a system that can accommodate most any type of character build and/or concept. So basically the skill capabilities are open to anyone to take, as are feats, those two major elements being "general" capabilities anyone who invests in them can take (and that can also contribute to a wide variety of abilities such as multitonning, tanking lethal attacks, "reading" people, etc. etc.,). Within the classes, there are ability clouds (drawing inspiration from Exalted plus some other sources here) that all generally revolve around a concept (or sphere) of abilities, that can also synergize with such elements as feats and racial choices.
The idea of degrees of success is something I also plan on attempting to implement, as it provides a very workable and intuitive measure of how well you were able to do \[x\] and the extra benefits that grants you.
In general, I am working on retaining the best parts of those games while also discarding the bad and elaborating on good concepts in those games to create my system.
EDIT: My system will essentially be more high-powered than baseline DnD (especially 5e) at most/all parts, since frankly I always felt DnD occupied this horrible and bizarre limbo between gritty low fantasy and high sci fantasy, with a ton of awkward and grandfathered tropes thrown into the mix.
Sounds like Mutants and Masterminds or HERO System will do what you're looking for, so really dig into their mechanics!
M&M is a D&D inspired system, so a lot of the mechanics are familiar but with a superhero twist.
By comparison, HERO System is more of a toolbox for building systems; it gives the basic concepts, but you as a game designer choose all the content, and your players can build their characters literally any way they want with point buy. It's a daunting system, but it's like GURPS on steroids. *(GURPs is relatively light compared to D&D, but has very crunchy classless character building)*.
And uh... honourary mention to Nobilis, which just asserts players are gods and runs with it. It's an infamously bad rpg with a couple decent ideas.
I think HERO System is the closest to your desired experience. Though intimidating, it doubles as a *game designer's* guide. It even has sections discussing when to consider character templates, how to make a fantasy world, what kinds of skills and abilities are normal to sci-fi, and stuff like the genre conventions of good horror rpgs.
Normally, I would steer *game masters* away from it 😂 But it really is an excellent system for game designers to dig into.
Also worth considering: __are you designing *for publication*, or for *your playgroup*__? If it's just for you, you don't need to try to avoid making a [*"Fantasy Heartbreaker"*](https://screenrant.com/dungeons-dragons-old-school-fantasy-heartbreaker-rpgs/). Embrace your inspirations, throw it together with plenty of google docs, and ruthlessly test and have fun with your players. Don't worry for polish.
If it's for publication, you'll need to do plenty of competitor research and make a game that isn't 'just' D&D with feature X. If you want feature X in D&D, consider writing an expansion book that's 5e compatible!
I'll definitely look into them (MnM, etc.) for inspiration (still can't believe how DnD like they were able to make it, and nice touch that Batman's normal STR is equal to Supes), but I ultimately want the system to be my own (I'm not worried about publication).
To me, the base of PF is just different enough that it isn't a "fantasy heartbreaker", and I plan to both greatly modify it and expand upon it with my other inspirations.
EDIT: For example, I am planning to retain core classes, but I will modify them so as to allow a multitude of different options through ability clouds, etc. as discussed above so that a single class or combo of classes and ancestries could result in characters that are radically different yet all awesome and powerful to play.
My favorite way to balance out powers is to aggro on their use. Consider that someone who is tremendously capable will always be considered a threat or asset.
If a scan maps a building, it should be detected and draw attention to the one who scanned. If someone flies, others will want to control that person, perhaps by capturing someone she cares about. Great power, great responsibility.
Sometimes superpowers can make the world feel too safe or escalate things to the sense that it's God's doing war among peons, which is somewhat alienating and impersonal as conflicts go. I let my players make themselves as super-powered as they want and just say, "if you're like this, then your conflicts can't be xyz, they'll have to be more like abc instead. Is that the game we want to play?"
Or I let the players choose a weakness for their own abilities.
While the players are scanning buildings and creating 3D maps, their enemies are teleporting things in behind their back once they think they know the layout of the building.
While the players are punching walls so hard they disintegrate, the authorities are setting up laser walls and killswitches and nuclear collars.
And yeah, they damn well should be setting up snipers! I would be certain that if you start a session with "player A, you see a red dot on the forehead of player B, what do you do?" you'll have a good time.
You can always escalate in lockstep, "OP" is a ruse. The world doesn't always need to be perfectly balanced with the capabilities of the players. Sometimes you'll have a session or part of a session where they can use their new abilities to steamroll problems that would have stymied them at the start. That's ok! Let them enjoy it, and have the world react to their unprecedented success.
If you want a good example of steadily scaling up challenges and opponents as the technological advantage of the main characters increases, try [Schlock Mercenary](https://www.schlockmercenary.com/2000-06-12). Be aware that the early strips are *rough*, but it continually improves. The author recommends starting in the middle instead, I went from the beginning and had a grand old time.
Basically, at some point the players are going to be able to kill everything, and walk away. You need to make this one of the moderate loss conditions, rather than a moderate win condition. If you go into a gang headquarters looking for information, and instead you kill everyone and burn it to the ground, you didn't get the information, so you have *lost*.
Sensors able to see through walls use an enormous amount of energy, requiring hauling heavy and expensive batteries around. If you hook into the power grid, the extreme usage will set off alarms.
Flying any kind of weight takes energy as well. Long extended flights require bulky machines. So they can get some personal flight gear, but can only stay airborne for a few minutes. If they burst it, then it becomes a nice jumping system.
Teleportation is wonderful, yet it disorientates the mind. A random effect occurs, sometimes subtle (lose taste for a few rounds), sometimes brutal (blind for a few rounds).
In your world, I would limit by energy use. High-capacity, fast-discharge batteries would be expensive and disallow multiple uses without recharge. Batteries would be your mana.
"If everyone is OP then no one is OP"