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From The Space Gamer - Superheroes in TFT

July 29, 2018


From TSG 65 (September/October 1983)

One of the prime attractions in the roleplaying game The Fantasy Trip is the rapid yet involving method in which combats are resolved. Unlike many fantasy game rules, which are more complex and lock the player into a realistic but rigid system, TFT is readily adaptable to different gaming situations. One such is the superhero roleplaying game.

In a superhero RPG, players take the roles of costumed crimefighters. Superhero background worlds generally resemble reality as we know it – except for the presence of superheroes. In many ways, superhero RPGs are easier for a referee to run than fantasy RPGs. Players don’t have to behave like preliterate, pre-technological wizards and warriors. They already understand their background world, since it is essentially their own, and they are not required to kill and loot in order to progress in the game.

This article provides general guidelines for the creation and play of characters in a superhero world, using TFT rules. It is compatible with TFT as much as possible. R member that a superhero world resembles the one we live in; thus, the pseudo-medieval economics of TFT, as excellent as they are, are irrelevant.

However, there is no reason heroes and wizards from Cidri cannot operate alongside superheroes, either in a super­hero world or a fantasy world. The culture shock alone is worth the price of admission!

I. Types of Characters

Let’s begin by identifying the types of characters which populate a superhero world and by describing the common abilities available to such people.

Mundanes are essentially normal people who are not player-characters or super­level heroes or villains. Mundanes start with 1d6+24 points to allocate, minimum 8 each in IQ, ST and DX. Thus, they start out below the standard of superheroes and even beginning heroes and wizards from TFT. Mundanes may purchase skills from the “normal” skill list presented later in this article, and have the listed common abilities.

Heroes are player-characters generated in the standard TFT fashion: 32 points allocated to ST, DX, and IQ, minimum of 8 in each. They may purchase skills from the “normal” skill list below, and have the listed common abilities. These are our noncostumed heroes, superspies, private detectives and superheroes’ love interests.

Superheroes also start out with 32 points to allot to characteristics. However, instead of having a number of IQ points equal to his IQ to spend on skills, a superhero has a number of Creation Points equal to his current number of attribute points to spend on talents, spells, and superpowers. A beginning superhero, then, will have 32 Creation Points to spend on these things. All these points could go into talents if the character wishes – he is not limited to a number of skills dictated by his IQ, although he cannot buy skills of a higher IQ level than his own IQ. It’s the superpowers, though, which distinguish the superhero from the common man – the ability to fly, to throw cars around the block, to project laser beams, to bounce bullets off the chest.

There are several skills that almost everyone growing up in a modern technological culture will have, and which all characters from a superheroic Earth will have. Unlike TFT Mundane Talents, which are not terribly heroic but require formal training, these common abilities may be presumed to be available to everyone who grows up in the society. They do not require allocation of IQ points. Common abilities always operate; you don’t do anything special to perform them, and no check is necessary against IQ, DX, or ST except in a difficult or hazardous situation. The two significant common abilities are Literacy and Driving.

In modern society, Literacy is a common ability; it does not require the allocation of any IQ points. All characters may be presumed to be literate in their own tongue, and in any tongue they speak which uses the same alphabet as their native language.

Driving means driving a standard four-wheeled passenger vehicle. The ability to drive more esoteric vehicles must be purchased as skills.

These two skills operate automatically under normal conditions. A Literacy check – 3d6 vs. IQ – might be necessary if the character is puzzling out a peculiar word (e.g., figuring out that “pachycephalosaur” indicates some sort of thick-headed lizard). A Driving check – 3d6 vs. DX – would be necessary to keep control of a car if it has just hit a curb or been sideswiped, 4d6 vs. DX if this occurred on slick streets, or 5d6 vs. DX if it occurred on an ice-covered street during a snowstorm. These die vs. characteristic rolls are made at the referee’s determination; since so many varies and different circumstances occur in a superhero game, more so than in a fantasy campaign, the referee’s ability to make such determinations about a character’s abilities is greater here.

A note on magic: Magic is not commonly available to normal citizens of a modern world. However, player-characters can certainly learn magical spells from TFT, given sufficient rationale and the referee’s approval. Note that magical spells are usually not as cost-effective as superpowers, as they tend to drastically decrease characters’ ST whereas powers do not. A Superhero learns talents as a Hero and spells as a Wizard; a Hero-level character must choose to be either a Hero or Wizard; Mundanes may not be wizards.

II. Talents

Talents are used by superheroes and heroes in the same manner as any TFT character uses them, by rolling a number of dice to achieve a number equal to or less than the relevant characteristic governing the talent. For instance, Acrobatics is obviously governed by Dexterity.

Since education is more common in a superhero world than in most fantasy worlds, talents may be increased in ability and utility more easily than in regular TFT. Some TFT talents – for example, Thief/Master Thief – already have built-in means of achieving higher levels of expertise. Other talents aren’t subject to improvement – either you have Sex Appeal or you don’t. Those TFT talents which don’t fall into the previous two categories, and many talents from Section IV, may be purchased at higher levels of proficiency.

Consider there to be four levels of proficiency in a talent: Basic, Improved, Advanced, and Expert. Basic allows use of the Talent as described; each additional level of proficiency allows you to subtract 1 from a die-roll being checked against the relevant characteristic, unless otherwise specified for the particular talent. Thus, basic Tactics allows a 6d6 roll vs. IQ to figure out an opponent’s moves. With Expert Tactics, the roll is 5d6-3.

Training to each new level of proficiency is done exactly as if acquiring the talent at its basic level: Allot IQ points (Creation Points with Superheroes). The Basic and Improved levels of the skill each require the basic cost of the skill; Advanced requires one point higher, and then Expert requires 2 points higher. Purchasing, for example, Expert Pilot would require 11 IQ points . . . 2 (Basic) +2 (Improved) +3 (Advanced) +4 (Expert). Note that common abilities may be bought up in proficiency. Consider them 1-point IQ 7 skills. Thus, Basic Driving is free, Improved Driving costs 1 point, etc.

Any character may attempt to use any talent, even if he doesn’t have that talent. A character attempting to use a skill he doesn’t possess suffers some restrictions, however.

If the relevant characteristic governing the skill is DX, the character suffers the following modifiers to his DX while using the skill:

-4 for any TFT talent, unless specified otherwise in TFT

-2 for any 1 IQ talent from this article

-4 for any 2 IQ talent from this article

-6 for any 3 IQ talent from this article.

 If the relevant characteristic is IQ, roll twice the number of dice usually rolled against IQ.

Any skill which is exercised under difficult conditions – such as lockpicking in total darkness – is at -2 to the relevant characteristic. A skill exercised under hazardous conditions – such as hang gliding with an injured arm – is at -4 to the relevant characteristic.

III. Firearms

Although legally restricted in some areas, firearms are available to most people; even those people who don’t normally use them will be vaguely familiar with their use. Note that the TFT Guns talent applies only to gunpowder weapons common to the fantasy world of the character’s origin (blunderbuss, musket, etc.); a fantasy musketeer will not be able to use an Uzi as though he’d been born to it.

A character with no training in firearms but with a passing familiarity in the subject (e.g., a modern character with a modern firearm) may fire the weapon at -2 DX and may reload it. He may not fix malfunctions. A character with the TFT Guns talent but no modern firearms talent may fire modern firearms at -1 DX, and may reload them if he is familiar with or has seen the reloading process; he may not fix malfunctions. Likewise, a character with only modern firearms skills may fire antiquated firearms at -1 DX, and may reload them if he’s familiar with or has seen the process, and he may not fix malfunctions. A modern character with no firearms skills may fire (at -2 DX) an antiquated firearm, but may not load or fix the weapon. A fantasy character with no firearms skill must make a 4d6 vs. IQ roll to figure out how to use the weapon in the first place (6d6 if he’s never seen or heard of such a weapon) and will fire at -4 DX once he’s got it figured out.

Each firearms skill is an IQ 7(1) skill. Each skill covers all firearms in a given class. Typical firearms classes include pistols, rifles, submachine guns, and shotguns.

A typical pistol is a .38 caliber six-shot revolver. Most pistols do two dice damage. People with the Pistol talent may elect to use the TFT “dagger marksmanship” rules when using the pistol. Otherwise, pistols are fired like any TFT missile weapon, subtracting 1 DX for every megahex of range to the target. A pistol, however, may be discharged up to five times per combat round. For each additional shot beyond the first, subtract DX as if the character were throwing an equivalent number of sha-ken as per TFT. If the shots are directed at different targets, subtract 2 DX per additional target.

A typical rifle is a bolt-action .30-06 which holds 20 rounds. Such a typical rifle will do three dice damage per hit. Rifles are missile weapons, and may be fired twice per combat round, -2 DX if the second shot is against a second target. A bayonet on the end of the rifle makes the weapon the equivalent of a TFT spear. Military rifles are semi-automatic, hold an average of 30 rounds, and may be fired up to five times per round like a pistol (actually, the genuine rate of fire is considerably higher, but this will keep things a little more balanced).

A typical submachine gun holds 30 rounds per clip. It may fire in single-shot action, doing 3d6 per hit, up to five times per round, or on autofire. Each autofire burst uses five bullets, doing 5d6 when it hits and granting a +3 DX to the firer; two such bursts may be fired per round. A burst may be sprayed into three connecting hexes at -3 DX per target; each hit does 3d6 damage.

Shotguns operate as a TFT blunderbuss, doing four dice damage. They may be fired twice per combat round; the second shot, if it is not at the same target, is at -2 DX.

Science fiction guns – hand lasers, blasters, phasers, etc. – fire once per combat round, and act as TFT missile weapons. An average weapon of this type will do five dice damage.

Note: Modern artifacts are not adequately covered either by TFT or this article. Readers will have to extrapolate from examples or similarities in the TFT rules (at least until articles expanding the concept of Superheroes in TFT can be written). For example: A modern flak vest encumbers a character as TFT chainmail but stops 6 hits; presume that bullets and missiles hit the vest on a roll of 5-9 on two dice.

IV. Normal Talents

For Heroes and Mundanes, each of these talents costs a number of IQ points. For Superheroes, each talent costs a number of Creation points. In neither case can a character buy a skill which requires a higher IQ than the character possesses.

IQ 7 Talents

Grenade (1): Any character may throw a grenade a number of hexes equal to his ST, treating it as a thrown weapon. With this skill, characters throw them as missile weapons. Grenades explode with an effect of half a TFT Petard; they go off at the end of the turn in which they were thrown. This skill does not go through levels of proficiency; the basic skill is all there is.

Bureaucrat (3): A character with this skill will be able to understand official documents, records, etc., when there is some degree of confusion about their contents due to legalistic writing styles. This requires a 3d6 vs. IQ roll. A bureaucrat can detect forgeries of official documents on 3d6 vs. IQ (4d6 vs. IQ if done by a Calligrapher, plus 1d6 for each level of training of the Calligrapher), and will know if someone is attempting to lie about official regulations just as if the bureaucrat had the Detect Lie talent.

IQ 8 Talents

Blackjack (1): When one character clubs another from behind, without the victim’s knowledge and with the attacker knowing the Blackjack skill, the skill allows one additional die to the damage done by the club. When used with a blackjack or sap, the skill allows the user to double the normal damage for the weapon, but consider it to be HTH “subdual” damage. Having this talent does not grant the user the stealth to be able to sneak up on a victim. There are no additional levels of proficiency with this skill.

Fast Draw (2): Allows a character to ready and fire a firearm in the same round. There are no additional levels of proficiency with this skill.

Parachutist (1): With this skill, the character may use any sort of parachute. When landing, he must roll 2d6 vs. DX to avoid incurring 1d6 damage from the fall Without this talent, a character may use a parachute but must roll 4d6 vs. DX when landing to avoid 2d6 damage. Without the talent, in addition, a character attempting to use a free-fall parachute must roll 2d6 vs. IQ to successfully open the parachute at all.

Scuba (2): Only costs 1 if the character already has the Swimming talent: This skill allows the character to competently operate scuba gear to breathe underwater and to swim as confidently as though he had the Diving talent when using flippers and facemask. In case of equipment trouble, a 3d6 vs. IQ roll is needed to fix failed equipment, avoid the bends, etc.

Flight Device (2): Each purchase of this skill allows the character to operate one peculiar flight device, such as a jet­pack (which allows one to fly as though he were affected by the TFT Flight spell), hang glider, or hot-air balloon. As with Driving, difficult circumstances require a 3d6 (or worse) roll vs. DX.

Motorcycle (1): This talent allows use of a motorcycle as a Common Ability of Driving.

Truck (1): This allows operation of a bus, trailer truck, etc. as a Common Ability.

Tracked Vehicle (2): Only (1) if the user has Truck Talent. This allows operation of a tracked vehicle (bulldozer, tank) as a Common Ability of Driving.

IQ 9 Talents

Pilot (2): Allows driving-type operation of aircraft. Requires a 3d6 vs. IQ roll every round if it is an unfamiliar craft (e.g., a jet plane when the pilot was only trained on prop planes).

Marksmanship (3): A Missile Weapons talent applying specifically to firearms. The actual Missile Weapons still does not apply to firearms. This has only one level of proficiency.

Sharpshooting (2): Only (1) if character also has Marksmanship Talent. This allows +4 DX (with any specific weapon), provided the shooter fires only once/melee round.

IQ 10 Talents

Sleight of Hand (2): On 3d6 vs. DX, the character can palm small objects, pick pockets, etc. This resembles the Thief skill, but is more theatrical, and substitutes palming of items for lockpicking.

Trance (2): One 3d6 vs. DX, the character can feign death for two minutes. He can also use this as a form of concentration; on 3d6 vs. IQ and given an uninterrupted minute (12 melee rounds), the character may clear his mind to enable him to use any knowledge Talent at +1 IQ for the subsequent minute.

Firefighting (2): Only (1) if the character also has Climbing Talent. The character, given access to sand, water, chemicals, etc., can extinguish a megahex of fire or less per melee round on 3d6 vs. IQ.

IQ 11 Talents

Gambling (2): The character knows both cheating techniques and odds at games of chance. The skill allows +1 on any sort of dice roll used to determine the outcome of a gamble.

Detective (2): The character can use principles or criminology and observation, on 3d6 vs. IQ, to identify suspicious or contraband items, similarities or ambiguities of physical evidence associated with a suspect, etc. It’s similar to the TFT Naturalist talent, but for use on people.

IQ 12 Talents

Gadgets (2): Only (1) if the character has Mechanician talent. This skill allows use of some specific weapon or “gadget” which is not commercially available, on 3d6 vs. IQ; it does not confer the ability to fix or modify the object.

Cryptography (3): This is the ability to decode secret writings, ciphers, etc. on 3d6 vs. IQ.

Escape Artist (2): Prereq: Sleight of Hand. The character can escape ropes on 3d6 vs. DX. Escaping handcuffs, jail cells etc., requires 5d6 vs. DX+IQ.

IQ 13 Talents

Lawyer (3): When the legality of a character’s activities is called into question, or when confronted by hostile law enforcement officials, someone with this Talent can avoid the confrontation by recourse to legal knowledge and a convincing speech on 3d6 vs. IQ.

Eidetic Memory (3): On 3d6 vs. IQ, the character will remember anything he has read or been told. He must have made the effort to commit the info to memory; it is not automatic. However, the memory is permanent thereafter.

IQ 14 Talents

Interrogation (3): If the character has an uninterrupted 12 turns to question someone who is not inclined to answer a question, and makes a 3d6 vs. IQ roll, he will obtain the answer by techniques of interrogation (subtlety, misdirection, deceit – not torture). The victim may save vs. his own IQ, as per resisting a Control Spell; however, the interrogator may continue the questioning another 12 turns.

Ambush/Assassination (2): Prereq: Silent Movement and Tracking, or Disguise. When striking from ambush, with a victim unaware he is under attack, a character with this talent is +4 DX and does 2 additional points of damage with any weapon or U.C. Talent.

V.  Powers

There are three categories of super­powers: Personal, Ranged, and Enhancement.

The superhero uses personal powers when exercising paranormal abilities which do not project some sort of energy over distance. Such powers include Healing, Flying, and Shapechanging. Each personal power costs six Creation Points to buy; allotment of an additional six “doubles” the power, as explained for each individual power. To use a personal power, a superhero activates the power in the Movement Phase of a combat round, either in lieu of or together with actual movement (depending on the power). To activate the power entails rolling 3d6 vs. the relevant characteristic specified for the power.

Personal powers may be continued indefinitely, without loss of ST, by rolling against the relevant characteristic in the same phase as wizards renew their spells. If the attempt fails, the superhero may then attempt to renew the power in the Movement Phase of the same round. If a power such as Flight “fails” or does not activate, it does not mean that the flier suddenly drops like a stone, but rather that he cannot fly in any specific direction until he regains control.

If a referee wishes to limit the capacities of personal powers, he may specify that they can only be used a number of times per day equal to the relevant characteristic.

Ranged Powers are those which allow superheroes  to hurl energy across distances. They operate similarly to TFT Missile spells, except that they do not deplete the superheroes’ ST. They require a 3d6 roll vs. the relevant characteristic to activate; the roll occurs in the Action Phase, when the character uses the power. If a referee wishes to limit the use of ranged powers, he may require an expenditure of 1 ST each time the Ranged Power is used; the ST would be recovered at the same rate as the Wizard’s ST lost in spellcasting, and excessive power use would have the same damaging effects as ST lost through spellcasting. If the activation roll fails, the power does not activate this round. Purchase of a Ranged power requires the allotment of eight Creation Points.

Enhancement powers do not need to be activated; they usually multiply the effectiveness of a hero’s characteristics. Each enhancement requires the allotment of 12 Creation Points; they may have increased effects through the allotment of additional Creation Points, depending on the individual power.

Personal Powers

Shadow: Allows the superhero to duplicate the ability of the legendary radio show character of that name. If the superhero has one combat round to concentrate (in other words, a round when no one attacks him), and succeeds in his 3d6 roll vs. the relevant characteristic, he can move unseen as if using the TFT invisibility spell. Doubling this power confers actual invisibility, usable against animals or mechanical light sensors as well as people. IQ is the relevant characteristic.

Light: The character can glow, as per a TFT lantern. Doubling confers the equivalent of a Dazzle spell for each turn the power is activated. ST is the relevant characteristic.

Detection: With this power, a character may, once per tum, say that he is trying to detect a specific object, emotion, person, or other item – such as magic, or the nefarious General Willkie, or radiation, or falsehoods. With a 3d6 roll against the relevant characteristic, IQ, he may detect any examples of his target within a three-megahex radius area. Doubling allows him to know what the specific instance of that target is – e.g., “two pounds of plutonium” instead of “radiation,” or “confusion spell” instead of just “magic."

Force Field: This power allows the character to project a protective force field. If he stands still, he may create a force field covering a megahex (he is at the center of the egahex). The force field repels incoming missiles or any character with a lesser ST than the caster. (Attackers of higher ST smash their way through and the force field drops until reactivated.) Doubling allows the character to cover a mega-megahex area. ST is the relevant characteristic.

Fire: The character can produce the equivalent of a TFT Fire spell in his own or an adjacent hex. Doubling allows the superhero to create a megahex-sized flame, with one hex adjacent to his own hex (unless he wants to project it on the hex he’s in). The caster is immune to his own flame. IQ is the relevant characteristic.

Armor: The character can harden his own body, giving him the equivalent of Stone Flesh (stops 4 hits). Doubling makes it equivalent to Iron Flesh (6 hits). ST is the relevant characteristic.

Regeneration: The character regenerates damage he has taken. At the beginning of each round after he has been injured, the character makes his 3d6 roll against ST; if the roll is successful, he gains l ST. This power will not raise a character’s ST above his starting, unin­jured, total. A character trying to perform regeneration may not do anything else for the rest of the round. Doubling this power means that the roll against ST is only 2d6.

Healing: As Regeneration, above, but usable instead upon other people. The superhero must touch the intended recipient of the healing and make a 3d6 vs. IQ roll (2d6 if the power is doubled).

Fly: Acts as a TFT Flying spell.

Ranged Powers

Telekinesis: Acts as te TFT Telekinesis spell. Telekinesis acts at the superhero’s “original” ST, not the ST granted by certain enhancement powers. IQ is the relevant characteristic.

Mindfist: Allows a character to punch someone at range; use the character’s own attack ST to determine the normal HTH damage, which with use of this power may be applied at range like a missile spell. IQ is the relevant characteristic.

Fire/Lightning/Cold/etc: These are direct-damage powers. Despite their many forms, they basically operate in the same way: Some sort of energy gouts from the superhero and damages what it hits. (The referee may determine any additional effects of the power, such as fire setting objects aflame, cold blasts nullifying fire blasts, radiation blasts not penetrating lead shielding, etc.) Unlike the cost-to-purchase of other Ranged Powers, these powers cost 6 Creation Points per die of damage each blast is supposed to do. ST is the relevant characteristic.

Force: This power pushes open doors, overturns cars, etc., but will not damage living entities or characters. It acts in all ways like a fire/lightning/ cold/etc. blast, except for the fact that it will not hurt living things. Each die of possible damage costs 4 Creation Points. ST is the relevant characteristic.

Psychic Blast: This power does damage to a person’s IQ instead of ST. A character may not die from being psi-blasted, and his IQ never drops below 0. Characters who have been psi-blasted act as though they’d been Confused by the spell of the same name; at IQ 6 they take on the reasoning power of prootwaddles, and the referee can enforce typical random and irrational behavior; at IQ 5 the character loses the power of speech and can not distinguish between friend and foe. Each die of damage to a target’s IQ per blast costs 12 Creation Points. A target regains 1 IQ per round, at the beginning of the round. IQ, naturally, is the relevant characteristic.

Darkness: This power acts as the TFT spell of the same name. DX is the relevant characteristic.

Empathy: If the attack roll is successful, the target becomes friendly rather than hostile. This power acts as a Control Person/Animal spell, but with the range of a missile spell. IQ is the relevant characteristic.

Enhancements

Superstrength: This power doubles the character’s ST for purposes of lifting weight and doing HTH damage. For each additional +3 Creation Points, the ST gains an additional multiple (i.e., for the original 12 points, a character gets 2x ST; for an additional 3 points, he has 3x ST; for another 3 points he has 4x ST; and so on).

Invulnerability: This power grants the character a higher resistance to damage. Any incoming attack less than the character’s original ST does no damage to the character. Each +3 Creation Points gives the character +2 defensive ST for this purpose only.

Toughness: The character’s ST is doubled for purposes of taking damage. If, for instance, he has an original ST of 12 and the Toughness power, he will not be killed until he takes 24 points of damage. Each +3 Creation Points gives another multiple to the effect (i.e. 12 points means 2x ST, 3+ means. 3x ST, etc., as with Superstrength).

Speed: The character moves at 2x MA. Each + 3 points is + 1 MA.

Reflexes: The character is allowed two actions per turn. (This does not mean that he can run 2x MA in a turn, but rather that he could move half or less of his MA and then perform two attack actions.) Each +3 Creation Points adds 2 to DX for purposes of determining when someone acts in a round. If a char­ acter’s DX is doubled through this means, it means he gets yet another action per round; tripled, another action; and so on.

Intellect: This power doubles the character’s IQ for purposes of resisting Control spells and powers and for figuring out such things as codes, unfamiliar devices, etc. Each +3 Creation Points multiplies IQ by one more, as with Superstrength.

Wrapup

Although the Powers listed, particularly the Enhancements, will give superheroes a great deal of combat ability, remember that they are superheroes.

Naturally, the powers listed in this article are only a few of the ones which might be worked up for superheroes. This article is not a superhero roleplaying game, but rather superhero guidelines for TFT.

Note that these rules really do not allow for characters such as DC’s Superman, who can juggle battleships, move planets, squeeze coal into diamonds, and annihilate supervillains before sitting down to breakfast. This was intentional; Superman is a legend, and entertaining to read about, but does not game out very well.

This supplement package is only an outline for a superhero campaign; it would be impractical to publish a full­length superhero TFT expansion in TSG. Let us know what you think about this

article, and whether or not you’d like to see similar RPG expansions and variants in the future.

I hope these guidelines will allow players to begin superhero activities with TFT rules, and will provide inspiration for expanding those rules.

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To enjoy the complete run of Steve Jackson Games' Space Gamer issues, visit Warehouse 23 to purchase issues #27 to #76 in PDF!

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