While every effort has been made to produce a wide variety of powers and devices for use in the Universal Heroes role playing game, ideally to cover every eventuality a player may conceive of when creating their own characters, the truth is that this is a wholly impossible task. Thus, room is left for players to indulge in the process of power customization, to better actualize their character concept.
One may undergo this process for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the powers as rolled (or bought) simply don't precisely line up with what the player had in mind. Similarly, the player may want more than he or she can squeeze out of the conventional character generation process, and wants to alter things in order to get it 'right'. Both of these are valid reasons to engage in power customization.
Whenever one is curtailing their existing ability in exchange for more power, they are adopting limitations. Conversely, when one is dampening their raw power in exchange for more versatility, they are adding enhancements. This is a somewhat subjective process, undertaken with the Judge's supervision, but the general guidelines detailed below may help players in this process.
Limitations are means by which a player can add to the rank of a power (or powers), namely by accepting constraints on how that power (or the entire character) can function. A limitation that applies to one or more - but not all - of a character's powers is considered a power limitation. A limitation that applies to all of a character's powers, and/or the character as a whole, is considered a character limitation.
Generally, the presence of limitations on a character is up to the player. These are most often voluntary changes to a power (or the whole character), used to make him more potent overall. However, certain abilities require that their wielder have one or more limitations for purposes of game balance, and some character limitations (such as a weakness) can be temporarily imposed on a character with specific powers.
When pondering limitations, consider the rank ceiling the Judge has declared for their game. If you have a power at Amazing (50) rank and that's their ceiling, extremely limiting a power may not get you very far - while ruining your fun at the same time. If the Judge allows one to exceed his or her cap via limitations however, they might be a great way to help your character to stand out amongst other super humans!
Limitations come in four basic strengths.
A weak limitation is one that curtails the use of a power somewhat, though not overwhelmingly. As a general rule, a weak limitation affects the use of a power (or powers) half the time or less, offering a +1 CS to its rank as a result. Examples of weak limitations include the ability to function only during the day, or perhaps the inability to affect a common substance or items of a specific color.
A strong limitation, on the other hand, more significantly affects the use of a power. For the most part, strong limitations alter the use of a power (or powers) from one half to three quarters of the time, and provide a +2 CS to its rank. Limitations of the strong sort might include only working at night, an inability to affect one form of matter (solid, gas, etc.), or only work on a specific species.
Limitations of the very strong sort affect a power almost all the time. They offer a +3 CS to the operating rank of a power, but will constrain most uses of the ability - anywhere from three quarters to seven eights of the time, give or take. Perhaps such a power only works one day per week or during the full moon, or only affects items of a given form of matter (liquid, gas, etc.) or color, and so on.
Finally, extreme limitations severely curtail the use of a power, almost overwhelmingly. They offer a +4 CS to the operation of an ascendant ability, but at the same time relegate its use to highly specialized situations. This can include voluntarily making a power hyper-exhaustive, allowing its use only one week per year, allowing it to work only on a specific substance or in specific, hostile environments, and the like.
In the random character generation method, these limitation bonuses apply directly to the powers so limited. In rare circumstances, a game Judge may allow the bonus from a limited power to apply to another ability altogether, though this is entirely up to him. One instance where this might occur is if the limitation would boost the operating rank of the power until it exceeds the power cap for his campaign.
When using the point-based character generation system, a limitation can either boost the rank of the powers it will affect, or reduce the point cost of keeping that power at its current level. If the latter option is taken, the limitation returns one point per step of limitation, multiplied by the actual point cost per rank of a power. A strong limitation on time control, for instance, would offer a six point bonus.
Whether using the random or point-based character generation method, it is important to note that the maximum benefit a given power can receive from limitations is eight steps - four from an individual power limitation, and four from a character limitation. Any further limitations levied against a power will grant no additional point reduction or power increase (usually not an issue, but it happens with things like vampires).
No matter how limited they are though, all powers cost at least one point.
If a limitation does not affect the character as a whole, or at the very least all of their powers, it is considered a power limitation. Constraints of this variety only offer the bonus described to the power or powers it is applied to, special circumstances notwithstanding. This allows a player to boost the ranks on only some of his or her ascendant abilities, as he sees fit, instead of saddling all of their powers with a like constraint.
While the above offers general hints when applying limitations to a power, there are a number of recurring power limitations that appear throughout fiction. Some of these are expounded upon in the individual character generation books, others are general (or common) enough that they can apply to any character's powers. Some of these common power limitations include the following:
Gestalt Power: a gestalt power is one which is limited such that it cannot manifest unless two people combine their energies to produce its effect. Without the required physical contact, this power will remain dormant, unable to be activated whatsoever. The severity of such a limitation, then, depends on just who the necessary person (or people) is to serve as a 'key' to allow this power's function.
If the possessor of a gestalt power can manifest it while in contact with anyone, it is considered to have a weak limitation. If only a large, but specific group can activate it, the power is strongly limited, while a very strong limitation would be reducing this pool of people to eight or less. If, on the other hand, only one specific person can allow the gestalt power to function, the power is saddled with an extreme limitation.
Initiative Penalties: powers limited in this fashion take longer to activate. Perhaps the process in the character's body which generates them is rather involved, or it might simply be 'slow'. Either way, an initiative penalty of five (making the power somewhat sluggish) can be considered a weak limitation, while a penalty of ten (generally insuring one acts last with it) is considered a strong limitation.
If they wouldn't have any more of an effect on the character, greater initiative penalties on a power won't offer increased limitation for him. In order to earn the benefit of a very strong (-15) limitation, one must have at least a +5 initiative modifier from their Intuition score, while an extreme limitation (-20) requires that one have a minimum of a +10 initiative modifier in place.
Range Reduction: one common form of power limitation involves reining in the range of a power. Each reduction in range category counts as one 'step' of limitation. For example, telescopic vision works on the Very Far range table. Each step one moves back will enhance its power rank by +1 CS; this is a double edged sword however, for while the power is more likely to work in most instances, its utility is greatly decreased.
Note that a power can be reduced in range below even the Very Near range category. When a power is so limited, its range is dialed back to touch only, meaning one must connect with the target in melee for the power to work. This 'to hit' roll on one's Fighting is in addition to any other protections built into the power, such as Endurance or Psyche resistance rolls it may allow.
Speed Reduction: one way to seriously hamper a movement power is to knock it down from its current speed table to a lesser one. Each 'step' of speed reduction counts as a strong limitation, which means one can generally only apply a maximum of two to a given power. But then, since there are only really three movement categories (leaping notwithstanding, which doesn't count for such purposes), that's not such a big deal.
Unlike range reduction, speed reduction cannot move 'off the charts' to a lower category as one of its limitation 'steps'. The land/sea speed table is the bottom limit for travel abilities, for to move less would involve simply moving at walking speed. And rendering an ability such as super running that slow would be rather redundant, when you get down to it.
On the other hand, a limitation which affects all of a character's powers, if not the very way that character is played, is considered a character limitation. Limitations that affect a character apply the bonus provided to all of their powers - even those acquired at a later date! Such constraints are a great foil for the Judge to use against a character, but grant considerably more power in exchange.
Though some of the above power limitations can be applied to a character's entire power roster under certain conditions, there are many character limitations that aren't quite so simple. The severity of these can be somewhat complicated to determine, and may require some give and take between the player and the Judge on edge cases.
Keep in mind that any character can adopt a character limitation - not just those with super powers. A non-powered character may accept a character limitation in exchange for five points per 'step' of limitation adopted (or, when using random character generation, one talent, contact and quirk point). For example, a very strong character limitation would grant a skilled normal fifteen character points.
Or, in random character generation, three talents, contacts and quirk points.
Common character limitations include the following:
Alter Ego: the character with an alter ego has two distinct forms - the one with powers and the one without. These forms may or may not share the same personality, but the problem is that the character cannot control the conditions by which he will transform between them. Thus, the severity of an alter ego for the purposes of limitations depends on just how inconvenient the alter ego is for a character.
An alter ego can be applied to the character in two ways: either the form with powers or the form without can be the 'preferred' form for the character. Either way, the inconvenient form will manifest when triggered - usually for as long as the trigger stimulus is present. Anything from exposure to the full moon to a specific emotion or even the sight of blood can cause such a change of persona.
Clever players can use this limitation to their advantage on occasion. Perhaps the character is a heavy hitter in one form and a highly skilled operative in another. Or even better, maybe nobody knows that the character actually changes form, thinking him two separate individuals. While its severity hampers this 'gaming the system' somewhat, an alter ego can definitely make for an interesting play experience.
Enervation: if one's Judge is not using the fatigue rules for super powered combat, players may nonetheless adopt them as a character limitation. Similarly, one can increase the effects of fatigue as a limitation if they are in effect, greatly shortening the amount of time one can engage in ascendant battle. The severity of such a limitation depends on how much it constrains a player compared to others.
Having one level of fatigue above that which other players must endure as a general matter of course is considered a weak limitation, two levels of fatigue beyond other players' constraint is a strong character limitation, three levels of bonus fatigue would count as a very strong limitation, and four levels of fatigue beyond other characters may be adopted as an extreme character limitation.
Furthermore, if a character's Endurance or Psyche is low (depending on the fatigue system used), this can be increased by one level (save for extreme extended fatigue). For example, in a campaign where optional fatigue rules are not in place, a character with doubled fatigue is normally considered a strongly limited character, but if the applicable score would make this particularly harsh, bump him up a limitation level.
Susceptibility: a susceptibility is something that bypasses the effects of one's powers, detrimentally affecting the character with impunity. If a character is susceptible to a substance or damage form, it will be upgraded to Armor Ignoring (AI) when applied to their person. Furthermore, the damage caused by this attack must inflict a minimum of one quarter of the character's maximum Health score with each exposure.
This minimum applies both to susceptibilities that cause damage and those which do not. Whether one is susceptible to fire (which normally causes damage) or sunlight (which normally does not), the exposure should cause a like minimum of damage. On the other hand, if a character's susceptibility inflicts damage normally, there's nothing stopping it from removing more than a quarter of a character's maximum Health.
If the stimuli is somewhat rare, a susceptibility to it will count as a weak limitation - even if it can cause considerable damage to the character on contact. Strong susceptibilities are uncommon but found with little difficulty, very strong susceptibilities are readily available to those who want access to them, and an extreme susceptibility is something that commonly occurs in the environment.
Weakness: a weakness is something that acts to neutralize the threat a character poses. When exposed to the substance or phenomenon a character is weak against, he or she will find themselves unable to wield their ascendant powers at all, and their physical abilities are reduced to Feeble (2) rank for most purposes. Both the duration and scarcity of a weakness' trigger combine to determine the effect of this limitation.
A weakness that only affects the character while in physical contact with the phenomenon in question is considered a strong limitation, while one that lasts as long as it is within line of sight is considered very strong in nature. Consider this basis with the scarcity guidelines of a susceptibility, above, to determine if a weakness should be considered even stronger or somewhat weaker in nature.
For example, a weakness that lasts as long as a rare isotope (weak) is within line of sight (very strong) should work out to a be strong character limitation. Similarly, a weakness to a readily available energy (extreme) that lasts while it is in contact with a body (weak) would average out to a strong or very strong character limitation - depending on whether or not the stimuli causes damage, as well.
Enhancements, on the other hand, are a method by which a player may increase the functionality of a power - in exchange for a reduction in its operating rank. An enhancement that applies to one or more, but not all, of a character's powers is known as a power enhancement. Alternately, that rare enhancement which applies to all of a character's powers, or even the character as a whole, is a character enhancement.
As with limitations, the presence of an enhancement on a character is up to its player. These are entirely voluntary additions to a power or character for the most part, though a Judge may insist one be taken to reduce a power to fit within his or her campaign's rank ceiling on occasion (something like this might happen if a character generated for one campaign is migrated to another).
A power can be enhanced in a variety of different fashions, but its rank may not be reduced below Feeble (2) - this would essentially render it inoperable. If a character enhancement is applied and a new power would be reduced below this rank as a result, it must be purchased with enough Karma to at least make it high enough that, after the enhancement is applied, it will operate at that minimum rank.
Like limitations, enhancements come in four basic strengths: weak, strong, very strong, and extreme.
Weak enhancements are those which reduce the rank of a power by -1 CS, in exchange for something of a minor perk in its operation that offsets the penalty. Perhaps a power has a heightened effect against a specific kind of enemy (say, vampires), either having a bonus to hit or to the damage inflicted. In other words, this sort of enhancement can act as a selective bonus - one which applies under special conditions.
An enhancement of the strong variety lowers the rank of a power by -2 CS, while granting a considerable benefit to the power's operation. This generally comes in the form of a bonus which applies about half of the time, or some other highly useful effect. Such effects include selective targeting, such that a power will never affect allies in the event of a misfire or area effect spread.
Very strong enhancements are those which curtail a power's rank by -3 CS, allowing it to operate in a much more efficient fashion. The benefit applied by a very strong enhancement should work on most applications of the power, with a few exceptions. Perhaps it is an accuracy bonus that applies globally (save for against one group), or maybe whatever perk is offered functions constantly - except on Mondays. And so on.
Finally, an enhancement of the extreme variety gives a character staggering versatility in the use of a power, at the cost of a -4 CS to its rank. This sort of enhancement is something of a game changer where the power is concerned, often transforming it into something resembling another ability entirely! And it should, considering how much it curtails a power's rank (or how much it costs).
In the random character generation method, the CS penalties apply directly to the powers so boosted. In rare circumstances, a game Judge may allow the rank reduction from an enhanced power to apply to another ability altogether, though this is entirely up to him. This may be allowed when the enhancement applied would drop it below Feeble (2) rank... or the character has another power the Judge dislikes more.
When using the point-based character generation system, an enhancement can either reduce the rank of the powers it will affect, or increase the point cost required to keep that power at its current level. If the latter option is taken, the enhancement adds one point per step applied, multiplied by the actual point cost per rank of a power. A very strong enhancement of ultimate power, for example, would cost fifteen points!
If an enhancement does not affect the character as a whole, or at the very least all of his powers, it is considered a power enhancement. Perks of this variety only reduce the rank of the power or powers they are applied to, special circumstances notwithstanding. This allows a player to enhance only some of his ascendant abilities, as he sees fit, without reducing the operating rank of all of his powers.
Many power enhancements are quite generalized in nature, meaning that they can apply to a wide variety of super human abilities. Some of these are detailed in the individual character generation books, while others are actually offered in specific power descriptions. A few of the more common, basic power enhancements include the following:
Force Multiplier: most powers are rather generous in what they allow a character to accomplish, but often a player wants more out of a given ability. Perhaps someone with energy absorption wants a bigger 'tank' of energy for storage, or a matter generator wants to be able to concoct more designs from memory. Generally speaking, this can be handled with simple multipliers.
An enhancement of this type which adds fifty percent to a power's yield or function is considered a weak enhancement, while a double boost is a strong enhancement, a two hundred percent extension is a very strong enhancement, and a quadruple increase is an extreme enhancement. A game Judge may alter these general values on a case by case basis, depending on how versatile a given power is to start with.
Initiative Benefits: a power enhanced in this fashion operates much quicker in the hands of the character so enhanced, as compared to others who may possess it. Each +5 initiative modifier a power has acts as a step of enhancement; a +5 modifier is a weak enhancement, +10 would be a strong enhancement, +15 is a very strong enhancement, and +20 should be considered an extreme enhancement.
Note that these benefits are in addition to any other initiative modifiers the character already possesses. Bonuses for a high Intuition score, the Quick Draw talent or those granted due to one's origin (such as those offered by the optional initiative rules in place for magic wielding characters) are directly added to an initiative benefit enhancement. If one always wants to go first on a given turn, this is one way to do it.
Limitation Removal: several powers in the Universal Heroes game system have a number of built in limitations for game balance. Powers like luck and precognition in particular require one to take a limitation - they're simply so useful that this is needed. However, one can remove such a requirement as a strong enhancement to the power. This is a serious reduction, but unshackles these powers significantly.
Alternately, a power can be modified such that a balancing mechanic a player does not like is scaled back or stripped entirely. The extent of such an enhancement depends on how much more 'dangerous' a modified power will be. The Judge must make a ruling on this, depending on his or her feelings regarding the change(s) involved, so such modifications may vary in intensity from campaign to campaign.
Range Extension: as opposed to curtailing the range of a power, a player may instead decide to extend it. Each extension in range category counts as two 'steps' of enhancement. For example, most energy generation powers work on the Near range table. Boosting one such that it can operate on the Middle range table would be a strong enhancement, while extending another to Far range would be an extreme enhancement.
Bear in mind that a power can be enhanced past the Very Far range table. A power that functions in this capacity has an effectively Infinite range, allowing it to operate anywhere within the current space-time. This is just another 'step' of range enhancement, meaning that a power like telescopic vision would be strongly enhanced if its range is Infinite, while teleportation would be considered extremely enhanced when so extended.
Speed Extension: similarly, one can greatly enhance the capability of a movement power by bumping it up from one speed category to another. Each 'step' of speed extension counts as a strong enhancement, which means one can generally only add two to a given power. Of course, this is usually all most movement abilities need to excel - dependent on their nature, of course.
Super running, for example, can be made to function on the air movement table as a strong enhancement, and on the space movement table as an extreme enhancement. This allows one to generate a character who is astoundingly fast on her feet, while saving them the bother of breaking into the 'class' ranks to achieve the same basic effect. Though she may go through shoes rather quickly...!
A character enhancement is something which allows the character as a whole to function better. While a character's specific power roster may make it possible, it is usually difficult to make the basic sort of enhancements described above work as a character enhancement. Similarly, it's rather tricky to apply a specific character enhancement that doesn't outright ape other powers, or even quirks.
But this is possible. Some of these methods are described in the specific character generation books, such as the ability to maintain additional spells or psionics above and beyond what one's Reason (mem) score should allow. A few character enhancements that aren't origin-specific are presented below, with the hope of giving players an idea what one can do with character enhancements.
Note: an important thing to consider is that any character can benefit from character enhancements - not just the super powered. Non-powered characters may undertake a character enhancement for five points per 'step' of enhancement adopted (or, with random character generation, for one talent, contact and quirk point). For example, a strong character enhancement would cost a skilled normal ten character points.
Or, in random character generation, two talents, contacts and quirk points.
Blessed: things have a tendency to generally work out in this character's favor. So much so, in fact, that it may appear they are truly watched over by some sort of higher power. The idea behind this character enhancement isn't that the character always 'wins' in whatever they do - they usually just come out better in a given set of circumstances than others who are not so blessed.
Say the blessed character is in a plane crash. Maybe he's the one person out of the hundreds onboard who survived, or perhaps out of those who survived this catastrophe, he's the one who was the least (if at all) injured. The blessed character can still be defeated in battle, and possibly even killed if things go poorly enough, but they will enjoy a life full of good fortune if they play their cards right.
Or even if they don't. Even a foolhardy or reckless character graced with the blessed enhancement will rarely suffer the full consequences of his or her actions, which is great when super powers are involved. In game terms, the recommended level of enhancement that blessed entails is that it counts as one 'step' of such for each time it can beneficially affect the player on a given play session.
Once per game session is a weak character enhancement, twice per game is a strong character enhancement, and so on.
Consistent: highly consistent characters are those who have a sort of preternatural sameness about them - they don't appear to change all that much over time. Furthermore, when such changes are forced upon them, consistent characters seem to bounce back to their normal configuration rather quickly. This sounds like mere resistance to metabolic and/or warping attacks, but it's a little bit different.
You see, the morphic field of a consistently enhanced character is strong... very strong. So much so that it tends to trim back alterations to his or her core self faster than normal. Sure, the character does gain a +1 CS to resist efforts to alter the function of his or her body for each level of enhancement taken, but the trick is that, upon failing such resistance, the character will revert much quicker.
A weakly consistent character, for instance, will divide the amount of time their mind or body can be transformed by half, while a strongly consistent character will divide the duration of such changes by four. Very strongly consistent characters can divide the amount of time they've been transformed by eight, and extremely consistent characters can reduce the duration of a transformation to 1/16th of its original value.
Indefatigable: if one's Judge is using the fatigue rules for super powered combat, a player can build a character resistant to them wielding character enhancements. This simulates a sort of super human stamina on the part of a character, or perhaps the character in question is simply in very good shape, able to keep fighting long after those with similar capabilities have fallen flat.
There are of course two separate optional fatigue systems.
The first treats the use of super powers like the exertion caused by running, and combines with the fatigue caused by such, when necessary. Fatigue resistance acts to extend the time required before FEAT rolls are necessary, or between the escalation of color FEAT requirements, as multiples for each level of enhancement (weak for double, strong for triple, etc.), eliminating it entirely as an extreme enhancement.
If the Judge is using the fatigue intensity rules, this character enhancement can be applied to fatigue recovery. How this works is that, on each turn without using powers, one's fatigue intensity drops at a doubled rate as a weak enhancement, quadrupled as a strong enhancement, and octupled as a very strong enhancement. Fatigue can be negated entirely as an extreme enhancement.
Predator: whether due to heredity or dumb luck, something about the character makes him or her more effective against a certain kind of enemy. Everything they do causes this type of foe more damage, whether punching it or blasting it with eye beams. Similarly, anything the enemy does to him or her is less effective; resistances are either more potent against this foe, or their damage output is actually dampened somewhat.
Whether they like it or not, a natural nemesis makes for a great hunter of said enemy type, whether they're more powerful against vampires or dinosaurs or even normal humans. If such foes become aware that a 'super effective' nemesis is in their midst, they're likely to take steps to prevent this natural predator from rendering them extinct - usually with extreme prejudice.
Thus, this form of character enhancement can serve as something of a hindrance at times - much as a limitation can be used to the player's advantage in certain situations. On the other hand, a player usually won't take this form of enhancement unless he or she has it out for the foe in question - though this sort of enhancement is great for creating a reluctant, dramatic hunter character type.
Uncontainable: maybe it's something about the character's physiology, or perhaps he or she is just that stubborn. But the truth is that it's hard to make an uncontainable character do something that they're not willing to. This translates, in game terms at least, into a Column Shift bonus when attempting to escape or avoid efforts - any efforts - to hold the character back.
But what falls under this heading, you ask? Actions to control a character's motions or thoughts, for the most part. This includes mind control, emotion control, grappling and binding attacks, and so on. The Column Shift modifier represents a slipperiness of sorts on the part of the character so enhanced, applied before or after such an attack lands on the character - they might initially hit, but such attacks rarely 'stick'.
For each step of enhancement taken, the uncontainable character should receive a +1 CS to avoid such attacks in the first place, and a +2 CS to shake them off after the fact. For example, a strongly uncontainable character might gain a +2 CS to avoid being tied up by a foe's trick lasso. However, failing that avoidance, he or she will be granted a +4 CS on any FEAT they attempt to wriggle out of it!