Making Superman Truly Invulnerable In Fate Core
It should have been expected, but I was still shocked nonetheless at how many people were more critical of my JLA stat blocks than they were of my Avengers. It’s probably due to the JLA being slightly more iconic and in the public eye than the Avengers (and typically more invulnerable/perfect at what they do than the more complicated lives of the typical Avenger). The most common critique was the lack of believable disparity between Superman’s traits and the others. So, let’s address what can be done to make Superman feel truly invulnerable in a Fate Core game.
When I wrote Superman, I gave him The Last Kryptonian as an aspect. That justifies a lot (pretty much all of his powers while he’s on Earth). But remember how we constructed all of Iron Man’s various systems of his armor through an aspect? This is no different, and probably a little easier since everybody knows what the abilities of a Kryptonian are. One of the things that aspect justifies is invulnerability. In mechanical terms, that’s usually represented by an armor rating or some increase to Athletics.
Before adding an armor rating to Superman, it’s probably best to first add a stunt that allows him to defend against physical harm with his Physique skill. I didn’t do this because Superman is also really fast and his flight ability is as important as his invulnerability, and so Athletics needs to be high enough that the difference wasn’t big enough to warrant a stunt. Maybe in your version it will.
So that’s one way, use Physique to defend against physical damage and describe it as the character taking the damage and ignoring it rather than moving out of the way. But that’s not what we’re discussing, is it? What we want to explore is how to handle it when Deadshot rolls higher and penetrates that invulnerable hide with a bullet. How’s that make Superman invulnerable?
Well, first of all, it doesn’t (penetrate his hide, I mean). Remember what we said about justification in that Iron Man article? The Last Kryptonian justifies Superman as being invulnerable and thus immune to bullets. Narratively, it’s easy enough to say that he completely ignores Deadshot’s bullet, but that’s not simulating fiction through mechanics, it’s making the narrative more important than the mechanics (it is, but that’s besides the point).
Caveat: I use a single stress track and a single consequence track, but this works with Fate Core’s standard tracks. When Deadshot makes that fatally perfect shot against the Man of Steel, it affects the setting, not the character.
When Superman takes stress, it means it’s a close call, it only requires narration, nothing mechanical and doesn’t affect the setting. In essence, he has absorbed damage to his surroundings (how very Superman of him). But when he takes a consequence, things start to happen.
Let’s say Superman is protecting a bank from villains and Deadshot is taking potshots at him through the window. If he hits and Superman would be forced to take a mild consequence, he doesn’t. Not in the usual fashion, anyway. A mild consequence would mean something narratively important that Superman is responsible for, like a ricochet off his chest that strikes a young kid who’s now injured. Write on Superman’s sheet (under physical consequences, if that’s what you use) Injured Child and let him feel the grief. In order to recover from that, he has to get that kid to the hospital, or otherwise save his life, which has to happen after he’s done trouncing Deadshot for what he’s done. That trip to the hospital is Superman’s recovery action.
If it was a moderate consequence, maybe Jimmy Olsen was in the bank taking pictures for the Daily Planet and it was him that got struck. That’s a closer relationship to Supes than some random kid, and so the effects on his social life will last longer. Jimmy’s Been Shot! If it was a severe consequence, maybe it was Lois! Of course, it doesn’t have to be a ricochet into a person. It could have hit a gas main, broken open the vault, etc. Anything serious enough to warrant the level of consequence Superman is getting and he can be blamed for (because if he can’t be partially to blame, why have the consequence?).
The same thing could happen if he’s trying to stop a train and fails the roll.
His player decides to succeed at cost and the train stops, but the cars after the first all derail and slam into surrounding buildings! This puts many people in danger and Superman has to clean up the mess (recovery action), but will feel the shame (and social reaction) for some time (recovery duration).
But what if he’s taken out? You ask. That’s more serious than a simple consequence, and it should be. If he’s taken out, his goal utterly fails. The bank explodes in a mushroom cloud killing everyone inside, etc. People know Superman was involved and he’s not going to get off easy. (If the injured kid was inside, we have to rename that to something appropriate, like Mourning A Kid I Could Not Save.)
To recover the Blown Bank Job consequence, Superman has to show up at the memorial, where he’s sure to meet with the negative journalists (shouldn’t he be in that crowd?) and next of kin who may hold him responsible. And that’s perfect in keeping with one of Superman’s themes: the consequences of living in a cardboard world.
Whenever Supes, or anyone else who’s immune to an effect takes real “damage”, look at two things: first, how can it affect the character. If it can’t, how can it affect the location/setting/other characters? There’s always a way to “injure” someone by hurting their goal instead of their invulnerable hide.
If anyone tries this out, let me know how it went!