Superheroes #

Like horror, the superhero genre is really a subset of the modern genre with extensive special considerations. In many ways, it might appear that the Cypher System is a strange fit for superheroes. But if you think about it, with foci like Bears a Halo of Fire and Wears a Sheen of Ice, the Cypher System makes all genres a little bit “superhero-ish.” Character sentences might look like the following:

  • Firebrand is a Brash energy projector (Adept) who Bears a Halo of Fire.
  • King Brick is a Tough Warrior who Performs Feats of Strength.
  • Dimensionar is a Mystical warlock (Adept) who Exists Partially Out of Phase.
  • Dark Ronin is a Mysterious crimefighter (Explorer) who Solves Mysteries.
  • Speedburst is a Fast crimefighter (Explorer) who Moves Like the Wind.

And so on.

Suggested Types For A Superhero Game #

Role Type
Strong hero Warrior
Brawler hero Warrior with stealth flavor
Gadget hero Explorer with technology flavor
Pilot Explorer with technology flavor
Charmer Speaker
Leader Speaker with combat flavor
Shadowy vigilante Explorer with stealth flavor
Scientist hero Explorer with skills and knowledge flavor
Energy-wielding hero Adept with combat flavor
Wizard Adept
Mentalist Adept
Psychic ninja Warrior with magic flavor

Basic Creatures And Npcs For A Superhero Game #

Dog, guard: level 3, attacks and perception as level 4

Genetically enhanced bruiser: level 3, attacks as level 4; health 15; 5 points of melee damage

Ninja: level 3, stealth as level 6

Robot minion: level 4; Armor 2

Bystander: level 2

Scientist: level 2, science-related tasks as level 4

Worker: level 2; health 8

Additional Superhero Equipment #

Suggested additional equipment is the same as in a modern setting. Keep in mind, however, that for many heroes, “equipment” can be superfluous. Where do you stash the flashlight and rope when all you’re wearing is spandex tights?

Optional Rule: Power Shifts #

Superheroes can do things that other people cannot. They throw cars, blast through brick walls, leap onto speeding trains, and cobble together interdimensional gateways in a few hours. It’s tempting to say that such characters are stronger, faster, or smarter, so they should have higher Might, Speed, or Intellect Pools. However, simply bumping up stat Pools or Edge doesn’t fully represent this dramatic increase in power. Instead, consider using an optional rule called power shifts.

Under this rule, all superhero characters get five power shifts. Power shifts are like permanent levels of Effort that are always active. They don’t count toward a character’s maximum Effort use (nor do they count as skills or assets). They simply ease tasks that fall into specific categories, which include (but are not necessarily limited to) the following.

Accuracy: All Attack Rolls

Dexterity: Movement, Acrobatics, Initiative, And Speed Defense

Healing: One Extra Recovery Roll Per Shift (Each One Action, All Coming Before Other Normal Recovery Rolls)

Intelligence: Intellect Defense Rolls And All Knowledge, Science, And Crafting Tasks

Power: Use of a specific power, including damage (3 additional points per shift) but not attack rolls

Resilience: Might defense rolls and Armor (+1 per shift)

Single Attack: Attack rolls and damage (3 additional points per shift)

Strength: All tasks involving strength, including jumping and dealing damage in melee or thrown attacks (3 additional points of damage per shift) but not attack rolls

Each shift eases the task (except for shifts that affect damage or Armor, as specified in the list above). Applying 2 shifts eases the task by two steps, and applying 3 shifts eases the task by three steps.

A character assigns their five power shifts as desired, but most characters should not be allowed to assign more than three to any one category. Once the shifts are assigned, they should not change.

For example, a superstrong character might put three of their shifts into strength and the other two into resilience. Whenever they lift something heavy, smash through a wall, or throw an object, they ease the task by three steps before applying Effort, skill, or assets. Thus, all difficulties from 0 to 3 are routine for them. They smash through level 3 doors as if they don’t exist. As another example, a masked vigilante character with a utility belt full of gadgets and great acrobatic skills might put two shifts in dexterity, one in accuracy, one in intelligence, and one in healing. They’re not actually superpowered, just tough and well trained.

Some GMs will want to allow PCs to increase their power shifts. Having a character spend 10 XP to do so would probably be appropriate. Other GMs will want to run superhero games with PCs of greater or lesser power (cosmic-level heroes or street-level heroes, perhaps). In such cases, more or fewer power shifts should be granted to the PCs at the game’s start.

Superpowered NPCs And Power Shifts #

NPC superheroes and villains get power shifts, too. Most of the time, this adds to their level. For example, Blast Star is a level 5 fiery villain who has three power shifts. When she blasts through a level 7 iron security door, she does so easily because in this circumstance, she’s actually level 8.

Sometimes, NPC power shifts make things harder for the PCs. For example, Fleetfoot the level 4 speedster puts all three of her shifts in dexterity. When she runs past a character who tries to grab her, the difficulty to do so is increased by three steps to 7.

Typical NPC supers get three power shifts. Exceptional ones usually have five.

Really Impossible Tasks #

In superhero games, due to conventions of the genre, difficulty caps at 15 instead of 10. Difficulty 10 is labeled “impossible,” but that label is for regular folks. For superpowered characters, “impossible” means something different, thanks to power shifts.

Think of each difficulty above 10 as being one more step beyond impossible. Although a GM in another genre would say there’s no chance that a character could leap 100 feet (30 m) from one rooftop to another, in a superhero game, that might just be difficulty 11. Picking up a city bus isn’t something normal characters could do, but for a strong superhero, it might be difficulty 12.

In theory, NPCs in such a game can go up to level 15 as well. Levels above 10 represent opponents that only a superhero would consider taking on: a robot that’s 1,000 feet (300 m) tall (level 11); Galashal, Empress of Twelve Dimensions (level 14); or a space monster the size of the moon (level 15).

Superhero Artifacts #

Supervillains build doomsday devices. Ancient artifacts present a threat to all humanity if in the wrong hands. Weird machines from alien dimensions offer solutions to unsolvable problems. Artifacts are an important part of superhero stories. A few examples are below.

Doctor Dread’s Time Portal #

Level: 9

Form: Arch Of Metal Big Enough To Walk Through

Effect: Anyone who steps through it goes to a predetermined point in the past or future (a minimum of fifty years in either direction), which can be anywhere on the planet.

Depletion: 1 in 1d20

Serum X #

Level: 1d6 + 2

Form: Vial Or Syringe Of Red Fluid

Effect: Strips Someone Of All Superpowers (Including Abilities Granted By Magic, Psionics, mutation, or science) for twenty-four hours. The target retains only skills and abilities that are mundane, as agreed by the GM and player.

Depletion: Automatic

Stellarex Crystal #

Level: 1d6 + 4

Form: Multifaceted Purple Stone The Size Of A Fist

Effect: Created in the dawning of the universe, this artifact grants the wielder the ability to not only fully restore all their stat Pools, but also increase each Pool temporarily by 10 points. These extra points fade after twenty-four hours if not used.

Depletion: 1–3 in 1d10

Gaming With Superpowers #

Building A Superhero #

Character Summary Sentence Archetype
Ant-Man Ant-sized hero Jovial Explorer who Shrinks to Minute Size Tiny hero
Batman Dark knight Perceptive Warrior who Solves Mysteries Genius
Black Panther King and chosen guardian of his country Honorable Warrior who Needs No Weapon Master martial artist
Black Widow Deadly superspy Appealing Explorer who Infiltrates Superspy
Captain America Super-soldier with a shield Honorable Warrior who Masters Defense Master athlete
Daredevil Man without fear Perceptive Explorer who Looks for Trouble Master athlete
Daredevil Man without fear Perceptive Explorer who Looks for Trouble Master athlete
Deadpool Mercenary with a mouth Chaotic Warrior who Never Says Die Master martial artist
Dr. Strange Master of the mystic arts Mystical Adept who Masters Spells Sorcerer
The Flash Fastest man alive Swift Explorer who Moves Like the Wind Speedster
Green Lantern Hero with a power ring Strong-Willed Explorer who Sculpts Hard Light Hard light master
Hawkeye Perfect archer Sharp-Eyed Warrior who Masters Weaponry Weapon master
The Hulk Big green rage monster Incredible Explorer who Rages Rage monster
Human Torch Flying, fiery young hero Brash Explorer who Bears a Halo of Fire Energy master
Iron Man Inventor with power armor Mechanical Adept who Wears Power Armor Powered armor hero
Magneto Master of magnetism Strong-Willed Adept who Employs Magnetism Energy master
Namor King of Atlantis Strong Explorer who Performs Feats of Strength Atlantean
Professor X World’s most powerful telepath Intelligent Adept who Commands Mental Powers Mentalist
Spider-Man Teenager with spider powers Amazing Explorer who Moves Like a Cat Bug hero
Storm Goddess of storms Intuitive Explorer who Touches the Sky Nature master
Superman Man of steel Beneficent Explorer who Flies Faster Than a Bullet Paragon
The Thing Big orange rock monster Strong Explorer who Abides in Stone Friendly thing
Thor God of thunder Mighty Warrior who Rides the Lightning Energy master
Wolverine Canadian with claws Tough Warrior who Never Says Die Unkillable beast
Wonder Woman Princess of the Amazons Virtuous Warrior who Performs Feats of Strength Paragon

The archetypes suggest how to assign your power shifts. This is an important aspect of designing your hero because power shifts are what make your characters exceptional in a “supers” way. Superheroes are known for being faster, tougher, stronger, or smarter than regular people, and that sort of comparison isn’t always part of the abilities you get from your type or focus. A regular person might be very skilled at martial arts, but a superhero martial artist might punch through an iron door, dodge a burst of bullets from a machine gun at close range, or quickly recover from a mortal wound, all thanks to power shifts. This part of each archetype writeup assumes your hero starts with five power shifts, but most archetype descriptions give only two or three suggestions, allowing you some flexibility to customize your superhero. For example, a master athlete with two power shifts in healing is a very different character than one with two power shifts in resilience.

In some cases, you might need to tinker with the aesthetics of the abilities described in the character options to make them fit your character.

Power Source #

As you’re figuring out what type, descriptor, focus, and power shifts you want for

your character, think about how you got your powers. Are you a mutant, born with special abilities? Do you have a high-tech costume with built-in nanotechnology? Are you a sorcerer, or maybe a psychic? The source of your powers is character flavor—for example, there’s no game mechanics difference between the mental powers of an alien member of a telepathic species, a human character who built a brain-augmenting helmet, or a faerie character from the starlight dimension who knows mind-magic. All three of those characters could have the same type, focus, descriptor, and power shifts, but they’d be very different people and have very different reasons for being a part of the RPG campaign.

If you can’t decide how you got your powers, or if you like leaving some things up to chance, try rolling once or twice on the Power Origin table and pick the result that you like better, or combine the two into something weird and unique.

Power Origin Table #

d100 Origin
01 Absorbed powers of someone else
02-03 Alien exile
04 Alien orphan
05-06 Alien refugee
07 Alien symbiote
08-09 Alien visitor
10-14 Built a device
15-17 Chemical exposure
18 Chosen one
19-20 Cosmic rays during test flight
21-23 Cybernetics
24 Dark matter explosion
25-26 DNA-splicing accident
27 Energy being in physical form
28-30 Experimental medical process
31-33 Experimental technological procedure
34-35 Found a device
36 Found a magical item
37 From another dimension
38 Gamma rays
39-40 Genetic engineering
41-42 Given an experimental device
43 Given an item by a powerful entity
44 Given a magical item
45-47 Government technological device
48 Inhuman creature (plant, evolved animal, unknown)
49-50 Intense training
51-55 Latent mutation activated by extraordinary event
56 Magically augmented (accidentally)
57 Magically augmented (unwillingly)
58 Magically augmented (willingly)
59 Meteor
60 Mutant at birth
61-64 Mutant at puberty
65-67 Nanotechnology
68 Near-human fantasy species (elf, orc, etc.)
69 Passed through a wormhole
70-71 Psychic
72 Reincarnation of a legendary being from the past
73-75 Revived after dying and got powers
76-78 Robot
79 Stole powers from someone else
80-82 Stolen device
83-85 Studied magic
86 Supernatural creature (demon, angel, werewolf, vampire, etc.)
87 Superpowered ancestor
88-90 Surgically implanted device
91-92 Survived a disaster, unharmed
93 Teleportation accident
94 Time traveler from the future
95-97 Unexplained drug reaction
98 Unexplained event at birth
99 Unknown
00 Unusual weather

Remember that you can permanently increase the range of one of your abilities with the increased range power shift.

Starting Just Past Tier 1 #

An interesting option for a GM starting a superhero campaign is to immediately give each PC 4 XP, which they must spend on a special advancement option to gain another type ability. It’s another way (along with power shifts) to make new superhero PCs feel a cut above player characters in other genres—and gives players a little more wiggle room in building the character they want to play.

Random Superpowers #

The following table has a broad selection of powers (or in some cases, sets of related powers). Players who are stuck for ideas about their superhero can roll once or twice on the table for inspiration; use the Example column for a suggested game example of that kind of power, whether that’s a power shift, a hero archetype, a focus, or a specific special ability (of course, these suggestions aren’t the only way to achieve that power).

The GM can also use this table to come up with random abilities for supervillains. However, there is much more leeway in designing NPC abilities, so the Example column is more for suggesting game mechanics than abilities to choose.

d100 Power Example
01-05 Agility Power shift in dexterity
06 Animal Shapeshifter Shapechanger
07-09 Athletics Master athlete
10 Atlantean Atlantean
11-12 Beastly Beastly hero
13-14 Claws/fangs Fists of fury
15-17 Cold attack Frost Touch
18 Cold immunity Energy Resistance
19 Companion creature Beastmaster
20 Control animals Mentalist
21 Control minds Mentalist
22-23 Control plants Nature master
24 Control wind Nature master
25 Copy superpower Power replicator
26 Create object Dream Become Reality, Sculpt Light
27-28 Cyborg Cybrog
29 Dark energy attack Dark energy master
30 Duplication Multiplier
31 Elastic Elastic
32-34 Electricity attack Shock
35 Electricity immunity Energy resistance
36 Enhanced senses Sensory adept
37 Entangling Entangling Force
38-40 Fire attack Energy master
41 Fire immunity Energy Resistance
42-43 Flight Power shift in flight
44 Force field Force field master
45 Growing Giant hero
46-47 Healing Power shift in healing
48 Human shapechanger Shapechanger
49 Illusion Illusionist
50-51 Intelligence Power shift in intelligence
52-54 Invention Builder
55 Invisibility Invisibility
56-57 Leaping Amazing Leap, Far Step
58-59 Lucky Chaotic, Lucky, Dodge and Resist, Hard to Kill
60-61 Magnetism Telekinetic
62-64 Martial arts Master martial artist
65 Paragon Paragon
66 Phasing Phase master
67 Plant Plant
68 Poison Create deadly poison
69-72 Powered armor Powered armor hero
73 Remote viewing Sensory adept
74-75 Resilience Power shift in resilience
76 Robot minions Builder
77 Shield Bearer of the item
78 Shrinking Tiny hero
79-80 Sorcerer Sorcerer
81-82 Sound attack Thunder Beam
83-84 Speedster Speedster
85-89 Strength Power shift in strength
90-91 Superspy Superspy
92-93 Telekinesis Telekinetic
94-95 Telepathy Mentalist
96 Teleportation Teleporter
97 Undead minions Sorcerer
98 Weapon Bearer of the item
99-00 Weapon master Weapon master, power shift in single attack

Superhero Character Options #

Descriptors #

This section presents new descriptors meant specifically for a superhero game.

Amazing #

You have a knack for surprising people— performing impossible athletic feats, sneaking up on someone who’s alert, or instantly reacting to an ambush. You like to make use of these talents to enhance (or rehabilitate) your reputation as a hero prone to spectacular rescues, defeating foes way above your league, and arriving just in time to save the day. Ironically,

in your normal daily life, you’re a little awkward and overlooked.

You Gain The Following Characteristics:

Exceptional: +2 to your Speed Pool, and 2 additional points to divide among your stat Pools.

Skill: You’re trained in initiative and stealth tasks.

Self-Hype: When you apply a level of Effort to a task, you get a free level of Effort. You can do this one time, although the ability is renewed each time you make a one-hour or ten-hour recovery roll.

Inability: Your sudden appearances are startling to regular people. Positive social reactions are hindered (villains and other superheroes aren’t affected by this).

Initial Link To The Starting Adventure:

From the following list of options, choose how you became involved in the first adventure.

  1. You got in a bit over your head, but another PC’s coincidental arrival gave you just the distraction you needed.
  2. You were tailing someone the other PCs were following and decided to drop in.
  3. You saw that the other PCs were in a fight and chose to help them out.
  4. You had a hunch that something big was about to go down.

Incredible #

You’re misunderstood, and you might not even think of yourself as a hero, but somehow you keep ending up in situations where your abilities are just what’s needed to prevent disaster. Maybe good luck cancels out just enough of being cursed to count as a win. You’ve saved innocent lives, defeated some really bad people, and perhaps even cheated death a couple of times. Half the time you don’t even know how you did it, but you succeeded at the impossible . . . often with a lot of collateral damage. When you hear police sirens, it’s time to leave, but you know that trouble will find you eventually—and you’ll be ready to smash it.

Strong: +2 to your Might Pool, and 2 additional points to divide among your stat Pools.

Skill: You’re trained in breaking things. Skill: You’re trained in all jumping tasks. Inability: Your destructive reputation or some other reluctance to communicate makes people distrust you. Any task involving social interaction is hindered.

Incredible Action: You can choose to automatically succeed on one task without rolling, as long as the task’s difficulty is no higher than 6. When you do so, however, you also trigger a GM intrusion as if you had rolled a 1. The intrusion doesn’t invalidate the success, but it probably qualifies it in some fashion. You can do this one time, although the ability renews each time you make a ten-hour recovery roll.

Initial Link To The Starting Adventure:

From the following list of options, choose how you became involved in the first adventure.

  1. One of the other PCs sensed your decent heart and decided to befriend you.
  2. You literally crashed through a wall and ended up in the middle of the other PCs.
  3. One of the other PCs reminds you of someone from your past.
  4. You were feeling lonely and took a risk talking to someone, and so far it’s paying off

Mighty #

You have a very impressive physique. Your strength, power, and very importance are superior. Whether you’re truly the mightiest may be up for debate (and you may have a friendly rivalry about this with other superheroes), but there is no question that you are exceptional. These things make you confident, but you know that you have these physical gifts in order to perform heroic deeds, and unseemly conduct is beneath you.

Very Powerful: +4 to your Might Pool.

Skill: You’re trained in all actions involving lifting and throwing things.

Skill: You’re trained in Might defense tasks.

Healthy: Add 1 to the points you regain when you make a recovery roll.

Initial Link To The Starting Adventure:

From the following list of options, choose how you became involved in the first adventure.

  1. You joined the other PCs because they would fail without your strength.
  2. You believe this endeavor will earn you a lot of valor.
  3. Another PC asked—rightly—for your help.
  4. An authority figure told you to do this to show you the value of humility.

Sensational #

The public and the press like you. Maybe you’re photogenic, or you’re inherently nice, or you have really good luck with journalists. Whatever the cause of it, you’re the darling of the media, and whenever you’re seen in public, you generate a lot of positive interest and excitement. (If you don’t have a secret identity, this attention probably also carries over to your day job, which is a mixed blessing.) People know that you’re a hero and that they can count on you to do the right thing—fighting crime, battling injustice, punching evil robots, that kind of stuff. Sometimes being in the public eye so much can be wearying or even a burden, but you know how to use your reputation to set a good example and make the world a better place.

You Gain The Following Characteristics:

Versatile: You get 4 additional points to divide among your stat Pools.

Skill: You’re trained in positive social interactions.

Skill: You’re trained in one skill relating to your current or past career, such as computers, journalism, law, machinery, or medicine.

Popular: The GM can introduce a GM intrusion on you, based on your fame and the public’s perception of you, without awarding you any XP (as if you had rolled a 1 on a d20 roll). However, if this happens, 50 percent of the time, your reputation works to your advantage. Rather than hurting you (much), it helps you, or it hurts your enemies. You get spotted by a guard, but they’re dumbstruck for a moment because you’re even more impressive in person than you are on TV. You attract a crowd of fans, but they slow down the fleeing villain you’re trying to catch. A photographer pesters you for a photo and a quote, but their camera catches something interesting in the background. You and the GM should work together to determine the details. If the GM wishes, they can use GM intrusions based on your fame normally (awarding XP).

Initial Link To The Starting Adventure:

From the following list of options, choose how you became involved in the first adventure.

  1. You’re related to one of the other superhero PCs, and decided to help out because of family.
  2. The other PCs relied on your positive reputation to untangle them from a public relations problem, and they invited you along out of gratitude.
  3. The media specifically called you out to fix this problem.
  4. A supervillain chose to make a scene in the hopes of drawing you out.

Uncanny #

There’s something unusual about you, and it makes other people a little uncomfortable. You know you’re exceptional—gifted, even—and being a bit odd doesn’t make you any less of a person. This uncanny element is a part of you, in your blood, in your DNA. You can’t help it, but you won’t apologize for it. You feel comfortable around other people with similar strangeness, people who’ve experienced the same prejudice that you have; these shared experiences mean they’re your family, perhaps the only family you’ve got.

You Gain The Following Characteristics:

Exceptional: +2 to your Might Pool and +2 to your Speed Pool.

Distinctive Physical Quirk: You Have an unusual physical aspect. Depending on the setting, this can vary greatly; it might be something external and obvious, such as an odd smell or blue hair, or internal and hidden, like having blood type “omega.” Whatever it is, your quirk draws a lot of attention when it’s discovered.

A Sense for the Weird: Sometimes—at the GM’s discretion—an event or person that seems related to your uncanny nature attracts your attention. You can sense it from afar, and if you get within long range of it, you can sense whether it is overtly dangerous or not.

Skill: You’re trained in either perception tasks or stealth tasks.

Skill: You’re trained in one kind of knowledge related to your quirk, such as olfactory science, mutations, or hematology.

Inability: People find you unnerving. All tasks relating to pleasant social interaction are hindered. (Other people who are unusual like you aren’t affected by this.)

Initial Link To The Starting Adventure:

From the following list of options, choose how you became involved in the first adventure.

  1. You felt the objective was someone like you, so you got involved.
  2. Whether the other PCs realize it or not, their mission has to do with your field of knowledge, so you got involved.
  3. As an expert in an unusual kind of knowledge, you were specifically recruited by the other PCs.
  4. You believe one of the other PCs may be uncanny or is related to someone who is.

If the superhero setting has a specific gene or genes responsible for mutant superpowers, uncanny characters have that gene (perhaps even multiple copies) and can sense others who have it

Power Shifts #

Power shifts are an optional rule in the Cypher System Rulebook that represent many of the exceptional things that superheroes can do, like throwing cars, blasting through brick walls, leaping onto speeding trains, and cobbling together interdimensional gateway devices in a few hours.

A typical superhero PC gets five power shifts. Power shifts are like permanent free levels of Effort that are always active. They don’t count toward a character’s maximum Effort use (nor do they count as skills or assets). They simply ease tasks that fall into specific categories, which include (but are not necessarily limited to) the following.

Accuracy: All attack rolls.

Dexterity: Movement, acrobatics, initiative, and Speed defense.

Flight: The character can fly a short distance each round; each additional shift increases this speed (whether the flight comes from a power shift or a character ability) by one range category (long for two shifts, very long for three shifts).

Healing: One extra (one-action) recovery roll per day.

Increased Range: Increases the range of one ability or attack. A touch-range ability (such as Shock) increases to short range, a short-range ability increases to long range, and a long-range ability increases to very long range.

Intelligence: Intellect defense rolls and all knowledge, science, and crafting tasks.

Power: Effects of one specific character ability, including damage for that ability (+3 points) if appropriate, but not attack rolls with that ability.

Prodigy: Give up a lower-tier ability to get a higher-tier ability

Resilience: Might defense rolls and Armor (+1).

Savant: Two specific skills (other than attacks, defenses, or a special ability), such as history, perception, or persuasion.

Single Attack: Attack rolls and damage (+3 points) for one specific kind of attack, such as pistols, kicks, or Thrust.

Strength: All tasks involving strength, including jumping and dealing damage with melee or thrown attacks (+3 points), but not attack rolls.

For power shifts that affect tasks, each shift eases the task. Applying two shifts eases the task by two steps, and applying three shifts eases the task by three steps.

A character assigns their five power shifts as desired, but most characters should not be allowed to assign more than three to any one category. Once the shifts are assigned, they should not change (however, researching an experimental procedure to change a character’s power shifts could be the culmination of a character arc such as Uncover a Secret).

Prodigy Power Shifts #

Some superhero character concepts are about breaking the normal power level for a hero. In most cases, you can do this using power shifts. For example, if you want your strong hero to be really strong, put one or more power shifts into strength. If you want your archer character to be really good at shooting arrows, put a power shift into single attack (bows). If you want your speedster hero to be really fast, put a power shift into power (Fleet of Foot). And so on.

But what if you want your character to be a swashbuckling teleporter who blinks all over the battlefield? There’s no low-tier teleportation ability, so you can’t be a teleporter as a tier 1 character, and the character concept isn’t nearly as fun if you have to wait until tier 4 before you can learn a teleportation ability (like Short Teleportation).

This is where you can (with the GM’s approval) use a power shift for the prodigy option. Prodigy lets you give up one of your lower-tier abilities for a higher-tier ability

that matches your character concept. For example, if your swashbuckling teleporter is a Graceful Explorer who Fights With Panache, you could give up one of your tier 1 Explorer abilities (so you’d only have three instead of four) or give up your tier 1 focus ability, Fights With Panache, and instead select the tier 4 ability Short Teleportation.

Choosing prodigy as a power shift is an interesting trade-off for your character; you end up with a powerful ability that you couldn’t get otherwise, but at the cost of a power shift (which the other characters are probably using to add to their skills, damage, or defenses). Keep in mind that higher-tier abilities tend to cost more Pool points (especially because your Edge as a low-tier character is less than that of a higher-tier character), so you’ll weaken yourself if you use that ability often—which might be a good reason to allocate more points to that stat Pool, or assign a power shift to healing so you have more opportunities per day to recover Pool points.

Theoretically, you could put two power shifts in prodigy for the same ability, allowing you to select a high-tier ability. However, there are two reasons not to do this. First, those high-tier abilities usually have even higher costs, which limits how often you can use them. Second, if you start out with the best version of that ability, there’s no room to grow. It’s fun when your character impresses other superheroes by improving an ability, and it’s really handy when your nemesis supervillain underestimates you based on your old limitations. So unless the GM wants every superhero PC to start with one top-tier ability, give yourself room to grow and use prodigy only to get a mid-tier ability.

Gaining More Power Shifts #

Some GMs will want to allow PCs to increase their power shifts. Having a character spend 10 XP to do so would probably be appropriate. Other GMs will want to run superhero games with PCs of greater or lesser power (cosmic-level heroes or street-level heroes, perhaps). In such cases, the GM should grant the PCs more or fewer power shifts at the game’s start.

Power Stunts #

A power stunt is pushing a superpower beyond its normal limits or using it to do something it normally can’t do. Examples:

  • A lightning-blaster hero shooting their electricity farther than normal
  • A fire-creating hero absorbing fire from a burning building
  • A telepathic hero communicating with or understanding a machine
  • A teleporter hero traveling to another dimension
  • An illusionist hero negating an opponent’s invisibility

The cypher system rulebook explains modifying abilities on the fly, describing a method of altering the range, area, or other aspects of an Intellect-based ability by spending more Intellect points. In a superhero game, these modifications aren’t limited to Intellect-based abilities—it’s reasonable that a strong hero could affect a larger area with Golem Stomp or an agile hero could disarm more than one opponent using Advantage to Disadvantage. The cost for making these changes works just like modifying an Intellect-based ability. The additional cost uses the same Pool as the ability’s normal cost; if an ability doesn’t have a cost, the GM should choose an appropriate ability for the points to come from.

  • Increasing range costs 1 Pool point per range step increased (immediate to short, short to long, long to very long).
  • Increasing duration costs 1 Pool point for one step (one minute to ten minutes, ten minutes to an hour). Durations cannot be increased more than one step in this way. Abilities that last for only an action or a round (such as an Onslaught attack) cannot have their duration increased.

Abilities that don’t have a Pool cost, like Eyes Adjusted, can be modified as well. If modifying the range or duration, the GM decides what Pool the point cost is paid from. However, most abilities like this don’t have ranges or durations, so modifying them requires a difficult, formidable, or impossible task roll.

Modifying the area or other aspects of an ability is more difficult. Instead of increasing the pool point cost, the character decides how they want to modify their ability, and the gm sets a difficulty of the task to successfully modify it, according to the following guidelines:

Difficult (4): Something within the spirit and general idea of the ability, using a self- only ability on another character, or using a single-target ability in a weakened form on two targets. Examples: Using a self-only ability like Hover to give another creature the power to fly. Using Teleportation to go to another dimension instead of somewhere in the same dimension. Splitting Frost Touch or Onslaught into hindered attacks against two opponents.

Formidable (7): Something similar to the description or intent of the ability, but changing its nature, or having a single-target ability affect an area. Examples: Using Hover to make an opponent crash into the ceiling. Using Shroud of Flame to absorb fire. Using Telepathic to talk to a machine or Machine Telepathy to talk to a living person.

Impossible (10): An effect that has nothing to do with the ability’s description or intent. Examples: Using Hover to blast an opponent with fire. Using Foil Danger to copy an opponent’s attack. Using an attack like Thunder Beam to heal someone.

Of course, if the altered ability is an attack, the hero still needs to make a successful attack roll against their target— just because the character found a way to use Hover as an attack doesn’t mean the attack automatically hits. The attack task for the altered ability uses the normal difficulty for attacking that target. For example, if Hammermind wants to split her Onslaught so she can attack two level 2 robots, first she has to succeed at the difficulty 4 task to split the attack, then she can make the two (hindered) level 2 attack rolls against the robots.

Just like in any aspect of the game, other factors might ease or hinder the hero’s attempt to perform the stunt. For example, if the hero Firelash is trying a stunt to use his Shroud of Flame to absorb a fire attack from his evil sister Swordblaze, the GM might decide that the similarities in their flame powers mean that Firelash’s attempt is eased. But if the illusionist hero Hologrim is trying a power stunt to reveal where his invisible archenemy Death Ghost is hiding, the GM might feel that the villain’s magical invisibility is especially difficult for Hologrim’s technology-based illusions to counter, so the hero’s task is hindered. The GM can also introduce power boost cyphers that ease the power stunt task, or present the heroes with temporary effects that ease or hinder power stunt tasks, like a virus that erratically amplifies mutant genes, or a burst of energy from an alien artifact that reacts with a robot hero’s power core.

If a hero tries a particular stunt in more than one session, the GM doesn’t need to give the task the same difficulty every time; the circumstances of each attempt are never quite the same. Perhaps this supervillain’s fire is a little hotter or cooler than the one the hero tried to absorb last time. Or the spaces between the dimensions are thinner or thicker right now, making it harder to teleport between them. The position of two opponents or the shape of a room might be different than the last time the hero tried splitting an attack power across multiple targets. In other words, the GM doesn’t have to remember that the last time the hero tried this stunt it was difficulty 7, so it has to be difficulty 7 this time; just look at the current circumstances and make a decision based on that. In fact, this is part of the reason why the difficulties are three levels apart; the GM is more likely to be consistent at rating something as difficult, formidable, or impossible than deciding whether it’s a level 6 or level 7 task.

Permanent Power Stunts #

Once a character has successfully performed the same difficult, formidable, or impossible power stunt a few times, they might want to make it a permanent part of their repertoire of abilities. By spending 2 XP, the character gains the ability to perform that power stunt whenever they want, with no need for a power stunt task. The GM decides how many times the character has to get the stunt right before they can spend XP to learn it. Three successful attempts over at least three separate sessions is a reasonable guideline, plus some downtime between game sessions to represent mastering this variant.

Learning a power stunt does not count as a step in character advancement.

Learning how to do a formidable or impossible power stunt might be the reason to take a character arc like New Discovery, Transformation, or Uncover a Secret.

Really Impossible Tasks #

The Cypher System Rulebook gives a few examples of how, in the superhero genre, having power shifts means that a difficulty 10 task is not impossible. Superheroes deal with planetary threats like giant robots, multidimensional sorcerers, and world-sized monsters, and for this sort of campaign, difficulties up to 15 are possible. This section presents more details and examples of tasks, threats, and creatures of difficulty 11 to 15.

Feats Of Strength #

Use the following table to estimate the difficulty of various incredible feats of physical strength.

Difficulty Lifting Task
4 Lift a 150-pound (68 kg) object
9 Lift a 400-pound (180 kg) object
10 Lift a 1-ton (1 tonne) car or traffic copter
11 Lift a 5-ton (4.5 tonne) ambulance, private jet, elephant, or Tyrannosaurus rex
12 Lift a 10-ton (9 tonne) school bus, combat helicopter, triceratops, or 5-foot boulder
13 Lift a 20-ton (18 tonne) fire truck, mobile home, fighter jet, Apatosaurus, or light military tank
14 Lift a 40-ton (36 tonne) humpback whale or loaded tractor-trailer
15 Lift an 80-ton (72 tonne) space shuttle, single-story house, passenger train car, or military tank
Task Circumstances Difficulty
Lifting the object as high as the character can reach +0
Lifting the object only partway off the ground -1
Asset (lever, jack, etc.) -1 or -2
Help from another character (asset) -1 or -2
Large character (double human size) -1*
Carrying an object an immediate distance +0
Carrying an object a short distance +1
Pushing or pulling (not lifting) an object an immediate distance -1
Pushing or pulling (not lifting) an object a short distance +0
Pushed or pulled object can roll or slide very easily -1
Pushed or pulled object is buoyant and moving through water -1

*Each additional doubling of the character’s size eases the task by another step.

Some character abilities are able to move heavy things, often more easily than brute physical strength can. If a superhero wants to push the limits of what those abilities can do, the GM can compare the baseline effects of those abilities to the Feats of Strength table to determine the comparable difficulty of the task, and modify the character’s roll to succeed.

Feats Of Speed #

A character can move a short distance (50 feet [15 m]) as their entire action as a routine task (difficulty 0, no roll needed). This is basically a jog or a hustle, faster than a walk

but not an all-out run. A character can try to run a long distance (100 feet [30 m]) as their entire action, but they must succeed at a difficulty 4 Speed task to complete the movement; failure means they trip, stumble, slip, or fall down at some point during the move and stop.

Of course, superheroes aren’t normal people—they’re exceptional, and some can run as fast as Olympic athletes, or much faster. For a character trying to run more than a long distance as their entire action, use the following table to determine the difficulty for the task. Failing this roll is just like failing the basic running roll described above.

Difficulty Running Distance Notes
6 200 feet (60 m) 19 mph (30 kph)
8 250 feet (76 m) 24 mph (39 kph); bear, Olympic sprinter
9 340 feet (104 m) 33 mph (53 kph); cat, coyote, greyhound
10 400 feet (120 m) 49 mph (79 kph); horse, tiger
11 700 feet (210 m) 68 mph (110 kph); cheetah
12 1,400 feet (430 m) 136 mph (220 kph)
13 2,800 feet (850 m) 273 mph (440 kph)
14 1 mile (1.5 km) 545 mph (880 kph); Boeing 747
15 2 miles (3 km) 1,600 mph (2,575 kph); Mach 2

Tremendous Leaps #

Some—but not all—strong superheroes can easily leap dozens or hundreds of feet, well beyond what’s possible with the jumping rules (running a short distance and jumping 30 feet [9 m] is a difficulty 10 task). Characters who want to jump huge distances like that should take the Amazing Leap ability, allowing them to jump a long distance or more.

All characters with at least one power shift in strength get the benefit of a free level of Effort for each strength shift. This effectively increases their standing jump distance by 1 foot (30 cm) per shift and their running jump distance by 2 feet (60 cm) per shift, which is impressive compared to a normal person, but not phenomenal.

To make superhero character jumps a bit more exciting, the GM can implement an optional rule in which strength shifts count double for free levels of Effort when jumping. For example, a character with five strength shifts would get ten free levels of Effort on jump tasks instead of five. This allows them to do a 15-foot (4.5 m) standing jump as a difficulty 1 task (base difficulty 11, eased by 5 × 2 steps) and a 40-foot (12 m) running jump as a difficulty 5 task (base difficulty 15, eased by 5 × 2 steps), which seems more appropriate for a character strong enough to lift a car over their head.

Powerful Creatures #

Superheroes don’t just stop bank robbers and fight supervillains—sometimes they face giant robots, alien space monsters, or so-called gods. GMs can use the following examples to estimate the level and challenges for such threats.

Level Example
9 Demigod
10 Kaiju 300 feet (90 m) tall
11 Robot 1,000 feet (300 m) tall
12 Vampire blood god
13 Legendary monster*
14 Archangel, demon prince, typical god or goddess**, multidimensional sorcerer
15 Moon-sized space monster, pantheon leader***

* A primordial monster (such as Echidna or Typhon) or a powerful creature associated with the end of the world (such as Jörmungandr or Fenris).

** A powerful, perhaps immortal entity (such as Ares or Loki) that has been worshipped or feared as a god by humans or similar creatures.

*** A god or goddess (such as Odin or Zeus) who is the ruler of a group of deities.

Modifying High-Tech Devices #

It’s common for technically savvy superheroes to fiddle with machines to make them work better or do something different. Sometimes the object in question is their own gear, but it’s just as likely to be something they took from a defeated supervillain or found on an alien spaceship.

A character who expects to modify many devices should consider learning abilities such as Innovator, Jury-Rig, Modify Artifact Power, Modify Device, and Quick Work. A character who only wants to dabble in this sort of activity can do so, but it takes longer and is less efficient.

Small modifications are things like changing a device’s target, range, or duration. “Small” is subjective and up to the GM, but generally, it means adding another target (although for some high-level devices, adding a target isn’t a small change), increasing the range by one step (immediate to short, short to long, long to very long), or increasing the duration by one step (one minute to one hour, one hour to ten hours). The task difficulty for making a small modification is generally equal to the device’s level minus 1, which also determines how much time it takes to complete the modifications.

Big changes are modifying a laser rifle to shoot cold or electricity, turning a communication device into a telepathic shield, or turning a jetpack into a force field device. These modifications are like repairs; they use the device’s level for the difficulty and creation time, but take half as long as the time listed.

A character modifying their own device eases the task. This applies whether the character built the device themselves or they’ve been repairing and tinkering with it long enough that they fully understand its workings.

Regardless of whether the change is big or small, failing the modification task means the character wastes the full amount of time spent attempting the modification, and uses up materials equal to the device’s level minus 2, but they can try again. If they fail with a roll of a natural 1, it’s likely that the free GM intrusion means the device is ruined (but perhaps could be salvaged for materials).

Modification GM intrusions: The device gains a high depletion rate, needs to be recharged after each use, or develops a side effect such as overheating (inflicting damage to the user) or creating a thunderous noise.

Modifying a device is similar to using a power stunt to alter a character ability. If a character wants to make a permanent change to one of their technology-based abilities, the GM should treat that more like a permanent power stunt—costing XP—than a modification.

Modifying the appearance of an item is just a cosmetic change and should take only a few hours at most for a typical handheld or worn item like a weapon, helmet, or boots. Changing the appearance of a spacesuit or full-body mechanized armor might take eight to twenty hours of work, depending on the extent of the changes.

Faster Crafting In A High-Tech Setting #

In some superhero campaigns, crafting technology is so advanced that objects are designed virtually, with holograms, or with a mind-machine interface, and they are constructed by advanced 3D printers or clouds of nanobots. Under these conditions, the GM should ease

the assessed difficulty to determine the crafting time by three or four steps, with the crafter needing to be present for only about the first quarter of that time and the “helpers” taking care of the rest.

Cyphers And Artifacts #

In a superhero campaign, there’s a fine line between cyphers (one-use items or abilities awarded by the GM), artifacts, character abilities (which may cost Pool points to use), and other equipment (which has none of those criteria). The GM should keep in mind that it’s good from a story point of view to let characters have equipment they need to deal more effectively with foes that might otherwise be too potent.

Special Equipment #

Sometimes a group of superheroes needs special equipment so they can participate in an encounter or advance the story. For example, characters who must get to an underwater base will need air tanks or a water-breathing device, and those going on a short trip into space will need a vehicle and spacesuits. This sort of item doesn’t have to be a cypher (which counts against a character’s cypher limit) or an artifact (which has a depletion chance)—it can just be equipment. If a player suggests a suitable piece of equipment they can buy (such as scuba gear), or a gadgeteer or inventor character offers to build something to do the job, the GM should let them do it and handwave most of the details because they’re being creative and overcoming obstacles to move the story forward. In other words, don’t assume that every piece of weird equipment needs to be a cypher or artifact; things that allow the adventure to happen shouldn’t cost the characters much, or maybe not anything at all. And if the players take too much advantage of this leeway, the GM always has the option to use an intrusion to complicate an encounter.

Power Boost Cyphers #

This section introduces two new power boost cyphers, and consolidates the two efficacy boost cyphers in the Cypher System Rulebook into one cypher with variable effects based on cypher level.

01-10 Area boost
11-20 Burst boost
21-30 Damage boost
31-40 Efficacy boost
41-50 Energy boost
51-60 Range boost
61-80 Shift boost
81-90 Stunt boost
91-00 Target boost

Efficacy Boost #

Level: 1d6 + 1

Effect: This cypher boosts an ability that requires a skill roll. The use of the ability is eased (eased by two steps if the cypher is level 5 or higher).

Shift Boost #

Level: 1d6 + 2

Effect: This cypher boosts one power shift that the user already has, granting them an additional power shift in that category that lasts for one round. For example, if the user has a shift in resilience, they can use this cypher to gain an additional shift in resilience for one round. If the user has more than one kind of power shift (such as dexterity and strength), they choose which kind of power shift to boost.

Stunt Boost #

Level: 1d6 + 2

Effect: This cypher eases the user’s next difficult, formidable, or impossible power stunt task by four steps (eased by five steps if the cypher is level 7 or higher). It has no effect on power stunts that don’t require a successful power stunt task.


Darkest Book #

Level: 10

Form Large, metal-bound book

Effect: Fashioned by the primordial entity who created evil magic, the darkest book is a record of every vile incantation, curse, and ritual ever performed. It is known to include spells that create werewolves, raise an army of zombies, revive a dead body as a vampire, conjure demons and devils, and release profane energy for various effects. It eases by three steps any task related to magical lore.

Even someone unskilled at magic can open it to a random page and read the spell there (the GM randomly determines the spell by rolling on the Fantastic Cypher table), which takes effect at level 10.

The Darkest Book is somewhat sentient and can hide its words from anyone it doesn’t want reading it. It might require a person casting a spell from it to succeed at a difficulty 6 Intellect defense roll or take 6 points of Intellect damage and move one step down the damage track.

The book is technically indestructible; anything strong enough to destroy an object of its level merely destroys one of its pages, and the book can’t be destroyed as long as at least one page remains.


Omni Orb #

Level: 1d6 + 4

Form: Glowing, orb-shaped technological device effect: the user holding the orb imagines what they want to happen (similar to using a magical wish), and it happens, within limits. The level of the effect granted is no greater than the level of the orb, as determined by the GM, who can modify the effect accordingly. (The larger the desired effect, the more likely the GM will limit it.) Activating the omni orb automatically moves the character using it one step down the damage track.

Depletion: 1 in 1d6 (instead of depleting, a roll of 1 means the user experiences a GM intrusion related to the effect they created)

A benchmark for setting an omni orb’s limits is to compare it to a cypher of the orb’s level—if there is a cypher that can do what the PC wants, and that cypher is equal to or less than the orb’s level, it works. For example, if a team of superheroes tries to use a level 5 orb to teleport to their base 100 miles away, the GM can look at the list of cyphers and see that a teleporter (traveler) cypher can transport one character up to 100 miles per cypher level, so transporting a group of PCs 100 miles is probably within the orb’s power

Space Ring #

Level: 1d6 + 1

Form: Metal ring with a star insignia

Effect: The wearer is able to fly as effortlessly as walking, moving up to a short distance each round in any direction. In space, if the wearer does nothing but move for three actions in a row, they accelerate greatly and can move up to 200 miles (320 km) per hour, or about 2,000 feet (600 m) each round. The ring also provides the wearer with breathable air while in space or underwater (although this doesn’t provide protection against poison gas or other air-based hazards). The wearer can verbally communicate with other ring-wearers within 1 mile (1.5 km), and verbally request information (relayed to them with a synthesized voice) from the internet or a local equivalent.

Depletion: 1 in 1d100 (check each day of flying)