RPG Evolution: The Superman Problem

Immunity to a form of damage in D&D has serious implications.

Immunity to a form of damage in D&D has serious implications.

superhero-4868103_1280.jpg

Picture courtesy of Pixabay.​

Monsters have a host of vulnerabilities, resistances, and immunities, but the in-world implications for player characters with those same resistances are tremendous.

Fire Immunities​

Probably the most obvious application to a creature immune or resistant to fire is that flames are no longer a threat. Fire was a serious concern for many reasons in medieval-era villages, but a character immune to fire might not consider them. There's an open question if immunity means inability to sense heat -- does an immune character care about how hot their morning coffee is?

Fire immunity might also mean not comprehending how dangerous flames really are. A smith immune to fire might happily reach into forges to manage their tools, but the forge would be so hot no one else could go near it. And characters who need to dry off could simply stand in the middle of a blazing campfire.

Fire immunity includes heat, from the sun and elsewhere. A character might walk fully-clothed in the desert under steaming armor; unless you rule that fire immunity doesn't free you from sweating. And you probably can't ever get a tan.

Cold Immunities​

If fire is an ever-present threat for villages, cold is just as much of a concern. Much work goes into preparing for the coming cold (farming cycles revolve around it), but characters immune to it could simply work round the clock during the winter. Their productivity could potentially be enormous -- assuming there are plants or animals to harvest during that time.

Similarly, cold beings might not even consider needing a roof on their homes. Like questions around fire, freezing cold water might not even be uncomfortable.

The other cold threat is hypothermia from freezing cold water. A cold-immune character could theoretically swim as long as their endurance allows, unconcerned about being in the water for hours on end.

Poison Immunity​

After fire and cold, poison is the next most common concern in nature. A character immune to poison might be happy to eat poisonous animals and even consider them a delicacy. If alcohol is considered a poison, they have no upper limit on potential intoxication. And they may not spare a second thought to eating spoiled food.

The Superman Immunities​

Immunity to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage (usually only circumvented by magical items or adamantine) poses all the same challenges that Superman faces. Can he even shave if he's immune to slashing damage? Does he feel anything if he bumps into a wall? What about falls from a great height?

All these changes make for a character who is dangerously out of touch with what normal humans care about. Does that make him clumsier than his peers? And would physical violence be more or less of an option when you know most things can't hurt you?

The Other Immunities​

The other remaining immunities are rare, magical, or both. Lightning and thunder likely don't come up that often in fantasy campaigns, but could in more modern campaigns where devices are powered by electricity. Force and radiant damage seem to be squarely in the "magical" camp unless you categorize force as a telekinetic form of pressure and radiant as a laser, in which case it bestows significant advantages against certain kinds of attacks.

Immunity to necrotic damage rests largely with the game master's perspective on how the damage is represented. If it represents decay, creatures immune to it might be immortal. Necrotic damage is sometimes represented as serious wounds, in which case the risk of infection wouldn't be a concern.

Similarly, psychic immunity implies a sort of mental protection and clarity of focus. Creatures immune to psychic damage might never lose their concentration, reading books for hours; or maybe it makes them so utterly focused that they cannot be dissuaded from any task, or accept any criticism.

More Human Than Human​

There's a good reason most characters aren't immune to damage. It makes them less relatable to their players. The more immunities a creature has, the more alien it becomes. That's what makes Superman so interesting: he is immune to almost all of the above damage types (except maybe force) and yet tries to act like a normal human. If PCs accumulate enough resistances and immunities, they may find themselves in the same boat.

Your Turn: How do you deal with immunities in a character's daily life?
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

aco175

Legend
One of the things my group tends to handwave is equipment. Kind of like invisibility, a character that falls into a fire lake does not come out naked like he should. There might be some you need to buy new clothes when you get to town or such, but they come out like a comic book character with something just tattered- or just skipped over altogether.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Immunity to a form of damage in D&D has serious implications.


Monsters have a host of vulnerabilities, resistances, and immunities, but the in-world implications for player characters with those some resistances are tremendous.

Fire Immunities​

Probably the most obvious application to a creature immune or resistant to fire is that flames are no longer a threat. Fire was a serious concern for many reasons in medieval-era villages, but a character immune to fire might not consider them. There's an open question if immunity means inability to sense heat -- does an immune character care about how hot their morning coffee is?

Fire immunity might also mean not comprehending how dangerous flames really are. A smith immune to fire might happily reach into forges to manage their tools, but the forge would be so hot no one else could go near it. And characters who need to dry off could simply stand in the middle of a blazing campfire.

Fire immunity includes heat, from the sun and elsewhere. A character might walk fully-clothed in the desert under steaming armor; unless you rule that fire immunity doesn't free you from sweating. And you probably can't ever get a tan.

Cold Immunities​

If fire is an ever-present threat for villages, cold is just as much of a concern. Much work goes into preparing for the coming cold (farming cycles revolve around it), but characters immune to it could simply work round the clock during the winter. Their productivity could potentially be enormous -- assuming there are plants or animals to harvest during that time.

Similarly, cold beings might not even consider needing a roof on their homes. Like questions around fire, freezing cold water might not even be uncomfortable.

The other cold threat is hypothermia from freezing cold water. A cold-immune character could theoretically swim as long as their endurance allows, unconcerned about being in the water for hours on end.

Poison Immunity​

After fire and cold, poison is the next most common concern in nature. A character immune to poison might be happy to eat poisonous animals and even consider them a delicacy. If alcohol is considered a poison, they have no upper limit on potential intoxication. And they may not spare a second thought to eating spoiled food.

The Superman Immunities​

Immunity to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage (usually only circumvented by magical items or adamantine) poses all the same challenges that Superman faces. Can he even shave if he's immune to slashing damage? Does he feel anything if he bumps into a wall? What about falls from a great height?

All these changes make for a character who is dangerously out of touch with what normal humans care about. Does that make him clumsier than his peers? And would physical violence be more or less of an option when you know most things can't hurt you?

The Other Immunities​

The other remaining immunities are rare, magical, or both. Lightning and thunder likely don't come up that often in fantasy campaigns, but could in more modern campaigns where devices are powered by electricity. Force and radiant damage seem to be squarely in the "magical" camp unless you categorize force as a telekinetic form of pressure and radiant as a laser, in which case it bestows significant advantages against certain kinds of attacks.

Immunity to necrotic damage rests largely with the game master's perspective on how the damage is represented. If it represents decay, creatures immune to it might be immortal. Necrotic damage is sometimes represented as serious wounds, in which case the risk of infection wouldn't be a concern.

Similarly, psychic immunity implies a sort of mental protection and clarity of focus. Creatures immune to psychic damage might never lose their concentration, reading books for hours; or maybe it makes them so utterly focused that they cannot be dissuaded from any task, or accept any criticism.

More Human Than Human​

There's a good reason most characters aren't immune to damage. It makes them less relatable to their players. The more immunities a creature has, the more alien it becomes. That's what makes Superman so interesting: he is immune to almost all of the above damage types (except maybe force) and yet tries to act like a normal human. If PCs accumulate enough resistances and immunities, they may find themselves in the same boat.

Your Turn: How do you deal with immunities in a character's daily life?
We used to have damage reduction, which provided qualified immunity, but I guess that's not simple and streamlined enough for 5e.

Also, apparently adventurers aren't supposed to care about things normal humans care about as far as physical threat is concerned. Too complicated to model for the modern game I suppose.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
One of the things my group tends to handwave is equipment. Kind of like invisibility, a character that falls into a fire lake does not come out naked like he should. There might be some you need to buy new clothes when you get to town or such, but they come out like a comic book character with something just tattered- or just skipped over altogether.
Case in point.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
Well I just went on a rollercoaster ride.

~Sees 'The Superman Problem' as a title after more than a decade as a creative in the superhero genre in a D&D enviroment that has grown increasingly hostile and ignorant about superheroes~

"Oh no. Brace for impact."

~Reads bulk of article, which is about the practical implications of immunities~

"Oh thank god. Thought. Consideration. Creativity. Things that rarely come after you see 'The Superman Problem'. Bravo!

~Reads 'It makes them less relatable to their players.'~

"Ah. There's the knife. The very wrong and typical knife."

~Reads 'That's what makes Superman so interesting: he is immune to almost all of the above damage types (except maybe force) and yet tries to act like a normal human.'~

"Hol up. Someone who titled something 'The Superman Problem' actually gets Superman and how the 'problem' is actually a problem for him and what actually makes him relatable? Miracles do happen.
 


Oofta

Legend
I've gotten to the point where, with a few exceptions like fire elementals being immune to fire, monsters just get resistance. There are too many monsters, even at a low level (e.g. wererats, gargoyles) that need special weapons to hurt. I just don't see much value in it. In the game I'm playing, the fighter doesn't have a magic or silver weapons (it's Ravenloft) and we got into a fight with werewolves. He had no real options to do much of anything other than to try to grapple and throw some off a cliff which technically should have just slowed them down a bit.

So if I want a game where I have a gargoyles at CR appropriate levels I have to hand out magic weapons while the adventurers are still just beginning. Kind of hurts the zero to hero and magic items being special when by the second session or so every fighter has a +1 or adamantine weapon of choice.
 


Stormonu

Legend
Individual immunities don't have a great effect to personality or behavior in my opinion, unless the environment shares the same traits. An individual may have immunity to fire or heat, but that's not necessarily true to those items around them. You may be immune to the flames, but the house around you might still burn down, or in the case of the smith, his tools, creations or the forge itself might warp or otherwise be damaged by the intense heat. Similar for cold - sure, the Frost Giant might not mind a cold night, but all that snow accumulating (and later melting or freezing) on all your household belongings would probably get annoying - so the roof stays on.

As for the earlier talk about PC gear destruction from various attacks, I generally don't worry about it unless the PC is dropped or its rather blatant. In the former case, it's likely a case the character probably either "got singed" or avoided the worst of the effects (HP as plot armor & luck, not meat). Now, if someone failed a save vs. fireball and that outright killed them (not just to 0, but DEAD), yeah, their gear is probably toast. Same for someone that decided to sunbathe in a burning house or swan dive into a river of magma. But someone running through a house on fire to rescue others and taking fire damage? Likely they get out a little worse for wear but relatively intact.

Kinda like superman's suit, that bit of heroic immunity that lets the hero get away with just a few bumps and scrapes extends to gear. But if you want to metagame it, all bets are off.
 


Voidrunner's Codex

Related Articles

Remove ads

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Top