RPG Evolution: The Superman Problem

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?
 
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
...., but I guess that's not simple and streamlined enough for 5e.

.... Too complicated to model for the modern game I suppose.

Or, maybe it isn't about complication qua complication. Maybe it is about payoff.

As in, some folks get enjoyment out of this, but others do not. That presents a design problem, as for folks who don't get enjoyment, it is complication for no good purpose, no payoff. So, designers make choices and tradeoffs and compromises.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Or, maybe it isn't about complication qua complication. Maybe it is about payoff.

As in, some folks get enjoyment out of this, but others do not. That presents a design problem, as for folks who don't get enjoyment, it is complication for no good purpose, no payoff. So, designers make choices and tradeoffs and compromises.
Except 5e keeps making the same choices and tradeoffs and compromises. Not exactly a choice if you always make the same one.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
Except 5e keeps making the same choices and tradeoffs and compromises. Not exactly a choice if you always make the same one.

Well, it is then basically a design philosophy. Indeed, one generally wants to have some general driving precepts to a game design.

But, my point is more that it isn't just about something being too complicated, or not streamlined enough. I suspect it is about making sure the complexity has appropriate payoff. And, if they can get 80% of the payoff with a rule/subsystem that is only half as complex, that will generally be a win.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Well, it is then basically a design philosophy. Indeed, one generally wants to have some general driving precepts to a game design.

But, my point is more that it isn't just about something being too complicated, or not streamlined enough. I suspect it is about making sure the complexity has appropriate payoff. And, if they can get 80% of the payoff with a rule/subsystem that is only half as complex, that will generally be a win.
I don't believe they can.
 

Voranzovin

Explorer
The tiefling (now more "double cambion") character in my DW game is immune to being surprised.

I'm playing a Cambion in a Dnd game right now, who's character concept might be described as "what if a teenage Joan Jett was also Hellboy?" I built her as a Tiefling with the Infernal Constitution feat and Barbarian/Path of the Beast reflavored as demonic powers. Accordingly, while she isn't actually immune to anything, she's resistant to an awful lot of stuff-fire, cold, poison and (when raging) piercing, slashing, and bludgeoning.

I've had a lot of fun playing this up. She chugs hot tea and sleeps way too close to the camp fire. She drinks like a fish (she is capable of getting drunk, but being resistant to poison and having an 18 CON means she needs very large amounts of alcohol to do so). And, since we treat hit points as meat points in her case (the other PCs use the more common heroic luck/minor scrapes and bruises description of hp), clothing damage is something she has to contend with constantly, leading to the somewhat amusing scenario of the ripped punk half-demon who spends a lot of her evenings at camp sewing.

I've tried to play the psychological effects of this two ways--she does sometimes forget how fragile normal mortals are, but she's also, much like superman as described in the OP, trying to bridge that gap. The Ideal on her character sheet reads:

"A lot of, you know, beings, are like “oh, mortals are just cattle,” or they’re like RAAAR because they can’t talk. Either way it’s bull××××. I like people! They’re awesome, and they do amazing things like cook and build stuff and make art and music and care about things. If you don’t like people—or, like, you do like them, but only as a foodstuff—then I’m going to kick the absolute living ×××× out of you until you either like people or you die. Whichever comes first."
 



Vincent55

Adventurer
But these do exactly the same thing with damage. 3.x (and 4th) was the exception with DR/ER ratings instead of vulnerabilities/resistance/immunities. So the way 5e deals with damage IS Old School.
5e is way overpowered in the PC department, everyone can heal all abilities are way above average (10), also you can increase many stats way up to over 20 very fast some almost at character creation. The limited skills and lumping things together, which further makes most the same he ck back in the day only a thief could pick locks and find traps, a priest could heal, a fighter was a defender to protect the caster like the wizard who cast spells. But yes in that one way, it does get it right, but it gets everything else wrong, as i stated the players are more like superheroes from the start not struggling to learn and survive like the older editions. Play one and then come back and compare the difference, one person did and the basic character from say 2nd or older was 5 levels lower in power and as a 5e character level, they almost double that gap to the point of god-like by comparison to a 2nd level character. I liked 3rd the most but it was very broken in the power creep and such, and creatures were not easy to create or run due to the overabundance of rules and abilities. Anyway, I could argue all day on this, but as a DM it is fixable, 5e is, but you would have to change so much you might as well go play older versions of the game as it is more easy.
 

Achan hiArusa

Explorer
At low levels I've already done the math (since they are closest in power). A 2nd Edition 1st level fighter weapon specialist can mop the floor with a 1st level 5th Edition fighter (assuming maximum hit points for both and using their native math). And maintaining this nonsuperheroic attitude up to higher levels creates the whole "quadratic wizard vs. linear fighter" situation that plagues all editions of D&D (with the exception of 4th Edition). When I am a fighter, I don't want to play me doing sword and board (even if my strength was jacked up), I want to play a fantasy hero. Gygax always argued that a 1st level character was special and intrinsically better than the common man and I want a game that plays that way.
 

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