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

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
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.
Maybe so, but even if I am better than the common man, I should be able to at least see them from where I am, and if we're both human we should share common heritage traits and be potentially able to reach the same heights. A human PC has no good reason in my opinion to be a different  kind of creature than a human NPC.
 

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Maybe so, but even if I am better than the common man, I should be able to at least see them from where I am, and if we're both human we should share common heritage traits and be potentially able to reach the same heights. A human PC has no good reason in my opinion to be a different  kind of creature than a human NPC.
I think the problem with that has always been baked into the system even since Basic. Gygax's entire philosophy was that any PC is always innately different from an NPC of the same heritage. Generally named NPCs got to have character classes and levels, but the rest were all zero-levels. I don't think it was until Unearthed Arcana where they had rules to start as a 0-level and 'level up' into a grown PC, but that book also had some weird variants for rolling stats, like where fighters roll 10d6 keep 3 for strength. ymmv
 

But even Superman needs to breath. They are, or were, spells to nerf or break those immunities.

Maybe an enemy can't be hurt by the fire, but the wood floor is too damaged and then this suffers a serious fall from the upper level.

Or the enemy can't be hurt by ordinary means, but this can be stopped thanks some trick, for example thrown to fresh concrete. Or a petrified state.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
I think the problem with that has always been baked into the system even since Basic. Gygax's entire philosophy was that any PC is always innately different from an NPC of the same heritage. Generally named NPCs got to have character classes and levels, but the rest were all zero-levels. I don't think it was until Unearthed Arcana where they had rules to start as a 0-level and 'level up' into a grown PC, but that book also had some weird variants for rolling stats, like where fighters roll 10d6 keep 3 for strength. ymmv
I can't speak for Gygax (seemed like a nice guy the one time I met him), but for my part there's no reason that PCs and NPCs have to be different species that just happen to look the same and have the same name. 3e's way was complex, but I liked the idea behind it. And other D&D-adjacent games have dealt with this issue in one way or another. PCs can and should be better than average, but they don't have to be a different order of being.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
But even Superman needs to breath. They are, or were, spells to nerf or break those immunities.

Maybe an enemy can't be hurt by the fire, but the wood floor is too damaged and then this suffers a serious fall from the upper level.

Or the enemy can't be hurt by ordinary means, but this can be stopped thanks some trick, for example thrown to fresh concrete. Or a petrified state.
Players don't want to use strategy to destroy their enemies anymore. Not simple enough.
 

Achan hiArusa

Explorer
0-level rules were first in Greyhawk Adventures and a separate one was in module N4-Treasure Hunt, though I could see doing N4 and then doing the Greyhawk rules afterwards.

As for the ability scores, that is Method IX in Unearthed Arcana. With Comeliness you get 9,8,7,6,5,4,3 dice take the best three for each ability score based on character class so a fighter got S9,I3,W5,D7,CN8,CH6,CM4, a magic-user S4,I9,W7,D8,CN6,CH5,CM3, a cleric S7,I4,W9,D5,CN8,CH6,CM3, a thief S6,I5,W3,D9,CN7,CH4,CM8, and so on.

And leveled PCs were not a different species, just exemplars of their own species, just like they have always been stated to be from 0 on.
 

Achan hiArusa

Explorer
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.
And ability scores are either standard array 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8 or 4d6 drop lowest. 4d6 drop lowest makes an average die roll of 12 and was used in 1st edition AD&D and was listed as METHOD I in the DMG. Moldvay Basic D&D allowed you to trade 2 points of Strength, Intelligence, or Wisdom for 1 point in Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, or Dexterity, But yes, Tomes and Wishes were the only way to raise ability scores unless you were a Cavalier. But even back then we did 4d6 drop lowest 12 times and choose the best six for your ability scores and you could modify them as per Moldvay if you still weren't happy (but we allowed characters to mine their Dex, Con, and Cha) and everyone could raise their ability scores like Cavaliers and other such experiments. And I replaced AD&D adjustments for D&D adjustments if they were higher. I'd bring in Weapon Masteries from D&D and the combat maneuvers (Set Spear, Charge with Lance, Smash, and Disarm) and I rearranged the Attacks per round and proficiency tables so fighters got all the best stuff. A 5e Wizard is going to get mauled by a 1e Magic-user because he doesn't have as many spell slots overall (and Protection from Cantrips is a spell in 1st/2nd edition).

And as for 3e, I never had a problem modifying or creating new creatures. But then again I have a Masters in Physics and teach High School Physics. And when characters tried to make broken characters I would come back with broken monsters. They either engaged in an arms race they couldn't win with me or they learned.
 

Vincent55

Adventurer
And ability scores are either standard array 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8 or 4d6 drop lowest. 4d6 drop lowest makes an average die roll of 12 and was used in 1st edition AD&D and was listed as METHOD I in the DMG. Moldvay Basic D&D allowed you to trade 2 points of Strength, Intelligence, or Wisdom for 1 point in Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, or Dexterity, But yes, Tomes and Wishes were the only way to raise ability scores unless you were a Cavalier. But even back then we did 4d6 drop lowest 12 times and choose the best six for your ability scores and you could modify them as per Moldvay if you still weren't happy (but we allowed characters to mine their Dex, Con, and Cha) and everyone could raise their ability scores like Cavaliers and other such experiments. And I replaced AD&D adjustments for D&D adjustments if they were higher. I'd bring in Weapon Masteries from D&D and the combat maneuvers (Set Spear, Charge with Lance, Smash, and Disarm) and I rearranged the Attacks per round and proficiency tables so fighters got all the best stuff. A 5e Wizard is going to get mauled by a 1e Magic-user because he doesn't have as many spell slots overall (and Protection from Cantrips is a spell in 1st/2nd edition).

And as for 3e, I never had a problem modifying or creating new creatures. But then again I have a Masters in Physics and teach High School Physics. And when characters tried to make broken characters I would come back with broken monsters. They either engaged in an arms race they couldn't win with me or they learned.
I never had an issue with creating creatures as well, just had other friends who seem to have trouble, but honestly, some have issues even with the current 5e as well. I have played many different systems and just prefer D&D in general, kind of like an old pair of comfortable shoes as it were. What you said sounds interesting, I also had thought of doing an amalgamation of all the editions, using 5e, more or less as a base. But decided that the effort and work were not really worth it as my small area there is not as big a player base to run with. I do like some of the 3rd party takes on the system, like the classless option in the stargate SG1 5e book, or the ultramodern 5e: Redux.
 

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