What Licensed RPG Do You Wish Used A Different System?

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Limit Break Dancing
The moment someone sits down next to me and asks "How do you do character X?" in a SHRPG game system, and it answers "You can't" other than on game balance grounds (there are some characters who even in-setting are clearly only restrained by the writers) I consider the superhero game has to that degree, failed its job.
Okay. I'm gonna build my favorite comic book superhero (Gambit) using only 5th Edition D&D resources. No new game mechanics, no new systems, no new rules...all of this stuff will come from the official D&D books published by Wizards of the Coast. Lore and flavor changes are allowed, and modular swaps (a skill for a skill, a feat for a feat, that sort of thing) are allowed, but that's it.

Let's go!

I understand that comics are a huge rabbit hole of conflicting lore and inconsistencies, and sometimes the same superhero gets multiple revisions and expansions across several decades, so to keep this simple I will use just the Wikipedia entry. Here's the relevant sections for Gambit, with my notes in green.

Gambit (Remy Etienne LeBeau) is a fictional character appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics, commonly in association with the X-Men. The character was created by writer Chris Claremont and artist Jim Lee.

Gambit belongs to a subspecies of humans called mutants, who are born with superhuman abilities. (Okay, so it looks like we are making a Variant Human. Could also reskin another race with similar attributes; will probably use custom species rules in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything.) Gambit has the ability to mentally create, control, and manipulate pure kinetic energy to his desire. (In D&D, there is no such thing as "kinetic energy," the closest analogs are force (as a damage type) and telekinesis (like mage hand, levitate, etc.) He is also incredibly knowledgeable and skilled in card throwing, hand-to-hand combat, (unarmed strike) and the use of a bō staff. (quarterstaff) Gambit is known to charge playing cards and other objects with kinetic energy, using them as explosive projectiles. (casting Magic Missile, or Eldritch Blast, with a deck of cards as the focus? The explosion is tricky though; perhaps a reskinned Fireball that does force damage instead of fire?)

He was part of a thieves' guild before becoming a member of the X-Men. (sounds like the Charlatan or Criminal background) Given his history, few X-Men trusted Gambit when he joined the group. There was consistently a source of stress between him and his on-again, off-again love interest and eventual wife Rogue. This was exacerbated when Gambit's connections to villain Mister Sinister were revealed, although some of his team members accept that Gambit honestly seeks redemption. (Secret identity and love triangle makes the Charlatan background more appealing.) Often portrayed as a "ladies' man", Gambit has shown a more vulnerable side of himself over the years, especially when it comes to Rogue. Gambit is a Cajun from New Orleans; he is fiercely proud of his heritage and speaks both Cajun English and Louisiana French. (Knows at least two languages.)

Fictional character biography
Early life
Remy Etienne LeBeau was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was kidnapped from the hospital where he was born, then raised by the LeBeau Clan Thieves' Guild, and given to the Antiquary as a tribute. (Could also go with Urchin background? Nah. Worse comes to worse, I could just create a custom background that mashes up Charlatan, Criminal, and Urchin.)

They referred to the child as "Le Diable Blanc" ("the White Devil") and believed he was prophesied to unite the warring Thieves' and Assassins' Guilds. Soon after, Remy was placed in the care of Fagan's Mob, a gang of street thieves who raised the child and taught him the ways of thievery. After living as an orphan on the streets, a 10-year-old Remy attempted to pick the pocket of Jean-Luc LeBeau, then patriarch of the Thieves' Guild. Jean-Luc took the boy off the streets and adopted him into his own family. (Could be a Charlatan-Criminal mashup, per the rules in the PHB. Call it "Street Gang" or something?)

Remy's bio-kinetic charging abilities manifested early in his teens, although he kept his powers secret from his family and friends, practicing his powers away from prying eyes. (Here we go, the stereotypical Sorcerer origin story.) When he was 15, he accompanied his cousin Etienne Marceaux on his "Tithing", the ritual initiation test of the Thieves' Guild. However, it went awry as they were assigned to steal from the powerful immortal mutant Candra, who quickly captured them. Remy used his powers to escape their holding pen...Remy was ultimately rescued by the Guild. (More background info)

Later during his teen years, Remy was first hired by Mister Sinister.... Remy and the Thieves' Guild accepted the mission and sent out Remy to retrieve said diaries. Standing in the cold, scouting the Weapon X facility, Remy could not bear the cold and swore he would steal a long, stylish jacket in New Orleans after the mission, which he did. (Interesting way to connect some starting equipment to the backstory. I'll have to remember to give him a cloak or something.)

Powers and abilities
Gambit is a mutant with the ability to convert the potential energy stored in an inanimate object into pure light kinetic energy, thus "charging" that item with highly explosive results. (This is going to be the hard part: I have to choose an analog for "kinetic energy" and stick to it. I think Force damage is the way to go for attack-based "kinetics," and I think the rest can be handled with telekinetic effects.) He prefers to charge smaller objects, such as his ever-present playing cards, as the time required to charge them is greatly reduced and they are much easier for him to throw. (arcane focus?) The only real limitation to this ability is the time required to charge the object: the larger it is the more time it takes to charge. (will need a recharge mechanic. Recharge 1-2 might work for something more powerful than a cantrip. Maybe "Recharge (4-spell level)" for spell-like abilities that aren't cantrips? or maybe just use Ki points or something?) Most charging takes place through direct skin contact. (most of these abilities have a range of touch) The power of his explosions is dependent on the mass of the object he is charging: for example, a charged playing card explodes with the force of a grenade. (OH IS THAT ALL?! JUST a grenade?!!?) Gambit can also use his mutant abilities to accelerate an object's kinetic energy instead of converting its potential energy; for example, he can charge his Bo staff with enough kinetic energy and power to level a house. (I like the idea of a character who can charge his weapons up to deal bonus Force damage. Sort of like a paladin's smite, or a monk's Ki Empowered Strike.)

Gambit's ability to tap into kinetic energy also grants him incredible superhuman physical attributes (strength, speed, reflexes and reactions, agility, flexibility, dexterity, coordination, balance, and endurance), (Sounds like his custom species will grant him bonuses to Strength and Dexterity. Also describes a Monk's Evasion and Purity of Body) as his body constantly generates bio-kinetic energy and so is perfectly constructed for constant motion. (His custom species might also give him a cantrip or small group of spells...reskinned Tiefling or Drow?) This gives him an added edge that he has used to his advantage by developing a unique acrobatic fighting style. (Fighter? Rogue? Monk?)

The charged potential energy always in his body grants him the ability to build up charges of static electricity, and shields his mind from detection and intrusion by even the strongest and most powerful telepaths such as Emma Frost, Jean Grey, and even Charles Xavier. The shield has the added effect of destabilizing touch-based abilities. (Monks have the Stillness of Mind ability, but I don't think that's the same thing.)

Gambit also possesses an unusually strong and irresistible hypnotic charm that allows him to exert a subtle influence over sentient beings, leading them to believe what he says and agree with his suggestions. (A charm effect?) This charm is so strong and powerful that if given a chance, Gambit could even charm the Shadow King himself. (Yeah yeah, I get it, he can blow up a house by tapping it with a stick, and he can explode a tank by hitting it with a pebble...let's dial it down a bit. So he's really good at Charm Person, maybe his targets have Disadvantage on their saves?) The hypnotic charm does not work on those who know about it. (But but surely the Shadow King has at least heard a rumor about...you know what? let's not go there. Turn down the "Comic Book Nerd" dial a bit, CleverNick.)

During combat, Gambit customarily wears a suit of highly articulated light body armor and uses an extendable metal staff. (light armor, quarterstaff). He is extensively trained in martial arts, particularly Savate and the staff style art Bōjutsu. (Classic Monk build, except for the bit about armor.) He is an excellent hand-to-hand combatant, applying street-fighting techniques and acrobatics. (Yep, Monk.) Gambit is a skilled card-thrower, so he throws his charged playing cards at opponents with great accuracy. (Throw Anything feat?) He also excels in all aspects of thievery, ("all aspects of thievery" in D&D 5E can be summed up as "proficient in Sleight of Hand, Stealth, and Thieves' Tools." And all three are already in the Criminal background.) as he was adopted by the patriarch of a Thieves Guild. (Sounds like he gets his thievery skills from his Background. Criminal Background confirmed.)

Gambit was temporarily given the full strength and potential of his mutant abilities to battle his counterpart, New Son. (Okay, let's see what a 20th level Gambit looks like) At his full strength and power, (20th level) Gambit can control all aspects of kinetic energy down even to the molecular level, allowing him to manipulate the potency of his bio-kinetic energy to burn, cause molecular discomfort, incinerate, create timed detonations (and manipulate the potency of the energy release), fire energy blasts, defy gravity, heal wounds, charge objects within his line of sight without contact, manipulate the flow of time & space and effectively exist as an energy being. (So he becomes the God of Energy. Sounds like a max-level Sorcerer who specialized in energy magic.) Under such conditions, he holds sufficient power to cause another being to be unable to move—or unable to stop if in motion. He has been able to cause or simulate various energies by manipulating the kinetic energy present, such as infrared and microwaves, by increasing molecular agitation, or cold by reducing it. He was also able to use his powers to travel through space-time, cross dimensions, and remake realities outside of space-time by transforming himself into living energy which joined with the kinetic flow. Finally, Gambit was able to heal himself by stimulating his cellular activity. These enhanced powers were burnt out after fighting New Son, and Gambit has since returned to his original, somewhat lower power levels. (Sounds like an awesome adventure, where everyone gets to temporarily play their characters at god-level...but not really suitable for this build. It was fun to read, and it's a nice glimpse at the direction this character build might eventually take, but it's not really relevant at the moment. Disregarding this paragraph.)

However, after Sage jump-started his powers again, he was able to heal his blinded eyes—thus implying he is again able to heal himself —and is also able again to charge living things with energy. (Spending Hit Dice to remove blindness on a short rest? Access to healing magic? The paladin's Lay on Hands ability?) He was also given another boost when he was killed in an altercation with a drug lord and Faiza Hussain managed to restore him before it set in, enabling him to charge a bullet with twice as much explosive force than usual. He has later proven able to delay his explosions again, although this is difficult for him to accomplish. (These abilities are great, but they sound more like quest rewards, not part of the character's actual build. I'll keep them in mind, but put them lower on the list of priorities.)

After Apocalypse used the Celestial Technology to transform Gambit into the Horseman Death, Gambit demonstrates the ability to convert inert materials into toxic substances (such as transforming breathable air into poisonous gases) and has the potential to ingest diseases and plagues. It is apparent that the Celestial Technology never left his system, as seen during a telepathic attack against him that temporarily brought out the Death persona, which eventually killed the attacker. He also showcased new abilities he had not used before in this form – such as his Death Charge, which fueled his projectiles with dark energies that have the effect of either disintegrating or entrapping beings within his cards. His new transformation also affords him the ability to control the trajectory in which the thrown cards fly in, giving him more control over their vector path while in motion. He could also convert people to his mindset like he did with Northstar, Dazzler and several demons while in limbo. Gambit's body did subsequently return to normal. (Emphasis mine. This suggests that the Horseman Death arc was only temporary, possibly an adventure arc or one-shot, and therefore not a permanent part of the character's build. I'm gonna keep this part on the back-burner as well, and use it as filler if I need more abilities later.)

Okay, so with all of that in mind, let's get to building!

Custom Lineage: Kinetic Mutant
Source: Tasha's Cauldron of Everything
When you reached the age of 13, your latent mutant powers began to manifest. You learned that you had the ability to mentally create, control, and manipulate pure kinetic energy to your desire. How did your family and friends react to this change? Or did you keep it a secret from them?

You start the game with the following traits.
  • Creature type. You are a Humanoid. You are considered a Human for the purposes of certain abilities and effects. You determine your appearance and whether you resemble any of your kin.
  • Size. You are Medium-sized.
  • Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
  • Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 1, and your Dexterity score increases by 2.
  • Kinetic Energy. You can manipulate the kinetic energy of objects around you, mentally causing them to move or explode with great force. You know the eldritch blast cantrip and the mage hand cantrip. You also know the charm person spell, and can cast it once per long rest. (This is the "Feat" described in Tasha's. I chose the Magic Initiate feat, for Warlock, but I renamed it so that the player could still choose the Magic Initiate feat later if they wanted.)
  • Kinetic Movement. You can manipulate your own kinetic energy at will, enabling you to accomplish amazing feats of balance, coordination, and agility. You are proficient in the Acrobatics skill. (This is the "Variable Trait," per Tasha's.)
  • Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and one other language that you and your DM agree is appropriate for your character.

Custom Background: Criminal
Source: Player's Handbook, with my edits in green.
You are an experienced criminal with a history of breaking the law. You have spent a lot of time among other criminals and still have contacts within the criminal underworld. You're far closer than most people to the world of murder, theft, and violence that pervade the underbelly of civilization, and you have survived up to this point by flouting the rules and regulations of society.
  • Skill Proficiencies: Sleight of Hand, Stealth
  • Tool Proficiencies: Three Dragon Ante (cards), Thieves' Tools
  • Languages: None.
  • Equipment: a quarterstaff, a set of common clothes, a snazzy trench coat, and a pouch containing 15gp.

Class: Monk
Why did I choose monk? It felt like the strongest fit. After picking apart the description, it seemed like Remy has more in common with Monk. Sure, there are aspects of Sorcerer or Psion in there as with all Marvel characters in general (and X-Men characters in particular), and also a good amount of Rogue flavor in there as well, but they all seemed secondary to me. For the most part, the Rogue elements felt like background and origin story, and the magical elements were mostly ki powers or cantrips--so I went with Monk, with a Criminal Background and the Magic Initiate feat.
So! To build Remy LeBeau, we're going to choose Monk, but we're going to make the following changes. Still nothing game-breaking or overpowered...this is all just theme and flavor changes. The monk works just fine as-written, we just need to give it a new coat of paint.
  • Strike the "Monastery" stuff from the class description, and rewrite it with something a little more appropriate. Remy's abilities come from the mastery of kinetic energy, not from a life of discipline and asceticism.
  • Strike the "Monastic Icon" stuff too, for the same reason. Or you could leave it and choose "Hydra," just to see if anyone else gets the joke.
  • Master: choose a suitable NPC in your campaign, preferably one who is also a mutant and/or affiliated with the Thieves' Guild.
  • Monastic Tradition: let's reskin the Way of the Four Elements to focus on telekinetic powers and force damage. I'm calling it "Way of Bio-Kinetics," but you should name it something that suits your campaign setting and play style. Way of the Cards? Way of the Forceful Mind? Way of Explody Card Tricks?
Monk: Way of Bio-Kinetics
When you focus your ki, you can align yourself with the kinetic energy stored within all atomic structures, and bend that energy to your will, using them as an extension of your body. Members of this tradition master the explosive elements of force, the subtle art of telekinesis, and the manipulation of the laws of physics.

Source: Player's Handbook (with my modifications in green)

Disciple of Kinetics
When you choose this tradition at 3rd level, you learn magical disciplines that harness the power of bio-kinetic energy. A discipline requires you to spend ki points each time you use it.

You know the Kinetic Attunement discipline and one other kinetic discipline of your choice. You learn one additional kinetic discipline of your choice at 6th, 11th, and 17th level. Whenever you learn a new kinetic discipline, you can also replace one kinetic discipline that you already know with a different discipline.

Casting Kinetic Spells. Some kinetic disciplines allow you to cast spells. See chapter 10 of the Player's Handbook for the general rules of spellcasting. To cast one of these spells, you use its casting time and other rules, but you don't need to provide material components for it.

Once you reach 5th level in this class, you can spend additional ki points to increase the level of a kinetic discipline spell that you cast, provided that the spell has an enhanced effect at a higher level, as Burning Hands does. The spell's level increases by 1 for each additional ki point you spend. For example, if you are a 5th-level monk and use Exothermic Reaction to cast Burning Hands, you can spend 3 ki points to cast it as a 2nd-level spell (the discipline's base cost of 2 ki points plus 1).

The maximum number of ki points you can spend to cast a spell in this way (including its base ki point cost and any additional ki points you spend to increase its level) is determined by your monk level, as shown in the Spells and Ki Points table.

Spells and Ki Points
Monk LevelsMaximum Ki Points for a Spell
So I just took the standard list of Disciplines from the Player's Handbook, and changed the names and damage types. Force damage instead of cold or fire, "Kinetic Attunement" instead of "Elemental Attunement," that sort of thing. Like most things that I "homebrew" for my players, I'm not reinventing the wheel, I'm just giving it a fresh coat of paint (my brush strokes are in green.)

Wave of Force
Prerequisite: 17th Level
You can spend 6 ki points to cast Cone of Force (as the Cone of Cold spell, except it deals Force damage instead of cold).

Bio-Kinetic Grasp
Prerequisite: 6th Level
You can spend 3 ki points to cast Hold Person.

Kinetic Attunement
You can use your action to briefly control kinetic energies within 30 feet of you, causing one of the following effects of your choice:
  • Create a harmless, instantaneous sensory effect related to kinetic energy such as a shower of sparks, a puff of wind, a spray of light mist, or a gentle rumbling of stone.
  • Cause a small object (weighing less than an ounce) to float or move a few feet.
  • Chill or warm up to 1 pound of nonliving material for up to 1 hour.
  • Cause sand, snow, or other loose material within a 1-foot cube to shape itself into a crude form you designate for 1 minute.
Kinetic Defense
Prerequisite: 17th Level
You can spend 5 ki points to cast Stoneskin, targeting yourself.

Bio-Kinetic Strike
When you use the Attack action on your turn, you can spend 1 ki point to cause tendrils of force to stretch out from your fists and feet. Your reach with your unarmed strikes increases by 10 feet for that action, as well as the rest of the turn. A hit with such an attack deals force damage instead of bludgeoning damage, and if you spend 1 ki point when the attack hits, it also deals an extra 1d10 force damage.

Bio-Kinetic Push
You can spend 2 ki points to cast Thunderwave.

Concussive Thrust
You can create a blast of compressed air that strikes like a mighty fist. As an action, you can spend 2 ki points and choose a creature within 30 feet of you. That creature must make a Strength saving throw. On a failed save, the creature takes 3d10 bludgeoning damage, plus an extra 1d10 bludgeoning damage for each additional ki point you spend, and you can push the creature up to 20 feet away from you and knock it prone. On a successful save, the creature takes half as much damage, and you don't push it or knock it prone.

Kinetic Blast
Prerequisite: 11th Level
You can spend 4 ki points to cast Fireball. The spell cast in this manner deals force damage instead of fire damage.

Molecular Disruption
Prerequisite: 6th Level
You can spend 3 ki points to cast Shatter.

Prerequisite: 11th Level
You can spend 4 ki points to cast Gaseous Form, targeting yourself.

Kinetic Flight
Prerequisite: 11th Level
You can spend 4 ki points to cast Fly, targeting yourself.

Energy Barrier
Prerequisite: 17th Level
You can spend 6 ki points to cast Wall of Force.

Pressure Wave
You can spend 2 ki points to cast Gust of Wind.

Exothermic Reaction
You can spend 2 ki points to cast Burning Hands.

Telekinetic Whip
You can spend 2 ki points as an action to create a whip of force that shoves and pulls a creature to unbalance it. A creature that you can see that is within 30 feet of you must make a Dexterity saving throw. On a failed save, the creature takes 3d10 bludgeoning damage, plus an extra 1d10 bludgeoning damage for each additional ki point you spend, and you can either knock it prone or pull it up to 25 feet closer to you. On a successful save, the creature takes half as much damage, and you don't pull it or knock it prone.
  • For the Dedicated Weapon option (in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything), choose a quarterstaff.
  • Rename "Ki-Empowered Strikes" to "Kinetic-Enhanced Strikes" or something.
  • Rename "Stillness of Mind" to "Static Mind Shield"
  • Rename "Purity of Body" to "Bio-Kinetic Enhancement"
  • Rename "Tongue of the Sun and Moon" to "Telepath."
  • Rename "Diamond Soul" to "Bio-Kinetic Mastery"
  • Rename "Timeless Body" to "Ageless"
  • Rename "Empty Body" to "Quantum Phase" or whatever.
And there you have it. Gambit!

All this to say: I think 5E D&D does a pretty good job with my favorite comic book superhero. Sure, I had to rename some stuff and move the different Lego blocks around, but I'd have to do that to put Gambit into any game system. Even a Superhero-themed one.
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I'd argue most games do; its just that games with strong specialization (or even worse, niche protection) have it particularly bad.
I think there are some other features of D&D that make splitting up the protagonists a problem. For instance, a lot of resolution in D&D relies quite a bit on physical proximity. There's no other "transmission belt" for carrying the consequences or stakes or significance of things that happen to one group, into the circumstances confronted by another group.

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
I'm not making this blindly. I have Level Up for example, and while it addresses some things native 5e doesn't seem to, its still carrying the same baggage. Same for the other games I've looked through that were the avowedly tooled up for different genres.
Fair enough. What exactly are these other games not doing that you want?

Thomas Shey

Okay. I'm gonna build my favorite comic book superhero (Gambit) using only 5th Edition D&D resources. No new game mechanics, no new systems, no new rules...all of this stuff will come from the official D&D books published by Wizards of the Coast. Lore and flavor changes are allowed, and modular swaps (a skill for a skill, a feat for a feat, that sort of thing) are allowed, but that's it.

Let's go!

I do have to point out that for all his conceptual quirkiness, Gambit is not actually as typically depicted a complex character; he' throws explosive objects (and can blow things up he touches), and has enhanced agility. It doesn't surprise me that he can be done. He's also not particularly high powered.

Thomas Shey

Fair enough. My table is definitely accepting.

Nothing wrong with that at all, but it notably makes your job easier than in a game that is primarily representing things in sort of a physical reality sense (it also doesn't hurt that the ones I'm familiar with like Masks and the like have somewhat narrow scope).

Thomas Shey

I think there are some other features of D&D that make splitting up the protagonists a problem. For instance, a lot of resolution in D&D relies quite a bit on physical proximity. There's no other "transmission belt" for carrying the consequences or stakes or significance of things that happen to one group, into the circumstances confronted by another group.

Well, arguably that gets back to whether those transmission media are acceptable in the first place. Or, see my comment up thread about the pass a lot of narrative focused games get on issues with superhero games that more representative games just can't use.

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