You guys ever see that really old movie Spider-Man? It’s got this part where our wall-crawling protagonist is just discovering his spider-powers, and that moment has burned itself into my geeky brain. That’s because for me, the fantasy of gaining super powers is all about that pivotal, joyful moment of discovery. It’s about super-powered fun. Who hasn’t wanted to web-sling around Manhattan? Or Hulk-smash an inconvenient inanimate object? Or fly up, up and away from your own mundane life? Woo indeed, Tobey Maguire. Woo indeed.

Unfortunately, that moment is tough to render in-game. It gets subsumed into your backstory, and we all tend to show up in Session 1 as reasonably experienced heroes. That allows us to get to those climactic moments of hero vs. villain action that much quicker, but I think it’s a high price to pay. That leaves me wondering how we might design campaigns to allow players to experience that moment of discovery. Some possibilities:

  • Exaltation: If you guys know Laurel’s other comic, you’re probably familiar with the Exalted setting. If not, the quick and dirty version is that god-like power finds and binds itself to mortal souls during moments of great heroism. One popular campaign style in that system is to have everyone start out as mere mortals, only gaining their powers at suitably dramatic moments. That can wind up being a little dice-dependent, but it does allow the player and the character to experience the ‘suddenly I’m awesome’ moment at the same time.
  • Preludes: Another technique with a White Wolf pedigree, preludes allow you to play out your backstory at the table. They’re generally short, taking up 10-15 minutes per player, and they can sometimes feel a bit railroady since they tell a story that’s already happened. However, they’re great if you want to zero in on the pivotal moments in a PC’s life leading up to ‘you all meet in a tavern.’ Gaining your awesome powers is exactly that kind of moment.
  • Low-Stakes Intro: l lucked into this technique during a Curse of the Crimson Throne game. Laurel’s aehter kineticist was a professional thief in that campaign, and I opened on a botched burglary. Creeping in under cover of a noisy extra-marital affair going on upstairs, our lovable scoundrel was unlucky enough to execute his heist at the same time an enraged, pistol-toting husband came home. It was full-on shenanigans as the kineticist and a semi-naked philanderer both tried to escape the premises at once. It wasn’t a moment of ‘discovering your powers’ for the PC, but it did allow the player to introduce those powers in a fun, low-stakes scenario outside of the usual “have adventure, fight monster” style.
  • Amnesia: Better suited to one shots and convention games than full campaigns, the amnesia start asks players to sit down without character sheets. They only discovery their identities and powers through play. For example, trying to open a jammed door is impossible for everyone at the table except the super-strength dude. The reinforced steel plating crumples under her touch, and so that player gets the fun experience of discovering her powers at the same time as her PC.

What about the rest of you guys? Have you ever had the chance to play out the thrill of gaining your powers at the table? Or is that always a backstory thing that happens off-screen? Sound off with your own techniques for foregrounding the “power-up moment” down in the comments!


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