Created By: Ranger on November 6, 2011 Last Edited By: Ranger on June 12, 2014

Superpower Suffering

A character\'s power is inversely proportional to their happiness.

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Pete: What is superman's greatest weakness?
Myka: Kryptonite!
Pete: No...Lois Lane.

You've got a powerful individual, at risk of becoming a Mary Sue, too high on the Super Weight scale, won the Superpower Lottery, or perhaps an Author Avatar. They possesses more power than they by all rights should. And you want them them as regular character, most commonly the protagonist.

How do you balance them out? They can't overpower every opponent they face; they need a strong flaw. You could have compensation required for their abilities. Or maybe their powers have a weakness. Perhaps instead of making the character weaker, you make everyone else more powerful.

Yet each solution has problems. Weaknesses can come up too often. There's only so much you can do to scale up other characters, leaving the risk of characters being left behind. Compensations tend to be set in stone, offering very little in the way of flexibility.

How about taking a fourth option? Enter Superpower Suffering: "If they're so hard to attack physically, then maybe we should attack mentally?"

This is not a Mind Rape. This is when a villain, instead of destroying their enemy directly with physical harm, destroys them emotionally, be it intentionally or unintentionally, making them miserable.

A brilliant tactician can suffer a great failure, or have something they genuinely could not have stopped but feel like they should have been able to. A powerful warrior can have one of their loved ones be killed while the warrior is elsewhere, possibly fighting another evil.

The more powerful the character is, the more this seems to happen. Take a look, for instance, at Lelouch's life in Code Geass: he catches no breaks and is constantly miserable. But he's a Magnificent Bastard with an overpowered ability, who has friends in all the right places.

This is when the "strong flaw" of a character is constant misery. The more (over)powerful a character is, the more they have to suffer in order for the audience to believe they're still (relatively) human(oid).

(Note: Needs a Better Title.)
Community Feedback Replies: 15
  • November 6, 2011
    Insignificant
    Needs A Better Title. Character-named tropes went out of style. I don't think there's an preexisting term for it, though.
  • November 6, 2011
    dalek955
  • November 6, 2011
    JRoch
    Tough Fists, Tender Heart?
  • November 6, 2011
    Koveras
    We have something like this under Misery Builds Character.
  • November 7, 2011
    ChunkyDaddy
    I know we are not doing quote based titles anymore, but I like With Power Comes Kleenex
  • November 7, 2011
    Generality
    Oh yes, I know what you're talking about, although I think you need to trim some fat from your description. It's why so many villains fall back on the Despair Gambit, and is one primary justification for a Secret Identity. It's also used to combat Boring Invincible Hero.

    It really needs a different title though. Character title issue aside, it's vague. Superman has so many iconic tropes attributed to him that people wouldn't know what you meant. You need something like Power Balanced By Misery, although that's a bit awkward.
  • November 8, 2011
    Ranger
    Reformatted. Not sure I like how it's mostly in second person, but it seemed like the best way I could word things.
  • November 11, 2011
    Irrisia
    Psst, it's Lois Lane =3
  • November 11, 2011
    captainpat
    Needs A Better Description

    Good god. Please rewrite the description so that it simply gets to the point of what this trope is. This a trope description not a writer's guide.
  • November 11, 2011
    Jordan
    Emp in Empowered is theoretically very powerful, but the amount of power she has (and the consistency of her suit are tied to her self esteem. Unfortunately, she has low self esteem.

    Incidentally, Emp's costume looks a lot like a sybmiote from the Spider Man series and this might not be a coincidence, since Venom is sometimes stated to have the opposite situation- the more sad/angry he is, the more powerful he is. This has predictably bad consequences on his sanity.
  • November 11, 2011
    SteamGoth
    Is this related to Cursed With Awesome and/or Blessed With Suck?
  • November 13, 2011
    Ranger
    Shortened it to make it more concise, but it still feels like the order is somewhat awkward. The first three paragraphs seem fine, but the ones after that seem a little sloppy; could use some help with that.
  • November 13, 2011
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    • Ryouga has a chi attack that becomes more powerful the more depressed he is. Ranma, being a competitive sort, and also a highly confident egotistical sort, has trouble matching the technique.
  • June 12, 2014
    Westrim
    bump
  • June 12, 2014
    DAN004
    What I'm thinking is that "ppl with power having misery coming down upon them" is an out-of-universe thing cuz the two are logically unrelated. Unless:
    • the powers explicitly comes with a curse; along the lines of "the users of this power will have a troubled life".
    • the enemy is Genre Savvy enough to realize that, if they can't break the hero body, they can break his mind.
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