How do you handle characters of different power levels?:

Total posts: [18]
1 GAP5th Apr 2013 11:49:00 PM , Relationship Status: Faithful to 2D
Formerly G.G.
You know there some fairly indestructible characters in fiction and they seem to posses some reality warping powers of some kind. I know power levels don't really mean much outside a certain context but how do you guys handle characters with different power levels while still keeping the story plausible? There are characters out there where any 'fight' becomes a trivial matter while or others they would have to put some effort on their end. It makes me wonder how you can handle characters who posses some form of story breaking where no matter what the antagonists do, they will never truly be beaten. How do you guys handle characters with different levels power and skill?
"Super Fighting Robot Mega Man!"
2 Eagal5th Apr 2013 11:57:40 PM from This is a location. , Relationship Status: Waiting for Prince Charming
This is a title.
Several options are available.

There's Fights Like a Normal (as is the case with my character Bob, who prefers to use his mind to solve problems rather than his superpowers) or Willfully Weak (Bob II).

Or the tried and true Shooting Superman approach (my various Flying Bricks).

Ultimately, I deal with the problem by simply coming up with a reason for high powered characters to avoid getting into fights (Bob III, et al).

If you wanted you could make use of Kryptonite Factor, but I'm not a fan of that trope.

edited 8th Jul '16 5:09:30 PM by Eagal

The madness is catching.
3 nrjxll6th Apr 2013 12:00:44 AM , Relationship Status: Not war
Or you can just not have any characters like that in the first place.
4 Eagal6th Apr 2013 12:04:36 AM from This is a location. , Relationship Status: Waiting for Prince Charming
This is a title.
That's an option too if you're one of the "Stop Having Fun" Guys.
The madness is catching.
5 nrjxll6th Apr 2013 01:37:07 AM , Relationship Status: Not war
Um, no.
I need a drink
Power never really equals skill or intelligence though. You could have a fight between a muggle and a veritable god but if its not in the god's nature to fight or he is too narrow minded to use the full extent of his power then the muggle could potentially find a more even playing field. It all basically comes down to characterization.
Theres sex and death and human grime in monochrome for one thin dime and at least the trains all run on time but they dont go anywhere.
((Preface: I don't really write a lot of physical conflict without it being the climax of a long story, but...))

Why is a character unbeatable? Is he truly unbeatable all around, where he can never be challenged directly in any endeavor, or is he simply unbeatable in a given field? If the former, well, you have effectively written God, not a character. There is a reason we don't write a lot of stories about God, other than myths about creation of the world.

Now, if the character is not omnipotent and omniscient, they have weaknesses. These might not be immediately relevant in, say, physical violence, but then again, physical violence is the easiest and most inefficient to any problem. Challenge their weaknesses. Create situations where they can't use their overwhelming advantages without making things worse. Sure, if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, but that doesn't mean every problem is a nail. Some problems are delicate porcelain. Give them motivations that are not directly supplemented by their powers.

Of course, this requires characters that have more complex motivations and desires than "survive day to day". A character who cares for nothing but his own survival is difficult to write about and boring to read if they have enough advantages to ensure that, unless the story is him breaking his selfish, isolationist shell. If the character is powerful enough, he needs at least two of three things: a motivation that isn't based on survival, a concern for morality and people he cares about. The key is imagining conflicts between those that cannot be solved by whatever powers or advantages the character possesses. If you can't, consider if the character is really worth writing about.

tl;dr: create conflict and complexity, not straightforward "fights".
Power never really equals skill or intelligence though. You could have a fight between a muggle and a veritable god but if its not in the god's nature to fight or he is too narrow minded to use the full extent of his power then the muggle could potentially find a more even playing field. It all basically comes down to characterization.

tl;dr: create conflict and complexity, not straightforward "fights".

These bear repeating.


To pimp myself with an example: my main story's antagonist is a Physical God, and so Crazy-Prepared he can defeat Anti-Magic users with his bare fists after being Brought Down to Badass... as well as a few other non-magic-dependent tricks he keeps around. (Aside: I personally regard the second as far more impressive than the first.)

But he has an entire revolution against him. He can kill its leaders, but new ones will take their places. He can squash cells, but more will grow, hungry for vengeance. (Especially since he rules a people where Revenge Before Reason is disturbingly common.) Their theory is that in time, if they cannot find a secret to kill him in battle, they will erode him like an ocean erodes the mightiest stone.


You have to have stuff like that — give the powerful a challenge that, as Khantalas said, they cannot simply defeat using their powers, or at least not without imperiling their own goals or doing something utterly against their morality. It's much like in the real world: power comes in many breeds, and not every kind of power can solve every problem. No amount of money can save you if you've got a irrational maniac's knife at your throat. No amount of fighting skill can save you if the bank's foreclosing on your home. Superhuman powers can be expected to follow the same pattern.

edited 6th Apr '13 9:18:52 AM by KillerClowns

Yep, think the above posts basically nailed it. It's fine to have characters at different power levels, in fact it's one of my favourite devices. You just have to recognise that the differing levels of ability are going to result in them facing different sorts of challenge, and consequently having different perspectives on the overall plot.

Watchmen did it pretty well with Doctor Manhattan. The fact of his power itself is what separates him from his 'allies', and the ultimate 'evil' isn't a bad guy but a complicated social issue that even functional omnipotence can't solve.

Also remember that it's always possible to focus on different levels of conflict. No matter how much power any individual has, there's always going to be someone faced with a difficult problem, and where there's a difficult problem, there's a plot.

Powers has some good examples of superhero stuff from a different perspective.
I use an rpg-based rating system:

1 is "very low" (all animals)

2 is "low"

3 is "average" (ordinary humans)

4 is "high"

5 is "very high" (all demons)

There are four attributes: Body, Mind, Spirit (social), and Shadow (magical/psionic)

Only God Herself is above this system.
Level 3 Social Justice Necromancer. Chaotic Good.
11 EditorPallMall6th Apr 2013 07:13:06 PM from United States, East Coast
Don't Fear the Spiders
You simply figure out what roles the characters play in the story and adjust their power accordingly.
Keep it breezy!
12 ScorpioRat6th Apr 2013 07:48:37 PM from Dallas, Texas , Relationship Status: Forming Voltron
When horoscopes go wrong
Another method: make the powers naturally balance each other, like a cycle. This way, nothing is all powerful in the face of it's weakness, so fight's come down to skill.

edited 6th Apr '13 7:48:50 PM by ScorpioRat

"Only women and cats are allowed inside my armor!"

13 JimmyTMalice7th Apr 2013 04:08:49 AM from Ironforge , Relationship Status: THIS CONCEPT OF 'WUV' CONFUSES AND INFURIATES US!
You could have some kind of power dampener to bring the more powerful characters down to the others' level.

Or the opposite.
"Steel wins battles. Gold wins wars."
14 Night7th Apr 2013 06:25:06 AM from Jaburo , Relationship Status: Drift compatible
The future of warfare in UC.
This is something done repeatedly in In The Service/A Numbered Existence, so, I'll just skim it a bit and spit out answers I used.

Powerful people screw up in the same ways normal people do, like forgetting in the heat of the moment to make sure you're "out" and not merely "down"...and then taking a sword through the pelvis for their trouble. Don't expect it to work twice.

Mob tactics. One of you, perhaps, but you and your 40 closest friends and allies is a lot less manageable. (Scale as necessary to match the threat and the means available to fight it.) Also, fight in proportion to the threat and not the form of the threat. If they're a single person who can only be dealt with by a tank, always use the tank to fight them. It doesn't matter how you'd fight any other person, because they're not a threat like any other person.

Sneak something that can kill them into the equation in a form that's not immediately obvious. (Useful for Kryptonites and "no defense possible" weapons or attacks.)

The invulnerable are not immune to basic physics. (Unless they are, but that's pretty boring comparatively.) Bullets transfer physical force against the inertia of your bodyweight. It doesn't take many to knock somebody on their butt even if they're not hurt by them, and applied in number over time you could pin someone to the ground or force them to drag themselves across it because standing or crawling is impossible. Adapt your projectiles or other methods of not forgetting that Superman still weighs the same as a human as necessary.

By now they've gotten used to you as the scrappy underdog and perhaps even a bit attached. Exploit the hell out of that image and their reluctance to finally do away with you.

They're used to you as you were, not as you are now. The gap between perception and reality might be large enough to stick a weapon through regardless of the disparity between you. (See also: creating that gap between perception and reality and then trying to shove a weapon through it.)

You don't have to kill them yourself. You have to buy time for somebody who can to show up. (This gets touched on a lot in my Nanoha works, actually, given that the main character is usually a comparatively lesser-powered individual and their role is frequently to hold the hostiles still long enough for more serious firepower to arrive.)

edited 7th Apr '13 6:27:14 AM by Night

Nous restons ici.
15 NickTheSwing7th Apr 2013 05:24:06 PM from Ya really wanna know? , Relationship Status: Dating Catwoman
Swing, not Slide
If I have Matthew fighting something like Ocreus or Attarias, he spends more of his time dodging, running, or looking for an opening in their defenses than attacking full on.

The fight also tends to be a lot more tactical and cool to watch rather than a full fledged brawl.

I too use a RPG based list of power tiers.

16 Matues8th Apr 2013 05:16:16 AM from eye on the horizon , Relationship Status: Having tea with Cthulhu
With godlike power comes godlike problems...

After all, even normal people can cause huge problems when they make a mistake or mess up.

Imagine what would happen if someone far more powerful did the same?

Especially if they can't fix it as easily as they broke it.
17 GAP9th Apr 2013 12:57:42 PM , Relationship Status: Faithful to 2D
Formerly G.G.
I suppose that could be true and also if they have godlike, reality warping abilities that also attract a lot of trouble for them.
"Super Fighting Robot Mega Man!"
18 Prime_of_Perfection10th Apr 2013 01:30:52 AM , Relationship Status: Maxing my social links
Where force fails, cunning prevails
A lesson from The Art of War seems appropriate here. While there is much to learn from it, the following is what one can take away from the chapter of how a weaker side should approach facing a stronger one. I've personally found guile is ultimately the answer how to face a stronger force. Use these principles however you see fit.

1. Have a calm, serene mind while causing chaos in the minds of others.

2. Show a threat; adversaries fear & shortsightedness cause them to pause

3. If motivated by easy gain, make them gravitate to you

4. Reduce the enemies strengths to force them into submission

5. Instead of engaging in every battle, understand where the enemy is strong & avoid it

6. Conserve energy & resources away from unnecessary fights

7. Avoid enemy strengths & attack weaknesses

8. Use cloaks of mystery & subtlety to hide weaknesses

9. When opportunity to end conflict clear, take immediate action

10. When confronted with the impossible, withdraw immediately

11. Force enemy to move by attacking what they value.

12. If enemy is direct threat, divert their attention elsewhere

13. Choose formlessness, which allows maximum flexibility without diminishing power

14. By remaining a secret, enemy divides their forces and resources while one remains at full strength.

15. The enemy can't know the place of battle, split their forces up

16. If one defends everywhere, no where is defended because forces divided

17. Knowledge dictates a general's effectiveness

18. Determine enemies true strength or weakness by testing & observing reaction to bait

19. Study adversaries past & present actions

20. Observe how they act under stress or when given power

21. Use formation that's flexible to enemy and environment

22. Always pick right approach to each adversary one faces

23. Seek to turn the tide; combat anger with kindness, greed with generosity, etc.

The ultimate mistake in facing such persons is to challenge them via attrition warfare. Maneuver warfare is far superior. Maneuver warfare is indirect, focusing instead on the steps leading up to battle instead of the battle itself. One must be mobile instead of muscular. One avoids direct battle as best they can unless it's an efficient means of bringing the conflict to an end, attack them psychologically, and so forth. One manipulates the factors and thinks about the overall situation.

I could go on, but to fully explore how to actually be a strategist & tactician requires far more study than I can disclose here. Though for suggested study, see the 36 Stratagems. Hopefully this helps you in some way or another.

edited 10th Apr '13 1:32:39 AM by Prime_of_Perfection

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Total posts: 18