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Superpower Russian Roulette

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Who wants to be a superhero? Everyone, long as he's not a superhero already, anyway. Kids who idolize them, teens desperate for a change in their lives, adults who think they could make the world a better place... and, of course, those with less savory motives.

For any of these people, the day they get caught in a Mass Super-Empowering Event and win the Superpower Lottery would probably be the happiest day of their lives. But sometimes a Mass Super Empowering Event isn't a lottery. Sometimes it's a deadly game of Russian Roulette, where only a handful of people affected walk away with superpowers — the rest wind up crippled, horribly deformed, dead, or worse.

The roulette has different kinds of ammunition to hit the contestants with, often they compound:


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Alive: The Final Evolution, one of two things happens to those affected by the force/virus involved in the series. Many people commit suicide immediately with disturbing cheerfulness, but some get superpowers (and typically end up as superpowered sociopaths) — the explanation is that they too desire death, but first are going to bring it on other people. The main characters also fall prone to those suicidal tendencies as well (especially early on in the series), but manage to fight back with The Power of Friendship.
  • Downplayed in Attack on Titan with the Beast Titan. While slightly larger than most other Shifters, the Beast Titan's uniqueness comes from having characteristics of a random animal. Some shown examples are far more dangerous than normal titans, such as crocodiles, birds, and even dinosaurs. On the other hand, some examples such as sheep and okapis are outright stated to be near useless for combat.note 
  • In Darker than Black, the appearance of an Alien Sky divided those affected into two groups: Dolls, people transformed into Empty Shells with scrying abilities, and Contractors, super-powered sociopaths. If being emotionally inhibited and paying the price isn't enough, there are Contractors with some defect, Moratorium. They gradually turn into superpowered zombies on par with worst of mediums.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure has the Stand Arrows. They give Stands to those wounded by them, but if you aren't strong-willed enough to handle it, you'll die in the process. Even if you do get a Stand, there's no guarantee that it'll be a useful one; you might end up having to spend the rest of your life living on a telephone tower, or you might be cursed so that you'll die if anyone looks at your back (both examples from Diamond is Unbreakable). And if you're feeling especially lucky, you can stab yourself or your Stand with the Arrow again and possibly get new powers... which might have the side-effect of making your Stand gain sentience on its own and make it even more uncontrollable.
  • Mermaid flesh in Mermaid Saga is a Superpower Russian Roulette with impossibly high risks. Most of the time, eating it will lead you to die horribly or turn into a grotesque, mindless monster, which sucks. Some of the time, you acquire some semblance of immortality, but with horrible pain and disfigurement to go along with it, which also sucks. If you're really lucky like the two protagonists, you'll actually get real immortality — which, as it turns out, still kinda sucks.
  • One Piece:
    • Anyone who tries to use Devil Fruit is playing Russian Roulette with superpowers, certainly. Many of them give the user fantastic and powerful abilities that more than compensate the side effect that makes you unable to swim. Some — mostly in the Paramecia subclass — give you powers that are pretty useless (unless you want to use them as a performer), possibly embarrassing, and may even make the user physically deformed making him the subject of scorn and discrimination. The biggest problem is that there are illustrated catalogs that will let you identify some Devil Fruits, but quite a lot of them are unknown and thus what they do can only be discovered by using them. Paramecia fruits take this up to eleven since the only thing that defines a Paramecia fruit is that it's not a Logia or a Zoan. The effects of a Paramecia can range from useless to storybreaking. Whitebeard's (now Blackbeard's) Quake-Quake fruit for example can generate shockwaves powerful enough to break the world. And some of the "useless" powers can turn out to be very powerful if applied properly.
    • Trying your luck with a SMILE artificial Devil Fruit scrambles the possibilities heavily and is much more likely to give you something outright troublesome. Since they only partially transform their consumers into animals, and the transformation is not always at will, they can end up with a whole mess of powers and mutations. Best case scenario, you get something perfectly under control, possibly able to be turned off and on at will, that only adds to your capacities. If you're not so lucky, you get the above without the slew of Required Secondary Powers Devil Fruits usually give you, crippling its usage. Worst (and pretty common) case scenario, you end up with an incomplete animal partially merged with your body, one that probably has powers but also a mind of its own that may or may not cooperate with you. Playing powers roulette is a lot less appealing when one of the results amounts to having a wild animal that hates you as a siamese twin. And as it turns out, even getting to roll for animals is the winning result, because otherwise all you get is damaged emotions; you still get Super Drowning Skills, and all you get for them is being unable to feel angry or sad again, no matter how much it strains you. And the odds are very bad. 90% of SMILEs are "duds" that give you no powers, only the permanent smile and inability to ever swim.
  • In Rosario + Vampire, a human gaining powers from vampire blood runs a high risk of death or other unpleasantness. Touhou Fuhai's Human Modification Technique has similar, but even greater, risks. Tsukune goes through both.
  • In The Seven Deadly Sins, drinking demon blood can grant incredible powers, but if the person is incompatible with it, they'll explode in a geyser of blood.
  • In Speed Grapher, if you have the Euphoria virus in your body and you get a kiss from Kagura Tennouzou, said virus will awaken and either kill you or give you superpowers. Bad thing, said powers are both related to your most hidden sexual fetishes and prone to cause you to go insane.
  • Princess Hinoto from X/1999 is the most powerful psychic in her canon, having several Psychic Powers, including Deflector Shields, Telepathy, Mind over Matter, Dream Weaving, precognition, etc. Problem is, her body is still the one of a human woman, and she barely can hold on her massive powers. As a result, she is blind, deaf, and crippled, and pretty much a recluse in her chambers.
  • Yuki Yuna is a Hero: Mankai will buff a hero's power at the cost of their ability to use some part of their body. If you're lucky, you might lose a finger, toe, or ear. If you're unlucky, say goodbye to your eyesight, spine, or an internal organ.

    Comic Books 
  • 2000 AD:
    • In Judge Dredd, the residual radiation floating around the Cursed Earth tends to cause mutations in those exposed to it in the womb. A few mutants get psychic powers, but 99.9% of them just end up looking weird.
    • The radiation in Strontium Dog works in much the same way. The strontium-90 fallout has a roughly 70% fatality rate: women who get a mild enough dose end up giving birth to mutants, but almost all of those babies just have various disfigurements or missing limbs. Only four characters actually end up with anything resembling powers, and one of those is a vampire.
  • Dial H for Hero is a one-person Superpower Russian Roulette. Whenever the dial is used, you don't know what you'll end up as. It becomes a literal example when the Giant Boy got poisoned. Robby managed to turn back before dying, but since the Giant Boy form is still poisoned, he'll die for good if the dial ever turns him into Giant Boy again.
  • Empowered has the drug "Mayfly," which kills you 98% of the time, but the other 2% of the time gives you super-genius abilities... then kills you in 48 hours anyway. The only Mayfly-user in the series, Manny, manages to use those super-genius abilities to survive past 48 hours. He's declined to do anything in person since then, as his body is basically a giant tumor at this point.
  • Marvel Comics:
    • In one storyline of The Incredible Hulk, the Leader (who is also gamma-irradiated, but his power is a highly developed mind) sets off a gamma bomb in a small city in order to make more Hulks and Leaders, but 99.99% of the population just die of radiation poisoning. This is because only people who possess a certain genetic trigger inherited from a single common ancestor (or who have copied the trigger) can become gamma mutates.
    • The Inhumans, who take a dip in a fountain when they're the right age in order to determine which superpower they get. Some come out with immense powers while others might have more mundane abilities. Being disfigured isn't much of a problem (it happens... but it's normal enough that nobody in Attilan bats an eye at just another animal-person or walking rockpile), but you might end up with something destructive and uncontrollable. Worse, you don't know what your power will be until you first try it out. Black Bolt, the king, is of course a primary example, unable to ever speak lest his uncontrollable vocal powers nuke the whole area.
    • The White Event, connected to The New Universe, can be this, especially in later appearances. In The Avengers (Jonathan Hickman), when the Star Brand of Universe-616 chooses its next holder, its arrival obliterates the college town the holder lives in.
    • Spider-Man:
      • Norman Osborn takes part in a ritual known as the Gathering of the Five along with Mattie Franklin, Morris Maxwell, Cassandra Webb, and Gregory Herd. Each person receives a gift of power, insanity, knowledge, immortality, or death, although no one knows what he or she will get beforehand. He believes that he kills Spider-Man and thinks that he got what he wanted. It's actually a delusion, as he actually acquired the gift of madness.
      • This is nothing compared to what happens to Gregory Herd. Formerly a third-rate mercenary named Override, he hopes to gain whatever he gets from the ritual to heal his wife and partner Anne, who had been critically injured in a battle during the Spider-Hunt storyline, in which Norman's bounty on Spidey had every crook in the city after him. Gregory ends up drawing the death card, but instead of simply killing him outright, it turns him into a flaming undead thing that causes death, all while his body destroys itself slowly from within. Taking the name Shadrac, he's taken in by a man named Dolan who claims to possess all five of the gifts, and assaults Osborn's base of operations, only to fail when opposed by Spidey, Iceman, and Mattie, who is now Spider-Woman. He does avoid his grim fate, however; after Dolan absorbs the Spindle itself and becomes far more powerful, Gregory is able to use his original powers as Override, nullifies Dolan's powers and takes over his body. When last seen, he has indeed been able to save Anne, and both are working for Hammerhead during the Civil War (2006) storyline.
    • X-Men:
      • Grant Morrison's run of New X-Men has a particular focus on this aspect of the mutant gene. Sure, control over the weather and the ability to phase have few downsides, and while uncontrollable Eye Beams have their drawbacks, it's nothing compared to the kids who have multiple noses or transparent skin made of wax or limbs so huge they can barely lift them. They're not able to aid a society that hates and fears them. They're barely able to get to class each day. A good example is Beak, who is mutated with bird traits — such as, yes, a beak, feathers, and brittle and hollow bones — but without the ability to actually fly. All of the drawbacks, but none of the benefits. His grandson in a Bad Future has better luck since he can fly.
      • This is also a good description for the Morlocks, mutants who are so horribly disfigured that they have to live in the sewers.
      • A Tear Jerker example is Minnie Floyd, whose aging slowed and reversed, eventually de-aging to the point where the maternity ward's life support could not keep her alive. This "power" manifested at age 2.
      • Another example from Ultimate X-Men is a boy who wakes up one day to find he has the incredible mutant power to "destroy organic matter". Such as his parents. And his friends. And people he runs into on the street. Eventually, he wanders into a cave where Wolverine is waiting for him, who tells him what happened, and is there to help him. The kid tearfully notes that he might've been one chromosome away from being one of the X-Men.
      • There is a mutant named Longneck. That is his gimmick, having a longer than average neck. He's probably pretty upset.
      • In general, some mutants are just far luckier than others. For every Jean Grey, Wolverine or Domino who can do all sorts of amazing and profitable things with their powers, there are mutants who don't manifest something cool or even useful. There are mutants who just end up horrible monsters or walking disasters to be put down at the end of an issue.
    • Also from Marvel is the Power Broker, actually two villains; the first one acts as an agent for wrestlers in the Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation while himself working under the Mad Scientist Dr. Karl Malus, while the second recruits mercenaries while working under the Red Skull. In both cases, they subject their clients to advanced technology that has a fifty percent chance of making them superhumanly strong; the other fifty percent of the time, it causes horrible physical mutations that leave them invalid or worse. (The first one also gives them a drug which he claims is necessary to stabilize their powers, but is actually an addictive substance that makes sure that they keep working for him. Eventually, he tries to use the technology on himself, and isn't among the lucky ones.)
    • In Strikeforce: Morituri, which takes place in a different continuity from the main Marvel universe, an alien race known as The Horde are attacking the Earth. Fortunately, a scientist has come up with a method which will alter certain compatible human beings, giving them enhanced physical abilities and a secondary superpower of some sort. Unfortunately, the extent to which you are enhanced and the superpower you get are completely random—oh, and also the human body is ultimately incapable of surviving the Morituri process and those subjected to it will be dead within roughly a year, give or take. Good luck!
  • The Event in Milestone Comics (and its animated series Static Shock). Some get incredible power with no downsides, but others become bizarre-looking with comparatively little ability from it.
  • The Savage Dragon works on this trope. Some "freaks" are planet-wise threats while others might have sillier powers such as Dung, who had the ability to shoot feces at people.
  • In Über, only 1 in 5,000 humans carries the genetic marker allowing to enhance them safely, and even fewer people can be enhanced more than once, e.g., yielding just three "battleship" Übers (twelve enhancements) from screening the entire Third Reich. Those without the marker die rather messily. After the Nazi Übers turned the tide at the Battle of Berlin, Stalin ordered that all of the Soviet soldiers who surrendered in Berlin and were subsequently freed by Allies' intervention were to undergo the enhancement without screening. This yielded enough "panzer" Übers to dogpile a "battleship" Über and severely wound him, and also yielded "Katyusha" Maria, who became a variant "battleship" Über.

    Fan Works 
  • The Secret Return of Alex Mack has a morbid demonstration when North Korea gives empowering substances to over half a million soldiers: 99% of recipients outright die, and most of the remainder are just grossly mutated without further effects. Only six get notable superpowers.

    Film — Live-Action 

  • Really a defining trope for Citadel. If you become one of the empowered, you could gain the ability to fly, throw cars, or short out all power on a continental level. The distribution and scale is equal parts varied and unpredictable; as a result, the Citadel faces each newly powered unsure if this is the day that they can't save.
  • In Crystal Singer, the adjustment to Ballybran's symbiotes follows more of a bell curve: a few die, a few attain the highly enhanced senses needed to become a Crystal Singer, but most just end up with mild sensory enhancements and/or mild handicaps. Given all of the various support jobs the Guild needs filled, almost all fit somewhere in the Guild structure.
  • In The Ear, the Eye and the Arm, most of the people exposed to the pollution developed harmful mutations: the title characters' abilities were a very rare result, and even they have some Weaksauce Weaknesses to go along with them.
  • Whatever is causing the superpowers in Gone is probably also connected to the reason why everyone over the age of 15 disappeared and the kids are now in a Domed Hometown. Also, the most likely reason is the nuclear fallout and the Gaiaphage. Overall, characters have gone insane, died, killed, been persecuted by the Human Crew, been tortured by Caine and Drake, and been horribly mutilated as a result of something changing the laws of physics. And, of course, most kids have really lame powers. Astrid can read people's potential or something like that, Duck can change his density, Bette could make her hands glow, an unnamed girl could go invisible only when she was very embarrassed, Sam and Hunter started out with no control over their light/heat powers (with disastrous consequences), and Orc is now an Iron Woobie. Think you can avoid all this by not developing powers? Think again. Muggles are often overlooked in the FAYZ (Fallout Alley Youth Zone). Unless you're lucky enough to be The Team Normal like Edilio, you are either a member of the Nazi-inspired Human Crew or a Red Shirt in an Anyone Can Die scenario.
  • In Halo: The Fall of Reach, the surgeries and processes used to turn normal humans into Spartans killed and crippled over half of them.
  • That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime:
    • The forbidden magic spell Death Streak works by unleashing unnatural black light that attacks a creature's body and soul, which in most cases (99.999%) results in instant death if used to its full potential. However, one in a million victims will survive and instead mutate into some sort of monster. However, there are no known successful cases of someone turning into a monster by it, as it requires that your soul still remains afterwards. Even assuming your soul is strong enough to endure the spell, there's nothing stopping the spellcaster from snatching up your vulnerable soul before the actual reconstruction happens.
    • The Magic Beast Corps of the Eastern Empire developed a special drug meant to fuse the demonic beast and its rider into a single Monster Knight far stronger than either of them would be alone. However, the corps commander Gladim prohibited use of it unless authorized because at its current stage of development before the Empire went to war with Tempest, the drug also runs the gauntlet of outright killing the recipient (10%), permanently turning them into a demonic beast from compatibility failure (20%), the rider or beast going completely insane (30%), and various other side-effects from the fusion (20%). Only about 20% of the test subjects actually reached a "complete" success for the fusion, and worse, once the drug is ingested it's impossible to stop the effects from reaching a conclusion. The less-than-1% of the corps that were "perfectly compatible" had already taken the drug and become his Chimera Knights. When Gladim is forced to order the Corps to take the drug en masse in order to stand up to the Black Numbers, of the roughly 30,000 members: 10,000 die right away, 5,500 irreversibly transform into magical beasts, 5,000 transform into beasts and go insane, another 5,000 obtain a demon beast-man form only to go berserk too, 4,000 become demon beast-man soldiers, and 400 become new Chimera Knights. In other words, a third of the force died outright, another third had gone insane and were only good as decoys and suicide troops, and only a remaining third of them were even sane and combat-ready afterwards, without a single demon inflicting causalities. To add insult to injury, it still wasn't enough to the defeat the at-most 700 elite demons.
  • In Two Percent Power, it's noted that most superpowers take an additional toll on the body, and it's suspected that the recent increases in deaths from heart attacks and other bodily system failures are the result of the first use of powers killing someone.
  • Played really straight in Wild Cards. Being infected with the virus has three possible outcome:
    • 90% of infectees "draw the Black Queen"; i.e. get a mutation that results in their death. This is not always instantaneous- Praetorius, for example, has a corruption that starts on his right leg and will kill him when it reaches his chest.
    • A few "draw the Joker" and get mutations that are disfiguring in some way, but not lethal. This can range from an agonizing Fate Worse than Death, a Superpower Disability, ugly but workable as a superpower (most commonly Super-Strength), to mostly cosmetic (resulting in a normal life aside from the prejudice against Jokers).
    • The real jackpot is to "draw the Ace" and get a useable superpower with no visible mutations. Since even these superpowers are random, you can still get What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?, with such powers commonly called "deuces".
  • In Worm, this is the cause of the Case 53s (capes with seriously altered appearances). Super Serum flavors development and testing are ongoing (and very non-public) processes. Any particular dose of the serum might: do nothing, grant weird or uncontrolled powers, disfigure the recipient or work as advertised (while also curing cancer). Results range from Blessed with Suck to Cursed with Awesome.
    • Even normal superpowers are subject to this. While empowerment events are traumatizing by default, the trauma is often compounded by effects the power has on the user's psyche and the almost universal component of cruel irony linking the person, the event and the power together.
    • Even 'normal' Triggers can grant Required Secondary Powers that cripple a cape's ability to live a normal life. Accord can create and perfectly execute dizzyingly complex plans (he's got one to cure world hunger, for example), but also has Super OCD. Bitch is an excellent dog trainer (which she needs in order to control her empowered dogs), but this was achieved by overwriting her human social instincts, so while she can interact normally with dogs, she has No Social Skills with her own kind. Labyrinth can overwrite her surroundings with alternate universes, but her brain often has trouble comprehending both sets of surroundings at once (which often makes her an Empty Shell in the universe her body is in). These are just a few examples.
    • The Travelers used a batch of said Super Serum in an emergency (and without reading the manual), getting a set of combat-ready powers, one dose of What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway? and an uncontrolled Lovecraftian Superpower.
    • At the end of Worm, and into its sequel Ward, roughly a fifth of the empowering events became "broken triggers": the powers would manifest without the Required Secondary Powers and then jump from person to person, killing them.
  • While Xanth mostly makes use of Superpower Lottery, there are people whose magic does seem to harm them, like Chameleon, whose CHA and INT stats increase and decrease inversely to each other (so sometimes she's basically a Nymph and sometimes she's an ugly and unlikeable, but brilliant, hag- who has to remember all the times people took advantage of her dumb form), the Dastard, who has a magical gift for stupid ideas, or Zora, who ages people (although she gets a moment of This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman).

    Live-Action TV 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Self-applied in Die or Fly superhero settings, such as Aberrant or Paragons. Given the sheer power, and the celebrity associated with such power, there are quite a few people who take suicidal risks to try and trigger their powers. This rarely works... but when it does work, it only draws more attention to the process...
  • Big Eyes, Small Mouth (and by extension Tri-Stat dX) has the Unknown Superhuman Power advantage. It means you give the Game Master carte blanche to choose whatever advantages s/he wants and reveal them to you over time, but to make up for the loss of choice you receive a 50% bonus to whatever you put into USP (meaning if you pay 10 Character Points, the GM has 15 to spend).
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Depending on what Edition is being used, Wild Magic can like this. The spells tap raw chaos to create very powerful effects, but they often don't work the way they're supposed to; you have to rely completely on chance for many of the strongest effect, and can't rely on them all the time. Wild Surges are the biggest risk, explosions of chaotic power that are almost detrimental, and in some cases, can cause cataclysms. (It is mentioned in one source that the Great Hornung, one of the leading experts in Wild Magic, disappeared forever due to a surge created by a Wildwind, one of the most powerful of Wild Magic spells.
    • In AD&D 2 psionic rules, eligible characters may try to discover random wild talents in themselves. The success is far from guaranteed, but this check has also 4/100 chance that Wisdom, Intelligence, Constitution or all three drops to 3 (minimum for a human being) instead.
    • In First Edition AD&D, all psionic-powered characters are basically "wild talents". If using the psionics rules (which are optional), all player characters have a tiny chance (on the order of a couple percent) to be psionic. Being psionic is a curse as well as a blessing, though, because non-psionic characters are immune to most psionic attack modes.
    • In one of the old D&D modules, one plane of existence basically causes this to magic. Some effects are truly beneficial like super strength or super senses. Some of them are deadly like spontaneously having your mouth and nose fuse to your face.
  • Geist: The Sin-Eaters has a passing mention of one of the Dead Conspiracies, the Vodyanoy. Apparently, Soviet scientists found out about the process of becoming a Sin-Eater and subjected political prisoners to experiments in inducing hypothermia and drowning in order to see who'd come back from their near-death experience with superpowers, even though the success rate was maybe .5%. And then they found out why it's a bad idea to use political prisoners in inhumane experiments that might end up giving them superpowers...
  • In Traveller Classic Double Adventure 3 Death Ship, the accidental release of a combination of experimental combat drugs aboard a science ship kills most of the crew but gives some of them superhumanly high ability scores and insanity.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Turning to the worship of Chaos leads to one of two possible ends (unless you die first); you either get turned into a Daemon Prince, or you get turned into a mindless heap of mutated flesh. Elaborated upon in the 2012 Codex Chaos Marines — every time a character challenges (and defeats) a foe in single combat, the player gets to roll two dice to see what... 'gifts' the Chaos Gods grants them. Of which there is an equal chance of either ascending into Daemonhood, devolving into a quivering mound of hostile flesh, and everything in-between.
    • Also, all human psykers. The least powerful ones and the ones who can't control their powers are killed either by being "fed" to the devices sustaining the Emperor, or by being plugged into the Astronomican (although either of those fates results in having their soul sucked out, so it's practically the same thing). The most powerful and controlled get to be Grey Knights, Space Marine Librarians or Inquisitors. The ones who didn't get their souls sucked out but didn't quite meet requirements for the aforementioned positions usually explode, get possessed by demons, and/or get shot by a Commissar. And that's only if they're found by the Black Ships. If they aren't, then at some point the demons will use them to rip a hole in reality and kill everything on their planet. If the Inquisition doesn't find and kill them first, that is.
    • The process of becoming a Space Marine can also be considered this. New Space Marine recruits undergo the implantation of several new specialty organs, for which there is the possibility of tissue rejection or organ failure and subsequent painful death. And certain chapters have mutations that may cause them to mutate into monsters or permanently lose their minds to violent rage.

  • Energized Protodermis in BIONICLE. Take a dip in it, and you might get enhanced superpowers... or transform into a hideous monster that if you're lucky came with new superpowers... although, odds are, you'll just end up getting destroyed if it wasn't your destiny to transform. The only creatures who are guaranteed to "win" this roulette are kraata slugs, which without fail always mutate into Rahkshi upon exposure...of course, them "winning" means turning into an inanimate suit of armor that needs a Wetware CPU in the form of another kraata to function.

    Video Games 
  • Ancient Domains of Mystery's Chaos-induced mutations. A few are unabashedly helpful, most have at least a downside to them.
  • Mutating in Cataclysm has a variety of possible results, which can be good (such as stat increases), a mixed bag (various anatomical alterations that make wearing clothes difficult, but come with other bonuses to make up for it) or just straight up bad (such as only being able to eat select types of food, or losing stats). If you have NPCs enabled, mutation is even riskier, since even positive mutations might scare away potential allies and make them hostile.
  • This is the case in Dragon Age: Origins with the Grey Wardens' Joining ritual. The prospective Wardens must willingly expose themselves to a special version of the Darkspawn Taint by drinking a mixture of Darkspawn blood, lyrium, and Archdemon blood. Approximately half the candidates die immediately; the rest get minor superpowers- most notably the ability to sense darkspawn- and put off the death part for approximately 30 years, after which they turn into Ghouls if they don't kill themselves first.
  • Mutation in Dungeon Crawl. You can get cool stuff like permanent stat increases, intrinsic resistances, complete immunity to poison or mental effects, breath weapons, increases to maximum HP or MP, or scales that raise your armor class. You can also get permanent stat loss, intermittent temporary stat damage, start constantly screaming and attracting attention from all nearby monsters, or become too warped to fit into your armor.
  • The FEV (Forced Evolutionary Virus) in the Fallout series fits this trope. Exposure to the FEV can do a range of things to a human though there is always a downside to the effects, very often a severe one. For starters it can simply turn somebody into a gigantic mass of disgusting flesh. And then it can also turn somebody into a Super Mutant. If turned into a Super Mutant, sterility is guaranteed and insanity is common, however, biological immortality and incredibly enhanced physical strength can make up for this. There is also an incredibly high chance that a Super Mutant will be rather unintelligent (at least on the east coast; west coast games have Super Mutants generally be more intelligent), though occasionally a mutant of normal human intelligence will be produced, and even possibly one of superior intellect.
  • This kicks off the start of inFAMOUS. The Ray Sphere empowers a few lucky "conduits", and everyone else within a few city blocks of blast dies in order to fuel those superpowers. Using it again to further supercharge your own abilities will drive you permanently across the Moral Event Horizon later on in the game. The sequel also shows that just because you're a Conduit doesn't mean that you're going to get a power that you'll like, as shown by Bertrand, who gained the power to turn people into monstrosities and to transform into a massive monstrosity himself when he's angered.
  • The case in Mass Effect with element zero and biotic powers. 60% have no reaction at all, 30% will have a negative reaction similar to radiation exposure, 10% will gain biotic powers.
  • A minor example in Pokémon is the Metronome power, which a few Pokémon, like Clefairy and Togepi, can learn. When used, it copies the effect of any other Pokémon attack, but is chosen completely at random. You could luck out and get something powerful like Fire Blast or Draco Meteor (or even something unique to a Legendary, like Sacred Fire or Psystrike) but it's just as likely that you'll get something pitifully weak like Sweet Scent or Constrict. (In fact, in the anime, Whitney had horrible luck with this move in her first battle with Ash — even though she won the battle — when her Clefairy ended up using Splash after being told to use Metronome, a move that literally does nothing.) It's even possible for the user to accidentally knock itself out with Metronome, if it draws a move like Memento or Selfdestruct.
  • This appears at first to be in effect in [PROTOTYPE], in which most people infected by The Virus turn into zombies while protagonist Alex Mercer becomes a Person of Mass Destruction with shapeshifting powers. It turns out that the real Alex Mercer was killed when he intentionally released the virus. The virus itself then took his form and memoriesand another path. However, there are two separate strains of The Virus; Redlight (which is behind the zombies and is controlled by Elizabeth Greene) and Blacklight (which is, according to Mercer, ten times as lethal, and outright killed everyone in Penn Station).
  • The Wesker virus of Resident Evil gives those it infects superhuman strength, reflexes, speed, and regeneration, while not affecting their appearance, intelligence and personality, with the only visible effect being red, cat-like eyes — if they survive, which is very unlikely.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 2: For Blades, becoming a Flesh Eater is this. Even ignoring how the process itself involves assimilating human cells into your body, the actual results run the gauntlet aside from the guarantees of being able to survive without a Driver and losing their immortality. The most unfortunate (and depressingly common) ones lose their Blade immortality and the ability to properly respire Ether, crippling their powers and leaving them weakened, dead, or constantly sick on death's door. Just look at Cole/Minoth and compare how he looks between the base game and the prequel DLC expansion set 500 years before. Others gain the ability to act as a Driver to Blades themselves, and some of those get improved, even game-breaking, powers, but most still come with various health complications and side-effects. The ones who win the big-time, however, get game-breaking powers with no complications other than the mortality, and even then a Flesh Eater can live for centuries if they're careful. Nia takes the cake in this regard, as not only does she have no health complications, her particular game-breaker power involves healing and regeneration she can weaponize, meaning it's very likely she can live even longer than any other Flesh Eater in good health all the while. Jin comes a close second in that while he does have health complications preventing him from fighting too long without rest, his broken powers include lightspeed movement and absolute-zero temperature and Ether control that cripples other Blades' powers.

  • The Jägermonsters of Girl Genius had to win this trope's game to become Jägers. People wanting to become Jägers took the Jägerbräu provided by the Heterodynes to attempt the change. Most of them died horribly. Others went insane or suffered other extremely ill effects. A lucky few survived and changed, gaining superhuman strength, speed, durability, regeneration, eternal youth and the prospect to evolve into a Jäger-General if they survived long enough in the Heterodynes' service. Given the permanent "warring states" condition of the setting (before Baron Wulfenbach enforced a measure of peace), it's understandable why people would voluntarily attempt the transformation, despite the horrendous risks. There is one confirmed example of someone who received all the benefits of the draught, while keeping his human appearance.note 

    Web Original 
  • It is explained in this SCP Foundation tale that is it possible for anybody to become a Type-Blue (which is what they call a human who can cast spells) and there are many different ways of doing it, but no method of becoming a Type-Blue exists that will work for everyone. The speaker explaining this says that he became a Type-Blue by tampering with his own mind in ways that he doesn't recommend that other people try, and he knew several people who tried similar methods and failed or even died from it.

    Western Animation