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Steve

Superpowers are contagious

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I was recently re-reading one of my gaming books for another system called "Progenitor" when it occurred to me to wonder how to model that world's premise in Hero terms on how people gain superpowers.

 

What if superpowers were contagious? Being around a superhuman exercising their powers would have a small chance of infecting one or more ordinary humans in their vicinity and granting them superpowers of their own. The only limitation on the types of powers gained would probably be that they would need to be generated by the human body, so foci don't provide any powers in this world. It would probably feel a bit like a mutant world, since people could be afraid to get to close to a superhuman and get infected by an "origin event" of their own.

 

Perhaps superpowers have some kind of Side Effect, a low activation roll Transform of some kind which grants powers to others?

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Wheter this is a bad thing depends a lot if there are downside to having superpowers. Marvel's "Sucks to be a mutant"-verse is more or less is based around the fear of "normals" getting left behind by Evolution. Your premise does not has this propability, after all it's nothing evolutionary with this and everyone can get in on the Train. People could even intentionally try to get in on it by being at as many combats as possible*

 

Wheter superpowers are even a bad thing, depends a lot on wich "deal" you got. On the one hand we have 3/4 of the Fantastic Four:

Invisible Woman, Mr. Fantastic, Human Torch. They have some problems getting used to thier powers, but can effectively live as normal humans.

On the other hand of the Spectrum we have Hulk and the Thing. One is visibly non-human, the other has Rage Controll issues.

 

Note that excluding Foci power might not be a good idea. You could say creating and repairing those requires a Superintelligence Superpower.
You could also say that using them might require a Specific ability - maybe they use a neural interface (that only superbrains can survive for long), or the user must be a human battery to power the abilties as no normal powersource could store that much energy/the right energy.

The need for having a Brain based superpower would also explaing how focus users can keep up with other, more natural heroes.

 

*Just to bad when you are in a fight between the Leaper and Thor and get the power of the Leapfrog isntead of your idol Thor.

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I think that would eventually result in so many people with superpowers that you would be confronted with something that didn't look entirely like a traditional superhero setting with a few special snowflakes with powers in an otherwise recognizable contemporary society. It would also force the question, once people with powers became more than a fascinating anomaly, whether traditional economic, social, and political structures would survive or be swept aside. This is little different from dealing with the problem of ubiquitous magic in a fantasy setting. At some point you'll cross the tipping point from superhero setting to pseudo-science-fiction.

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Well, if I follow the contagion rules from Progenitor, there is an upwards limit on the number of superhumans that can be produced.

 

Power levels are set by Tiers, and each person in a Tier can produce a limited number of offspring. In Hero terms, each Tier would be the number of points you could spend on superhuman abilities.

 

Tier One was the Progenitor, basically the first and most powerful superhuman in that world. The energy that empowers her was discovered to have a chance to spark off to any human she uses her powers upon, so human enemies then had a chance to become empowered themselves when she blasted them. Such people became infected with that same energy, her "offspring" as it were. Should they become infected, they then become Tier Two superhumans with less powerful abilities and the ability to create Tier Three superhumans and so forth. What this means is that a superhuman fighting normal humans has a chance to create their own superhuman enemies, which I find to be a neat idea.

 

Tier One could create ten superhumans that were less powerful than her, with 100% chance of transmission until she reached her maximum of ten offspring. Those Tier Two superhumans could then in turn create nine superhumans that were less powerful than them with a 90% chance of transmission. Tier Three could create eight each and so forth. The odds of transmission also drops with the tier number. At Tier Ten, there is only a 10% chance of transmission and only one offspring could be made. Given these limits, the upwards creation capacity is a little over 6.2 million.

 

If we set Tier One at a thousand points spendable on superpowers in Hero terms, each tier below then gets a hundred points less. By the time we reach Tier Ten, it would be a person with a hundred points spendable on  superpowers. Admittedly, that makes for a lot of people with powers, the vast majority of them with 100-200 points in superpowers, but only a fraction of a percent of the world population.

 

There is also an optional suggestion that the death of a superhuman returns their energy to their direct ancestor, who could then infect another human with superpowers.

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So basically you have a limited amount of Superpowers to go around. With a system not disimilar to bloodlines.

That systems gives a whole new meaning to Create Your Own Villain. They propably tried to codify this process.

You practically have to build in the line: "Thanks for punching me in the face back then, it was a real lifechanger."

 

Questions:

What would happen if the Tier 1 would die*? Would the power go to a new host? Pick one of Tier 2 to be the new 1?

What about this scenario: Character A creates C,D and E. Character A dies. B aquries the power of A. Would B be able to empower his full allotment, or would those created by A still count agaisnt him till they died? Would C, D and E retain thier powers and be able to create thier normal allotment after the death of A?

Does the progenitor weaken as part of the Transfer? If so, could there be a Villain (or Antihero) bent on "reclaiming" his power?

 

*I asume several of a lower Tier can beat a higher tier.

 

It sounds like you end up with a "A lot of people with powers, but not a lot of people with Crimecommiting/-fighting capable Powers" scenario.

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Well, I did think one time about something where it would genetic.   BUT, it would still be rare.  Not only would the genetic lottery have to be "won".  But, it would need some unknown trigger to bring it into the open.  And even then, it wouldnt necessarily be great.  It could be pretty minor.

 

So, the guy who might be the most powerful could theoretically be some Inuit in the middle of nowhere, but he probably want ever get triggered.

 

 

Note: I never thought of a single trigger (like this exposure to superhumans).  I figured it would be varied to keep it from being to easy.  Possibly something in relation to the potential power.  (ex.  hypothermia to trigger the ice power).

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I've gone with the idea that superpowers tend to produce more superpowers.  When the number of superhumans is small, there's a good chance they'll die out before they reproduce much.  That's what happens through most of history.  You might get a Paul Bunyan or somebody who is noticeably more than human, but if all he does is chop down trees and make giant pancakes then his role is fairly limited, and when he heads off into the wilderness, that's that.

 

But when you have events like Superguy's shuttle crashing to Earth, followed by WWII and everyone coming out of the woodwork to fight, they start to feed off of each other and produce a chain reaction.  Aliens come to Earth to find Superguy, people dig up magic artifacts to fight the aliens, evil scientists build intelligent robots to fight Superguy, unsafe energy experiments cause people to get more powers, etc.

 

As those types of events interact, the level of superhuman activity will stay high.  That will continue until some of the factors involved are removed.  Superguy goes into space to find his homeworld.  Supervillain scientist finally gets killed by one of his own robots.  With the remaining super-activity high, that itself won't do anything.  But enough events like that will gradually reduce the number of new powers that are generated.  Eventually it fades away.

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as  often  as I catch cold a wouldn't mind catching super-powers instead

 

Clearly you didn't read "Dial H".

  • Control-Alt-Delete
  • Iron Snail
  • Human Virus
  • Shamanticore
  • Pelican Army
  • Double Bluff
  • Hole Punch
  • Rancid Ninja
  • Skeet

Admittedly, Pelican Army looked awesome when drawn by Brian Bolland, but his powers have something to do with pelicans.

 

Come to think of it, since you are complaining about catching colds, you'd have a good chance of becoming the Human Virus...

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