Invulnerability and Property Damage

Last night, a friend of mine was asking about how to handle damage in supers, with the specific question being how you can really have a normal human get knocked around in super-strength context (getting smashed through stuff etc) without totally snapping suspension of disbelief. This lead to a good discussion, but it also generated a very useful tangent – It created a much simpler solution to knockback and property damage for invulnerable characters.

At it’s heart, it boils down to this – when invulnerability cancels out damage, it “grounds out” as property damage. That is, you take a hit for X damage, that damage is reduced to 0 but the action that corresponds with that mechanical even is you getting knocked through a wall or similar.

This is related to Ryan Danks’ great post on how to handle Superman’s Invulnerability but scaled down somewhat for characters who are a bit less truly invulnerable, but are still superhumanly tough. Where Superman sheds damage onto the setting, a less powerful character sheds damage onto the environment.

This is a bit of narrative sleight of hand, but it simplifies one of the great bugbears of supers design – knockback. Conceptually, it’s an essential part of superheroic fighting, but mechanically it has a habit of introducing complexity that is best compared to grappling rules.

Now, the exact implementation of this idea depends on the details of how invulnerability is implemented in a system, and there are lots of ways to do that. It might be ablative, it might be armor, it might be any number of things. For example, let’s say that in fate we treat it like a skill to roll after you get hit, with a difficulty based on damage.

  • Fail and you get hurt.
  • Succeed with style and you ignore the blow.
  • Just succeed? You take no damage, but must narrate property damage.
  • Exact success? No damage, but your attacker narrates the property damage.

Admittedly, that’s probably not how I’d handle invulnerability, but hopefully it showcases the idea well enough. Obviously, any invulnerability effect needs to have limits, and those limits may tie into how often you can get knocked around, but that is ultimately an implementation detail based on what you want to showcase.

4 thoughts on “Invulnerability and Property Damage

  1. Ryan M. Danks

    Great idea! When you fail a roll, but are otherwise immune, you just get knocked around. I’d say that is an excellent addition to Atomic Robo’s immunity method.

    Right now, my free time consists of working on a huge hack of M&M (an attempt to simplify), so I rather like that invulnerability skill. It works well with their rolling mechanic.

  2. Robert Calfee

    Hmmm. There’s a mechanic in Houses of the Blooded for rolling for the privilege of narration… is there a cosmic connection here?

  3. Josh

    You could flip this around and try using it for other kinds of actions and genres. Instead of being physical invulnerability, it could be social invulnerability. For games where characters are trying to handle social interactions, social attacks could deflect off onto your character’s faction or group instead of them. Your reputation survives, but your faction is dragged into the mud, leading to tensions between you and your own group.

    Not first and foremost in the supers end of the spectrum, but I think this idea has plenty of legs to be used in variety places and ways.

    1. Ryan M. Danks

      Josh, that’s interesting. Kind of like AW’s switch harm move.

      Actually, putting this in the hands of the GM in almost any genre is pretty killer. You want to check that 2 shift stress box, but the GM says “nope, it hits ‘s mild consequence. But here’s a fate point for your trouble.”

      Pretty much another method if compelling. “Cyclops, you’re going to stand their and let Jubilee take that stress? Here’s a fate point that says you jump in the way. You are a hero, after all.”

      I think this would really open up in a mystery type of setting. “Indiana Jones, you were so close to that artifact, but the arrow trap in the walls…oh no, you don’t take the stress, the artifact did. You triggered a trap with those arrows that dropped the artifact deeper into the temple. Here’s a fate point to help you go get it.”


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