MetaHuman DL

A diceless LARP of superhuman proportions

by Chris Casey
from an idea by Gareth-Michael Skarka

1. Generate your character!

Every character has four stats, rated from 1 (pathetic) to 5 (mighty). 3 is average (for a superhero, anyway). These stats are:

BODY – general strength and physical condition;
MOVE – speed, agility, and dexterity;
MIND – raw mental ability; and
POWER – that wellspring from whence comes your ability to go beyond your boundaries. Or your luck. Whichever.

Divide 12 points between these stats, keeping in mind the minimum of 1 and maximum of 5 in each.

Characters also have 15 Physical Damage points, or PD. When a character takes damage, this reserve of PD points goes down; once a character reaches 0 PD, they’re knocked out of the current game. Superheroes being what they are, characters who haven’t already been knocked out heal one PD point per hour, on the hour, at the announcement of the Referee.

All characters also start out with 4 Saver Points.

2. Determine your incredible powers!

Your character is now ready to be introduced to the wide world of SUPER POWERS! MetaHuman DL characters begin with 5 Background Points (BPs) to spend on their strange paranormal abilities. Some powers can be “upgraded” by spending more points, while others have a fixed cost. Choose your powers from the list below. We’ll explain that “standard pose” business in a minute.

  • Combat Zap: Channel mystical power into your opponent by touch. You have to be within reach of a character for this to work. Damage: 3 per BP. Standard pose: One finger on opponent’s shoulder, other hand held above head in a claw shape.
  • Cosmic Connection: Not exactly a combat power, Cosmic Connection gives you the ability to ask the Referee a single yes-or-no question, which he must answer truthfully, once every ten minutes. Note that the Referee may not know the answer to the question himself, in which case, well, too bad. BP Cost: 2. Standard pose: Eyes closed, head tilted back, palms upward.
  • Defensive Item: Gives an item the ability to absorb damage. Without this power, an item is potentially breakable; therefore, a Defensive Item must be labeled as such. As the Weapon power, defensive power can be spread out among various items. Power rank: 5 per BP. Standard pose: see Standard moves below.
  • Entangle: You can stop another character in his tracks. Compare your Entangle rank to the opponent’s MOVE (Dodge Skill Total); if greater, the opponent cannot move during the movement phase next turn. If your Entangle rank is 5 points higher or better, the opponent can’t move for the rest of the combat! Power rank: 3 per BP. Standard pose: arm pointing at target, palm up, middle and ring fingers pressed against palm, other fingers extended.
  • Flight: Propel yourself through the air. You are immune to hand-to-hand and melee attacks, except from other flying characters. You must spend one Power Point to begin and maintain flight; when you land, you get the Power Point back. (This can be simulated by attaching the Power Point to the Flight button.) BP cost: 2. Standard pose: Both hands above head (on takeoff only).
  • Force Shield: Create a barrier between you and an opponent’s attack. Power rank: 3 per BP. Standard pose: hands crossed across chest in an X pose.
  • Heal: You have a mystical healing aura. By spending a Power Point, you can restore 5 Physical Damage points to yourself or any other character. You can also restore knocked-out characters, provided you can get to them before the end of the current fight scene. You have to be within about three feet of the character for this to work. BP Cost: 2. Standard pose: hands aimed at target, fingers wide apart.
  • Invisibility: Makes your character invisible, along with all items he or she carries. Other characters attack you at -4 to their skill totals. You’re also a walking Saver Point factory: if another character ignores you while you’re invisible in a situation where whatever you’re doing is obviously detrimental to his character, that character gets one Saver Point after the situation ends. You can be detected if you make an in-game comment at a voice above a whisper (as opposed to talking with the Referee), if you pick up/drop an item in plain view of another character, or if you touch or attack someone. You’ll automatically be detected by anyone with the right Super Senses. You must spend one power point to begin and maintain invisibility; when you become visible again, you get the point back. (This can be simulated by attaching the Power Point to the Invisibility button.) BP cost: 2. Standard pose: Waving hands (first panel only).
  • Invulnerability: Acts as one point of armor per rank. Power rank: 1 per BP. Standard pose: none (always active).
  • Mind Control: Give an opponent verbal commands for his next action if he loses a contest between your power rank and his MIND (Concentration Skill Total). Power rank: 1 per BP. Standard pose: Look of concentration, one hand on temple, other hand stretched toward target.
  • Power Blast: Generate power from your body and channel it into your opponent at a distance. Damage: 2 per BP. Standard pose: Both arms straight out, fists aimed at target.
  • Psychic Blast: Pit your power rank against an opponent’s MIND (Concentration Skill Total). If successful, the opponent must either spend a Power Point or fall unconscious for the rest of the fight. Power rank: 1 per BP. Standard pose: an index finger on each temple, glaring at your target.
  • Super Senses: You have one or more senses which far outstrip normal folks. A character with any Super Sense (except taste) will automatically detect Invisible characters. You also receive a +5 skill bonus in any situation where your improved senses can be advantageous, with the approval of the Referee. BP Cost: 1 for any one sense (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell), or 3 for the whole suite. Standard pose: none (always active).
  • Super Speed: You’re faster than mere puny mortals. You can ask for another “three count” after your first action but before the end of the panel, during which time only you can move and take another action. You can interrupt another character’s action in doing so, and even make yourself the target of another character’s ranged attack, if you so desire. You also get an automatic +2 to your MOVE score in determining initiative. To activate your Super Speed in any turn, you have to spend a Power Point. BP cost: 3. Standard pose: none.
  • Super Strength: Adds one point of damage to all melee and thrown weapon attacks per rank, as well as one point to PD. Your character gains the Shockwave attack (see below). Also allows you to move items and pass beyond barriers which may be otherwise immobile, depending on the adventure. Power rank: 1 per BP. Standard pose: none (always active).
  • Telekinesis: You can move objects with the power of your mind. You can pit your power rank against an opponent’s MOVE (Dodge Skill Total) to pluck an item from his grasp and send it someplace else (i.e., the Referee takes the item and puts it where you want it, to a maximum of five steps distance). You can also manipulate any small items, levers, controls, etc. within sight. Your opponent gets a 3-point bonus to his Dodge if you’re trying to remove a Weapon or Defensive Item. Power rank: 1 per BP. Standard pose: One hand on temple, the other beckoning.
  • Telepathy: The ability to send “mental” messages across great distances to another person. The telepathy power is useless in any LARP where only one Referee is running the game without assistants and/or the group never breaks up, so choose this power advisedly and only with the approval of the Referee. When you wish to send a message, tell the Referee your message (10 words or less) and the target. The Ref must then relay the message via whatever communications network he has in place (walkie-talkie, runners, etc.) to the target. This power is inherently unpredictable, since players can get lost “under the radar” and the Referee may not remember the message perfectly. BP Cost: 2. Standard pose: fingers touching in the middle of the forehead.
  • Weapon: Imbues an item with the ability to cause damage. An item (even one obviously a weapon) without the Weapon power is merely a pretty accessory in the game; therefore, a Weapon must be clearly marked as such. Weapon damage can be spread among various items; for instance, spending 1 BP on melee damage can imbue one sword with damage 6, or two sais with damage 3 each, or a short sword and dagger with 4 and 2 respectively, etc. No single weapon can do more than 10 points of damage in any case. Damage: 6 per BP melee, 5 per BP ranged. Standard pose: see Standard moves below.

You can gain extra BPs by taking various Background Flaws for your character. You’re not required to take any flaws. If you do, it’s strongly recommended that you keep your flaw total to 3 points or less.

  • Cloistered: You have only 9 skill points (see next section), not 12. BP Bonus: 1.
  • Nemesis: One of your opponents is your Nemesis. You can either choose the Nemesis before the game begins, or else he becomes the first character you attack in combat. In combat, you must pit your MIND (Concentration Skill Total) against a difficulty of 7 or else attack your Nemesis to the exclusion of all other activities. If your Nemesis becomes unconscious, you must spend a Power Point or else stand sorrowfully over his fallen body for one panel, neither moving nor taking an action. BP Bonus: 1.
  • Phobia: You have an unreasoning fear of a fairly common item, material, animal, occurrence, etc. When confronted by the object of this fear, you’ll take a -2 penalty to all skills (but not powers) until the object is removed. BP Bonus: 1.
  • Secret: You have a secret which could damage your status as a superhero. The most common Secret is a secret identity, exposure of which will destroy your home life forever, but many other Secrets are possible. BP Bonus: 1.
  • Unseasoned: You start with only 10 Physical Damage points, not 15. BP Bonus: 1.
  • Unstable: You’re somehow mentally unstable. When under duress (such as at the beginning of combat or in some other life-threatening situation, or when confronted by a Phobia), you must spend one Power Point or the psychosis takes over, rendering your character catatonic, panicked, or otherwise incapacitated until the stimulus is removed. BP Bonus: 1.
  • Weakness: You’re vulnerable to a fairly common item or material. At 1 BP Bonus, you take an extra 2 points of damage from any attack which integrates this item or material, or 1 point merely to touch it. This damage is not reduced by Invulnerability. At 2 BP Bonus, you have the above vulnerability PLUS you’re immobilized simply by being near it; you must spend one Power Point to move one step if you’re within 10 feet of your weakness, and you cannot attack or defend against any attack at all. BP Bonus: 1 or 2.

3. Build up your skills!

Now that your powers are in place, let’s learn how to use them! You have 12 points to buy your initial skillset from the list below. You can buy up any skill to a maximum of 4 points. To determine your Skill Total for any skill, add the relevant stat to your skill number.

  • Brawling (BODY): Pit this skill against the opponent’s BODY (Brawling Skill Total) to determine if you hit with a punch or Combat Zap attack.
  • Concentration (MIND): Your defense against mental attacks like Psychic Blast and Mind Control.
  • Combat Training (Special): Add your Combat Training skill rank to your Physical Damage score.
  • Dodge (MOVE): This is the basic defensive skill. You get the benefit of your Dodge Skill Total against any physical attack except Brawling.
  • Medicine (MIND): Pit your Medicine Skill Total against the number of Physical Damage points someone has remaining. If you succeed, they instantly heal one PD point.
  • Melee Weapon Attack (MOVE): Pit this skill against the opponent’s MOVE (Dodge Skill Total) to determine if you hit with a Melee Weapon.
  • Power Blast Attack (MOVE): Pit this skill against the opponent’s MOVE (Dodge Skill Total) to determine whether you hit with a Power Blast.
  • Ranged Weapon Attack (MOVE): Pit this skill against the opponent’s MOVE (Dodge Skill Total) to determine if you hit with a Ranged Weapon.
  • Science (MIND): You can use this skill to figure out the sort of comic book super-science that a character may come across.
  • Shockwave (BODY): A special ranged attack for characters with Super Strength. Pit your Shockwave Skill Total against the MIND (Concentration) of everyone within about 10 feet, friend or foe. If they fail to resist, they’re instantly knocked back as many steps as your Super Strength rank and lose any actions they have remaining this turn.
  • Sleuth (MIND): For the super-detective types. Pit your Sleuth Skill Total against a difficulty determined by the Referee to receive one clue about what the opponents are doing or have done in a particular area. The Referee can make this clue as cryptic as he likes.
  • Tinker (MOVE): Use this skill to fix items, open locks, build contraptions, and otherwise manipulate mechanical objects.

4. Outfit your character!

Now it’s time to create your costume. Go wild! Remember, however, to put safety first; don’t make a costume which will restrict your movement or your vision and hearing unduly. Also, note that many conventions, let alone some municipalities, have strict rules/laws against carrying realistic weapons in public. Check with the local authorities and event coordinators to see what is and isn’t allowed on a costume. It’s always best to err on the side of caution. You can get away with simply carrying cards marked “Gun” if need be; it doesn’t quite have the same visceral impact, but then neither does being booted from a con or tossed in jail. Note that while you can carry any props you like to make a costume “feel” right, you can only use those props in the game which have been given game ratings. Improvised weapons simply don’t exist in MetaHuman DL.

Besides all their other accoutrements, costumes should have a strip of Velcro sewn or glued on one upper arm and one thigh. From the arm strip you’ll hang a number of ribbons of cloth equal to your Power Point total. That’s right, your Power Points are simply colored pieces of cloth. To spend Power Points (see below), characters rip one or more pieces of cloth off and hold them dangling from one hand someplace which is easily visible to the Referee. Unspent points hang from the arm; spent points attach to the leg.

Ideally, Points should be colored white on one side, so that holding a Point colored-side-out indicates bidding a success while the white side of a Point means you’re bidding a failure (again, see below). It might be best to fold the cloth so that one color is visible on both sides to minimize confusion.

Stats and Powers can be placed prominently on the costume for easy reference (on badges, patches, buttons, sticky paper, whatever, so long as it doesn’t fall off in the heat of playing). It is acceptable for a player to hide a power until he or she actually uses it, but once used the button must be visible thereafter. Game items are similarly rated by a prominent sticker or label.

This is also an excellent way to indicate who’s playing the game and who’s just another guy in a funky outfit.

5. Learn how to succeed!

Now for the nitty gritty: conflict resolution. Normally, when you pit one stat, skill or power against another, the higher number wins automatically.

EXAMPLE: Captain Napalm fires a Power Blast at Stupendous Man. Napalm’s Power Blast Skill Total is 6; Stupendous Man’s Dodge is 5. Napalm toasts Stupendous Man’s butt with raw power.

In the case of weapons fire, the difference between the attacker’s and defender’s scores is added to the damage done. In other actions, the difference determines the Quality of the action, where 1 is “barely squeaked by” and 5 or more is “succeeded without breaking a sweat.” If there is an exact tie, the result is reduced to half effect if possible, or a narrow failure if not.

EXAMPLE CONT’D: Napalm’s Power Blast does 6 points of damage. Adding his one point of success increases that damage to 7.

Invulnerability, Defensive Items, and Force Shields all reduce the damage done to the character.

EXAMPLE CONT’D: Stupendous Man (luckily) has his 6-point Force Shield activated, which absorbs 6 of the 7 damage points. He ticks off one Physical Damage point.

A character who takes more than 5 points of damage from any attack (before defenses) must determine knockback. To do this, simply turn away from the attacking character and take as many steps as the amount of damage you’ve taken. If you would otherwise walk into a wall or obstacle, you must stop and take 1 extra point of Physical Damage.

EXAMPLE CONT’D: Stupendous Man took 7 points of damage from this attack, and so much determine knockback. He turns away from Napalm and takes seven steps, then returns to his previous orientation.

6. Push the envelope!

Now for the fun part: Power Points. A player who spends a Power Point on an action automatically succeeds, no matter what the differences may be. When a player bids one or more Power Points, he must physically detach the piece(s) of cloth from his sleeve and hold it where the Referee and the opposing player can see it. Once the action is resolved, the player then attaches the Power Point to his thigh. Attacking characters can only bid Power Points during the declaration phase of a panel (see below). Defending characters may bolster their defense by bidding Power Points during the declaration phase, and they may also bid points during the resolution phase to defer damage. One Power Point will defer up to 5 points of damage from a single attack.

Power Points negate each other. For instance, if an attacker and defender each bid one Power Point, the points cancel out and the attack proceeds normally. Both players must immediately attach the Power Points to their legs.

Characters who succeed using Power Points may find themselves at a deficit; that is, their stat, skill or power is lower than their opponent’s. In this case, the Referee is encouraged to interpret the Quality of the attempt accordingly, with 0 being “incurs minor inconvenience” and -5 being “wins only at great cost.” In the case of attacks, reduce the damage by the difference, but never to less than 1 point. Attempts at a deficit greater than -5 automatically fail no matter now many Power Points are spent.

To replenish Power Points, a player must “bid a failure.” The player removes one or more Power Points from his thigh and holds them white side out during the declaration phase. As a result, the player will suffer a penalty to his declared action equal to three times the number of Power Points he wants to restore. (For example, if he wishes to restore two Power Points, he will take a -6 penalty to an attack, lose 6 points on a defense, incur a 6-point penalty to his Dodge Skill Total, etc. depending on the action declared.) Once he has taken his action (and his lumps), he may return the points to his sleeve.

Saver Points act exactly like Power Points, but once they’re spent they’re gone forever. You cannot replenish Saver Points except through good roleplaying (see below).

7. Knock ’em about!

When combat begins, the referee counts down slowly “3 … 2 … 1 … PANEL!” At this declaration, all players freeze in poses which indicate their intentions. The players can move, draw or replace items, prepare to spend Power Points, change targets or facing, etc. during the countdown phase, but if they are not in a “power pose” at the panel declaration, they are considered to be declaring no action in that panel. The ref then wanders among the participants, resolving actions for players in descending order of their MOVE scores. The initial indication of the player’s action is the power pose, although the ref can ask for clarification if necessary. (Note that the “standard pose” indicated by a power’s description above is not the only acceptable pose. As long as the Referee knows ahead of time that you’re using a nonstandard pose, be creative … within the limits of common decency, anyway.)

Standard moves and their poses:

  • Punch: One fist held at ear level with elbow cocked back, with the other hand pointing at the target. A regular punch does 1 point of damage, modified by the attacker’s success. You have to be within 3 feet of another character (arm’s length) to punch.
  • Weapon Attack: Weapon held in one hand pointing at the ceiling, other hand pointing at the target.
  • Shockwave: Knees bent, both fists held above head in a “rampaging Hulk” pose.
  • Active Dodge: One arm held across defender’s face/upper body (think Dracula holding his cape). When a character Active Dodges, he adds 3 to his Dodge Skill Total for that turn.
  • Item Defense: Leaning back, with item held in front of defender’s body. Note that the item will be destroyed (in game terms, taken away by the Referee) unless it is specifically rated for defense. The defensive rating of an item, or whether it’s even suitable for this purpose, is up to the Referee.
  • Fleeing the Battle: Back turned to fight, arms stretched outward toward the perimeter. Wide frightened eyes and lolling tongue optional. While fleeing, a character has an effective Dodge Skill Total of 0; if he survives until his next action, he can leave the fight.
  • Taunt: Hands on hips, legs wide apart. Compare the character’s MIND (Taunt Skill Total) to the Damage score of any attacks used against him this turn. If the Taunt is higher, those attacks automatically fail unless the attacker spent more Power Points than the target did this turn.

Characters can enter a melee after consulting with the Referee. An entering player must start near the edge of the combat zone and cannot move during the movement phase of his entering panel, unless he has Super Speed. Non-participating players can observe from outside the combat zone, but cannot attack or be attacked. To show yourself to be a non-participating player, raise one hand during the movement phase so one of the other players doesn’t target you accidentally.

8. Learn from your mistakes!

At the beginning of the game, MetaHuman DL players receive one Saver Point. During the game, Referees are encouraged to award extra Saver Points to those players who are particularly clever, are particularly good role-players, or who manage to overcome a particularly difficult plot point. These Saver Points are awarded right on the spot.

After the game ends, surviving players get a Saver Point; those players on the winning team get a second Saver Point.

Saver Points can be traded in on skills and powers. Skills can be acquired at level 1 for 3 Saver Points or raised one point for 2 Saver Points. Powers can be acquired or raised at a rate of one BP worth of powers for 5 Saver Points.

9. Play the game!

And … well, that’s it, really. Go play it and let me know how it turns out. This is really my first attempt to graft four-color superhero rules onto my own little diceless system, so I’m as curious as anyone to see how it all works. If you’re confused by my fevered ramblings (and who wouldn’t be), drop me a line and I’ll see what I can do for you.


Addendum: a quickie adventure seed

All Your Base – suitable for a convention in a hotel, requiring at least 16 participants, evenly divided between the sides of Good and Evil. Two or three Referees recommended.

Somewhere in the convention hotel, a forgetful extradimensional entity has left behind the amazing Power Dingus of Doom. One member of the Evil party is given an eldritch map to the lair (made to be as obscure as possible), then both sides turn out to find it. It’s up to the Evil party to find the lair while also misdirecting the Good party as much as possible. Unfortunately for both sides, the Dingus cannot be moved unless one side manages to dump 10 Power Points into it, one point at a time, at two minute intervals (using an egg timer to determine when it’s ready for more). These points are laid on top of the Dingus and cannot be regenerated for any reason. The Evil side has to defend the Dingus until it’s full, at which point they win the scenario. The Good side, on the other hand, wants only to destroy the Dingus before it falls in the wrong hands; once the Dingus has taken 30 points of damage, it explodes and the Good side wins the day.

Saver Points: Both Good and Evil characters automatically get one Saver Point when they step inside the room where the Dingus resides. Evil characters receive one Saver Point when they contribute a Power Point to the Dingus. Good characters receive one Saver Point when they do more than 3 points of damage to the Dingus.