Design Process : Superhero Archetypes Edition


This game has gone through so much change since the first Alpha test back in 2017. It's interesting to look back and put into words the design process and changes that were made in order to get things to the best version we can imagine. This is the second of a trio of articles that is detailing our thoughts on the genre archetypes. In this article we'll be going over the current state of the Superhero Archetypes and discuss where they came from. If you are curious and haven't checked it out yet, you can check out the previous article about the Fantasy Archetypes as well.

What Archetypes are currently available in the Superhero Genre?

  • The Chosen - You have been chosen by a special Focus which grants you the power to transform yourself into the ideal superhero, along with the responsibilities that come with it.
  • The Demigod - You are born from both a mortal and a literal deity, or something close enough, but where will your obligations lie?
  • The Hopeful - You weren't born with powers, but somehow you have gained them. Now, you chose to use them responsibly and for good.
  • The Innovator - You have innovated your way into the life of the hero.
  • The Stranded - You are from another world, time, or dimension, but are now stuck here with a drive to return home.
  • The Weapon - You have been created or trained to excel at combat, and must find your place in this world because of, or inspite, of your training.

The remaining 4 archetypes for the next version have not been locked in yet, so we'll also save that for a future discussion.

History of the Superhero Genre

Much in line with the article about the Fantasy Archetypes, the Superhero Genre begins in much the same vein. I (Ryan) initially created Chimera to blend Superhero and Fantasy genres, and wanted to showcase Fantasy-esque characters utilizing amazing super abilities. Elves with flight and super strength, gnomes with laser vision, orcs with alter physical structure, etc. So, in order to accomplish this, I made all of the playbooks a case of "What can this playbook do?"

Because of that mindset, I ended up thinking about what types of power categories there were. The Energy Manipulator was your Storm, your Cyclopes, Magneto. The Powerhouse was your Hulk, Superman, etc. The Psychic was the Jean Grey and Charles Xavier types. We also had The Combat Master, The Magic Weapon Wielder and The Gadgeteer on the table at this point. For a game, it worked. You could *do* cool things, but there wasn't much in the playbook itself that told you what kind of person this character was. I even threw in move progression, where abilities were just basic moves, and some abilities were linked with rolling certain things. Here's an example from the alpha Energy Manipulator to show how it all started:

It's not the greatest thing in the world, it doesn't feel like PbtA in most cases, but I was young and didn't know what I was doing back then. It technically was a game. It had rules for damage and recovering that damage. It lent itself very well to "Let me fight the thing" instead of "Let's have a conversation with the thing," even if the mechanics were garbage. Once I learned what PbtA actually was all about, the gears shifted dramatically.

After the Alpha playtests at AcadeCon 2017, and after experiencing Descent into Midnight, I was able to go back to the drawing board and figured out that the way I was going about things was all wrong. I scrapped the idea of "What could your character do?" and ran with the idea of "What is your character's origin story?" instead. This pushed things in the right direction, and I really liked some of the stuff that came out of this! A lot of what had been done in version 0.3 actually persisted up through the current version, which I'm really happy about. The Demigod has been pretty solid since 0.3, with only some big changes recently. We also had archetypes like The Alien, The Creation, The Displaced, The Gadgeteer and more. It worked well for the time. One of my favorite archetypes to see in play was The Creation, because it was everything from a robot to a genetically created monster to a clone of a dead teammate. It had a lot of storytelling potential, and I hope we can capture that in one of the next four archetypes we have planned.

We didn't stop there, though. After Amr turned around what the Fantasy genre could look like with the new focus for the archetypes, they decided to go through and do the same thing to the Superhero archetypes. I was apprehensive at first, but I trusted Amr implicitly and let them go wild with it. Once the dust had cleared, we were left with Archetypes in version 0.7 that each told a superhero story well, as opposed to figuring out what sort of story was to be told from the origins of these characters. It made things more present and interesting, and I'm very thankful we went in this direction.

Why these six?

Honestly, two of the six Archetypes included in this version were actually planned to be for version 0.8! The problem was that we didn't have a good handle on the other two archetypes we were going to include here instead, so we just swapped them out in version 0.7 and fixed them up a bit for version 0.75. They were nearly complete, and it felt strange to sit on them instead of pouring more energy into the other two archetypes that weren't feeling quite right at the time. These two were The Chosen and The Demigod, two of my favorite archetypes in the current version.

The other four were chosen as a fairly solid array of hero stories that we wanted to be able to tell right away. Spiderman, Superman, Iron Man, The Punisher and more... are all intriguing stories that we thought would fit well within this framework and showcase many different directions you could blend other archetypes with.

The Chosen is all about living with this responsibility of having been chosen to be a protector. The Focus that is a part of your story is either sentient or not, can speak to you or not, and is the reason you have abilities in the first place (for this particular archetype). This is the superhero flavored Magical Girl, effectively, transformation sequences included.

The Demigod is all about having godly (or close enough to it) parents or heritage, and being raised by mortals, and trying to consolidate the two worlds. It gives you a lot of power, and the promise of more power if you follow the tasks laid out before you. The more powerful you become, the harder it is to empathize with mortality, so it's a story about fighting against that in order to be with your friends and mortal family long enough before you ascend to be a deity yourself.

The Hopeful is someone who wasn't born with abilities but suddenly got them and now has to try their best to be the best hero they can be. They have hope that everything will be good in the end as long as they are able to stand up for what is right.

The Innovator has been a staple of Chimera since the beginning when it was called The Gadgeteer. Only now you are telling the story of a person who relies on science and innovation in order to fight the wrongs in the world.

The Stranded is a blend of The Alien and The Displaced, two previous archetypes about trying to find your way home, albeit in different ways. This streamlines things and we've made it so that this Archetype has a strong connection to their home and utilizes that connection during their time here in order to help as many people as possible before finding the way home.

The Weapon is also another staple, having originated as The Combat Master. What does a person do with their life when all they have learned is in pursuit of being a weapon themselves? Can such an individual be a valuable asset to the team outside of combat?

Final Thoughts

This initial group has been proving to be a ton of fun to blend with the other genres, and it is our hope that the next four are able to do the same! Based on what we've been planning so far, they are going to be great. Once we get them right and lock them in, they'll be a solid addition to version 0.8 and beyond. We're really excited to get there, at least, and we hope that you'll be able to join us on that journey!


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