GURPS Wearing the Cape

Sometime last year I admitted the RPG origins of my superhero fixation, and even put up some character stats for Astra, using the GURPS Supers rules. While writing WtC, I used these rules for scaling superpowers and damage, and sparked a lot of ideas off the discussions of the genre I found in the supplement. Someone suggested I write up a GURPS Wearing the Cape sourcebook for Steve Jackson Games. I’m way too busy–but I feel I owe them something, so here’s some notes I made way back in the development stages. I’ll add to them as I can on this new page so readers don’t have to search the archives, and who knows? GURPS Wearing the Cape may live in the future.

Campaign Style

The default-setting for a standard Wearing the Cape story is Classic Supers/Gritty. Most superhumans are only as powerful as Street-Level Heroes, but the main characters represent the most powerful or versatile breakthroughs. Even the most powerful superheroes don’t spend most of their time fighting supervillains and intervening in big disasters, but it’s what they train for and what a campaign will focus on.

Heroes and Death

Since WtC strives for a real-world feel, superhuman combat is dangerous–superheroes are regularly injured, and even die in the line of duty. GURPS lends itself well to combat-realism, but player characters are expected to beat the odds. The referee shouldn’t flinch at letting stupidly played heroes rack up collateral damage, including civilian deaths. Since having a character crippled and out of action halfway through a campaign can be a problem, the referee should allow the cinematic Flesh Wound rule–but charge 10 character points for taking the option rather than one! Also, if a PC hero is killed, then the referee should allow the instant purchase of Extra Life; the character will simply have almost died. If the player doesn’t have enough unspent character points to pay for Extra Life, he can gain the points through new disadvantages created by the near-death experience (permanent injury, psychological trauma, etc).

Unusual Background.

In the post-Event setting, the odds of reacting to a life-threatening or psychologically traumatic experience with a breakthrough are small and vary wildly depending on circumstances–from roughly 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 10,000. But this still means there will be lots of breakthroughs in any given year and more breakthroughs among people in dangerous places or engaged in dangerous occupations. There are thousands of breakthroughs in the USA alone, so superhumans aren’t at all uncommon. Characters with breakthrough powers need take only a 5-point Unusual Background. On the other hand, certain breakthrough powers are extremely rare–telepathy, for example. The Unusual Background cost for these powers ranges anywhere from 10 to 50 points.

Power Levels.

Superhuman power levels vary tremendously; most breakthroughs gain less than 100 character points worth of powers. Player character will probably be high-power breakthroughs, however, with 500 to 2,000 character points, depending on the templates chosen. Because even the most powerful breakthroughs aren’t capable of single-handedly taking on armies, D-Scale is the upper power limit (the toughest superheroes can outfly jets and punch out tanks). A very few superhumans may achieve C-Scale, but they will have sever limitations attached.

Superteams: Crisis Aid and Intervention.

Although different states and cities have different laws, the standard Crisis Aid and Intervention team operates as a private contractor to state and municipal law enforcement and emergency services. CAI heroes are not police; they do not investigate crimes or act as law-enforcement generally. However, they can serve warrants and may engage in city-sanctioned patrols, and are plugged into police and emergency dispatch systems. They are called in on incidents involving other superhumans and sometimes armed violence (notably bank robberies and hostage situations). They are vetted, trained, and certified as thoroughly as any other type of first-responder.

A typical CAI superhero will have the following: Duty (Fairly Often, Extremely Hazardous) [-10], Patron/Enemy (City*, Very Powerful Organization**, Watcher, Fairly Often) [15], Legal Enforcement Powers/Local [5].

*CAI teams are usually sponsored and funded by municipalities that act as both helpful Patrons (supplying the team’s base, resources, pay, etc) and watchful Enemies (monitoring their superheroes’ activities, requiring after-action reports, conducting investigations when deaths occur, etc).

**The listed advantage value is for a large city; small cities and even large towns may support low-powered CAI teams–or even a single CAI superhero.


Most superheroes don’t maintain secret identities; often breakthroughs are very public, and determined investigators can usually uncover even a legal secret identity unless serious care and resources are devoted to maintaining the secret. Superheroes who prefer anonymity in their private lives will still wear costumes and masks which disguise them sufficiently that, out of costume, they will not usually be recognized. Physical transformations which radically change physical appearance can accomplish the same thing. This results in a special Reputation limitation, Only in Costume (-10%), unless the superhero’s power-set is so distinctive that simply using it causes everyone to recognize him.

The news media generally cooperate with this by not photographing or filming superheroes when they’re off-duty and out of costume, and by referring to them only by their superhero codenames, but this can change. If a superhero goes bad or otherwise becomes notorious, the media can completely trash his privacy as they can any other celebrity. He can easily gain the press as an Enemy (Watcher), and see his reputation trashcanned.

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