How to Create Great Powers

Powers are unique supernatural abilities and equipment bestowed to Contractors for successfully completing a Game. The Contract's Powers System is its primary feature. It can provide balance, structure, and progression to almost any Power concept.

They can be created here.

But while it is easy to create Powers with a basic understanding of the Powers System, it is much harder to create good, flavorful Powers.

This Guide focuses on the creative elements of creating Powers in The Contract. If you're more interested in the system mechanics, read the article on Powers. If you haven't yet, try reading and customizing some Stock Powers before making Powers from scratch.

Overview

The Contract's Power system is a creative tool. Not all "rules-valid" Powers are the same quality. Clumsy, uninformed use of the Powers system may result in generic, boring Powers that all feel the same or awkward Powers that feel unnaturally restricted instead of flavorful and elegant.

To combat this, we suggest this workflow for creating a Power:

  1. Come up with an idea for a Power.
  2. Once you have a solid idea, visit the Create Power page and find a Base Power with a suitable effect.
  3. Utilize Enhancements and Drawbacks PRIMARILY to describe the Power's concept.
  4. Customize and balance a little by tweaking Parameters, Enhancements, and Drawbacks.
  5. Add some finishing touches with a Description and some Flavor Text
  6. Submit to your Cell Leader or other players for approval.

Step One: Coming up with a Power Concept

This is the most important step. The overall quality of a Character's Powers is determined here.

Ideate freely, with no concern for "mechanics" and "systems." Daydream a little. Picture what the Character should be able to do. Draw inspiration from TV, Comics, Anime, Mythology, Books, other Roleplaying systems, or anywhere that sparks an idea. Be derivative or completely original; just find the ideas that speak to you, and jot them down on a piece of paper.

It's good to think about things like

  • What Power is core to the Character? What was the original spark that led to the Character concept? It would feel bad if this Character couldn't do this.
  • Where is the Character drawing their power from? Latent psychic abilities? Imposing their will on the world around them? Concrete physical items or enhancements? The Harbingers' Gifts unlock the High Roller's inner potential. They do not prescribe how the Powers work.

Don’t choose powers to adapt to the Character’s foes or challenges. Choose powers that unlock the Character's unique strengths.

Powers must match the concept of a character. For example, your lone-wolf shooter Character should not receive many (if any) social powers. Healing powers especially are restricted to characters that are conceptually healers or where very thematically appropriate. You cannot splash a little healing onto your thief character, despite how much they might need it. This restriction is KEY for balancing healing powers and creates extremely compelling social dynamics around healer Characters.

This is a restriction that is not enforced in the system. Instead, the Cell Leader must vet every single power for character appropriateness before approving the gift.

Cell leaders should also read First Five Gifts for some suggestions what sorts of Powers make good early Gifts.

Step Two: Choosing a Base Power

Now we exit the boundless realm of imagination and start to engage with the Power system. Visit the Create Power page and choose a Base Power based on your conceptualized power's primary effect.

Note that mapping an idea to a single effect sometimes involves making compromises. Extremely flexible Power concepts may need to be split into several Powers. For example, systeming Magneto's control over metal would probably involve a Telekinesis Power for moving metal objects, a Blast power for attacking with metal, a Levitation power for flying with a metal suit, etc.

Though we strive to support as many concepts as possible, some powers simply cannot be made via the power system. For example, a power that allows a witch to curse victims with various effects based on the nature of a slight against her is difficult to achieve. Another example would be a general power reflection ability that allows you to reflect the effects of other powers.

Characters should not silo themselves into any given category. An excellent doctor might have awareness powers to diagnose patients, material powers in order to maintain access to their medical tools, and offense powers in the form of dangerous drugs (“do no harm” is so passé).

There are other restrictions that come into play at this phase as well.

First, the types of powers available to Characters depends on their Status. After 10 gifts, a character achieves Seasoned Status and gets access to a new set of Base Powers, Enhancements, and Parameter levels. After passing a “Vet Test” (typically around 30 gifts), they become a Veteran. The Status restriction is in place in order to make certain guarantees to GMs about the capabilities of the characters that will attend their games. In general, abilities that allow you to sidestep obstacles (teleportation, flying, supernatural investigation, etc) are heavily gated. Some other powers are gated based on lethality, safety, or just to make characters suffer (Heal Battle Scar is a seasoned power).

Step Three: Building for Flavor

Once you have chosen a Base Power, it is time to fill out the Create Power form.

Start by ignoring Gift cost and balance, and simply try to make the Power as you envisioned it. You may have to change the Power's concept a little to get it to fit in the system, but you'll probably be surprised at how well it fits.

Note that unless the "Concealed" Enhancement is taken, most Powers give away the supernatural nature of the characters that use them. Passive Powers should produce some sort of mutation that is always in effect (Black blood, glowing eyes, modified voice, scales etc). Active Powers may display their supernatural nature only when activated (sparkly, wavy, or glowy firework effect when a spell is cast, character grows gills while their water breathing power is active, etc) or passively (say a cyborg chest cannon that is always there but only occasionally fired).

Step Four: Customize and Balance

After building the Power for flavor, you'll probably end up with a Power that costs more than a single Gift. Now is the time to restrict the power, either by adding Drawbacks, removing Enhancements, or reducing Parameter values until it costs a single Gift. Try to maintain the flavor and concept of the Power during this process! Characters can always use their Gifts to improve their Powers and help them reach their full potential. Think of the initial Gift as a "proto" version of the power that can be trained over time.

Be careful about adding too many Drawbacks. Powers that are too hard to use are no fun.

Balance in The Contract is a group effort. The Powers system gives substantial leeway to Players to define certain limitations for the Power. The system can certainly be abused, broken and min-maxed if that is what Players try to do. Cell leaders should always vet the Powers their Players create for balance, and are free to disallow any Power, Enhancement, or Drawback they feel abuses the system.

You may ask "if the system can be abused, doesn't that completely undermine its goal to be balanced?"

In an MMORPG where Characters are free to run around willy-nilly and attack other players, sure. In The Contract, most player groups know each other personally and are generally invested in trying to maintain balance. GMs can choose which characters they do not want to join their Games, and Cell Leaders can void Games where systems have been abused.

The balance capabilities of the Powers system are still incredibly useful as long as people are generally trying to create balanced Powers. There is a huge difference between "impossible to abuse" and "useless."

When the chips are down, our philosophy is: flavor is more important than enforcing a perfectly standardized and balanced system.

Step Five: Finishing Touches

After balancing, there are still three more fields to fill out: Description, System, and Flavor Text.

System should be updated to reflect your choices of Enhancements and Drawbacks, as well as any associated Rolls, etc. The System field holds all the stuff that is absolutely guaranteed to happen. Anything in this field is law. You should notate the cost, which rolls if any are relevant, how much damage your ability does, what fuels are required, what the conditional is, etc. Be concise with the dice and avoid vague qualifiers like “big” and “close.” Anything not in this box is subject to GM interpretation.

For now, you may refer to parameter values either by using them, or naming the parameter. In the future there will be a site-supported way to tie pieces of the system text to the parameter value.

Finally, we end where we began. Flavor.

The Description field should hold a description of what the power looks like when it is used, how it works, how it presents itself as supernatural, etc. This field should not mention dice, resources, or anything system related. The details you provide here can have a big impact on how the power behaves in game. In fact, the player is free to come up with minor traits-- positive, negative, or neutral-- that will have an impact in some situations. These are generally in the realm of “GM discretion” and your power should not take on any major capabilities in this field.

A sample description for a “Throw Fireball” Power might be: “The caster makes a fist and must say/whisper ‘ignius!’. Sparks swirl around her arm for a moment before a small fireball appears in her throwing hand. She must toss it away immediately or risk being burnt. It makes a whizzing sound as it shoots through the air and strikes with vicious force.”

There are several things in this description that might have some implications during a game. First of all, the power is made of fire, so it may be that a GM decides that she can light a campfire with this spell. It also has a subtle verbal component that, while not restrictive enough to warrant a Drawback, could possibly mean that she would lose access to her power if her mouth is sewn shut. Another subtle addition is the flavor that this fireball, at least initially, is an object that has the potential to burn her. Perhaps if she botches her aiming roll the GM could say she drops it on herself and takes damage.

Flavor Text. This is a very free-form part of power creation with the goal of providing a short blurb to introduce the Power. You may talk about the metaphysics behind it, give a fictitious quote, or even write a vignette. Just set the stage for the feel of the Power.

Step Six: Approval

Once you have finished your power send it to your Cell Leader (or other Judges, Leaders, or Players based on your Cell's rules) GM for approval.

See the Restrictions on Powers article for more information on which Powers are likely to be rejected.

Here are a few reasons why a Cell Leader might reject or revise a power:

  • It doesn’t fit the character’s flavor, seems out of place in their kit, or just doesn’t work thematically.
  • The description is too liberal with some of the things it establishes.
  • Typos
  • Misunderstandings about what certain Enhancements / Drawbacks mean.

After that, your Power is complete!