Collateral Damage in Superhero RPGs

Another gruesome point to be made, while we’re on the subject. You’re a giant transforming robot from another planet here to save the day. You are walking down the street. You hear a kinda crunchy squishing sound. Do you dare lift up and inspect the bottom of your foot? (Cringe.)


Sometimes it’s worth reminding the heroes they’re supposed to protect someone.

Superman punches Doomsday through five or six large Metropolis buildings. The Avengers thwart an invasion from space while wrecking entire sections of New York City. The Power Rangers regularly blow up mega sized baddies in the middle of the city in massive explosions. Ever notice there never seems to be anyone squished in these battles.

Moreover, you never see that many new buildings going up in Power Rangers and only rarely do we ever see fire crews and ambulances picking people up. Police? Fictionally speaking, you never see anyone beyond the occasional parking cop or comedy relief.

*Disclaimer: we are purely talking fiction. Real police, fire, and medical personnel are amazing. Lots of love for them.

Just another day in downtown Angel Grove.

Too much realism is sort of a bad thing in superhero games.

Nobody wants innocent bystander injuries or worse on their conscience in a game. It’s pure escapist fantasy. Most superheroes would hang up their capes and tights if hundreds of people were getting injured as a result of their actions.

Not to mention the hours upon imaginary hours that would be spent in front of a judge. In Avengers terms, Tony Stark would spend more time in court defending just the Hulk’s actions after every battle than running his own company. Yeesh.

Senseless fictional property damage is fun and all, but can you imagine the amount of insurance payouts that must occur in some of these superhero cities? No one in their right mind would stay in Metropolis. The property values of Angel Grove must be insanely cheap after every Megazord battle.

Which is okay, because the insurance rates are through the roof. $10K+ per month house insurance? $5K+ per month car insurance? C’mon down to Angel Grove Insurance for shockingly low payouts and insane premiums today. Because Megazord battles make us wish the entire city was just a bunch of Styrofoam and cardboard models.

Another gruesome point to be made, while we’re on the subject. You’re a giant transforming robot from another planet here to save the day. You are walking down the street. You hear a kinda crunchy squishing sound. Do you dare lift up and inspect the bottom of your foot? (Cringe.)

Needless to say, it’s probably easier to just say everyone escaped with only minor injuries. Buildings have fire, tornado, earthquake, and kaiju evacuation plans. Your character’s family bakery is flat, but somehow your family and all of the midday customers made it out alive.

Photo by Francesco Paggiaro on Pexels.com

Real collateral damage can be a red flag for some players.

I think honest, open discussions are becoming more important than ever during Session Zero of superhero games. There are so many of us out here in the real world who have been in horrendous traumatic events that it’s important that we all agree to some boundaries so everyone has fun.

In superhero game terms, it might be most effective to use the Comics Code Authority standards or even create something more tame. I tell my players we keep it somewhere between four color supers violence and cartoon violence. I grew up during the Iron Age of comics, and we really just don’t need that level of blood, guts, and gore in a game.

I’m also going to remind my Power Rangers players regularly that they might want to lead the baddies out of town or into some abandoned area of the city. That way the massive propane explosion of the megabaddie doesn’t wipe out an entire residential district. I may also do a couple of comedy relief insurance investigators snooping around to try to bill the Rangers for all the damage. I’m also constructing a subplot around one of the Rangers parent’s business getting squished. At least let the players think about some of their actions.

Out in the real world, stay healthy. Stay safe. Thank you for being here.

Author: Jeff Craigmile

I'm a tabletop role-playing game writer and designer from Des Moines, Iowa always looking for more work. I'm the father of four boys and human to three cats.

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