Thursday, March 10, 2016


I'm sure some folks are wondering what I've been working on lately. I mean, this week. Instead of talking about my B/X project like I promised I would (sorry).

Superheroes. Most of it related to modeling strength.

Rather than post some big-ass essay, I'll give you some highlights. Here's a real life individual who's a good example of a person with a (B/X style) strength of 18:

He's smiling at your puny muscles.
In case you don't recognize him, that's Bruce Lee, a guy who stood under 5'8" and weighed less than 140 pounds his entire adult life. A guy who was a fanatic about fitness, nutrition, and weight training. Anyone who can knock a dude fifteen feet with a punch has some phenomenal explosive power. But Lee had plenty of fantastic feats of strength (as told by people who know him)'s a good list if you're interested.

For a B/X-based game, where a strength of 13+ indicates a damage bonus, I think it's fair to consider that bonus based on training, explosive speed, and the ability to add extra injury with the occasional mixed-in, non-weapon blow (an elbow, kick, shield-bash, etc.).  A lot of stuff can happen in a ten second round, you know?

But that actually has little to do with the superhero game (because the system is different from "straight B/X")'s just the precursor that led me to the line of thought for my super heroic strength modeling.

See, most superhero RPGs have some way to model "super strength" (a staple of comic book super powers, since, oh Superman; i.e. a long-ass time), and the usual route is to do some sort of quantitative method in a ranking system. For example, the original Marvel Superheroes did the RM, IN, AM, MN, UN, etc. ranks that measured superhuman strength in terms of tonnage (1, 10, 50, 75, 100, respectively). Aberrant had a one-five point "mega-attribute" system (also in tons: 1, 10, 25, 50, 100). Supers! does the same thing with dice (the more dice, the more tonnage), while Heroes Unlimited categorizes strength into four different tiers (normal, exceptional, superhuman, and supernatural) with each tier determining the exact amount that can be moved based on the character's Physical Strength attribute (exceptionally granular, in a way that makes Mutants & Masterminds look almost abstract).

But I'm not going that route. You see, I figured something out: when it comes to lifting heavy objects, strength, for most individuals (comic books individuals) is mainly tied to one's physical mass. After training, of course.

Look at the weights that are lifted by Olympic weight lifters. Male or female, you can see that the limits of what can be snatched, cleaned, and jerked is limited to a bit more than twice a person's physical mass...and there's a rate of diminishing returns for adding more muscle. A larger human has the potential to lift a larger amount of weight, but the overall percentage becomes smaller the bigger the human. The world record for a clean and jerk lift for a 53kg woman is 134kg: 253% of her body mass. The record for a 105kg man is 246kg...only 234% of his body mass. By the way, these kinds of numbers hold true for power-lifting MMA fighters who are as much concerned with speed and stamina (if not more so) than with physical power.

Of course, we're talking about people who power lift as a profession. Most of us don't. Most of us don't have 18 strength either. But we can still get an idea of peoples' ability to lift and carry. I find several references to minimum body weight requirements of 150 pounds for firefighters. Full kit for a firefighter (who is presumably in good condition) is a bit more than 70 pounds...half their weight (which they're required to lug up and down flights of stairs in rather perilous situations). So using our abstract B/X strength (STR) ladder, I've come up with the following range of measurements:

Avg. STR/Fitness (9-12) Carry/Throw 25% of body mass
Good STR/Fitness (13-15) Carry/Throw 50% of body mass
Excellent STR/Fitness (16-17) Carry/Throw 75% of mass
Peak STR/Fitness (18) Carry/Throw 100% of body mass

Oh, yeah...there's also an "Awesome" strength category for individuals of obviously non-human proportion...dudes like the Thing or members of the Hulk family. They go up to 125% but their overall body mass is doubled, which increases their weight.

For benching, or just lifting one's maximum weight, those numbers are doubled but a good dice roll will allow you to pick up a little more (helping folks meet those Olympic level numbers).

Anyway, that's the basic calculation for "heavy lifting" based on one's fitness level and mass. Now, if your character has "super strength" as a power you simply multiply your lift capacity by 100. That's it, end of story. You're a hundred times stronger than a normal person of your mass and fitness level if you possess superhuman strength.

Surprisingly, it models fairly well for most comic book characters. Spider-Man's official weight is 167 pounds, which gives him a lift/bench press of 12.5 tons with an excellent (16-17) strength/fitness level. Luke Cage with his dense bone structure and the same fitness level as Spidey is listed at 450 pounds giving him a 34 ton range, also very close to his comic book strength level. Thing has a listed weight of 500 pounds (he has a rocky flesh, but he's not solid rock...he bleeds) a 62.5 ton range. Meanwhile, the savage She-Hulk with her 650 pound frame could lift 48.8 tons when she was "excellent" (16-17) and and 65 tons after improving to "peak" (18) with a lot of work-outs on the Fantastic Four's Thing-based exercise equipment. This models well on the old Marvel character (who had an Amazing 50 strength that then increased to the Monstrous 75 range).

Little old Captain America only weighs 220 pounds so would have a 440 pound maximum, which seems a bit low considering the world records in the category. But the guy who set a record in bench press at 440 pounds was a professional strongman named Doug Hepburn who weighed 300 pounds at the time...I think this is just a matter of Steve Rogers getting the most out of his (smaller) frame.

It's not perfect. Mighty Thor, even at a listed weight of 640 pounds, tops out a little low, and Marvel's Hercules, listed at only 325 pounds, is only about a third as strong as he should be. Oh, yeah...DC's heavy hitters like Superman (225 pounds) and Wonder Woman (165 pounds) are about one-tenth or one-twentieth as strong, but I'm working on some workarounds for the truly titanic champions of the comic book world.

Anyhoo...that's what I've been working on lately.


  1. For d&d I have always thought of giants as 'strength personified', stronger than they should be based on relative height and weight. I even came up with weight ranges for each of type. It would be interesting to look at giant strength and see if this is true in light of your calculations.

    1. @ Darniz:

      It does with regard to giant-size heroes (I looked at Giant-Man, Goliath, and DC's Giganta). For D&D, it depends on whether your giants are just "large humans" or something a little thicker.

      Take the 1E Frost Giant. Looking at the MM illo, I'd probably go with a baseline 6', 190#, plus "good" (13-15) strength...he's obviously a warrior.At 15' high, that makes his weight a tad under 3000# (a ton and a half). This would allow him to comfortably carry 1500 pounds (15,000 coins) or throw a 1500# boulder, or lift (barely) a fellow frost giant of the same weight.

      If you say your giants are "hard as stone" or similarly extra-dense, it would increase the creature's weight plus the weight they could lift.

      I should note that a potion or girdle of frost giant strength adds an extra weight allowance (what I call "carry" weight) of 600# (6000 coins). That is a bit below the weight allowance of even an AVERAGE (9-12) strength frost giant, by my calculations (750#). But I suppose one would have to consider that the character using such a magic item has a smaller over-all frame than a giant, and thus can't shlep as much as a creature 150% of his (or her) height.

  2. Just curious (no challenges to math here). I've carried logs in the 200- 300 lbs range about 150 yards, and moved around ones far heavier. It's hard exhausting work but I can do it, but I'm a not in great shape mid-late 40's guy who weighs in over 250lbs (which isn't as bad as it sounds as my peak when young and fighting was 210). I've gone hiking/camping and I'd rather not carry over 30-40lbs for a couple miles. What Strength would I be by your calculations?

    1. @ JD:

      No worries...remember I invite criticism (that's part of why I post these things).

      First, remember this is an abstract model for superheroes. If we were looking at your "super heroic self," I might shave off your extra poundage...most of those comic book dudes (and dudettes) have very little flab, even in middle-age. For a guy who's 210, you'd probably have a strength in the low "good" (13-15) range. This gives you a "carry" of 105 pounds (that amount you lug on your back for a couple miles) and a base "lift" of 210.

      'But JB! Those numbers don't add!' Well, they kind of do:

      - Right now you're carrying an extra 40+ pounds of (body) weight, along with you 30-40 pound pack. You could probably shlep an extra 10 pounds (well-distributed...maybe some steel-toe boots) without collapsing.
      - To lift something over 210 pounds would require an "athletics" roll (a secondary ability derived from your strength and coordination attributes) which has a tiered success rate and could result in a greater rate of "lift," possibly up to 300 pounds on a good day (your roll can also be boosted by spending "ego" points). As a referee I'd rule you could just "move something around" (sliding heavy things on the ground, for instance) at a higher rate than what you can "lift." I can lift the end of a large couch, for example, but I couldn't lift it entirely off the ground (presuming, say, there was a harness wrapped around it, attached to a rope that I pulled while standing at an elevated level).

      This is similar to comic characters with super strength. There are some folks who'd have a problem LIFTING a 60 ton Abrams tank, but they might be able to flip one on its side or stop its motion.

      As an abstract base to work with, it models pretty well. I should note that I used myself as a model of "average" strength (though I'm possibly selling myself's been a while since I've hit the gym).

  3. Besides using it to determine strength, is mass important in the game?

    1. Nope, not terribly.

      Strength (the attribute) is fairly important, both by itself and for deriving secondary abilities. The "super strength" power is important because of the effect it has. But a character's mass is fairly fact, it's unimportant ENOUGH that it's not randomly determined or anything; players are allowed to choose their character's mass from within "normal human" parameters.

      If a person wants to play a character who's 6'5", know, the size of J.J. Watt...that's fine with me. It will inconvenience them in some ways (like being inconspicuous, in or out o costume), but if they're intent on making a "tank-ish" character (a la, most every tank in the comic book universe) they might as well look the part. It's a supers game for goodness sake!

      [having a character outside of human norm will require other power selections on the part of the player]