A Tabletop RPG about Overpowered Supers Learning How To Control Their Power
Content Warning: This game contains references to destructive superpowers, collateral damage to populated areas, persecution, bullying, suicidal ideation, institutional abuse, abuse of minors in an educational facility, mental health, gaslighting, invasions, war, mass death, and possible injuries to innocent bystanders.
On a rainy Monday evening in the middle of January, Rodney Challice momentarily lost control of his power and created a black hole the size of a dozen city blocks in suburban Pittsburgh. And it grew bigger by the minute. When it finally closed, 61,394 people were gone and a massive crater the size of a small town was all that remained. Many empowered died trying to help others while attempting to close the black hole. Only Supreme, Earth’s greatest superhero, could withstand the sheer destructive force long enough to reach the kid inside. When he did, the black hole collapsed and took them both with it.
When the dust settled and the death count became another page in our history books, we called this moment the Void. That was the kid’s super name and it stuck, became a symbol of what could go wrong “if empowered people were left unchecked.” Governments began to call them dangerous. Emphobia – discrimination against empowered people – began to rise in countries around the world.
Now the world doesn’t like having super-powered people around again. They fear us but they can’t stop us. So now they control us. Now there’s the Pandora Initiative, an international agreement signed by 164 nations requiring all empowered to receive mandatory training at secure facilities around the globe, known collectively as Pandora Academies.
Some of them are schools. Some are prisons. Some are run by governments, some by private organizations. Some students never graduate and remain there as permanent residents. What has been touted to those without powers – or nethers – is that the Pandora Initiative is a process to “safely and securely provide essential training and education in the use of empowered abilities without risk to the general public.” The truth is far more toxic.
Pandora: Total Destruction is a tabletop roleplaying game where players take on the role of untrained supers with very destructive or potent powers capable of amazing feats and damage. Think of it as the X-Men meets Akira.
Pandora: Total Destruction (or PTD) is a tabletop roleplaying game where players take on the role of untrained empowered individuals (or supers) with very destructive or potent powers capable of amazing feats and damage. The goal of playing this game is to create a story about these characters as they attempt to master their powers at one of the many Pandora Academies around the world. Unfortunately, that lack of training can result in their powers unleashing havoc on their surroundings and any innocent lives caught in the crossfire.
Over the course of numerous scenes played out across three Acts, these supers-in-training must quickly learn how to control their powers enough to stop a great evil that develops throughout a story created by everyone during play.
To play this game you need at least one each of the following dice: a 6-sided (d6), an 8-sided (d8), a 10-sided (d10), and a 12-sided (d12). Multiple dice helps speed up play if everyone has their own or there are enough to go around at the table.
As a tabletop roleplaying game, everyone involved takes on the role of characters to tell fictional accounts of these untrained supers’ battle against a great evil while training at their Academy. This game will be played verbally in person or through video conferencing apps or in writing via play-by-post game platforms or forums. However everyone seeks to play PTD, all are expected to work together to tell an exciting, interesting, and unexpected tale of their characters trying to make a difference in the world.
Whom you will portray in this story depends on your role in the game. All but at least one player will take on the role of a main character (known as a super) and tell their version of the story through the experiences of their character. This remaining player(s) takes on the role of the Game Moderator, charged with presenting the rest of the world and how it reacts to the supers’ actions. This can include other supers, faculty members, villains, and regular citizens moving about in the background. If a 10-storey building collapses into the waterfront, it is the GM who will describe what that looks like and how the rest of the world will respond to this event. Each description will be based on choices from your character’s power, values, and decisions with the impact determined by the result of an action roll.
Using the Storyhunter System, all players will tell the story of their supers over the course of three Acts. Within each of these, everyone will roll a number of scene points and spend them throughout the course of the Act to create a number of different scenes. Spotlight scenes explore the character’s backstory and personal struggles, training scenes are where the supers learn to overcome their difference and manage their powers, battle scenes pit them against the forces of evil conspiring against them, and vital scenes ramp up the intensity and consequences of failure.
An Overview of PTD from the Tabletop Bellhop
Example: An Actual Play of PTD
Watch this actual play from Rook & Rasp to see a one-shot prologue adventure moderated by the game’s creator, Todd Crapper.
How Do The Mechanics Work?
Part 1: Describe What The Character Intends To Do
Before anyone can roll dice to determine the possible outcomes, an intended narrative must be presented to the other players revealing what the next character in the turn sequence wants to accomplish. In other words, what does the player want the character to do? If the GM determines a risk in completing this action, they can provide the player with the specific action dice they must roll in Part 4.
Part 2: Set the Target Number
All dice rolls require a target number to determine its success or failure and any havoc the action may cause. This target number sets the minimum result for the roll to succeed. All dice rolls start with a target number of 6, meaning the dice roll’s final result must be a 6 or higher to succeed.
There are ways to reduce the target number to determine the possible outcome of the dice roll using the character’s values. A value is a significant trait, aspect, or motivation for the character that improves their chances of success. For every value belonging to a character that can plausibly allow the character to perform the deed with greater ease or grant them the right motivation, the target number is reduced by 1. (The lowest possible target number is 1.) Any applicable values must be used towards reducing the target number, even if the player does not want to lower it.
Example: Hardcore needs to pick up an overturned truck to rescue the people trapped inside. Because two of his values are Protect the Helpless and Ain’t Nothing I Can’t Lift, he can reduce the target number moves from 6 to 4.
Depending on how a character progresses in the story, they can also use bonds formed with other supers and lessons learned in the Academy to raise or lower the target number, whatever is the most helpful to the super at that moment.
Part 3: Add Complications
During the course of the story, characters can find it harder to accomplish certain actions or figure out solutions to particular situations forced upon them by bad karma, dire situations, havoc, failed dice rolls, and more. These are known as complications and they include any restriction, limitation, or consequence gained during the course of the story that can increase a dice roll’s complexity.
Complications are freeform descriptions of problems facing the supers during their current scene. Each one is created by the player as the result of creating havoc (see below). Like all other facets of PTD, a complication can only hinder a character if it makes sense for the current narrative.
Each applicable complication triggered by the narrative, as decided by the GM, increases the target number by 1.
Example: During the alien invasion, Hardcore took a complication called Stunned after a sonic blast from a 50-foot tall spiderbot. Still reeling from the effects of this complication, the target number now goes up from 4 to 5.
Part 4: Roll Dice
With the final target number locked in, it’s time to roll dice. Each character in PTD rolls dice based on their intent and the chosen action roll it triggers, using the standard RPG dice from a 6-sided to a 12-sided die.
When using their power, a super in PTD must add their Overpower die. In the beginning of the story, all supers have a d12 Overpower die. During the course of the story, this can be reduced via training scenes scattered throughout the story.
There are four types of action rolls available in PTD and one of them is only for villains to roll against the supers. Each of these are known as an action and represent the four key reasons why dice are rolled to affect the outcome of the story. Each character’s action is assigned a dice value to demonstrate which situations they will likely to succeed at with a chance of causing havoc. These dice are known as the action dice.
- Conflict: Used for any physical, psychic, or other types of attacks made against another character or object. When creating your super, the higher your dice in this action, the more destructive and violent your power is. Any roll using the Conflict action is called a conflict roll.
- Interaction: Used to get information from a suspect, read minds, remove complications, and investigate an area in an attempt to learn something important for the story. When creating your super, the higher the dice in this action, the more visibly noticeable or even terrifying your power makes you appear. Any roll using the Interaction action is called an interaction roll.
- Protection: Available only to supers. Used to shield innocents from harm, stop buildings from being damaged, or anything else that requires helping other characters. When creating your super, the higher the dice in this action, the more often your power can fail you when you need it most. Any roll using the Protection action is called a protection roll.
- Thwart: Available only to villains. Used to work against the plans and efforts of the supers, undo a previous accomplishment, or hinder the supers in any way. When creating a villain, the higher the dice in this action, the more nefarious the villain should be portrayed in the story. Any roll using the Thwart action is called a thwart roll.
Once an action has been chosen, roll your dice and compare it to the target number. There are four possible outcomes.
- If the roll is less than the target number, the attempt fails and the GM provides how it will affect the outcome or continuation of the story. The player can choose to take a complication to convert the roll to a success.
- If the roll is equal to the target number, it is successful and happens exactly as intended. The super gains +1 Hero Point and 1 step is removed from the scene. No havoc is caused, even if the super used their power. (See Part 5.)
- If the roll is greater than the target number, the super creates havoc in the form of points. Divide your result by the target number, round up, and determine how much havoc must be spent on this turn.
If the roll yields 1 or 2 havoc, it is successful and happens mostly as the super intended. No matter the result, you gain a minimum of 1 havoc if you roll more than one digit over your target number.
If the roll yields 3 or more havoc, the attempt fails as a result of the super’s power going wildly out of control. There is no hope of this action being successful.
Part 5: Determine Havoc
Whenever a power is applied to a dice roll, there is a risk it will cause structural damage to nearby buildings, set fire to the room, cause pipes to burst, harm an ally, or result in so much devastation that it actually results in the character manifesting an additional ability. This is what raw, untrained power can do.
Havoc is awarded as points that must be assigned to unplanned and unexpected collateral damage, harm, complications, and other effects of a power out of control. All havoc must be spent before the end of the turn and can be done in a variety of ways; multiple points of havoc can be spent to create multiple effects, but the same effect cannot be purchased multiple times in the same turn. For example, you can only cause collateral damage once in a single turn. Whenever a character using a power rolls higher than their target number, they gain at least 1 havoc. Only by avoiding their power or always rolling the exact target number can they avoid creating havoc.
Some havoc allows a super to gain value points with a list of options for breaking the rules in the name of good. Villains can also gain havoc to cause mayhem as part of their master plan to thwart the supers and gain whatever evil goal they wish to accomplish, but they cannot gain value points. A super has the option to turn their dice roll into a failure. Doing so removes all havoc they originally rolled and grants them +1 value point.
Part 6: Wrap It Up
Using the results of the previous 5 parts of a character’s turn, create a summary of how the action played out and the resulting solutions or problems created by the effort. From here, pass the turn on to the next player and repeat the process until the scene is complete.
And that is how each turn works in Pandora: Total Destruction.
Pandora: Total Destruction (Handouts)
Whether you need to print them out at home or bring them online for a virtual tabletop, this set of handouts helps all players enjoy their next story of PTD.