by Toni L.P. Kelner
I used to play a game called Champions.
Champions was a roleplaying game along the same lines as Dungeons & Dragons, but instead of creating a halfing thief named Goldwyn du Locks or a human cleric named Gandie, I designed superhero characters who would then perform... well, super heroics. My favorite was a teleporter named Harlequin, whose secret identiy was a circus trapeeze artist. (Just FYI, my Harlequin long predates the villain Harley Quinn in the Batman universe.)
In the Champions gaming system, players were given a pool of points to "spend" on abilities like flight, teleportation, super strength, and the other staples of comic book denizens. The stronger the power, the more points it cost.
In order to increase your pool of points, you gave your character weaknesses. So you could make your character allergic to some substance the way Superman was affected by the various shades of kryptonite. or make her unable to affect objects of a certain type similar to Green Lantern's weakness against yellow ojbects. (How he must have feared Easter peeps!)
Or you could give your character a dependent, somebody she had to keep safe just as Spider-Man worried about Aunt May and Superman had to keep an eye on his parents, childhood friends, plus both Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane.
The more weaknesses I gave a character, the more points I got to add powers or to increase the strength of existing powers. It was very zen--more weaknesses caused stronger, more powerful characters. And since this was a roleplaying game, I found that those so-called weaknesses also made characters more interesting to play. A good gamemaster would use all that backstory to create exciting scenarios with appropriate villains that would really test my character.
I'm not pointing this out just to stroll down nerdy memory lane--though that is fun. It's because the rules of Champions came to mind as I started working on the cast of characters for my Family Skeleton mysteries. I'm dipping into the paranormal world, and it's been a different process than creating characters for my previous books. Laura (of the Laura Fleming series) and Tilda (of the "Where are they now?" series) are both human, so Krytonite and yellow peeps don't bother them a whole lot. But the Family Skeleton in the new book is actually a skeleton. Sid walks, talks, and makes bad jokes. My daughter Maggie sculpted this statue of Sid.
Even though Sid will be featured in a mystery series, not a comic book, he isn't that different form comic book characters I've seen. There's Dead Man, Ghost Rider, Mr. Bones... So I've been starting to think of Sid as if he were a Champions character.
So what are Sid's powers? I'm thinking normal strength, speed, hearing, sense of smell... No taste, though, and he doesn't have much of an appetite. On the plus side, he can fold himself into a small space, like a suitcase, just by relaxing his mental hold on his bones. I'm still thinking about the ramifications if he's split into pieces, say with his skull in one room and his hands in another. Can those separate pieces see or move, or does he have to be all in one place? Either way, he's going to be a great covert operative--he can play dead like nobody else.
As for weaknesses, the biggie has got to be that secret identity issue. Sid can't just put on a mask if need be--he actually has to hide his existence. Dependents? I think there will be three. Georgia is the viewpoint character. She found Sid as a little girl, and grew up with him. Her teenaged daughter, on the other hand, doesn't know about him. Then there's the dog...
Just as in Champions, the more weaknesses and limitations I give Sid, the more fun he's going to be to play with. And when I'm done, I'll be inviting everybody to read and play along with the Family Skeleton.