How do you see a fight progressing between superhuman fighters? The people in question have strength, speed, endurance, and damage resistance far exceeding those of regular humans as well as a certain measure of telekinesis, particularly in aid of their own movement. They can change direction in mid-air by pulling or pushing against objects and can run and jump far faster and further than humans. How dramatically would this change how these people fight one another compared to regular folk?

In all honesty? Not as much as most of us would think.

The biggest issue most writers get into when they give their characters super powers is the assumption that they have to use them. Which, really, they don’t. What gets missed most about fighting styles is that all the ones dedicated to practical i.e. real world combat is that they are all about conservation of energy.

Every single person, be they human, alien, robot, or giant cosmic fish has a limited energy pool to draw from. When that’s gone, they’re done. You can inflate your pool by being in better shape, building your endurance, working out, or being gifted with superpowers which give you those things without having to work for them, but in the end it doesn’t change the fact that at some point you will run out of power. When that is gone, it will take a while from hours to days to get it back and that may be time your character doesn’t have.

Being able to outlast your opponent in a single bout is great, but if you’ve spent all your energy on fancy finishing moves then you probably won’t have any left for the next six or seven guys you’ve got to kill on route to the big tower with the super bomb that’s going to blow up Manhattan.

This is why practical martial arts are so dedicated to efficiency, to finishing a fight as quickly as possible. It’s all about exiting the fight, getting out in tact so you can keep going on to the next one. There’s going to be a next one, then one after that, and one after that.

So, it’s really all about changing the way you think about fighting. You’re thinking “how do I show my character’s superpowers by writing some really cool fight scenes” where I’m thinking “yes, I could use my telekinesis to easily bust down that door much quicker than the grunts with the battering ram but what if I need it to scale a wall later? What if the bad guy has a rocket launcher or a tank? I can knock that guy into next week, but if I do will I have enough left to stop all the bullets in that grunt’s machine gun?”

Super powers give characters a different toolbox with which to approach combat and the problems posed by it, they don’t or at least shouldn’t change the basic concerns already present.

“I can only do so much and I have a limited amount of time.”

The limited energy pool doesn’t change.

Time constraints don’t change.

The fact that there will be detrimental consequences for their choices, especially if they choose to waste their power, isn’t going to change.

Even a being with infinite cosmic power can still fail, your heroes are still vulnerable to their flaws, their limitations, and their own egos.

The end goal is still the most important aspect of the fight. A fight is what happens on the way to getting to the important thing your character has to do, it’s not the important thing your character has to do (even when it feels like it).

Some Things to Remember:

Normals are dangerous.

Writers forget this one too often. They give a character a superpower and think no non-powered character can fight them. They become too focused on the superpowers as the solution to the problem and forget that they’re only a tool, just one method. There are many ways to combat an opponent and only a few involve fighting on an enemy’s terms.

They are going to be facing intelligent opponents. Intelligent opponents problem solve and the less power someone has, the better they need to be at it.

Never assume an enemy will attack your character’s from a position where they are strong, where they have an advantage.

HK-47’s discussion on killing Jedi from Knights of the Old Republic 2 is actually very insightful on combating a character with a superpower. The key to understanding how is to understanding how the character’s powers work. Exploiting those weaknesses is key, which means you need solid world building. Characters with the powers are less likely to see their own weaknesses and combat them than normal characters on the outside looking in. For example, HK-47 sees Jedi and killing them from a different perspective than a Sith might or another Jedi might.

If your characters have power then there are those around them without those powers who will look for ways to exploit them, use those flaws to control them, or ultimately destroy them.

“Normals”, “Muggles”, “idiot humans” are the most dangerous because when they are deemed insignificant, your superpowered characters will never see them coming.

Katsa from Graceling is considered to be an unstoppable, superhumanly gifted fighter. So, why fight her? Battle her in the court of public opinion, leash her by destroying her allies, turn each and every one of her actions into those of a brutish thug. A diplomatic, strategic, and tactical chess master in world politics is her greatest threat. The dagger hidden in the silken handkerchief. When she comes at you straight, go at her sideways. She’s proud and impulsive, taunt her into quick action. Feed her misinformation, use that council of good deeds to lure her into situations where a forced response is a terrible idea and pacifism is the only solution. Convince her to kill someone she really shouldn’t. Savage her when she thinks she’s succeeding.

If you have the resources, bury her in bodies. If not, bury her with words. Sow salt in the wounds of those she once considered friends, make alliances with the foreign powers she seeks to undermine, allow her a few victories until she gives you cause to attack those she is most desperate to protect. Take them when her political and social support is gone.

She likes to knock out entire castles, but leave the soldiers alive. Have select trusted forces kill them after she’s gone and then lay the blame for it on the country where she’s harboring her new friend. She’ll survive it all but it’s a mistake to assume surviving equals victory.

After all, what is survival when everything you love is gone? If she’ll survive no matter what then make her wish she didn’t. If her strength is in arms, then attack the mind. If she’s afraid of being a monster, paint her as one and then gift her with angry villagers carrying torches and pitchforks.

Be devious. Be cunning. Be ruthless. And most importantly remember: the truth is inconsequential, perception is what matters.

Basically, be Sun Tzu. Or Lex Luthor.

You don’t need superpowers, or be telepathic, or have super human intelligence to achieve victory. You just need to understand your enemy, understand what they will and won’t do, and be willing to attack those weaknesses.

When facing a telepath, don’t think just do. Fill your head with inconsequential thoughts. Bury the truth deep behind walls of strong emotions. Repeat the same phrase over and over and over until the words are all they hear. Or just take Atton’s advice and play pazaak in your head.

When facing someone with super strength and super speed, fight at range. They can’t dodge a bullet if they don’t see it coming. Gas a room. Poison their drink. Mine the ground they walk on. Wear them down. Attack their mind. Attack their emotions. Attack them through their fears. Take this moment from the Superman Animated Series where Superman critically underestimates the Joker, it’s a great example of how a character that’s used to being invincible can be completely taken by surprise.

For all their power, they are still human and those failings make them just as vulnerable as the rest of us. It’s actually really important to remember that when working with super powered characters.

The person who fights from a position of power will have difficulty anticipating the person who doesn’t.


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