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In my world I had a idea for four power sources for superhumans. The four power sources were mutations, magic, technology, and skills. Mutations are genetic based superpowers. Magic users get their superpowers from different dimensions. Skill users being normal humans that are considered prodgies or expectational to average people. Technology is pretty much self explanatory. To be more specific here, the tech users in my world are Transhumans, Cyborgs, and normal people in suits for the most part. The biggest two issues I was having with the four sources. Number 1 multiple power sources might be hard to keep track of, but the number 2 reason was the biggest struggle for me here. The number 2 reason being about the four power sources overlapping too much.

For example, some mutations can overlap with skill or technology. Maybe a mutation can make a character more skill at fighting, or a mutation can make a character smarter, or even give the character the ability to control technology, again causing an overlap with characters who don't need mutations be skilled/talented, or the characters who are tech users, but don't have mutation based powers.

Another example is maybe a magical being having magic be a part of their biology, rather than being a wizard or witch who gets their powers from external sources like a wand or broom. A vampire or werewolf is a good example of this because a vampire or werewolf superpowers might come off as mutations.

I'm afraid too much overlap might remove any uniqueness or differences the four power sources might have. What do you guys think?

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    It's your story. How much of a limitation do you want to add to each area, and how do you go about it? Will the converging cause damage in some way so they would be reluctant to modify themselves?
    – Steve
    Aug 9, 2023 at 20:42
  • These powers are not mutually exclusive. There's no reason a Skilled person could not learn Technology to create a Mutagen, or a Mutant use Technology to access another dimension –– create a reason they can't work together, otherwise it's unremarkable when someone is able to more than 1
    – wetcircuit
    Aug 10, 2023 at 10:41
  • I feel like this is verging on opinion-based. There's definitely an objective question in here somewhere, but at the moment it's laced with subjective language like "is it better to...?" and "what do you guys think?"
    – F1Krazy
    Aug 10, 2023 at 13:26

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The details don't matter on their own. Its about the relationships and how well you can make them understandable to the reader. Believability -- or the suspension of disbelief -- arises from how well the reader can anticipate the benefits and costs of the character's super powers.

It's kind of like Shazam ( first named Captain Marvel) and Superman. One character's powers are gifts from the gods and the others are innate. As long as the two characters never interacted, its no big deal. But when Superman and Shazam needed to be in conflict, that conflict needs to be governed by rules that let the readers anticipate the consequences.

That anticipation is a strong element that makes readers invest in the story. We want to see if we are right. We don't mind being wrong, if we are wrong in an interesting and exciting and rational fashion. Being wrong for reasons that feel bogus and false tends make readers disengage.

If you have these different sources of super powers, then they should be consequential to the story. There should be a reason why this situation exists. If it ends up not having any impact to the outcome of the story, then no one will care. Also, it seems to me, that this will make telling the story very complicated. Lots of exposition and explanation. If the arc of the story doesn't pivot around these facts of your universe than does it matter.

For instance, we all know that Spiderman and Daredevil and The Teenage Mutant Turtles got their specialness from radiation. But, it never really plays into the story after that. There is no explanation for why radiation made them special -- not beyond hand-wavium, at least.

What makes those characters so engaging is what they do with their powers and that they have weakness and how they cope with their limitations.

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It could be both. Generally your find that most superhero stories differ for different reasons. For example, a work exploring a wider universe with multiple heroes and villains will tend to have a less unified origin. This isn't so much a design choice of the people who made the universe but a necessity of the times in which Superheroes developed. Essentially, most shared universes adapted multiple independently written stories into a shared universe through mergers and aquisitions over the nearly 80 some odd years of the stories (DC is worse about this as most of their big tent pole heroes were independently created and were taken over by the publisher when WWII meant that most of the creators and original writers were off to war and it fell to the publisher to keep the prints coming. That said, Marvel comics also has elements of this, however considering the massive amount of story work that Stan Lee did when they relaunched in the 60s, it's more cohesive at times.).

That said, there is a valid argument for weaving a similar origin between your hero and villain in their origin story to save time. Consider the original Spider-Man film, which had the daunting task of telling Spider-Man's origin (bitten by a radioactive spider) and Green Goblin's (given a deadline or lose his company, Norman was forced to use himself as a test subject) and then weave the two origins into confrontations between Spidey and Goby to tell a story. The sequel, by comparison, only had to tell Doc Ock's origin story, and could focus more time on furthering Peter.

A shared origin can also be used to get over having to tell origin stories to explain the powers differently. Stan Lee explained that the mutants in X-men were created so he could make multiple super powered characters without having to explain their origins. Static Shock used an experimental radioactive gas used to track participants in large riots/ chemical explosion (depending on comics vs. cartoon origins) which created most of his Rogue's gallery in a mass empowering event. The tv show Heroes used a shared meta-orign to explore the show's theme of "Ordinary People, Extraordinary Powers" as the cast was largely people living their lives with the added problem of having a super power. A recurring theme in the Kamen Rider Franchise (An Iconic henshin hero series in Japan. Think Power Rangers, but with one or two heroes on average and a motorcycle instead of a combiner robot) a recurring theme is that the hero of the franchise receives his power from the same source as the season's villains and is thus uniquely the only person capable of standing up to the villain's plans. Typically, it is the hero's own good nature and pacifism that prevents them from falling to villainy, thus creating the tragic irony... a man who does not wish to use his powers to harm anyone must fight those who will use the same powers to willingly harm others.

Typically, mupltiple origins show up in shared universes where a publisher's library of heroes exist in the same reality at the same time and thus occasionally meet each other cause their villains have teamed up or some event intertwines the type of stuff they go for. Consider that the first films of the MCU established individual heroes, notably the Avenger's big four (Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor) before it went with the team up which had a reason to pull in all four of the heroes plus Hawkeye and Blackwidow (Hawkeye and Black Widow work for SHIELD which is first alerted to Loki's (Thor) steals the Tesseract (Captain America) an incredible energy source that emits low levels of gamma radiation that can only be track by the world's leading expert on Gamma Radiation (Hulk) when using sophisticated tech of SHIELD that someone who understands how it all works can cobble together (Iron Man).

Similarly, Guardians of the Galaxy took a similar approach but without the build up. A famous thief, Starlord (Who?) steals something that his fellow criminals all want and is very valuable, so the criminal who he betrayed puts out a bounty on him, leading Gamora, who wants the valuable item for it's true power, and hapless bounty hunters Groot and Drax to have a confrontation in the middle of a peaceful alien city, which gets them sent to prison, where fellow prisoner Drax recognizes Gamora works for the Thanos, the man who killed his family, and Star Lord convinces him to use Gamora to lure out Thanos so Drax can have his revenge. The item that Star Lord stole ties all of them together to work despite their different origins. It should be pointed out that the backstories are touched on only to establish their prior history at best, and the backstories are all plausibly grounded in a similar reality of what is and isn't possible, so that nothing seems unrealistic to the other (Aside from the alien tech, none of the heroes have "super powers" but innately born abilities of their alien race that makes them super to the rest of the party but not among their own kind.).

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On one hand, too many sources undermine unity of theme. This is one of the oldest observations about story-telling: the story has to hang together as a unified thing.

On the other hand, one source starts to shift the story out of the superhero genre. By itself it won't do so, but consider that despite Dr. Strange, a story about wizards who fight evil magical threats to modern day human is usually urban fantasy, and despite Iron Man, a story about people who put on metal suits and fight crime is usually mecha.

Four sources that overlap can, in fact, lend unity to your story while giving it some of the diversity than we expect from the dominating universes (DC and Marvel). You can have a background element of scientists and doctors and people who manage superheroes arguing about how distinct they are, with some people being lumpers and others splitters.

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I think this depends on the story you're trying to write.

In the TV show The Boys, all superheroes derive their powers from a drug called Compound V. This gives them a completely random power. Realistically, this couldn't happen, but it works for the story being told.

Marvel and DC have so many different sources of power that it makes you wonder how everyone doesn't have superpowers. There's the speed force, the phoenix force, magic, technology, alien biology, super serums, lantern rings, etc.

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