This probably works for people who are used to game systems where you have to fill out a character sheet, but I come from a freeform roleplaying background. I’ve never been keen on category systems like that. They always seemed too detached from the game to be very helpful. And it’s always so hard to figure out how to categorize extremely min-maxed characters.
I don’t know how much it will help anyone else, but I’ve always used an informal “head count” metric to figure out how over/under-powered a character is for a game. I’ll describe how it works so you can decide if it might work for you.
The idea is you imagine your character is in the middle of a crowd of well-trained, well-equipped soldiers who are on the alert for trouble. They know there is a potential enemy among them, but they don’t know who.
For combat-oriented characters, your character starts attacking the soldiers. The question is: Under ideal (for your character) conditions, how many soldiers can your character plausibly take out (not necessarily kill; just remove from combat, or somehow make them no longer a threat) before they are themselves taken out?
- An ordinary human, with no special training, could only pull off one… because while they may get the jump on a single soldier, the instant they attack every other soldier will turn and fire.
- A badass human with martial arts training or skill with weapons or whatever might take out 3 or 4. They can attack quickly enough and/or dodge the first hasty counterattacks and/or strike using some tool, trick, or technique that confuses the soldiers long enough to take a couple out before the soldiers get organized and retaliate.
- A street-level superhero like Daredevil or Jessica Jones might take down a whole section (8–12).
- A low-level superhero like some of the less insanely powerful X-Men might take down a whole platoon (15–30).
- A mid-level superhero like the average X-Men person might take down a whole company (80–150).
- A Marvel-level superhero might take down a whole battalion (300–800).
- A DC-level superhero might take down a whole brigade (2,000–5,000).
- A really powerful superhero might take down a whole army (100,000+).
- A semidemigod might take down the combined armies of a section of the world (1,000,000+).
- A demigod might take down the entire combined population of an entire planet (or multiple planets) that has banded together to fight them (10,000,000+).
- And a god would take down any number (up to infinity).
For support-style characters, you modify the scenario by saying that it’s not your character that attacks, but a well-trained, well-equipped soldier who happens to be on your character’s side. The question becomes: How many soldiers can your character’s ally take out with your character’s support before they get taken out?
The reason I’ve always liked this metric is because it directly relates to game planning. You usually want to know how many mooks you have to throw at a character in order for them to not be able to fight their way out.
Plus it kinda eliminates the difference between primarily defensive characters and primarily offensive characters. You just try the thought experiment both with the character as the attacker, and then with the character defending a well-trained, well-armed soldier ally. That will detect absurdly over/under-powered characters whether their imbalance is on defence or offence.
It also smooths out disputes over what counts as more powerful. For example, someone could create a psionic character with Charles Xavier-levels of power, and argue that they’re not powerful at all because they could be taken down with a single punch from an ordinary human. That kind of sneaky min-maxing won’t work with this method, because Charles Xavier has been shown to be able to freeze an entire battalion’s worth of people, and maybe a brigade or even more. Most min-maxing tricks can be sussed out by slightly changing the thought experiment. Like if someone gives themselves crazy cosmic powers then “balances” it out by saying they can only work at night, just run the thought experiment when the conditions are satisfied to see how the power actually stacks up.
You can even modify the thought experiment for people who fight in machines like space fighters or mecha. Just make it so that (for example) the character is in their machine in the middle of a swarm of well-trained, well-equipped soldiers in standard fighting machines (whether they’re mecha or fighter jets or whatever), and ask how many the character can take out before they’re taken out.
With the types of games I’ve always done, I’ve always found it really important to have a lot of fine detail toward the low end… but then I don’t usually do games with super- or cosmically-powered characters. Your mileage may vary.