My books feature a whole bunch of characters, creatures and forces with special or supernatural abilities. The Hunter in the Dark series has the seven Gifts, a bunch of ancient relics that enhance people in various ways, and entire civilizations that are simply badass because of their natural habitat (the Wanderers). The Unbound series has the Sleepers and Unbound, with mostly similar powers, and a whole bunch of other supernatural creatures with varying abilities, such as Thanatos and Paul.
I should probably note that this post might contain a few spoilers.
In addition to these, my books often feature forces that are beyond powerful, and generally beyond the characters’ ability to explain. However, their exact natures, and the limits of their powers are generally well understood by me, and the challenge for me is to present them in a way that makes them understandable for the reader without explaining all their mysteries (that said: if you’ve finished Hunter’s Chosen and still don’t quite understand the Hunter, feel free to comment and ask your questions, as I’m not likely to add any more installments to that series).
Earlier today, I was considering the various powerful characters of my works, and wondering if there was any way in which to classify them, and compare their powers. I’ve spent most of the day considering this, and I’ve come up with the following system, which sorts the various abilities into five distinct levels of power:
Ordinary humans, without special training. Basically the people who are the least able to defend themselves against all the supernatural opponents I pit them against.
Trained humans, professionals. Those who have trained as soldiers, hail from martial cultures, or possess special weapons to face more powerful supernaturals.
The Gifted, those who have magical or other supernatural talents and can wield them in times of danger, but who are limited in a significant way. Many of my point of view characters fall in this category.
Examples: Lianna, Naima (Melody), Lenye and Berin (Ben) from The Hunter in the Dark. Thymen, Karen, Paul and Shannon from The Unbound.
The Exalted, those whose magical ability far surpasses those of others, and can wield them in ways others cannot hope to match. Often, they are limited as well, but these limits are less meaningful than with the second level.
Examples: Sarina (without the Keystone) and the Raven from The Hunter in the Dark. Thanatos from Deliverance.
The Almighty, those whose abilities are seemingly limitless, and beyond the understanding of the characters of my novels. These generally end up as adversaries in some form.
Examples: The Hunter, and Sarina (with the Keystone) from the Hunter in the Dark.
With these categories in mind, a character has a reasonable chance to be able to withstand an opponent of the same level, though strength can vary within each level. Lenye and Berin are stronger Destroyers than Naima or Lianna, and under normal circumstances Brenor would wipe the floor with Kaelon, but their playing field is pretty much level.
Things change when characters face opponents of different levels, and as a rule of thumb I assume a character at least has a chance against an opponent as long as their difference in power is no more than a single level. Those familiar with my books will probably be able to note a few exceptions, but for the most part this should be accurate.
To be fair, I’ve only just created this classification, but in my opinion a classification such as this could be a good basis for determining how powerful your characters should be. Keeping in mind Sanderson’s Second Law, you’re going to want your characters in as low a category as powerful. Does your character have magic? Level 2. No magic? Level 0. Any higher levels need some pretty good justification, or you’ll risk making your story boring, or worse: introducing a deus ex machine.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you use a different system to classify relative strength? Do you know of any others that might be useful? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.