Perhaps unsurprisingly, the “Meta” rating is the most nebulous power classification there is, encompassing a wide variety of effects with only one commonalty: they are powers about powers. From the power nullifier all the way to the power granter, any metahuman whose abilities affect their own or others’ powers earns a Meta rating.
No two powers are ever exactly alike (there are cases of two people having the same power, but in that case, they literally have the same power, not a power each which are exactly alike) and this counts double for Meta powers – not only is the power itself always unique in some form, but it’s also most likely going to show differences in how it interacts with any other power, some obvious, some subtle – and it’s the details that can be the most important.
Furthermore, responses to Meta-powers have to be as varied as the abilities themselves – against a power nullifier, a power mimic or a power thief, you’ll usually want to rely purely on normal human troops, while fighting a power shifter or someone who grants powers to their minions requires that one throws as many and as powerful metahumans at them as possible to overwhelm their power advantage.
So why not just split the classification further? Well, because, for one, there are already so many different ratings and complicating it even further is not well-advised. Furthermore, there are some common themes that run through all Meta-powers, perhaps not pertaining to how to combat them, but to where they come from and how they may function.
Above all, though, ratings are not meant to be the be-all end-all in figuring out how to deal with a threat. When you’re in the heat of combat and you hear “Meta!”, that means you assume the worst and verify the situation first before proceeding. Metahuman assets are pulled back until the nature of the threat is understood. It means you assume that things are going to get weird, because no powers ever get quite as weird (barring time-manipulation) as meta-powers.
In fact, weird could well serve as an alternate classification for meta-powers.
Meta-Powers as the dominant/main power all but always arise from Origins in which other powers were heavily involved – it can’t have been just other metahumans playing a role, but rather, their powers had to be a deciding factor. A much rarer form of Origin is one in which there was a distinct lack of any theme, an absence of input.
In technical literature, there are four accepted types of Origins for Meta-Powers, and Meta-Powers themselves are classified according to those four types. The four known classes are Plus, Minus, Null and Wyrd.
Interestingly, these terms were taken from the remnants of Gwen Whitaker’s own research notes, a stack of which she handed over to a Canadian research team in 1981 in secret. Someone must have let that slip, though, and several villains, as well as at least one Intelligence Agency, attacked the lab trying to obtain them. During the resulting chaos, the lab and the notes were destroyed, with only a single page (partially) left over, on which these four words as well as fragmentary descriptions could be made out.
Someone later published those same pages and they became the basis of much speculation, due to their cryptic nature, as well as the basis for the classification of Meta-Powers.
In detail, the four Types of Origins are described as:
This term is applied to Origins where powers played a positive role. They may arise from someone being protected by a power during a crisis, being healed or otherwise supported by powers (such as a person manifesting while under the effect of a power-granting power). This most commonly results in powers which, in turn, affect other powers in a positive way – enhancing powers, granting powers, mimicing powers and such.
The exact opposite of Plus, the term ‘Minus’ refers to Origins which involve a negative relationship to powers. Someone who’s being electrocuted by an Electrokinetic, or being mind-controlled or otherwise harmed in some fashion, be it physically, emotionally or mentally. This tends to heavily emphasise powers which affect other powers in a negative fashion: countering powers, negating powers, shielding from powers, stealing powers and so on.
One of the rarest kinds of Origins of all are those which are so lacking in definition as to be best described as empty. A person has lost all their memories and has not yet had time to build much of a foundation for their personality, lacking the usual lifetime of experience that powers mold themselves to. An abused child, kept locked up in a room since birth, leaves its prison for the first time. Two girls manifest powers before even being born, having not yet made a single experience for their powers to refer to.
With such an utter absence of definition, the resulting powers usually lack definition of their own and work with that – power mimics, thieves and shifters are most commonly Nulls.
As the name might imply, this is possibly the weirdest kind of Origin one can have – Wyrds are those who manifest due to or while a power breaks reality in the viscinity or in relation to them. A man manifests while caught in a time loop. A child manifests while being teleported away from its mother. A youth manifests as a cataclysm shatters the world around him, setting him adrift between realities. A girl manifests after her own death.
When reality itself no longer applies, the weirdest of all powers are born. Unlimited power shifters (often with heavy drawbacks), powers which interact with reality, including other powers, through non-standard vectors. The specific law of reality which was broken tends to heavily inform the resulting power (if time was broken, then the resulting power will often involve a temporal aspect; if space was broken, there will be a spatial theme).
These are the rarest of rare Origins, with only four confirmed cases known.
While the individual powers tend to be extremely diverse, there are some common types of effects that can be described:
All but exclusively Minuses, these powers reduce other powers in some fashion. This can range from reducing the intensity of an effect all the way to negating it entirely. However, few are so powerful and comprehensive as to categorically negate any power at all – the strongest known Negator, Ember, found himself unable to negate the Dark’s power, with the implication that it wasn’t that the Dark was unique in some form, but that there was a flaw even in his power – aside from the fact that he had to be touching his target anyway.
Most Power Negators usually work in a lesser fashion, such as dampening powers, cutting down their effect by a set percentage, or preventing them from being used under specific circumstances.
While not technically power negators, metahumans who add negative side-effects to other metahuman’s powers are usually lumped in together with Negators.
In contrast, these powers arise all but exclusively from Plus Origins. Enhancers boost the powers of other metahumans to varying degrees. This can mean outright boosting its raw power (flames burn hotter, strongmen lift more weight, teleporters reach further) or affecting other parameters – making powers easier to use, negating negative side-effects, preventing backlash, and so on.
The power to control another’s power while still leaving it in their hands. This can range from having complete control over another person’s power to merely being able to set when it is used, but not how (or the inverse) or to affect a single parameter (like being able to determine at what range a power will take effect if used, or preventing it from turning off).
The ability to grant powers to others; specifically, while Enhancers improve on existing powers, Endowers add powers, either to metahumans, norms or both. This may well be the most coveted kind of power there is, at least as far as the world’s governments are concerned.
Being able to copy powers (usually with some limitation) used by other metahumans. Very rarely able to assume powers on a permanent basis, and even then only with other limitations (such as being able to retain a copied power permanently, but only being able to hold three such powers at a time). The prototypical Meta-Power.
Powers which steal powers from other metahumans. The difference between these and Mimics is that Mimics generally don’t affect the ‘target’, Power Thieves most definitely do, reducing their powers in some fashion, in the rarest cases even permanently!
The ability to grow powers over time, often adjusting them as they so grow. Only two known cases, both the result of Wyrd Origins.
Gaining powers in response to specific circumstances (such as assuming defensive abilities suited to environmental threats, or the feared Nemesis-type, who gain powers suited to fighting a specific metahuman they target).
Similar to Adaptation, only more active, with the metahuman being able to actively choose powers, usually from a limited (but not necessarily fixed) selection.
- Desolation-in-Light: Generally considered to be the most powerful metahuman short of the Godking of Mars, DiL has an apparently unrestricted ability to choose multiple top-tier powers at will (on top of at least two major permanent abilities). One of two known pre-natal manifestations.
- Gloom Glimmer: DiL’s younger sister and the only other pre-natal manifestation known, Gloomy’s power can provide an apparently unlimited variety of powers, though she has little in the way of actual control over what she gets – and sometimes over how to use it, even – and can only try to hold onto or push away a given ability, hoping that her power will cooperate for once. Fortunately, her control has been improving as of late.
- Baba Yaga: A Null if there ever was one, Baba Yaga awoke with no name, no past nor much in the way of higher thought, but with the ability to permanently steal the powers of any metahuman of whom she gains a sufficient genetic sample, gaining them at full strength. Recently she’s also demonstrated the ability to bestow these same powers unto others, losing access to them herself in the process.
- General Disarray: One of the founding members and current leader of the Chaos Corps, a British team of (borderline) supervillains and the Archenemies of Lord Buckethead’s Gremloids, General Disarray is capable of enhancing or dampening any metahuman power within about a block of himself, as well as controlling any power in use (he can’t force someone to use their power, but if they do, he controls it, so long as it happens within his range).
- Major Mayhem: Another founding member of the Chaos Corps, Major Mayhem is a power thief. He can drain other metahuman’s powers by punching (or otherwise striking) them, draining a bit of their energy with each hit (the bigger the hit the more he takes). Powers so diminished recover over a short amount of time, unless he manages to land enough hits to drain a hundred percent, in which case it takes days for them to recover. He can himself use a lesser version of any such power (a tenth of its original strength at most, no matter how much he drains), running on a limited charge based on how much he drained. The charges don’t run out on their own, so he can store a wide selection of powers until he needs them.
- Corporal Disorder: The first teenage (and female) member of the Chaos Corps’ ‘Brass’, Corporal Disorder can empower any physical object she touches (usually her gloves, bullets she fires or, most commonly, the pellets in a gadgeteer-made paintball gun) with an effect which scrambles the nerve signals of anyone they hit, with the effect growing more and more discombobulating the more often the power is applied. If she hits metahumans, the effect also spreads to their power, causing it to go out of control.
- Ember: Among his many, many, many other abilities, Ember was capable of simply shutting off the powers of any metahuman whom he managed to physically touch with his hands. The limits of this ability (other than the limited range) are unknown, though the Dark’s ability to counter it certainly proves there is at least one.
- Queen Madeleine: One of only two known Power Cultivators, Madeleine started off with but a single ability (being able to increase or reduce her own density) and cultivated more and more powers over time. Currently, six God-Tier powers have been confirmed, including a much more powerful version of her original density-manipulating power, as well as the ability to control the effects of any one power within her sight (giving her both a main and derived meta-rating). She is now working on her seventh.
- Cyclops: A Greek supervillain and one of the few confirmed Wyrd Manifestations, Cyclops manifested while stuck in a time loop with the ability to assume any power at all, but only one at a time. Each power comes with a time limit, after which it disappears, only to be replaced by another. Both the time limit and the number of powers he can choose from after each such cycle vary due to unknown factors, a great source of frustration for him.
- Aphrodite III: The third Aphrodite, a member of the Olympians, can enhance or reduce the powers of any metahuman by touch, with the effect petering out over time. The longer and more intense the contact, the stronger the effect.
- Rounds: The leader of the New Lennston United Heroes’ team, already mentioned in the Spawner file. He can create spectral copies of any metahuman he touches, which have one half of the original’s powers, while he gains the other half, for as long as the copy persists. Can make up to twelve such copies.
- Heckler: A German metahuman, Heckler has the power to endow projectile weapons with a variety of effects (electric, explosive, acid, paralysing, freezing, infinite ammo, several others), though only one at a time. Once a weapon is so empowered, anyone can make use of it until it runs out of its charge – either a limited number of shots, or a time limit in the case of infinite ammo.
- Aheri: A South African warlord and one of the most successful ones, Aheri has multiple powers, the most dangerous of which is her ability to bestow any of her powers onto any powered or unpowered recipient, losing access to them herself until she recovers them.
- Zincar: A former Brazilian drug lord, he could transform people into living steel statues (with an accompanying degree of super-strength) which were also capable of delivering electric shocks by touch, from the strength of a taser up to a lethal dose. Killed by Quetzalcoatl.