Challenges are classed as Easy, Standard or Hard. When the GM throws an Easy challenge at the heroes, she earns a Villain Point. In order to throw a Hard challenge at the heroes, she must spend a Villain Point.
For non-combat challenges, it’s simple. An Easy challenge has a difficulty equal to the number of heroes. A Standard challenge is one more; a Hard challenge is two more. Note that the heroes will usually succeed. This is intentional. However, a Hard challenge will have a higher chance of failure and/or require more expenditure of resources than an Easy one.
Similarly, for combat, an Easy challenge has a number of enemies equal to the number of heroes. A Standard combat has one more; a Hard combat has two more. However, it’s a little more complicated than that. Tough villains will count as multiple enemies, and the GM can toughen up enemies as well.
Here are the enemy templates:
Thug (counts as one enemy)
Any number of basic abilities at rank 1
Villain or Gang (counts as two enemies)
Any number of basic abilities at rank 2
Arch Enemy (counts as three enemies)
Any number of basic abilities at rank 3
You may choose any combination of templates. A Standard combat for a team of four superheroes, for example consists of five enemies. This could be five Thugs, or three Thugs plus a Villain, or an Arch Enemy plus a Gang, or whatever. You may also ‘cash in’ enemies to provide extra boosts to the enemies you’ve chosen, at a rate of three boosts per missing enemy. So five enemies could also be two Villains and an extra three Boosts divided between them.
A single-use ability at a rank one higher than the basic ability
A single-use ability at basic rank that gives the target a -1 penalty
A single-use ability at basic rank that attacks two targets
A single-use ability that provides a two-dice defence
A single-use trick providing a reroll, effect +1 or effect 2
Two points of toughness
Boosted abilities may be combined. For example, if a Villain has a basic ability of 2, he may spend two boosts to have a single-use ability at rank 4, or two single-use abilities at rank 3, or a single-use ability at rank 3 that attacks two targets.
For two boosts, a boosted ability can be made conditional. This means it can be used multiple times, but stops working once some condition is met. A good guideline for this condition is half-Toughness; so, for example, a Gang’s basic ability might attack two targets so long as it has at least half its Toughness remaining.
For three boosts, a boosted ability can be made permanent. This means it always applies. So, for example, an Arch Enemy might always roll two dice for defence. Be very careful not to overuse permanent abilities.
I don’t think the balance is perfect, but it seems to more-or-less work. I’m not sure whether the challenge levels should be N/N+1/N+2 or N-1/N/N+1. Playtesting needed, I think, and when I get more time I’ll cost up the enemies and encounters in the book and see what comes out. Anyway, I thought it might serve as a starting point for discussion. Thoughts?