There are a lot of different factors involved in the design I’m working on, which can seem to get out of control at times. I’m going to show you a list, highlight important elements, and give a brief description of what some of the factors are, and why. I’ve found these through years of playing, making, and breaking games.

1. Heroes are made, not born. Origin stories that involve radiation, alien parents, power rings, and spider bites are far too unbelievable and should be avoided. Heroes with “humble” origins, that rely on cleverness and determination, are easier to relate.

2. Hero-making is involved. I will totally vouch for some kind of leveling system. Some heroes are more powerful, though circumstances vary. There’s an element of “grind” that separates normal people from heroes. Heroes seek improvement.

3. Everyone gains levels. Normal people exhibit heroic tendencies from time to time, and heroes rise from the ranks of these normal people. The difference is a dedication to continual growth and development that heroes embody.

4. Everything grants experience. The experience necessary to advance comes from anything and everything, though most people stop challenging themselves, either because they’re too stressed, they’re past their prime, or they’ve become complacent.

5. Repeatable tasks have diminishing returns. Most basic tasks and activities provide less of a reward over time, forcing heroes to seek greater challenges.

6. More risk doesn’t mean more reward. There are many, many rewarding activities, which can sustain the majority of people throughout their lives. Tasks that are dangerous don’t necessarily pay out better. Risk is an entirely separate factor.

7. Reward action with advancement. Anything the player chooses to do should be rewarded with a tangible benefit. Avoid “random disasters” that set the player back at all costs unless, and only if, the player specifically seeks out self-destructive goals.

8. Progress through failure. Failing to complete a task doesn’t deny a character experience. Oftentimes failure can be a greater learning experience than success. This expands the previous concept. Action is rewarding, whether it succeeds or fails.

I think all of these things, and more, are important to keep in mind when developing a character or characters for a heroic setting, whether it’s a game or otherwise.