The “class” system appeared during the 1980s as the invaluable Official Handbooks to the Marvel Universe were being put together. The goal was to clearly express the strength level of superhuman characters.
The basic concept is straightforward – “Class 5” means that the character can lift up to 5 tons, “Class 10” means that the character can lift up to 10 tons, etc.
So far, so good.
The low end, the high end, the middle
The low end of the scale doesn’t have a number – it’s called “enhanced human strength”. That covers a grey zone between “peak human” strength and 2 tons.
The high end is “Class 100”. In this case it’s not “up to 100 tons” but “100 tons and quite possibly much more, we’ve stopped counting”.
As to the middle – common steps are Class 10, Class 25, Class 50, Class 75, Class 90. The exact steps varied depending upon the Marvel handbooks. Knowing the usual steps is useful to know the *lower* bound of a “class”. If there’s a Class 25 and a Class 50, then Class 50 means “can lift between 26 and 50 tons”.
So far, so good.
…but the plan doesn’t survive contact with the enemy
This system was created back when Marvel editorial decided that their strongest characters were able to lift about 100 tons. Elbow room was built in for cosmic characters (like Galactus or the Celestials) to be crammed into “Class 100” as explained above, but it was meant to keep the characters grounded.
These limits never actually stuck – within weeks there were characters performing feats well above their supposed “Class”, and multiple characters clearly were able to lift much more than 100 tons… even though they weren’t even “Class 100”.
Part of the issue may have come from not having a firm idea of the weight of extremely large objects (for instance, a fully loaded older Boeing 747 airliner weighs more than 450 tons).
Part of the issue may have been artists and writers wanting to depict spectacular scenes rather than obey arbitrary limits that felt like solutions in search of a problem.
(For more discussion of these issues, see our FAQ).
However the system endures !
However, the “Class” system stuck since it was easily understood, used simple numbers, and established clear hierarchies.
Thus, while any two “Class 75” characters could routinely lift objects weighing far more than 75 tons, they were more-or-less reliably depicted as being in the same strength ballpark, as outmuscling “Class 50” characters, and as being outmuscled by “Class 90” characters.
Over time and with inter-company crossover stories, super-hero comic book fans started using the “Class” system to guesstimate the superhuman strength level of characters from other companies and other mediums.
Typical Marvel examples for classes
By “classic” we mean the early 1980s, back when the “Class” system was designed and deployed. Many characters have since crept upward. For instance, by the 1990s, both the Thing and Colossus were tagged as Class 90 characters (and mid-1980s Thing was already Class 85).
The elusive “Marvel ton”
Generally, the “Class” systems maps well to real-world weights up to and including Class 10. After that, observation of vast quantities of Marvel comic books leads to the conclusion that there is a curve. The further one goes along the steps of the “Class” system, the less the number of the Class is correlated to what the character can actually lift.
Hence the tongue-in-cheek concept of the “Marvel ton”. As long as we are talking single digits, one Marvel ton equals one US ton. Above that, one Marvel ton equals an increasing number of tons, which rises much like a power law curve.
For instance one “Marvel ton” for many “Class 75” characters seems to be worth 10 real tons, as objects weighing hundreds of tons get moved around by such characters.
Putting this into use
As its name indicates, the DC Heroes RPG community members are tabletop role-players. That implies a certain expertise with using numbers and algorithms to simulate fiction. These toolsets allow for reliable quantification of the material, if enough data points are available.
Writeups.org readers who are not tabletop role-players but use the “Class” system might thus be interested in learning about the strength value we assign to characters. You can find it in almost every profile, after the abbreviation “STR” for “strength”. Here it is in the big red square.
A cunning table
The following table wraps up everything we’ve been discussing. It presents :
- DC Heroes RPG STR scores as the primary key
- corresponding “Class” Marvel strength for superhumans
- an upper-bound estimate of real world tons (as opposed to “Marvel tons”)
- some quick comments
|2||Regular human adult|
|3||Clearly above-average strength|
|4||Extremely strong person (e.g. Daredevil)|
|5||Peak human strength (e.g. Batman)|
|8||Class 5||Up to 5 real-world tons||Mass of a semi truck|
|9||Class 10||Up to 11 real-world tons||Mass of a recon tank or SWAT truck|
|10||Class 25||Up to 25 real-world tons||Mass of a DC-9 plane|
|11||Up to 50 real-world tons||Mass of a main battle tank|
|12||Class 50||Up to 100 real-world tons||Mass of an adult blue whale|
|15||Class 75||Up to 750 real-world tons||Mass of a freighter|
|18||Class 90||Up to 6,000 real-world tons||Mass of a loaded train|
|20||Class 100||Up to 25,000 real-world tons||Mass of a nuclear submarine|
|25||Class 100||Superman-level strength|
Intermediary numbers add nuance – so a score of 14 would still be “Class 75” in Marvel terms, but be observably less strong than a person with a 15.
For Mutants & Masterminds / DC Adventures numbers, see our OMACS 2 article.
The astute reader will have noticed that the DC Heroes numbers do not use a linear scale but a geometric progression. If that seems intriguing, then you’re ready to get the game . 🙂
This article now has a sort of companion article – Hand-to-hand combat scale.
Writeup completed on the 12th of December, 2015.