The Superhero Code (Modified & Borrowed from V&V)
This section describes typical superhero morality and behavior. It’s by no means a set of rules on how superheroes must behave; rather it details the ideals toward which all heroes strive.
Most superheroes are patriotic to some extent. Though they may not agree with current policies or support current political figures, they do support their own nation (or the nation in which they now reside, or both). If they actively opposed it, they’d be villains instead. The degree to which this patriotism is taken varies from hero to hero.
Superheroes generally support the intent of, though not necessarily the letter of, the laws of their land. They’re allowed to skirt around minor laws if necessary in performing their duties, but never maliciously or in such a way that is unnecessarily detrimental to civilians. They don’t consider anyone to be expendable for the common good, though if placed into such a position they will accept the lesser of two evils… and then beat the villain responsible senseless with that much more satisfaction!
Superheroes strive toward, though they may not consistently display, the highest moral values. They believe in justice, mercy, individual liberty, and loyalty towards one’s friends. They object to pollution, corruption, and poverty. They don’t lie. They’re not sadistic or cruel, though they enjoy poetic justice when it occurs. They don’t crave power or glory, but they can enjoy what they receive. If they curse, they’re still never vulgar or crude. They don’t consider themselves judge, jury, or executioner. Though aware of their own limitations, they believe that Good will triumph – so they frequently take on more than they can handle – and WIN! They’ll give their own lives to save others if necessary. Yet they’re still only ‘human’, even those who are gods or aliens, robots or monsters. Despite their abilities and moral virtue, they still have as many foibles and quirks as anyone. But they try to stand for something more. That’s what being a superhero is all about.
This section describes the regulations regarding costumed crimefighting in the USA, in the Prime Plane of the Multiverse. Things may operate differently in other nations, on other planets, and in different dimensions.
At the beginning of the masked crimefighting ‘movement’, back in the 1920s, there were no special legal provisions. Masked crimefighters operated entirely outside the law – even those who managed to form close working relationships with the authorities. But Prohibition had given rise to a wave of paranormal crime that exceeded the capacity of established law enforcement
agencies, and so help – even help of questionable legality – from well-meaning vigilantes was welcomed. By the end of that era, ‘superheroes’ had won a special place in the hearts of the public, and this enabled them to continue operating in a legal grey area for quite some time. But legal challenges did arise, with ever increasing frequency as the decades passed.
Finally, in the 1950s, Joseph McCarthy called for the unmasking of all “anonymous vigilantes” as part of his crusade against Communism. Some heroes unmasked voluntarily – and quickly became targets of retaliation by the super-criminal underworld. Some heroes retired in protest. The rest continued as usual, only to have run-ins with the law themselves, and watching any villains they still managed to capture released on technicalities. Crime – particularly super-powered crime – was out of control.
Something had to be done, and it took America’s first superhero to do it. Psimon (who began as a masked stage psychic in Boston in the late 1800s, and who fought beside Freedom Eagle in WWI) gave an impassioned speech before Congress. He spoke of the special needs of those who risk their lives to use their unique gifts to help America, and of the unique challenges they face which require them to operate independently and anonymously. Then he unmasked himself, revealing that he is black. The impact of this speech – and Psimon’s voluntary unmasking – during a time when racial tensions were reaching their peak was enormous.
As a result, Congress passed the Superheroism Accommodation Act – a licensing procedure much less severe than McCarthy’s proposal, negotiated between the heroes and the government.
Superheroes are now part of a legally sanctioned, yet largely self-regulating
community of officially recognized crime fighters; sort of like a combination of private detective and bounty hunter, but allowed to use their hero ID instead of revealing their true identity. There has been constant criticism from certain political circles for decades over how the government deals with superheroes. Some complain that the government treats superheroes “the way Park Rangers treat wild animals – they catch them, tag them and release them back out into the wild”. But despite much sound and fury directed against the current system, decades of polling shows the American people are quite comfortable with it.
The Superhero License
To be officially recognized as a superhero, and receive all the advantages and benefits of that status, one must be granted a superhero license. Licensed superheroes are shielded, to some degree, from civil liability for actions committed in the line of duty. The superhero license isn’t a draconian measure to keep superheroes in line. It’s merely proof that a particular hero has opted into the government’s program of legalized superheroics. What the government basically said is this: The stuff that masked crime fighters traditionally get away with raises serious logistical problems for us. For example, if somebody walks up to us wearing a costume, how can we know whether they’re really that particular superhero, or an imposter?
So in exchange for being awarded the traditional rights and privileges of a costumed crime fighter, we need superheroes to accommodate our needs a little. All we ask is that, once we’ve officially recognized someone as a masked crime fighter that we can trust, they carry an I.D. card and submit to a non-invasive licensing procedure, so we can at least recognize them in their costumed identity.
In exchange, we have adjusted certain laws so that superheroes can function. They are to use these privileges to fight crime. If they abuse these privileges, we can revoke their licenses. In severe cases, we’ll expect the rest of the licensed superhero community to hunt them down like any other supercriminal. This entire deal is contingent on superheroes, as a community, holding up their end of the bargain. If they don’t, then we’ll be back to having to treat them all as extremely dangerous vigilantes. And nobody wants that.
Of course, it’s up to us to decide what it takes to gain our trust. We’ll trust them if they take (and pass) classes that teach the things we think they need to know. We’ll also trust them if they have the sponsorship of someone else who we already trust.
Anyone may apply for a superhero license. While there is no requirement to reveal one’s civilian identity, contact information, abilities, background, or any other personal details, space is provided on the form so that such information may be revealed voluntarily. Personal information revealed by the applicant is held in strictest confidence. Application forms (form 1959) are available at major federal law enforcement offices, or can be printed off the internet. Most applications are rejected out of hand unless accompanied by recommendations from established heroes or certifications from law-enforcement agencies.
Getting a Recommendation
One may approach a local hero or hero team for sponsorship. If interested, they’ll nursemaid the applicant through a few missions. Their job is to watch how the prospective hero behaves and keep them out of trouble. Sponsors won’t usually ask for any personal information, other than a means of contact. If satisfied with the applicant’s performance, the sponsor will write a recommendation. Recommendations are typically given on the basis of competence rather than power. Personality and motivation are also scrutinized. One must demonstrate the ability to fight crime safely and responsibly. This recommendation may then be included in the license application. The sponsor’s reputation will also be a factor.
One may sign up for superhero classes at a local law enforcement agency. Most major metropolitan police departments and major offices of federal law enforcement agencies hold seminars on the laws governing costumed crime fighting, how to work with the relevant government agencies, basic police procedures, forensics, and other topics specifically for entry-level crime fighters. These courses can take weeks or months to complete, and often focus more on classroom studies than actual field work. Students are required to reveal their identities when registering, though that information is withheld from the general public. Most applicants take the classes in costume to hide their identities from their fellow applicants. Once again, competence and attitude are measured more than the strength of one’s abilities. Diplomas from each completed course may then be included in the license application. While this is a slower and less exciting approach than seeking sponsorship, it’s also less dangerous, and acceptance is almost guaranteed if one does well in the classes. This is a good way to go if one intends to pursue a salaried position as a government sponsored crime fighter.
The issuance of a license, once applied for, is at the discretion of the Department of Superhero Affairs (DSA) based on its assessment of the applicant’s attitude and competence (as far as those factors can be determined).
As stated above, most applications are rejected out of hand unless accompanied by recommendations from established heroes or certifications from law-enforcement agencies. The decision to accept the application may also be affected by the voluntary disclosure of the applicant’s civilian identity, contact information, abilities, background, and any other personal information.
Abuse of the privileges accorded by a superhero license may be grounds for revocation of said license by the DSA at its discretion.
While anyone can put on a costume and try to fight crime, licensed superheroes receive special rights and privilege which make it easier to operate as a superhero without risking inadvertent violation of the law.
A superhero license grants the following privileges:
• The establishment of one’s costumed identity as a separate legal entity, with all the rights and responsibilities thereof, and more. Impersonating a superhero is as severe a crime as impersonating any other law officer. One’s super identity may then get a driver’s license, open a bank account, testify in court, and even apply for a job! Carefully written regulations curb abuses of one’s dual identity. For example, if thrown in jail in their civilian identity, a superhero can’t simply slip on their costume and demand to be released. The obvious loopholes have all been closed.
• It’s illegal to unmask a licensed superhero without their consent. It’s considered poor manners to unmask an apparent hero even if they don’t have a license. It isn’t illegal to share information relating to a superhero’s secret identity, but the DSA (Department of Superhero Affairs) works to counteract such “rumors”, and to provide heroes with new civilian identities if their old one is compromised. The only blanket exception applies to paramedics, nurses or doctors acting to save an unconscious superhero’s life. Under extreme cases the District Attorney can request an OPU (Order for Public Unmasking) but will generally need an indictment from a Grand Jury indicating a high probability that a superhero broke the law. If this happens the Deputy Attorney General of the Justice Department (currently Hamilton Burger III) has been known to file a federal injection blocking such activity, pending an investigation from the DSA as well as most likely other agencies and superheroes. Cases can be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. If unmasked unjustly, the DSA can create a new identity for superhero not dissimilar to someone in the Witness Relocation Program.
• Superheroes must respect all the basic laws of the land. If certain laws are technically violated in the performance of one’s crimefighting duties, however, then superheroes are generally immune from prosecution the same way an officer of the law would be in certain situations while performing their duties, or as would a “good Samaritan” or someone acting in self-defense. If a police officer orders a hero not to violate a particular law, or attempts to arrest a hero for breaking a law, the hero must either comply or lose their license and become a wanted criminal. In practice this is very rare, except in cases of excessive force or if the officer is compelled to act by a private citizen.
As a general rule, superheroes can get away with most misdemeanors and minor violations as long as the acts were committed in the legitimate pursuit of criminals. Felonies by heroes trigger an inquiry, and unless found to have been accidental or unavoidable to prevent even worse acts by the criminal, the hero may be held accountable for the crime. Incarcerated heroes are allowed to continue to conceal their identities until convicted, at which point they lose their license and are unmasked.
• Access to the data banks of the DSA (Department of Superhero Affairs). These contain information gathered on all known paranormals – licensed and unlicensed superheroes and civilians with abilities as well as villains. It draws from all American criminal records, records from Interpol and other countries which share such information with the United States through international treaty. It also includes access to the SAPPDD. Also known as the Sequential Art Periodic Publication Digitized Database, the largest comic book collection in the world, housed at FBI’s Paranormal Behavioral Science Division headquarters in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
• Licensed superheroes may receive reward monies for apprehending paranormal criminals. Some organizations hire superheroes for regular salaries, and in such cases it’s standard practice for any award money to go to the organization (instead of to the superhero) to cover operational expenses.
The Superhero License in Practice
If the police come upon a costumed character breaking into a building, they ask to see ID. If the character is a licensed superhero, they produce the license. The cops smile, relax, and ask for an autograph. If not, then they call for backup.
If a hero intentionally causes up to $250 in damage, that’s “criminal mischief”, a class A misdemeanor. If a hero causes damage in excess of $250 by accident, that’s “reckless endangerment”, a class B misdemeanor. But as long as these acts were committed in the legitimate pursuit of criminals, any penalties will almost certainly be waived.
If a hero intentionally causes damage in excess of $250, that’s “criminal mischief” in the 3rd degree, a class E felony. If a hero intentionally causes damage in excess of $1500, that’s “criminal mischief” in the 2nd degree, a class D felony. This kind of behavior will trigger an inquiry, and unless it’s found to have been accidental or unavoidable to prevent even worse acts by the hero’s opponent, they may be held accountable for the crime
This only addresses the criminal charges, of course, not civil charges raised by the property owner. However, much the same principles apply in civil cases: the civil charge will almost certainly be thrown out if the hero was not held accountable for a criminal charge. So who pays, if the property owner can’t sue the hero for it? The property owner does. Superhero Insurance is available, and it’s usually purchased by property owners the same way you’d purchase tornado or accident insurance. It’s standard in most auto and property insurance policies these days – many states even make it mandatory. It’s a lot cheaper per person that way, spread out across all of the potential victims of collateral damage by superheroes, than it would be if only the superheroes were buying it for themselves. The DSA does track reports of collateral damage, of course. But it’s not so much the amount of damage a hero causes, as much as indications that the hero has an excessive appetite for it, that can cause that hero’s license to be revoked.
While the federal government can establish a set of rules, it is generally up to local communities to interpret and enforce them. The severity and strictness of how these rules are implemented and precisely how they interact with the larger federal bureaucracy will differ from place to place. Due to the flexibility of community standards, things will run a little bit differently from place to place.
There are some areas where the conflicts between superheroes and villains make it almost a 24-hour-a-day war zone. In places like that, if some bulletproof bruiser smashes their way into the local bank and another masked fellow wants to fly in and stop them, the cops will be happy to just let the hero do their thing and wave bye-bye as they haul away the bad guy after it’s all over, without bothering to ask to see a license. Licensed or not, they will simply be grateful for the help. No doubt there are some places that are completely peaceful except for that one dreadful incident years ago which virtually flattened the place. They don’t much like superheroes there, and the local cops will give them a ticket if they so much as step on the grass and try to arrest them if their license has a smudge on it. Some cities and towns like to cultivate a large superhero population, to increase public safety and tourism, or both. Some city social planners discourage superheroes, fearing a corresponding increase in supervillain activity. Some communities prefer heroes with certain types of abilities or ‘themes’, while discouraging others. Places that have less restrictive firearm carry laws are more likely to allow heroes to let loose with their superhuman abilities without checking their license. Likewise, being an outspoken opponent of a powerful local political figure can get a hero “carded” much more often than if they spent a little time making campaign appearances for that same political figure. Whatever the local attitude toward superheroes, ‘local’ heroes are treated better by local law enforcement than newcomers or outsiders.
Unlicensed Crime Fighting
Taking to the streets without a license means operating with no special legal support for one’s crime fighting activities. This likely results in the immediate violation of several misdemeanors, and the rogue hero’s crimes will likely be compounded over time. Worse yet, criminals they’ve apprehended may go free without the hero’s court testimony – and they won’t be able to appear in court without unmasking, and risking arrest themselves. If they’re apprehended they can still apply for a license, but their unsanctioned activities will likely count against their chances of acceptance. If they manage to develop a good reputation despite these hurdles, they may still be able to ask a licensed superhero, officer of the law, or other government representative or agency that they’ve worked with to write them a recommendation. Society is remarkably forgiving of unlicensed crime fighting, as long as it’s successful. But if the rogue hero declines to apply, or applies and is rejected, they’ll nevertheless be held accountable for any crimes committed while operating without a license, and likely face unmasking and a jail sentence.
While the PCs will undoubtedly work together to fight crime, they won’t be a ‘team’ until they’ve agreed on a team name and/or some rules for their group.
Some teams just sort of ‘happen’ – a group of heroes attract the attention of the media, who suddenly ask, “what do you call yourselves”? Other groups come to this decision on their own, or are gathered together and forged into a team by a non-player character or organization – who may wish to dictate the name. The Protectors team offers a franchise; there are the Rhode Island Protectors, the Tucson Protectors, the East Side Protectors, the Gulf Coast Protectors, the Vandari Protectors, and so on. The original team (in the northwest suburbs of Chicago) are now known as the Mighty Protectors®.
Rarely, a team can get by without a name – but they’ll still have at least a few team rules: a leader and a way to select them, a process by which new members are inducted and other team decisions are made, maybe even a patrol schedule, a media liaison, secret passwords, – whatever’s needed. Teams in the Protectors franchise must abide by a few simple (but strict) guidelines, while a team that’s actually an official military unit would be bound by military law and discipline. Team members may contribute some of their earned points to a ‘team fund’. Points in the fund are then used to purchase team resources such as Bases, Vehicles, Communicators, or anything else the team’s members desire (within the bounds of the team’s operational rules). If the team has outside funding, their benefactors may also contribute points to the group’s fund.