Monday, May 17, 2021

With Great Power: a Superhero World

A Quick and Dirty History Lesson
The first superheroes emerged into the fraught landscape of Prohibition-era American, post-war Europe, and the final decades of imperialism around the globe. They started as urban legends - men who could swerve bullets around corners, women who could walk through walls, children walking out of a house fire miraculously unharmed. The Depression kept the rumors just that, though radio plays about these new legends grew in popularity such that certain supers (and their super-rivalries) became household names. The Miracle Man and the nefarious Fisher King. Titan versus Arrowhead, super-boxers and champions in the ring. Silver Bullet and his old flame Belladonna.

by kris-chandra
World War II
As the Second World War spun up, these legends quickly became a sobering reality. Nazi supers like Blitzkrieg and Panzervulf chewed through armies, cutting a swathe of devastation across Belgium and France. Allied governments looked for any answer to this new threat - and found it. Britain founded the Supernatural Service Division; the USSR founded the KGB's Zero Directorate. America joined the war with its Department of Parahuman Affairs, first putting out a general call to every American with "extraordinary abilities" that got more hucksters and frauds than supermen, then launching a vast internal investigation that gave the supers it uncovered a simple choice: unprotected exposure to the public eye, or service in the War.

News headlines established heroes and villains cleanly along Ally and Axis lines. Local super-crime wasn't on the radar yet - you either served, or you laid low. DPA constructed super-prisons for German and Japanese super-POWs; these prisons wouldn't be declassified until the middle of the Korean war (and in one case, until the 1990s). Heroes like Miracle Man, Stars'n'Stripes, and Silver Bullet provided icons for civilians to rally around, and DPA-approved merchandise sales to fund the war effort rapidly became more popular than war bonds.

The Angeles Initiative is widely credited with ending the war; as a top-secret parahuman research project in Los Alamos that attempted to unlock the scientific principles behind the creation of supermen before the Nazis could. Due to the brilliance of mundane scientists who fled Germany in the late '30s and several daring super-raids on German compounds, the Initiative succeeded - somewhat. A serum was developed that enhanced a human's abilities tenfold, rapidly inducing cellular apoptosis, regeneration, and mutation while subject to intense levels of gamma radiation (the theoretical potential of an "atomic bomb" was dismissed as impractically resource-intensive for another decade). The test subjects were designated Angels
, codenamed after American cities - Chicago, Seattle, Detroit, Phoenix, Manhattan - and attached directly to the military.

Each Angel's new abilities were different, but all could go toe to toe with the best of the DPA roster, and each was explosively powerful. They dropped into hot zones across the Pacific and led the charge on D-Day. No mundane Allied soldier ever made landfall on the Japanese islands; the Angels devastated civilian and military infrastructure alike, wiping out entire cities in acts of brutality fueled by superhuman power, racist propaganda, and unlimited latitudes of discretion. Their records were all expunged, and they returned as heroes.
The Cold War
The war ended. Nazi supers went into hiding in South America, or were quietly folded into DPA and Zero Directorate forces if they weren't obvious hardliners. The meanings of "hero" and "villain" shifted overnight with the geopolitical landscape; American allies were heroes, Soviet supers were villains. Vigilante citizen supers were heroes, criminals and undesirables were villains. The Soviets stole the Angeles serum, super-crime emerged on the scene; and a dozen high-visibility NATO superheroes (primarily from the Angels, DPA, and SSD) founded the first International Court of Heroes to combat villains from both "criminal" and Soviet camps. Nuclear weapons are an afterthought, built as a last line of defense against an Angel attack from a rival power.

Across the world, local supers led decolonization and independence movements to break away from old colonial masters. While several nations tried to force the Court to intervene, they refused on principle - not because of any guiding anti-imperial motive, but because they were busy fighting a different, colder war. Independence struggles were brutal battles between NATO Jack-tier supers of fortune equipped with tech that let them punch above their weight class, and local Queen or King-tiers backed by mass movements towards freedom.

In the Cold War, super-crises were the order of the day. There was always a missile en route, a rogue villain pulverizing towns in an allied state, or a Soviet super-plot for world domination. Several heroes founded the field of Parahuman Studies. Korea was "won" on the backs of the Angels, Vietnam was lost due to the underestimation of mundane capabilities. The Court stopped a meteor impact in '63, and Civil Rights Era America was forced to reckon with Supersonic - the savior of the world - being Black. The space race got all the way to building moon bases by the mid-70s, and discovered the Nazi super-science division on the dark side of the moon, leading to a brief standoff against Blitzkrieg 2 and
Cyber-Hitler before their rapid annihilation in an uncharacteristic alliance between the Court and the Zero Directorate. At the height of the Cold War, both the USA and USSR had several hundred full-powered Angels at their disposal, with plenty more people having illicitly dosed themselves with bootleg serums in the hopes of acquiring powers.

The Modern Era
The late '70s and '80s brought about a sea change in superhumanity. With the USSR stretching itself thin to combat the USA's economic warfare, and Reagan privatizing everything he could, super-crime became the DPA's number one priority. Cops started super-hunter divisions, wielding gadgets designed to nullify or at least counteract their targets' powers. DPA reactivated and refurbished the old Supergrade prisons in Juneau, Denver, and the Marshall Islands. The Court turned a blind eye to the DPA and American miscarriages of justice - it had bigger problems. Namely, the first Ace-tier supers.

Powers gained from the Angeles serum are 
heritable, and manifest during puberty or in young adulthood in times of great stress. Their powers are at least as powerful as their parent's - even moreso if both parents are Angels. One such super, now dubbed Legion, manifested his powers in the traumatic catastrophe of the 1989 Berlin Event. The death toll of the Berlin Event alone is in the thousands, including half of the First Court's mightiest supers. The Angeles serum was rapidly banned by every government on Earth, leading to a ludicrously lucrative drug trade in variants that never made it to the deep-storage bunkers.

(Plenty of supers get their powers from strange sources rather than the serum; that's how this whole mess started. Don't question someone's origin story, it's rude, and yours is probably weirder.)

The Second Court was founded soon after Berlin, with vast funds from corporate donors and governments interested in the impending carve-up of the Soviet Union and protecting their investments from potential Ace-tier threats. Heroing under the Second Court is a business, complete with marketing tie-ins and cereal box appearances. Villaining is a business, too, one much less glamorous than the private island compounds and orbital death rays of mid-century. Aces emerge (seems like the Angels got around, and no one knows how many there were) and if we're lucky, they join the Court. If we aren't, everyone around puts down their grudges and takes down the Ace.

It's 2019. Everyone can feel the world changing, growing darker, holding its breath, waiting to exhale and blow the established order down. Reliable precogs say 2020's going to be a rough year, but they've said that every year since the middle of the decade. Get in while the getting's good, before everything goes sideways. Make some money. Take some names. Crack some skulls.
Super Classification System

Jack: Stronger than the strongest mundane, as fast as a car. Approximately 100 people in a metropolitan area are Jack-tier. Local law enforcement has a trained division of super-hunters, referred to as a SNAP team (Superman Neutralization Armed Personnel), to deal with Jacks.
1 to 3 points of Enhanced Abilities, no ability above 2.
Queen: Can lift a car in one hand, faster than a speeding train. Approximately 100 people in a state or province will be Queen-tier, and efforts are made by law enforcement to catalogue them and neutralize them if necessary.
4 to 6 points of Enhanced Abilities, no
ability above 3.
King: As fast as an airplane, can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Approximately 100 people in a country will be King-tier, and efforts are made by federal law enforcement to catalogue them and either get them on payroll or neutralize them.
7 to 9 points of Enhanced Abilities, no ability above 3.
Ace: Can vaporize a city block, tank anything short of nuclear weapons. Approximately 100 Ace-tier supers have been officially catalogued worldwide. Theoretical until 1983. Tracking and neutralizing threatening Aces was the stated founding goal of the Second Court.
10+ points of Enhanced Abilities. No known limits.

"Jokers" are below Jack level. They don't get individual classifications, on account of the fact that their powers don't give them a leg up on mundanes, and often cannot be verified as supernatural by anything besides the full Klein-Liu Paranormal Index test.
by kris-chandra
Enhanced Abilities
Divided into four suits, each based on the main difficulty in subduing the super. Supers do not have ratings in all categories; most only have one or two. A rating of 0 is somewhere in the mundane human range.

Suits are assigned based on Enhanced Abilities. Primary suit is the most obviously threatening one to mundanes - not necessarily the highest-level! For example, Legion's field isn't going to kill you because you can't find him in it, his field is going to kill you because a swarm of shadowmen dogpile you and tear you to shreds.
Hearts ♥. Hard to hurt.
    ♥ Effortlessly jump over a mundane, dodge a punch.
    ♥♥ ...over a moving car, dodge an arrow.
    ♥♥♥ ...over a house, dodge a rocket and its explosion.
    ♥♥♥♥ ...down a city block, dodge bullets.
    ♥ Shake off an attack that would destroy a mundane.
    ♥♥ ...a car.
    ♥♥♥ ...a building.
    ♥♥♥♥ ...a city block.
    Can survive the first few attacks from Smash at the same tier.
Diamonds ♦. Hard to outsmart.
    ♦ Sense every bug in the room.
    ♦♦ ...every person in a concert crowd.
    ♦♦♦ ...every needle in a haystack.
    ♦♦♦♦ ...every grain of sand on a beach.
    At the same tier, Sense beats Sneak when you're paying attention.
    ♦ As smart in a chosen subject as a well-equipped research lab.
    ♦♦ an entire research department.
    ♦♦♦ every attendee at a national conference combined.
    ♦♦♦♦ ...the sum total of human knowledge in the discipline.
Spades ♠. Hard to catch.
    ♠ Outrun a car at full speed.
    ♠♠ ...a train at full speed.
    ♠♠♠ airplane at full speed.
    ♠♠♠♠ ...a bullet at full speed.
    Typically, but not always, includes enhanced reflexes to avoid obstacles at speed.
    ♠ As hard to detect as a fly on the wall.
    ♠♠ a single mundane in a concert crowd.
    ♠♠♠ a needle in a haystack.
    ♠♠♠♠ a single grain of sand on a beach.
Clubs ♣. Hard to survive.
    ♣ Effortlessly lift a mundane in one hand.
    ♣♣ ...lift a car in one hand.
    ♣♣♣ ...lift a house in one hand.
    ♣♣♣♣ ...lift a container ship in one hand.
    Does not imply a corresponding Smash rating. Will probably take multiple strikes to actually destroy the target.
    ♣ Destroy a mundane in a single strike.
    ♣♣ ...a car in a single strike.
    ♣♣♣ ...a building in a single strike.
    ♣♣♣♣ ...a city block in a single strike.
Paranatural Abilities
Other categories for powers. Originally classified by Rider-Waite major arcana, but reclassified to aid in rapid comprehension and incorporate tiered rankings for supers.

In the Reclassification of '73, several Arcana designations were moved to Enhanced Abilities due to their prevalence. Each Arcana was also associated with a suit, as certain Paranatural Abilities lend themselves naturally to Enhanced Ability classifications.

The playing card classification is incredibly divisive, with many claiming that their focus on killing supers dehumanizes them and creates an inherent sense of danger both around and for those supers. Others simply cite the "poetic" nature of Arcana, and insist on using it for aesthetic purposes.

Various old-school academics, including the current editor of the Journal of Parahuman Studies, stick to Arcana for classification and simply add tiers when relevant. Still more use the Minor Arcana houses as replacements for suits, with Wands as Spades, Swords as Clubs, Pentacles as Hearts, and Cups as Diamonds.

0. Agile ♠ Fool. Defunct, merged into Enhanced Abilities.
1. Blast ♣ Magician. Project power at range. Energy beams, web-slinging, snapping your fingers and something explodes.
2. Precognitive ♦ High Priestess. Can see the future. This one gets you picked up by the DPA, especially if it's long term or particularly accurate.
3. Mental ♦ Empress. Affects the minds of others, like mind control or induced hallucinations.
4. Meta ♦ Emperor. Affects powers, whether that's sharing them with others, modifying, copying, or nullifying.
5. Shaper ♣ Hierophant. Create and manipulate a substance.
6. Shift ♥ Lovers. Has alternate forms. Alt-forms may provide different suites of powers.
7. Fly ♠ Chariot. Can fly.
8. Brawn ♣ Strength. Defunct, merged into Enhanced Abilities.
9. Skill ♦ Hermit. Supernaturally better than everyone else at a particular skill. Rated like Smart.
10. Tech ♠ Wheel of Fortune. Can construct and wield supernatural gadgets. Bounty hunters wielding supertech often get Tech ratings despite being mundanes. Classified as Spades because tech does not lose efficacy on death of the super that created it, allowing for their powers to be a threat long after they're otherwise neutralized. Supers whose main gimmick is building supertech are nicknamed Wheels.
11. Speed ♠ Justice. Defunct, merged into Enhanced Abilities.
12. Outlaw ♥ The Hanged Man. Negate physical laws, whether personally or for others. Includes intangibles, spatio-temporal manipulators, gravity manipulators. Also used as a catch-all for Weird Shit What We Don't Know How It Works.
13. Scary ♠ Death. Fear-based effects. While direct emotional manipulation falls under Mental, some supers have forms and powers that trigger atavistic or post-traumatic fight/flight/freeze/fawn responses. A Shift with a tiger-form or a Swarm that controls bugs will generally get a Scary rating as well.
14. Tough ♥ Temperance. Defunct, merged into Enhanced Abilities.
15. Smart ♦ Devil. Defunct, merged into Enhanced Abilities.
16. Field ♣ Tower. Powers create area of altered physics.
17. Teleport ♠ Star. Can teleport self or other people and objects. Speed rating included based on range, duration between teleports.
18. Sneak ♠ Moon. Defunct, merged into Enhanced Abilities.
19. Smash ♣ Sun. Defunct, merged into Enhanced Abilities.
20. Sense ♦ Judgment. Defunct, merged into Enhanced Abilities.
21. Swarm ♦ The World. Minions, multiple bodies, etc. Can project power across a location or in multiple locations.

If you want more rules, look at whatever deus ex parabola's been doing, it's his fault this post happened.

J♥: Agile ♥, Tough ♥, Sense
     Fool, Temperance, Justice
The more drugs Jester is on, the faster and tougher he becomes. While his Sense powers don't counteract effects of intoxication, his perceptions become warped to provide improved intuition, to the point where he can catch incoming blows. Constantly a little bit buzzed on something, constantly coming down from something else.

Q♥: Tough ♥♥, Agile ♥, Smash ♣, Fly, Blaster
    Temperance, Magician, Sun, Chariot, Fool.
One of the original Angels. Fireproof. While wreathed in flame, she becomes superhumanly durable and gains the ability to fly. Can throw the fire, but cannot generate or otherwise control it - carries a lighter, as well as a slow-burning suit.

K♥: Agile ♥♥♥, Speed ♠♠, Smash
♣, Fly, Blaster, Outlaw.
    Chariot, Magician, The Hanged Man, Sun, Fool, Justice
Creates gravity wells of up to 3Gs within line of sight. Uses these to fly, slingshot around enemies, throw around cars and people. Can maintain up to 3 wells at once. Wears an impact-resistant flight suit, but otherwise is not particularly durable - just very good at controlling her trajectory.

A♥: Tough ♥♥♥♥, Speed ♠♠♠, Brawn ♣♣♣, Fly, Shift.
    Temperance, Justice, Sun, Chariot, Lovers
Virtually indestructible, her punches go through tank armor. When Dreadnought stops moving her muscles, she's immovable, a fixed point relative to her frame of reference. While in this immovable state, she can alter her coordinates in that frame of reference at will, hence her Fly rating and Shift classification. Founding member of the Second Court, child of two Angels.
J♦: Sense ♦, Scary, Swarm
    Judgment, The World
Was bitten by a radioactive ant-mimicking spider, now all the ants think he's an ant too. Specifically, their queen. He can also talk to ants, and the ants tell him all about where they've been and the food they've found. Can control ants, and lots of them, but has to give them orders by talking in ant, and the one command they won't listen to is "leave me alone".

Q♦: Smart ♦, Sense ♦, Precognitive, Meta
    High Priestess, Emperor, Devil, Judgment
Has nightly, accurate visions of other supers' actions. Can choose which classifications of super she might get visions of through tarot spreads. One of the reasons various divisions of the DPA still use the Arcana classifications.

The Harvestman
K♦: Smart
♦, Sense ♦, Tough ♥♥, Smash ♣, Tech
    Wheel of Fortune, Devil, Judgment, Sun
Public Enemy No. 1 in the continental USA. Crime boss, at large, responsible for a double-digit percentage of the illicit supertech black market. His tech specializes in integrating other pieces of supertech together, and he's reportedly got a dozen other Wheels on payroll to exploit this ability with. Unknown if his uncannily accurate intel on DPA ops is gained from superpowers or just the deepest subversion of the DPA bureaucracy ever; hoping for the best by assigning him a Sense rating. Independent super-hunters buy up the Harvestman's tech quickly; it's set the standard for modern hunter gear.
Double Major
A♦: Smart
, Sense ♦, Sneak ♠, Speed , Agile , Tough ♥, Brawn ♣, Smash ♣, Skill, Outlaw.
    Devil, Hermit, The Hanged Man
After a solid night of sleep, she can pick three skills (yes, three, she decided "Triple Major" was too weird a name). She becomes the best person in the world at those skills; at least one standard deviation above the existing "best" mundane. This includes athletic abilities, fields of study, knowledge of specific people, etc. Skills wear off after a 24 hour period, or when she next sleeps (whether induced or naturally).
J♠: Sneak ♠, Sense ♦, Precognitive, Outlaw.
    Moon, Judgment, High Priestess, The Hanged Man.
Can rewind the last 6 seconds of her personal timeline at will, though in that rewind she can't use her powers again. Taxes her mentally - one retry of a six-second block is okay, each additional attempt hurts her exponentially more. Disguises it as precog to avoid unwanted questions about time travel.
Q♠: Sneak ♠♠, Smash ♣♣, Tough ♥, Shaper
   Hierophant, Moon, Sun, Temperance
Can manipulate shadows of a similar light level to shadows she's currently within. The darker the area, the stronger she is. Can't see in the dark any better than a normal person, though. The shadow-substance flows like a sticky liquid; it's easy for her to make temporary cover or tendrils, hard to make usable platforms or manipulator appendages.

K♠: Speed ♠♠♠, Brawn ♣♣♣, Tough ♥, Fly.
    Chariot, Strength, Justice, Temperance
Until the first Aces, Supersonic was the fastest man alive. He was a founding member of the First Court, stopped the '63 Impact, and led the charge against the Nazi Moon Base. Doesn't have to breathe if he doesn't want to, can fly at Mach 2, punches hit like a fastball when he's holding back. Still alive, just turned 100, retired in the '80s and doesn't much like the way the world's gone since for all the right reasons. A genuinely good man.

A♠: Skill ♦♦♦♦, Speed ♠♠♠, Sense ♦, Shaper (Vehicles).
    Hierophant, Hermit, Justice, Judgment
Can manifest, de-manifest, and drive vehicles of his choice (but only if he intends to actually drive them; i.e. he can't summon a cargo freighter on dry land). They act like he expects them to, rather than within their generally-known capabilities. Manifested vehicles can't be driven by anyone else, hence he lacks a Tech rating. Recent Court hire, hid his powers from public attention for over six years by posing as a stunt driver - a record for Aces.
Captain Corrosive
J♣: Smash ♣♣, Tough ♥, Outlaw.
    Sun, Temperance, The Hanged Man
Her arms will melt through anything besides silk, gold, and bone. Wears elbow-length silk gloves everywhere. Strong enough to slowly push through solid steel, or like a knife through butter when uncovered, and arms are virtually indestructible except to the aforementioned substances.

Q♣: Brawn ♣♣, Tough ♥♥, Sense ♦♦
    Strength, Temperance, Judgment
Is as big as a siege tower. Is as strong as a siege tower. Has structural-weakness-sight. The quintessential corporate super. Star of an extensive ad campaign for some of the premier construction and real estate firms in the world. Takes photo-ops next to bridges that he's signed his name on - the Carthage Guarantee (tm).

Lady Longshot
K♣: Smash ♣♣, Brawn ♣, Tough ♥♥, Tech, Blaster.
    Sun, Strength, Temperance, Magician, Wheel of Fortune
Skin like leather, muscles like suspension bridge cords. Built like a kiln. Invents and wields big guns. The only supernatural property of the guns is their size and power generation, which goes a long way towards giving them otherwise impossible properties. If anyone else was to wield one, they'd need a mobile artillery chassis to mount it on.
A♣: Sneak ♠♠♠♠, Sense ♦♦, Smash ♣, Field, Swarm, Scary, Shift.
    Tower, The World, Death, Devil, Sun, Judgment, Lovers
Can project a shadow-field with a radius of 3.14 miles. In that radius, can raise humanoid forms made of an oily substance similar to the material of the field itself. There is no upper limit to the number of forms raised, though they seem to all be identical and highly resistant to conventional arms. Legion perceives everything the field touches, and shifts into a shadowform himself, indistinguishable from the other shadowforms in field. As he moves in this form, the field remains at its original origin point, until he returns and deactivates it.


  1. Replies
    1. Read more in depth: how is vehicle summoning an Ace power? Especially if he can only use it to make vehicles he'd drive in

    2. Tanks, fighter jets, and cargo ships count as vehicles! "Drive" is used loosely here, he can't like drop a minivan on his enemies to splatter them, but he *can* summon a killdozer and demolish the building they're in with it.

  2. This is great. Never thought of running a super game until reading this. Really like the card suite stuff and the ways you presented the powers.


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