Secret Identities in Superhero RPGs.

Not every superhero has the luxury of a million dollar sportscar with tinted windows to safely costume up in.


There are no phone booths in the cellular age. Where do you put on your costume?

The (not 1960’s TV) Batman has it pretty easy. His secret identity is a necessity. I mean, he’s no Tony Stark, right? Multi-billionaire, world renowned playboy Bruce Wayne has too many people he’s trying to protect. Whereas Stark has the money and the company but it’s okay being the world’s most well known Avenger?

Peter Parker might be a better example. For most of his career, he had that whole “greater responsibility” and a newspaper editor who made Spidey public enemy number one. Police might have a few questions for the guy under the mask. See also collateral damage from superhero brawls. Villains might track down sweet Aunt May or Mary Jane and then things would get grim.

Back in the early days, the phone booth thing was cool for Superman, but nowadays super speed makes a changing booth unnecessary. Flash never really had to worry about costume changes, nor does anyone tapped into the Speed Force.

The Power Rangers kinda scream “obvious” at a hundred yards.

Think about it. Six kids, dressed every day in the same colors as their corresponding Ranger, running into trouble when everyone else is running away? Slugging it out with their outstanding martial arts talents against putties and gruesome monsters out in the open? How does no one figure it out?

Admittedly, the Rangers have this neat kid’s TV thing we call plot armor. Anime and sentai live action characters capitalize on the panicky and oblivious people around them. One of my favorite lines from old Speed Racer was “There’s something about Racer X that reminds me of my brother Rex.”

No kiddin, Speed? Really? Maybe because it is your brother? Anime tropes are easily imitated or emulated in RPGs.

How does this translate in gaming terms?

Most players are smarter than the old Speed Racer writers thought the audience was. Really how well the players maintain their characters’ secret identities or don’t is up to them and the GM. This could be established as early as Session Zero if the group wants to go there.

It could be a simple rule of characters’ secret identities are always considered safe. It could be as harsh as someone or something is always looking and your character will be exposed at the earliest opportunity if you’re not careful. Personally, I like the middle ground of your character’s identity is reasonably safe as long as you don’t transform in front of a large crowd or a camera.

My Power Rangers RPG group is afforded plot armor in terms of maintaining their secret identities so long as they don’t make it too obvious. It’s a little tougher when there’s a camera literally on every smart phone and street corner but I’m not going out of my way to call anyone out for hanging with same five other kids all the time.

Gotta have that one good secret identity scare from time to time.

If the character’s secret identity is a big deal, then that should come up in a story occasionally. Maybe some villain is out to ruin our hero by unmasking him in public. Maybe the hero has to unmask nationally in front of Congress to support some metahuman registration bill. Maybe a supervillain will blow up the orphanage if the heroes don’t reveal themselves in public by noon tomorrow. My favorite is the characters unwittingly Morphed in front of a camera while it was recording and now the reporter has a decision to make.

Otherwise, heroes in the comics sometimes do go public. It’s all circumstantial and fun. There could be several stories for both an individual character and the team in a superhero RPG revolving around one character going public. What if reporters started hounding all of their friends and family trying to figure out who else is a superhero? Is anyone around the newly public hero ever going to be safe again?

Hope you’re having a lovely week. Thanks for being here!

Author: Jeff Craigmile

I'm a tabletop role-playing game writer and designer from Des Moines, Iowa always looking for more work. I'm the father of four boys and human to three cats.

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