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!

Collateral Damage in Superhero RPGs

Another gruesome point to be made, while we’re on the subject. You’re a giant transforming robot from another planet here to save the day. You are walking down the street. You hear a kinda crunchy squishing sound. Do you dare lift up and inspect the bottom of your foot? (Cringe.)

Sometimes it’s worth reminding the heroes they’re supposed to protect someone.

Superman punches Doomsday through five or six large Metropolis buildings. The Avengers thwart an invasion from space while wrecking entire sections of New York City. The Power Rangers regularly blow up mega sized baddies in the middle of the city in massive explosions. Ever notice there never seems to be anyone squished in these battles.

Moreover, you never see that many new buildings going up in Power Rangers and only rarely do we ever see fire crews and ambulances picking people up. Police? Fictionally speaking, you never see anyone beyond the occasional parking cop or comedy relief.

*Disclaimer: we are purely talking fiction. Real police, fire, and medical personnel are amazing. Lots of love for them.

Just another day in downtown Angel Grove.

Too much realism is sort of a bad thing in superhero games.

Nobody wants innocent bystander injuries or worse on their conscience in a game. It’s pure escapist fantasy. Most superheroes would hang up their capes and tights if hundreds of people were getting injured as a result of their actions.

Not to mention the hours upon imaginary hours that would be spent in front of a judge. In Avengers terms, Tony Stark would spend more time in court defending just the Hulk’s actions after every battle than running his own company. Yeesh.

Senseless fictional property damage is fun and all, but can you imagine the amount of insurance payouts that must occur in some of these superhero cities? No one in their right mind would stay in Metropolis. The property values of Angel Grove must be insanely cheap after every Megazord battle.

Which is okay, because the insurance rates are through the roof. $10K+ per month house insurance? $5K+ per month car insurance? C’mon down to Angel Grove Insurance for shockingly low payouts and insane premiums today. Because Megazord battles make us wish the entire city was just a bunch of Styrofoam and cardboard models.

Another gruesome point to be made, while we’re on the subject. You’re a giant transforming robot from another planet here to save the day. You are walking down the street. You hear a kinda crunchy squishing sound. Do you dare lift up and inspect the bottom of your foot? (Cringe.)

Needless to say, it’s probably easier to just say everyone escaped with only minor injuries. Buildings have fire, tornado, earthquake, and kaiju evacuation plans. Your character’s family bakery is flat, but somehow your family and all of the midday customers made it out alive.

Photo by Francesco Paggiaro on

Real collateral damage can be a red flag for some players.

I think honest, open discussions are becoming more important than ever during Session Zero of superhero games. There are so many of us out here in the real world who have been in horrendous traumatic events that it’s important that we all agree to some boundaries so everyone has fun.

In superhero game terms, it might be most effective to use the Comics Code Authority standards or even create something more tame. I tell my players we keep it somewhere between four color supers violence and cartoon violence. I grew up during the Iron Age of comics, and we really just don’t need that level of blood, guts, and gore in a game.

I’m also going to remind my Power Rangers players regularly that they might want to lead the baddies out of town or into some abandoned area of the city. That way the massive propane explosion of the megabaddie doesn’t wipe out an entire residential district. I may also do a couple of comedy relief insurance investigators snooping around to try to bill the Rangers for all the damage. I’m also constructing a subplot around one of the Rangers parent’s business getting squished. At least let the players think about some of their actions.

Out in the real world, stay healthy. Stay safe. Thank you for being here.

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