So, common gaming question: if we had superheroes in the actual world, what government agency would regulate them? If you’re from the United States like me, your first answer is probably The Department of Homeland Security. But that’s too pat and too boring of an answer for me.
So I’m looking to head in another direction, one based on something that I think Rob Donoghue cooked up for a supers game once (though it might have been Matt Gandy). I don’t remember much about it, other than the idea that the folks with superpowers were regulated by (and in several cases, employed by) the Food & Drug Administration. Now that’s something that has legs, because the FDA is a weird choice, and it forces you to sit and think about what that choice means for the nature and origin of superpowers in your setting as well as the politics of regulation and oversight that got things stashed there in the first place.
So let’s go back to my original question, and turn it on its ear: starting with a particular government agency as the body of regulation, what’s the reason superpowers exist in the world, and what form do they take?
To quickly illustrate where I’m going with this, I’m gonna pick the Federal Communications Commission, the body that controls the airwaves here in the USA, and that makes me jump right away to a setting idea I’m calling Bandwidth. From the FCC’s website:
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent United States government agency. The FCC was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and is charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. The FCC’s jurisdiction covers the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. possessions.
So, if the FCC is the starting seed, then it could be that superpowers give off all kinds of radio-and-other-things interference. That’s not bad, but I like my stuff a little trippier. How about instead that superpowers are transmitted to the people who get them on some kind of “power frequency” — making them Receivers?
This, I like. I can see the FCC stepping in once the power frequency band gets identified, and I can see all sorts of radio tropes getting into the mix. “Pirate station” superhumans, powers getting jammed or having fitful bursts of static (and what would that look like?), and the idea of bandwidth itself.
Some Receivers might be able to tune into multiple frequencies at once, while others have their dial stuck in one place, and a few out there only have one or two powers but can tune in which ones those are as they see fit. Particularly common powers might have the fattest band, making them easy for a Receiver to tune: lots of folks out there have flight, and plenty dance to the beat of pyrokinetic pop. Other, rarer powers have a weak or just plain hard-to-tune signal, so it’s an unusual Receiver who’ll pick it up. I also wonder if there’s only so much energy to go around on any given power-broadcast, making that particular power weaker the more who tune in, but as I chew on that I don’t find that I like it — doesn’t feel right, even if it’s “bandwidth”-y. I’d rather just have the breadth of a given power’s broadcast determine how many people can tune in, period.
Big setting secrets could revolve around questions like “what’s the source of the broadcast?” (I’m thinking the planet itself, vibing on some sort of Gaia-planetary-lifeforce thing, but it could just as easily be from outer space, or the result of an actual terrestrial technology) and “what else is riding on this same signal?” Developments could include the discovery that every receiver tends to “echo” a much lower power transmission of their own, making them traceable (or at least some of their powers identifiable) with the right equipment, but also causing resonance with similar receivers nearby: show off your telekinesis, and a latent TK receiver nearby may suddenly activate. Or maybe your sidekick gets that much more awesome when he’s teamed up with you. Nemeses with similar power frequencies too.
What’s your superpowered world spawned from a government agency look like?