Superhumans are people with abilities that defy normal physical laws. The origin of superhuman power is not fully understood, but most scientists attribute it to a single source, the nomic force. The nomic force seems to be tied to the human psyche and many users of this force are mentally unbalanced and dangerous. Fortunately there are also those willing to fight on the side of justice, using their power to protect the world from the others who have turned to evil.
The Game Setting is still a work in progress. Everything in the document is open to discussion among the GMs.
Superhumans have existed throughout history, but first came to wide public notice starting in the 1930s. Various pulp heroes fought crime in the streets of America and Europe. Some of them displayed powers bordering on supernatural. Most of these early mystery men preferred to keep their identities secret, fighting anonymously from the shadows.
As World War II approached, more superhumans became public figures and their level of power began to increase. Governments around the world cultivated these super-men and women, especially for their propaganda value. Military doctrine was slow to adapt, however, and as the war began, generals preferred to rely on conventional forces. Superhumans were used primarily to defend the home front from criminals, fifth columns and saboteurs, many of whom themselves were superhuman.
As the war dragged on, superhumans began to actively fight as soldiers on all sides. For the most part, these super-squads canceled out. Although superhumans had some dramatic effects on individual battles, they did not substantially effect the course of the war. An unusually large number of superhuman soldiers suffered from trauma and mental breakdown. Scientists theorized that when a superhuman was killed, wild energy was released in the form of a death-knell. This death-knell energy undermined the mental stability of the killers. Some of the war's greatest heroes went on to become the world's most dangerous villains after the armistice.
While the scientific community tried to understand the dangers of superhuman combat, the Cold War put further pressure on governments to use superhuman power. In the Soviet states, superhumans were recruited willingly and unwillingly into government super-groups. The McCarthy era led to similar superhuman conscriptions in the United States. Many independent superhumans chose to go underground and lay low.
As superhumans were used in more proxy-wars between the two superpowers, the effects of the death-knell gradually became public knowledge. Public sentiment against superhuman soldiers reached its height during the Vietnam War, where brutal combat between Chinese, Vietnamese, French and American superhumans resulted in an unprecedented number of psychotic superhumans. Military rules were changed to exclude the direct use of superhumans in combat and international treaties enforced these new rules of engagement.
In the early days of superhuman power, the majority of superhumans were ordinary, moral people, often choosing to fight on the side of justice against otherwise ordinary criminals. By the 1970's, this had changed. A large number of superhumans were deranged and dangerous. Super-villains outnumbered their heroic counterparts. The most murderous of these villains still could not be safely executed and superhuman incarceration became a major problem.
With the unpopularity of government use of superhumans, the United Nations together with several prominent superheroes stepped in to fill the gap. In 1978, they created the United Nations Agency of Superhuman Affairs, or UNASA. The best-known function of UNASA was to create a semi-formal network of individual heroes and super-groups to deal with criminals and crises. Many heroes chose to participate.
Over time, several scandals tarnished the reputation of UNASA. As the memories of the Vietnam war faded, superhumans began to be employed once again by national governments, though primarily in law enforcement and special intelligence rather than the military. Nevertheless, UNASA remains the world's premier superhuman organization, and many superheroes support it.
Many believe that all superhuman power derives from a single source, the nomic force. This form of energy allows special individuals to selectively alter physical law and use powers that defy modern science. The reality-altering nature of the nomic force makes it impossible to examine; all evidence for this energy is indirect.
Assuming they believe in it at all, superhumans have different explanations for the nomic force, depend on their philosophical bent. Mystical heroes identify the nomic force as magic, while psychic heroes identify it as the underlying medium that transmits mental power. Scientific heroes have the most complex explanations of nomic force, attributing it to a complex interaction between quantum physics, the observer effect and nearby parallel realities.
It is possible that all humans have some measure of nomic force, but superhumans have the greatest access to this energy. Most superhumans are only able to use the nomic force in specific ways in the form of superpowers. Superpowers can be triggered by variety of circumstances. Traumatic situations and accidents can give superhumans power. There seems to be at some genetic element, as children of superhumans are likely to develop similar powers. Certainly mystical rituals and scientific experiments have produced superhumans, but never reliably.
The nomic force comes in a variety of "flavors", manifesting in superhumans in different ways. Biological and radiation accidents can produce mutations that exhibit superhuman power. Humans undergoing psychological trauma can develop psychic powers. Interaction with otherworldly spirits can grant magical energy. Brilliant individuals develop various forms of super-science. Similar powers are better able to interact. A mystic superhero may have the power to nullify all "magic" but have only a limited ability to affect "psychic powers" and "mutations".
Superhumans are more likely to have mental problems than the average person. Many super-villains have major psychological problems. Even superheroes tend to have at some mental quirks. It may be that the nomic force is simply more accessible to people with a weaker grasp of reality or it may be that acquisition of superhuman power is itself mentally traumatic.
The connection between superhuman power and psychological problems has increased over time. This has been attributed to the effect labeled the "death-knell". There has been no direct confirmation of the death-knell effect, but the theory is that there is a release of tainted nomic energy whenever a superhuman is violently killed. This tainted energy seems to have two effects:
- The murderer is hit by psychic backlash from the death, undermining his mental stability. Superhuman killers tend to become increasingly deranged. Superhuman bystanders also suffer from this effect to a lesser degree.
- The death-knell leads to the creation of more superhumans in the nearby area with the tainted energy. The superhumans created from the death-knell tend to be more unbalanced than normal.
Because of the death-knell effect, very few nations allow superhumans to be executed. Superheroes, especially those associated with UNASA, show similar restraint. Super-villains are locked up in super-security prisons with their powers suppressed. Unfortunately, no such prison is perfect and villains seem to escape with depressing regularity.
Despite these precautions, death-knells still happen. Super-villains have no compunction against killing and even superheroes occasionally kill, either accidentally or in fits of passion. A few vigilantes disagree with the death-knell theory, preferring to put down the worst criminals permanently. Scientists and religious leaders worry that this psychic pollution will continue until the number of psychotic superhumans becomes too great for either governments or the remaining superheroes to control.
Possibly as an extension of the nomic force, there appear to be a large number of nearby and parallel realities accessible to superhumans. These realities are collectively referred to as otherworlds. Some otherworlds are parallel worlds, variations on our reality where history preceded differently. More otherworlds are strange extra-dimensional realities, spirit realms and supernatural places, including the heavens and hells of both modern and historical religions.
Some otherworlds are tied to only a single or a handful of superhumans. Others are broader in scope, accessible to most if not all superhumans with the necessary power. It is difficult to precisely map all of these alternate realities. Many of the beings from these realms are unwilling or unable to describe their true nature, perhaps unaware of their own parallels. For example, there are a number of beings claiming to be "The Devil", all of wildly differing appearance and strength. It could be that there are multiple alternate hells or that the Devil chooses to appear in a variety of guises for his own inscrutable reasons.
There are also a number of extra-terrestrial or alien beings that visit earth, apparently from deep space. Earth appears to have a special place in the universe as a concentration of the nomic force, but aliens generally consider Earth to be a dangerous and primitive backwater. Representatives of several large galactic civilizations have visited earth, not all of whom are aware of each other. It could be that space is large and Earth happens to be near a hub of intergalactic travel. Another theory is that alien civilizations are simply another form of otherworld, with extraterrestrial civilizations in different splinters of reality.
Another recent and disturbing discovery is that history itself may be variable and flexible. Numerous sites of ancient civilization have been discovered throughout around the world, too many to reasonably fit natural history. These ancient sites are often tied to various superhuman origins. There may be alternate pasts for several great civilizations such as Greece, Egypt and China. This "rubber history" effect may apply to modern times as well. There are a large number of secret societies and dark conspiracies that somehow manage to have a limited impact on history. Cities have suffered horrible disasters in various superhuman crises or only to recover with incredible rapidity.
This history-altering effect could be due to bleed-over from nearby parallel worlds. If history itself is changing, there is no easy way to tell, since the change appears to alter both the physical evidence and memories of people in the revised history. There are some time-traveling superhumans with theories of their own, but most keep their ideas to themselves to prevent too much interference in the timeline.
A number of heroes and villains have powers based on amazingly advanced science. Some only manage to create a single spectacular invention that gives them their power, while others have knowledge well beyond the limits of modern science. Despite the fact their powers appear to come from various devices, a popular theory is that the power ultimately derives from the super-scientists ties to the nomic force.
Other people can use such super-scientific devices temporarily, but they invariably break down and cannot be repaired by anyone other than the original scientist or a similar super-genius. The devices seem to be extensions of the scientist's own superpowers. Only rarely are super-scientists able to create inventions useable by the general public and even then it seems that something always happens to render the new inventions impractical after a short period of time.
As a result, super-science has had minimal impact on the advance of human technology, even though individual superheroes can create incredible inventions. Furthermore, the nomic force also interferes with pure scientific investigation. Super-scientists have discovered new scientific principles that work perfectly for the superhuman but which no other scientist can reproduce.
Some advanced technology is used by a few governmental, corporate and villainous organizations. By recruiting technicians with some capacity for super-science, these organizations can maintain some super-gadgets for their agents, who are otherwise normal humans. The technology of these super-agencies cannot be extended to the general public any more than the inventions of super-scientists, however.
Game Notes: Nomic Force
The nomic force provides an underlying justification for superpowers while still allowing for a wide variety of character backgrounds. The otherworlds background allows character to have complex histories without worrying about their overall impact on the game world. A character from Atlantis may be from the "real" Atlantis or some otherworld. Heroes who got their powers from contradictory histories of ancient Egypt may be working with different alternate pasts. Super-science effects explain why super-powered scientists have not radically altered the world's technology.
The psychological effects of the nomic force justify a number of odd superhuman behaviors. It explains the large number of crazed supervillains. The death-knell effect explains why heroes prefer to send the more heinous villains to prison rather than kill them. The superhuman obsession with secret identities and spandex costumes can also be explained as a side effect of the nomic force.
The United Nations Agency of Superhuman Affairs (UNASA) is a network for superpowered humans. At one point, more than half the superhumans on the planet were members of UNASA. Even now the organization has considerable influence.
UNASA has a few permanent superhuman employees, but the majority of its members are a volunteer force. Members gain the following benefits:
- Access to the ISDb (Internet Superhuman Database).
- Access to the UNASA transportation network.
- Support of other superheroes in its international network.
Members have the following responsibilities:
- Follow the rules of the UNASA charter.
- Be on call to deal with local and international crises.
- Periodically patrol their home region for superhuman trouble.
UNASA Crisis Management
UNASA facilitates contact between UNASA-member superheroes and local law enforcement. The agency expects minor problems to be dealt with at this level. UNASA also requires its member to periodically monitor or patrol their home regions to look for problems. If a problem arises beyond the scope of local agencies, the UNASA-members or law enforcement may call UNASA's central offices in New York for support.
UNASA requires its members to be on call to deal with these crisis situations. Wherever possible, UNASA uses local superhumans, but if more power is necessary, UNASA has a transportation network that can move superheroes anywhere in the world in a matter of hours. It has teleportation centers in most major cities and a small fleet of VTOL jets to reach remote areas. It even has a few space vehicles, generally under the control of some friendly super-scientist or super-agency.
Because its members are volunteers with a wide range of skills and powers, UNASA does not have specific rules of engagement. There are simply too many possible superhuman crises to define rules to cover them all. UNASA members are expected to communicate and cooperate with local authorities but are otherwise expected to address the problem using their own best judgment.
After a crisis, UNASA members are debriefed and information about any superbeings they encountered is added to the ISDb.
The UNASA Charter
The UNASA has responsibility for managing superhuman catastrophes in cooperation with local governments. The charter is limited to superhuman problems; ordinary criminals are handled by Interpol, national and local law enforcement, or by national militaries. Large villainous organizations with access to super-technology are something of a gray area and a source of conflict between UNASA and normal law enforcement.
UNASA members are required to cooperate with local authorities and obey local laws. Captured criminals are to be handed over to local law enforcement agencies. If local agencies do not have the facilities for holding super-powered criminals, most nations have extradition laws that allow superhuman criminals to be held elsewhere.
UNASA members are absolutely forbidden from taking the life of another superhuman. Although the death-knell effect is not proven by science, UNASA isn't taking chances. The one time UNASA members are not required to hand a criminal over to local authorities is when they have reasonable cause to believe this will lead to the death of the supervillain.
UNASA has neither the funds nor the authority to permanently employ more than a handful of superhumans. The majority of its members are volunteers. In many ways, its volunteer nature is one of the greatest strengths of UNASA. Since its members are self-motivated and only loosely tied to the agency, national governments consider UNASA involvement is less intrusive than many UN agencies. In most cases, UNASA simply informs local superhumans of a problem and lets them deal with it.
UNASA also provides assistance to national government in dealing with superhuman-related issues. This includes sharing power-suppression technology, setting up prisons for holding super-criminals or arranging treaties to hold criminals in other countries. UNASA is also supposed to help find and educate new superhumans when they gain their power, but lack of funds means very little is done in this area.
UNASA is explicitly forbidden from interfering with a nation's sovereignty and internal politics. In a few cases, individuals considered to be supervillains by the international community have gained national power legally, then altered local laws to legalize their villainy. Unless the villain breaks international law or invades another country, UNASA is powerless to intervene and is even required to help the local government repel superhuman attacks.
One of the biggest benefits of UNASA membership is access to the Internet Superhuman Database (ISDb). This database catalogs all known superhumans and their abilities. It is the largest collection of data on superpowers and has links to Interpol and national criminal databases. The database contains information on both criminals and non-criminals to have the largest possible array of superpowers.
Early in UNASA's history, the ISDb was widely available to UNASA members and police agencies. Unfortunately, the database has been abused several times to collect private information about both villains and heroes. Now access to the ISDb is secured and restricted. It requires considerable red-tape to retrieve information not related directly to an ongoing mission. In addition, certain key information about heroes is omitted from the database, such as secret identities or known weaknesses. Non-criminals may also "opt out" of the database to have their information removed completely.
Despite these limitations, the ISDb remains an extremely useful tool for investigating superhuman-related crimes.
UNASA and National Governments
Most national governments have a complex relationship with UNASA. UNASA is a strong advocate for superhuman rights and independence. Many national governments would prefer greater control over their superhuman populace. Despites UNASA's charter, UNASA members often skirt the line in interfering with national jurisdictions. On the other hand, UNASA-led missions have saved countless lives and no other organization has access to a similar level of superhuman power.
When it was founded, UNASA's power was great enough that most nations had to accept it without protest. Since then, scandals over abuses of the ISDb and some major international incidents by UNASA members have reduced the agency's clout. Most nations once again have their own super-teams to address superhuman problems within their borders.
UNASA takes great care to avoid conflict with national superhuman groups. For their part, many national super-groups prefer to maintain both national and international affiliations, with ties to both their own government and UNASA. A hero may be a member of both a national super-group and UNASA, performing missions for both as well as pursuing his own personal agenda.
Game Notes: UNASA
UNASA provides an in-game justification for why a group of randomly assembled superheroes can participate in an adventure. The adventure could be a UNASA-led mission, with UNASA sending its local on-call members to deal with a crisis. Even if an adventure is not UNASA-led, UNASA membership can explain how heroes know each other and contact one another to deal with a local crisis.
UNASA can be used to kick off "away" adventures as well, as UNASA members are called in to deal with a crisis in a distant region because there are no local superhumans or the locals have already been defeated. UNASA transportation can be used to get heroes to otherwise inconvenient locations like distant countries or outer space.
All player-character heroes are assumed to be members of UNASA. This does not necessarily mean they are enthusiastic supporters of the agency or that they agree with all of UNASA's goals, only that they are willing to cooperate with the agency and go on UNASA-sponsored missions.
GMs are not required to use UNASA as a basis for adventures. The comic-book genre is full of all kinds of incredible coincidences that can be used to throw superheroes together for an adventure.