Oregon Hero Sanction
by Bob Greenwade
In many Champions campaigns, one of the biggest legal issues facing superheroes is
their legal standing in terms of things like making arrests, responding to emergencies, carrying
potentially lethal (and even military-grade) weapons, and maintaining a Secret Identity. The
answers to these problems are nearly as varied as there are campaigns.
In some cases, superheroes are viewed as lawless vigilantes -- people who take the law into their
own hands when the proper authorities should be contacted instead. This is most common in
campaigns where there exists some official government body, such as PRIMUS in the
Champions Universe, which officially handles crime by supervillains. These vigilantes may be
actively hunted (if not Hunted) by the authorities, or they may be accepted as a necessary evil,
but their reputations are usually not very good.
In other campaigns, superheroes are the official government response to superpowered
crime. The PCs may have been conscripted by the government because of their abilities, or they
may be trained and equipped by the government, or they may have volunteered their powers for
service (in the same way that the United States military is run on an all-volunteer basis). In any
event, the heroes work for the government and are its representatives.
A third stance -- the one most often seen in those with attitudes left over from Golden and Silver
Age comics -- is that the heroes are seen as a necessity. They're a private, all-volunteer force
who are given a chance to prove their worth, and thereafter get to work closely with the official
police force, who are usually powerless to handle the situations that need the heroes' help.
Of course, there are many more possibilities, all of which can be explored in the context of a
good Champions game. The idea I have had, and present here, is a combination of all
three of the above "traditional" schools of thought.
The History of OPAB
It was after the second attempt in Congress at a Paranormal Registration Bill that the superheroes
active in Oregon decided that certain matters needed to be addressed. There was a general
agreement with the principle that persons with high-level paranormal abilities needed to be
controlled to some extent; mistakes made by beginning superheroes could be expensive, if not
fatal, both for the heroes themselves and for others. However, issues of personal privacy and
"Big Brotherism" were also concerns, even more so among these Oregonians than in the rest of
There was some discussion among the various heroes operating in Oregon, and with only a
couple of dissenting voices, the Oregon Paranormal Activities Act was drawn up and submitted
to the Legislature by a bipartisan group of members of both houses. There was some debate;
some detractors objected to the State operating a governing body for superheroes, while others
decried the fact that the heroes themselves would be running it. On the whole, though, this was
seen as an innovative solution for one of the pressing problems of our time, and the Act passed
by a comfortable margin.
Thus, the Oregon Paranormal Activities Board was created by the 1993 Legislature, and
officially came into being on July 1, 1993. In addition to Governor Barbara Roberts (since
replaced by John Kitzhaber), the board included (and still includes) the head of the Oregon State
Police, representatives from each House of the Legislature, and three superheroes appointed
jointly by the other four members. Since its inception, the "hero" members of the Board have
been Lady Lightning (leader of Lightstorm), Captain Glory (manager of the Glory Patrol), and
Search (a Eugene-based operative in partnership with his wife, Rescue).
To date, all superheroes regularly operating in Oregon, with only once exception (Silver Spire, a
vigilante based in Eugene who chases after vampires and werewolves), have registered with
OPAB. There have as yet been no complaints about the system (at least, none based on anything
other than fears or principles).
Any person wishing to operate as a "superhero" within Oregon must register with the Oregon
Paranormal Activities Board. This carries with it certain requirements; the registrant must:
Certain exceptions, extensions, and other special rulings may be made for any of these
requirements, at the discretion of the Board members. However, in most cases, decisions to do
so must be either unanimous or based on unavoidable circumstances (such as an alien with no
blood being exempted from having blood identification tests). An example of such an exception
is Bob Ramsey (mentioned above), whose registration fee was waived for all years after the first,
since his OPAB service is being required as a condition of his parole.
- register his or her full identity with OPAB. This includes a full examination of all
identifying factors: fingerprints, footprints, lip-prints, earprints, hair samples, retina scans,
electromagnetic ("aura") scans, blood typing, DNA records, and the recording of any other
scientific means of identification. The facilities for doing this are located at OPAB's central
office at Oregon State Police headquarters in Salem, and the records are kept on a standalone
computer (that is, one without a modem or network connection) in a highly secure basement
- undergo a complete security background check, including examinations of his/her
educational, military, and juvenile criminal records, as well as adult criminal record. It's worth
noting here that an imperfect record does not mean automatic rejection; this is a matter of
discretion for the Board. For that matter, even a felon may legally act as a superhero in Oregon,
if his powers are either intrinsic or a matter of training and if he/she can convince the Board to
allow it. However, since this is a discretionary matter, approval is very unlikely unless the
person has the endorsement of at least one other registered superhero or can make some other,
similar arrangement. (Bob Ramsey, for example, has recently garnered an arrangement where
service as a superhero is a condition of his parole.)
- undergo testing to determine the full extent of the hero's abilities and/or equipment and the
hero's ability to control and utilize them. The actual scope and nature of this testing depends on
the actual nature of the hero's powers; it can range from registration of equipment specifications
to an extensive biophysical examination.
- pay an annual fee of $1200. Since OPAB is a body of self-government for superheroes, it
must also be fully self-sustaining; this fee helps cover the salaries and overhead of workers and
facilities which are "borrowed" from the Oregon State Police.
- attend a one-day seminar on "superhero procedure," offered at the Oregon Police Academy
in Monmouth, which covers the basics of police procedure and disaster relief protocols, either
before registration or within six months afterward. Since this seminar is offered every two
months, most registrants have at least three opportunities to attend; however, if circumstances
prevent it, a special date may be sent for individualized training, usually by one of the heroes on
The 1995 Legislature, early in its term, added an "associate" registrant status for heroes who are
based outside the State of Oregon, but occasional function here. The annual fee for this is only
$300, and the other two requirements are optional. However, the benefits of registration (below)
are lessened somewhat.
Benefits and Responsibilities of OPAB Registration
There are several rights and privileges that are afforded heroes who register with OPAB. The
registered hero, whether fully registered or only an associate, is:
In addition, there are certain rights and privileges that are reserved for full registrants. Such a
- fully empowered to make arrests for crimes which he/she personally witnesses. (The
official authorities must still be called in to serve arrest and search warrants.)
- permitted to carry weapons -- even those of a power level and type normally reserved for
the military (subject to Federal regulations, of course).
- legally considered to be a "peace officer" for the purpose of carrying a firearm or other
weapon into a courthouse, government building, or other public place.
On the other hand, all registrants are subject to these requirements:
- allowed to access criminal, driving, and other low-security government records on
- given special protection of his or her civilian identity as a high-security State secret which
only high-ranking State and local police officials, members of the Legislature, the Governor,
appropriate Federal agents, and certain others may know. (This privilege, which is arguably the
most attractive, is of course not given to heroes whose identities are already publicly
- allowed to as a judge for a search warrant. (However, when the warrant is served, the hero
must still be accompanied by a regular peace officer.)
- paying the above-described annual fee ($1200 for full registration, $300 for associate
registration) each year.
- renewing all powers testing and evaluation every six months (or on an ongoing basis, if
such is called for), and all identification records every two years.
- filing complete reports on all incidents in which the registrant acts as a superhero. (Copies
of these reports are given to the Oregon State Police, the Sheriff's Office of each county in which
any part of the incident occurred, PRIMUS, and UNTIL, with the filing hero keeping a copy;
additional copies may be forwarded to other appropriate agencies, such as the FBI, the CIA, the
BATF, the Secret Service, and so forth.)
- testifying at the trials of all criminals captured by the hero, unless emergency situations
- responding to any crises and other emergencies to which they are called when it's
logistically feasable to do so. (Associate Registrants are rarely called for crises other than
large-scale natural disasters; in point of fact, to date any have yet to be called when not in the
- responding to any crimes committed with the use of superpowers when within a reasonable
distance. What constitutes a "reasonable distance" is determined by the capabilities of the hero's
- committing no crimes. (Any accusations are usually heard before OPAB itself before a
criminal trial is held; whether the Board's findings are admissible in court is still subject to some
- maintaining at least $100,000 worth of "superhero liability" insurance. This is a special
type of liability insurance that only takes effect for damage done during fights with supervillains,
or otherwise while acting in the "official" capacity of a superhero. It is offered by several
smaller, local insurance companies at a surprisingly reasonable rate, and at least one of the larger
companies has been contemplating it. While this arequirement is sometimes complained about
as an unnecessary expense, most registered superheroes in Oregon -- and indeed, nearly all full
registrants -- get $1,000,000 or more.
- furthering his or her education as a superhero, through either refreshers of the procedural
seminar or other coursework. At least four course-hours of work must be completed each year,
with the seminar counted as one. Pre-approved coursework is offered at the Oregon Police
Academy in Monmouth, and at all three of the state's law schools (Lewis & Clark in Portland,
Willamette University in Salem, and University of Oregon in Eugene); other coursework (at
these and other institutions, even including Sanctuary's Paranormal Education Program) may be
approved on a case-by-case basis.
Where there's a law, there must be penalties for violating that law, or the law cannot be enforced.
Clearly, the Oregon Paranormal Activities Act is no exception.
At the same time, there are certain things that even non-registered people with superpowers may
do, just as a matter of being good citizens. These things include:
However, superpowered people who are not registered with OPAB may not, any more than a
non-superpowered person (in dealing with non-superpowered crime), do the following:
- rescuing others from immediate danger.
- acting in self-defense.
- assisting in disaster relief.
- conduct a criminal investigation, representing himself or herself as a sanctioned
superhero or other type of law enforcement official. It's the latter part of this which is illegal
(Impersonating an Officer); any citizen may make inquiries into a criminal matter.
- actively attack or otherwise attempt to apprehend a criminal (Assault). (Note that a license
as a Private Investigator or Bounty Hunter may also serve as an exception to this.)
- carry a weapon of any sort into a courthouse, government building, or other public place
(this is a special privilege for "peace officers"). Note that a "weapon" is an external device, as
opposed to an intrinsic superpower.
- casually and publicly discharge a weapon or superpower capable of causing serious injury
to a person (Reckless Endangerment).
Since the Oregon Paranormal Activities Act is still a relatively new law, there are still some
issues that have yet to be resolved regarding its practice. Some are legal, some a philosophical
(whether based in political, religious, or both types of thought), and some have other bases of
concern. Among the more prominent debates are the following:
- As implied above, there is always the concern that a superpowered person may decide
to use his or her "hero" status as a cover for committing crimes. There are many "what-if"
scenarios that have been proposed, but since this has not yet happened there have been no tests or
precedents. Whether the findings from a hearing before the Oregon Paranormal Activities Board
is admissible in court is only one of the questions to be answered.
- Requiring heroes to register their real identities with the State government, even as a secret
protected by that same government, has been of concern to civil libertarians at both ends of the
political spectrum (mostly those near, but not quite at, the extremes). Those on the political Left
decry it as a "Big Brother" move to inhibit those who are only trying to be good citizens, while
those on the political Right worry that some criminal group might infiltrate the Oregon State
Police or otherwise "hack" into the computer where this information is stored, thus seriously
compromising the personal safety of every superhero working in Oregon -- including those
whose identities are publicly known.
- Some have complained about the practice of charging people money for the "right" to act as
a superhero. The registration fees are defended, however, as a means of paying for superheroes'
right to govern among themselves rather than have the State government dictate how they
What you've read thus far could be applied in virtually any campaign, under virtually any game
system (it could even be adapted to certain non-superhero campaigns). Here is how I apply it in
my Champions game.
First, the rights and privileges afforded a full OPAB registrant becomes a 3-point Perk,
Oregon Hero Sanction. This Perk covers all the police powers and weapon permits that
come with registration, along with government assistance with the Secret Identity thing.
On the other hand, all Registrants are Watched by OPAB on at least an 8 or less. OPAB is As
Powerful as any beginning superhero (and rarely becomes Less Powerful) and has noncombat
influence (NCI) in its connections with law enforcement agencies and Oregon (and other)
superheroes and hero teams, but works in a Limited Area (Oregon) and generally only carries a
Mild punishment for violations of its terms (the character's Oregon Hero Sanction is
revoked -- though if it's revoked because of a criminal act, the former hero will have bigger
problems than that). This is likewise worth 3 points (in other words, OPAB registration pays for
itself, at least in terms of points). Certain individuals, such as former criminals or hero team
leaders, may be Watched more frequently.
Associate registration is less exacting. Because of the reduced privileges, and the generally
lower frequency of activities in Oregon, Associate Registrants only have to take a 1-point Perk
(Associate Oregon Hero Sanction) and are only Watched by OPAB as an option subject
to the GM's approval.
In any event, the training takes the form of Knowledge Skills. The basic training seminar is KS:
Superhero Procedure; it starts out at 2 points for a basic 11- Roll, but starting with the first
refresher it can go up to 3 points for an INT-based Roll, and may remain at an INT Roll as long
as the character keeps up the refreshers at least once every 18 months (any longer and it goes
down to a basic 12- Roll for the same cost). Of course, characters with the Scholar Skill
Enhancer spend 1 less Point; other training is also represented by Knowledge Skills (or
Background Skills of other types) as determined by the GM.
Using Oregon Hero Sanction In Your Game
(Warning: While most of this article is intended for GMs and players alike, this section
directs itself primarily toward GMs. While it's not a certainty that reading this section will spoil
anything for players, it may be better to skip it and move on to the next section.)
So what use is this? In some ways, it can be used to skirt some of the issues often covered in
contemporary Champions games. It provides an explanation for government cooperation
with civilian superheroes that is at least somewhat "logical" (inasmuch as anything in a superhero
world is logical).
It can also be used as an adventure hook. Should the PCs chase after that unregistered upstart
who means well, and really does help most of the time, but refuses to register and take the
required training? What would happen if a criminal organization (such as VIPER) were to hack
its way into the registration computer? Could one (or even both) of the legislative members of
the Board be "on the take" from one or more criminal groups?
And, of course, if the PCs are unregistered vigilantes in Oregon, it's just one more nail in the
coffins of their reputations (whether they use excessive force or not).
Finally, I should state what may seem obvious to many, but isn't necessarily thus: you may adapt
this version of Oregon Hero Sanction to your own locale and setting. Perhaps Oregon had the
first such law, and your state has adapted it for its own use. Or, in the case of a futuristic game,
the Oregon plan has now permeated much of the governmental systems of the day (much as
Oregon's system of initiative, referendum, and recall actually has affected election processes in
the real world). Even a fantasy game setting could have some sort of bureaucratic registration for
As always, the possibilities are bounded only by imagination.
Clearing Up Misconceptions
There are a number of misconceptions that people have about Oregon Hero Sanction, perhaps
stemming from the "bad taste" left behind by the two attempts at passing the Paranormal
Registration Act in Congress (see Classic Organizations and Champions Presents
#2 for details on this). Many have complained that it seems like "coercion based on personal
features," assuming that what's being registered is superpowers, not certain activities.
First, OPAB is not the State governing superheroes. It's superheroes governing themselves, with
State oversight at their request. The idea was to avoid something heavy-handed (like the
PRA) by creating a system that both sides of the issue could work with.
Second, it's not the superpowers that make a difference. In fact, the law is built with the
assumption that a given registrant has no superpowers, so those with superpowers become the
special cases, not the rule. The difference is that those who register are *functioning* as
superheroes. An individual could have the powers of the Infinite Man (from Alien
Enemies), but if he doesn't intend to act as a superhero, he doesn't have to register, end of
story. On the other hand, Interference (from Allies) would need to register to operate
legally, because of his choice of activity.
Third, the identification process is primarily intended to enable the hero to do things like testify
in court, access secure documents, and similar duties without having to publicly reveal his true
identity. (Without it, any testimony by a superhero could be called into question because a
superhero with a Secret Identity is essentially a "non-entity" with no background or other
information that can be confirmed. The security check keeps out the kooks and incognito
supervillains; the identity check prevents supervillains from impersonating superheroes (or, at
least, makes it tougher).
Essentially, this is somewhat similar to the Oregon Builders' Board in the real world. Building
contractors and those who work for them (carpenters, electricians, masons, plumbers, etc.) have
to be licensed through the Board; their license fees pay for the administration. In return, the
Board makes sure that anyone working as a builder has the proper training. This setup was
actually requested by the builders themselves early in Oregon's history, and set up to be
self-supporting (in fact, this part of OPAB's design was based on the OBB).
It's also similar to licensing to become an attorney, bounty hunter, physician, private investigator,
or other type of professional. Certain boundaries must be set, or disasters can easily happen.
(The similarilty holds up particularly well with bounty hunters and private investigators, since
these two occupations share functions with superheroes.)
Think of it as a form of licensing for quality control. It's just that, instead of building our homes
and offices, these people are throwing around 100,000V bolts of electricity, shooting 50mm tank
shells, running at Mach 5, and doing other things in situations where they frequently have to be
trusted with millions of dollars, highly sensitive government information, and even human life
on a frequently grand scale. Since superpowered people are too scarce to actually conscribe into
government service, and in fact must frequently make their superheroing a part-time activity so
they can lead something at least vaguely resembling a normal life, they have taken what to them
seems the next best route: working in partnership with the government to create a system that,
while certainly not perfect, represents what *can* be done.
Oh, there's opposition to this measure, all right, even in my game world. At least one vigilante
(Eugene's Silver Spire, mentioned above) is violently against it, even though he'd be operating
within the law (albeit barely) if he registered. A few others have probably declined becoming
superheroes because of the identification process and security check. And there are factions
within the Oregon chapters of the NRA, the ACLU, and other organizations who quite vocally
oppose the measure (mostly because they don't understand the above truths). On the other hand,
there are still things that a superpowered person may do to help others without registering with
OPAB (under self-defense and "Good Samaritan" legal provisions, as described in the article),
and the whole thing was basically the heroes' idea (specifically Captain Glory, though he had a
pretty broad-based support from most others).
A Final Note
I consider this system to be a "work in progress." It's obviously far from perfect. If you have
any suggestions for additional requirements and responsibilities, potential controversies or
complications to point out, or any other comments, please feel free to email me with your
This article is © 1997-2000 by Bob Greenwade. E-mail me if
you have any comments or questions.