Oregon Hero Sanction

by Bob Greenwade

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Oregon Hero Sanction

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 the nation.

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:
  1. 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 location.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 Board.
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.

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 hero is: On the other hand, all registrants are subject to these requirements:


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:


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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 conduct themselves.

Game Mechanics

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 its adventurers.

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 thoughts.

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This article is © 1997-2000 by Bob Greenwade. E-mail me if you have any comments or questions.