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Philosophy of Complications: Secret Identity

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I've actually had reason to build some Champions characters lately, and it's made me think about two staple complications, Secret Identity and Code vs Killing.  I'll be doing separate threads to help keep the discussion focused.

 

Secret Identity is one that I've been less sure about for a while.  Even before the MCU decided that secret IDs were a relic of the past, there have obviously been characters who don't really have troubles with their identities.  And I will admit, this one is depends far more on the particular character.  And perhaps some on how you want to phrase the complication.  Because in many ways, the complications you take let the GM know what kind of stories you want your character to have.  For instance, a recent character of mine has a social complication of being a grad student; it's a job with some defined hours and responsibilities, and consequences for not meeting them.  It has some similarities to the standard Secret ID, but it's not as big a problem and has a more defined scope.

 

Though one that's been bugging me more is another game I joined, where the GM remarked on the danger of me taking a Hunted, but no Secret ID.  Which is a fascinating concept now that I've noticed it, that a Secret ID complication should give you an in game benefit.  It is something of a nitpick, but still strikes at fundamentals of character building and HERO, that you have to pay points for positive effects.

 

But I suppose that I just wonder how much people expect that a character should either have a Secret ID or Public ID.  Thoughts?

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As a GM I play it as not being a benefit to have a Secret ID or a Public ID with a Hunted. Given that you have a Secret ID and a Hunted, you have greatly limited the times when the Hunted can come into play (IE when you are in costume) or set yourself up for your secret to be exposed but the hunter. Either way it is more detrimental than just having no complication except the Hunted where they could show up off screen sometimes or not be able to blackmail you with your identity.

 

I personally played a few characters with Secret ID but almost never with Public ID. I personally tend to prefer supporting roles and thus play toward that unless I am consciously trying to break that mold for some reason.

 

- E

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5 hours ago, novi said:

Because in many ways, the complications you take let the GM know what kind of stories you want your character to have.  For instance, a recent character of mine has a social complication of being a grad student; it's a job with some defined hours and responsibilities, and consequences for not meeting them.  It has some similarities to the standard Secret ID, but it's not as big a problem and has a more defined scope.

 

I absolutely agree with the first sentence.

 

The GM that griefed you about not having a Secret Identity missed the point. By not taking the Disad/Complication, you are saying that it is not an issue for the character.

 

I don't like the "being a grad student" complication. It's like taking a complication for having a job. Any job. I wouldn't allow it.

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5 hours ago, assault said:

 

 

I don't like the "being a grad student" complication. It's like taking a complication for having a job. Any job. I wouldn't allow it.

I’d say it depends on the job. Having a 10 to 12 hour driving job would cut into your sleep, superhero activities, and and social life with your DNPC. a the new Spiderman game illustrates this quite nicely, with Peter Parker behind on his rent, Mary Jane Watson moving on and friendzoning Peter, because of the demands of working for Dr. Otto Octavia’s, and his daily patrols. It all boils down to how the GM applies the disarms in game?

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My understanding, like assault’s, is that a complication complicates your life.  Not taking a complication means that it does not complicate your life.

 

so, having a hunted complication but no secret ID complication does not mean you do not have a secret ID but it does mean that, regardless of your identity management there are no related complications.  The appearance of the hunting character does not draw in your private life in any way, it never occurs to your hunters to threaten family, friends or colleagues.

 

Doc

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Absolutely.  Batman has a hunted ANDa code versus killing.  As such things like the joker crippling Barbara Gordon is both these things riffing and creating greater complications. ?

 

The Joker doing terrible things and escaping to do them again and again  is pushing at that code versus killing.

 

The Joker threatening people that Bruce Wayne knows and cares for triggers the Secret ID.  Why would Batman care about those people?

 

 

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While it is technically a social complication, in many ways Secret ID is a psychological complication, because no one *has* to keep a secret ID; you just deal with a different set of problems depending on whether people know who you are or not.  The secret ID is a classic trope, but in this day and age when being a reality TV star is seen as a legitimate career goal, it can seem a bit dated. Really the only reason to maintain one is because you don't want the problems of your superhero career intruding in on your personal life (and vice versa).  And that might be a perfectly valid concern, but it is a personal decision, and in many ways trying to keep them separate is a bigger headache for you than not, which is why it is a complication.

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7 hours ago, Ockham's Spoon said:

While it is technically a social complication, in many ways Secret ID is a psychological complication, because no one *has* to keep a secret ID; you just deal with a different set of problems depending on whether people know who you are or not.  The secret ID is a classic trope, but in this day and age when being a reality TV star is seen as a legitimate career goal, it can seem a bit dated. Really the only reason to maintain one is because you don't want the problems of your superhero career intruding in on your personal life (and vice versa).  And that might be a perfectly valid concern, but it is a personal decision, and in many ways trying to keep them separate is a bigger headache for you than not, which is why it is a complication.

 

I disagree.  I believe it is a social complication.  Its is not the reason for the complication that the points are awarded but the complication itself.  Even if there is a psychological reason for the secret (or public) id, the complication itself is social (unwarranted publicity, harassment, etc).  Its just like having distinctive feature for dressing funny.  Its not a psychological limitation that you chose a funny mode of dress, rather that you dress funny that causes the problem.

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On 10/4/2018 at 5:52 AM, assault said:

 

I don't like the "being a grad student" complication. It's like taking a complication for having a job. Any job. I wouldn't allow it.

Why not? Jobs complicate life. Right now I’m doing 20 hrs Forced Overtime and will be working 12days straight. 

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1 minute ago, Ninja-Bear said:

Why not? Jobs complicate life. Right now I’m doing 20 hrs Forced Overtime and will be working 12days straight. 

 

That's why most superheroes are rich.  Not only so they can afford their special weapons and vehicles but they also have plenty of free time.

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On 10/4/2018 at 5:52 AM, assault said:

 

I don't like the "being a grad student" complication. It's like taking a complication for having a job. Any job. I wouldn't allow it.

Why not? Jobs complicate life. Right now I’m doing 20 hrs Forced Overtime and will be working 12days straight. 

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3 hours ago, dsatow said:

 

I disagree.  I believe it is a social complication.  Its is not the reason for the complication that the points are awarded but the complication itself.  Even if there is a psychological reason for the secret (or public) id, the complication itself is social (unwarranted publicity, harassment, etc).  Its just like having distinctive feature for dressing funny.  Its not a psychological limitation that you chose a funny mode of dress, rather that you dress funny that causes the problem.

You are right; a Secret ID is a problem on a social level and therefore a Social Complication.  I just meant to point out that there needs to be an underlying reason for taking on that complication beyond "because all the other heroes have one" or "Hey, its practically free points".  Having that psychological reason to take the Secret ID helps define the character and makes them more developed.

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On 10/5/2018 at 7:02 PM, Ockham's Spoon said:

You are right; a Secret ID is a problem on a social level and therefore a Social Complication.  I just meant to point out that there needs to be an underlying reason for taking on that complication beyond "because all the other heroes have one" or "Hey, its practically free points".  Having that psychological reason to take the Secret ID helps define the character and makes them more developed.

More often than not in superhero media, it is the idea of "my family/friends must be protected". There might be other reasons also (like, "keeping my day job, cause superheroing pays ziltch and the rent still needs to be payed").

 

In similar Japanese manga, a public identity is more of a norm, and it is less "everyone knows who I am" and more "I'm not wearing a flashy costume, so I can slip into and out of the shadows easy".

 

And I agree, if you don't pay for Secret ID doesn't mean your identity is public. It just means that nobody cares who you are, roughly. You don't have many direct family members who would be endangered, your job is not so strung up on if you wear a costume under your work clothes, and need to take two hour bathroom breaks in order to stop Foxbat yet again, ect...

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I think in 6th edition, the complications matter more.  In earlier editions, you had to pile on disads to get the character to the level you wanted it to be or be out some 50-75 points.  Most GMs knew this and kind of hand waved a lot of disads such as hunteds, heroic psych lims, and distinctive looks.

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On 10/8/2018 at 1:53 PM, steriaca said:

And I agree, if you don't pay for Secret ID doesn't mean your identity is public. It just means that nobody cares who you are, roughly. You don't have many direct family members who would be endangered, your job is not so strung up on if you wear a costume under your work clothes, and need to take two hour bathroom breaks in order to stop Foxbat yet again, ect...

 

I concur.  In my current campaign, four of the seven PCs have Secret IDs.  Of the remaining three, one decided early on that his identity is generally known (though he didn't take a Social Complication for Public Identity), while the other two never publicly revealed their identities.  Do those final three have things that go on in their non-super lives?  Sure, but they're not generally big deals unless they touch on another Complication.  For instance, if Maker's mom (her DNPC) is involved, it might occur while Maker is not in her super ID, since 5 points of her DNPC Complication is from "DNPC is unaware of character's adventuring career."    Her Hunted (Wight) knows Maker's actual name since they both got their powers in the same accident, but he doesn't use it to make her non-super life miserable, mainly because she doesn't have Social Complication:  Secret Identity. 

 

The one whose identity is generally known - Honey Badger - does have parents and two sisters, though they never become hostages mainly because he didn't take them as DNPCs.  (I ask my players to provide NPCs to flesh out their PCs' lives, with the understanding that they won't become unpaid DNPCs.)  He does have three Hunted (two at Mildly Punish level).  So when PETA harasses Honey Badger with a lawsuit, yeah, his stepmom the lawyer gets involved but not in any way that endangers her.  And if WIllard (his Harshly Punish Hunted) decides to attack HB, it won't be at his home or involve his family at all.

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6 hours ago, BoloOfEarth said:

  (I ask my players to provide NPCs to flesh out their PCs' lives, with the understanding that they won't become unpaid DNPCs.)

 

I didn't fully realize until you mentioned it that this is why I play characters who don't have living/available family members: everyone in my life turns out to be an unpaid DNPC if I show the slightest interest in whether they live or die.

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On ‎10‎/‎5‎/‎2018 at 9:27 AM, Ockham's Spoon said:

While it is technically a social complication, in many ways Secret ID is a psychological complication, because no one *has* to keep a secret ID; you just deal with a different set of problems depending on whether people know who you are or not.  The secret ID is a classic trope, but in this day and age when being a reality TV star is seen as a legitimate career goal, it can seem a bit dated. Really the only reason to maintain one is because you don't want the problems of your superhero career intruding in on your personal life (and vice versa).  And that might be a perfectly valid concern, but it is a personal decision, and in many ways trying to keep them separate is a bigger headache for you than not, which is why it is a complication.

as I understand it marvel considered the secet ID obsolete due to the preponderance of security cameras/devices

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4 hours ago, archer said:

 

I didn't fully realize until you mentioned it that this is why I play characters who don't have living/available family members: everyone in my life turns out to be an unpaid DNPC if I show the slightest interest in whether they live or die.

 

As a GM, it's something of which I have to remain conscious, and I'm not always 100% successful (though I try).  For instance, Circe's personal NPCs included her mother, and Circe's backstory**  involved her grandmother and mother making a deal with a male mentalist to sire two kids - a girl and a boy.  Circe's mom would keep the girl (Circe, naturally), and the father would get the boy.  And after the girl was born, the mother and grandmother reneged on the deal and refused to give birth to a boy, but there wasn't a lot the guy could do since Mom and Granny were both mentalists too. About 8 years later, grandma died.  Oh, and Circe has Hunted (mildly punish) by her father.

 

So one day Daddy showed up in Circe's bedroom in the middle of the night to have a chat, where he told her about the broken deal, as well as confessing that he killed Grandma for her part in breaking the deal.  He also warned Circe that he was planning to kill her mom.  Circe convinced her mom to go on a vacation to a private island while she sorted things out.

 

Before the next game session, I realized that I was going completely against what I had said I wouldn't do -- putting her non-DNPC family member in jeopardy -- so the next session I fessed up that I made a mistake and apologized.  Daddy got back in touch with Circe to say that he wasn't going after Mom after all, that he really only blames dead Grandma.   So I defused it, but it was close.

 

But it's fun to involve the NPCs in side aspects of the plot.  They're not immune from any potential harm (because everybody on Earth has stuff happen to them along the way), they're just not threatened in ways that directly involve the PC.  For instance, Sentinel's mom and daughter were bystanders at a bank robbery (which Sentinel found out about after the fact).  Their eyewitness info helped her solve the crime.  If they had been DNPCs, Sentinel might have been on the scene and had to deal with protecting them.  But they weren't, so she didn't.

 

Non-DNPC people associated with the PC can still get sick, get hurt in car accidents, get mugged, etc.  It's just not going to be a fatal thing, it happens off-camera, and the PC has nothing to do with the event.  It's just part of life.  And it might lead to plot-related info, which benefits the PC.

 

 

** Amusing aside, I first mistyped that as "gackstory" which seems strangely appropriate.

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14 minutes ago, bubba smith said:

as I understand it marvel considered the secet ID obsolete due to the preponderance of security cameras/devices

 

I'm reminded of two separate Secret ID instances.  One is the animated show where Flash and Lex Luthor find their minds in each other's body, and Lex says, "Now I can find out Flash's real identity!"  He takes off his mask, looks in the mirror, and says, "I have no idea who the heck this is."

 

The other is an Spider-Man comic where a tabloid reporter gets a picture of Peter in the middle of changing into his Spidey costume.  Eventually Spidey tracks him down and gets the film back, destroying it.  And the reporter says, "ah, but I still remember what he looks like!"  And then realizes that finding that face in a city of several million people is next to impossible.

 

And think about it another way.  Real-life police and FBI can't always figure out the identities of terrorists, bank robbers, and other criminals even when they have security camera pics.  Just the other day my local TV news was talking about people stealing UPS / FedEx packages from peoples' front porches.  They even had footage where some homeowners had their own hidden cameras set up covering the porch.  In one case the guy looked straight into the camera.  And they were still saying, "If you recognize the person in this picture, please call..." 

 

People think things that happen on CSI, NCIS, et. al. are real, and they aren't.  It's not like you can run a security camera still against some non-existent database of all driver's license pictures in the US using also-nonexistent infallible facial recognition software to get a match within 30 minutes.  The reality is, you could run that still against, say, the Michigan secretary of state's license pictures.  But Ohio would have a different database, as would Indiana, Illinois, etc.  And then there's the time it takes to run the comparisons.  That's a smurf-load of data.  And that's assuming the facial recognition software actually matches the license pic and the still pic.  Have you seen some people's driver's license photos?  I've seen some that look almost nothing like the person.

 

In a game, IMO it just takes realistic expectations as well as some understanding and cooperation between GM and players to get past this. 

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One of the reasons I think Secret ID is useful is for avoiding the issues that arise where superhumans are viewed as "Persons Of Mass Destruction" or gods among men by normal people.

 

If you can shoot laser beams from your eyes that are powerful enough to blow up a tank and are also resistant to weaponry up to a low-yield nuke, I suspect your neighbors might not want you around, fearing that Dr. Destroyer might come calling for an unfriendly chat someday and level the neighborhood.

 

I can only imagine the lonely hell someone with superpowers would endure if they didn't have a Secret ID to retreat to and let them be among regular people every now and then without being looked at with fear or awe.

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I was just thinking of secret/public ids.  Here's a few more tidbits I'd thought I'd interject.

 

I remember the Lex Luther/Flash scene and also Lex Luther and Superman, where Lex uses a massive computer program to determine Superman's real identity and surmises the computer is wrong as Superman would never stoop to being the common reporter, Clark Kent.

 

People like Doctor Doom have a Secret ID even though everyone know who Doctor Doom is.  Without his mask on, no one knows what Doom looks like now except for a very few people.

 

There are a lot of people who look like each other but are unrelated.  In Doctor Who, the Doctor says that it just coincidence and that after living 10+ lifetimes he believes that there are just so many major templates out there in genetics for the way people look.  In reality, facial recognition is probably about 90-99% accurate which may sound like a lot, but given a 1000 people that means somewhere from 10-100 people will be wrongly classified.  In a small town of 10,000 people that 100-1000 suspects.  In a city with a 500,000 people, thats 5000-50000 people.

 

A lot of TV shows and movies show people enhancing video images to get fairly clear pictures of the target.  Unfortunately, that usually doesn't work.  Most security cameras record to either tape (and the tape gets reused over and over resulting in grainy images) or are digital.  Digital images are usually from cameras that while they can possibly record at high images, for the sake of space, record at a lower image (1024x768 to 640x480).  Some security cameras also will only take one picture every second or two, and while the resolution is higher, they are not like your dSLR and the image is still fairly low.  Advancements have been made to programmablely extrapolate images based on existing data but the less data there is, the worse the extrapolation.  This kind of image extrapolation is cutting edge, university grant level work being done.

 

While any single vector of classification is not perfect for identifying people (except if your a minority in certain parts of the country - take a knee), most courts attempt use multiple vectors to validate your presence at a crime scene.  If each is 95% and there are 5 different things to identify you were there, then out of 4 million people, there is only 1 person it could be. (4000000 * 0.05 * 0.05 * 0.05 * 0.05 * 0.05 = 1.25)

 

 

 

 

 

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