From The CBG Wiki
Cleptocracy takes place in a world where crime and corruption are commonplace and the best defenders of the law are those forced to stand outside it, masked vigilantes that provide the only source of incorruptible defense against crime. Cleptocracy is an Earthverse in Eclipse's Oververse. The designation given to it by Olem is Earth 784
The world has decayed, caught in the grip of mafia dons, corporate CEOs, and vast syndicates. Politicians are in the pockets of the highest bidder. The rich expand their power and, as they cut wages, the poor grow more numerous. Areas of cities known as megaslums have sprung up, sprawling sections of urban decay where the poorest of the poor eke out an existence as best they can. Justice is a joke.
The system is corrupt, the wheels of justice rusted. However, in spite of their rust, they still do turn. Public support is needed to get a man into office, and it is impossible to keep the news completely under control. However, it is still much harder than it should be to get a conviction, and sentences are often lighter than they should be.
In spite of this, there are still good people. Not every cop can be bought, not every District Attorney is for sale, and muckraking reporters dig up evidence of corruption and crime often enough to make those in power uncomfortable. Life is hard for them, and with time many do succumb to pressure – or are killed.
Fighting in their defense are men and women who take the law into their own hands. Vigilantes, these people work outside the law in order to further the law – or to defeat criminals. Some hold to morals and codes of honor, while others wage bloody wars on crime that leaves a body count on par with the criminals they hunt.
Either way, vigilantes provide a source of protection that cannot be corrupted, threatened, or blackmailed, so long as they maintain their secret identities behind masks and misdirection. You cannot buy an idea, nor can you threaten the family of a ghost. Some of these vigilantes are metahumans or parahumans, but others are simply men and women, well equipped or well trained (or often both), who do what they can to fight against the reign of the cleptocracy.
Tone and Scope
Cleptocracy is a gritty, low powered superhero setting where men and women seek justice within (or without) a corrupt system. The world is not totally decayed, however, and the courts still work – to an extent. As such, the vigilantes serve as an element of hope, though the hope offered is a grim one – the saviors of this day and age are men wearing a black cowls or women who slaughters mafia members.
Adventures in cleptocracy focus on classic crime fighting. There are two primary types of heroes in the world of cleptocracy. One type are the costumed vigilantes that fight against crimes, looking to put criminals behind bars. Others seek vengeance, turning their fight on crime into a massacre, leaving dead criminals in their wake. Some go for a middle ground, only killing when putting them behind bars legally is not an option or has already failed. Regardless, the line between hero and villain often blurs, when even the best of them use fear and intimidation as a tool to help them in their search for justice.
With the low power of cleptocracy, most adventures happen at the street level, with the fights being against thieves, gangsters and mob leaders, often hindered by corrupt politicians. They may be dealing with a shipment of bad heroin that’s killing people, trying to trace it back to the source. Or perhaps a gang war is sparked under mysterious circumstances, and the heroes must find out who did it while trying to curb the violence. While violence can be used to subdue street level threats, often it is not the best solution. Bringing down a criminal kingpin could be better solved by bringing down his organization rather than simply beating him up. In more violent games, of course, killing the kingpin will hurt his organization, but there is generally a second in command to take over – and there is one in line after him, on and on down through the layers.
In spite of its low power level, cleptocracy also fits well into larger scale games. The characters could struggle against the machinations of a corporation, terrorist organizations, or even pursue a vendetta against the corrupt government. Whenever there is a national scale threat, however, brute force will rarely serve cleptocracy heroes well. Instead, they should be forced to rely their intellects to solve such large threats.
Similar to national scale games, cleptocracy fits well into International scale games when the threat is not one huge amounts of force is required. Most of the stories on the national level work well on the international level, but more exotic threats can include guilds of assassins, an unusually powerful metahuman taking over a small Eastern European nation, or a corporation experimenting new drugs on the people of a third world nation.
The technology of cleptocracy is in many ways more advanced then our own. Holographic projectors, sophisticated computers, highly developed genetics, sensory technology that bypasses modern technology by extreme degrees, battle armor, cybernetic grafts – all are present in the world of cleptocracy. However, the general population does not live much ahead of the real world. Most of the advanced technology is available to only the very wealthy and well connected. Even the military can only give this technology to elite soldiers and special forces. Cloaking devices and force fields exist, but can cost tens of millions of dollars.
Technologically Advanced Heroes
With its rarity and cost, it is surprising how many heroes have advanced technology. Some are either wealthy men and women or financed by friends who happen to be rich. However, psychologically scarred industrialists and bored trust fund babies can only account for a few vigilantes, not the extraordinary number with advanced technology. The cause of this is a mysterious patron known only as John Doe. Whoever or whatever John Doe is, he has access to extraordinary resources and vast stores of technology. What is known is that he finances a number of vigilantes, and that he insists that anyone who uses his resources follows a strict non-lethal policy. In addition, John Doe occasionally contacts vigilantes he finances with jobs for them, usually geared towards stopping a certain criminal plan. Vigilantes he finances are expected to undertake these assignments.
Despite the similarity of their goals, vigilantes display a large variety of methods to fight crime and injustice. Technology provides some vigilantes with their power (see above), but not all of them use technology. These methods are not exclusive – a metahuman hero may use advanced technology to augment or round out their powers, or a well trained human may develop their abilities to the point of becoming parahumans.
Some humans take the fight to crime after thoroughly training themselves. This could be as “simple” as green beret training, or as complicated as training in several martial arts or even going to an esoteric monastery in the mountains Regardless of where or how they train, their tend to be similarities among trained vigilantes. Most tend to use equipment – even as simple as a sword or Kevlar vest – to even the odds against well-armed thugs. They tend to work either alone or in groups where a single leader trains his protégées. Generally, when the latter happens, the resultant group is called a “family” and the students take on names that relate to the teacher. A good example of this is the Wolfpack., a vigilante family operating out of Chicago.
Metahumans in cleptocracy have two things in common. First, all of them posses physical powers – strength, regeneration, speed, winged flight, additional limbs, shapeshifting – all purely physical phenomena. Some more esoteric abilities, such as the ability generate electricity or generate sonic blasts, still are the result of mutation, but rarely highly developed. Second of all, they are all the result of natural mutation. Accidents can enhance physical mutations with chemical mutagens, but the potential had to already be there. Metahumans are not more inclined to a life of crime or vigilantism than mundane humans, despite popular belief, but they do excel at it with less training people lacking their enhanced abilities possess.
Metahumans, although powerful, do not posses extreme abilities. No one can toss around tanks, though some tear the cars off of doors. There are not people who can run faster than sound, though there are those who can run down cars. They are exceptional individuals, but a key point is that, no matter what, metahumans are not gods.
The cousins of metahumans, parahumans are men and women with extraordinary power derived from supernatural power. They may be inheritors of an ancient lineage, possess an enchanted weapon, possessed by a demon they control, or even simply taken physical training beyond the humanly possible. Being supernatural, they are not limited by biology like metahumans are. However, magic is only powerful in cleptocracy when it is done in a ritual manner – on the individual scale, supernatural powers rarely outstrip metahumans or technology in power. The difference plays into what they can do, things that are impossible to modern scientific understanding – fly without any apparent apparatus, manipulate things like shadows or matter, read minds, and similar effects.
As I mentioned, this is the bare bones of a setting right now. I have some elements, such as John Doe or the Wolfpack, I’ll happily delve into, but I’m still focusing on the big picture right now. I need to know what people are interested in, and then I will focus on what people would like to know more about.
An area where I am stuck is in deciding on cities for cleptocracy – should I focus on fabricated cities like DC, or work with real world ones like Marvel. There are advantages and disadvantages to both – created cities allow me to customize without worrying about actual knowledge of the city I’m writing about (since I’m not particularly well traveled), while using existing cities makes the setting feel more real and allows the players to connect to it better.