The Power Game – Building a Ranking System

There was an interesting convergence of ideas this week. In Drew Hayes’s Corpies – Chapter 16, Titan discusses the power-ranking system in the Super Powered world. In Portal – Chapter 70, Justice, unbeknownst to him, is undergoing a test to determine his current category (aka power level). Both worlds use destructive capability as the base system, Drew using descriptive labels, Portal using familiar numerical labels.

I wrote a glossary as I was developing the Enhanced world to help me maintain continuity. I believe the government would adapt a known scale rather than attempt to develop a new system like the horrendous color codes of the Homeland Security Advisory System. A color code system is not completely new, but used for mass causality scenarios, hospital codes, Air Force base attacks, and Col. Jeff Cooper’s combat mindset. You get the idea. Those are all specific to combat and medical care.

I was originally going to adapt the destruction scale used for tornadoes (F1, F2, F3, etc.) but the current system is abbreviated EF, short for Enhanced Fujita scale. I did not want a scale with the word Enhanced to describe the Enhanced (that’s confusing just to write). I went to the NOAA website and found the name of the system used to describe hurricanes, the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. I modified the name and the Enhanced Damage Capability Category Scale (EDCCS) was born. Originally, ‘Type’ used to describe the power rankings. Once I switched to the hurricane scale, I used ‘Category’ from the original scale and moved ‘Type’ to describe the power set. And when faced with an unknown power type, like Michael’s, I used the generic ‘Prototype.’

Once I knew I had five categories, I had to divide up the superpower population. This can be done in many ways but to me, the most logical was exponential rather than linear or random. Atomic Power was always supposed to be on top, the baddest of them all, and the only Category 5. Judge, Jury, Orbital Strike, and Firewall are a sampling of the powerful Category 4. The recruits in the class are Categories 3 and 2, except for Michael. Most Enhanced are classified as Category 1 like Michael Larson and Amira Sadiq.

These ideas are far from the only choices. In Super Powered and Corpies, the ranks are descriptive, using terms that need no explanations – Armageddon, Manhattan, Demolition, and so forth.  In Marion G. Harmon’s Wearing the Cape, heroes are classified based on the first of their kind (Atlas, Ajax, etc.) and then ranked based on letters (A, B, C, etc.). This system provides the greatest flexibility for the writer but can also be the most difficult to describe. The WtC and the Super Powered systems appear more self-regulated rather than government mandated. That would indicate the government and the superheroes have a good relationship that benefits both, far different than the world under the Enhanced Public Safety Act.

If you are a writer, think about how your world evolved to include superpowers. Think about how the people sitting in Washington, D.C., Moscow, Paris, London, Tokyo, or wherever your story is based, react to superhumans with amazing and incredibly destructive abilities. The ranking system is a very important element of your world and should be consistent with the laws, behaviors, and beliefs in your story.