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Villain A Day (Assembled): The Creeper

The Creeper

Here's what we know about the Creeper. The official bio says:

Carl Wessler did janitorial and groundskeeping work at the Botanical Gardens, where scientists from the University were working on a variety of new fertilizers and fast-growth formulas. Carl was not supposed to sample the fruits (and vegetables) of the botanists’ labors, but they looked so good, and what was the harm? It wasn’t long before they discovered what he had been doing. The university was prepared to fire him, and Carl got angry. When he got mad, the plants listened. They grew, spilling out of their beds and creeping along the floor at Carl’s command! He left the review board bound up in vines and left menial work—and Carl Wessler—behind forever. He was no longer just ordinary Carl, he was ... the Creeper!

Text quoted with the permission of Steve Kenson and Ad Infinitum Games, and is not intended to challenge the copyright.

My first tendency for the Creeper is to make him a kind of ecoterrorist, saving the green world from the destruction caused by us meat-folk. But that’s a bit of a single note, so I’m going to propose a character arc for Carl Wessler.

Aside: On Plant Control

In my experience, Plant Control doesn’t get a fair shake in the superhero RPG world. Characters such as Swamp Thing or the Plant Master, who can be quite terrifying in their own comic books, turn out to be less than impressive. (Having played a hamadryad in an M&M2E game, I know whereof I speak.)

And, in game terms, the Plant Control power is Telekinesis through a medium (plants). In Carl’s case, the Burst and Binding extras are applied, too. So what can you do if you have, say, someone with Strength 8? They break the telekinesis, teleport to Carl, and knock him out. End of story….or is it?

Let’s look at some of the powers that the Creeper can stunt, simply based on his control of plants. In alphabetical order:

  • A ranged Affliction, causing the target’s intestinal flora to go berserk and giving them weakness or strange allergies.
  • Aquatic, because he can produce plants that produce oxygen for him.
  • Aura, being a second "skin" of spiny plants.
  • Danger Sense, a set of tendrils that detect anyone or thing coming near him.
  • Dazzle, but probably to hearing (pods bursting) or scent if you have a tracker in your group.
  • Detection—the plants "tell" him where whatever he wants is.
  • Duplication, where he creates simulacra (like Plantman’s “simuloids”) to act in his stead, though this power is better treated as a plot device.
  • Dream Control, because many hallucinogens are plant based (such as ergot, which produces a precursor to LSD).
  • Emotion Control and possibly Mind Control, through modified pollens.
  • Extrasensory Perception or some Super-Senses, where the plants keep him apprised of what’s going on.
  • Extra Body Parts as plant tentacles or carapace.
  • Healing.
  • Leaping, wherever there a plants to carry him.
  • Life Support, depending on the condition.
  • Nullification, by modifying pollens again. Carl is now smart, and with some research, he might be able to figure out how to nullify someone’s powers. A purely technical hero might discover that he or she has ivy in the joints.
  • Reflection, depending on the type of attack.
  • Servant, because it might be interesting to see a number of plant golems or walking trees around.
  • Super-Speed: plants "push" him along; Swinging has the same sort of method of operation.
  • Wall Crawling, where vines just happen to grow where he needs to be.

That’s pretty impressive for a guy who's "just a plant controller."

His Story

I think his story breaks into three parts: revenge, ecoactivist, and champion of the green. The biography implies that he was not particularly well-respected at the Botanical Gardens. They probably looked down on him, thought he was stupid. (He might even have been, when he started.)

Maybe there are issues from his past; maybe it's a Charlie Gordon situation (from Flowers for Algernon). He had friends down at the local bar. He lived in a small bachelor's apartment with potted plants to care for. He probably went bowling on Friday nights as part of a church league.

But as he got smarter, he learned people were laughing at him, not with him. Friends fell away, and the people whom he knew were smart couldn’t be convinced of his intelligence. To them, he was just slacker Carl. By the time he actually turns on the university, pretty much everyone has fallen away, except for his plants.

You can have the prologue to his story play out in the background of the heroes' visits to the university. It starts innocently enough: the PCs stop for directions, or have to go there in the aftermath of a fight, and there’s Carl, cleaning up. Carl says hello, though he gets reprimanded for pausing his work. If the PCs ask the professors about him, the professors are dismissive: "That’s Carl," they say. "Always looking for a way to do less work. Ot-nay too ight-bray." The PCs return over a series of days, and Carl starts asking for advice and help, because the professors there think they’re so high-and-mighty. The questions start getting weightier, and start referencing Camus, and Heidegger, and Liebnitz, Gould and Eldridge, and Barbara McClintock. The professors think he’s just parroting things he heard in a class somewhere.

Then the university fires him, and he gets mad enough to activate his powers. (Maybe, early on, they only work when he’s angry.) The first thing the heroes hear about it is when houses of university professors are found crushed by foliage: the creepers and climbing roses and local kudzu and ivy have grown so much, so tightly, that they’ve crushed the buildings. (I hope the heroes rescued anyone inside the building!)

After them, maybe the church bowling league on some Friday night. Or the church itself, or that teacher from tenth grade who failed him in a class that was essential for going to college. He wants revenge. People who looked down on him or abandoned him are likely targets for his wrath. Sooner or later, though, they’re punished somehow or he’s put into jail (or both).

But Carl has a lot of powers he can stunt (as shown), and the new warden keeps basing judgements on Carl’s old IQ. Carl can escape any time he wants, but so long as they give him plants, he’s fine. (Unless, of course, he hears about clear-cutting in the Amazon, or some prisoner treads on the grass he’s been caring for.)

Later, he might stay in jail on purpose, because he knows he can never really be with the green until he dies. He is made of meat, and his ultimate use is fertilizer. And he’s okay with that. (Until someone makes him angry, and he has a wrong to right. His idea of a wrong and the PCs is probably quite different.)

His Goals

It’s tempting to make the Creeper a version of Poison Ivy, the eco-activist, and to some extent that can’t be avoided. He is an eco-activist (so are Swamp Thing and Jason Woodrue) because things that hurt the plants are wrong. But the Creeper also has something of the long view: Plants have survived the last few animal species decimations on the planet. If we destroy ourselves, plants will almost certainly survive. "The green world endures" is one of his Qualities, and it isn't just there in case one of your players sprays him with an herbicide.

But I think that his goals differ depending on when in his career your PCs encounter him. (Maybe the heroes are the only ones he’ll listen to, because they were kind to him when he asked.)

Early on, he wants revenge. Then he wants money so that he can build his own greenhouse, or land, so he can grow his own plants, or to pay off the companies destroying the forests.

Later, he’ll see that he can never steal enough money. He needs to act directly on the problem, by destroying lumber camps, or the corporate offices of companies he disagrees with. The Creeper is very fond of going to sawmills and lumber camps and "letting the plants fight back," as he puts it.) He's also human enough to indulge in petty revenge. Scientists are his main target, but he has also targeted large animal-food manufacturers, zoos, and clear-cutting operations. (Hardware stores and lumber yards drive him mad.)

Finally, he’ll be calm, because he knows that the plants will endure, almost no matter what people do to the planet. It will take something really catastrophic to make him act, or something very personal. In the end, I think he's a bit sad: plants endure, but he will not. He recognizes that he is an animal, and he can't be a plant.

Story Ideas

  • The first encounter with the Creeper, while he’s destroying the bowling alley (or the lawn bowling field, or whatever you’ve decided that Carl did in his free time). This seems such a nonsensical crime (who destroys a bowling alley?) but it can show off of the Creeper’s powers. There are innocents running around, heavy balls to throw, a deep fryer in the kitchen, and probably some pinball machines that the alley’s owner has been keeping since 1976, in case they ever get big again. The bowling alley has a decorative garden bordering it, and some trees around the building (with roots under the building; they clog the plumbing). The Creeper has the plants he needs. Even if he’s captured, he’ll almost certainly be underestimated by the police: he knows how to act like "dumb Carl."
  • The police or one of your PCs decides to be proactive and gets a flame-thrower, to deal with the plants. First, it enrages the Creeper at their next approach. Second, trees take a while to burn, especially if they’re green and living, so now the Creeper can attack with hot, dangerous, burning plants. Perhaps not the best idea, and it drives the Creeper to destroy whatever or whomever got the flamethrower.
  • ConfederApe approaches the Creeper while he’s out in a jungle of the Creeper’s making, The Creeper is somewhat amused by ConfederApe’s idea, except that gorillas are vegetarian. They. Eat. Plants. Late-career Creeper might be fine with that (he understands the circle of life), but early-career Creeper finds that offensive. ("Your breath with plant-meats tainted is," he misquotes Shakespeare.) Soon, there’s a running battle between ConfederApe and the Creeper, and ConfederApe needs help, so he’s leading the battle to the zoo, where they have apes. Too bad most modern zoos have lots and lots of green space… Innocents are endangered, things are being thrown, buildings and cars are exploding as fuel tanks are being ruptured, and it’s up to the heroes to find out the cause of the disaster.
  • There are reports of a number of logging camps being destroyed, and they all belong to one company, AgriStuff, which is large and diversified. And then its offices are being destroyed and the executives are coming down with strange Afflictions (because the Creeper has upset the balance of flora in their bodies). AgriStuff has two offices in town: a research facility, and a sales office. Can the heroes figure out what’s going on and stop the Creeper before he hurts the people at AgriStuff? And does the research facility have anything that will help?
  • The Creeper creates "pod people" (he calls them hamadryads) to do the things that he cannot, being a thing of meat himself. They have an incredible range of abilities, including teleportation (they regrow in the new location), mental resistance. Everything that the Creeper can do, and more so. They thank him, and then imprison him. They are mindful that they might need people, as dodoes might have been part of a tree's reproductive cycle, so they'll keep breeding stock...a few thousand. This is a clear threat to humanity. The Creeper knows their weakness, but can the heroes convince him to share it, while also fighting off the army of pod people?
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