What we know:
For centuries, the Sisterhood has chosen women to be champions of civilization, Brides of Battle, invested with a mystic power that makes them invincible warriors. On occasion, the vessel they have chosen has been wanting, but never before had she been truly mad. Not until Alethea, the Warbride. A survivor of war, raised and strengthened by the Sisterhood, she became the greatest of them, but turned away from their traditions. Invested with their power, she stole it for her own ends. The weak did not need defending: like a disease, they needed to be cut away, and she would be civilization’s razor-sharp scalpel.
Text quoted with the permission of Steve Kenson and Ad Infinitum Games, and is not intended to challenge the copyright.
Let’s start with the Sisterhood. We don’t know much about them (are they like the Illuminati? Are they a mystical organization of Immortals? Are they a science fiction organization from the future who use incredible advanced technologies to grant these powers?) so I’m going to claim the Sisterhood is a mystic organization of women who are long-lived but not themselves immortal. They have an item or ritual that makes a woman into Bride of Battle, but she must be exceptional in many ways to survive the transformation. For centuries, those high standards were enough to guarantee that the Bride of Battle follows the rules of the Sisterhood.</p>Not in the case of Alethea. Perhaps she is the first one to have actually survived war; perhaps not. But Alethea turned the powers of a Bride of Battle into a way to exorcise the weak, to cull everyone she deems unworthy.</p>
The bio implies that there can be more than one Bride of Battle at a time, but doesn’t say it outright. So why haven’t the Sisterhood created a new Bride and sent her after their apostate sister?
I think it’s because they can’t.
Alethea is not stupid. Yes, she’s the best Bride of Battle that has ever been, but four of them would bring her down. As an alternative, the Sisterhood might make contact with a powerful psionic entity (a god, perhaps) who could bring her down. To me, that says they can’t, and the reason is probably Alethea. Whatever the item that is used to create new Brides of Battle, she has disabled it, or stolen the irreplaceable element and hidden it in the egg of a goose under a clockwork duck in an animated town clock in Brussels or something like that. The Sisterhood cannot get her back, and in the meantime, Alethea as the Warbride goes her merry way.
Her merry, lethal way.
Her Goals and Strategies
She is eliminating the people that she thinks of as weak. What does “weak” mean to her? Partly it must be physical weakness: people who are buffeted by the winds of change. If I can take your lunch money, her thinking apparently goes, you are weak.
Except she was weak in exactly that way. Now, you can make the case that she’s trying to eliminate anyone who would be in the same situation she hated herself for, but is there something else she might be looking for? She might actually be a sexist in that she thinks that only men can fight; women can only fight if given supernatural aid. (If she actually came from, say, the Children’s Crusade, that kind of thinking might be excusable, but if she was a child rescued from Kosovo, it’s a bit of a stretch.)
Maybe she has in mind some utopian civilization where everyone has her part, and if you can’t define your role in this pacifistic paradise, you are weak: you are unformed in the civilization. She is cutting away all the parts of civilization that don’t meet her vision. (This is an excellent version of Warbride to use if you’re teaching the philosophies from Thomas More on; the rest of us might want something a bit more concrete. I actually see her as a metaphor for businessmen who take apart failing companies, sell the profitable components, and move on.)
She appears in an area (the campaign city, perhaps). She spots what she thinks of as weakness—an inefficiency in how justice is meted out, perhaps—and sets about removing the problem. Then she moves on for a bit.)
So you have to decide what she thinks of as weakness. The easiest thing to do, I think, is to take some model (such as the Spartans) and translate it into modern terms. In this case, it wasn’t she who was weak; it was the people who were supposed to protect her. It was the army; it was the police; it was the government. If you’re of a mind to tell morality fables, Warbride is all about the responsibilities of government, and the people who subvert them.
You’ll notice that her attacks are close ones: slashing strikes, not arrows or guns or laser pistols. She’s also about personal responsibility. Assume, for example, that she targets a particular general. She has Stealth equivalent to an expert infiltrator—someone with great coordination who specializes in stealth—so she makes herself known to him while he’s about to get into bed. She’s not an assassin; she doesn’t just kill. She culls. (She is, in her own way, Cull the Destroyer.) So, dispassionately, she tries to kill. Maybe he has a gun; her coordination is incredible, but he practices. Maybe he kills her.
Her body disappears. Five hours later, it reappears: she’s immortal. I would suggest someplace definitively female. Perhaps it is born from a rock statue of woman; perhaps it just appears in a women’s washroom; perhaps she always appears by the bedside of a woman who has just died by violence, or she “takes over” the body and reshapes it to her form. (Perhaps that five hours is the time it takes for her to gestate from a man, so she does potentially kill a man each time she survives a death.
Relations with Other Villains
How does she feel about the other enemies given in ICONS: The Assembled Edition? None of them are what she defines as “weak.” Still, she has definite opinions about them.
- Of them all, she likes ConfederApe the best. He is, after all, attempting to create a civilization from the rawest of materials. She respects him for that, even if she thinks he is misguided. They share a love of bourbon, and at least once teamed up because they were both too hungover to do the job alone.
- Count Malocchio
- Alethea regards Count Malocchio as a self-centered narcissistic creep. He is occasionally useful, but she spent too long fighting against the nobility and the kinds of things he sometimes represents to fully trust him. If he offers her an opportunity, she looks at it from all sides, and still sometimes misses the catch. Some day she might decide that he just isn’t worth it, but that day is not yet.
- The Creeper
- She finds the Creeper eerie and off-putting. While she thinks she should find him humorous or inspiring, she just thinks he is, well, creepy. She avoids him whenever possible.
- She likes Grudge. He has a limited range, but he is so clearly what he is that she finds him endearing and relatively easy to control. The once she met Parnell Tarrant, she didn’t like him, but she likes the rawer version that Grudge represents.
- He can’t be trusted. While there are circumstances where she would work with any of the others, she cannot say the same for Gila-Master. If she shook hands, she would count her fingers after shaking his.
- Speed Demon
- Speed Demon is charming and fun. He’s not likeable in the same way that she likes ConfederApe, but he can certainly show a Bride of Battle a good time. He’s a reasonable colleague on the job: he does what he say he will do.
- The Troll
- So far as she is concerned, the Troll is often the cause of war. She has and will work with him, but she’s worked against him as well. Even though he’s perhaps the strongest of the villains she knows, she still regards him as uncouth.
- To Warbride, Ultra-Mind shares some of the same poor vibes as the Creeper, but seems slightly more palatable. She works with him willingly, but she would never socialize with him, as she does sometimes with ConfederApe or Speed Demon. (She would socialize with Grudge, but who knows what will set him off? Better not to try.)
Warbride: The Miniseries
Being a bit of history that you are free to ignore…
War and Peace
We begin with an assault on a serial killer: we see the tense preparations as the FBI agents move in; they got a tip this afternoon, and they’ve mobilized as swiftly as they can. They burst in…
…only to find the serial killer himself dying on the floor, his two female prisoners near tears because they felt that no one would rescue them once he died. It takes time, but eventually the FBI discovers that a woman killed him. Do they have something worse on their hands? A vigilante of sorts? There are supers who do that sort of thing…
Alethea is in civilian garb and using the current pseudonym “Jillian Bryde.” We see her at a hospital, offering self defence classes to battered women in the emergency room. She sees the wheel in them serial killer. They’re going to save his life.
She has to stop them. She swaps the labels on a couple of tanks, and then gets past the police guard (he is a suspected serial killer) to empty the anaesthetic gas in the operating theatre. They’ll get the swapped tank once they see this one is empty, and the serial killer will die on the table.
That’s when someone stops her. An orderly. The serial killer is under his protection, he says. He’s the patron of all serial killers. (“Saint” would be the wrong word.) The orderly shoots her and kills her.
Five hours later, Alethea reappears by the bedside of a dead woman somewhere in the low section of town. (We discover that being killed is extraordinarily painful to her.) She kills the husband. She needs to find this so-called patron of serial killers. She doesn’t know who the patron of serial killers is, but she knows who will: Miss Tikal. (The relationship between the council of Sacred Skulls and the Sisterhood is…complex, to say the least. But she doesn’t think she’ll be ejected immediately.)
Elena de Costa isn’t there, but noted occultist Ramon Bolivar is. He is charmed by Alethea/Jill, points out that apparently Ms. De Costa has stood them both up, He invites her to dinner. She demurs, but says she will eat with him, so long as she buys her own meal.
The patron of serial killers turns out to be an incarnation of a very old spirit who was known to a number of older civilizations. It encouraged a number of individuals, such as Peter Stumpp, Felipe Espinoza, H. H. Holmes, the Son of Sam…and Jack the Ripper. Ramon argues that the spirit is, in its own way, culling the weak. She argues that it is not culling but creating the weak and feeding off the byproducts of that weakness.
Ramon says he will check on a way to remove favour from an avatar of the god, and they part. Alethea goes to check on the serial killer (he’s apparently still fine), but her arrival triggers an attack by the armed guards; apparently one of the victims saw her, so she’s now a person of interest. The issue ends with her escaping the hospital by crashing through a window.
Love and Death
Her apartment is being watched, presumably by the police. With nowhere left to go, she shows up at Ramon’s place and interrupts his workout session. It turns out that Ramon is a fan of the Filipino martial arts, including Mano Mano and balisong. Alethea apologizes for interrupting, and watches. Ramon is very good, and her curiosity is piqued. Ramon offers to show her some moves, and she can’t resist showing him up. She agrees.
The fight is clearly a courtship ritual: each time she reveals that she is better than the current fight, Ramon ups his game, until astoundingly they are both fighting as hard as they can. (In game terms, he is Prowess 6, Master of both Martial Arts and edged weapons.) The scene ends with them kissing. A panel of blackout…
…And light returns with her tied to the bed. Ramon is the current avatar of the patron of serial killers, but she…she would be the ideal victim. When he kills her, he gets the thrill of finding her and killing her...again. He promises centuries of this rapture.
She refuses. He offers to torture her without killing her, to see when she agrees. “I’m sure your limbs will grow back, given time. And in the meanwhile, you’ll be hidden from the police.”
A head in a jar speaks to her. She thinks that perhaps she has gone mad from the torture, but no: it’s actually the spirit itself, speaking through the embalmed head of Felipe Espinoza, which Ramon keeps where no one can see. It offers to make her its avatar, rather than Ramon. She refuses.
Time passes, and clearly she has been tortured again. Lying in the dark, the head offers again, and again she refuses. They have a brief talk: the spirit insists that if she accepts him and does what she is doing already. She could be the reincarnation of Coatlicue.
She refuses. She removes, yes, but her aim is to improve civilization. That’s all the Sisterhood has ever done; she is just more…ruthless…about it than they are.
The disembodied head claims that she will lose nothing she has now, and will gain one extra ability: people will trust her, just as people trusted Katie Bender, and Magdalena Solis, and she trusted Ramon.
Except, she says, that she is working for civilization. The spirit is not. And during the next torture session, she struggles to stay conscious…and moves into the knife, killing herself.
She reappears on the street, arms herself, and returns to his house. Ramon has left; the five hours needed for her to reappear was sufficient for him to leave. Miss Tikall suddenly appears, having discovered that Ramon is the one she has been hunting these last four months. It looks like there will be a fight…and then Warbride refuses. “There are some things in civilization that are not weak. I have no quarrel with those.”
Miss Tikal lets her leave.
(I know that to be a proper miniseries, there also has to be a subplot involving either an abused wife or her life as a victim of war, told in flashbacks, but I’m writing all of this quite quickly and for other reasons, I don’t want to go there today. Perhaps I will go back and change it later to include them.)
- Alethea appears in the campaign city to test the PCs, who are supposedly defenders of the weak and protectors. Are they? Are they sufficient in her eyes, or do they need to be removed? If the group is small, perhaps she will take them on herself; if the group is larger, she hires Grudge and perhaps Speed Demon (or some other villain of your choice who will challenge your PCs).
- A new Bride of Battle shows up, and the PCs attack her (of course), but it turns out that she has been sent to retrieve the Warbride. She knows that the Warbride is in this area, and asks for the assistance of the PCs in tracking her down. The Warbride in the meantime is working with Grudge on some plan of the Ultra-Mind’s, which means that it will be the Warbride, Grudge, and the Ultra-Mind on one side, and the PCs and a Bride of Battle (use Warbride’s stats, but lower Prowess and each power by one rank).
- Warbride decides that she likes the look of one of the PCs. (Comics precedence a la Wonder Woman says it should be a man, but if you have a female PC, that would I think be more appropriate.) Having an unhealthy dose of Red Sonja disorder, the next step is to test the PC for weakness and worthiness…because Warbride will never date someone whom she can best easily in battle. This works best as a sideline during some other adventure, where Warbride keeps showing up and distracting the PC.