They've already been granted strange powers by something so let's posit that whatever it is has two flavours, guided by the individual. In both cases, killing them after a certain time makes them more of whatever. The time thing is why people don't go "Cool! I have super powers! I can make them better by just getting offed!" (And most people are nervous in case it doesn't work.)
So why don't heroes do the same? After all, there's not much downside to it ... Or is there?
Presumably you give stuff up; butterflies don't care about the same things as caterpillars do. Maybe they don't want to give stuff up. Maybe you can only be hurt by another super, and the villains are trying hard not to make another Great Competitor.
Or maybe, in a supers-rich environment, this only applies to some fraction of supers; the others are fighting crime as a kind of Batesian mimicry.
So some people are born as kind of proto-Organians, who would transcend if they died (hmmm. This sounds like souls) and the other proto-Organians don't want them competing, which doesn't sound very Organian, but you get my point.
The working title for the series would, of course, be "Butterflies and Moths."
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What we know:
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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.
- 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.
And I really really want to include the severed head of Felipe Espinoza in a jar in Warbride: The miniseries, but I'm not totally sure how I will.
(Yes, Felipe Espinoza was an 1860s serial killer—well, more like a mass murderer: he and his brother declared war on the United States and killed a number of soldiers as a result. His head was apparently pickled and displayed as an attraction. I haven't found a record of this past the 1890s...but on the other hand, I haven't found a record of someone pouring out the formaldehyde and burying the head, either. I know the concept of an oracular head in a jar has been used, but really...isn't that what a pickled human head in a jar is for?
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Because I have a biology degree, I find Ultra-Mind's origin wrong but tweakable. However, the science in most comic books is laughable, so that's clearly a personal response (kind of like Steve Jackson including umpteen varieties of biology degree in GURPS but not many in other sciences).
Here’s what we know:
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Evolutionary biologist Victor Slan developed methods to rapidly "force" evolution, bypassing millions of years of natural selection. When his project was cancelled, Dr. Slan broke into his lab and used his genetic accelerator on himself, transforming into a hyper-evolved "Ultra-Mind." The forced evolution atrophied his body and Ultra-Mind developed a life support tank to house his disembodied brain. Ultra-Mind seeks to increase his own power, either through artificial enhancements or by further evolving into what he believes will be his ultimate state: a godlike being of pure mental energy, unshackled from physical existence altogether.
Text quoted with the permission of Steve Kenson and Ad Infinitum Games, and is not intended to challenge the copyright.
- Ultra-Mind is mixed in a gang war! No, he doesn’t care who wins or loses; he just needed Aurora’s help with something and in his usual way plucked her from a moment with one of her "boyfriends," a Russian Mafiya boss. It seems like a good thing that the Mafiya is targeting supervillains right up until the point where Ultra-Mind uses his telepathy to find all their secrets. He warns them that he will publish them on the Internet if they don’t stop bothering him, but they don't listen…so every criminal organization is capitalizing on the secrets, and it’s gang war, with the Ultra-Mind publishing a new set of secrets every day, because they will. Not. Stop. Bothering. Him. The heroes hear about this…in fact, they’re protecting people from the violence. What will they do?
- Ultra-Mind thinks that maybe everyone is hopeless, and the answer is an extinction-level event. All he has to do is kill all the mammals and start again. (If he restricts himself to humans, ConfederApe will help.) Fortunately, there's an asteroid the size of a football field passing close to the earth…all he has to do is attract it to the planet. He might build a gadget for it, but it would be easier just to take control of an earth-controlling hero. (If you want to do this as a slow reveal, have an earth-controlling hero slowly get more powerful and out of control. The reason is that the Ultra-Mind is improving and taking over his powers.) The heroes might attack the asteroid itself, or the earth-controlling hero, or Ultra-Mind.
- The problem with being highly evolved is that you are the only one of your kind. Ultra-Mind has decided that if he is to have company, he’ll have to make it. Fortunately, he doesn’t want to make anyone smarter than he is, just the same, and his original equipment holds the genome for that virus. He just as to get the original equipment back. Unfortunately, it's in a military base, and military bases holding equipment that has created supervillains tend to be well guarded. He'll need a team to penetrate and steal the hard drive from the genomic synthesizer. (He can build a new synthesizer itself; he just needs the plans for the one that created him.)
- He has come up with the new scheme in evolution. Rather than supercomputers, he's using a computer virus that has spread to millions of computers, each of which does a fraction of the computing he needs. PCs might discover the plot through that, or through the thefts he performs to build a new genomic synthesizer (the government watches that equipment).
- Superhumans are showing up connected with the government, and the Ultra-Mind recognizes the work that created them: it's his. But instead of creating new evolved organisms, they're creating the same boring old ones: beings who are super-strong, or tough, or fire blasts. This is intellectual theft, and Ultra-Mind declares are on the government. The bases that produced the "heroes" are the first for attack, but he gradually works closer to the decision makers. Can the heroes stop him before he disables our government?
- Aurora has decided to make use of the resource that is the Ultra-Mind, and she sets up a religion. It's very popular on university campuses, and promises all manner of things, but most of them boil down to evolving the adherents. (This also involves curing certain disabilities, which is one way to get players involved.) To punish people, the religion promises an evolutionary downgrade (usually an Affliction or Energy Drain). Ultra-Mind needs some specialized items from a lab. He could steal them directly, but why not use the monkeys? He manipulates adherents to do it. The PCs discover the theft, and try to stop it, but the Ultra-Mind has given them weapons tuned to the PCs. The PCs should be able to follow the trail and eventually get religious members to talk, and then go after the Ultra-Mind.
- ConfederApe wants intelligent apes. Ultra-Mind wants some high-tech components. They can make a deal. Ultra-Mind suggests that the best time to get the components is while they're being transferred. The manufacturers of the components and the military (not being dummies) have asked the PCs to guard them in transit. So this is a two-piece adventure: ConfederApe and simian associates rob the components; one or more monkeys gets away with the pieces while ConfederApe and the bigger apes fight the heroes, and then there's a fight with Ultra-Mind and a bunch of evolved intelligent apes, the results of his bargain.
Notice that the Troll’s creator is now unnamed. It might be the same person as it used to be, or it might not. Here’s what we know:
Twelve feet of claws, horned, and leathery green muscle, Troll was once Carter Cassidy, a hard-bitten mercenary, until one of his employers, a villainous mastermind with plans for conquest, used Cassidy as a subject for his newest “super-soldier” formula. It tapped into the merc’s “killer instinct” but manifested his darkest inner nature on the outside. Cassidy became the monster he truly was. In a rage, he destroyed the lab and escaped. Since then, he has become one of the most in-demand (and expensive) mercenaries in the world.
Text quoted with the permission of Steve Kenson and Ad Infinitum Games, and is not intended to challenge the copyright.
I’d argue that there isn’t really a way to justify neutralizing the Troll’s Growth without neutralizing everything else; in the terms of another game system, it is innate. To get rid of one, you have to get rid of the rest. But that might be an interesting way to go with the Troll as a background plot that keeps resurfacing: Someone (a PC or a friend of the PCs) has come up with the “4F Serum,” the one that acts as an antidote to the super serum used on the Troll. (Fortunately, it can be inhaled, bypassing the problems with
The obvious answer to the question “Where does a 12-foot tall one-ton behemoth go for a beer?” is wherever he wants, but the Troll isn’t the only supervillain who looks unusual, or who would spend every waking hour being followed by the authorities. Ultra-Mind set up a bar (originally a bar; now more of a bar-hotel-mail drop) called Coventry. No fighting is allowed (except in the Fight Club, a big bare room set aside for disputes). Violators of the rule don’t get to go to Coventry; neither do villains trying to use Coventry as a getaway route (into Coventry, out some other city). Repeat nuisances get teleported to somewhere in space that’s just as far away as Coventry.
There are teleporters set up in two dozen cities. Each teleporter scans the individual for biometrics, and teleports approved members to Coventry. Anyone who can go is a member of the Coventry Club. (This has been mis-heard as “country club” more than once.) New members have to be sponsored by existing members. (Yes, this means that Ultra-Mind has full biometric data and fighting recordings on a number of violent supervillains. I’m sure that he will do something with the information.)
Satellite surveillance means that Leaping isn’t particularly useful for getting away. Burrowing works, but it’s slow. Coventry is where he goes when he wants to get away. He doesn’t know where it really is, and he doesn’t care.
Troll: The Miniseries
A set of shadowy figures came up with the solution to the Troll problem: the Sub Serum, the one that counteracts the Super Serum that the Troll got dosed with. (Fortunately, it affects the subject by being inhaled or injected.) They put it in the equivalent to a smoke grenade and gave it to the PCs with instructions. The PCs threw it in an enclosed space, and then got beaten up by the Troll until it took effect.) When it was all over, Carter Cassidy was normal…or as normal as he could be.
Once the berserk rage had passed and he had escaped (he’s not stupid), Carter Cassidy tried to return to a reasonable lifestyle: he returned to being a mercenary in countries without extradition. The results were unsatisfying. He enjoyed some of the physical benefits (he was able to stop checking every building to see if it would hold his weight, for instance) but in a very short period of time, he had his answer:
He missed being the Troll.
So Carter Cassidy set out to be the Troll again.
Three Billy Goats Gruff
His first stop was the lab where he was changed the first time. The ruins were still there; treasure hunters went in on a regular basis to find the secrets that must be there, but none ever came out. Carter called an old acquaintance, Steven Porter, who made a living of that sort of retrieval. With the help of Porter’s cousin, Dana (an excellent hacker, and not known to the supers community), they found someone who had escaped the Troll’s rampage, and ventured into the ruins of the lab. They found a number of interesting weapons and devices, but someone had cleaned out the super soldier serum and notes. The rest of the place was untouched, so they had come specifically for that.
They went back to their source, only to find he was dead…and they were facing a superstrong opponent, later called the first Billy Goat Gruff, who specializes in wetwork. Cassidy and Porter used devices from the lab to get away. Cassidy intended to use Coventry as his transport method, but discovered he could no longer enter Coventry: his body was too different.
Porter helped Cassidy get back into the country, to the place where he was de-powered. There they encountered the second Billy Goat Gruff, and used the last device from the lab to escape. Through Dana they pumped the PCs for information on the shadowy figures that had supplied the Sub Serum. The PCs had the antidote to the Sub Serum (all of them had been exposed while taking down the Troll), but would not provide it.
Dana stole it and passed it to Cassidy. He breathed it in, but to no effect. There was, he thought, too little, or it had been too long since exposure, or something. It’s a shame, because he had just been found by the third Billy Goat Gruff, who had come with his siblings.
King of the Troll People
The Billy Goats Gruff dropped key information while trying to eliminate Cassidy. Because of a call from Porter, the PCs showed up to rescue the normal who was being attacked by three supervillains. Carter Cassidy was able to tell them that the shadowy figures were in fact agents of Ultra-Mind, though it turned out that the Billy Goats Gruff were not.
Still as a human, Cassidy managed to escape from the PCs (or did they let him?) and then went to find another villain who could get him into Coventry, and from there to Ultra-Mind: ConfederApe. By threatening ConfederApe’s troop of apes with exposure, he was able to get the gorilla’s cooperation. In return, ConfederApe took Dana as hostage to ensure Cassidy’s cooperation even if he succeeded.
Cassidy never got to Coventry; the teleporter sent the three of them to one of Ultra-Mind’s lairs. The brain in a jar thanked him for providing information about the Billy Goats Gruff, which the Ultra-Mind said were agents of the same supervillain who had transformed Cassidy in the first place. Now he could get test subjects. Out of thanks, Ultra-Mind would make Cassidy’s death quick and painless, and shot him, using a gun built into the chassis of his holding tank.
The bullet bounced off Cassidy. The Sub Serum antidote had done something.
As a half-Troll, Cassidy evaded the Ultra-Mind, staying out of sight to save his mind, and searched desperately for the rest of the Sub Serum antidote. By using ConfederApe’s brawn and Dana’s brains, they held off the Ultra-Mind until Cassidy found the rest of the Sub Serum antidote. They lost, but the Troll put the Ultra-Mind in the teleporter before collapsing. Who knows where the teleporter was set for?
After regaining consciousness, Dana rigged the transport system to ban the Ultra-Mind from Coventry and the teleporters.
- The Troll is acting up and the PCs go to stop him….but he’s bailed out and charges are dropped. It turns out he’s acting on government orders. (“Hey, I’m a mercenary. I can be bought.”) Those orders are against the PCs’ interests, though—possibly some subgroup rather than the entire government.
- A man’s gotta eat, says the Troll, and he takes advantage of his charge-free status to fight in the MMF (mixed metahuman fighting). Except the Troll’s opponent dies in the ring, and the Troll is blamed. He asks the PCs to look into it. He can escape this rinkydink jail at any time, but he might as well do this legally while he can. What the PCs discover is a murder mystery or a conspiracy to get the Troll back in the government’s bad graces, so the Troll will work for someone else.
- A small country hired the Troll as muscle, and the Troll decides to make himself king. He’s never been king, but the example of Coventry has inspired him to create a supervillain country. What do the PCs do?
Now we hit another that I’ve done before, and let’s try not to duplicate ourselves. I have an aid, though, and that’s the official biography. According to the official biography:
Eduardo Dacascos had wealth, but craved excitement. He became a race car driver and nearly lost his life in a fiery crash. A blood transfusion saved his life ... or perhaps it was Eduardo’s delusional “deal with the Devil.” The blood transformed him, able to move so fast the air ignited around him. He burned down the clinic and all records of his survival, allowing the world to believe he was dead when, in fact, he was reborn as the Speed Demon. He embarked on an ever more daring life of crime: a courier, smuggler, and thief almost impossible to catch, with a roguish truly devil-may-care attitude.
Before he embarked on his new life, Eduardo was probably the black sheep of his family. Instead of going into the family business or a life of carefully curated show, he became a race car driver. I can’t think that his parents approved, though they might have put up with it. Knowing he was a disappointment to them, and suspecting that his family cared a great deal about reputation, hiding his original identity might be his way of honouring them. Yes, he has the exciting life that he always wanted, but he’s hiding his identify for them. His attempts to hide his identity are for them. He does not want to bring shame on them.
In fact, he might be even not be from the country that the campaign is set in. As a concession to the honour of his family, perhaps he changed continents. Perhaps someone from Spain would immediately recognize the Dacascos name, but in the USA (or wherever your campaign is set)….not so much.
I don’t think we’ve talked about the playful nature he can show—a more benign side of his devilish quality. Speed Demon is the one who disables the police by painting the face shields of all the riot gear; he’s the one who delays the army by dropping the trousers of every soldier to the floor (and putting skirts on the female ones); he’s the one who replaces all the guns with water pistols when the confrontation is near a toy store. That kind of stunt is better done to NPCs, but it shows why the regular forces are unable to deal with him, and why the PCs are called in. Anyone who uses dangerous weapons or force (dangerous in a comic book context, anyway) gets treated less politely.
Because he craves excitement, he has been known to slow down and make it look like someone else can keep pace…before he opens the metaphorical throttle and leaves them in the real dust.
Before he got the transfusion, he was in a fiery car crash. He does not look the same as he did before. The scars are small, but he thinks they mark him. They are the mark of the devil, and they affect his choice of jobs. He will not take a job that requires him to go on holy ground. He can (and he knows he can), but he feels that it is part of the deal with the devil that he has made.
His Goals and Strategy
He doesn’t have many real goals: he’s a villain for hire, and he’s very good at what he does. He has a waterproof and fireproof bag for anything he needs to transport. (The bag became waterproof after some hero tried to douse him in water. It didn’t work for him, but it soaked the papers he was carrying.) There are very few problems he can’t outrun, and when you can deliver three Great strikes a panel, you can do a fair bit of damage.
He is paranoid about keeping his past secret. So far as the world knows, Eduardo Dacascos is dead. So something that tied him to the Dacascos family would move him to action. A threat to some member of the family would be dealt with. Even if he’s several hours from his home, he would make the trip. (You’d make a three hour trip for family.)
He’s also prone to his passions. If he decides that he must woo someone in your campaign, he can be an irresistible force.
- Eduardo’s sister has come to the campaign city. She is not looking for Eduardo (she thinks he is dead), but she is there on some charitable mission. This is also the time when her fiancé decides to jilt her. This cannot be allowed to stand; Speed Demon must humiliate him (or her), repeatedly, and the PCs must stop it. Things get worse when one of the PCs becomes involved with Maria Dacascos; whether it works out or not, the PC is either a cause of more heartbreak for Maria or not good enough for her.
- Eduardo has decided that one of the PCs is his beloved. First his attentions start innocently enough: a (stolen) rose where there shouldn’t be one, a suspected thief already trussed up, and so on. But then Eduardo gets more personal, helping at the scene of the crime (and sometimes messing up, because Eduardo is devilish). Can the PCs set him on the right track? Or is he doing this because he wants access to something else in the PC’s life?
- One of his rules is never to look at the item he has been asked to transport. He puts it in the bag, and leaves. But his mission today called for some discretion: The most valuable (transportable) item from the heroes’ museum. (It doesn’t have to be the PCs; a museum such as the one in Sins of the Past works just as well.) Except that while weighing the merits of various things, he’s been possessed by an alien jewel. The heroes never knew that it contained a whole civilization because the spirits in it move too fast: even superhuman bodies can’t react fast enough. Except Speed Demon is fast enough, and the new inhabitant of his body wants to experience many pleasures of the flesh, and doesn’t care whom he kills. Can the heroes stop this new atypical Speed Demon? And can Speed Demon manage to keep his identity secret and still fulfill his original contract?
Grudge is quite difficult to be interesting about; he's a great utility infielder, but on his own, he's, well, pretty straight-forward.
According to the Official Bio:
Parnell Tarrant wasn’t loved, or even liked, but he was respected—a capable scientist and researcher, but a man who knew how to hold a grudge, and repay every slight. He spent most of his time working in his field of radiation and its effects on cellular mutation, and cataloging the list of people whom he’d show up one day. Then the accident: fired up with anger, careless with rage, and exposed to his own radiation bombardment, his cellular makeup transformed. Dr. Tarrant didn’t just hold a grudge, he was Grudge, and he would show them ... show them all!
Somewhere in the ruins of Parnell Tarrant’s apartment house is a set of small black notebooks. And looking in them, the PCs can find the list of everyone who has ever offended Parnell Tarrant. Parnell was in his mind scrupulously fair: many of them list dollar values—Parnell’s estimate of the cost of the offense. These tend to be offenses like slow service at a restaurant or incorrect change at a store. (In his mind, he thought he was being fair, judging how offended to be at each wrong.) Other offenses, such as a poor grade, are priceless. The series was already at a dozen notebooks when Grudge happened, and only ten or twenty names had been stroked off. But that doesn’t matter: Grudge will make them all pay.
The key is not that Tarrant bore grudges against so many people, but rather that anyone can be a target for Grudge’s fury, whether there is an actual offense or the person just reminds Grudge of someone, such as that waitress who got his coffee order wrong (she had just learned her mother had Alzheimer’s), or that professor who gave him a low mark and delayed his early acceptance to graduate school. Though there will be specific targets who show up whenever Grudge thinks of them, anyone can be a target.
The biography doesn’t indicate whether the transformation is permanent or temporary (Solomon Grundy or the Hulk, so to speak). Because Grudge has Science listed as a Specialty, I've decided that Parnell is mostly Grudge, but there are times when he's not. Maybe Man-Bat is a better model—maybe there are times when he's not Grudge, but we only want to tell stories where he is Grudge. (I suspect that even Parnell’s mother loved him more as a duty, which might give you a whole different set of stories: does Grudge want revenge against even her?)
Continuing the Man-Bat model, we only see Tarrant at the end of stories, but he’s probably Intellect 4 when he appears. He likes to think he’s brilliant, but the word that keeps being used is “capable.” And in some ways, I think he likes being Grudge: Grudge has the freedom to deal with the petty irritations that bother Tarrant every day. (That could make a nice prologue to a Grudge adventure, though: give the players character sheets for prison transfer guards—use the Police Officer or Soldier stock characters from ICONS, let Tarrant manage to disable the power neutralization equipment, and escape after turning into Grudge and beating them up. (The players will not treat with Grudge with kid gloves after that.)
His Goals and Strategy
Grudge doesn't have deep motivations: anyone who has ever wronged him or slighted him, anyone whom Tarrant imagines has slighted him, anyone who reminds Tarrant of a past slight, is a potential target.
This simplicity of purpose makes Grudge a useful tool for other villains. It means that you can justify a partnership with almost any villain at least once. Many use him just as a diversion (as in Grudge Match), but some might actually team up with him, or hire him. ConfederApe uses him, but finds a sense of superiority in using him. The Creeper understands what it's like to be laughed at. Troll rather likes fighting him—there's no real danger, but it's a great workout. Warbride thinks he's sexy, in a dirty uncontrolled male kind of way. Heck, I imagine that Ultra-Mind finds him to be a useful gross physical tool, and probably romps through Tarrant's mind regularly, making sure that there are no past wrongs assigned to the Ultra-Mind.
The PCs might have a relationship with Tarrant; that makes his story a bit more tragic. Or you could use him to point up the idea that superpowers don't change a man, only refine him into a pure form of what he was, before. That might make some PCs take notice of their current behaviour.
- The players have the list of people against whom Tarrant bore a grudge…at least one volume of it. Do they go and protect all those people? (Bonus Determination to the PCs who come up with clever ways to prioritize.)
- Grudge has worked his way down to movie reviewers. A website specializes in inflammatory (but not legally actionable) comments that get page views, and Grudge takes exception to the review of his favourite show, which the reviewer thinks has jumped the shark. The comments section contained a number of items from Grudge, but they have been ignored or worse. Now Grudge takes things into his own hands, but getting the physical address instead of the computer address is taking some work. First, beat up and threaten a computer professional… Do the PCs wait at his eventual goal, or try to stem the intermediate mayhem?
- Grudge bears a, well, grudge against anyone who has ever teamed up with him and caused him to lose (from his point of view). But he's not stupid (certainly not Bizarro levels of stupid). So he has a cunning plan&mdash:well, cunning for Grudge. He’s going to throw them over, so the PCs keep receiving notes from Grudge (possibly in crayon, because he breaks pens and pencils) about the location of the crimes to be. Except, of course, the other villains have figured it out, and Grudge keeps getting caught alone. Do the PCs help Grudge trap the other villains in the name of catching them, or do they suspect it’s actually a trap set by the other villains?
One for you while I'm away (and what a trip it's been! It took us longer to drive to Ottawa than it takes to fly from Toronto to Australia).
What we know:
Gil Lonescale was always a bit of a snake, but Tom Crow, the medicine man of his tribe, saw potential in him and tried to untwist Gil’s path. When Tom’s other student, the slow-witted Daniel Morningstar, became Saguaro, Gil was consumed with jealousy. He went out into the desert himself, seeking power and the favor of the spirits, and got the bite of an irradiated lizard. The venom and sinister spirits he called upon transformed him into a reptile-man able to spit poison, and he swore the Gila-Master would destroy the “Chosen of the Spirits”!
I had real trouble thinking about ways to involve Gila-Master if the Mighty Saguaro isn't one of your campaign regulars. Gila-Master's origin is just so tightly bound with Saguaro, that if you don't have Saguaro, you probably don't have Gila-Master. In that sense, he's more like a model arch-foe you can reskin for your heroes to deal with. Maybe he's actually an amphibious villain (I think there might be spitting frogs, and spitting toads are thing of legend; there are definitely poisonous frogs), or aquatic, or a snake of some kind ("the Nefarious Naga!"). But this series is really about the characters as presented, so let's think about Gila-Master.
If you just want him as a one-time villain, rescue Saguaro from Gila-Master; he's holding Saguaro under the reptile house at the zoo, and some vegetarian lizards are slowly eating Saguaro alive. (There are a few mostly-vegetarian lizards, such as desert iguanas, uromastyx, and Chuckwallas. Desert iguanas are the best thematically, but they need a lot of space.)
Another option is to make up some reason for the PCs to be the Chosen Ones. Gila-Master can talk with the spirits (his occult knowledge is a reasonsto stunt Precognition, ESP, or an occasional plot-device power) ot to knock on Gila-Master, but he's strongly tied to Saguaro. He's an excellent example of an arch-foe or a nemesis, but there has to be a reason for him to interact with your players, and with other villains. Gila-Master would be an excellent part of a villain group. He would be an excellent member who causes the group to break up, later. (He is a poisonous traitor, after all.) and another mind-controller--but reptiles are relatively common.
Does he get along with Count Malocchio? They do have an occult similarity that could lead them to cooperation or conflict. (Both want the same occult artifact or ingredient, for example, or some demon or spirit for its own plans orders them to work together.) I see his lust for power as being more naked than the Count's: unlike Malocchio, he's given up the appearance of normalcy.
Gila-Master would make a great member for short-term groups. He will eventually betray them (it's in his nature--see his Qualities), but it might be interesting if the same zoo is a hiding place for Gila-Master, ConfederApe, and the Creeper. (One of the zoo staff is making money by providing hiding space to supervillains, and the ones with animal control powers naturally gravitate to him or her.) He might make a good associate for Malocchio, so long as you understood that Gila-Master would betray him--Malocchio, as nobility born and raised, would treat him like an underling, and I don't think that Gil would take that when it wasn't necessary.
His Goals and Tactics
Gila-Master wants to destroy Saguaro (and anyone else designated a "Chosen One"). He wants to prove Tom Crow wrong, and he wants to have power. The question is, what kind of power?
He isn't interested in approval or things of the lusty flesh: even if the decision to become a giant lizard was an emotional one, he has to stick with it. For Gil, that means more: more occult power, more money (people fake love if you have enough money, no matter what you look like). His current life strategy is doubling down on evil. When the spirits talk to him (and the spirits do talk to him: he is their own skinwalker), he listens.
Assuming you don't have Saguaro as a player character in your group, at first your players encounter him while he's doing things other than destroying the Chosen One: he is stealing money to get necessities; he is stealing occult items to gain the ability to do something else; he is threatening Saguaro or the ones that Saguaro loves, and Saguaro cannot respond. (Perhaps Saguaro foolishly made a bargain not to fight crime for thirty days, or not to set foot in the city for a month.)
His initial attempts to destroy Saguaro are physical and head-on. He gradually expands that. If he cannot destroy Saguaro himself, perhaps he can destroy Saguaro's reputation, or Saguaro's loved ones. He discovers (possibly through the spirits) that the PCs are also Chosen Ones...perhaps everyone with super powers is a chosen one. Gila-Master is large; he can hate multitudes.
- The same zoo is the hiding place for the Gila-Master (the reptile house), the Creeper (deep in the elephant enclosure) and ConfederApe (the zookeeper is making a little extra money hiding out supervillains, and the ones with animal control powers naturally gravitate to him or her.) Finding out about each other, they decide to cooperate, for a while. The PCs must deal with the three villains (who cannot agree on a group name: "The Manimals!" "The Wild Kingdom!" "Biospear!"). When things start to go bad, Gila-Master leaves his two associates in the lurch.
- Gila-Master has kidnapped the Mighty Saguaro, and is holding him in the tunnels underneath the reptile house. Saguaro is unconscious through a convenient spell he has learned (his poison took down Saguaro by chance). He is forcing Tom Crow to watch as desert lizards nip off the spines of the Chosen One. ("Thus does the student beat the master!") But Crow has managed to get a last warning out to the PCs, who must find and rescue Saguaro. As a delaying tactic, Gila-Master will free poisonous snakes and Komodo dragons to threaten the zoo visitors, and eventually, leaves the unconscious Saguaro to deal with the PCs.
- One of the PCs finds his strength is wildly out of control. (This can be a PC who is absent for the session, or something like the Uncontrollable limit added just for the session.) The normal treatment for this ailment is derived from snake venom, but the super-powered nature of the PC means that normal treatments aren't going to work. They need something stronger. They need venom from Gila-Master. The PC can still function, but because it will take time to refine the venom, they need to get the Gila-Master now. If he's in prison, he makes a deal to get out. "I'll have your friend's life if you free me." If he's free already, they have to track him down. Simply finding him, fighting him, and capturing the venom might work, but they will be better off to get Gila-Master's cooperation, because they might need a lot of venum.
- With the aid of a rogue chemist, Gila-Master discovers that his venom can also be used to make a hallucinogenic drug, which he markets and calls (appropriately enough) Venom. He markets it illegally, of course, and eventually has to deal with his partners. And Venom is highly addictive. Further, the drug transfers a tiny bit of the vril or the power of the user to Gila-Master. This new drug is hitting the streets and doing terrible damage; can the PCs find the ultimate source and shut it down?
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!
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.
- 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."
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.)
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.
- 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?