Friday, May 22, 2015

Classic Enemies: Jonny Li's Temple of Kung-Fu!

One thing that strikes me as I go through Classic Enemies is how well it covers multiple power levels.  Yesterday, we looked at the ridiculously overpowered Menton. Today, we get quite the opposite.

Mongoose was created by Glenn Thain. He's a low-powered martial artist (240 points, 10 of them in Bases) with a particular hatred for Cobra's COIL (they kind of tried to kill him, so it's justified). In another world, he might be a hero, but in the Champions Universe, he finances his war against the scaly villains with bank robberies and the like.  In this respect, he's like Dragon Master without the anti-China politics, or Lady Blue without the charity. What he might lack in complete and total originality, he more than makes up for in fun factor.  Mongoose is a flashy hyperconfident showoff who'll leap before he looks nine times out of ten (and the last he'll do with his eyes closed).

He's also got kind of an Iron Fist thing, where he focuses his chi and unleashes a potent Armor Piercing kick.  It's easily his most powerful attack, but it does tire him out quickly.

With his flashy (possibly annoying) style, he makes a great foil for a PC martial artist, particularly one with an overly serious outlook.  His hatred of COIL makes him a potential uneasy ally, though almost certainly an annoying one.  Or a DNPC, looking to enroll in a self-defense course finds herself not only studying at Jonny Li's Temple of Kung-Fu (a chain of martial arts studios owned by Mongoose's secret identity), but she might get recruited into his army of martial artists, hellbent on taking down COIL.

Or, she could end up dating him...

It took me a while to warm up to Mongoose, because my second ever PC had the same name.  When I got the Enemies books, I was honestly less than thrilled at the time.  Eventually, I grew the hell up, and came to the realization that he's a great character.  Thing is, he's a great character if you've got COIL in your game.  Otherwise, he loses a lot of his charm.  In my games (since I'm not a huge fan of Cobra), I've played up the kung fu school angle (making him akin to the mighty Count Dante) and shifting his rivalry to Dragon Master.  It worked pretty well.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Classic Enemies: Do You Mind?

Tonight, we examine a tale as old as time. A young child of privilege, who, along with his twin sister, is given over to the most dangerous supervillain on the globe, who brainwashes him to total obedience before turning him into the most powerful psionic on the planet.  At 1154 points total, he's a feel-good story for the ages.

I am, of course, talking about Menton (created by George MacDonald). Here we see him in his traditional outfit, which makes him look like a classic "Nordic" extraterrestrial who crash landed in Siegfried and Roy's laundry room.

I kid, I kid...after all, he is an absolute nightmare of a character.  Conditioned from early childhood to be the Destroyer's weapon of the mind, he is all that and more. Menton is one of those perfect examples of the old maxim, "Points are for players."  He's got every conceivable power you could want in a solo villain: high SPD, multiple ranged options, Mental Illusions, Mind Control...he's even a light brick (STR 40) plus he's got Grond STR-level Telekinesis!

In short, there's a reason he's so expensive.  And, because he's psionic, a straight-up fight is probably going to be his last course of action.  Far better to infiltrate a place invisibly, read minds to get what he wants, mind control those who need it, then teleport away undetected.  The dude is straight-up terrifying, even if he does look like a poster child for Raëlism.

Like his sister Mentalla, Menton first appeared in Classic Enemies.  He made the cut to 5th edition, where he got a not unsurprising power-up, but still kept his classic good looks.  When he was adapted to the Champions Online MMO, they took a different tack.  I've never played the game, but visually, I'm not impressed.  You can look it up if you're that curious.

In my games, Menton never featured.  He was so far outside the weight class of the PCs as to be no fun at all.  Also, with all his power -- because of all his power -- he constantly raises the question, "Why hasn't he won?" It leads to the GM having to jump through mental contortions that really take away from the fun.  At least in my experience.  I'm content to have him be part of the horrific background noise.  If I did use him, it would probably be in a role-reversal and have him come to the PCs desperate for their assistance against something he's unable to contend with (though figuring that out is more mental exercise than I'm up for tonight).

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Classic Enemies: Skluuuuuurrrrtch...

It's been longer than I planned since my last post.  My apologies.  I needed the weekend to recover from last week, and then yesterday was terrible.  I'll just leave it at that.  On the plus side, while searching my garage for Different Worlds #30, I found a treasure trove of old Judge's Guild stuff I'd forgotten I owned.  It's all beat to hell, but it's cool to look through.  I also found well over a hundred old Champions character sheets, filled in and "illustrated" by hand. I'm going to take them to work and scan them to PDF as-is, then figure out what to do with them.

And tonight's season finale of "The Flash" was amazing.  So with that sort of inspiration, let's get back on track.

Leech, created by Steve Peterson, is one of my favorite villains.  He's creepy, but tragic, being both a monster and a victim.  He works as supernatural muscle or as a solo "slasher." He's purple and slimy and utterly mad.

Of course, he wasn't always a hideous babbling sucker-beast.  He was once an ordinary New York cabbie named Frank, who picked up the wrong fare. The weirdo in the cape wasn't going to a costume party, he was a powerful, evil sorcerer who transformed Frank into the hideous Leech.

Mechanically, Leech is pretty much a perfect ambush predator.  He's got light brick STR (40) and sturdy defenses.  He's invisible with stationary, can swim underwater indefinitely, and - worst of all - possesses a pair of nasty Drains (STR and BODY).  Given that, in my experience, Power Defense is seldom a priority for starting characters, he can put a serious hurt on someone regardless of their PD and ED.  Tactically, he's best when he attacks by surprise, grabbing his opponent, then using the STR Drain to keep them from breaking free and then turning to BODY to finish them off.  In fact, this combination may prove to be too effective, so GMs may want to use it sparingly unless characters need close brushes with death.  I know this one from painful experience.  My first PC (Spectrum - Your Radioactive Pal!) was attacked in just such a manner and ended up in a radiation shielded ICU, with half a major park radiated and a serious case of remorse.  For his part, Leech was even more horribly mutated, developing stretching and body-shifting powers that allowed him to do nasty things like worm his way into our HQ via the water pipes.  Good times.

One of the aspects of Leech's backstory I've always enjoyed was his nameless creator. Who is he? We know he's quite powerful, able to control minds as well as transform a person into a monster.  He needed Leech as a servant.  Suppose he needed an army?  Could he make more?

Maybe he's actually Simon: King of the Witches
Next time, we get mental...

Friday, May 15, 2015

Classic Enemies: Bang, You're Dead

Like what I assume is a majority of Champions fans, I'm an avid comic book reader.  I've been collecting comics since December of 1981, which may seem like a long time, but I was a freshman in college at the time.  Sure, I'd bought and read the occasional comic when I was younger (particularly the giant-sized Marvel and DC reprint treasuries I could get at the grocery store), but I wasn't an avid reader.  Superhero gaming changed all that.  

In December of '81, while I was on winter break, I bought a copy of Villains & Vigilantes (2nd edition) and was instantly hooked.  I started planning a game and realized I knew absolutely nothing about how a superhero game should work. So, late one night, I went to the nearby convenience store (you could still buy funnybooks on the spinner racks back then) and bought a digest-sized treasury of "Legion of Superheroes" stories and a copy of "The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe" #3.  The next day, I found a local comic book shop (ComicQuest!) and bought my first back issues (#1 and #2) as well as a handful of other books.  Thus became a lifetime hobby.

Anyway, one of my early favorite comics was "New Teen Titans." I was pretty much the ideal audience for it, being the same age as the protagonists (not to mention George Perez's art). And my favorite Titans bad guy was Deathstroke the Terminator. "The Judas Contract" remains one of my favorite storylines of all time, and my first introduction to the long-term plot arc.

All of which is a rather convoluted way to introduce Mechassassin.  Created by Andrew Robinson, he's the Champions Universe's answer to Deathstroke. 

Ex-Military? Check.  

Mercenary? Check.

Enhanced Physical Abilities? Check.

Equally Deadly At Range Or Up Close? Checkerino!

Of course, Slade Wilson is a helluva lot better name than Craig Vandersnoot, but you can't have everything.  Also, his costume is kind of terrible, but it's hard to hate, because it's just so darned  comic-booky.

Mechanically, Mechassassin is very, very capable.  He hits as hard as a brick with his martial arts, has deadly wrist blades, and a host of ranged capabilities.  He's got armor and more armor (his shield).  He has a few weaknesses, mostly based on his equipment, but I wouldn't count on them being enough.

In a campaign, Mechassassin can fill a number of roles: he's a good solo villain to take on a new team.  If the GM builds him up sufficiently, he can be the sign of someone's goose being well and truly cooked ("Word on the street is Mechassassin accepted the contract.  Santino's a dead man.").  His contempt for supers means that if thwarted by one, he's not going to forget it.  Classic Enemies suggests using him as the head of security for a master villain, a role he can play quite well (despite his propensity for back-stabbing).  I've used him in all of the above.  He's just all-around fun.

(Incidentally, somewhere in my collection I've got an issue of Different Worlds magazine that had official stats for Deathstroke. It's been forever since I looked at them.  I ought to see how they compare.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Classic Enemies: High-Tech Enemies

Ok, not actually High-Tech Enemies. That's a later sourcebook, penned by Sean Patrick Fannon. In this case, I'm simply reflecting on the fortuitous set of circumstances that puts three technology-focused villains in a row for this entry.

Lady Blue (created by George MacDonald) is one of my favorite characters in Classic Enemies.  She's another Robin Hood type, but not as obnoxious as the Fox.  Her schtick is that she came from rags to riches, as a self-made woman.  She pushed herself to learn martial arts, gymnastics, and several sciences.

She used her knowledge to build a battlesuit and created a career as a super who goes against injustices that law-abiding heroes can't (or won't) touch.  It's a delightfully late-Silver/early-Bronze Age conceit that is kind of charming by today's standards.  I mean, "Leverage" had how many seasons?

On top of her MO (which includes a Code vs Killing), she's terrific at manipulating the media; she's officially the most popular supervillain in America, which means heroes who oppose her may run afoul of her fans, an unusual challenge for folks who are used to being admired just for saving the day.

Mechanically, she's your typical battlesuit wearer: high STR, DEX, and CON, enhanced defenses, a blaster and flight.  Of course, she's also a gifted martial artist with enhanced STR, so she can do you some serious hurting up close as well.  When I've used her in my games (and I've used her quite a bit), I emphasize her acrobatics and have her making all sorts of extraneous flips and rolls in combat. Her 9" of Flight isn't much, but it's enough to make her fight like a super-strong wuxia character.

As I mentioned, she's shown up in quite a few of my games.  She pretty much screams "potential complicated girlfriend" for a do-gooder PC.  Given that she does quite a bit of good as a side-effect of being bad, she presents all sorts of moral quandaries to conventional heroes.  Of course, our new millennium has a bit more of a jaded outlook on the whole heroism thing, in which case, she might not be considered a supervillain at all, just a professional rival.  However you use her, she's got a lot of potential to bring fun to a campaign.

Next up is Glenn Thain's Ladybug.  I wish I could muster up the same enthusiasm for her as I did Lady Blue, but...

Look, I get it.  Ladybugs have armor and fly.  Ladybug has flying armor that looks kind of bug-like.  It's a very Silver Age concept, and if I were running a game that was set squarely in the Silver Age, I'd probably work her in.  But then, I'd probably have to change her very Bronze Age origin.  See, LB here was a genius graduate researcher in Toronto who's revolutionary power armor failed miserably during a demonstration.  So, of course, she used it to rob banks instead.

(OK, that's not horribly Bronze Age, I guess, but lady scientists were pretty much unheard of at the Big Two until the 80s, last time I looked.)

Mechanically, she's a very solid brick.  With a 70 STR, she packs a wallop, though she doesn't have any ranged capability, so she relies on mobility to get in and out of trouble. I'm not a fan of Damage Resistance bought via a focus -- it always feels inelegant to me, but I know that's a minority opinion -- but it's a minor gripe.

I don't think I've ever used her as-is in one of my games, but I did change her nationality, look, and name and used her as the Iron Maiden in Agents of IMPACT.  She was Thatcherite Great Britain's most Thatcherite defender.  Not a particularly nice person, I'm afraid, but a potential ally for US-based IMPACT operatives all the same.

Our final high-tech contestant is Lazer, also created by George MacDonald.  This guy.  This guy right here?  This guy is awesome.  I mean, how much chutzpah does it take to paint your villain ID on the chestplate of your armor?  Not a symbol, but the actual name?  Lots, that's how much.  And don't get me started on those rocket exhausts...

Lazer is your basic hard-luck case with one marketable skill and 102 points of Obvious Foci.  He can fly, he can shoot (boy, can he shoot!).  He can dish out quite a bit of punishment and, if his Activation Rolls hold out, take a punch or two before flying away.  He is the very definition of "goober with a gun," and he fits in to pretty much any villain group except heavy magical types.

I used him most memorably in a campaign where one of the PCs was a power armor guy named Mechanix.  I created a Hunted for him called TECH (I don't remember what it stood for) and Lazer was one of their many operatives.  His crowning moment was burning the words "TECH WANTS MECH" in the window of the team's HQ without being detected.  It was a small thing at the time, but it turned into one of those campaign moments that everyone remembered and talked about years later.  Funny how it's the little things, sometimes.

Looking ahead, our next guy is also high-tech.  But he's one of my favorites, so he'll get his own entry.  Until then, keep the city safe!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Classic Enemies: Snakes, Why'd It Have To Be Snakes?

Today we're going to take a look at one of Champions' best second-tier master villains: Bruce Harlick's King Cobra.  In and of himself, he's just OK: a snake themed villain with the requisite reptilian traits.  But it's his obsession with turning everyone into a subservient snake being that makes him really stand out.

King Cobra was originally a genetics specialist named Timothy Blank.  Even then, his research ethics were nonexistent, which caused him no end of trouble with mainstream scientists.  Undaunted, he continued his research,using himself as a subject, ultimately splicing king cobra DNA with his own.

The results were at once horrifying and exhilarating: he was hideous to "conventional" perspective, but Dr. Blank saw the big picture: the very future of humanity!  With him in charge (naturally).  Armed with his new-found knowledge, he went forth to create a serpentine army.

So yeah, he's a snake villain who can make more snake villains.  Pretty neat.  Classic Enemies provides us with a single serpent minion in the form of Black Mamba.  Interestingly enough, his Transformation effect only has a 50/50 chance of working. Ever. So there's no guarantee he can just turn everyone into a scaly minion.

As I mentioned above, King Cobra is really a second-tier master villain. He's not powerful enough to be a world-beater, really, though with his army of snake dudes and dudettes, he's certainly enough to hang a long campaign arc on. A later product (Champions Presents #2) expanded his organization and named it COIL, so you can kind of look at this appearance as his "early days."

I used King Cobra in some of my early games as a typical mad scientist (transform a city by putting his formula in the water supply, yaddayaddayadda), but all that stopped when I met my wife.  She's extremely ophidiophobic, and even snake themed characters are off-limits in games she plays in (I learned this the hard way - she didn't speak to me for a day).  Since she plays in most of my campaigns, I retired him with no regrets.

Next:  Getting Technical

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Classic Enemies: H is for...

We're at another point in Classic Enemies where we're between big guns.  These characters are good as filler for ad hoc villain groups, or as slightly oddball Hunters of PCs.  That said, they do provide a few interesting bits of world-building, so let's take a look at them.

First up is Halfjack, another Bruce Harlick creation.  He's a cyborg. He was a mercenary named Jack Smith who got himself blowed-up real good.  The only available medical care was a nutcase named Dr. Levy. Pro tip: If a guy calls himself a doctor, but he also owns cyborg panthers, he's probably not the kind of doctor you want.  Levy killed Jack's companions and used what was left of him for experiments.  The result was pretty much the outcome you expect: a psychotic half-man, half-machine monstrosity.  The one twist is that Jack's psychosis is over the remaining human parts of his superior mechanical form.  He wants to be all machine.

Mechanically, Halfjack is interesting in that his defenses are all based on his half-robotic form with Activation Rolls.  Offensively, he's got superhuman Strength, a couple of ranged attacks, and a STR Drain that I don't really understand but don't lose sleep over.

Campaign-wise, he works well in a lot of contexts.  He can be a solo villain with a gang of mooks backing him up, he can be part of a crew, or he could even be working for a group like VIPER on a short-term basis.  His obsession with becoming entirely mechanical could find him allying with Mechanon, who he sees as a perfect aspirational goal. Or maybe he becomes the high priest of a cult of fanatical Mechanon worshippers (an idea that just occurred to me as I typed this).  In my own games, he's usually been hired muscle.  In Agents of IMPACT, he was a terrible cautionary example. In that setting, there has only ever been one successful cyborg (Col. Austin, the Bionic Man).  Halfjack is an example of what usually happens, possibly the worst example of what usually happens.  Usually, cyborgs go mad, burn brightly, then die horribly.  Halfjack's longevity is one reason why Dr. Levy is among the top three individuals wanted by IMPACT.

Up next is Herculan, created by Glenn Thain. He's an extraterrestrial who got stranded on Earth and is trying to get home.  Unfortunately, his initial misunderstandings with the denizens of this barbarous primitive galactic backwater has led him down a path antagonistic to the forces of law and order.  At least as we primitive barbarians understand those concepts.

Herculan never got much use in my games because he's all about Adjustment Powers.  I hate GMing Drains and Transfers because they make for too much bookkeeping on the fly.  I do like the fact that he's honorable and even possibly benevolent. If the PCs could show they could help him in his cause, he might even ally with them (though there's still the matter of his previous crimes). I do find it amusing that he's hunted by NASA; in one of my games, that stood for the National Alien Studies Academy, which stood in for METE.

But honestly, I never really did much with him.  How about you?

Finally, we come to Hideous, a George MacDonald creation who proves all you need for a decent villain is an adjective for a name.  Hideous takes that concept and runs with it.  He's big, he's tough, he's super ugly.  So ugly that you have to make a Ego roll to look at him without flinching, which is an interesting bit of fluff unsupported by the rules.

According to his origin, Hideous was once incredibly good looking.  One warehouse accident with a hazardous chemical later and he was, well, hideous.  Also super-strong. Also super-stupid.  Also, a walking pity party.

Hideous isn't particularly powerful (215 points), though he's strong enough to present a threat to life and limb.  Given his weak mental stats, he's easily manipulated, prime fodder for a master villain to put him on the payroll.  Furthermore, given his desire to be left alone, he could fill a Solomon Grundy sort of niche. In one of my campaigns, I killed him off, then reanimated him, running with that angle a bit more explicitly.  Of the three, he's probably the villain I've used the most, simply because he's pretty easy to slot into any campaign.

Next time:  Hisssssssssss...