Sunday, July 5, 2015

Mind Games: Mother, May I?

Today we're going to take a look at the final member of PSI's two "power couples." Madeline "Mother Medusa" Poe.  She's simultaneously one of the least and most powerful members of PSI.  In fact, she's really the keystone to their entire tangled web of relationships.

Her story is far from a happy one.  Madeline grew up in an abusive home with an alcoholic father.  She dropped out of school and ran off to marry her first love, an Air Force airman.

Unfortunately, her husband was little better than her father, a fact that drove her to a suicide attempt.  She survived, but her husband divorced her only thirteen months after their wedding.

Truly on her own, she actually managed to get her life together.  She had a steady job and more confidence than ever before.  She even met a new man, Dr. Sebastian Poe.  They embarked on a whirlwind romance and were soon married. For the first time in her life, Madeline had freedom and even wealth.  She had a son, Simon, and all was right with the world.

Of course, it couldn't last.  First, her husband increasingly focused his attention on his research and running PSI.  Then, she came to realize how very awful an organization PSI was and how very much she benefited from said awfulness.  Not unlike Counselor Darke, when faced with a monumental moral quandary, she opted for her own comfort.  She relished her role as Dr. Poe's wife, even allowing him to subject her to an experimental process that brought forth her own positive mutation.  And if her husband no longer gave her attention, she still had her son to look after.  And speaking of Counselor Darke, as we already know, Poe's handsome right-hand man had begun romancing her on the sly.  Even more than with Sebastian, Madeline truly felt special.

The last straw in her marriage came when Dr. Poe experimented on Simon without her knowledge.  Her bitterness afforded Darke the opportunity he'd long been waiting for.  With her blessing and assistance, he put into motion his plan to depose Dr. Poe and install Psymon as the new leader of PSI.

In the new arrangement, Madeline (or Mother Medusa) is very much the model of a "dowager queen." While she may not be married to the head of PSI, no one in the know doubts her power and control over Psymon.

Of course, most of her power comes down to presentation and role-playing.  In actual game terms, she's (not surprisingly) a bit of a pushover.  Her main power is a telepathic single-command Mind Control ("Don't Move!").  Like her namesake, she paralyzes people with a glance.  She can also sense emotions, a handy trait in someone interested in maintaining power over a spoiled child.  Other than a little Mental Defense and a few PSI gadgets, she's pretty much a one-trick pony.  But it's a hell of a trick.

Campaign-wise, Mother Medusa is an absolutely necessary part of the background, but not a crucial NPC for PCs to interact with. This means the GM has to do some work with her the players may never see.  One interesting possibility would be for her powers and code name to be unknown to anyone outside of PSI. In that capacity, she could be Psymon's "ace in the hole," a final line of defense he knows would never fail him. Unless, of course, Darke manages to persuade her otherwise.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Mind Games: Such a Sensible, Reasonable Fellow

Hey, True Believers! Happy fourth!  I spent the day hosting friends, eating tamales, and playing games.  But I still have time for you.  Aren't you impressed?

Tonight's Mind Games contestant is Counselor Darke.  He's an interesting member of the leadership in that he doesn't have any active psionic abilities.  In fact, his one mental power is that he's effectively immune to mental powers.  But we'll get to that.

Nicholas Darke is a handsome, suave, persuasive middle-aged gentleman.  He's a brilliant Behavioral Psychologist, and his involvement with PSI goes back to when he first completed his doctorate.

Originally, he began with the purest of motives: he sought to understand the strange apparent mutations exhibited by children he was treating.  As Dr. Poe brought him into the Institute, he soon found himself caught up in their...questionable ethics.  Realizing he could either go with the flow or speak up and risk being "silenced," Nicholas opted to dive in with gusto.  He came to enjoy the perks and the power his affiliation with PSI brought.

In his new role, he served admirably as both a recruiter and conditioner of new mentalists and rose to the position of Dr. Poe's right hand counselor.  By this time, Nicholas had come to realize that Poe would bring it all crashing around their ears.  He'd already gained the confidence of Dr. Poe's son, Simon and had begun romancing his wife.  Using their trust, it was relatively easy for him to arrange Poe's downfall at the hands of the Protectors and make it look like Psymon was in charge.  Better to be the trusted Counselor than the uneasy head that wears the crown.  For now...

Powers-wise, Counselor Darke isn't built for a fight.  He carries a couple of pieces of PSI-issue gear (an Energy Pistol and a Panic Ring), but that's really for a last resort.  In terms of powers, he's got a massive amount of Mental Defense (43 points total) with a 3d6 Ego Attack Damage Shield that only goes off if he's attacked with Mental Powers.  By my interpretation, this includes Telekinesis if the Special Effect is appropriate, so yes, it works on Mind Slayer (provided there's anything left of him, never mind that her own Mental Defense can handle it, so maybe not the best example.).

But really, he should never be in a fight.  His job is to be the "face," not the field commander.  Ideally, Darke is the one the players first learn about when investigating a psionic child whose parents sent them to a "special school" and haven't heard from in months.  After all, he was so charming and reasonable, and his credentials seemed spotless.  And the way he interacted with her; honestly, it was the first time in months she'd seemed almost...normal.

In an ongoing campaign, Darke's downfall is his ambition.  While he's content to let Psymon play leader for now, that doesn't mesh with his long-term goals.  If he can find a way to get rid of him (and Mind Slayer) while not losing the support of Madeleine (Mother Medusa, his lover and Psymon's mom), he'll make his play, and PSI will once again be in outright turmoil.  When that happens, do the heroes try and limit collateral damage, try and take them down while their weak, or just sit back and eat popcorn?

Friday, July 3, 2015

Mind Games: Victim or Villain?

Lets talk about Mind Slayer.  While Mind Games doesn't mention it directly, she was credited to Glenn Thain in Enemies.  This is a rather significant re-imagining of the character.

Along with Psymon, Mind Slayer is the other half of the scariest part of PSI.  Taken in by PSI as a teenager, her telekinetic abilities were honed through torture and her personality largely erased by brainwashing.  She fled the organization, living on her own as a criminal.  After Psymon overthrew his father, he reached out to her, bringing her back into the fold, seducing her into a romantic relationship that ALMOST CERTAINLY DIDN'T INVOLVE MIND CONTROL AT ANY POINT, NO SIR. WHY DO YOU ASK?

Her character illustration could be in the dictionary next to "Late 80s Bad Girl." Seriously, she's got it all, from the Black No. 1 dye job, to the punk-influenced threads, to the PSI tat instead of a uniform insignia.  She even smokes, which was the ultimate 80s comics visual code for "dangerous." (Seriously, check out 'The Judas Contract.' When Terra makes her heel turn reveal in front of the readers, she's smoking. It was a standard artistic shortcut back then.)

Personality-wise, she doesn't have much of one.  She's been turned into a living weapon, so she pretty much makes Arnie's Terminator seem friendly by comparison.  She's cold and merciless, only showing anything else for Psymon, to whom she's a completely devoted lapdog.

In terms of her actual powers, she's a brute: 545 points of useful stuff (only 86 of that from standard PSI gadgets).  She's got 45 STR Telekinesis in a Multipower with her primary attack, a 4d6 RKA defined as "razor-sharp bursts of pure force." On top of that, she's a telepath with an Ego Attack that can drop a normal and better Telepathy than her boyfriend.  She's also got telekinesis-based Force Field and Flight, and 24 points of Mental Defense.  A mentalist WILL NOT TAKE HER DOWN.  In fact, if her Force Field is up, it's going to take better than a 14d6 normal attack to even Stun her.

I can distinctly remember seeing this write-up and realizing that I needed to re-think my perceptions of mentalists.  Here was one that could, if necessary, tangle with a team of superheroes and come out on top.

It's pretty easy to use her in a campaign.  As a straight-up villain, she's going to be the literal sharp end of PSI if they're a hunted.  Hopefully the hero in question remembered his resistant defenses.  Another, potentially more interesting option is to have the heroes stumble upon her backstory.  Maybe they find themselves in possession of Dr. Poe's experimental data and discover who Mind Slayer was and how she got that way.  There are plenty of superheroes who would look at that situation and try to find a way to redeem her, to reach the brutalized child inside that killer's body and heal her.  Or, a severe blow to the head allows her former personality a toehold in her consciousness.  Suddenly, she has remorse for what she's done and a new-found hatred for PSI.  She might turn up on the heroes' doorstep, looking for help in taking down her former masters.

And even without PSI, she's a fun character to use.  In my Agents of IMPACT setting, she was an East German assassin who worked with Sliver (from the Strike Force Universe).  She was less punk and more sophisticated jet-setter, but it didn't make her any less scary.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Mind Games: Because I Said So...

And, we're back.  Sorry for the delays.  I like to have the art from the book accompany each character, and I had some problems with my scanner at home.  I finally took the book to the office, which worked great, but it did require a few Stealth rolls.

Remember how I said we'd get to one of PSI's major creeps this time? Well, brace yourself, True Believer!  Psymon is among the worst of the worst.  Where to start?  A spoiled, manipulative, power-hungry, self-entitled, substance-abusing spoiled brat.  And that's before you add superpowers to the mix.

Simon Poe is the son of PSI's founder, Dr. Sebastian Poe.  To be fair, growing up the son of a mad scientist and an overprotective, doting mother is probably going to mess you up.  But Simon took to it like a duck to water, having been in and out of the criminal justice system by age twenty five, with zero lessons learned.

It was at this point in his life that his father finally unlocked the secret to instilling psionic and psychokinetic abilities. Simon didn't pretend to understand the science, but he completely got the notion of power.  He willingly submitted to his father's experiments, and within hours his powers manifested.Dr. Poe had succeeded in creating his first powerful psionic.  He'd also created a monster. Simon took on the code-name "Psymon," and became one of the most powerful (and feared) members of PSI.

In due time, Simon's mother (harboring resentment over her husband's use of Simon without her consent, and under the romantic influence of Counselor Darke) persuaded Psymon to lead a coup against his father and take over the leadership of PSI, as his unwitting puppet.  The plan succeeded, and Psymon is well-known as the face of the organization.

None of this has made him any less petty and self-indulgent.  If anything, it's made him worse.  After all, when your primary goal in life is self-indulgence, being one of the most powerful mind controllers on the planet lets you get whatever you want, whenever you want.  Add megalomania to the mix and you get a very unpleasant person.  But who needs friends when you can just make people do what you want, right?

As a leader, Psymon has a very "Do what I say, or else" approach to personnel management.  His romantic relationship with Mind Slayer (which almost certainly was achieved with mind control) has the added benefit of providing him with a devoted bodyguard in the form of PSI's most dangerous killer.  And while he may not be the one actually pulling the strings, no one is stupid enough to point this out to him.

Like I said, he's a monster.  A monster whose world is his toybox.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Mind Games: Starting Off Dark

In reading through Mind Games, I'm reminded of the fact that most of PSI are either victims or horrible opportunists.  The former are generally pitiful in some respect, the latter truly reprehensible.  In other words, it's a terrific villainous organization. Case in point, our first character...

Deuce is a young woman named Angela Baker.  She was born in Australia and lived there until her powers manifested at puberty.  Labeled a freak, with her family in hiding from the press, her parents shipped her off to the Parapsychological Studies Institute, never to return.

PSI's scientists discovered her powers were a manifestation of her psyche.  Under stress, a shadowy creature emerges from her, leaving her physical body unconscious.  This shadow form was composed of her hatred and fear.  Dr. Poe bullied her into submission and turned her into a weapon for PSI's use.  Dubbing her "Deuce," he keeps her on a short leash, playing on her fear of what PSI might do to her family.

Powers-wise, Deuce is no heavyweight (272 points), but her power combination makes her fairly hard to take on in a fair fight.  Because her shadow form manifests from her unconscious body, PSI's standard procedure for deploying it is to bring Angela near where she's needed, then force her to manifest the shadow form.  The shadow form is basically a Flying, Desolid, Ego Attack, so unless you can affect her shadow form or bring a mental attack to the party, you don't have much chance of hurting her.  And if you do, the shadow form dissipates, leaving the injured and unconscious Angela wherever PSI has her stashed.  So, she's pretty darned difficult to capture.

In a campaign, she's a great character to show how horrible PSI is, should her origin get out.  Perhaps her family contacts the heroes to try and rescue her.  While she's committed criminal acts, how much of that was by her own volition?  Would their presence be enough to turn her away from PSI?  Alternatively, what if in her sleep, her inner good manifests in a different form.  Suddenly, the heroes find themselves investigating a mysterious glowing figure whose dispensing justice and vanishing mysteriously (I'd call her Ace, but that's your business).

Anyway, she's a pretty cool character.  Good story bits, and an interesting build.  Next time, we get a major creep...

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Mind Games: The Gadgets!

Yeah, I know I was going to start right in on the characters, but I think the gadget section bears more attention than a brief mention.  Mind Games takes the time to detail equipment carried by PSI villains, and - more importantly - the PSI Guard, their cadre of agents.  Some of the equipment is fairly prosaic (Kevlar vests), but we get some pretty crazy stuff, and if you ran an all-mentalists game, or one that focuses heavily on PSI, I could see an arms race of sorts cropping up as the good guys try to develop tech to counter PSI's.

First up are the Psiphon Grenades.  These are gas grenades that suppress the victim's willpower (EGO Drain).  Officially, these are used primarily in the kidnapping of potential targets for PSI "recruitment," but I could see a crew of agents supporting some PSI villains using them to soften up the heroes.  They're particularly effective against enemy mentalists, since Life Support and Power Defense aren't typically high priorities for that power profile.

Next up are their Energy Pistols.  Nothing particularly exciting about these: just a Multipower that shifts between an RKA and a NND.  They're a useful enough weapon for an agent whose not expecting superpowered opposition, but nothing scary.

The Psi-Visors are pretty cool.  They're mirrorshades that allow UV vision, along with a decent amount of Mental Defense. The Mental Defense technology shows up in a couple of the villains' write-ups, as personal Foci.  There's also a version of this gadget PSI hands out to potentially untrustworthy allies.  It scans the wearer constantly for signs of betrayal and triggers a nasty little killing attack should they surface.

Paralysis Webs are just plain nasty.  It's just a one-shot Entangle, but it's got that lovely "Entangle Takes No Damage" Advantage.  Bloody annoying.  It's also part of the PSI Guard "Capture Kit."

But how does PSI find the mentalists in order to recruit capture them, you ask?  Why with PSI-Scanners, of course.  A handy-dandy detection array.  Sort of like a miniature Cerebro, but for Mental Powers.

(It's worth noting that PSI are kind of like the evil mentalist version of the X-Men.  Of course, they're less nice when it comes to recruiting.  But it would be very easy to slot them in as a group of oppressed "freedom fighters" using whatever means necessary to protect their own.)

The last two pieces of tech are used in unison:  First up is the Teleportation Platform.  This sucker is pretty much what it says on the tin: a medium-range (1.8 km) mass teleportation device (it can handle up to eight people at a time).  PSI recovered it from a government installation that was examining a crashed alien spacecraft).  The platform is immense and heavy; PSI keeps it in a moving van in order to transport it.  It's also effectively one-way, however their in-house technical genius (Brad "Gizmo" Richards) developed a means of overcoming this limitation: the Panic Rings.

These rings communicate with the Teleportation Platform, allowing the wearer to return teleport to it.  The ring is a 38 point OIF and is worn by every PSI villain.  It's costly, but entirely worthwhile, as it allows PSI to hit and vanish quickly.  I could see acquiring one of these rings as a major plotline in campaign featuring PSI.  Perhaps a heroic gadgeteer could find the the rings use to communicate to the platform, allowing the heroes to find it, or prevent them from returning to their getaway point.

So, that's PSI's tech.  Cool stuff, IMO.  Next time, we'll get into characters, I promise.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Surprise Acquisition

As you might have gathered, I own a lot of 4th edition stuff for Champions.  Most of it had been relegated to storage after I adopted 5th edition, and when I started pulling things out after the Classic Enemies project got me fired up, I discovered something truly awful: I can't find my original BBB.  I've got a copy of Champions Deluxe, which, to be fair has all the errata included and a useful index, but it also has Frostburn instead of Icicle, and that terrible illustration for Powerhouse.  Those may seem to be minor inconveniences to you, and they are.  But I really hate losing things I should have, as my garage expedition to find my non-missing copy of Different Worlds #30 should amply illustrate.

Anyway, this evening I happened into my local Half-Price Books and took my usual quick glance at the RPG section.  Staring back at me from all the D&D 4e books, was this:

It's the paperback version of the BBB, which I'd forgotten they even made.  It's a bit worn, but entirely intact.  And now my collection is a bit moreso as well.