Monday, April 13, 2015

Classic Enemies: The Big Bad

In any setting, even one as vaguely-defined as the early Champions Universe, there's a pecking order.  This is particularly true of villains, since a good GM doesn't make the PCs feel like they're playing the fifth or sixth best superhero team on the planet.  And who cares if the Champions are better? They're good guys.  It's the threats that players are concerned with, and by extension, their characters.

In the Champions Universe (at least, in MY Champions Universe), the top of the heap, the biggest bad, the worst of the worst is undoubtedly Dr. Destroyer.  Sure, there are more powerful beings out there, but they're generally vast cosmic entities or magical embodiments.  Herr Doktor is, ostensibly, a mortal human being.  A vastly improved normal human being, probably incapable of dying by anything short of a nuclear strike, but mortal on paper.  Let's examine him further, shall we?

I think I'll depart from my usual format this evening.  He deserves a different approach...

Dr. Destroyer was created by George MacDonald and first appeared in "The Island of Doctor Destroyer" (by Steve Peterson and George MacDonald), the first published adventure for Champions.  Even in his earliest published appearance, he was extremely powerful (500 points, which was more than any published character to date).  The adventure itself is fairly rudimentary, to be honest: a location for the heroes to invade and fight their way through to take out the bad guy.  Even so, the guy had that certain something.  Maybe it was the crazy battle armor artist Mark Williams gave him.

It's OK, he knows he's awesome.
Maybe it was the whole disfigured Nazi scientist turned Dr. Doom analog thing.  Regardless, Dr. Destroyer became one of the iconic villains of Champions, even featuring on the cover of the fourth edition rulebook.

Art by George Perez. Your argument is invalid.
 As I kind of hinted above, Dr. Destroyer's background is classic comics.  A Nazi scientist, horribly burned while escaping to Argentina, becomes a weapons designer, eventually turning himself into the ultimate weapon.  He's arrogant, seeing himself far beyond mere humanity, destined to rule the world.  And powerful enough to back it up.

In Classic Enemies, Scott Bennie fleshed out this background significantly, making Albert Zerstoiten the son of a dollmaker, painting him as an utterly unscrupulous genius who's perfectly comfortable with killing someone to take their scientific breakthroughs as his own.  He contextualizes him alongside the other powers of the Champions Universe (VIPER, Mechanon, DEMON) giving him relationships outside of his interaction with the PCs.  In a paragraph, we get a master class in how to define your own campaign.

Mechanically and conceptually, Destroyer is updated as well.  In his first incarnation, most of his powers received the Focus Limitation for his battlesuit.  In CE, he receives no such Limitation as he is now permanently merged with the suit.  And what a suit it is.  We're given two versions of Dr. Destroyer: a low-end and an experienced version.  Frankly, the low-end version could probably annihilate the Champions from the BBB. He's just that powerful.  A SPD of 7, 80 STR, a 14d6 EB as a starting point, with lots of extras, not to mention hundreds of points to spend on bases and associated weapons.  And that's not even counting his soldiers, which have always been part of his schtick.  The low-end model comes in at 1300 points; the experienced version, 1932. I can only imagine taking down the high-end version would be a most epic moment in a campaign.  I can only imagine it because I've never experienced it first-hand.

I mentioned the Dr.'s agents. He has scads of them, well armed and dangerous in numbers if not individually.  Canonically, he also has a number of superpowered allies/servants, like Menton (arguably the most powerful mentalist on the planet), Stormwatch (a 492 point ninja), and Gigaton (a 680 point high end brick/energy projector).  And robots.  Because, of course he has robots.  In short, possibly the most powerful concentration of superpowered force available anywhere.

So, why hasn't he just taken over?  Well, first off, it's a comic book universe, so he can't.  Not for long, anyway.  Secondly, his arrogance gets in the way of things.  He can't do anything subtly.  Everything has to be a grand operatic gesture, and the rest of his team are at least as dysfunctional as he is. This allows for certain exploitable cracks.  And, because he's usually focused on some device that will bring his plans to fruition, defeating the device is usually easier than defeating him.

Finally, there are a lot of people on planet Earth with a vested interest in keeping him out of power.  When he turns up, the heroes will not want for allies, including folks they'd normally be trying to put behind bars.  The sheer might the rest of the world can put against him acts as a small deterrent.

In my games, he's always been an off-screen presence. When I still used the Champions Universe more or less straight, he was too powerful (even in his low-end configuration) for the PCs to tackle, and they weren't particularly interested in it.  The one time I did use him, he kidnapped Vanguard (my setting's Superman figure) stole his genetic material, and created a twisted clone, sort of like Doomsday from DC comics (OK, exactly like Doomsday from DC comics).  Even then, the PCs never pegged to it being Destroyer's plan, which in retrospect, was a bad move on my part.

In my Agents of IMPACT, I recast him as the Dictator of Destruga, a nation formed from the ruins of Libya.  In 1983, he overthrew Qaddafi and took over, setting the world's first superpowered oligarchy, with himself in charge.  He was less focused on outright conquest of the rest of the world, dispatching superpowered terrorists like the Conquerors to do his dirty work, keeping the US and USSR at each other's throats in the Shadow War.  In that setting, no one in the supers community ever referred to him by name.  He was "Herr Doktor" or "Double-D."  To say his name was to tempt his attention (or so the superstition went).

And for my money, that's the best way to use him.  As an off-screen threat. A reminder that the world is bigger and vastly more messed up than your little 250 point superhero can even imagine.  That there's something bigger and badder just outside your frame of reference.  And that's Dr. Destroyer.  Death. The Shatterer of Worlds.  The Dollmaker's Boy.


  1. Oh yeah he is the king of the hill in my world too. I don't think any player or group has ever gone directly against him in a fight. He is a huge behind the scenes manipulator of people, Governments and world events. The players battle his vast army of minions and villains but never the big man himself. I will occasionally have references to some NPC group getting bashed by him in the news or he will make some global statement that is the plot hook for the adventure. I enjoyed using him as a scary shadowy figure.