Monday, July 13, 2015

Mind Games: Catch-Up Double Feature

It turns out I screwed up with my last entry.  While Torment's a great character, it wasn't his turn yet. I managed to skip the pages containing a pair of odder members of PSI's personnel roster.  To make it up to them, I offer a double feature.

First up is Lady Mirage.  On the Victim/Villain scale, she's very much on the Victim side of things.  A normal suburban housewife with a happy life, Barbara Wright began suffering from horrible nightmares.  The next few years were a hell of terror and sleep deprivation, and that was before a therapy session triggered her mental mutation, killing her psychiatrist in the process.

Needless to say, this got PSI's attention and they contrived to take her in.  They helped her with her nightmares while growing her ability to project terrifying mental images.  Along the way, they discovered a fascinating side-effect: the more she used her powers, the less she remembered of her previous life.  Her power literally burned out her memory.

Given the ethical quandary this presented, Counselor Darke acted predictably: he forced Barbara to exert her powers and erase all knowledge of who she was before PSI.  Darke then convinced her that she owed her life to PSI, and turned Lady Mirage into a loyal weapon.  They arranged the murder of her husband, and her children were adopted by a couple of PSI's payroll.  With no life and no memories, she's terrifyingly effective.

In terms of her powers, Lady Mirage has a boatload of Mental Illusions (12d6).  Interestingly enough, if she wants to use them non-violently, she pays double Endurance, a very interesting Limitation.  Given that 4e was new at the time, her Powers and Tactics breakdown give a handy summary of what sorts of things she can manage and what sort of damage these illusions can do.  Tactically, she tends to target victims of the Psi-Phon grenades, as they are extremely vulnerable to her attacks.  Additionally, she has some Mental Defense, and carries some standard PSI gear.

Unlike Torment or Deuce, the chance of redeeming Lady Mirage seems awfully slim.  Any vestiges of her past life are gone  I suspect she'd willingly kill her children without blinking if ordered to do so.  As such, she's honestly not that interesting to me as a character.  As a tactical challenge, on the other hand, she's a lot of fun.

Our second feature of the night is Revelation.  Unlike the rest of PSI, he's a religious whackjob.  Of course, in his case, his religion is Power and he sees himself as its prophet.

It wasn't always thus.  Anthony Martinelli ran away young and grew up on the streets.  From an early age, he had a knack for finding people just by thinking about them.  At seventeen, a local mobster found his talents useful and he began drawing a steady, if crooked paycheck.

It was during this time that Anthony began searching for a higher calling.  He tried many religions and philosophies before coming to the conclusion that his true purpose was to found a new religion with himself as high priest and prophet.  It was at this point, he began calling himself "Revelation."

Lucky for him, he encountered PSI before this behavior completely alienated his employer.  In PSI, he saw a way to hone his skills, a path to greater power in fulfilling his destiny.  In Revelation, PSI saw a tool for locating new subjects. It was a recipe for success.

Of course, it hasn't entirely worked out.  While PSI has indeed brought Revelation greater power, including the means of "inflicting penance" on his targets, they also made a disturbing discovery: Anthony's mental mutation is killing him.  His religious fervor is almost certainly a manifestation of madness induced by it, and his brain is degrading as he ages.  Already, his control over his powers are slipping, and they occasionally fail him completely.  Meanwhile, his madness grows...

In game terms, Revelation has a substantial Mind Scan (10d6 with a +10 on the Ego Roll) with a 14- Activation to reflect the lack of reliability.  He also has a decent (5d6) Ego Attack he can deliver to Mind Scan targets (and only Mind Scan targets).  Otherwise, he's a soft target.  He's got no physical aptitude, a handful of Mental Defense, and a smattering of PSI gear.  On the other hand, he should never be in the line of fire, unless things are going extremely badly.

From a campaigning standpoitn, he's an interesting character.  Mind Scanners are major pains in the butt, especially if they have Ego Attack, as they can hurt the heroes from half a world away, without even leaving their Barcalounger.  On the other hand, Revelation's grandiloquent manner and "higher purpose" means he can't really hide his light under a bushel.  The fact that he's going increasingly insane as his powers degrade sets up some world-class pathos.  And maybe if things get really bad, instead of failing, his powers get stronger or new ones develop, like a light bulb burning brightest before it burns out completely.

So, there ya go.  All caught up.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Mind Games: To The Pain!

For today's featured villain, I'm looking at one of Mind Games' more tragic cases: Torment.  He's also an interesting example of one of the limits to Champions' versatility (though, to be fair, this would be true in most, if not all RPGs).  Let's get started.

Jeff Baldwin's life just sucks. He was born prematurely to a poor family in a depressed municipality.  He was misdiagnosed with a mental handicap, which led to his being put into foster care as well as hiding his true difficulty: despite being quite bright, he was in constant pain.  His brain's pain receptors were always on and fully registered.  His life was constant agony.

(As a lifetime migraine sufferer, I can sympathize.)

Somehow, he survived in foster care until age twelve, when PSI learned of him and offered to work on his case.  Within eighteen months, they'd synthesized a drug that brought his pain under control.  For the first time in his life, Jeff wasn't in pain.

Of course there was a wee little side-effect. Instead of being in relentless pain, Jeff could now inflict it on others.  With this, Jeff ceased to be an interesting case for PSI and became a useful resource.  Using access to their pain-relieving drug as leverage, he has little choice but to work for them.  As Torment, he brings pain to any who oppose PSI.

(He also got an very spiffy costume. Copper and black may not be your typical color scheme, but it really works.)

Mechanically, Torment is interesting.  He's got a boatload of Ego Attack to represent his pain projection, but he's limited in its use by having to stand still and concentrate.  For that reason, he's best used as a sniper: hiding out and striking targets who can't immediately hit him back.  If he has the time to concentrate, he can bring down a 5d6 Ego Attack every round.  He actually has the Continuous Advantage Soulfire doesn't, and here, it's potentially devastating.

That said, as a means of simulating pain projection, Ego Attack isn't a great fit.  Yes, it'll put a target down super-fast at that level and the GM can describe it as passing out due to overwhelming pain, it's all down to the special effects.  Unless the damage overcomes the target's Stun, there's no mechanical effect until you're KOed.  It's kind of like D&D combat, where you're at 100% until you lose that last hit point.  Having suffered through illness-inducing pain, I think if I were writing Torment, I'd actually build in some Drains, based on Ego Combat Value, as a way to debilitate a target rather than just knock them out.  Your mileage may vary.

In a campaign, Torment presents a foe heroes could easily grow to loathe, but he also could turn out to be a character worth redeeming, or at least using to harm PSI.  If the heroes capture him, within a day or two, he'll be in agony.  Given that his first motivation in life is being without pain, he could easily agree to turn on PSI if the heroes can offer him relief.  After all, he's a survivor.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Mind Games: I Was A Teenage Pyro

Sorry for missing a few days.  Work and work-induced exhaustion slowed me down a bit.

Today, we look at one of the more "supervillain-y" supervillains in Mind Games: Soulfire.  Take a gander at that get-up:  Black orange and red color scheme? Check! Cape? Check! Villainous red eyes? Double check and mate!

He can even hold his own in a hand-to-hand scrap.  Not your average mentalist.

Before there was Soulfire, there was Harry.  Harry Gripp.  He was, according to the write-up "somewhat of a scoundrel."  Personally, I'd have said something worse, given his involvement in gangs and pushing drugs, but the 80s were a different time.  He ended up in juvie (I assume that's what "youth rehabilitation center" means) and it was around that time his pyrokinesis first manifested.  Rather spectacularly.  This attracted the attention of Dr. Poe.

Poe used his son Simon's Mind Control to free Harry, offering to train him in the use of his powers.  You know, your basic X-Men pitch.  Except with financial incentives.  Harry agreed, joined up, and excelled for the first time in his life.  Soon, he was training other PSI recruits.

When Counselor Darke arranged for Dr. Poe's downfall, Soulfire was one of the existing PSI rank and file protected from arrest.  Today, he serves as their primary trainer, as well as a valued field operative.

As I mentioned above, Soulfire is definitely more field-capable than most PSI operatives.  His primary power is a hefty (4d6) Indirect Ranged Killing Attack defined as setting his target on fire.  There is a bit of a disconnect between how the power is described and how it's defined in game terms. According to the description, he concentrates on an opponent and they burn so long as he concentrates on them.  This would imply a single attack roll, with the Continuous Advantage allowing him to apply the damage across multiple rounds.  However, the writeup doesn't include that Advantage.  It's a minor blip, and possibly reflective of how quickly this product fell on the heels of Champions 4e.

Apart from the pyrokinesis, he's got Missile Deflection (he burns them out of the air), Infrared Vision, and the requisite Mental Defense.  He's also got decent physical stats (comparable to a brawler rather than a full-on martial artist), which is handy, since he also has 18 pts worth of the Dirty Infighting Martial Art.  He can also swing around, which is kind of cool (and with the cape, fairly flamboyant).He also carries some PSI gadgets, notably some body armor and the Panic Ring.  Overall, a pretty decent balance of abilities.

In a campaign, Soulfire is the Loyal Soldier.  He likes being in PSI.  He actually enjoys the day-to-day drama, and he's generally well-liked by his compatriots.  Don't take his affable manner for granted though; he's a hardened killer and won't think twice about reducing someone to ash if it further's PSI's cause.

Underestimate him at your peril.

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.