Superheroes and pulp adventurers need nemeses who are just as colorful, interesting, and talented as the protagonists they oppose. Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery, the Flash’s Rogues, Spider-Man’s Sinister Six, Superman’s legions of foes, the Green Lantern’s Yellow Lanterns and so on, define those heroes as much as their powers and backstories do. So when running a supers RPG, GMs often want to create memorable foes to serve similar roles.
One way to do that is to do pastiche versions of classic villains. Another is to create new villains that draw on similar tropes, but aren’t 1-for-1 homages.
Since villains are often coolest if they have some collective noun (which doesn’t have to mean they work together… though sometimes they might), I have begun pondering a group of colorful foes ready to be the nemeses of nearly any hero.
I call them, the “Public Enemies.”
The master criminal known as Inverted Jenny is well-known to actually be Dr. Jennifer January, an expert in computational complexity theory who funded many philanthropic pursuits by working as a freelance postal and insurance investigator uncovering fraud. After she exposed a profitable money-laundering scheme being used by the Wolf’s Head, she was kidnapped and questioned by the villain Toxin under enhanced interrogation to see how much information she had turned over to the government. This treatment resulted in her developing dissociative identity disorder, apparently as an intentional side-effect of the psychotropic treatment she underwent.
The second identity that developed thought of herself as the opposite of everything Dr. Jennifer January believed in, and thus dubbed herself “Inverted Jenny.” Inverted Jenny is a genius planner obsessed with things that are the reverse of the norm, and stamps and stamp collecting. Though she has no superhuman powers, her ability to carefully plan, prepare for nearly any eventuality, adjust on the fly, and adapt to changing situations in clever and unexpected ways makes her a famously successful and dangerous foe. She is often very well funded, able to gather vast wealth in short periods of time through various forms of fraud, and happily spends that money to commit crimes that bring in much less value, but matches her personal aesthetic.
As Inverted Jenny she wears a domino mask (despite knowing her identity is public knowledge), and a high-quality pinstripe suit with a label pin of the famous Inverted Jenny stamp. She normally carries a handgun (often with specialty ammunition designed to deal with specific problems she has foreseen running into), a utility knife (generally concealed), a big ring (with the biplane from the famous stamp on it), and sometimes a cane (which has about a 50/50 change of having some special function, such as being a sword-cane, or a one-shot shotgun, or a cattle prod).
Inverted Jenny often works with a small club of all-women mercenary criminal specialists known as the Philatelists. These include Basel Dove (nonlethal munitions), Red Mercury (explosives), One-Cent Magenta (naval and underwater ops), Penny Black (disguise and infiltration), and Scinde Dawk (hand-to-hand combat). The Philatelists aren’t insane, and aren’t obsessed with stamps or inverted items. They were first assembled by Inverted jenny in an early, spectacularly successful, caper. While they were captured after they went their separate ways, their reputations were such that they were often freed and recruited by governments, master criminals, and of course Inverted Jenny herself. As a result, they use their stamp-based codenames, even when working independently or with groups with different motifs.
Two other Philatelists have sometimes been acknowledged, Penny Blue being a bodyguard often hired by Inverted Jenny, and Penny Red being a trainee of Penny Black (and possibly a younger relation) who operates independently as a bounty hunter and repossession expert on the gray side of the law.
Since Inverted Jenny is truly and genuinely insane, when captured she is generally confined and treated at the Segefield Sanatorium for the Criminally Insane. Of course, sometimes Dr. January’s personality is dominant, and at such times Inverted Jenny effectively does not exist. On numerous occasions, Dr. January has seemed to successfully and permanently suppress the Inverted Jenny personality, and managed to receive clearance to live in public, though always with regular monitoring and check-ins. Sadly, some treatments turned out to be only temporary, others couldn’t prevent a resurgence of Inverted Jenny if Dr. January was in extreme pain or danger, and in at least two cases what was a permanent fix was undone by some other villain who felt the need to recreate Inverted Jenny to access her planning expertise.
(Do you enjoy the content on this blog? Why not become a patron, and support the creation of more free material! Or you could even become a sponsor, and get me to link to YOUR content!)
Superhero/comic book worlds often build off their pasts with legacies and spin-offs. A good example of this are the X-Men, who have an X-Gene that gives them mutant powers, are trained by professor X, and have had groups such as X-Factor and eXcalibre.
It may all seem a bit eXcessive, but it also greats a throughline readers can use to quickly understand how these individuals and groups are related.
So if you are going to build something for a superhero setting, why not put in the thought on how to turn a single idea into a whole meme? A set of related concepts you, and readers and players, can expand on over time.
Here’s a particularly obvious example you can build an entire set of superhero groups and concepts around: AB-Humans
The rise of “Advanced Biology” Humans, or AB Humans, was troubling and unexpected. It lead to the rise of mega-geniuses, extreme mutations, and people with true superpowers.
And, of course, costumed heroes and villains.
Doctor Amanda Bryant, a powerful telepath sometimes called “Doctor AB” tried to train some of the most powerful ABs to control their abilities and use them for the benefit of mankind. In an effort to show that this could be the standard, she called them the Normal AB Example.
The press quickly dubbed them the AB-Normals, and bigotry and fear dogged them constantly.
Doctor AB’s old colleague, Erica Magus, saw that society would never trust ABs, and knew that only armed resistance could protect this minority. She took in ABs no one else would give a chance, even those who had turned to crime and rage to survive, and made them her Knight Errants.
Since then both groups have spun off side teams, the AB-Solvers and AB-Stainers, and AB-used being the best known.
If you get use out of or enjoy any of the content on this blog, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!
Sometimes when looking to create superhero worlds or adventures, all you need is an idea to run with. It could be a jumping-off point, a villain, a dead hero to draw the protagonist’s interest… just something that feels like it comes from a comicbook sensibility but (and this is the hard part) without being a direct ripoff or sharing a name with any character from mainstream comics.
So, here are a bunch.
I can’t claim they are all entirely original–many are intentionally based on existing tropes–or even that the names aren’t used in any comic/supers stories. But I developed them independently of other sources, and casual searches didn’t show parallel development of note.
These are designed for you home games or to spark new ideas original to you (though if you have some potential commercial use, feel free to drop me a line).
Aberzombie & Glitch.
Annoying, immoral preppy necromancer and technomancer who manipulate magic they barely understand, while stylishly dressed. Note that being shallow doesn;t automatically make these villains. they could be the kind of allies you avoid… until you absolutely need their help. Or even neutral to greater conflicts, and just sometimes dragged in on one side or the other.
A heavy weapons vigilante, mercenary, or assassin who uses an AK.
A villain. A terrorist who takes the unscientific belief that vaccines are dangerous and to be avoided to extremes by killing those who perform/promote vaccines, and tries to prove they are ineffectual by spreading deadly contagious diseases among vaccinated communities.
A woman with classic “brick” powers (high strength and resistance to damage) and no fucks to give about other people’s opinions. She could be a dauntless hero, a bitter villain, a self-interested mercenary, or anything in-between.
A penal superhero unit of convicted criminals who can cut time off their sentences by performing high-risk missions for the government. Run by Captain Cannon, a hardass patriotic supersolider with a cybergun arm who does as he is told and rules over the ‘Fodder’ with iron discipline.
The Fodder are run by the Combine, and operate out of a mobile secret base ship called The Trough. Cannon’s Fodder are often B- and C-grade villains (and occasionally antiheroes, vigilantes, and heroes who ended up on the wrong side of something), but are quite a dangerous force combined with the gear the Combine can arrange for them, and Cannon’s tactical acumen and willingness to sacrifice the lives of his Fodder if that’s the only way to get the mission done.
Thus while you can use noteworthy villains for your campaign’s Cannon’s Fodder, you can also just grab any terms or names you think of to be the “current” team, repurposing any write-ups you already have to represent the B List. (For example, the Feb 2019 team might include Bear Man, Deadnought, Killer Kaiman, Layaway, Punching Judy, Sister Sirocco, Spotlight, and Tigerdrake.)
A highly trained spy and combatant, who has luck that increases as the chance of failure goes up.
A team of 5 teens who can transform into powered, color-coded versions of themselves. Anywhere from Power Rangers to Sailor Scouts. Could be heroes, villains, or just an annoyance.
A berserker who gains size, strength, and resilience (including to mental powers) as he becomes angry. Most likely an antihero.
A rogue genius pharmacologist who gains massive psychic powers when high. could be an antihero, a villain, or just an unreliable hero.
A pulp-era-style detective or hit man who is happy to pit his/her skills and a single common handgun (the “gat”) against whatever superpowers foes have.
What if the Punisher had Batman’s training, resources, and skills?
That would be Hardcore.
The Knackerman, or Knacker, is a supernatural force who clears corpses from roadways and public spaces, and repurposes them as revenants. Usually the Knacker just gives abused animals a chance to return and punish their abusers, or sometimes save a beloved human in trouble. But sometimes Knacker brings back cars, or toys… or people.
Can slow down anyone or anything, so all actions and reactions take longer.
A mastermind crime boss, who is known to also have powerful connections to legitimate political authorities such as mayors, judges, and law enforcement–though no one knows exactly what those connections are. the combination of ruthless underworld agents and corrupt politicians and agents and moles makes him (or her, regardless of the name), well, untouchable.
A massively overweight werebear. Might be a cuddly hero, but might also be a bitter villain jaded from years of mockery and abuse.
Psychic Stripling Samurai Snakes.
Five sibling anthropomorphic snakes with mental powers and samurai training.
(Some of these ideas are less original than others.)
The world’s best detective, an unassuming pulp-era style investigator in a trench coat and fedora. QED can take apparently unrelated facts and use them to describe events that must have occurred to cause the known facts, thus revealing things that seemed unknown or unknowable.
A feared, immortal assassin. When you truly need someone to suffer, you Get Rekt.
The Shark Brothers.
Card Shark, Loan Shark, and Pool Shark, three mobster brothers with bites that can sever gun barrels, each with their own specialty in crime.
The idea of someone who neutralizes mutant/metahuman powers is fairly common. This idea puts a slight spin on that, as someone who neutralizes all forms of magic.
A “family” of superbeings who are evolved and sentient magic items from mythology. Some, such as the swords Durandal, Gram, and Nothung, and the rings Andvarinaut and Draupnir, were forged directly by the sorcerer/smith Weyland while others, such as Fragarach, Mjolnir, Nemean, and Tarnkappe, were reforged/rewoven by Weyland to grant them sapience, sentience, and human forms.
The Relics are reincarnated if slain, so while some have been active and alive for centuries, others are born as aparently normal humans, and then begin to gain powers of the reliquary nature sometime between their 12th and 18th years. Relics are not as a group entirely good or bad. Some, such as Durandal, appear to always be driven to work for justice. Others, such as Draupnir, seem to always seek power and wealth above all else.
And all sense that they exist to serve some great purpose in Weyland’s plans… which he refuses to talk about, though he calls them his “true children” and often aids them if they are in serious danger.
The ancient nordic sorcerer/smith of Germanic myth, though his origins are neolithic and he has survived to the modern era. Forged or reforged the Relics, causing them to be true living beings. Wayland is not evil, per se, and isn’t willing to see the world devastated, but his own plots and plans that take place over a scale of centuries, and mostly doesn’t care about “petty” issues like crime and justice.
Generally opposed by his equally immortal, but not quite as skilled, son Verlandsson, who mostly just hates his father and wants to stop the elder’s plans whatever they are, whatever the cost. Verlandsson is sometimes aided by his grandfather Vade, a giant and sorcerer/smith, who mostly just wants to be left alone.
Able to send and receive any broadcast signal. Makes an excellent “Overwatch/Quarterback/Ally in the chair” character, for good or ill, but could also be a badass in their own right with equipment and skills any superhero-level human can achieve, plus the WiFi power. Or, could have a swarm of drones. Or, all of the above.
In ancient Rome, someone who was banished from civilization was marked with the brand of the Wolf’s Head, meaning they could be hunted and killed as if a rogue wolf. One of those branded criminals turned it into a badge of honor, forming the Church of Crime and becoming the first popelike Wolfshead of All Crime.
If you enjoy any of the content on this blog, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!
So, there’s a really big Bundle of Holding deal with over $100 in superhero game stuff for MUCH less, going on now (June 26-July 16, 2018). It includes two of Jacob Blackmon;s awesome RGG products, the Super Powered Bestiary and Super Powered Sourcebook.
And that got me thinking.
I’ve always been a fan of heroes who have good rogue’s galleries—villains who make up a regular set of threats for the hero. Lots of heroes have great rogue’s galleries—Daredevil, the Flash, Wolverine, and Superman all come to mind. But for me, without a doubt, the two best are Spider-Man and Batman.
And even better, they’re swappable!
You can take the idea of Batman villains and apply them to Spider-Man, and vice versa. You can also swap the bat- and spider-themes of those two characters.
And if you are running a supers game, this kind of thing can be a quick way to have somethign that feels familiar, but isn’t a direct copy of an existing character. Here are some quick swap-out characters a GM could use to build a world quickly, and still have some depth and surprises for PCs.
Bitten by a radioactive bat, the “friendly neighborhood teen chiroptera” got his (fairly terrible) nick-name from the media when he first began trying to solve crimes in Jersey City, in a homemade hero costume.
Punching Judy (Harley Quinn)
Venus Flytrap (Poison Ivy)
Ugo Fate (Hugo Strange)
Doctor Winter (Mr. Freeze)
Pumpkin Jack (Scarecrow)
When his billionaire Australian parents were murdered while on holiday with him to Empire City in the US, the child who grew to be one of the most feared villain knew he needed a symbol that would strike fear into the hearts of criminals. A symbol… like a blood-red huntsman spider.
Green Gargoyle (Green Goblin)
Bombay (Black Cat)
Professor Kraken (Dr. Octopus)
Wasp the Spider-Killer (Kraven the Hunter)
Herr Geier (Vulture)
Komodo (The Lizard)
Body Doulbe (Chameleon)
Volt (Shocker. Or Electro. Doesn’t make a big difference)
Sometimes all you need to flesh out a world, are a few espy pastiche homages. 😀
If you are reading this, maybe you’d like to consider supporting more blog posts like this by pledging a small amount to my Patreon?
“After several weeks of increasing accusations, rumors, and news reports, The Patriarch, long-time leader of the government-sanctioned hero team the Patriot Patrol, has made a public statement regarding the sexual misconduct controversies he’s been the center of for some more than a month now. We present his comments, made from the Patriot Palace, in their entirety.”
“My American Friends and Neighbors, this is an unusual moment for me, and I find it difficult to know how to strike the correct tone. Normally when I speak publicly in this way, it’s to warn of an impending invasion for another dimension, or to assure citizens that a tidal wave or volcanic eruption has been mitigated due to my actions, or those of others in the Patriot Patrol. Never before have I faced claims that I have acted inappropriately that so caught the public attention that, as leader of our premiere line of masked defenders, I felt the need to address them. I do this not because I feel I am unable to do my job defending the innocent, but because there is clearly a cultural movement in play at the moment, and I do not wish speculation over my reaction to recent events become a distraction from the important work that lies ahead for us all.
“As I am sure everyone is aware, a number of women have made public statements indicating that I used my position to coerce sexual acts rom them, or gave preferential treatment in return for such acts, or had interactions with them that made them uncomfortable. Several of these women are people I have known and worked with for years, and I am obviously hurt that they felt the appropriate step for them was to speak to the media rather than to me, but that’s where we are now.
“Let me be clear. It was never my intention to intimidate, harm, or belittle any woman. The majority of the incidents that have recently been made public occurred outside of my official duties as leader of the Patrol, and my perception of them was very different than the recollections of the woman now making accusations. Other accusations are patently false, and the timing of these claims supports my view that they are politically motivated, rather than the cries of a repressed class of victims.
“In particular, while it is true that I had relations with several cadet members of the Patrol, and with a few of the women we monitored as part of the Forlorn Force villain work-release program. All of these women were consenting adults, and all the activities engaged in legal in the municipalities where they occurred. No crime was committed here.
“Further, for those who feel such relationships may have shown poor judgment, I will point out that I am, literally, from another time. As a citizen of the 40th century, I come from a time where there is no power imbalance between men and women, and thought that in the 75 years since I became a costumed agent in this time that we had moved American society to the point where it had reached the same ideal. When seen from this perspective, my actions are clearly without malice or improper intent.
“Obviously there is a process in place within the Patriot Patrol to investigate serious accusations of misconduct. That level of evidence has not been meet, but I am nevertheless directing the appropriate committee to begin an investigation into the most serious of these accusations, which I have no doubt will fully vindicate me. Since I am the head of the committee, I have directed Captain Quantum to take over for this specific investigation. I’ve known the captain for more than a decade, and believe him to be above reproach. His conclusions will surely be accepted by all fair-minded people, and but this issue to bed once and for all.
“Until that time, obviously it is unfair to those citizens that depend on the Patriot Patrol to protect them from the machinations of the Cathedral of Crime, or the J’kund, or any of a dozen similar potential threats for me to step down and leave my fellow Patriots short-handed. So while I am temporarily stepping back from the various oversight roles I have filled for over half a century, I remain on the job, overseeing you all as a Patriarch should.
“Finally, I would remind you when you go to news-sites and listen to broadcasts about these issues, that we live in a complicated world. Between shapeshifters, Computiac, telepaths, and evil alternate reality versions of our own with groups like the Penal Patrol, not everything you see or hear is trustworthy. While news agencies obviously believe they can perform a level of due diligence to ensure they don’t produce fake news, when their reporting suggests a well-known and trusted hero has committed such terrible social violations, it may be time to trust us, and not them.
“Thank you, and know that I’m watching over you all.”
These are entirely random ideas, at least in part driven by cold medicine, on quirky heroes at the street level, where gangs and men with brass knuckles are still significant threats.
Look, if the Defenstrator and Wild Dog can be heroes…
For no particular reason other than to have some fun.
Babe. An aging, portly male vigilante with a baseball bat, catcher’s helmet, chest protector and leg guards… and a significant close-combat skills, if not a ton of endurance. Gives kids in his neighborhood oranges if they’re good.
Beulah. Inspired by Edison/Tesla contemporary Beulah Henry, Beulah is a one-woman engineering firm, with the motto “Have Wrench, Will Travel.” Often works to solve local neighborhood problems large companies and municipal groups refuse to get around too, but also sometimes solves murders or stops crimes.
Flying Rat. Low-rent Batman-type, with a Pigeon motif. Not a billionaire, just someone with a trust fund big enough to order custom paint jobs on cars and catalog-shuriken, semi-concealable body armor, kendo and Krav Maga classes, bribe a network of pizza delivery drivers and homeless kids to spy for him, maintain prepaid legal services, and not need a 40-hour-a-week job. Operates from the Pigeon Coupe, his fixed-roof sedan with custom hood ornament and some police gear.
Isiah Mordecai Mortal. Private detective who, if killed, shows up at the edge of the nearest township to his corpse at the next sundown. Has business cards with “I.M.Mortal” on them.
Jean Hatchet. A firewoman who refuses to back down from villains, local thugs, or corrupt officials, and carries her fire axe with her almost always. When not in her fire fighter’s uniform, wears sneakers, slacks, a dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and a thin tie.
Paintball. A young, athletic woman with a paintball mask and paintball gun. She is an expert paintball sniper and shootist, and mixes custom paintball colors (with UV inks) she delivers to local police in advance so if she is seen shooting a robber to mark them on camera, the police can prove a suspect is the one she shot.
Pellet. Paintball’s young male sidekick (a fact she accepts only grudgingly), who also uses paintballs but delivers them with a slingshot.
A Joker/Riddle-esque villain named “Hitting Yourself.”
Obviously he commits crimes that force his victim to commit self-harm.
But mostly, he’s just waiting for a local authority to gravely intone to the prime vigilante (a member of Knightwatch, whatever):
“You *must* stop Hitting Yourself.”
Top Ten Signs Your New Player Doesn’t “Get” Your Superhero RPG Game
10. Whenever the PCs catch crooks who have committed a crime, the new player rifles through the criminals’ possessions and begins “treasure division” of the stolen goods among the other players.
9. All his proposed Secret IDs are characters from Star Wars. Mostly Boba Fett..
8. He tries to reboot an old Bunnies and Burrows character, as Captain Furry. Who has a “mind yiffing” psychic attack. Which he describes in over-graphic detail.
7. His first ten suggested Hero names are Stab Lad, The Stalker, Bruisertron, Gandalf, Stuff Man, Enabler, Orange Avenger, Defibrillator Dan, Restraining Order, and Boba Fett. All ten proposed names are for the same character.
6. When he finally settles on naming his hero Captain Crimson Confessor, he insists his secret cave-based church complex be called “The Apse-Hole.”
5. The term “Rao Fundamentalist” creeps into your gaming lexicon. It is not a complement.
4. When asked if he’s playing a Golden Age or Silver Age character concept, he asks how many extra gp a Golden Age character gets.
3. The new hero pawns his Congressional Medal of Honor, and uses the money gained to pay for beer and a trip to Disneyland.
2. His first character concept is a “half-hero, half-Vulcan, with Mommy issues.”
1. The character retires, to study the socio-economic factor that lead to citizens putting on costumes and committing illegal acts under assumed nom de maux.
Amused? Back my patreon and ask for more Top Ten lists!
As a companion piece to the (partial, revised) List of Very Fantasy Words, here are real, not newly-minted, words and phrases I very rarely encounter outside a Supers RPG or story.
*Many impact-based onomatopoeias (Blam, Pow, Woosh)
*Mutant (yes, some post-apocalyptic sources as well, but weirdly those are by far the minority)
*Superhero (though beyond the obvious ties to the genre, there are actually BS legal reasons why the word superhero is only common in DC and Marvel products).
*Supreme (except I confess, as a pizza description, which is more common)
*Villain (and, even more so, super-villain)
Do you enjoy the content on this blog? Why not become a patron, and support the creation of more free material! Or you could even become a sponsor, and get me to link to YOUR content!
The rules: Every character mentioned is an amalgam of two or more comic characters played by the same actor, and the world has a single consistent continuity.
The entity known as the Silver Sapien was created by a planet-devouring cloud of elder gods as a mindless side-effect of their constant hunger for sentient sacrifices. The Sapien does not serve the gods, and cannot stop them, but does fly ahead of them from world to world acting as a herald of each planets impending doom. Some worlds achieve true peace in the days before destruction, while others have advanced enough technology for a small percentage to flee before the unthinkable appetites of the galactic gods.
A few fought. Only Earth, lead by the Torch of Liberty, ever won. Inspired by the Torch, the Silver Sapien became an ally of the Earth’s Most Just Heroes, the Fantastic League.