Short Fiction: “ALPHA FOXTROT UNIFORM”
I don’t post much short fiction, but it’s an area I’d like to be spending more time and effort on, if I could catch up on other projects. When I originally began my writing career in the 1990s, I wanted to split my time between game writing and fiction writing, but I kept getting offered guaranteed money for game writing, and all fiction was on spec, so…
This is inspired by the quick vigilante/heroes concepts I’ve dabbled with for months on social media with the #StreetLevelHeroes hashtag/
ALPHA FOXTROT UNIFORM
Mike-Mike tossed two smoke cannisters around the corner then dove away from the cover of the alley wall, using a powerful kick against its brick to send him flying swiftly and suddenly across the refuse-covered back street and toward a storm drain. Bursts of automatic gunfire sprayed out around him, but didn’t immediately get a bead on his movement. The smoke wasn’t thick enough for good visual cover yet, but he’d mostly thrown the cannisters to create a distraction. He ended his leap in a slide, staying as low to the ground as possible, and reaching out for the storm drain grill. He felt twin sharp pains in his left leg, but didn’t have time to check if he’d taken shrapnel, or if bullets had impacted on his ballistic cloth costume, or if he was seriously hit.
His fingers just barely grabbed the grill and he quickly pulled himself past the gap between grill and the street, down into the drain. It was a tight fit, but one he’d checked he could make months ago when he’d first begun operating in the old Satan’s Hollow district. He also knew that it was, on average, a three-meter drop from a storm drain entrance to the floor of the crumbling brick waterways. He tucked, trying to roll blindly onto the curved wall he couldn’t see.
He hit, hard, and more flopped than rolled. His right shoulder flared in pain, but he didn’t think it was broken. Cracked, maybe. It would demand attention soon.
If he was still alive.
The muffled sounds of gunfire up in the alley stopped almost immediately, which was bad. It meant his assailants had a good idea where he was, which wasn’t a shock but it would have been nice to catch a break on their acuity.
This hadn’t been a “catch a break” kind of day.
He popped his last smoke cannister, hoping it would cut visibility enough to make the gunmen cautious about following him into the drain system, then forced himself to his feet. The pain in his left leg returned with a vengeance, but the limb didn’t collapse under him. The drain was nearly empty—it hadn’t rained in this part of the state in more than a week – so at least he could move with fair speed down the tunnel. He hesitated for only a second before flicking on the light attached to his cap—right now it was more important that he move quickly and not bean himself on a cross-pipe than to maintain stealth.
He vacated the spot under the drain grill just as a burst of automatic fire sprayed down from the alleyway. The gunshots were deafening, but at least he didn’t catch a ricochet as he jogged away. His light revealed a cross-drain not more than five meters ahead of him, and he moved toward it as quickly as he could. Just as he reached it there was a clatter behind him, beneath the drain grill.
He threw himself sideways into the cross-drain, as a flash-bang filled the previous tunnel with blinding light and thunderous sound. The shockwave buffeted him, but didn’t make him senseless. He forced himself to his feet again, and ran down the cross-tunnel as fast as he could. He couldn’t be sure the assailants above were following any specific protocol, but most training made flash-bangs a step taken just before a breach.
They were coming to get him, and soon.
Thankfully, the layout of storm drains beneath the Satan’s Hollow district was as convoluted and irregular as the streets of the neighborhood above. He soon found a second intersection, then a third, each time dashing in a random direction to force his pursuers to spread themselves thinner and thinner to chase him down.
Unfortunately, it had looked like they had the numbers to DO that, even if it took some time. Their gear had included some upscale communications and screen devices as well, so he would guess they had nine backup giving them schematics, traffic camera views, and local internet chatter. No maps of the drain system were 100% accurate, but with their numbers, resources, and apparent competence, he couldn’t trust he’d be able to safely disengage without being followed.
Or mowed down.
He didn’t even know what he’d done to warrant the sudden attack, and honestly if he hadn’t been who he was, able to do what he could do he’d be dead already. But he’d already played the one good trick he kept up his sleeve, and it hadn’t been enough. The attackers had kept coming, in numbers, out in the open, with no apparent concern about retaliation from law enforcement. He was out of his depth.
He needed his own back-up.
He slipped an old-fashioned flip-phone out of a pouch, and popped it open. It had no dialpad, and showed clear signs of modification. It automatially came on and dialed a long, complex tone, which was followed by a series of soft clicks. He rarely used it, and just hoped he wasn’t catching its creator at a bad time…
The woman’s voice was cool, calm, and firm. It was the sweetest sound Mike-Mike had ever heard.
“Mike-Mike, danger word ‘Bananagram.’ I stepped in it Ops. I’m in trouble.”
“Location?” Her voice remained just as calm.
“Storm drains, under Satan’s Hollow. I went in somewhere between Milton Street and the Piles. I’ve been moving roughly south.”
Mike-Mike took the time to actually look at his leg, crouching to shine his light directly on it. There was no blood, which was good. However when he gingerly touched it, pain shot through him like a hot poker. Which was bad. His shoulder was nearly as painful, and he could feel more bruises and stiffening muscles as the adrenaline leaked out of his system.
“Pretty badly battered. Nothing critical, but I am not in fighting trim.”
Mike-Mike looked at the timer on the inside of his right wrist. It automatically went off when he used his “Boom Blast,” counting down until his AB-human power could be used again. He’d expended it when he had first been jumped, and it was the only reason he’d survived the first moments of the attack.
“I got about forty-five minutes before I can pop off. I’m out of smoke. I still have my G19 and two spare clips, but I’d rather not get into a firefight.”
There was a brief pause. “I’ve got you situation. CyberChat in the area is all over it. Reports of four or more armored trucks, two dozen troops. I have video of two of them. No sign of police. Traffic cams are down. No sign of insignia or nametags. Just ranks, which match what Red Stone Consulting use, though they aren’t in standard Red Stone gear. Looks like they’re spreading out, likely trying to cut off your possible evac routes.”
Mike-Mike closed his eyes, and took three deep breaths. That was all about as bad as it could be.
“Options?” He tried to keep his own voice calm.
“I’m boosting the social media awareness now. Shutting down false stories where I can. Making sure footage gets out. Eventually either state enforcement is going to have to pay attention, or mainstream media will which might force federal intervention or a major hero group to drop whatever else they’re doing and head this way. But that’s going to take time I don’t think you have.”
Mike-Mike’s leg flared in pain again, and his visual briefly blurred. That was extra-bad.
“Agreed,” he said simply.
“I can ping potential allies. Get them to the most public spot you can reach, make sure it’s well-seen, and see if these fuckos are willing to go hot against some well-known masks with the eyes of the world on them.”
“I’ll take it.” Mike-Mike didn’t see any better options. “Who’s on deck?”
“Dvork and Chopper are already en route on their own initiative, Broken Heart is nearby and I expect to have her moving your way shortly. I’m pinging Clunker, but don’t know his location. And Boilerplate just reached out to me. She’s apparently also involved in this, and willing to help with an extraction.”
A wave of relief rolled through Mike-Mike. He’d take any help he could get, but Boilerplate brought both near-invulnerability and legal expertise into the mix. And she was well-liked and respected, making it less likely anyone would try to gaslight the public about her involvement.
“What’s my exit?”
“Can you make it to the Yamatown Market?”
Mike-Mike tried to focus on a mental map of Satan’s Hollow, and what he knew about the storm drains. They would all move roughly south or east, to dump into the river. Yamatown was right on the edge of southeastern Satan’s Hollow, divided from it by the 102nd street viaduct, which had connections to the drains. As long as he kept moving in approximately the same direction…
“Yes. It’ll take me maybe 20 minutes.”
Mike-Mike forced himself back to his feet, gritting his teeth at the pain. He had no idea which of the things he’d been looking into had brought this sudden hellstorm down on him.
But he was now a good deal more convinced he was going to live long enough to find out.
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Developing to Spec: Part 17d – Captain Akiton
This is the third section of Part Seventeen of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints. You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.
We’re nearly through the long list of “Improved” feats, and have come to Improved Shield Bash. That would have been tricky as heck before the Character Operations Manual, but since that book added shields, and they have rules for making unarmed attacks using a shield, all we need is to find an option that is shield-specific, slam related, combat-useful, interesting, fun, and doesn’t upset any of the game’s combat math by increasing max bonuses.
IMPROVED SHIELD BASH (Combat)
You are skilled at mixing offensive and defensive shield tactics in combat.
Prerequisites: Proficiency with shields.
Benefit: When you successfully hit a target with an unarmed strike from a shield, until the beginning of your next turn any increased bonus to AC the shield grants when you align it against a target apply to attacks made from the target you hit.
That brings us to Improvised Weapon Mastery, which has Catch-Off Guard and Throw Anything as prerequisites. We aren’t obligated to have them as prerequisites for our Starfinder version of Improvised Weapon Mastery, but it’s still a good idea to have them written up first and to remind ourselves what they do) We did Catch Off-Guard already, so that just leaves Throw Anything.
We COULD just copy-and-paste our Catch Off-Guard and make it for improvised thrown weapons rather than improvised melee… but no one would ever take that feat. It’s dull and corner-case at best. Besides, we JUST wrote a feat that deals with using shields in combat, so…
THROW ANYTHING (Combat)
You are adept at turning anything into a ranged weapon.
Prerequisites: Dex 13, proficiency with Advanced Melee Weapons.
Benefit: Anything held you can use to make a melee attack with, you can use as a thrown weapon without taking additional penalties for throwing it. Items you can use 1-handed have a range increment of 20 feet, those that require 2 or more hands have a range increment of 10 feet.
Additionally, items you throw in combat bounce back to you and are caught ready-for-use by you, unless something happens to them to interrupt their journey. A foe can ready an action to attempt to sunder a thrown weapon you use this feat with, and after your attack is resolved if the readied action hits, the thrown item ends up in a random space somewhere between you and your target.
If you have this feat and are proficient with shields, you can throw a shield you are wielding, and are considered to be wielding it again when it returns.
Okay, so maybe I’ve been watching too many Avengers movies, but at least this feat feels fun. 🙂 And, given the more common nature of ranged combat in Starfinder, making it easier to be a melee-weapon-using character is likely fine.
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Not every supers character needs a lot of backstory. In fact when you get into B-Teams, Caped Best Buddies, Great-Lakes Groups, X-treme X-amples, Tri-County Taskforces, and Substitute Heroes, often about all you need for a quirky, minor super character is two-sentences.
These concepts can be used as quick descriptions for background characters that may not ever need full stats, or jumping-off points for more detailed descriptions. They aren’t necessarily “joke” characters, just nontraditional and less likely to take center stage for various reasons.
Alewife: Alewife is a stern mother of five who is the strongest in a long line of monosaccahakenetic women able to generate and manipulate honey and honey byproducts, including ale. She does not use her powers for parties, unless one of her children (by birth or fierce mommabear adoption) is getting married or turning 16.
Bear-B-Que: Bear-B-Que is a chubby, cheerful, hirsute, gay man who can actually breath fire and (as a professional chef) make ribs that make people think they are breathing fire. Can also cast shade, but that doesn’t appear to be a superpower.
Drakkar: As a child, Drakkar ate a piece of a viking longship his parents were excavating at an archaeological dig, and now he can transform into one (from 20-60 feet long, which can fly, and has a “kick-ass” dragon masthead). He also fronts an eponymous heavy metal rock band.
Hotspot: Hotspot can always connect any device she is holding to the nearest radio tower, satellite pickup, and wireless connection–even through Faraday cages and solid stone. She most often plays “girl in the chair” to low-level heroes, giving advice and overwatch.
Prybar: Prybar has unbreakable, irremovable, unbendable fingernails. They are often a big ragged, since they are nearly impossible to trim (she has to use her own nails to file her nails).
Quiff: Quiff volunteered to be a human test for a receding hairline treatment. He is the only survivor of the test, and while he is still an aging, overweight man, he now has augmented strength and durability (though not enhanced endurance–he’s good for maybe a minute of fighting between rests), and a huge lock of thick, nearly-indestructible, brightly-colored prehensile hair on his forehead that can lift half a ton and extend up to 30 feet.
Sheba: Sheba is a highly evolved colony of bees–not a sapient queen bee who rules a hive, but the hive itself has become a distributed intelligence able to communicate and act collectively. She can do anything a hive of bees with group human intelligence can do, and is an active environmentalist.
Slack: Slack’s skin is infinitely flexible and stretchy, able to extend away from the rest of the body, which is otherwise normal. If cut free, the removed skin rots almost immediately and the wounded skin heals just as quickly.
Sudden-Oven Man: He can summon an over…. suddenly. Prefers charity work over superheroics but is willing to pitch in when needed. (You can read an interview with him here.)
Ten-Point: Ten-point is a seven-foot tall man with a full rack of stag horns, stag feet, and considerably enhanced speed, strength, and endurance. He works as a park ranger most of the year, but not during hunting season (no amount of bright orange makes him safe when it’s hunting season), when he does more in-town heroics and volunteer work.
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Supers Ideas: More Knight Shift
Yet more members of the not-front-page, unusually-themed second-string heroes of Cathedral City, the Knight Shift.
Crimson Kpinga: John “Jake” Jefferson James tried to do everything right, despite growing up in a broken home in Devil’s Avenue, one of the worst slums in Cathedral City. He worked part time to help his mother with the bills, avoid criminal crowds, studied hard, and looked after his younger siblings. But none of that mattered when someone matching his description (“young African American male in a t-shirt and jeans”) hijacked a car four blocks away. Jake was grabbed and beaten by police, including the notorious Sgt. Stoneman, who consistently called Jake a “goddam cannibal, like the rest of you Ni-niams.”
CCTV footage proved Jake was innocent, but not before he spent 48 hours in lockup. Kake tried to bring complaints against the specific officers who mistreated him, only to find the system was designed to favor their word over his. He was told repeated by the people in his community that police did not treat them equally, and that while there were good cops and bad cops, they didn’t look different until one hit you. Or shot you. His community did not trust, or call on cops.
Jake was done trying to do things the way the system demanded. He decided to fill in the role of peacekeeper and justice dealer in Devil’s Avenue. And, guided by the “Ni-Niam” slur, he researched an African people and their weapons to be his inspiration. He researched the Zande and their traditional weapons, the Kpinga throwing knife. he got a job at an upscale axe-throwing bar that had moved into a bankrupt barbaer shop on the edge of his neighborhood, and at night practiced throwing the weapon again and again. The Crimson Kpinga was born.
He had a few successes, but his career would have run short early except for one fateful decision. While leading a group of drug-dealing thugs away from a residential area, Jake happened to run through the stairs to the door of the 13th floor of an abandoned building. And, it turned out, Tacoma was watching.
Since joining forces with Tacoma, Crimson Kpinga has received a great deal more training, and significant equipment upgrades, giving him armored costumes and high-tech kpingas, allowing him to operate on a whole different level, though his first priority remains the people of Devil’s Avenue.
Tacoma: Tacoma is a ghost building. It’s elevator can access the 13th floor of any building in the world that is 13 stories or higher, and that has a working elevator. Tacoma itself can only be accessed from an elevator with a 14th floor button, and only if Tacoma feels like allowing it (and is paying attention).
The Tacoma Building, and early skyscraper in Chicago built in 1889, was the first riveted-iron-frame building in the world and the first 13-story building in the world. It was home to numerous offices and businesses. One of these was the Beneficient Order of Hieremias, a charity that existed as a cover for the evil-hunting Gileadian champions of peace and life. When the building was destroyed in 1929 by Sfinții Dracului, the public was told it was to make way for a new building.
But the building known as Grandfather Skyscraper had been murdered by magic, and it’s spirit was restless. It existed as a ghost, seen only from the corner of the eye or as a glitch on maps of various big cities. When Sister Celestial staggered out of a 14th floor elevator in 1934 on death’s door after a bloody gun battle with the King of Hell’s Kitchen, she accidentally access Tacoma instead of the afterlife. Tacoma managed to bring a doctor to her (who, despite great confusion, saved the Sister’s life), and then became Sister Celestial’s best friend and ally for the next 20 years of her crusade. After her death in the mid 1950s, Tacoma sat empty and unaccessed until Crimson Kpinga, wounded and leading dangerous men away from innocents, ran through a 13th floor door, and Tacoma noticed. And brought “CK” safely into his own space.
It took time for CK to realize Tacoma was alive, or at least aware, but with Tacoma showing him special 13th floor rooms all over the world — places where supervillains set up special labs that remained secret after they were killed, or that heroes a generation or two ago had used as their bases of operation, CK and Tacoma became a powerful team. When Firecracker invited Crimson Kpinga to join the Knight Shift, he accepted, and brought the considerable resource of Tacoma with him.
Longlegs: Longlegs is Jennifer “JennJenn” Janice James, the younger sister of Jake james, better known as the Crimson Kpinga. When CK was captured by the Kill Klan, Tacoma reached out to JennJenn as she happened to be on the 13th floor of an office building as part of her food delivery job. Tacoma managed to communicate with JennJenn, and urge her to call the Knight Shift for help. She did, but she also insisted on going to help herself. Wishing to keep her from harm, Tacoma took her to an abandoned safe house where the Parole Patrol criminal gang had been planning a heist during a 4th of July parade, but had been captured before they could attempt it. Among the unused gear was a single-purpose tight-fitting exoskeleton with powerful hydraulic stilts, designed to be disguised as an Uncle Sam Tall Man. during the parade. JennJenn too the suit for its armor value, but discovered she had a knack for using it’s telescoping legs for movement, escape, and powerful kicks.
After CK was rescued, he tried to forbid JennJenn from becoming a costumed hero, claiming she was “too young.” Tacoma disagreed, and CK discovered he could help JennJenn become Longlegs, or he could let her do it on her own. She has since become a valued member of the Knight Shift.
Mirror Mirror: When the Villains Alliance attempt to use the Multivexer to slice off alternate realities from the blended alterverse, allowing them to be isolated and eventually drained of all energy, somehow Adam Mason was caught at the edge of the field, and briefly linked to ever version of himself in ever reality. The result of this is twofold. First, Adama has access to every skill any version of him gained in any reality, which mostly runs to a long list of service jobs and hobby-level sports and games, but occasionally includes a real outlier of high degree skill or learning (such as preparing blowfish safely, and speaking fluent Cantonese).
Secondly, Adam can assume the form of an alternate reality version of anyone he touches. Normally this is a very close duplicate, though sometimes there are surprising differences (the alternate reality version of Dexter he once assumed was, inexplicable, a chainmail-wearing swordwoman with a raygun). However, he can maintain this form only until he encounters a high-energy state change, which includes anything as powerful as a good punch. Once he is “knocked back to reality,” he can’t assume an alternate version of that person again until his quantum state bleeds off all related residual vibrations… a process that takes just over seven years.
He has also discovered that some entities, such as the Incorruptibles and the Elders from Before, do not HAVE alternate-reality versions of themselves.
As a result As Mirror Mirror (Em-Em, in the field), Adam tried not to duplicate anyone, especially a teammate, unless he absolutely has to, since doing so removes that option for seven years of future encounters and sometimes it’s no help at all. That said, when the Terminax was prepared to destroy all life in the solar system, Em-Em was able to beocme an alternate version of itself and countermand its every order to the Terminaughts, and then send a shutdown code to defeat the Terminax itself.
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Supers Ideas: The Knight Shift
Some ideas refuse to leave me alone until I write them up to at least a sketch level. This is one of those. I haven’t even searched for similar ideas and names already in use, yet.
THE KNIGHT SHIFT
When Citadel City’s primary defenders are injured, off in space, or just on vacation, the citizens still sleep safe knowing they remain watched over by the less-experienced, less-famous, but still competent Knight Shift.
The Knight Shift can be B-Team backup for the Player character heroes, or just interesting local color.
The Amalekite: The Amalekite is a powerful champion that appears to be a mighty armor made of stone and metal, marked with ancient sigils and crafted in a mix of Biblical and modern styles. The Amalakite can teleport at sunup and sundown, stand watch ceaselessly, fly, command (but not create) fire, always hear its name if spoken by one who has met it, and is spectacularly powerful and strong. Though the Amalekite can bleed if struck hard enough, no one has ever seen its wearer, who is often thought of as the bravest and most noble of the Knight Shift, and sometimes considered “too good” for the ‘secondary’ team of heroes.
In truth, the Amalekite is not a suit of armor worn by anyone at all, but a powerful sorcerous tool created in ancient times by the last of the Amaleks. It is controlled by the dreams of whoever last spoke the rites of kingship over it. Lost for eons, the words were found inscribed in a table by Clifton Kirk, a famed archeologist in the 1960s. Fearing the power of the Amalekite, Kirk never risked speaking or sharing them. Kirk sadly turned to alcoholism when his career never reached the level of success he felt he deserved for finding the Amalekite (a fact he kept secret), and when he died his possessions passed to his estranged son Steven Kirk.
Steven spoke the words accidentally, while going through his father’s papers, and gained the power to command the Amalekite in his sleep. There is no risk to him, he feels no pain, expends no energy. He has even learned to enter a dreamlike state while waking by smoking various herbs and playing mindless video games. But, of course, if his identity was ever discovered, Steven would be in great danger.
And so the master of the Amalekite lives in his mother’s basement, high and dozing off most of the time, as the resentment that none of the acclaim, hero worship, and less proper offers of thanks and rewards ever filter down to him, a massively obese, homebound, part-time online customer service rep.
Dexter: When Caliburn the NovaGuard used his NovaStrike to slow Voidrox the Sun-Killer, the feedback destroyed Caliburn entirely.
Except for his right hand.
With the last mote of Novadronimum in the galaxy powering it, with just a tiny piece of the Justice Circuit still held within it, that hollowed-out gauntlet followed its core programming, and sought someone most in need of justice, and compatible with its (broken, fragmented) OathCode. It should serve as no surprise, perhaps, that it found at that moment the person with the strongest combinations of a need for justice and the strength to fight for it was a young black transgender woman. And so it configured itself to fit on Samantha Baker’s right hand, and gave her a fraction of the last NovaGuard’s power.
And as Dexter, she has wielded it to oppose every injustice she could find since, fiercely, fearlessly, and relentlessly.
Diagoras: Diagoras is the distant descendant of the famed pugilist and athlete Diagoras of Rhodes, and is the chosen and beloved of Palaestra, goddess of wrestling. His skill and ability are defined as the best that any mortal human (which turns out to mean unpowered human) has ever performed in competition. He is thus skilled with all tools of sport, including javelins, discus, bows, rifles, bowling balls, shot-puts, and so on. He often wears sports-related armor, and carried various sport paraphernalia with him.
As a near-demigod, he is also surprisingly resilient, and though showy, and often willing to do things the hard way if it’ll look more impressive, still honestly wishes to fill the role of hero and make the world a better place.
DefCon: The last of the Countdown Clones, from the Countdown to Calamity event, DefCon was the only one of the clones to reject his programming and work with heroes to prevent the Calamity. He has since become a full-time hero, trying to understand his place in the world as a sapient strong-AI with all the knowledge and intellectual capacity of a mature adult, but only a few years of actual life experience.
DefCon still has a ‘5’ on his forehead, as all the Countdown Clones did. If he absorbs enough damage, he becomes tougher, stronger… and angrier. The ‘5’ then becomes a ‘4,’ and DefCon 4 is a somewhat less kind and patient personality. If the increased resilience of DefCon 4 doesn’t prevent him from absorbing a great deal more damage, the ‘4’ becomes a ‘3,’ and he gains an angrier, more prone to violence personality while turning into someone who can go toe-to-toe with some of the most powerful known superbeings. each state lasts only a few minutes, unless it continues to absorb energy from massive attacks.
No one knows what DefCon 2 or DefCon 1 are like.
Firecracker: Rita Miguel was born in the late 1990s a Booster, one of the rare humans who, apparently at random, inherits a superior mental and physical capacity. Almost a textbook Booster, Rita was able to perform 25-50% above peak human athletic and mental capacity–running a two-minute mile, testing at an IQ of 280, able to deadlift 1,400 pounds, able to go for 300 hours without sleep and still function, and more.
Her parents, second-generation immigrants, knew the US government wanted all Boosters to be registered, and thought this would be what was best for their girl. After all, General Glory was a registered Booster, and a national hero, and with registration came free education and health care. So Rita grew up to be poked, and prodded, and tested, and assumed she would be able to fulfill her lifelong dream of being a costumed hero, like so many other Boosters that went through the program.
The All-American Alliance sponsored most of the pretty white Boosters in her classes as teens. General Glory picked a series of young Boosters to be his sidekick Private Patriots. A few Boosters were adopted by wealthy families who trained and equipped them to be local heroes and good PR for those families, while others got corporate sponsors.
But no own gave any such opportunity to Rita, and at 18, she aged out of the system.
So, she made her own patriotic costume, named herself “Firecracker” for her strong personality, and went it on her own, assuming her success would earn her a slot on the Federal Guard, or the Regulators, or the Heroes’ Alliance.
Six years have passed. Firecracker is one of the hardest driven, most dedicated, most skilled Booster heroes. She didn’t so much join the Knight Shift, as she saved them from biting off more than they could chew, and agreed to help out when they realized how well she understood the independent hero life. She is the ad hoc leader of the Knight Shift, though this is not an official position.
She doesn’t think General Glory will call, anymore. But that’s not going to stop her.
She’s a Firecracker.
Mona Lisa: Mona Lisa is a disembodied psychic presence. She was an innocent bystander slain during the Mind Wars event in Citadel City. For some reason, unlike others killed during those weeks, Mona Lisa managed through sheer force of will to project her consciousness into a nearby classic painting. Her intellect thus survived, and she has come to even appreciate the freedom her new form gives her.
Mona mostly exists on the Ethereal Brane, free of any constraint of the physical or temporal. However, she can use a conceptual gate formed by any image of a woman on the material dimension to look in on and communicate with the mundane world. Thus she can use the eyes of any image of a woman to see, the ears of any image to hear, and the lips of any such image to speak. The better the image, the stronger her power through it. Members of the Knight Shift generally carry both a smartwatch program with a hi-resolution image of Mona that she can easily find and inhabit, and a back-up in the form of a painted coin or picture in a locket.
While Mona mostly acts as a scout and communications relay, she has grown into a powerful psionic force, easily able to engage other mentallists and most supernatural creatures if they are anywhere near an appropriate image, and even able to whisper subtle influences into the minds of nonpsychic brains.
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The Public Enemies: Inverted Jenny
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.
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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.
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Comic Book/Superhero Ideas
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.
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Heroes, Bundles, and Rogues Galleries
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. 😀
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