Ladies and Gentlemen...and if identify yourself differently more power to you!...introducing Campaigns I Have Known - Celebrity Edition!
Pay close attention, and you can follow along with the home game.
First...a little set up...
Let's begin in 1985-86.
I was visiting NY's premiere game store (IMHO), The Compleat Strategist, at their Upper West Side location (technically Midtown West)*, when I saw a friend of mine who worked there. He gave me a warm welcome, as I realized I hadn't seen him in quite a while. When I asked what he'd been up to, he said he had been in California shooting a movie.
I was vaguely aware he was an actor, but a real Hollywood movie? Awesome! I asked when it was going to come out, and what role he played. He seemed a bit taken aback, even hurt.
My Friend: "You didn't see it? I..Wow...I figured you of all people would've seen it. It was really popular, a comedy, and it had mad science Sci-Fi."
Me.: "Whoah. Maybe I did see it. Did you have a big part?"
My Friend (Kind of crestfallen): "Yeah. I was...a co-star. One of the stars of the movie."
My buddy from the Compleat Strategist starred in a Sci-Fi Comedy and I didn't know? Impossible.
Me: "What movie?"
My Friend...Ilan: "Weird Science."
*Brain suddenly makes a connection it should have made already on its own*...
"HOLY S%^&!!!" (Very possibly my first experience with swearing out loud in public)
I know that guy!
I just...didn't know I knew that guy.
It wasn't that I had forgotten the movie. It wasn't that I'd forgotten my friend. No. My brain simply did not equate the guy I knew at the Compleat Strategist with the fellow in the film. In my mind's eye that were two separate, distinct, completely different people.
Instead of being upset, he laughed. So did I. For a while, I frequented that location more, just so I could hang out, and talk to Ilan.
Sometime between 1987, and 1988. I had graduated the High School of Art and Design, and would soon be attending Pratt Institute. I got a job working at the Forbidden Planet's Upper East Side location (really Midtown East)*.
While working there I made friends with some of the regular customers, especially if we had shared interests. At some point, I met two fellows who were working on an independent comic book.
One fellow was Joseph Naftali, a younger guy (well, younger than me) who had a darn cool idea, the money to back the project, and just needed an extra writer, or two and a few other artists. He was hoping to start with an anthology book. We started talking, and I helped him edit some ideas, pitched a few new ones, and the next thing we knew we were pals, and working together.
The other fellow should be known to some of you if you're familiar with Superhero RPGs. His name is Storn Cook. Yep, that Storn Cook. For those unfamiliar (and too lazy simply click on a link - I mean c'mon!), Storn is an illustrator whose work has appeared in numerous RPG products including Champions, and Mutants & Masterminds. Storn also became involved in the comic book project, including doing the back cover ad for a story by yours truly intended for the second issue.
A week, or so later, Storn and Ilan come in to the Forbidden Planet in full Kendo gear, covered head-to-toe in mud. They'd been to a Kendo class in Central Park, only to fall down a hill made super slippery by rain the previous day. Every female employee there bugged me to introduce them to these two. A lot of swooning went on I can tell you that.
Now hold on...these two knew each other? Of course they did. Millions of people in New York, yet somehow the world of geeks was strangely small.
So I talk to Joe, Joe talks to Storn, Storn and Ilan talk, and they get a fifth guy named Grey**. We all meet at Joe's place - a very impressive, multi-level home hidden in New York's West Village. With a gaming table set up in the basement, this eclectic group got together to play a short campaign of Villains and Vigilantes.
Campaigns I Have Known
VILLAINS AND VIGILANTES -
FOUR FOR FREEDOM
At this point we...OK I...have a problem. I remember the players quite well. I remember the characters quite well. I am not 100% sure who played who. So embarrassing. I'll do my best.
We created the characters together using V&V 2nd Edition, and a little house-ruling on my part, but not much. I allowed for certain choices in addition to the roles. Also, although default V&V has the players play themselves, we created fictional secret identities for these characters
System: Villains and Vigilantes (Fantasy Games Unlimited), 2nd Edition.
Circa: 1987-1988. There were only six sessions unfortunately.
Player Base: In 1987-1988 I was 18-19 years old I believe. I know Ilan and I are the same age. Storn probably is as well, or close, and the same goes for Grey. Joe is younger by a couple of years I think.
So to be clear, I was the GM - Joe, Ilan, Storn, and Grey were the players.
Characters: The four heroes were...
The Resolute (played by Storn C.)
The team's de facto leader (most of the time), Resolute was a former government operative combining a super soldier formula, bionic enhancements, and high tech gadgetry and weapons into one potent combination. He specialized in military tactics, stealth, and had a host of military, police, and other government contacts.
If I remember correctly, he had Heightened Dexterity, Heightened Senses, Heightened Expertise, a Speed Bonus, Martial Arts, and a suite of weapons including a Blaster Rifle, a Stun Pistol, and a lightsaber-like Energy Sword.
His weaknesses included Electrical/Lightning attacks which caused him extra damage, and potentially shorted out his abilities, and a psychological drawback that gave flashbacks to some previous conflict he can't clearly remember (possibly implying that turning him into Resolute saved his life).
For some reason I now picture him as being very similar to Soldier 76 from the Blizzard Entertainment computer game Overwatch.
Attitude and personality-wise, Resolute was a dry humored, somewhat sarcastic, slightly rebellious version of Captain America. A Captain America born of the 1970s and 1980s instead of World War II, and the 1960s (when he was brought back to life).
The Obscure (played by Ilan S.)
Our mystical specialist was Obscure, a strange individual whose origins remained a mystery throughout the game.
While he definitely had a physical form while hanging out at the team headquarters, or when talking to the police, Obscure spent most of his time in a semi-gaseous state. Below the waist, from within his cloak, and often circling about his hands were billowing clouds of gray-black fog, or smoke.
He was well versed about all things magical, and supernatural, could read ancient languages, including runes, and hieroglyphics, and could even speak with spirits, ghosts, faeries and the like.
Powers included Flight, Darkness Control, Intangibility, and a number of smoky looking Magic Spells.
His only real weakness was candles, the light from which could harm him...or weaken him...or drive him off. I forget. I also forget if it was just any candles, or a specific type.
Obscure always maintained an air of being wise, macabre, and 'terribly mysterious'. If was the brains of the operation, Obscure was the soul of the team.
The Cosmic (played by Joe N.)
I liked all the characters here, but I really liked this one.***
An extraterrestrial humanoid from a species so 'sufficiently advanced', it is difficult to identify whether we are talking about a machine, a living creature, energy, or something else. This unusual 'physical form' gave the character his amazing powers, but also an interesting perspective on life on Earth.
While understanding many space related subjects, and being familiar with various alien species, starships, and the like, Cosmic himself was from a region of space so distant he could not identify it on our star charts. It was assumed he had traveled through a worm hole from another galaxy entirely.
Cosmic's powers included Flight, Force Field, Telekinesis, Telepathy, and a cool, weird shape-changing ability that allowed him to become two-dimensional, stretch (but when he stretched his arm for example, the rest of him became either thinner, or shorter in height), and other tricks dealing with altering his size, mass, and density. The idea being he wasn't so much a solid being as a certain amount of psychic energy taking a humanoid form.
He had a weakness to magic, as it did not obey the same laws as the perceivable, and understandable universe according to the character.
Most of the time Cosmic was inquisitive, child-like, and very reminiscent of the Silver Surfer. During battle however, he became a focused, disciplined combatant. The personality switch was so distinct, and clear cut it was almost like someone with multiple personalities.
Was he possibly a gestalt being made of the thoughts of different individuals?
[I am pretty sure this was Joe's character. I am almost positive he came up with the idea. See Bonus features for a funny story about this PC's creation.]
The Maverick (aka The Wild Card, played by Grey B.)
Last but not least was a very unpredictable hero named The Maverick, who many referred to by his nickname 'Wild Card'. Maverick's origin was that he was created by a group of villains (possibly the notorious InterCrime) to defeat a well known superhero, but the programming didn't stick. Maverick instead turned on the villains and dedicated his life to using his abilities for good.
[I may be wrong, but I think Maverick was the prototype for a planned army of such beings].
Maverick was very knowledgeable about InterCrime, super villains, and crime in general. He had a number of underworld contacts, and knew the location of a few secret lairs. Maverick was also the team's best driver, and pilot.
Mavericks powers are kind of strange. In addition to Adaption, Regeneration, and Willpower, Maverick would randomly manifest different powers based on the situation he was in. For example, if trapped in a burning building he may attain the ability to shoot blasts of water, flame on himself, find his skin coated in an asbestos-like material, or simply gain superspeed so he could run out of there. (In manner ways the character resembled Shane Goosemen, from the animated series 'The Adventures of The Galaxy Rangers'.
Maverick was, as you can probably imagine, the loose cannon, 'Wolverine' character on the team. He didn't talk much, was soft-spoken but authoritative when he did speak, and extremely protective of civilians (especially the very old, the very young, and the infirm).
Synopsis: The plot (and I use the term loosely here) was pretty simple. The campaign was really just an excuse to run, and play superheroes with a cool bunch of guys.
I decided to start with the module that comes with the V&V 2nd Edition boxed set, Crisis at Crusader Citadel. I made some minor modifications, then proceeded to run more of the pre-made adventure modules, tweaking them and adding elements to tie the superhero sandbox game into a single narrative. It went something like this...
One bright Monday morning, four superheroes show up at the front entrance of Center City's famous Harmon Building, the top of which serves as the headquarters of the world's greatest superhero team, The Crusaders!
Each new hero has been invited by one or more of the Crusaders to potentially join the team. Unfortunately, there is only room for one additional member. The assembled newbies will have to be interviewed, and possibly compete in a try-out test.
It soon becomes clear that the Crusaders are not home. Their AI Computer indicates that an emergency has taken them off-world. The Center City police, who were been aware that the Crusaders are unavailable (but kept in secret by order of the Mayor to prevent villains from thinking the city is an easy target), ask the new heroes if they can help out with a rash of technology thefts. The four gladly agree to assist.
It doesn't take long for the PCs to learn that the Crusaders' arch-enemies, The Crushers, are up to something big. It turns out they've captured and imprisoned the Crusaders within their own base!
After defeating a few of the Crushers to gain additional information, the new heroes proceed to return to The Crusader Citadel where they are able to free the Crusaders, and defeat the Crushers. When the Crusaders lament that they wish they could add all four fellows to their roster, the new supers decide to decline membership in the Crusaders to form their own team called The Four For Freedom.
As they proceed/progress through a number of other harrowing capers, the group learns that the sinister super villain Bloody Sunday has been behind all their troubles. Angry over the perceived failure of superheroes to protect himself, and his family when he was a child in a war torn region of the world, Bloody Sunday attempts to engineer the defeat/destruction of the superhero community.
He is eventually defeated and captured in a public battle with the Four For Freedom.
Appendix N: In addition to obvious influences such as the Byrne/Claremount X-Men, the Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans, and the like, I was also strongly influenced by The Seven Soldiers of Victory, and Watchmen.
Villains & Vigilantes products, with their implied, but never truly fleshed out universe were also a major source of inspiration.
* The Uptown Compleat Strategist, and Forbidden Planet are sadly long gone, having closed their doors many years ago now.
** Grey's full name was Grey Bowman. Grey Bowman. Is it me, or does that sound like the name of a superhero character right there? The Green Arrow - The Grey Bowman. Seriously.
So I said to Grey, "You should create an archer character called the Grey Bowman." He stared at me like I was speaking another language. I kept trying to not only sell him on the idea, but also explain why he should embrace the fact that his name was sooo damn cool. He didn't get it. It simply would not click.
Ilan pulls me aside and says, "I know you think it's an amazing idea, but you have to understand that to him you're suggesting he create a character named 'Adam Dickstein'. To him it's just his name. Same as with you."
"OK...I guess...except my name isn't freakin' GREY BOWMAN!" O_O
Towards the end of the campaign the villain has some other (NPC) heroes tied up including The Grey Bowman. I had drawn a picture, and I showed it to him. Grey stares at it for a moment and goes, "Ahh. Now I get it. Man. That is cool." LOL
*** Joe says to the group after trying to think of a background for Cosmic, "Hey guys, I've come up with a background for my character.
He is an alien, right, and he's sent away from his homeworld when it gets destroyed. He arrives on Earth, and...and is raised and taught Human values. Human rights, defending the weak, etc. He decides the best way to pay the people of the Earth back for allowing him to walk among them is to protect them from danger as a Superhero!
What do you think?"
We all looked at him, dumbfounded, for what felt like a long time. Finally, someone said, "It'll never sell", and we all burst out laughing. All but Joe. He couldn't figure out what we thought was so funny.
"Seriously man? That story is just a little familiar no?"
"Familiar?", Joe replies a bit insulted. "What do you mean?"
"SUPERMAN! Joe, that's the origin of Superman."
Joe starts to say, "No! NO! It's nothing like Superman it's...it's...", and then suddenly Joe is laughing. "The way I told it, man, I said only the parts that sound like Superman's story. I left out all the details that...Hahaha!"
Joe retold the story, and honestly, it was pretty great. It wasn't like Superman at all. The whole thing was a great lesson in how to convey information.
Sadly, I didn't really keep in touch with the group as the years went on, except Storn who I periodically talk to on Facebook in various gaming, and art related discussion groups.
Ilan left the film, and television entertainment business to become a professor of medieval studies. For a time he was a contributor on at least two gaming blogs, and a podcast - Forces of Geek, and Talk Wargaming.
Well, that's my story of playing a short, but awesome campaign of V&V with a very interesting group of people. Hopefully I will be able to more such stories out next month than I did this month.
That's out show! Good night everybody!