Tuesday, January 10, 2017


One of the games I was able to run over the holiday vacation was Champions 4th Edition, my favorite version of one of my all time favorite Superhero RPGs (probably my current favorite - sorry Mutants & Masterminds 3E. I still love you man). 

The sessions were designed to teach the game to a few friends who'd never played it before, as well as giving a refresher course to some ol' Hero System veterans who hadn't played in a while (or were more familiar with other editions). 

The group I ran for [Dan's Group] responded positively to the game so it looks like I'll be running a full on campaign with them. 

Running Champions always takes me back to our absolutely incredible high school campaign. It's one I have mentioned many times on this blog, though I don't feel I have ever given it the justice it deserves (pun intended). 

Consider this a prelude to a Campaign I Have Played

In order to tell the tale of Will's epic Champions game, the backstory of it needs to be told as well.

You see, my friend William started his campaign in 1981, with the first edition of the game. That first team of PCs and their campaign formed the early canon for the subsequent adventures William would run on his world of Champions Earth-Wilco Charlie-1 for over a decade to come.

Through middle school, high school, and early college, his campaign would cover an eleven year history in real time. In-game, it would detail Champions Earth-WC-1 from the pre-historic era to the distant future, across the stars, and onward and outward to parallel Earths and other dimensions.

The world was grounded in our reality, so there weren't any fictional cities as one would see in the DC Comics universe. Most of the action took place in New York City, New York and other real world locations. Just as in many comic book settings secret lands, alien civilizations, and even the occasional fictitious nation could surely be found.

Real world people and events also played a role, sometimes in an alternative history fashion. 

Each 'chapter' of the campaign was a mini-campaign onto itself. One might even say they were separate campaigns with a kind of 'meta-campaign' based on their shared world history tying them all together. The various campaigns emulated [sometimes on purpose, sometimes accidentally] different eras of comic book history as well and received titles based on said periods.

The Silver Age of Champions:

The Champions (of the Silver Age)

Left to Right:
a teenage Omni, Tachyon, Garrison, Tower, and The Legionnaire***

The first campaign was entitled Champions: The Silver Age, and lasted from 1981 to about 1983. It began thematically Silver but was very Bronze by the end of it. 

It featured a team of traditional costumed and code named superheroes who inherited their team name from their long defunct predecessors, the Golden Age* Allied Champions. The team consisted of...

Garrison (a Super Soldier created to deal with the Iran Hostage Crisis)
Legionnaire (Scientist who can swap himself with one of his parallel Earth duplicates)
Omni (An alien teen with mental powers who joins as a rookie/sidekick member)
Tachyon (Super Speedster who converts to an Energy Form, and can absorb Energy)
Tower (Team Leader - a man with growth powers)

As I understand it, there were a few other PC and NPC members of the team at various points that I sadly don't recall. 

They took on evil organizations such as VIPER and DEMON, as well as numerous costumed criminals and malevolent masterminds. Major enemies included Dr. Destroyer, Eurostrike, Sundown, and Kineto**.

The campaign's finale involved a feud between two supervillains (Sundown and Kineto) and the heroes stepping in to prevent their battle from destroying Manhattan. The heroes had intel about roughly when and where the fight would occur but were dramatically divided over how to proceed.

Garrison insisted that the only way to stop what could be a terrible catastrophe was to kill the two villains. The rest of the team refused to kill anyone 
in cold blood, even major bad guys. Unable to reconcile, Garrison quits the team before the final battle.

At the battle, Sundown prepares to unleash an attack that would certainly destroy most of the city. He kills the Champions' leader, Tower, when that hero tries to sneak attack him from behind. A number of Champions members are also injured in the battle fighting Sundown and Kineto. 

Tachyon uses his energy absorption powers to reduce the power of Sundown's attack, which unfortunately overloads his own powers rendering him unable to use his abilities ever again less they go out of control. Tachyon is aided by Kineto in the conflict. Kineto uses his inertia and kinetic energy control to deflect Sundown's remaining Solar Sphere attack into space. 

The conflict ends when an unknown sniper, making an impossible shot with an incredible projectile weapon, shoots Sundown in the head. He falls from the top of a tall building and dies. Kineto escapes. The Champions, crestfallen by the outcome, the death of Tower, the neutralizing of Tachyon and other issues, disbands.

The Bronze Age of Champions:

A new campaign kicked off in 1985 with the timeline forwarded a few years.  

Tachyon (now an NPC) had retired from active superhero work but served as a media personality and superhuman advocate. The events of the Champions' final mission, as well as several subsequent situations, had caused superheroes to fall out of favor. Few Supers were still active. Most superhuman crimes were handled by special forces of the police, the organization known as PRIMUS (in Will's campaign, 'ParaHuman Response and Intelligence Military for the United States'), and UNTIL (the United Nations Tactical Intelligence League).

One of the superheroes still superheroing was Omni, that former junior member of the Champions who was now one of the only costumed crimefighters to have the public trust. This was no small feat either as Omni was an alien and aliens suffer a prejudice in Will's universe like that of mutants in Marvel Comics. 

Thanks to Omni's continued good deeds and Tachyon's spin-doctoring of those deeds, the tide began to turn. More new superheroes began to come out in public view. After Omni and several other heroes saved the President of the United States and a group of UN Ambassadors, UNTIL decided it was time to implement a plan they'd been considering.

UNTIL contacted Omni and asked him to help organize and lead a new team of supers that would be available to respond to situations in countries all over the world. UNTIL would oversee the teams, each with its own leader. The US, experiencing the most superhuman crime, would get the first team, based in NY, and lead by Omni. Omni agreed, but nixed a plan to refer to the teams as the World Champions. Instead, he wanted the team to be referred to as Project: UNITY. 

The Champions (of the Bronze Age)
aka Project: UNITY

Left to Right:
Steel Hawk, Ice Queen, Pulse, Omni, and Vector

The initial line up for UNITY consisted of:

Ice Queen (NPC - Female Doctor and Medical Engineer with Ice/Cold Powers)
Omni (Team Leader - Psi-powered alien all grown up)
Pulse (Super Speedster with Electricity Powers - Popular Local NYC hero)
Steel Hawk (Winged Vigilante in Armor with a number of crime fighting Gadgets) ****
Vector (Physicist and Mathematician with (Extremely Cool) Teleportation Powers)

Legionnaire joins as a scientist for UNTIL/UNITY specializing in alternate Earths, fractured timelines, and extra-dimensional research. Although technically retired like his friend Tachyon, Legionnaire's powers still worked just fine and he lent a helping hand on several adventures. 

The team was very successful and public opinion was soon swayed heavily in favor of superheroes returning. Superhero fan clubs, dedicated news shows and magazines, and much more started to appear. The team expanded and teams started appearing in England, France, the Soviet Union, and elsewhere. 

Unfortunately, new villains (PC and NPC alike) started to appear as well and old ones came out of hiding. Major enemies of this campaign included a returning Doctor Destroyer (until his final defeat and apparent death), Prof. Muerte & Terror Incorporated, Genocide (an anti-Mutant group - with a twist!), Shark &  Viper, The Grand Scheme, and many more.

Just as anti-superhuman sentiment dropped, anti-alien notions were on the rise. Although Omni was still a beloved hero, alien villains and an attempted invasion made people very leery of strange visitors from other planets. This was further instigated by a well-connected conspiracy theory group called The Extra Solar Society that claimed aliens had secretly taken over the government. 

In one story arc, aliens scouting out the Earth for a possible invasion kidnapped Joseph Scaramangler, a reverend and the founder of the Scaramangler Foundation, an organization that helps super-powered people learn to control their powers and lead productive lives (imagine a global version of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters combined with the Red Cross and Amnesty International - one of my favorite elements of the setting). 

Joseph is killed accidentally by the aliens before he can be rescued. His son Christian, a metahuman with super-genius level intelligence in the field of technology, joins forces with UNITY to defeat the aliens. He is asked to join UNITY and accepts, but secretly does so in order to keep an eye on Omni, who Christian is convinced is secretly out to take over the world. 

IMPORTANT: Omni and Christian Scaramangler are both PCs. Imagine Superman and Lex Luthor are now on the same team - both members of the Justice League. They will fight side-by-side against supervillains but Scaramangler secretly hates Omni and tries to undermine him at every turn. 

It made for a fantastic dynamic but one that soon got out of hand. Scaramangler was often two or three steps ahead of Omni and his friends, none of whom knew Scaramangler was actually a villain in many ways. The game changed from a Superhero game to one focused on espionage where the bad guy was acting like the primary protagonist. 

This situation prompted Will and Dave to invite me to join the campaign and ushered in...

The Age of Chaos.

Stay tuned...

Barking Alien 

*Although heroes, villains, and events of the setting's Golden Age (the late 1930s to the late 1950s) are referenced often during the campaigns, Will never ran a Golden Age specific campaign.

**Kineto is the big bad of The Silver Age - one of the biggest bads of The Bronze Age (although he occasionally acted heroically) - and THE biggest big bad of The Age of Chaos (while still sometimes coming off as heroic!). 

He is a complex, multi-layered villain with a long history dating back to being a kid Superhero in World War II. He has personality, charm, intelligence, gravitas, honor, and a ton of baggage. 

He is one of the most interesting, awesome, and frustrating villains I have ever encountered in a RPG and a primary example of why my buddy William C. is the best GM I've ever had the pleasure to play under.

***I don't recall Legionnaire's original costume at all. I put him in his later UNITY/UNTIL uniform instead. 

***I may have this character's name wrong. It might have been Steel Wing or City Hawk. I forget.

UPDATE: See comments below for additional information!


  1. Consider me hooked! I'd love to hear more about how the "Omni and Christian" dynamic played out at the table. Was it, ultimately, a big deal for the campaign? Did the players initiate it? Were they even both aware that there was an enmity between the characters or was it suppressed?

    1. I'll go more in depth as I go forward with this series, but I'm glad you asked.

      Joseph Scaramangler was a long term, benevolent NPC who ran the Scaramangler Foundation (mentioned above). The Foundation was well integrated into the background, and stories of the setting. The various facilities of the Foundation were equipped with extremely high-tech equipment, and protected by Sentinel-like robots called 'Minute Men'.

      It was eventually revealed that Christian Scaramangler, Joseph's son, was the inventor of the organization's advanced technology. He developed the first robots, and gear at the age of 6. You see, Christian is a mutant with incredibly high intelligence.

      The sale, and licensing of some of the tech is part of what pays for the non-profit Scaramangler Foundation. The Minute Men robots, for example, are sold to PRIMUS, and UNTIL (among other groups) to help deal with super criminals. The Danger Room-like training facilities used by The Champions, and UNITY were built by the Scaramangler Foundation's subsidiary, Scaramangler Industries.

      Christian, like his father, was an NPC, mentioned but rarely seen. He was known to be a child in the early 60's, so by the time of the Bronze Age campaign that would put him in his late 20s, or early 30s.

      Following the story where Joseph is killed by wannabe invading aliens, my friend Eric asked if he could make up Christian as a PC. His idea was an altruistic Lex Luthor. What if Lex were truly a heroic person? However, he also decided that the PC would harbor a Luthor-like hatred of aliens, largely in secret, and mainly initiated by the death of his father (though there were other factors discovered later on).

      It didn't take long for the players to realize Christian was up to something, often putting into play complex plans that would undermine Omni, and make him look bad. All the while he pretended to be his friend, and fought side-by-side with him against costumed crooks, and world conquering menaces.

      Eric, the player of Christian, was EXTREMELY good in the role. There was never anything you could pin on Christian. To do so would be a clear use of out of game knowledge. Omni suspected a spy in his organization, then suspected it might be Scaramangler, but could never prove it in game. Meanwhile, Christian's addition to the team was vital in the defeat of several supervillains, the upgrading of the team's headquarters, and he was very popular with regular folks.

      It became a thing the players loved to hate, but it also started to undermine the overall campaign. It sometimes overshadowed the story of a team of superheroes desperately working to keep the world safe from villainy.

      New players joined, and many of them wanted to play villains, some working for Scaramangler, but all inspired by the layers upon layers of intrigue having a PC like Christian Scaramangler introduced.

      That's where I come in...

    2. This is a fascinating insight into incredible role-playing; truly emulating the superhero genre without the need for "mechanics". Intrigued to see where things went next.

  2. That campaign sounds like a lot of fun - though maybe with a limited lifespan with the opposing player dynamic - and a really well-done setting too. I always like to see what people do with a lot of those familiar Champions names. Looking forward to hearing more.

    1. Yes! I'll never forget buying my own copies of some the Champions 'Enemies' books for 4th Edition and seeing characters I only thought I knew.

      "Wait...that's The Crusader?!? Are you freakin' kidding me?"

      As to the campaign having a 'limited lifespan', well, just stay tuned. ;)