Seize the GM
Seize the GM
Episode 139: Super Villains
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Main Topic

Super Villains are a staple of the comic genre. They help to be the foil to the Heroes of those stories. How do you build one in a Superhero Game? First look to what sort of powers you think the Villain may have or use, then to the motivations of the Villain, and finally to what the long term plans will be for them in a campaign. These are often intertwined, but we can look at them separately here. 

What Kind of Villain?

Every Villain is an opportunity to compare and contrast with the Hero or Heros so choose your type accordingly. Except when you just have some indiscriminate muscle for criminal masterminds. 

  • The MCU has popularized the classic Super Villain Rival – a villainous inversion of the Hero herself. The same basic powers and abilities are applied with a twisted edge to hold a mirror up to the Hero and their choices. Characters like Iron Monger and The Red Skull have origins and powers nearly identical to their respective Heroes but with a darker more malignant twist. 
  • A second option is to have a Villain that excels in the exact sort of abilities that the Hero lacks. In the MCU, think about Loki in contrast to Thor or DC’s Ocean Master compared to Aquaman. These Villains exploit the weaknesses of the Heroes and use methods that Heros cannot easily counteract. 
  • A third common form of super villain is the ideological or theoretical billain. The Joker embodies a theoretical difference from Batman and Cheetah is often contrasted to Wonder Woman’s ideals. This kind of villain is more about making a role playing statement for the character while the other types are often about a contrast for the player. This type of villain is best used for role playing heavy players or groups. 

What Kind of Motivation?

Not every Villain is the Hero of their own story. Not every Villain needs to have a redemption arc or sympathetic background. It’s been popular to give every villain some kind of redemption or understandable arc in recent years but that isn’t always required. Sometimes, they are just villainous as an underlying trope of the genre is good vs. evil. 

  • Revenge. It could be against an individual or the world. Something is animating the villain to strike out against society at large or a specific personal enemy. Magneto when written as a villain is an example of this.
  • Greed. Get rich or die trying. There is a wealth of criminals who are after wealth or power of some kind. The Greed can be for money like Penguin or the smug satisfaction of power like Black Mask in the Batman stories. This also covers the idea of “It’s just business, kid” for mercenary villains. 
  • Pride. Similar to revenge but more of an “I’ll show them” than “I’ll make them pay.” Villains wronged by some larger systemic flaw or society may try to make it a point to prove society wrong by excelling at this whole villainy thing. 

What is their Role in a Campaign?

This is also roughly equivalent to power level. How big a threat or how recurring a villain are they? 

  • Villain of the Week – Sometimes, you have a single session villain. These are often seen as throwaway villains but are your chance to have a little fun as well. These villains can break the campaign mold, so a more lighthearted campaign may take a detour to more noir inspired villains while a serious Vertigo intoned book may take the opportunity to visit high four color style hijinks. 
  • Campaign Head Honcho – This is someone who is behind some level of machinations and is the culmination of multiple sessions for your party of heroes. These are the Black Masks or Crossbones often times of the adventure. They pose a significant threat to any individual hero and with just a good smattering of goons, a group of heroes. 
  • World Shattering Doom. Doctor Doom. Doomsday. Galactus. Darkseid. The highest level threats that show up the least often are types that can take on entire super teams with their abilities. These are the threats not just to the heroes but to the world’s status quo or order. Baron Zemo from the MCU nearly fills this role in an unconventional way. 

Stat Blocks

Joules

Sunny and Sig

Rumor moves like lightning in the weird west.  For the last three months, stories about a strange pair of gentlemen have made the rounds from Shan Fan to St Louis.  Strange stories, impossible stories, describing feats of heroism and strength beyond that of normal, mortal men.  Yet individuals of impeccable virtue from the Sioux nation, the union, the great maze and other locales, swear to have met the wandering pair and witnessed their wondrous and righteous actions first hand.  

They have described one man as having piercing brownish grey eyes, and wears a worn white duster with a green capelet with a sun emblazoned on the back.  His compatriot is of a shorter, stockier build, having bright brown eyes, a boisterous, warm laugh and wears a grey trench coat.  They go by the nicknames Sunny and Sig, respectively. And all stories tell that they have strange, medieval, swords strapped to their back.  Strange but not wholly unheard of in the weird west.  A blacksmith in Dodge City, Kansas correctly identified that Sunny wielded a Longsword and Sig, a Zwiehander.  Much to the delight of Sig and the surprise of Sunny. The blacksmith marveled that such swords were able to be forged without the use of ghost rock.  He was regaled with tales of a brilliant blacksmith from Sunny’s homeland.  A man known simply as Andre.

If the people are kind and the cause is just, the pair just seems to appear spontaneously, when the fight seems nearly insurmountable. Sunny, wreathed in a warm sunlit glow and Sig, haloed in a soft white light.  They assist with nary a complaint and never accept a reward.  Sunny lightly chuckles and usually responds something to the effect of “The way I see it, our fates appear to be intertwined.  So why not help one another on this lonely journey, and engage in Jolly Cooperation?”

And after the battle, Sig always congratulates and praises those that fought beside them.  Toasting them heartily at the saloon with a “To your valor, my sword, and our victory together! Long may the sun shine.”  And after their duty is fulfilled, they disappear as mysteriously as they came.

Recently, a journal of a lone adventurer was discovered in a hotel in Deadwood.  It details his adventures, traveling around with the brave duo of Sunny and Sig.  He notes that Sunny and Sig come from a land where time itself is convoluted. With heroes centuries old phasing in and out. But in the journal, the adventurer calls them by their real names.  Solaire of Astora and Siegward of Catarina.

How to Use Sunny and Sig in Game:

If you’re playing a time jumping adventure or something similar, this duo can be used as an example of how people out of time can adapt.  Sunny and Sig come from the fantasy world of Dark Souls, but with a little modification, they can be part of a Deadlands story, but still keep their basic character abilities, personality, and archetype.  You don’t even need to change their backstory.  But because they are “Amidst strange beings, in a strange land” as Solaire once said, they need to keep quiet about specifics about their past. 

Guard-a-Manger

Slugger

It is easy to laugh off a Baseball themed superhero as the product of the 1960s. Clad in the best kit you could find, with a pretty darn near unbreakable bat, Slugger was a common sight on the front page of the newspapers. He was stronger, faster, and tougher than any normal man was. Clearly a metapowered hero and not just a highly skilled baseball player, Slugger also demonstrated a healing factor and a delayed aging factor as well. He scarcely gained a gray hair or two before the mid 1980s. While today, Slugger has put on a few pounds around his midsection, it isn’t a bad look for an eighty year old super who looks like he shouldn’t be a day over 40.

Slugger seemed to be a step or two out of touch with the rest of society though. It isn’t that much of a surprise that a super who made his name on Mom, Dad, Apple Pie, and Baseball may have trouble adjusting to a changing world. It seems that with the retardation of his aging, Slugger also found it harder and harder to adapt as the world changed around him. He has never been comfortable with calling any Eastern Bloc country an ally and is hesitant to accept anything that wasn’t commonplace inside a white picket fence of the 1960s. Perhaps this is why he has an unusual appeal when running for office. Now in his third term as a United States Senator, Slugger is a firebrand of oration when denouncing modern inventions like the Internet as a purveyor of all thats wrong with the world today. Slugger is clearly angling for more and more political power, but to what end? 

Few people know the truth here. Slugger is a successful clone of the World War I hero, Doughboy. Doughboy’s true identity is still a mystery as is the source of his powers, but he showed a similar suite of abilities to Slugger, and attempts to replicate that power set consistently may have finally been successful. Well, successful may be too strong a word. Slugger shows all of the over similarities sought in cloning Doughboy, but there is an instability in his psyche that has plagued him from the beginning. Losing his temper wasn’t really noticed when the object of his ire, and violence, were hordes of robotic interlopers sent by Dr. Opustosheniye. Megalomaniacal tendencies were easy to overlook when he was in charge. The slow deterioration of his personality made it apparent that his healing factor wasn’t as effective on his neurological state.

Slugger is the head of the New American Patriots. A shadowy organization that takes a stand against the America of today and desires a bit more autocracy. The American hegemony must persist after all, as they have ensured it did since the American Revolution. Slugger is the latest in figureheads, even if he doesn’t know it, and can direct all manner of opponents against a hero. And who would possibly believe that Slugger was anything less than All-American? It’s a near foolproof plan, isn’t it?

How to Use Slugger in Game:

Slugger is the ultimate big bad who is just a pawn of others. At the same time, you can use Slugger to embody whatever aspect of heroism you want your players to question. He believed he was doing good at one time and maybe he still does. Or maybe he has given up on waiting for everyone else to catch up to what he realized fifty years ago and will make them come to that conclusion now. No Matter What It Takes. 

Lexicon

vacillate verb vac·​il·​late | \ ˈva-sə-ˌlāt  \

Definition of vacillate

intransitive verb

1: to waver in mind, will, or feeling : hesitate in choice of opinions or courses

2a: to sway through lack of equilibrium

b: FLUCTUATE, OSCILLATE

History and Etymology for vacillate

borrowed from Latin vacillātus, past participle of vacillāre “to be unsteady, totter, be weak or inconstant, waver,” of uncertain origin

First Known Use of vacillate

1597, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

Look-up Popularity

Top 1% of words

Closing remarks 

Zendead – Spaceballs The Movie. Yep fun and good to watch again.

Joules – Baba Is You.  A Puzzle/logic game on steam.  Where you can change the conditions of each level so you can complete the objective (which you can sometimes change to your advantage)

Guard-a-Manger – JSA: The Golden Age. A 4 issue limited series Elseworld’s tale about the JSA of the 1940s as the world transitions from the Golden to the Silver Age of comics and a passing of the torch generationally. An early work of James Robinson that helped inspire Geoff Johns and shape the best parts of the most recent 20 years of DC Comics. 

Music is courtesy of Sim on Twitter you can find him at @TheSimulacrae

Find us

 

Author Pages with all of our contact info

Zendead 

Joules 

Guard-a-manger

And Thanks to Merriam-Webster  and Online Etymology Dictionary for our Lexicon segment

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