If you’re like me, and I know I am, you’re bleeding from the ears with excitement about Champions Online. If you’re not like me, perhaps some explanation is in order.
Champions was, and is, the premiere tabletop role-playing game with a superhero theme. I grew up watching my older brother play Champions 3rd and 4th edition with his friends in the mid-eighties, fascinated the whole way. I wanted to play, but was too young to really get the rules of the game. When I was old enough to comprehend it more fully, I could never pull together enough of a gang to have a real game with. My lifetime best friend now works for Wizards Of The Coast– he didn’t get into the Hero System the way I was able to.
Nevertheless, I had Champions stuff because it was too cool not to have. My brother got me my own copy of the 4th edition sourcebook one Christmas, and bundled a copy of Classic Enemies in with it just because it was Christmas. I pored over these vast tomes for what must be the equivalent of days and days by now; you’ll notice that this article has the ‘read to death’ tag, which only goes to books that I still keep around despite the fact that their spines have completely disintegrated, leaving them as mere piles of paper sheets with a loose cover serving as a sort of folder to keep them in.
These are the gods and monsters of my childhood. Let’s start with the gods.
“I realize that you may be wondering why I took up a life of crime? The only crime in my life is that the banks and jewelry stores don’t open up their vaults and invite me in to take what I want! Don’t they realize I’m Bulldozer! No one tells me what to do! Yeah! And if you’re some woman who thinks she’s the next best thing to Mata Hari, let me tell you something, get rid of that costume, and go home where you…”
Bulldozer is the weakest character in Classic Enemies. He’s one of maybe five characters in the book with no “Villain Bonus,” an extra pile of points tacked on to most of the characters to show how tough and successful they are. In the index in the back of the book, he is the only character graded with a single star, marking him as “very weak; laughable.” He’s built on 175 points, which is characterized as a “highly competent normal” in Champions– so technically he’s not even a real supervillain. Yet here he is, barely squeaking onto the ten BEST list. What did he do right? According to the book:
Consider Bulldozer’s goal to be the most obnoxious professional wrestling villain on Earth, and you’ll have an idea about Bulldozer’s personality.
Good lord, the pathos there. Bulldozer is a wrestling heel lost in a world of real superhumans. He’s the Champions equivalent of Mr. Satan. The poor guy probably thought he could rob a few banks, garner a few boos, then get the public’s sympathy by making a big face turn against Dr. Destroyer or something… but no. Instead he loses, and loses, and loses. And it just makes him sadder and sadder, which makes him meaner and meaner, which he takes out on women who would otherwise love him for being so pathetic.
Bulldozer is #10 because he so desperately needs a hug.
Powerhouse is the consummate jock. Having superpowers is just a game, another competition, and nothing more. He is opportunistic, arrogant, vain, and self-centered; those are his good points. Powerhouse doesn’t care about anything or anyone except himself; anyone who can do something he can’t do is “a loser” and anything he can’t do is “stupid”.
Another winning personality just like Bulldozer! This is one of those characters that you feel certain was created by a sniffling geek who’d just had mud kicked onto his brand new embroidered Christopher Cross jacket. You big goon athletes think you can push smart people like me around? Yeah, let’s see how you like getting beaten up by the Academic Decathlon of Justice in next Friday’s game! Ha!
Powerhouse is actually part of the Champions sourcebook, not Classic Enemies, but he makes the list because of his origin:
The drug was a mutagen that took his natural abilities and expanded them– along with his size. Eddie was now over twelve feet tall and weighed several tons. The drug also enabled him to fly. He would never compete in professional athletics again.
A drug that turns you into a flying giant– and they called that a failure?! Good lord, do you know what colleges would pay for such things to apply to all their athletes? Heck, I want some! Why do the spammers keep trying to sell me Viagra? I’d click any spyware button they showed me if it meant I could get my hands on some AeroGigante P or whatever…
“Mommy!” a little girl screamed. “He’s hideous! Make him go away!”
Ron stared into a store window. She was right! He was Hideous! But how can you make that go away?
Hideous can be best described as Hero System’s answer to the Grey Hulk. He’s a big strong angry guy who does grunt work for a few bucks here and there, and takes out his anger on the world by destroying beautiful things. He’s filled with resentment toward anything beautiful, because he was a really handsome guy, and knew it, before meeting the radiation accident that gave him superpowers and the most awful face in the Classic Enemies sourcebook. He wears a silver mask to prevent anyone from seeing his face, and according to the book:
If someone were to show Hideous affection and compassion, Hideous might be able to build a bond of trust. However, that person would have to look at Hideous’s true face without flinching (an Ego roll at -3 is required, -1 per level of Unluck that activates).
For those of you just joining us, an Ego roll is how you resist temptation or make personal sacrifice in the HERO system– think of it as “Save Vs. Ugly.” If you’re an average person, your Ego value is 10 points: that means that when you throw three dice, you have to get less than 11 pips on that throw to accomplish your goal. In this case, however, you get an automatic minus three, so a normal person has to get a throw of less than eight. Try it yourself; throw three dice and see how many times it comes up less than eight.
Now that is one fugly guy.
“Fire, the gift of the gods! Watch them, more beautiful than ballet, more powerful than opera, leaping from the stones as the building wastes away! From fire the universe was made, and into the fire it shall be destroyed! There is nothing more powerful than my beautiful flames!”
Other times, he’ll be in a very child-like mood, making silly rhymes and chains of nonsense words, occasionally breaking in with a rock n’ roll song about fire.
That got your attention, huh? Blowtorch is an arsonist-for-hire who feels that murderous infernos are their own reward. He dyes his hair flame red, wears flame red contact lenses, and wears a flamethrowing suit that is actually very fragile and will explode and burn him alive if the hull is ever breached. Blowtorch is probably well aware of this– and may in fact fantasize about it.
It’s reading things like this that make a twelve-year-old think, “What fun game mastering must be.” If you had a really good campaign, where everyone acted out all the characters as they played them, you would have to have characters like Blowtorch in it. Just imagine a bunch of college guys losing their breath with laughter as their GM makes up a rock song about fire in a high squeaky Blowtorch voice, air-guitaring his way across the kitchen table as he rolls for damage. “SPARKY SPARKY WOO WOO YEAH!”
Would a character like Blowtorch ever show up in actual comic books? Parenting groups would bite right through their retainers…
Guess what her powers are. Come on, guess. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Mentalla is a member of Eurostar, which is the only supervillain team in Classic Enemies that does not ultimately come across as kind of laughable. They have an excellent selection of powers, a bunch of good quips and talking points, and most importantly, they have a sympathetic cause; European unity. Sure, they’re trying to accomplish it through terrorism, but heck, they’re villains, right?
Let’s not present ourselves falsely; a major reason that Mentalla makes the list is that outfit. Seriously. There are about ten characters in the book who wear their initial as a symbol, and two more who actually have their names written right on them (Bulldozer [above] and Lazer [sic]). Mentalla is one of the only ones who really makes it work on a subtle level, not unlike Hawkeye’s H-shaped bandoliers. A lot of the costumes in this book are only at about the “Booster Gold” level, not really up to the Steve Ditko / Jack Kirby gold standard, but hers is easily up there with the best.
Also, there is her thought-provoking quote:
“Don’t mind if I do.”
Is she using her mental powers to make her enemies offer her cake?
I know I just namedropped Jack Kirby in the last entry, but seriously, this guy is SUCH a Kirby character. He’d make a terrific Fantastic Four villain.
“Half of me is more handsome, more perfect than anything you could ever imagine.”
Halfjack’s origin includes a cameo from one Dr. Samuel Levy, who appears in some other villain’s backstories as well. The Halfjack story introduces him thusly:
But Dr. Levy wasn’t the type of doctor that heals people He was the type who plays with their anatomy.
OH GOD NO
He fed the mercenaries who brought Smith to his cyborg panthers, and looked on Jack Smith’s half-corpse with great interest.
Oh, you mean he augments their anatomies… OK, good, I was worried for a second there. Heh heh.
…Wait a minute, cyborg panthers?!
Firewing’s image graces the back of Classic Enemies, and for good reason; he’s easily the most impressive character in terms of sheer looks. Not a big fan of those falcon-headed boots, but the rest is pure Ditko.
Firewing is the only character besides Doctor Destroyer, to whom I’m fairly indifferent, who receives a two-page spread for their character sheet. His background is almost a novella in itself, telling the complex story of a disgraced alien gladiator’s search for absolution.
On the planet Malva, there is a rare stone much like a pearl that is reknowned for its luster. Long ago, the Malvans discovered that if one placed this pearl in a very hot fire, it would melt and produce a new stone. Nearly all of these new gems became charred, burnt and ugly, but one out of about ten thousand pearls would be transformed into a gem of exceeding beauty, the Firewing.
There is a legend on Malva that valiant men are like pearls, and that one day, a man would walk into the fire and himself become a Firewing. No ordinary man would dare submit himself to the furnace, so for many centuries, the legend went untested.
Firewing is the best villain for hungry readers who want a cool supervillain bedtime story.
Look back at your past, Danar Nicole, and what do you see? A young Danish politician, handsome, idealistic, and eloquent? A man dedicated to world peace, eager to learn new cultures, mediate disputes, unite warring peoples, turn swords into plowshares. What do you see, Danar Nicole? The biggest fool who ever lived.
Fiacho is totally awesome for several reasons:
- He’s the founder and leader of Eurostar, the previously mentioned terrorist group of European villains who basically serve as the evil opposite to the Planeteers.
- He speaks nine languages, but his favorite is Esperanto.
- He became a supervillain through, among other things, a self-inflicted injury.
- He hates association football. I’ll bet he calls it “soccer” just to piss European heroes off.
- He fills me with megalomaniacal Danish pride. If Europe refuses our hygge, we will hygge them!
Danar had tasted chocolate ants once. He didn’t know if they were red ants or black ants, but he was sure they tasted the same.
#2: The Black Paladin
Clearly, destiny had brought him back into the world at the right moment, when the powers of light shone brightly. There were new knights to battle, knights in armor of colorful skintight cloth, sorcerors of a new age. Superheroes. These knights would soon learn that the Black Paladin was the deadliest of foes.
An undead anachronism, the Black Paladin is like Firewing in that he has a specific code of conduct that may not always apply to how he interacts with the heroes. My brother and I both share a sort of reluctance toward crossing magical stuff over into superhero universes, but I’d make an exception for this guy, especially if there was some way to drive him insane by proving that his magic powers were just a form of technology too advanced for him to comprehend.
The thing about Black Paladin that suggests the most story ideas is this:
One of his cherished goals is the destruction of religion; he especially hates superheroes who openly espouse Christianity or ally themselves to churches.
I don’t know about you, but that would never have occurred to me as a kid. Christian superheroes? Real heroes, not just prefabricated ones like Bibleman? I guess there wasn’t a lot of talk about that in the comic books of the late eighties, but it’s silly to assume that just because you didn’t see it doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening. Marvel Comics started touching on their heroes’ religious beliefs during the Infinity Crusade storyline or thereabouts, after all. Today I think it would be absolutely fascinating to run a campaign with a character with strong religious beliefs– whether or not they match your own.
Hmm. Let’s see, Black Paladin comes from England, wears armor, has full life support, and has a mace that comes back to him when he throws it…
The first and greatest of the world-class Champions villains. Mechanon is, in my opinion, the best robot supervillain of all time; far superior to both Ultron and Brainiac, a darn sight better than Sigma, and above and beyond the class of Master Mold or Nimrod.
What makes Mechanon so awesome? He has a very simple and perfect origin:
Mechanon was a nearly unstoppable robot invented by a superhero group to protect their headquarters against supervillains. Unfortunately, a flaw in Mechanon’s programming made him pledge himself to the painful death of all organic life.
Whoa, stop right there. The painful death. Somehow, a failure to communicate the Three Laws managed to reassert itself in his head as a vow to not only kill all humans, but hurt them while you do it. That has to be the worst case of “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature” in programming history. At least he didn’t conclude he also needed to spit on living things and call them names while painfully killing them!
To guard against the unlikely event of his own demise, robotic factories have been planted all around the world. They are programmed to rebuild Mechanon with any improvements necessary to stop whatever destroyed him.
So basically if you kill him, he’ll kill you right back. That’s fair, right?
In my brother’s fascinating and long-running campaign, his group (the Vogue Vigilantes, named for their propensity toward black costumes) actually did manage to kill Mechanon, and these factories really did come online and rebuild him. However, the twist in the Vogues’ universe was that Mechanon was aware that he’d come back from the dead, and thus concluded he was in fact the second coming of Jesus Christ. I would have liked to have seen him meet up with Black Paladin in that mindset!
Ten awesome characters who make you want to sit down with your friends, a bowl of Cheetos in one hand and a bowl of d6es in the other. Next time we’ll look at the ten characters who make that dusty Atari 5200 in the garage look strangely appealing by comparison….