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Author Topic: [Doctor Chaos] Cards, bad guys  (Read 4888 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: August 11, 2005, 06:28:07 AM »

Hi everyone,

I had an idea for a game a couple of weeks ago, which I think will scrub out the final need for "must satisfy adolescent issue via Color" from my life. I scribbled on it furiously and we did a fairly "this doesn't quite work" playtest last weekend. I hammered out the notes from that, scribbled some more, and I think it's almost ready for Alpha level.

The name of the game: Doctor Chaos. Subtitle/blurb: What if the world's greatest supervillain were not actually a moron?

My intention is to publish it in PDF and hard copy, probably using something like Clinton does with Creative Commons License. It's small: I anticipate about 48 or 56 pages, digest size & saddle-stitched ("stapled," for those who aren't up on printing jargon).

The character of Dr. Chaos is a group creation prior to play, but unlike MLWM, he is played by many of the participants, perhaps even all of them, one at a time. Heroes are not player-characters in the traditional sense, and each may be played by many different people.

Basically, the superheroes only exist in the game mechanics as opposition to Dr. Chaos' developing plan. As I say, Dr. Chaos is played by any number of the participants, one at a time. Both his Issues (and boy does he have issues) and the heroes' personal sides get developed through one another's interactions - a hero gets developed when Dr. Chaos does something awful to him; Dr. Chaos' issues get developed in order for heroes to screw up his plan in the first place. Developed heroes are more effective against him.

The game includes lesser villains too, who are different from either and I'll talk about them later. For now, realize that no one owns Dr. Chaos or any single superhero for the whole game.

Playtesting! Well, just about everything about creating Dr. Chaos went perfectly. It's full of stuff like coming up with his Look and the conditions for his Plan, and so on. Just about everything about the procedure was, to steal Eric Provost's favored and excellent term, poo. It's basically a per-scene ongoing session of Rummy, extremely simplified, from which I stripped out the scoring system and a few other things.

The way it's supposed to go, Dr. Chaos announces how he's fulfilling a particular condition for his Plan. The heroes enter the scene (and are often invented in doing so) by way of his Issues - i.e., it's things like his Ideology and his Flair which create holes in his Plan, and thus the heroes appear. That turned out to be tricky - people were way too hung up on justifying the heroes' presence, and I realized that they'd be better off by talking about what Dr. Chaos does, specifically, that develops his Issues - and simply have the heroes be there in that context.

It's a bit much to ask, actually. The person has to come up with Dr. Chaos' issue in action, then figure out how that lets/makes a hero show up, and then often invent the hero. Without phrasing that in the right order (and pointing out that the person gets to play Dr. Chaos right at that point), the person's brain explodes. Especially if they think they're supposed to be making up fleshed-out, solid heroes at this point, which they're not. So that's fixed.

The card-play turned out to rattle people too; they couldn't figure out how to "win" simply by playing good Rummy. That's because you can't win this game by playing good Rummy. It's not even a very Gamist game ... which is a hurdle right there. I have found that nearby everybody considers himself or herself an accomplished card shark, and if you put cards into people's hands in a non-dice context (i.e. not over-and-done-with instantly), they go into "I'm good at card games" mode and their brain forgets everything else. I want most of play to be integrated with an ongoing use of the cards, rather than draw/modify/go/over, and that's going to take some more refining.

I'd run into a conceptual tangle at this point, and realized it - see, sometimes, when Dr. Chaos stuffs a hero, he or she can return "developed," which means that whoever's playing that hero has lots of effective options after the cards are shown. But at the moment, I was figuring that only happened when Dr. Chaos gins them ("critical," for gamers). But that was poo too, because ginning someone takes some commitment. Why would the Dr. Chaos person of the moment do that when it only made the hero more effective? I'd realized this was a problem.

Ben Lehman provided the answer - no, a normal victory hoses the hero, allowing him or her to develop, and a gin victory is the easy no-sweat one that just bats the hero away. Ah-ha! My little brain instantly generated terms, Abusive Victory and Dismissive Victory, that warmed my supervillain heart, and the rules snapped together better than before. For instance, people were reluctant to give up the heroes they'd made, and I decided that an Abusive Victory against a hero means the same person cannot be the next to play that hero. OK, much better, since the new person's narration has to explain how the hero strove against all the abuse.

So now what? The rules aren't quite ready to share out for critique yet, although they're close. What I'm interested in from you guys is a little different.

I'm a big fan of the uber-villain in superhero comics. It's not too off-the-beam to think of the Fantastic Four, as a title, really being a vehicle for the story of Dr. Doom. I'm probably not the only person who was bored by the soap opera and preaching of many years of the X-Men, as I waited for whatever Magneto was up to next. Thanos was just breathtaking ("Death is like love-making, Thunderer. It gets better every time.").

Tell me about the uber-villain from real comics who didn't make it, in your eyes. The one who the writers and editors really wanted to be a Dr. Doom, but ended up as piddly, repetitive, and annoying. Especially the ones who had really good starts! My list includes Kang the Conqueror and Kobra (from DC).* List me some of your "ubervillain heartbreakers," so to speak, and why.

Best,
Ron

* Graviton, in my eyes the very essence of a worthless comics character, doesn't get listed because he didn't even have a good start. Hack, blech. My mind is polluted even typing about this imbecile. (Cast your minds into antiquity, fellow oldies. Avengers. Gravity powers. Lech for stupid blonde secretary. Really stupid.)
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Simon Marks
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« Reply #1 on: August 11, 2005, 06:44:18 AM »

Shuma-Gorath.

Bit part villan from Dr Strange, except that he shouldn't have been. He was a philosophising Lord of All Chaos.

I have great affection for him, as the battle between him and Strange in the end came down to asking "What are you willing to sacrafice to save the world? Your Friends? Your Powers? The Innocent? Your sense of self?" to which Strange answered "Yes, Yes, Yes, YES"

The battle and between them was fantastic, as was Strange's rocky path to recovery. I still think it was one of the best stories Marvel did.

Did anyone else notice, nope.

And what happened to Shuma-Gorath?

Turned up in the X-Men beat-em-up as a Octopus and big eye.

What a downfall for an near ominpotent God-like great old one...
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Larry L.
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« Reply #2 on: August 11, 2005, 06:57:31 AM »

Ron,

This may be after your time, but I could never dig Cobra Emperor Serpentor in Larry Hama's G.I. Joe comic. He had this crazy ridiculous pedegree as the Ultimate Leader (the DNA of Genghis Kahn!) with several issues worth of "This guy's gonna be so awesome when they pull him from the cloning vat!" Then he turned out to be so... silly compared to perpetual loser Cobra Commander, Destro (who was, to my mind, the star of the G.I. Joe universe), or the fucking ninja Storm Shadow. He was just a grouchy ubermensch in a goofy outfit. This was where the line started drifting from the bad guys being a para-military terrorist force into lame quasi-satanists. What a crappy foil for adolescent jingoism and warnography. Ah, the pressures of supporting a line of action figures...
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TonyLB
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« Reply #3 on: August 11, 2005, 02:32:02 PM »

Spiral... with a wonderfully, utterly creepy, dysfunctional-romantic start in the Longshot mini-series, she had everything needed to move on to utter bad-assitude.  She had magic, she had science, she had sex appeal, she had four arms, but mostly she had hatred.  Raw, unexplained, unexplainable hatred for all that was good.

And she was a minion, for pete's sake.  She was a kick-ass villain even when someone else (someone stupid, in fact!) was calling the shots.

And then, the more power and freedom they gave her, the more she just came apart.  Somewhere along the line I realized, even if nobody else did, that bereft of the utter unfairness of her minion-tude, given the power to actually be a villain, she lost the justification that made the rage cool.  It became "Damn, girl, you own half the multiverse, what you got to be so angry about anyway?"
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #4 on: August 11, 2005, 03:38:56 PM »

That's a GREAT call, Tony. I was first thinking, like, "Spiral who?", then it clicked when I remembered that Longshot's English name is Longshot. (It's that punk from '80s X-Men) Spiral is exactly what I'd imagine Ron to be looking for.

As my own suggestion... any and all Hulk villains I can think of. A part of it is that whole loser wibe the series seems to have, but some of them genuinely should be a lot more scary and mega-villainous than they are. General Ross is my favourite villain-who-never-was: the guy has everything starting with the evil moustache and ideology (think, how many comics villains have ideology?), but it seems that he's always being blindsided by the super-powered villain of the week, completely unable to come to his own as a force to be taken seriously. A stuttering fool is what he ultimately becomes, only to be taken up by writers when they realize that humans are much more interesting than big battles.

And Leader... man, how disappointing can you be? (I'm remembering that it's the Leader? That green man with a head disfiguration, mind control powers and a gamma ray origin story?) He's looking really scary and sinister, but... could it just be that all stories I've read just happen the be the stupid sort, or why can't a theoretically pretty wise guy think up anything half-believable. Kidnapping babies and setting up nefarious nuclear terrorism plans is what I remember, but the guy thinks up the most unlikely methods for doing either...

While I'm listing villains... I could mention many X-Men villain from the nineties, actually. One could think that anything that new just can't fit Ron's requirements, but as far as I'm concerned, that whole chain of villains from Mr. Sinister to that Existinction Agenda guy whose name I forget is a bad, bad joke, even when the concept should work in theory. They're too goth for their own good, and look just stupid when appearing for the third time in the storyline without ever doing anything but throwing mysterious gloating one-liners they have no right to, being that they didn't yet manage even one scene with the heroes to begin with! Talk about standing in their own minions' shadow.

Let's go for a hat trick: Moleman. You may disagree, it's contentious.
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Joe J Prince
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« Reply #5 on: August 12, 2005, 04:08:19 AM »

Doc Chaos sounds like a lot of fun.

As for supervillain heartbreakers-

What about En-Sabah-Nur or Apocalypse as he's more commonly known.
He's over 3000 years old, possesses almost limitless power - but what's he actually do?
Turn Angel blue and that's about it! Rubbish.
Had to get his own time-line to look more menacing, even then he got whupped by Magneto.

Exodus was another uber-villain mutant who didn't really do a lot, but had a pretty good start, taking on the Avengers and the X-men at the same time.

And how about Blackheart, son of Mephisto. When Blackie wasn't having his ass handed to him by Ghost Rider, Wolverine and The Punisher he staged a coup and conquered Hell. And then I'm not sure what he did, probably redecorated.

J
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: August 12, 2005, 06:34:42 AM »

Hello,

H'mmm, the more I think about it, the more the post-1985 Marvel mutant villains seem like a complete washout to me. Rather than single phenomena who need to be understood singly, I think the entire cartload can be held up, looked at once, and tossed behind our collective shoulder with hardly a grunt.

Let's get thinking about characters with really good starts, in terms of an actual story that worked or almost worked, instead of a promise, and then tanked.

I'm angling toward a second question about how some of the really great villains were (or should have been) one-shot stories, and how others seem so well suited to repeated stories.

Best,
Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: August 12, 2005, 08:20:10 AM »

The Leader and the Moleman ... h'mmm ..

Well, you're right, Eero, the Hulk (like Captain America) was almost always the suxx as a comic, based largely on its stupid villains. The Leader seems to have been one of the long line of characters (hero and villain) who are precisely as stupid as their hype claims they are smart. There's a lot of anti-intellectualism in comics; "smart" characters are usually revealed to be, at best, merely obsessive and often very, very dumb. The Thinker, indeed.

More specifically, the Hulk's villains were very often thinly-disguised Soviet/Russkie threats. Which makes the whole General Ross thing fairly incoherent (in the usual sense of the word), as the General and the Hulk really oughta be united in fighting folks like Modok, the Leader, and so on ... even the Abomination seems, to me, a lot like the Soviet explosion of an A-bomb in "answer" to the Hulk. The whole comic seems to me to be the incoherent strugglings of "how do we deal with nuclear power," failing miserably to arrive at either an answer or even a position of any kind.

Which isn't too bad of an achievement for a monthly newstand throwaway product, to put it into perspective. And the Hulk as a character study (usually not villain-driven) is quite excellent once in a while, depending on the author and artist.

Anyway, so the Leader doesn't really qualify - another cross between Lenin's mind and Stalin's face, I think, painted green to distract us a little. Not really an ubervillain candidate from day one.

The Moleman ... now, this got me thinking. Because his first story (long before most of us were born) was damn good. Should that have been the last one? Many great stories are great because they make their point and are finished. Only a comics fan likes to be reminded of such stories again and again and again through new stories ... and even to place primary attention on the reminders rather than the new stories themselves. I think the Moleman would have been a much better fictional phenomenon if we'd never seen him again.

(Again, comics were not invented either to satisfy me personally nor to accord with my assessments of fictional phenomena. I fully understand why, in practice, we saw the Moleman again. If anyone reading this feels the need to explain it to me, suppress yourself instantly, thanks.)

Now, then, let's talk about Victor von Doom. Great story to start? You bet. Great development later, refinement of his story, enrichment of his character? Oh yeah (I believe it was Marv Wolfman who decided that his initial facial injury was extremely minor). Politics, moral ambiguity, presence, and surprisingly lateral thinking for a Marvel villain? Double-yeah.

(It helps that someone eventually figured out that the best way to negate a stupid Dr. Doom story was to retroactively establish that "that was one of my robots" - lame? Oddly enough, pretty satisfying, given the medium. Go figure.)

What I'm after is that the desire to see Dr. Doom appear in a story again is not merely seeking a reminder of a good story way back when. It's because he has qualities that often generate a new, great story now. Same goes for Magneto, as I remember him best anyway and which they managed to capture pretty well in the movies (coulda used one of those awesome fight scenes where he kicks the whole team's collective ass, but what can you do). Same definitely goes for Thanos.

(Ooh, I'm geeking out just thinking about it. Drax the Destroyer goes up against Thanos. Thanos looks at him, and the camera closes into his cavernous eye socket, ultimately into his pupil, where a skull resides. The captions read, through this sequence, something like "I am Thanos. I am Death." And Drax is simply ... vanquished. Not a fisticuff or laserblast to be seen. The closest Marvel ever got to Heavy Metal.)

So, I'm talking about ubervillains as successful continuing phenomena. And as you guys are rightly pointing out, a successful initial concept and imagery (like Spiral) doesn't cut it. Nor does saying the villain has (e.g.) brains or (another e.g.) great powers. No ... here's what I've come up with for the game text.

Quote
Let me introduce you to …

Dr. Chaos

Who is hands-down the primo uber-villain ever, the one you knew you could make up in seventh grade, except when you tried he was lame for some reason. Only this time, you’ll do it right, using the parameters I’ll give you.

How does he compare to Dr. Doom, Magneto, Dormammu, and so on? It’s not a matter of comparison – what those villains were to their comics, so is he to yours. And he’s the best. Everyone playing this game will make him up all together, before you do anything else.

I’ll provide the rules for doing this soon, but there’s no point unless you prepare yourselves mentally for this awesome task. You aren’t just making up “a” supervillain.

Dr. Chaos is mighty. No single hero can defeat him up-front, and he is more than equal to any institution or organization. He is expert at physical confrontation, cosmic energies, psychological and political strategy, technological innovation, and magical dimensions.

Dr. Chaos is also significant. He really could rule the world, and for all purposes can be considered a nation’s worth of resources and relevance to others. Cosmically, he has “place.” Demon-lords are polite to him.

Dr. Chaos is not an idiot. He understands all the things which could stop him and has figured everyone out already. His plans will work and his drive is more than sufficient to see them through. He considers “Hamlet” to be a stupid story.

Dr. Chaos has a point. His outlook may be warped or inhuman in some way, but it has its roots in human ideals which can be identified with and perhaps, in some other context, admired. Some of the stuff he does or decisions he makes in the crunch may approach nobility.

Finally, Dr. Chaos is masterful. He commands more presence than anyone else, can overawe any gathering, can convince anyone he’s right through logic or fear as he sees fit. Unlike heroes, timing has nothing to do with his impact – his entrances make the timing right.

This is his game.

Oh, and before anyone makes the obvious comparison, this is rather the opposite of My Life with Master. The point of making Dr. Chaos is that you want to see him again and again, not that you want him miserably dead.

Best,
Ron

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Bankuei
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« Reply #8 on: August 12, 2005, 09:44:30 AM »

Hi Ron,

How do you feel about Marvel's Kingpin or DC's Lex Luthor?  I think though they both have the smart uber-villain thing going on, they fall short because they simply fail to hit with enough passion and gusto to really fulfill the role. Likewise, this is what also causes Apocalypse to fall short in my eyes as well- no one has been really willing to write him as a fanatic trying to bring about his holy race war, like you'd figure given his origin story.

Chris
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: August 12, 2005, 10:35:24 AM »

Hi Chris,

Those characters bring up two issues: scope and reinvention.

In the game, I'm using "world" as the default scope for Dr. Chaos' master plan. But I also point out that any scope will do, and if you use "American crime" as the scope, then the Kingpin fits nicely. Or to hop it outward, you can do stuff like "the very fabric of time and space" for characters like Thanos.

The important thing about scope is that heroes and lesser villains might match the ubervillain's scope, but cannot exceed it. Hence, Dr. Doom and Thor do not show up in Kingpin stories. (Oh, OK, Thor shows up for one panel in a famous Daredevil sequence, but fuck off, don't quibble with me, Marvelboy. That was a quick example to illustrate a game point.) Dr. Chaos gets a scope, and after that, we stay within it.

The reinvention thing is tricky. I pointed out that Dr. Doom has a built-in justification for reinventing him slightly, especially if you want to write a really kickass Doom story and have to deal with continuity with past stories where all he does is wave his arms and shout "Dolt!" a lot. Play the robot card and you're all set. But real reinvention is different; it basically says, forget all the previous stories and let's start over. This is what this guy is like.

Miller did that with a lot of the villains in Daredevil, not necessarily very successfully (e.g. Gladiator got a weird Roman fixation). But his Kingpin (taken from Spider-Man) fuckin' rocked, obviously. I even remember the issue devoted to that purpose, basically just showing the guy working out, running things, disciplining other crimebosses (prefiguring the famous Kill Bill scene), handling his daily nefarious business, and even briefly kowtowing to his wife.

What I'm saying is that once reinvented, the Kingpin became a great ubervillain. But the fact of reinvention means we can simply jettison anything that came before it.

Which brings me to Lex Luthor, who I might need some help with. I find most of DC's titles and general approach to superheroes/villains difficult to enjoy or understand; when it works for me, it's usually because the writers were heavily influenced by Marvel and were often previously Marvel employees. He's clearly been reinvented several times, most notably as an industrialist instead of a bald guy in leotards. And Superman's relationship and history with him gets rewritten a lot too, as Ben Lehman was telling me about recently.

Anyway, so my real answer is "I dunno." What do you think?

(Oh! Careful with one thing - the personal "shadow" or nemesis villain is not an ubervillain. The Green Goblin [etc], Venom, and the Joker are an entirely different animal, so they and characters like them are not part of this discussion. Maybe Lex Luthor sorta falls into this category at various stages of re-invention.)

Best,
Ron

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Bankuei
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« Reply #10 on: August 12, 2005, 11:37:58 AM »

Hi Ron,

I suppose the real line you're drawing is whether the villain is grabby and cool enough to warrant their own stories outside of the heroes, and in that regard, yeah, the guys I mentioned usually haven't made the cut.  The two major pitfalls are either the mirror characters as you mentioned, who exist only in contrast to the hero, or else a character who just hasn't been emotionally loaded enough to really fire as a protagonist.

Although, I do think that it's interesting to note that a lot of the Uber-villain qualities also map directly over to the darker incarnations of Batman.

Chris
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #11 on: August 12, 2005, 11:46:23 AM »

Yeah, Miller's Kingpin rocks. He's the guy the current Lex Luthor really tries to be. Pretty pathetic of the writers, really.

As far as I understand, Lex Luthor's reinvention as a politician and industrialist happened because the continuum didn't have room for yet another mad scientist. When the comics during the '80s started to get longer storylines and sticky plot points all these variations of the same theme became redundant. And when you come down to it, Brainiac does the giant-robots-squash-metropolis much better.

Then again, we should remember that Lex the industrialist is a comparatively old thing. I at least tend to only remember his recent coups, like Batman's No Man's Land and being elected as president, but the essence of the idea was there already in John Byrne's Man of Steel reboot in the '80s. For all actual purposes I find the pre-crisis bald guy in leotards pretty a pretty trivial comparison, probably because it was so long before my time. In some ways the idea of childhood rivals and all that works much better, of course, but somebody else has to comment on the actual substance of the stories.

That being said, my opinion of Lex: the actual interaction is pretty good, he is a natural opposition for Superman. But damn, those writers can't write psychology to save their livelihood. In all these years after -86 or whenever he was reintroduced I can remember only a spare handful of stories that actually, frankly dealt with his reasons for having a constant Superman hate-on. It borders on irrational, and the best they can come up with is a largely unspoken penis-envy. The biggest problem is that apparently Lex doesn't have anything better to do, ever, than pissing on Superman in any way he can. Not a very memorable character in that regard.

Actually, that tends to be a common sin for comics villain-hero relationships. It's easy to segue into a fight scene if your villain's motivation is revenge against the hero, but that rarely makes for a good story. Just compare pre-Venom Spiderman to that particular run to get a sense of how hollow the story gets at that point. Completely clueless.

--

About Dr. Chaos: do I understand correctly that you're pondering about how to create tools for creating a memorable übervillain? If so, are you looking to
1) develop the villain the way superhero writers develop theirs?
or
2) analyze the phenomenon and give a straight route to the goal?

It seems to me, for example, that much of the significance of the likes of Magneto and Dr. Doom comes from layered intertextuality: the readers experience bits and pieces of the character's nature through the stories, various interpretations of the character emerge, always conflicting, and then comes along a writer with insight and writes one of those stories that really reinvents the character (regardless of actual facts, really; the most important reinventions of both Doom and Magneto have been about restructuring their motivations, not about comic-geek factoid-swiping), consiling the best parts and throwing away the dross. Then the process starts again, when different parties disagree or embrace the daring interpretations of creative writers.

This is a pretty different process than just recognizing the defining features of a good villain after the fact and structuring one out of whole cloth. The latter's been done a couple of times - X-Men Limbo, for instance, reached it's ultimate form in one try - but the resulting villain is a very different kind of beast, hardly suitable for recurring stories, and very literary in character. Belasco, for instance, is very much tied to his storyline, and not very suitable for a recurring villain, exactly because he's been figured out from start to finish already when he's first put to paper. That's the classical writing method, but it's not how Dr. Doom or Magneto or even Kingpin was created.

If I understand your direction correctly, you're planning to have a villain creation session in the first place, right? Define the villain analytically, with tools like that list you gave upthread? How about, if you instead started the players off with only a five-page comic, the "first appearance of Dr. Chaos", and started play right after that? Almost nothing is known about the übervillain, except how he looks and some of his powers and some hint about his methods and ideology, and perhaps some hero who fought against him. Then it's up to the players to develop the germ through play. Individual stories may conflict with each other, necessiating reinventing the villain once or several times during the campaign. Perhaps the natural end-point of the campaign is when the villain is completely realized, and you can finish it off with a special issue that completely defines the villain and his relationship with the heroes. Make reinvention of Dr. Chaos into a game mechanic.

Thing is, while your list of necessary qualities for Dr. Chaos is pretty complete analytically, I'm not sure if it's as enjoyable as it could be to synthesize a villain, when you could just figure it out story-by-story. It also threatens the premise of the story to have the villain all figured out in advance, doesn't it? As far as I understand it, one reason to want to see Magneto or Dr. Doom recurring is their quicksilver quality, the many faces they take on through different interpretations.

--

That being said, some über-villains from English 2000AD comics might prove educative in this regard, if only for the different pacing of the stories. I'm especially thinking of Judge Death from Judge Dread, and Torquemada from Nemesis the Warlock. Just a thought.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: August 12, 2005, 03:03:33 PM »

Hello,

Way ahead of you, Eero. Doctor Chaos is created first, yes, but a very large amount of the substance is to be filled in during play. For instance, he may have a Fixation on a particular hero, but since heroes are emphatically not to be created before play in this game, we don't know who yet until someone feels like inventing the hero via the Fixation.

Same goes especially for Ideology

Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself. Doctor Chaos always has four Issues, on paper: Ideology, Fixation, Caring, and Flair. The last one needs no specific definition; the first three get a brief sentence at the outset and are to be filled in as play proceeds.

Let's say you're one of the people who is currently not playing Dr. Chaos in the sense of playing in favor of his hand. You want to work up his Ideology, very much in the way that a writer, back in the day, first decided to make Magneto a concentration camp survivor. You introduce the hero Saracen, but you start by playing Dr. Chaos acting upon this issue, and then you can say how Saracen is implicated or involved in that whole deal, whether right here in Dr. Chaos' face or in some other way that directly interferes with this particular stage of the plan.

In this way, Dr. Chaos develops a highly specific profile of the four issues (including ignoring any of them if the group collectively finds that, say, a Fixation isn't what they want for this guy) over time.

Best,
Ron
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Matt Wilson
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« Reply #13 on: August 14, 2005, 05:16:07 AM »

At my grandparents' cabin, maybe 25 years ago, there was a closet with a big stack of old comic books from the mid-to-late 60s. One of them was an Avengers issue that introduces a villain called "the Swordsman." You know, when the Avengers just had 4 members? I think it was Cap, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye and Quicksilver. I bet if it hadn't been read like 800,000 times it'd be slightly valuable now.

Anyway, I liked Swordsman because what he really wants is to be accepted by the Avengers and hopefully be invited in, but his insecurity/arrogance gets the better of him and he makes enemies of them all. See, he tries to demonstrate his worth to them by basically fucking with them, you know, like breaking into the HQ and trying to best each of them. Then I think after being humiliated, he meets the Mandarin, who puts all kinds of cool gadgety buttons on his sword, and things escalate.

Does he ever show up again? The cover of the issue made a big deal out of introducing him. And I liked his pathetic "kicked out of the sandbox" vengeance thing. Reminds me of certain internet forums.

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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: August 14, 2005, 06:33:54 AM »

Hiya Matt,

Oh, it's painful when a young man is deprived of his rightful cultural heritage. Son, son, do you not know of the wisdom of the Avengers? Yea, we shall speak together. And then find a name worthy of you, not this slave-name of "Matt" which you now wear.

The Avengers became kind of a "semi-villains' recovery group" early in its history (issue #25, I believe, when Roy Thomas, the original bright-eyed fan, took the book). Some of it was tremendously successful, including the introduction of the Vision, who was kind of a do-over of the Silver Surfer and very much the precursor of TNG's Data.

Some stories were less successful although often gaudy and edgy in a good way. The Swordsman went on to become a member of the Avengers, although not a very competent one and given to whining, a frequent Marvel hero trait. A rather complicated storyline ensued in which he got romantic with Mantis, a slinky Asianesque character with antennae, who was also a member of the group for some reason I can't understand. (The Avengers during this period was a lot like a 70s TV show - if a new character showed up, why, they were in the group! of course!)

Even as a kid, it seemed to me that the Swordsman/Mantis romance was extremely strongly based on a Viet Nam vet and Vietnamese hooker romance, especially when the couple comes back to the States. Steve Englehart, the writer at the time, had a talent for getting this sort of thing into the subtext, although the overt writing was as overblown as Thomas'.

Anyway, the Mantis develops a lech for the Vision, the Swordsman gets all bent out of shape about it, and Scarlet Witch (the Vision's babe) gets bent out of shape too, and so on and on. This got resolved during a confrontation with a villain group called Zodiac, who weren't bad at all as far as crook-villains go, and as I recall, the Swordsman eventually sacrifices himself for the good of the group and dies, and Mantis gets Enlightened and "goes away." (This happened a lot to Marvel characters at this time. The writers read a lot of Castaneda and faux zen.)

What's kind of interesting about this particular sacrifice, though, is that the Swordsman isn't very noble at any point, probably due to incompetent writing. His sacrifice reads more like a fuck-you suicide, see what you've done to me, rather than an expression of Avengers solidarity, love for Mantis, or defeat-the-villain. As I say, edgy.

What does any of this have to do with Doctor Chaos? A lot. The lesser villains are a big deal in this game. They might be under Doctor Chaos' thumb, they might break free, they might submit, etc, etc. If they abandon their own Plans and keep resisting Doctor Chaos, they are effectively heroes. The superheroes of the game are oppositional mechanics who might grow into being "characters" in the RPG sense only through time. The lesser villains are more like player-characters who may be played for/against Doctor Chaos, or in favor of their own lesser plans, or as semi-heroes or heroes.

So yeah, the Swordsman, as a lesser villain waffling around in the options afforded such a character.

Best,
Ron
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