Saturday, June 10, 2017

Coming Soon: Psi-Watch Mega-Bestiary

Over the last few weeks, I've been working hard on a massive bestiary for my Psi-Watch Campaign Setting. As yet, this bestiary is unnamed. Right now, this bestiary stands at 170 creatures, which is dramatically bigger than Closed: Monsters of the Army of God, and a slight bit bigger than both volumes of the Black Bestiary put together. About 40-ish of those creatures you've seen before in volume 1 and 2 of the Psi-Threats series, the rest are all new.

There's a lot of political subtext to this, as in many ways the alternate-1993 of the revised Psi-Watch world speaks to the state of America circa 2017. Take a look at the opening essay for the bestiary - the 'xxxx' placeholder text indicates where the book's eventual title will go when I decide on it. After that, take a look at one of the main named badguys of the setting: Evil Cyborg Mike Pence.

Next time, I'll preview some of the new art I'm gathering for the setting and showcase a few more comic inspired bad guys, including some epic-level monsters.

So here's the opening essay, inspirations list and your introduction to President Mike Spencer (subtle, right?) who I hope is a cap-stone villain and challenging fire-fight for your Psi-Watch adventuring party. The illustration of President Spencer is by John Picot who's done double duty on this book.

1993 Equals 2017
I’d been toying with creating a revised setting for Psi-Watch since the publication of Black Operators. I wanted to take the setting back in time and make it a period piece: a superheroic tribute to the early 1990s. As 2015 and 2016 unfolded, the idea of looking backward to my adolescence got more and more appealing, and I began to notice cultural parallels between the two decades. Trump’s virulently racist, right-wing campaign, combined with the visceral conservative pushback against #Black Lives Matter, proved that despite the fact America had elected Barack Obama in the interval, it was not significantly more evolved or any less bigoted than it was on the night Rodney King got beaten. When the monster was finally elected, I started thinking even more seriously about the project.

It was a joke that appeared on Tumblr, an internet meme, that finally pushed this new, 1990s-flavored bestiary out of the theoretical stage and into full production. Somebody online made an image comparing the loathesome homophobe VP Mike Pence with the fictional Reverend William Stryker, with the caption “Why does Mike Pence always look like he’s going to introduce legislation to outlaw the X-Men?”

Well, ka-boom.

The last pieces fell into place.

I’d always, and purely for my own amusement, stated that in the Psi-Watch reality George HW Bush had been blasted by some Iraqi metahuman in the early 1990s. So build on that, and you’ve got an ultra-conservative, anti-mutant (as a visceral and well-established metaphor for homophobia) Republican running in place of the atomized Bush and beating Clinton. All of a sudden, even putting aside the superheroes, mutants and psychics running around, 1993 starts looking a whole lot different, a whole lot darker. A lot more in need of heroic adventurers.

President Michael Spencer (the even worse-than-real, Cyborg Mike Pence) becomes the centerpiece of a web of superhuman opponents, monstrous psions, military-trained undead, and secret, bio-mechanical cults that threatens the world.

XXXX is one of the largest and most wide-ranging bestiaries ever produced by Otherverse Games, dwarfing Closed: Monsters of the Armies of God, The Complete Nemesis Bestiary and both volumes of the Black Bestiary even if you added them together. Included are more than XXXXX monsters. While the entire casts of Psi-Threats Volume I and II are included, those XXX monsters, mecha and supersoldiers represent only a tiny portion of the collected cast, most of which are all new.

A handful of themes dominate XXXXX. In addition to the politics of Psi-Watch’s 1993, several hidden cults and secretive organizations threaten the world. Elements of the Lovecraft Mythos are thrown into the pot with comic book in-jokes and homages, and an absolutely original version of Lovecraft’s Nyarlahotep has emerged as one of this dangerous, war-torn setting’s greatest threats. Mutant culture is caught between cyber-tech bigots, gigantic Watchtower Mecha and the slave-trading Republic of Cebrary at one extreme, and the other-dimensional sadism of Eugenicist Demons at the other. The psion-led, eugenic cult of the Huxley Emergence fights a secret war for control over the planet, and keeps a frightful psychic WMD called the Murder Mind in deep stasis, ready to be unleashed if Emergence’s rivals for the planet ever gain the upper hand.

It’s not all politics though. XXXX is a love letter to the kind of comics I grew up reading. Heroes might storm secret military bases, killing their way through troops in an orgy of hyper-colorful violence, only to confront a Necrofficer staging a military coup. Or they might trade blows with a high-flying, nuclear powered Luminate or be stalked by Lady Entropia’s trio of terrifying minions.

Some new elements introduced in XXXX will be expanded on in future world books. A loose coalition of First Nations tribes, protected by skillful meta-human defenders controls vast swaths of formerly American territory and form one of the most effective resistances to the Spencer Administration. An alternate reality where the Roman Empire never fell treats Psi-Watch’s Earth as a ready source of slaves and entertainment, sending sadistic Box Office Editors to recapture runaway slaves and exceptionally lucky freedom fighters who escaped to Psi-Watch’s Earth. Anthropomorphic adventurers (and the founders of a new, rough alt-rock style called Growl) hail from the city of Cat’s Cradle, which was called Omaha, NE back in the days before all its citizens grew fur. The Lagniappe Thieves Guild in New Orleans is a relic of the Underground Railroad that has evolved into a dashing, romantic band of thieves, spies and assassins.

Inspiration and Media List for Psi-Watch 1992
At its simplest, Psi-Watch is an affectionate homage to the superhero comics of the early 1992s, particularly Marvel’s X-Titles and the first crop of Image Comics. Like these inspirations, Psi-Watch’s heroes are tough, battle hardened psions, aliens, cyborgs and mutants who wage secret wars in the shadows of the modern world.

Particuarly good sources of inspiration for Psi-Watch are listed below. Some are obvious, other sources of inspiration less so.

Comics and Graphic Novels
The following authors and artists are especially influential in my conception of Psi-Watch.

Authors: Brandon Choi, Chris Claremont, Chuck Dixon, Larry Hama, Dan Jurgens, Dwayne McDuffie, Warren Ellis
Artists: J. Scott Campbell, Jae Lee, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Joseph Michael Lindser, Joe Madureia, Todd McFarlane, Wilce Portacio, Joe Quesada, Marc Silvestri, Mike Turner

DC Comics
Armageddon 2001 annuals
Batman: Sword of Azreal
The Bloodlines Annuals
The Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen, Knightfall and Emerald Twilight storylines
Green Lantern (post-Emerald Twilight, featuring Kyle Rayner)
Hellblazer (inspiration for modern magic campaigns)
Kingdom Come
The New Gods and others (1970s series by Jack Kirby)
Preacher (inspiration for modern magic campaigns)
The Ray (first Quesada mini-series)
Superboy (1990s series) and Supergirl (Peter David series) 
Sandman and Death: The High Cost of Living (inspiration for modern magic campaigns)
Superman/Batman: Supergirl (Mike Turner)
Marvel Comics
Daredevil (Frank Millar’s 1980s run and Man Without Fear especially)
Force Works, Fantastic Force (and other mid-90s spinoffs of classic comic titles)
Ghost Rider, Midnight Sons and other spinoffs (inspiration for modern magic campaigns)
G.I. Joe and G.I. Joe: Special Missions
Guardians of the Galaxy (Jim Valentino)
Iron Man (especially the Armor Wars storyline)
New Mutants and Magik mini-series (1983 series)
Punisher and Punisher: Warzone
Spiderman 2099 and other 2099 titles
The Ultimates
Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, X-Force, Wolverine and other x-titles (especially the Age of Apocalypse, Second Coming, X-Tinction Agenda, and Executioner’s Song storylines)
X-Force (all incarnations, from the Liefeld era to the current incarnation)

Image Comics
Bloodstrike (current incarnation)
Deathmate (especially the Black issue)
Cyberforce and its spinoff series and mini-series
Fathom (Mike Turner)
Gen 13 and Team 7 (especially the first Dixon written Team 7 miniseries)
The Maxx (inspiration for modern magic campaigns)
Prophet (current incarnation)
The Savage Dragon
Shaman’s Tears (inspiration for modern magic campaigns)
Spawn and the Angela miniseries (inspiration for modern magic campaigns)
Stormwatch and the Authority (especially the later, Warren Ellis issues)
Wild C.A.T.s (the early Jim Lee issues especially)
Witchblade (inspiration for a modern magic campaign)
Youngblood, Team Youngblood, Bloodstrike and other Rob Liefeld concepts

Milestone Comics
Blood Syndicate (especially the Demon Fox storyline for modern magic campaigns)
Shadow Cabinet

Valiant Comics
Both the classic 90s issues and the current incarnation of these titles are equally good sources of inspiration.
Bloodshot (and Rai)
Dr. Mirage (inspiration for modern magic campaigns)
X-O Manowar

Other Publishers
Alien Legion (Marvel/Epic)
Dawn (Sirius) (inspiration for modern magic campaigns)
Deathmatch (Boom! Studios)
Hellboy and The BPRD (Dark Horse) (inspiration for modern magic campaigns)
Grendel (Dark Horse)
G.I.Joe and The Cobra Files and related works (IDW)
John Bryne’s Next Men (Dark Horse)
Comics Greatest World (Dark Horse)
Johnson & Stroman’s Tribe (three different publishers over three issues)
Judge Dredd (2000 AD)
Prime, Freex, The Strangers, others (Malibu)
Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose (Broadsword Comics) (inspiration for modern magic campaigns)

Games (pen and paper and electronic)
The Mortal Kombat series (Acclaim)
The Metal Gear Solid series (Konami)
The Street Fighter series (Capcom)
Rifts, Ninjas & Superspies, Heroes Unlimited, TMNT and Other Strangeness (Palladium)
Shadowrun (FASA/Catalyst)
Underground (Mayfair)
X-Men Legends and related titles such as Marvel Ultimate Alliance (Activision)

The Burke novel series (Andrew Vachss)
The Great and Secret Show (Clive Barker)
Imagica (Clive Barker) (inspiration for modern magic campaigns)
Keeper and others (Greg Rucka)
Neuromancer, Mona Lisa Overdrive, and others (William Gibson)
The Repairman Jack novel series (F. Paul Wilson)
Rainbow Six and others (Tom Clancy)
The Wild Cards novel series (George RR Martin, editor)

Television and Movies
The A-Team
Aeon Flux (animated series moreso than the film)
Blackhawk Down
The Crow (inspiration for modern magic campaigns)
Dark Angel
Die Hard
GI Joe The Movie (1980s)
Hellraiser film series (inspiration for modern magic campaigns)
Knight Rider (classic and mid-2000s revamp)
Lethal Weapon film series
New Jack City
Predator (and its sequels)
Rambo (2008 film especially)
Red Dawn (original)
Spawn (animated series)
The Transporter
Terminator & T-2
Three Kings
Top Gun
Universal Soldier film series

New Languages
The following languages are unique to the Psi-Watch Campaign Setting.

Culture –An elegant and overly complex language which borrows some linguistic cues from Middle Eastern languages, spoken by the Culture and many client species throughout the galaxy. A common trade argot.

Scarred – The language of the Bleeding Ghosts, a whistling, clicking, growling language with few vowels, which has become the trade language of the Galactic Scar, due in part to the Bleeding Ghosts’ sheer dominance.  

Zeth – Competes with Scarred for the most common trade-tongue of the Galactic Scar. The messy, chaotic language incorporates sound profiles and words from many, many other species.  

President Spencer – CR 15
Medium LE Monstrous Humanoid (human, light cyborg, watchtower)
XP 51,200
Init +3 Senses Darkvision 60 ft, lowlight vision, perceive unencrypted radio/television/wifi signals, Mutant Detection Range 5 miles, Perception +26 (+36 to detect concealed Mutants)      
Languages English

AC 23 Touch 14 Flatfooted 19 (+3 DEX, +1 dodge, +4 natural, +5 armor)
HP 19d10 +76 hp (181 HP)
FORT +15 REF +9 WILL +15
Immune cyborg immunities, Psionics ; 50% chance to ignore critical hits (armor)
Resist Acid 10, Cold 10, Electricity 10, Fire 10, Pleasure 10
Weaknesses Cybernetic Security Risk -1, Unhealing

Spd 40 ft
Melee +23/+18/+13/+8 slam (1d10+5 bludgeoning plus 2d6 electrical plus stunned 1 minute (F-DC 12+electrical damage negates) ) 
Ranged two +22 palm darts (1d10 piercing plus conversion therapy (F-DC 24 negates), 18-20/x2, 100 ft range increment, single shot)
Psi-Like Abilities (ML 19th Concentration +21) 
At Will brainlock (augmented to affect virtually any creature, W-DC 20)
-          crisis of breath (affect up to 4 creatures in 20 ft burst, DC 18)
-          incite passion (W-DC 16)
3x/day – psychic crush (W-DC 20; 6d6 damage on successful save)
1x/day – apopsi (W-DC 21)
- crisis of life (W-DC 21)
            - psychic chiurgury

Spell-Like Abilities (CL 19th Concentration +21)
1x/day – Summon (1d4+1 Watchman Type I Mecha or 2d4 Tanks, 100%)
1x/day – Summon (1d3 Warbirds, 100%)

Str 20 Dex 16 Con 18 Int 14 Wis 18 Cha 14
Base Atk +19 CMB +24 CMD 37
Feats Ability Focus (conversion therapy), Deflect Arrows, Dodge, Improved Precise Shot, Mobility, Pinpoint Targeting, Point Blank Shot, Power Attack, Precise Shot, Shot on the Run
Skills Bluff +24, Diplomacy +24, Knowledge (behavioral sciences, business, civics, history, local, religion) all at +24, Perception +26 (+36 vs concealed Mutants)
Gear +3 buff coat of medium fortification, access to the “nuclear football”

Environment any
Organization accompanied by high level bodyguards including Combat Mentats, Pundit Clones and Rushmore Combat Androids
Treasure double standard (including gear, in lair)

Special Abilities
Conversion Therapy (SU)
President Spencer’s palm-mounted dart launcher fires nanite-laced toxins that shut down mutant powers and occult abilities.

A target damaged by President Spencer’s darts loses access to any racial trait requiring conscious activation, and cannot cast arcane spells, or use Supernatural or Spell-Like abilities requiring conscious activation. (Conversion therapy does not affect divine spellcasting nor psionic abilities.)

While under this effect, the target’s sexual orientation changes to heterosexual, and their gender changes to match their genetic sex, if different, for the purpose of determine what powers and abilities affect them. This may limit use of sex-linked powers and abilities. This secondary effect of conversion therapy cannot affect a character with the Iron Heart feat.

This effect remains in place on the target until they receive a remove disease spell or similar effect. An initial DC 24 FORT Save negates the effect of a particular dart, but new attacks require additional FORT Saves. The save DC is CON-based and includes the bonus for Ability Focus.

Electro-Shock Impact (SU)
President Spencer inflicts an additional +2d6 points of electrical damage with a successful melee attack. The target is stunned for 1 minute after the impact unless they succeed at a FORT Save (DC 12 _+ the electrical damage inflicted).

Target Lock (EX)
All creatures with the Watchtower subtype within 100 ft of President Spencer will hold their action until the President acts. If the President attacks a target with either the Mutant or Patriot subtype, all Watchtower robots within this aura receive a +4 bonus on attack and damage rolls against the designated target. They will attack this target exclusively until it is destroyed. If the Watchtower mecha use their Flame Thrower Purge special attack instead, increase the fire damage inflicted by +2d6. Only a single target may be designated this way at any given time.

Psionic Immunity (SU)
President Spencer is immune to any psionic power that allows power resistance.

As America rebuilt from the meta-human assassination of President George H.W. Bush shortly after America declared victory in Desert Storm, former Indiana governor and anti-mutant firebrand Michael C. Spencer won a hard-fought campaign for the Republican candidacy. Appealing to enraged masses of Reagan-era conservatives, a new breed of anti-mutant activist and Evangelical Christians convinced the End Times were at hand, Spencer’s strident message carried him into the White House, easily defeating the Democratic nominee, Bill Clinton.

Within days of being sworn in, President Spencer began carrying out the “Contract with Humanity” he and his colleagues promised during the election. In addition to a deliberate rollback of hard won rights for women, minorities, LGBT citizens and the poor, Spencer’s cabinet began overturning the civil rights Mutants and Hard Genes had taken for granted since the late 1970s. The Watchtower Program, dormant since the Carter Administration, reawakened. Heavily armed, federal troops replaced federal funding in Mutant communities in LA, Detroit and elsewhere. The nascent Mutant community formed in the wake of the McDuffie, MO Crisis was treated as public health emergency, and many new mutants were forced into quarantine camps.

President Spencer is a tall, rigid man in his 60s, with the delivery of a revival preacher and an intense, gunslinger’s stare. His current body is a fa├žade: shortly after taking the oath of office, President Spencer accepted a full cybernetic retrofit. Cyber-surgeons loyal to the Cult of Nyarlathotep rebuilt the President as a front-line warrior against Mutant corruption. Alliance with a secret order of Egyptian pagans rankled the Evangelical Spencer, but he reluctantly accepted the cult’s secret aid in order to purge the Mutant stain from the human genome. Now, while President Spencer can still pass for human, his cyber-chassis makes him more powerful than any last-gen Watchtower mecha.

For now, President Spencer fights his battles against Mutants and other undesirable Americans in the courts and on conservative airwaves. However, when the war against Mutants finally goes hot, Spencer will lead America’s armies as a post-human Commander in Chief. Unknown to any but his closest aids and political allies, President Spencer has drafted secret (and likely illegal) executive orders to be put into place during ‘times of genetic emergency’ that give him effectively unlimited powers.

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