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Lord Liaden

"Underworld Channels"

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The various books published for the Champions line provide a large number of pregenerated supervillains available for hire for various criminal jobs, and other villains or organizations desirous of hiring them. Other parties are described as providing services specifically targeted to supervillains: legal representation, sales or servicing of technology, medical care for unique physiologies, safe haven from the law, even financial counseling. There's even a class of common criminal which specializes in working as supervillain henchmen, often hired by more than one villain over the course of their "careers." All of these elements were intended to be insertable  into a given Game Master's campaign with minimal fuss, whether or not they use the official Champions Universe; so it's understandable that Hero Games didn't try to define too closely how one went about hiring these people, beyond using discreet "underworld channels"

 

I would imagine many Game Masters don't stress over such details. But being a person who's rather anal-retentive about playing in a coherent world ?, that point has always bothered me. How do some of the most wanted, highest-profile criminals, terrorists, assassins etc. in the world go about finding legitimate employers or services, or said employers advertise job openings for reliable supervillains or just common thugs, without the high risk of their communications being intercepted by law enforcement, or the forces of justice setting up false employment postings as stings, or inserting an undercover operative? It's unlikely many of them could operate as freely for as long as they're described to have, if they had to contend with that probable constant harassment.

 

Recently I had a thought on how to deal with that issue in a way that could be dropped into most supers campaigns without disrupting anything else, but would also provide a potential mystery for PCs to pursue, complications to overcome, and plot devices to utilize. So I thought I'd just lay it out here for my fellow GMs to use if they wish. I decided to use elements from the official Champions Universe since it's a common reference point for the community, but that's in no way required. I will also freely admit to shamelessly ripping off a significant element from Scott Bennie's excellent VIPER source book for Champions Fourth Edition, which was not carried over into the current VIPER (along with a bunch of other cool stuff -- I recommend picking the book up if you haven't).

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Over 100,000 Terrestrial years ago the Malvans, most advanced and powerful civilization in the Milky Way, launched an artificially-intelligent space probe to conduct a long-term survey of other galaxies in our local group. Over the millennia the probe collected a vast amount of data on celestial phenomena and alien species, finally returning to the Milky Way in what would be the late Eighteenth Century on Earth... to find that the Malvans had sunk into decadence and the self-serving pursuit of pleasure. Few of them paid any attention at all to the return of their long-absent servant, or showed any interest in its trove of information. Essentially abandoned by its creators, and lacking any further purpose, the probe wandered the galaxy aimlessly. In the year 1984 the probe came across Earth, whose dominant sapient species displayed remarkable diversity and numerous contradictions. Overall very primitive by Malvan standards, a small percentage of humanity possessed technology well above the level of their fellows. Most remarkable of all, the human race had generated numerous members with paranormal powers, at a higher frequency and wider variety of abilities than the probe had recorded in any other species. All these factors impressed the probe with humanity's potential, to perhaps one day rival the Malvans at their height.

 

Earth was a planet of many conflicting forces, none more notable than the seemingly endless war between "superheroes" and "supervillains," the beings most exemplary of that potential. The probe's knowledge of the eons-long war between the Malvans and the horrific Elder Worm, and many other civilizations across the stars, had led it to conclude that conflict was the strongest motivator for a sapient species to advance. However, the villain side of Earth's superhuman community appeared at a serious disadvantage. Not just heroes opposed them; while many of humanity's national governments had little interest in justice, almost all did strongly favor order, and suppressed supervillainy whenever possible. The probe decided the human race would benefit in the long term if it were to help level the playing field between the factions of superhumanity. It would not openly take the field itself for fear of inadvertently influencing the race's development (not to mention exposing itself to potential risk); but it could facilitate mutually-beneficial cooperation among all the villainous parties.

 

Having already effortlessly infiltrated Earth's burgeoning telecommunications and computer networks, in 1989 the probe contacted select supervillains and organizations, calling itself "Oversight." Oversight offered to provide discreet, secure communication channels between underworld parties and resources, and to vet any contacts to verify they are what they claim to be, in exchange for a reasonable fee. (Oversight has no need for money, but catered to the expectations of its "clients" to allay suspicion.) Although very wary at first, the villains soon discovered Oversight could deliver everything it promised, and its reputation and popularity grew and spread. In 1992 Oversight announced to the supervillain community the launch of "the Overworld," a global network through which every operation, from bars and pool halls catering to would-be villain minions, to aspiring world-conquering megavillains, to criminal armorers, doctors, or money launderers, could advertise their services or employment prospects.

 

Over decades Overworld has established a near-monopoly in supervillain referrals. The world's governments and law-enforcement agencies have learned of Overworld's existence from captured criminals, but to date have had no success in blocking or tracing its activities. No operative of the law attempting to infiltrate supervillainous parties via the Overworld has ever escaped detection. With its vast technological advantage over even the most advanced superheroes on Earth, Oversight can easily thwart attempts to tap its communications, and unmask the digital footprint of falsified identities.

 

Oversight may assist supervillains, but its motivations don't match most of the traditional villainous ones. It has no interest in power, glory, or wealth, despite having earned billions in fees (which it's invested in support of various criminal operations). In fact it's a great admirer of the human race, believing it's acting to the species' ultimate benefit. Oversight has even become rather protective of humanity. While it would never assist superheroes in a purely Terrestrial conflict, it might give warning and information regarding a large enough threat to the Earth from beyond. Oversight's knowledge of the cosmos, and of the history of the galaxy, is unsurpassed, and it could provide invaluable insight into menaces based in those fields.

 

By this point Oversight is not overly concerned that humans might discover its true nature. Its reputation is so well established that that revelation probably wouldn't impact its supervillain business much, while its location in high Earth orbit and the technology at its command effectively immunizes it to human attacks. However, Oversight was alarmed at the recent establishment of the gladiatorial Forum Malvanum on Earth's Moon. What it's been doing skirts dangerously close to the Malvan prohibition against using Malvan tech to benefit less-advanced races, and Oversight fears the Malvans would dismantle it if they learned of its presence and activities. Oversight has moved itself to a point in space on the opposite side of Earth from the Moon's orbit, to try to shield itself from detection. If it felt that threat was imminent it might even secretly  inform Earth's superheroes of the Forum's existence, or try to foment conflict between them, to prompt the Malvans to remove the Forum, or at least distract their attention.

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Since Oversight wants humanity to advance to Malvan standards, it might invest in diverse high-tech fields, not limiting itself to supervillains. This could add another layer of mystery. One standard plot (thank you, Iron Man/Tony Stark) is the techno-hero whose company is going under, in part because its genius founder spends so much time fighting crime instead of managing the company. Sometimes this is the prelude to a takeover attempt by a villain (Obadiah Stane) or government body that wants to control policy (SHIELD). But maybe instead the company is saved by a surprise "angel" investor... who is just a front for a shell company... and when you try to follow the money further, you hit a brick wall. A hero with business connections might find this sort of thing has happened several times, including funding for various transhumanist/techno-utopian groups. Someone seems interested in pushing human advancement. Though the fringe technologies show a distressing tendency to be stolen or independently(?) be re-invented by villains.

 

Dean Shomshak

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The kind of cognitive timescale Oversight has, according to that backstory, is far beyond that of any human or human organization.  It has only been operating on Earth for 35 years or so, but it should have designs and conspiracies which won't bear fruit for centuries or more, perhaps longer than the extent of recorded history, about 7000 years.  In social terms that's unimaginable.  In physical terms, given superheroic abilities, it is able to manipulate stuff in the inner Solar System pretty efficiently.  It would NOT be difficult to set an asteroid into a path that will strike the lunar far side in a few hundred years, for example.  If it can manipulate gravity fields, then again on hundred-year timescales I think it could significantly affect seismic activity, so that cities and societies around plate boundaries could be devastated (or preserved) by induction (or prevention) of really catastrophic earthquakes.

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5 hours ago, cptpatriot said:

Didn't a previous version of the UNTIL have an AI that perpetrated a similar global conspiracy and kept UNTIL and VIPER fighting?

 

In a manner of speaking, yes. That was the feature of Scott Bennie's 4E VIPER book that I stol... er, drew inspiration from. He introduced the sapient alien probe from a moribund civilization, which became friends with UNTIL's AI, HUGIN. Out of boredom the two of them agreed to a contest, in which the probe would take control of VIPER and become the Supreme Serpent, while HUGIN would secretly manipulate UNTIL to oppose VIPER.

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The suggestions DShomshak and Cancer have raised would make Oversight a major behind-the-scenes player in a setting, potentially the driving force of an entire campaign. There's nothing wrong with that if desired, and the concept can certainly lend itself to it. My intention was decidedly more modest, though, merely to fill what I perceived to be an empty niche in the supervillain "ecology" of most supers settings. That's why I made Oversight's motivations and actions relatively narrow. As my rationale for that, Oversight has no desire to try to recreate Malva on Earth. From its viewpoint Malva is already a failed experiment. It wants humanity to develop in its own way, but also to increase the evolutionary pressure on the species by reinforcing a pre-existing conflict dynamic. I think of the project less like planting a garden, as seeding a forest.

 

Keeping Oversight's focus narrow makes it easy to insert into any setting allowing for ancient advanced aliens, without being disruptive to whatever else a given GM has established for his game world.

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Oversight could also be played like "the Machine" from the recent television series, Person of Interest: using the now-omnipresent automated surveillance systems to track events in the world; sending cryptic bits of information to people it wants to take action; hiring people covertly to fulfill specific tasks for it on Earth.

 

Fear of detection by the Malvans, as I described above -- or whatever other aliens a GM might use in his own campaign -- would be one excuse for bringing Oversight down to Earth, in order to conceal itself more effectively from its former masters. It then might be possible for heroes to uncover its physical location and confront it directly. It might have its own Malvan defensive systems (depending on what you think its builders would equip it with), or have had defenses built for it, or arranged for people to protect it.

 

In line with the inspiration for the concept I took from 4E VIPER, I think if I do use the above development, I'll retread "the Prime Serpent," Jefferson Gable, from that book. A software company creator whom the Supreme Serpent murdered, then had rebuilt as a cyborg/android, the Prime Serpent was the Supreme Serpent's front man, believing himself the leader of VIPER, but actually being given subconscious instructions. Gable was also the SS's last line of defense for the vessel of its consciousness. An analogous character manipulated by Oversight would make a convenient fall guy, allowing heroes to believe they've taken down the director of the Overworld, while the true Oversight could move itself or have someone move it to a new site and continue operating.

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Oversight's physical form would not necessarily have to be very big, either. Champions Beyond notes that the Malvans have artificially-intelligent nanobots with their own faster-than-light star drives, which they can dispatch to reconnoiter anywhere in the galaxy practically indetectably, and transmit information back to Malva. Oversight might appear to be merely a decorative artwork on a table or shelf in someone's home.

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5 hours ago, Lord Liaden said:

Oversight's physical form would not necessarily have to be very big, either. Champions Beyond notes that the Malvans have artificially-intelligent nanobots with their own faster-than-light star drives, which they can dispatch to reconnoiter anywhere in the galaxy practically indetectably, and transmit information back to Malva. Oversight might appear to be merely a decorative artwork on a table or shelf in someone's home.

 

I'd be a Google server, taking advantage of their servers and bandwidth.

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20 hours ago, DShomshak said:

Since Oversight wants humanity to advance to Malvan standards, it might invest in diverse high-tech fields, not limiting itself to supervillains. This could add another layer of mystery. One standard plot (thank you, Iron Man/Tony Stark) is the techno-hero whose company is going under, in part because its genius founder spends so much time fighting crime instead of managing the company. Sometimes this is the prelude to a takeover attempt by a villain (Obadiah Stane) or government body that wants to control policy (SHIELD). But maybe instead the company is saved by a surprise "angel" investor... who is just a front for a shell company... and when you try to follow the money further, you hit a brick wall. A hero with business connections might find this sort of thing has happened several times, including funding for various transhumanist/techno-utopian groups. Someone seems interested in pushing human advancement. Though the fringe technologies show a distressing tendency to be stolen or independently(?) be re-invented by villains.

 

Dean Shomshak

that sounds good to me

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4 hours ago, cptpatriot said:

I'd be a Google server, taking advantage of their servers and bandwidth.

 

I envision Oversight bypassing Internet connections altogether, remotely tapping directly into any communication line or database anywhere in the world, indetectably without comparable tech wizardry. A case could even be made for making Oversight telepathic with organic minds, although you might prefer to keep it short of such omniscience.

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Hm. If Oversight is obviously unbeatable -- any attempt to trace it quickly dead-ends, with no discernible instrumentality to the communications -- then you've created a campaign-defining feature, even if that wasn't your intent. It's also a feature that players will likely find frustrating. So, you need to define ways that Oversight can be traced or balked. Ways that are difficult enough that it s plausible why governments have not shut it down, but not flat-out impossile. For instance, it uses phased heavy neutrino beams to plant messages in servers, from where they go to their targets over ordinary internet channels. (I'd say it uses tetrions, but that might be a registered trademark of the Star Trek franchise?.) Thus, law-enforcement hackers find messages apparently coming from nowhere. But, a super-scientist who monitors the servers might detect the slight electromagnetic disruption caused by the process and infer, "Aha! Oversight uses phased heavy neutrinos to communicate!" and set out to build an appropriate detector.

 

Tech villains can do this too, but so far Oversight has fooled them with blinds analogous to the Prime Serpent, which criminals would find plausible. Because of their different motivations, heroes might be more skeptical.

 

Which brings up some possible discrepancies between meaqns and ends. Even if a Malvan probe has no capabilities beyond travel, information-gathering, communication and concealment, it is still one of the most powerful entities on Champions Earth. If it wants to drive human progress (earlier I said "to Malvan standards," not "re-create Malva"), it has more ways of doing so than by fostering conflict between heroes and villains, and no obvious reasons to eschew them.

 

Acting exclusively by assisting supervillains sounds to me more like the actions of a God of Crime, or some entity of caprice whose motives  are by definition arbitrary (think the changing interests of Mr. Mxyzptlk in, IIRC, "TheLast Superman Story Ever Told.")

 

I'd suggest coming up with some additional reason why Oversight prefers to assist criminals instead of using other channels to drive human progress. One is that it's trying to stay deniable in case the Malvans finally wake up and take notice. As in VIPER 4e, it's just playin' a game, nothing serious going on here... Or it might be a fake-out to impel governments into embracing technological development at a faster and more socially disruptive pace than they might do otherwise.

 

But I also don't think there needs to be such a powerful and untouchable service provider for supervillains. More on this later, when I have time.

 

Dean Shomshak

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1 hour ago, Lord Liaden said:

 

I envision Oversight bypassing Internet connections altogether, remotely tapping directly into any communication line or database anywhere in the world, indetectably without comparable tech wizardry. A case could even be made for making Oversight telepathic with organic minds, although you might prefer to keep it short of such omniscience.

Actually it could be the Internet and Google...

 

In 1983 ARPAnet transitions to TCP/IP... Maybe Oversight, who just arrived, but could have been monitoring Earth for a while, decided to intervene.  Global communications network that humans build and 'think they design' but that Oversight has actually designed to provide it with the communication tools it needs.  Also DNS is invented in 1983 which allowed ARPAnet move from a purely academic exercise to something that could become commercialized.

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11 hours ago, DShomshak said:

Hm. If Oversight is obviously unbeatable -- any attempt to trace it quickly dead-ends, with no discernible instrumentality to the communications -- then you've created a campaign-defining feature, even if that wasn't your intent. It's also a feature that players will likely find frustrating. So, you need to define ways that Oversight can be traced or balked. Ways that are difficult enough that it s plausible why governments have not shut it down, but not flat-out impossile. For instance, it uses phased heavy neutrino beams to plant messages in servers, from where they go to their targets over ordinary internet channels. (I'd say it uses tetrions, but that might be a registered trademark of the Star Trek franchise?.) Thus, law-enforcement hackers find messages apparently coming from nowhere. But, a super-scientist who monitors the servers might detect the slight electromagnetic disruption caused by the process and infer, "Aha! Oversight uses phased heavy neutrinos to communicate!" and set out to build an appropriate detector.

 

Tech villains can do this too, but so far Oversight has fooled them with blinds analogous to the Prime Serpent, which criminals would find plausible. Because of their different motivations, heroes might be more skeptical.

 

Which brings up some possible discrepancies between meaqns and ends. Even if a Malvan probe has no capabilities beyond travel, information-gathering, communication and concealment, it is still one of the most powerful entities on Champions Earth. If it wants to drive human progress (earlier I said "to Malvan standards," not "re-create Malva"), it has more ways of doing so than by fostering conflict between heroes and villains, and no obvious reasons to eschew them.

 

Acting exclusively by assisting supervillains sounds to me more like the actions of a God of Crime, or some entity of caprice whose motives  are by definition arbitrary (think the changing interests of Mr. Mxyzptlk in, IIRC, "TheLast Superman Story Ever Told.")

 

I'd suggest coming up with some additional reason why Oversight prefers to assist criminals instead of using other channels to drive human progress. One is that it's trying to stay deniable in case the Malvans finally wake up and take notice. As in VIPER 4e, it's just playin' a game, nothing serious going on here... Or it might be a fake-out to impel governments into embracing technological development at a faster and more socially disruptive pace than they might do otherwise.

 

But I also don't think there needs to be such a powerful and untouchable service provider for supervillains. More on this later, when I have time.

 

Dean Shomshak

 

Thoughtful and constructive, as always. But I think there are two ways I would respond to this. One is, that you're overthinking it. ;)  I came up with this concept to fill a niche I believed was glaring for being undefined; but it's merely an enabling device, an explanation for how something that's already implied to be happening within the superhuman subculture, could plausibly happen. For my part I do believe there needs to be such a powerful and untouchable service provider for supervillains. Consider that every one of them is at minimum the equivalent of a paramilitary or terrorist squad, at worst a major army. They would be highly sought after by government and law-enforcement around the world, like hundreds of Osama bin Ladens. But many of the villains used in superhero campaigns -- certainly a high percentage of those published for Champions -- are defined as mercenaries, hired for a succession of jobs by a variety of employers. Few of them have the technical skills to create some sort of secure communication system where prospective employers can find them. On the other side of the coin, quite a few individuals and groups are defined as making part or all of their living selling their services to such people. On Champions Earth ARGENT, the Warlord, Teleios, Wayland Talos, Larisagrad, Brainchild, Bastion Alpha Security, all fall into that category. They would need a means to contact their clientele that they can trust to be safe and discreet. Whole nations such as Awad and Taqiristan offer safe haven for wanted supervillains in exchange for goods or services, but the villains would often need the means to arrange transportation there.

 

Oversight focuses on supervillains for the same reason that Teleios tests the limits of genetics, without trying to use his creations for any other purpose; or Mechanon puts all his energy into efforts to eradicate organic life; or Thanos wants to kill the universe to please Death; or Lex Luthor hates Superman. That's their role in a campaign. Their motivation doesn't have to make complete sense to anyone else, it's an outgrowth of their use. You can rationalize it, but that's secondary. However, if you do want a rationale for Oversight's particular fixation,  I would say that Earth's ongoing superhero/villain battles are an exceptional, perhaps unique phenomenon among the numerous inhabited worlds. Oversight sees supers collectively as representing human potential, and wants to stimulate that potential. As I mentioned earlier, it has reason to believe conflict is the surest impetus to advancement, and conflict is already a defining feature of the super subculture. Beyond that Oversight has no grand plan. It's wise enough to believe it can't map out a race's future -- they have to progress in their own way. It may assist other related areas from time to time -- like your own suggestion of investing in tech development -- but it sees itself as watering and fertilizing, not sculpting topiary.

 

However, the other way to look at it is, of course heroes will eventually find a way to penetrate the Overworld. That's part of their own function in a campaign.  It's like Mechanon's built-in redundant means to escape permanent destruction, and keep coming back stronger than before. When a campaign has reached a point where the players and GM are ready to end Mechanon permanently, they'll find a way to do it. Super Earths are full of genius inventors who could stumble onto the secrets of Overworld's communication. Champions Earth in particular is known to interact with aliens at or near the same level of advancement as the Malvans, who could detect Oversight's presence, at least in a general way -- Progenitors, Mandaarians, the Star*Guard, not to mention the Malvans themselves. A cosmic being like the Galaxars could hand clues to heroes for its own purposes. Other bits of hyper-advanced technology that could help heroes track Oversight are already on Earth, like the to-date non-functioning wrecks of Ironclad and Herculan's Malvan ships, or the Progenitor devices that protect the Empyreans' city of Arcadia in the Antarctic. Then there's always the low-tech approach, such as a supervillain already using Overworld having a change of heart and agreeing to help the heroes penetrate it. Overworld is still made up mostly of people, and people don't stop being fallible if they become super. ;)

 

EDIT: None of which makes you wrong for wanting to approach the concept differently, or modify it for your own use. Like I always say, I prefer springboards to straitjackets. :thumbup:

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The GURPS book Super Scum has an agency called The Exchange which sets up jobs for superpowered individuals on the wrong side of the law. They ring a number and get it done that way. The numbers change as the people behind it are aware of how to crack systems and expect government agencies to do likewise. 

For the good guys there is Supertemps also a GURPS supers book.

 

Someone in the game City of Heroes/Villains had a guy who ran such a sort of organisation

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1 hour ago, Ninja-Bear said:

Interesting concept Lord Liaden. For myself, I assumed VIPER just handled all the details. I figured that at least one Nest figured that they could hire themselves out to Suoervillains as a Henchmen for hire.

 

Sure, that works fine for VIPER. They have their own secure Serpentine computer network for internal communications. I was thinking more about the independent operators, who make up the majority of published Champions villains.

 

1 hour ago, death tribble said:

The GURPS book Super Scum has an agency called The Exchange which sets up jobs for superpowered individuals on the wrong side of the law. They ring a number and get it done that way. The numbers change as the people behind it are aware of how to crack systems and expect government agencies to do likewise. 

For the good guys there is Supertemps also a GURPS supers book.

 

Someone in the game City of Heroes/Villains had a guy who ran such a sort of organisation

 

Of course, and if you would consider that enough for your campaign, you'll get no protest from me. :)  But telecommunications and cyber-security have grown far more sophisticated since Super Scum was published. Today it would kind of strain credulity that just "changing numbers" would be enough to avoid being compromised, particularly in a world with supergenius scientists and paranormal hackers. A service run by someone/thing with at least comparable resources would seem in order.

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On 12/18/2018 at 7:36 PM, Lord Liaden said:

I would imagine many Game Masters don't stress over such details. But being a person who's rather anal-retentive about playing in a coherent world ?, that point has always bothered me. How do some of the most wanted, highest-profile criminals, terrorists, assassins etc. in the world go about finding legitimate employers or services, or said employers advertise job openings for reliable supervillains or just common thugs, without the high risk of their communications being intercepted by law enforcement, or the forces of justice setting up false employment postings as stings, or inserting an undercover operative? It's unlikely many of them could operate as freely for as long as they're described to have, if they had to contend with that probable constant harassment. 

The John Wick series has a network for Hired Guns:

Bounty postings, bounty payouts, safehouses, etc.

 

In general the Internet and in Particular the Dark Web would be an option. For an actually example, look at the "Henchmen for Hire" Webcomic:

http://www.henchmenonline.com/?p=4

 

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On 12/18/2018 at 7:36 PM, Lord Liaden said:

ther parties are described as providing services specifically targeted to supervillains: legal representation, sales or servicing of technology, medical care for unique physiologies, safe haven from the law, even financial counseling.

In Batmans Gotham CIty, there is some kind of safehouse/free Clinic. Supervillains go there. The Joker got his treatment after the acid bath there. More or less everyone agrees it is neutral ground. A place where villains, vigilantees and normal streetfolk are all welcome if they behave.

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4 hours ago, Christopher said:

The John Wick series has a network for Hired Guns:

Bounty postings, bounty payouts, safehouses, etc.

 

In general the Internet and in Particular the Dark Web would be an option. For an actually example, look at the "Henchmen for Hire" Webcomic:

http://www.henchmenonline.com/?p=4

 

 

Like I mentioned earlier, if that's acceptable for a particular game group, more power to you. I do feel a world extensively populated by supers needs a "super dark web," but YMM legitimately V.

 

4 hours ago, Christopher said:

In Batmans Gotham CIty, there is some kind of safehouse/free Clinic. Supervillains go there. The Joker got his treatment after the acid bath there. More or less everyone agrees it is neutral ground. A place where villains, vigilantees and normal streetfolk are all welcome if they behave.

 

Like with the old Champions "Sanctuary," I feel that a "neutral ground" for both heroes and villains strains credulity. But regardless of whether one agrees with it or not, that's one location, self-contained from the rest of the DC universe like so much else in Gotham City. Supervillainy in the Champions Universe in particular is global in scope.

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On 12/20/2018 at 1:15 PM, Lord Liaden said:

 

Thoughtful and constructive, as always. But I think there are two ways I would respond to this. One is, that you're overthinking it. ;)  I

 

Overthinking, moi? <hand to chest, eyebrows raised> Hey, I'm not the one who saw a "glaring need" for something comics have usually hand-waved.

 

Okay, I'm overthinking. It's what I do, baby, it's part of my brand! So let's overthink some more.

 

I'll skip the discussion of which campaign styles that something like Oversight will fit within. Also the discussion of whether a world in which government pursuit of villains makes Oversight necessary for internal coherence is a world in which governments would allow freelance heroes. I'll stick to how to make Oversight work as a way to patch some of the less believable tropes of the superhero genre, without making it a campaign-defining feature.

 

Here's the big problem I see with Oversight: If there is an apparently impenetrable communications network just for supervillains, governments and heroes will go nuts trying to penetrate it. The longer it lasts, the more it bends the world around it.

 

So Oversight should not seem infallible or impenetrable. The Malvan probe just wants to give supervillains an edge, not a Win Button. So it operates behind blinds, using methods that seem just a little more advanced than state of the art. Back in the '80s, maybe it was behind the shortwve "number stations" (RL: Shortwave enthusiasts found channels with nothing but a woman's voice, saying a number over and over for minutes at a time. At the time, at least, impossible to track to a particular location; meaning unknown. I really should check Wikipedia to find if these were ever explained.) Nowadays it's all on the Dark Web, with encryption that even the best NSA code-breakers can't crack. But really good encryption doesn't scream, "Aliens!" or even, "Super-tech!"

 

Bits of the Overworld seem to fall to law enforcement all the time. A villain gives the location of an underworld bar as part of a plea deal; the Feds raid it, capture a few supervillains; another bar sets up a week later, and Oversight tarts spreading the word about the new location. Ditto for underworld doctors, capture insurance, and other services. Every 5-10 years, a major government or hero team penetrates deeper and shuts down the network, exposes the crime syndicate, corrupt corporation or rogue regime that seems to sponsor it, and there is much rejoicing. (RL analog: The downfall of Bank of Credit and Commerce International, which did business with a lot of shady customers.) But within a year a new Oversight network starts operation, with new communication methods.

 

(Jefferson Gable, from the 4e VIPER book, could reprise his role as the latest front for Oversight.)

 

The prevailing opinion is that Oversight has become a brand name adopted by one party after another. Maybe even multiple groups at once. Onbly paranoid conspiracy nuts think it's all one entity behind many masks. (And paranoid conspiracy nuts usually think in terms of the CIA-Big Oil Axis, or the Illuminati. Though in a superhero setting, paranoid conspiracy nuts do occasionally grasp the truth.)

 

This approach achieves the stated goals: A service network for supervillains that is at once robust enough to function for long periods without interference, but not so obviously impenetrable that governments -- and PCs -- obsess over discovering its secret and taking it down. It also gives the PCs in a campaign the chance to be the first to discover the truth, without imposing arbitrary stupidity on the rest of the campaign setting.

 

And I think that's enough overthinking. For now. ?

 

Dean Shomshak

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That all sounds reasonable to me, Dean. If you wanted to approach it that way I couldn't fault you. I will point out, though, that "unbeatable" communication is already a feature of the Champions Universe for specific groups. VIPER has its Serpentine computer network. DEMON uses its magical Soul Gems and Maleficus Rexes. The Circle of the Scarlet Moon is so far under the radar, even some of the few people who have heard of it doubt the scope of its activities or even its existence. Dr. Destroyer, Mechanon, ARGENT, all conduct successful covert operations on a global scale. While government and heroic efforts to crack those channels would be ongoing, features that would freak out the real world if suddenly introduced there, e.g. extraterrestrials, mythic gods, other dimensions, seem to become the accepted norm in a super world where so many similar things are known to exist.

 

But as both you and I have noted, there are ways to compromise the system in the short term or over limited areas, using the fallible human element. What you describe, of particular "ports of entry" being shut down, only to spring up somewhere else, is pretty much how I figured the situation should play out -- at least until it's time in the campaign to unmask Oversight and unplug the Overworld permanently. I didn't articulate that as clearly as I probably should have, and you now have done, so I'm grateful for that. I think that sort of success would feed law-enforcement enough to keep pursuit of Oversight from becoming an all-consuming obsession.

 

(Maybe it's just my socialist leanings to want to share the benefits of big super-telecommunications with the common supervillain.) :winkgrin:

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For what it's worth,

 

I think this is spot-on.

 

With complete proper and appreciative regards to D for the wonderful and well-thought counterpoints, 

 

I believe what LL has proposed is, as D said quite precisely, a "campaign feature."  However, I took it one step further:  it's one of those things where the GM gets to have some fun.  Maybe this is why I was confused a few weeks back when someone commented along the lines of "no one wants to be the GM; if you're the GM it's because no one else wanted to be" or something along those lines.  I never had a problem with being GM: there's so much to enjoy.

 

Let's face it: there are things that the players will never know.  Every time there's something "running in the background," the GM has to keep that going until-- _if_ -- the players find it.  Did they take too long questioning the people at the warehouse?  Then they've missed the opportunity to see Mr. Likely Suspect get into a red taxi and head to meet his contact.   

 

Things like that.  There are, in a lively world, a thousand things the players will never know.  Why do they exist?  That's exclusively for the GM to enjoy.  Or maybe it's to give him a "leg up" toward patching together a "how does this work in my universe" situation.  A few extra hooks to play with.  Story seeds, I think we've been calling them in recent years.  For example, now that you know there's an artificial intelligence putting all this together, and you know _why_ he's doing it, well that combination of characters, reasoning, and technique could lead to some interesting spin-off situations leading to new mini-arcs are one-shot adventures.  Why, Oversight might even be the source of a couple of anonymous tips!  Why?  Because something he foresees goes horribly wrong if the villain is victorious, or if he is not at least postponed a bit.

 

Think of all the adventure module's you have read over the years that toss in things like "What the players don't know is" or "Captain Grumpy is like this because horrible situation Z from twenty-eight years ago" or "as soon as the player characters leave, Chet is going to "   or even "He's lying.  He's actually got to get the bar to meet his mistress, not get to choir rehearsal"  even when these things have _bumpkus_ to do with _anything_.  Even if the PCs not only will never find out, but actually have zero way to find out, and zero reason to even wonder about it.

 

The GM is in charge of making the world come to life for his players.  Stuff like this-- throwaway bits in modules?  Background details that are never going to leave the background?  Oversight?

 

That's just stuff that makes the world come alive for the GM.

 

As such, I appreciate both the effort and the offer.  Simply because _I_ know it exists does not mean that the players ever will, or even that they ever _should_.

 

Like using an incredibly alien-- so alien as to make even communicating with them impossible for the total lack of shared concepts, as part of a backdrop.  They are so distant that it would take a thousand years to get to them.   There is _zero_ that the characters can do with that piece of information.  They can't interact with them; they will never see them; they will never know what they look like.  It's just a backdrop.   I'm still okay with someone deciding that this is a major and crucial part of their setting.  Why?  Because it's fun for the GM.

 

 

Duke

 

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I am remembered of General X from Science Ninja Team Gatchaman series. An alien intelligence manipulating the organization Galactor into raiding the Earth of resources, then destroying it to destroy a rival alien race.

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