One of the most dangerous supervillain groups in the Champions Universe is Spectrum. They are dangerous not only because they are violent, but because they have specific goals that they are determined to meet and they don't care who gets hurt in the process. They are especially dangerous to Champions player-characters, because one of those goals is the destruction not only of the villainous agency VIPER, but also of all superheroes.
This adventure features Spectrum in a case that focuses on the latter goal. Thus, in order to run it, the GM will need a copy of Champions Presents in addition to the Champions rulebook. It might also be helpful to have Allies, Champions Universe, Classic Organizations, and/or the VIPER sourcebook, though these books aren't completely necessary.
The PC group for this adventure should ideally be a group of five to eight four-color superheroes based on 100 points, with 150-200 points of Disadvantages and no more than 50-100 points of experience. Guidelines will be given at the end of the adventure for groups who are significantly more or less powerful than that, though even those probably won't need much.
This adventure includes a few surprises and secrets to which players should not be privy. If you are a player and have a character who might be involved in this adventure, stop reading now. If you continue reading, your GM will come over to wherever you are and torture you mercilessly for several days. And I'll help!
Note that you should not run this adventure if you are not yet ready to reveal to the PCs that Angstrom is a shapeshifting multiple personality. It also helps (for reasons that will be made clear in the text of the adventure) if this is played, or at least set, in late October.
This is also a good adventure to run if one or two of your PCs have Psychological Limitations (and similar problems) that you feel it's time to reduce, alter, or eliminate.
Why the PC team? His reasons will depend on the nature of the group. If they are the most experienced and significant group in the campaign, then they will be chosen for that reason; Prism wants his plan to do as much damage as possible. If they are relatively new heroes, or are not much in the public eye, then he wants to test his scheme on someone insignificant before he moves on to the "big guns." Of course, if Spectrum has locked horns with the PCs before, that could contribute to Prism's reasoning as well. As GM, you will have to determine the specific reasoning yourself (or leave that as a mystery even you don't understand).
Prism's idea is to use some of the PCs' worst Psychological Limitations (and other mental crocks, such as Berserk) against them. Essentially, while he has tried (with the PCs or an NPC hero group) to frame heroes for crimes they didn't commit, he's only just realized that he could, given the right group, actually frame them for something they did do, by provoking them into action and then making it seem more serious than it actually is (and, at that, it can be pretty serious at times).
Prism begins by appearing in the campaign city in disguise; he becomes Roberto Ramirez, reporter for the syndicated superhero tabloid news program Super Beat. Whenever he encounters the PCs, he tries to interview them, being very polite (for a tabloid reporter, at least) but asking all the most pointed questions. He also secretly makes notes about any important psychological quirks he can observe (and, more importantly, use to his advantage), especially Berserks and Enrageds. He also makes some effort (though not much more than a typical tabloid reporter probably would) to uncover any Secret Identities, though whether he blows the information on the air or keeps it for his own purposes is up to you.
In the meantime, Prism has had Angstrom use his Father Michael Jacobsen personality to establish himself in the local Catholic community. If one of the PCs is a practicing Catholic, he may be encounter Angstrom in this form, and may even take Mass from him (if you don't mind dealing with the sacrilege this would involve). As Father Jacobsen, he's really a fairly likeable sort, perhaps just a tad short on compassion but very dedicated to his duty.
At this point, the rest of Spectrum has instructions to lay low. Blue Streak, Hotshot, Lightshow, and Purple Haze are allowed to go out because they still look relatively normal, but they're expected to maintain Secret Identities, even if they have to use aliases. (For that reason, Purple Haze, who is rather easily confused, is always under supervision -- usually Hotshot's.) They all go to the places they'd typically go: Blue Streak to sporting events, Lightshow to local dance clubs where drugs are sold, Purple Haze to rock music events, etc. Rage and Slime, because of their distinctive appearances, are under orders to stay out of sight for now; they are also kept under constant supervision to make sure they don't trash the place.
While all this is going on, at least a half-dozen unrelated short adventures, or a couple of long ones, or some combination, should be run with "Roberto Ramirez" reporting on the case for Super Beat.
As you've probably guessed, the point of the robbery in this case is not money. While the money is a good target and will be kept and used, it's intentionally being staged where this particular PC will interfere and fall into Prism's trap. When the PC shows up, Blue Streak grabs the money and runs away, Slime turns desolid and escapes through the sewers, and Heatseeker attacks an innocent person (instantly killing the innocent or not, depending on your preference). This should focus the PC's attention on Heatseeker, who then turns desolid and escapes through a wall. (As implied above, a carefully-selected second PC would probably focus on saving the innocent victim's life.)
Once he's on the other side of the wall, Heatseeker (being a Dominant personality, capable of determining which personality is "outside") changes to Father Jacobsen. However, Purple Haze is nearby and within Line of Sight of the incident, or at least the alleyway; he uses his Mental Illusions to make Father Jacobsen look like he's still Heatseeker. (Alternately, Heatseeker could become Timmy the four-year-old boy, Barry the retarded man, or any other apparently helpless form, though with later complications Father Jacobsen would probably be the best possibility.)
What follows should be relatively easy to predict. The Enraged PC attacks Heatseeker, thinking him to still be Heatseeker, when everyone else -- including the video camera that Prism is holding just a few dozen feet away, with his Invisibility in place -- sees him as a well-liked Catholic priest (or a child, or a retarded man, or whatever). When the PC has beat "Father Jacobsen" good and bloody (which should take just one or two hits), Purple Haze releases his Illusion, Prism drops his Invisibility to reveal his disguise as Roberto Ramirez, and he confronts the PC (who, hopefully, will calm down once he sees that Heatseeker has turned into "Father Jacobsen") with his action of beating up a priest in a fit of temper.
Of course, an ambulance will arrive to take the ersatz priest to the nearest hospital, where he'll be treated for his injuries and held for observation. (If you need a character sheet for Father Jacobsen, use the Normal character sheet on page 133 of the Champions rulebook, adding appropriate Psychological Limitations, Skills, and Perks for a Catholic priest; raising INT, PRE, and BODY to 13; and lowering STR, CON, and COM to 8 each. The reason that BODY should be raised, incidentally, is to give the picked-upon PC a lesser chance of killing him in this attack.)
There is one other element that Prism will attempt to incorporate into his scheme, assuming he can get the character alone (not accompanied by another PC or a DNPC) and in a relatively isolated neighborhood. He will replace the personnel at the robbery with members of Spectrum, so that they are the only witnesses to the "crime." Ideally, this will involve nothing more difficult than setting up Hotshot and Lightshow to act as convenience store clerks (he doesn't want to involve Rage quite yet, because of that man's temper). When Heatseeker makes his attack in this case, he "attacks" Lightshow, who feigns injury as Prism uses his Images Power to make it look like she's badly hurt (or, if she has enough Experience Points to pay for it, she uses her own Images). Then, when the police come to investigate the incident, Lightshow looks fine, and both/all of the "clerks" deny that any robbery took place, or that any members of Spectrum ever appeared, leaving the PC as the only person in the place who says they did. Even the security cameras (if any) record nothing but a peaceful evening until the PC shows up, thanks to some extremely clever tampering by Prism.
If the heroes are officially government-sanctioned (at any level), then an Internal Affairs (or equivalent) investigation will be in order. (Note that a search for Mind Control specifically will reveal nothing, though a scan for the influence of Mental Powers in general may show traces of Purple Haze's Mental Illusion, and a search for traces of Mental Illusions specifically will definitely show that. The bad news is that it will take quite some time to even set up such a search, unless the PCs know personally of someone with mental abilities whom the authorities trust.)
If the heroes have any sort of government license, then their license may be suspended or restricted while an investigation is underway. This may, at the GM's option, include such professional licenses as those needed to be an attorney, physician, private investigator, etc., as well as law enforcement licenses and licenses to carry and/or use weapons.
There are other consequences to deal with here as well. If the PC has Public Identity, or if his employer knows his Secret (or Non-Secret) Identity, he may be suspended from his job (with pay, in most cases) pending the results of the police investigation. People may give him an extra-wide berth when he walks down the street. Some informants and other Contacts may be more willing to talk to him (out of fear), while others will be less willing (out of disgust). On the whole, it should be a very emotional time for the PC, and he may not even be sure himself whether he's guilty or not. (This should form a very good opportunity for emotional roleplaying, for those "Plumber" types!)
The reaction of the Catholic Archdiocese (or, possibly, higher authorities) will depend on the PC and the personality of the individuals involved. Most likely, a request will be issued that the offending PC be kept under house arrest and his activities curtailed until the matter can be given a full and proper investigation. If the PC is known to be Catholic, some sort of sanction may be imposed against him directly.
Of course, some individual Spectrum members have enemies of their own who might show up during this adventure (Angstrom has The Disciple in his Heatseeker personality, and Dark Seraph in his Nimbus personality; Hotshot has Thunderbolt; Lightshow has the FBI; and Purple Haze has Road Kill). Most of these will not show up at this point, if at all, preferring to wait until the victims have been drawn into the open to make their move. The one exception is the FBI; that agency might have some special information about Lightshow, and also might come to lend their services to the investigation (especially if the PCs are working under the official auspices of the Federal government), though it's unlikely since she hasn't (recognizably) shown up yet.
On the whole, though, Prism's plan should at least appear to be working.
Purple Haze is the main tool once more. While the PC is walking down the street, minding his own business, and probably not even thinking about the case, Purple Haze (on Prism's command) uses his Mental Illusions on the character to make it look like the cause of his Berserk/Enraged is happening. For instance, taking the Berserk at the Sight of Blood example above, he makes it appear that everyone around him is bleeding. If nobody has a Berserk like this, he takes advantage of a rivalry or feud that one of the PCs has against a villain or type of villain, making that hated thing appear everywhere (though always, if possible, in a context that seems at least a little logical); Seeks Vengeance Aganst VIPER, for example, might prompt an Illusion that a group of old men are VIPER agents in full uniform, preparing for a crime. If you're using The Ultimate Mentalist, Purple Haze should get the "Illusion Agrees with Psychological Limitation" bonus, and he will not (with or without TUM try anything harder than the EGO+10 level.
If that PC acts as expected (that is, in character), then he should suddenly start attacking innocent people. Nobody else sees the Mental Illusion, so all they see is that this PC (whom they think has lost his mind) is hitting, blasting, or otherwise just generally attacking innocent people. And, of course, Prism himself is nearby, in his Roberto Ramirez disguise, taping the whole thing for the next edition of Super Beat.
If mental probing has been suggested before now, it may be made available. If it hasn't been suggested before now, someone supporting the PCs may bring it up. If a reliable NPC mentalist might logically be available immediately, then allow a mental scan to be made of the targeted PCs; if not, bring one in, and let that person arrive with minimal delay. (After all, these mental traces tend to fade with time, so time is of the essence; from an evidence viewpoint, the scans should happen within 24 hours of the incidents, at the latest.) Of course, mental scans are subjectinve and therefore not admissible as evidence, but they may be used as information in an investigation, and in that way will help the PCs' case.
At the same time, the public should start becoming wary of the PCs. A single, isolated incident like this is one thing; twice is something to worry about. Some media commentators may begin to wonder if they (the PCs) might've been under too much stress lately, what with the constant saving the world and all -- and those comments are from the PCs' supporters. Their detractors (especially those politicians under the control of criminal groups, Spectrum and otherwise) will decry them as dangerous, and start to call for sanctions against them. Having an unrelated super-crime happen, only to have the manager of the targeted facility turn the PCs away because of what he's heard on the news, should shake them up a bit. (For this crime, take your pick from anything in the campaign city, and even tie it in as an opening scene of the next adventure if you want to.)
At some point, it may come to pass that the local government officially asks the PCs to stop their superheroic activities until investigations of both incidents are completed. If the second PC to be targeted wasn't arrested by PRIMUS or UNTIL at the scene of his incident, he will probably be asked to turn himself in to one of those agencies. Those heroes who do not have Secret Identities will start being tailed closely by law enforcement authorities, and those who do will be asked to disclose their identities to the government so they can be watched (though how forcefully they're "asked" will actually depend on what kind of relationship the PCs have had with the government up until now).
Play up the "fishbowl" aspect of this situation. All of the PCs (not just the two who have been targeted so far) should start to feel the stress that comes from extreme public scrutiny. They may even start fighting among themselves, and it may even go beyond just words (that's good for yet another role-playing opportunity -- encourage it!).
While Angstrom is in the hospital (in the Intensive Care Unit, of course), Heatseeker has come to the forefront a few times (when nobody was looking) so his Regeneration could kick in and better heal up the body. However, when this was completed, Nimbus took over the body and broke out of the hospital, on a "mission of holy vengeance" against the PC who attacked "Father Jacobsen."
Regardless of other events, the PCs will be told of Father Jacobsen's disappearance, and the known facts surrounding it. If they are enjoying a good relationship with PRIMUS (which, at this point, will consist primarily of a leash just long enough to let them either clear themselves or hang themselves), two of them -- maybe three, but no more -- will be allowed to look around the hospital room and point out evidence (police and PRIMUS Investigators will do the actual collecting).
If it occurs to any of the PCs present to ask to look at Father Jacobsen's medical chart and ICU records, they will probably notice several points where vital signs change to something significantly stronger. It won't take any medical or science Skills, an INT Roll, or even a PER Roll to notice this; it's obvious just from looking at it. These moments are times when the "priest" was unattended, and Heatseeker asserted himself to Regenerate the body's injuries. They were not noticed before now simply because nobody looked. (If you don't want to make the hospital personnel look a bunch of yutzes, then simply say that they looked, but they couldn't figure it out, and his condition always seemed to improve afterward, so they assumed it was some strange medical anomaly or beneficial mutation.)
Since he's alone, Nimbus will probably lose this fight. Two or three PCs working together should be enough to bring him down, especially with good teamwork. Even if the PC is the only one not at the investigation, there are a pair of PRIMUS Investigation Agents tailing him, and call in for help as soon as Nimbus appears. A couple of Iron Guard, arriving just as the PC is about to lose consciousness (and is hearing Nimbus recite his opposition to Prism as well as his attack of Father Jacobsen as his "sins"), should make short order of Nimbus and either drive him off or capture him.
Then a bizarre thing happens. Nimbus, refusing to accept defeat, withdraws, and Angstrom turns into Barry (the retarded 20-ish male).
Now, the PCs may assume at this point that Barry is merely Nimbus' Secret Identity. Certainly they will recognize that Nimbus is a shape-changer, though it's likely that they'll assume that Barry and Nimbus are the only two forms. If any of them questions Barry too severely, however, he'll become scared and turn into Timmy (the four-year-old boy).
That should cue them in to the truth, and if it doesn't, an NPC investigator should bring out the point. If Nimbus, Barry, and Timmy are the same person -- by now, clearly a case of a shapeshifter with Multiple Personality Syndrome -- couldn't Heatseeker and Father Jacobsen also be like that? It would certainly make the first targeted PC's story make sense. It would also make sense if both sets of people were the same physical body -- which, of course, happens to be the case.
With this piece of evidence, the law enforcement authorities are prepared to believe in the innocence of both targeted PCs. They're not ready to go public with their findings quite yet, but they are strongly suspecting the truth. This should be the first light of hope that the PCs have seen in this case so far that their names will be cleared.
The following scene should be played out regardless of whether Prism is aware that the PCs (and law enforcement) know what he's up to. If he doesn't know (or if the PCs don't know), then he's merely executing the next phase in his scheme. If he does know, then he's skipping other plans against other PCs, and carrying out what amounts to a desperate action.
This is the reason that late October is the ideal time to run this adventure: In his disguise as Roberto Ramirez, he sponsors a supervillain-themed costume party among members of his staff, offering to buy costumes for anyone who can't afford one. (If you happen to want to run this adventure during another season, just make up some reasonable excuse for a costume party with a supervillain theme.) As it happens, this includes most of his own crew (including any DNPCs who work for the media), so he springs for a full selection of Spectrum costumes that are astoundingly realistic. Even the Slime costume is covered with a green commercial kids' goo (which is available in any toy store, even in the real world). One particularly frail man, in fact, he dresses as himself (that is, in a non-functional but convincing-looking mock-up of the Prism armor). He even provides things like wigs and makeup to make the costumes look as good as possible; after all, there will be individual and group prizes for Best Costume. He then tells the partygoers to meet at the apartment he's rented in the Ramirez name -- an apartment which happens to have a balcony with large glass panel doors (use the apartment map on page C43 of the Champions rulebook for this place, but double all dimensions, move the entrance to the living room, and treat the living room windows as those glass-panel doors).
Then he leaks word (through an "anonymous" and untraceable source, which is probably one of the Spectrum members calling the heroes' base or the police station from a pay phone) that Spectrum is hiding out in the room where the group is meeting before the party -- and stands back to let the proverbial (or, possibly literal) sparks fly.
As it happens, of course, the PCs are (or should be) on their guard for something very much like this. If they're suspicious enough by now, they may decide to do some reconnaissance ahead of time to make sure that the tip is accurate, and of course they'll find out that it's actually a gathering of a group of partygoers.
If they perform any reconnaissance actions, let them follow it with any action that seems reasonable. They may decide to ignore the tip and just go home, or they may decide to make an act of following it, making the "attack" look good and urging the NPCs to play along (which, with a little prodding, they will, especially if at least one is a DNPC). They may also elect to simply knock on the door and talk to the people (who will be very friendly and civil, if a little nervous around the PCs who were targeted previously), which will have the same result as a phony attack.
And what result is that? Spectrum now knows that his plan is quickly dying out. With the PCs now taking extra care with their reactions, his scheme isn't totally ruined, but it almost might as well be. As Roberto Ramirez, he is present (in a Heatseeker costume that would almost fool anyone who has never actually met that villain). As soon as he can find a way to sneak out, he will. Of course, even if none of the PCs notice his exit, they should soon notice his absence, and may decide to give chase.
On the other hand, if the PCs actually attack, it should be easy to tell right away that these people are not Spectrum, though the actions of "Heatseeker" will give Prism away.
You may choose to take this moment to bring a full force of VIPER agents into the scene. There are seven Five-Teams, armed with as many "Jack of All Trades" weapons as you feel comfortable giving them. Other likely weapons (from the VIPER sourcebook) include the MB-2 "Zowie" Magnetic Blaster Carbine for use against Hotshot and Slime, the VRX-01 "Brickbuster" Portable Blaster Cannon and PB-02B "Nail" Needle Beam Weapon for use against Rage, and the I-02 "Stealth-2" Weapon for use against Blue Streak. The VIPER forces may also include three (or up to seven) Wyvern Flying Warserpents and/or the Snake Pack. If you don't have the VIPER sourcebook, just select an appropriate lineup of agent types and weapons from the brief VIPER write-up on pages C66-67 of the Champions rulebook.
The VIPER Force (who may have been tipped off by Spectrum in the same way that the PCs were, especially if Prism knows that they're on to his plot, on the idea that VIPER will kill these innocent people and the PCs won't be around to protect them) will not be aware that the party is just a group of innocent people dressed as Spectrum, and not the villain group itself, and they will attack at full force with intent to kill. The PCs will have to protect the party from VIPER, and Prism will still make his carefully-planned escape.
On the other hand, if he can't get to the street, he'll still have Rage tear things up, but he'll also have Purple Haze and Hotshot come to rescue him before they join in on the main fray. Prism himself will, as usual, try to stay out of the fight at first, though his hatred for VIPER may prompt him to attack some agents (with lethal force, naturally); he'll defend himself (with what one hopes is a surprising level of power) if attacked by the PCs, but otherwise will divide his attention between directing the action and orchestrating his escape.
While all this is going on, the VIPER forces are pulling out all the stops to kill all the members of Spectrum, especially Prism. At the start, they will ignore the PCs (even those that they are Hunting) simply because Spectrum is a higher priority, though they will defend themselves from the PCs' attacks if they have to.
This can become a very complicated moment, with battle taking place in up to three locations (the apartment, the stairwell, and the street) and against two enemies (VIPER and Spectrum) all at the same time. Run it, and for the most part let the chips fall where they may. However, if the PCs start to lose, let PRIMUS, the Champions, or some other NPC heroes (with preference in that order) show up to lend a hand at the last minute.
As usual for both groups, should either Spectrum or the VIPER forces find themselves taking unacceptable losses (that is, clearly falling more quickly than the heroes), they'll cut their losses and run, scooping up fallen comrades as they go.
While in custody, Angstrom turns into Heatseeker, thus proving that he is also all those other personalities (including, by implication, Father Jacobsen). Whether he escapes or not depends on what facility he was being held at, but the whole situation dealing with that attack is written up by press and authorities alike as a setup by Spectrum (though there will always be a few members of the public who will no longer trust the PC targeted here.
"Roberto Ramirez" will no longer be anywhere to be found. If he wasn't uncovered as having been Prism in disguise, trace evidence found by the police investigating his disappearance will show that, giving greater strength to the PCs' side of the story. If he was uncovered, Prism's measures to cover his tracks will be less careful (what would be the point?), so more support to the story will be present (up to drained-out batteries for his power suit being left in a garbage can).
If the legal cases of the two PCs who were targeted by Prism are brought to court, the first PC will be cleared (based on the evidence available), but the second will be ordered to undergo psychological counseling. Civil penalties will be limited to compensatory damages, and even that may be limited to paying a portion of the medical, legal, and rehabilitative costs for the people who were hurt (any jury would place most of the blame on Spectrum, but what percentage will depend on how good the lawyers are and what kind of evidence is available), in addition to that court-ordered counseling. (And, hopefully, nobody was killed; you probably should let the chips fall where they may on any Wrongful Death lawsuits.) This counseling will also be recommended (though probably not court-ordered) for the other PC.
The first encounter is deliberately "rigged" in favor of the PCs, while the second is set up mainly to trick a PC into attacking normals. Any Mental Defense that these two PCs have should be of little more than minor consequence, unless the Defense is quite high, since Purple Haze is going for no more than EGO+10; if this does become a problem, then go ahead and raise the number of dice in his attacks, or add a "2d6 Drain Mental Defense, Fully Invisible, Ranged" slot to his Multipower.
Likewise, the attack by Nimbus should be set up so the PCs can easily win. If the PC is alone and too weak, or has help from teammates that turns out to not be enough, just drop in some extra help in the form of PRIMUS Iron Guardsmen, UNTIL agents, or NPC superheroes.
The final encounter involves too many variables to give specific recommendations. Most likely, the PCs will find themselves saving lives in an initial fracas between Spectrum and VIPER, and then mopping up the leftovers. Other problems may also include defending innocent people from a VIPER squadron tricked into thinking that they (the innocents) are Spectrum, or fighting Spectrum and/or VIPER directly. Since both forces will run when it's clear they're being defeated, an overly powerful group isn't much of a problem; the situation is essentially resolved before the fighting begins anyway. On the other hand, if the PCs are too overwhelmed by what they're facing (especially in a situation such as having to protect the crowd of innocent people from a VIPER attack), they may get some backup from PRIMUS, UNTIL, the Champions, or some high-powered security force like WSS (from Hero System Almanac 2).
As for Dark Champions groups, Spectrum isn't really appropriate for such campaigns, even with statistic conversions, so none are given here. However, if you're running a superpowered DC campaign, you may run something like it, where a local crime boss (it doesn't matter whether Mafia, Yakuza, Card Shark, or whatever) hires a Mental Illusionist to do what Prism is having Purple Haze do here. The party becomes gangster-themed instead of supervillain-themed, and Roberto Ramirez is an actual reporter who works for the crime boss (though it may be under duress, at your option). The specifics will need a major overhaul, but the general storyline can remain the same.
This adventure is © 1997-2000 by Bob Greenwade. E-mail me if you have any comments or questions.