Ember Point (Latest Update - The Bronze Rider - Full Story)

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Re: Ember Point (Latest Update - Captain Scorpion I)

Post by EternalPhoenix »

Oh Captain, my Captain. Now that's a premier Golden Age hero, yessir. And worthy of a successor or two. :mrgreen:
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Re: Ember Point (Latest Update - Count Conjuro)

Post by Commander Titan »

Couple false starts on this one, but I wanted to get it right. No brief introduction this time.

Count Conjuro

The Magician's Nephew

It all began on his seventh birthday. Little “Johnny” (John) Castro was already surrounded by family, food, and love, when his Uncle Ruperto brought something different…

He brought magic.

It was just the coin behind the ear trick, but Johnny’s mind was blown. He demanded that Ruperto stay with him and show him how the trick worked, trying again and again to get it right himself. And then Johnny asked his uncle to show him any other magic he knew. Ruperto was a bit overwhelmed; he’d only ever picked up a few things to impress the ladies, but he had a good heart. So as a belated birthday gift, he bought Johnny a book –- Magnus Eisengrim’s Magic for Beginners.

That well-worn book would stay with Castro through his childhood, teenage years, criminal career, prison sentence, and beyond.

John (he stopped being “Johnny” once he turned thirteen) was obsessed with stage magic. The wonder of illusions, and the science and technique behind them. The effort needed to make something look effortless. He spent his afternoons and weekends in the local library, checking out every book they had, and once he exhausted their supply, the librarians got more for him via interlibrary loan.

John started putting on shows for his friends, classmates, and his family. His parents were supportive, provided he keep his grades up, which he did. After all, he would need to master psychology and math and engineering and science to put together all the tools of his trade. He even began to fantasize about his stage persona – sketching a costume, and trying out different names.

Unfortunately, these dreams were cut short. In John’s second-to-last year of high school, his father Richard was laid off. And then his younger sister Barbara got sick. And his older brother Gregory was drafted to fight in Korea. John needed to drop out of school to support his family. He started picking up odd jobs, finding work as a repairman and builder.

The next ten years were hard for the Castro family. John’s father was injured, leaving him the only one able to work. And living in Ember Point for generations meant nothing to racists who saw the Mexican-American family as beneath them, leading to all sorts of prejudice.

It came to a head when John, having done important repair work for a department store, was stiffed by the client. The Castros were in a rough spot, but John’s employer knew full well he could get away paying less than the full amount, laughing in John’s face when he asked for the remainder.

John was fuming the entire way home. The job had spiraled beyond the initially agreed upon time and materials requirements. He’d turned away other work expecting a bigger payoff on this one. He knew every inch of the place, including the store’s safe where profits and high price items were kept. It would be the easiest thing in the world to walk in and make it all disappear…

The Fall

Indeed, it was a perfect crime. The EPPD couldn’t figure it out, and when the Hour covered the heist, they said it was “like magic.”

Those were the key words that gave John the idea. The money helped his family stay afloat, but it wasn’t enough. He’d planned his crime well enough, and given himself an alibi, that he wasn’t a serious suspect for the robbery, but he couldn’t rely on that again. The theft had thrilled him, and now he had an angle. He dug up his old sketches for his stage persona, and set to work.

Soon, Count Conjuro made his debut, taking the spotlight like he’d always wanted.

As a costumed supervillain, his mechanical talents, his magical skills, and a genuine charisma propelled John far. The public thrilled at his elaborate heists, rife with misdirection, and he ran circles around the police. The fact that he never killed anyone, and avoided direct violence, helped as well. However, the city’s banks, art galleries, and luxury goods stores were less thrilled with him. In his civilian life, John Castro was below notice and could scout out his crimes in advance. Then, the Count would sweep in with projectors and mist machines and stranger gadgets, like flash bangs and strobe lights in his “wand.”

While John was having the time of his life, loving every minute of his time “on-stage,” he was realistic about what he was doing. While he had a reputation for nonviolence, he did in fact keep a gun with him at his hideouts, in case any of his criminal counterparts came looking. He was lucky to never use it. Likewise, while he helped out his family, he had to be careful to bring in money in a way that was not suspicious to them, to say nothing of actually laundering his stolen goods.

There were a number of ways his house of cards could have come tumbling down, but ultimately, when Glorioso the Hypnotic Detective caught him, it had nothing to do with any of those.

The Hypnotic Detective had been clever enough to see through several of Count Conjuro’s prior heists, recovering the goods but never quite catching Castro himself. He was wily enough to understand the sort of ego that drove Conjuro’s crimes, and to exploit this. He staked out Castro’s most likely next target, and caught him by surprise with the Eyes of Eventide. Thus, Castro was made to turn himself in, confessing to all his crimes all the way back to the first department store heist, as well as accepting blame for a number of unrelated cases that Glorioso needed closed.

After a colorful, albeit brief, career, John Castro was officially unmasked and arrested in 1964. His accepted a guilty plea rather than go to trial, and was sent to Hallowhill Prison, the same year. His family was disgraced, ashamed, and further financially devastated. Many of them cut ties with John entirely.

Prison life was hard. The Count’s reputation won a little respect, avoiding the worst aggressions, but the fact that he had confessed, and had been taken in by the Hypnotic Detective himself, led many to worry that Conjuro might be a snitch. He was left isolated and unaffiliated with any of the organized groups among gen-pop. John’s only visitors were his mother, and Gregory (returned alive but wounded from his military service), the two family members still willing to talk to him.

With precious little else to do, John spent his time in the gym and the library, keeping his mind and his body sharp. Indeed, in some ways he improved himself. He received the GED he’d never gotten when he had to drop out of school. And as they say, prison can be a school yard in and of itself - John finally made something close to friends. These new associates taught him skills he’d never previously had a chance to learn, both criminal and otherwise. And all the while, he continued to scribble notes and thoughts into his Eisengrim tome.

Yet despite his considerable talents, Castro never made a serious attempt to escape. Perhaps a lingering effect of Glorioso’s hypnosis, or simply his own guilt. He was resigned to his fate…

The Rise

Five years into John’s sentence, the news came that rocked the city: Glorioso, Leonard George, was exposed by Marianne Hoffman. There was quite the celebration amongst the inmates in Hallowhill that night. But it paled in comparison to what was yet to come.

The scandal around Glorioso meant that dozens, even hundreds, of cases had to be reviewed, despite the EPPD’s resistance. Many cases were ultimately tossed out, and convictions vacated. After all - even where the convicted may have actually been guilty, their rights had been grossly violated.

John Castro was among those freed. And he was also among those who were able to join a civil suit by civil rights groups against City Hall, the police, and Leonard George himself. There was a substantial settlement. More money than Castro had ever managed to have at one time except for perhaps the apex of his criminal career. And this time, all of it was clean.

The money didn’t instantly fix things with his family, but the fact that John could afford a home, and food meant that unlike many former felons (records eliminated or not) he was able to put down his roots and start living as an honest citizen. Not many people were eager to hire a handyman with his history, but he started the long path towards reconciliation with the Castros. That was his only real goal - fame and fortune held far less appeal to a man who had all the money he needed, and had paid the price of his infamy.

One evening, John was walking to Barbara’s home - it was a major development, the first time his sister had (reluctantly) extended an invitation to have dinner with her and her family, which now included a husband and two young children. Nervous, John stopped at a corner store en route to pick up cigarettes.

As the cashier was ringing John up, a man with a gun entered the store. It was a robbery, but John noted the man had no mask, a sign that he didn’t intend to leave witnesses. Acting quickly, he distracted the robber by stealthily knocking over a magazine rack and then using an elementary lift to unload the gun. He finished with a right hook he’d learned from a boxing buddy in Hallowhill. The cashier applauded, but John fled, hoping to avoid being recognized and the resulting media circus.

At dinner with his sister, there was a tense moment where she asked him if he planned to make any contributions to society now, or to simply sit around spending his settlement for the rest of his days. It was out of line, as she would later admit, given that John’s time in prison wasn’t exactly restful, but it also was the right challenge at the right moment.

Glorioso was in prison. Goldilocks and the Banshees spent most of their time overseas. Grendel also wandered, and even when he was in Ember Point, he was hardly a conventional superhero. The city needed a real defender, in light of Glorioso’s disgrace. Lives had been ruined. People needed hope, some light and optimism.

It was a crazy, crazy idea, but after five years locked up, John was ready for a little crazy.

And so in 1969, less than a year after he was released, Count Conjuro made his grand return. But to the shock of the city, it was as a superhero, not a villain. He thwarted criminal schemes with even more convoluted counter-schemes. He offered consultation to the extremely reticent police, as Glorioso once did. He used the funds from his settlement to develop new gadgets, often contracted from the various clever tinkerers he had met in prison and who needed a good turn.

And he took on a number of supervillains. Glorioso had never managed to apprehend Orlando Pagan, the crime lord known as the Doctor of Delights, and Count Conjuro joined forces with Grendel to oppose him. He also helped catch and finally arrest the real Radioactive Killer, when Glorioso had put the innocent Graham Farnett behind bars for the crimes. He even took on new villains, including Christine Cagliostro, an honest-to-goodness user of real, no-foolin’ supernatural magic.

Castro was often over his head, but he was determined to do the right thing - far more driven by his need to atone and serve his city, and redeem himself in the eyes of his family, then he had ever been when simply driven by his ego as a supervillain. With great reluctance, he even consulted with the imprisoned Leonard George a few times, and the pair developed a strange, tense, but ultimately fruitful rapport. Castro could never forgive George, nor did the latter ask him to, but in some way even Glorioso was able to give back to society with Conjuro’s aid.

Prison had changed John - while Count Conjuro was as exuberant as ever in public, in private he was often cold and sullen, forever scarred by his time in a box. But for seven years, Count Conjuro was Ember Point’s odd defender. However, hero-ing took a toll on the unpowered man, and he retired in 1976, (a year after the first true super-powered team, the Battalion, made their own debut), this time of his own volition, before he pushed himself too far.

After all, he had his family to think about. While they would never fully have the same relationship as they did previously, there was a restorative effect to seeing John put his life on the line for far longer, and far less reward, than he ever did as a criminal. And, to the children in his family, too young to remember Uncle Johnny before he left prison, he was a hero.

And so, it would be that one summer evening, John Castro was finally invited to his niece Connie’s birthday. He showed up with a gift. A brand new copy of Magnus Eisengrim’s Magic for Beginners…


Possible Plot Seeds & Campaign Uses
  • In a game set in the 60s, Count Conjuro is a villain for your players to thwart! Go with any sort of Silver Age plot that fits a magician-themed villain. For example:
    1. The Black Pearl of the Borgias is to be shown off at a museum in Ember Point for a few months, and will be unveiled at a fancy gala. Naturally, it’s an attractive target for would-be thieves! Count Conjuro himself announces his latest trick will be to make the Pearl disappear! The heroes must attend the gala either as their heroic or civilian identities, and prevent the theft. Except, Count Conjuro isn’t the only one after it - a crew (or multiple crews!) or conventional thieves are there as well. The PCs must balance thwarting all of the various robberies at once!
    2. A series of crimes are robberies are being committed by the most unusual of perpetrators - doves and rabbits! It sounds like Count Conjuro has managed to train a whole pack of animal aides for his latest crime spree (or built convincing little robots)! There’s a parade coming up, and surely these fiendish feral felons will try to pick pockets and fly off with the valuables of onlookers! Can the players figure out a way to chase after and catch the animals, and put the rabbits back in the hat again?
    3. A glass box appears in front of City Hall. Inside it is Count Conjuro, who promises an incredible feat of escapism. He will get out of the box before it fills with water and electrifies, and before the police can break in and capture him! It’s a sensational event! Reporters and ordinary citizens camp out around the police cordon to see if the Count can pull it off. So this has to be a distraction, a feint, right? What is Conjuro really up to? Is it somehow a fake inside the box, with the real Count robbing another venue? Or does he have a gang of aides who will be on the other side of town? Actually, it’s a double feint - while heroes and police follow a false trail of clues towards the “real crime,” Count Conjuro will escape from the box into City Hall, where he’s learned some valuable old stamps are inside a records room!
  • As a hero, Count Conjuro had few allies. He can approach the PCs for help, of course with the usual misunderstanding based battle at first. He learns of some villainous plot that he alone is not enough to handle, especially if the plot involves superhuman powers. How do the heroes work with an infamous villain, now a hero, even if he was formally “pardoned?” And regardless of your PCs’ attitudes, John Castro isn’t exactly used to collaborating or sharing the spotlight, which can generate tension as well.
  • Years down the line, a member of the Castro family or their descendants could become a new Count(ess) Conjuro. John’s wealth and gadgets could be stashed somewhere, waiting for a new owner. Or if the legacy hero isn’t part of the family, they may have found John’s copy of Magnus Eisengrim’s Magic for Beginners’s at a yard sale or the like. John kept all his notes in the book, including case notes and ideas for various tricks and props, providing a blueprint for a heroic (or villainous?) identity.
  • Perhaps Count Conjuro’s legacy of a reformed hero is used, either in his lifetime or afterwards, for a Thunderbolts-style attempt at redemption. John, or his nieces or nephews (who he willed his money too), might create a fund to help other people who want to turn their lives around. If you want to move the timeline around, Count Conjuro could be the NPC “leader” / “sponsor” of a team of reforming villains at any point you need.
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Re: Ember Point (Latest Update - Count Conjuro)

Post by Davies »

Neat. There aren't nearly enough reformed villain stories out there.
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Re: Ember Point (Latest Update - Count Conjuro)

Post by greycrusader »

i really, really like Count Conjuro, and I'm in agreement with Davies about not seeing enough redemption stories in OC biographies, though there are plenty of face-heel turns. Nice work!

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Re: Ember Point (Latest Update - Count Conjuro)

Post by Commander Titan »

Thank you both! After the random generators decided Glorioso would be a hero-to-villain, I knew that I wanted one of his villains to become a hero. Count Conjuro, whose name evolved from "Captain Conjuror" (fun, but already had a Captain) to "Count Conjuror" (better, but wanted a proper "name"), was a natural choice. I really liked the image of a man who realized he had a clean slate, all the money he might need, and no need to run, but also no need to risk it all by stepping up, deciding to do so anyway. And the image of the imprisoned fallen hero being consulted in prison by the redeemed villain. In that room, its not so simple as Batman talking to the Joker, or Clarice talking to Hannibal.

Next, a few notes about the costumes of the characters already revealed, and then I think some exploration of the city of Ember Point itself, probably an overview of the neighborhoods. After that, we probably move forward in time with some of the actually superpowered characters of the setting.
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Re: Ember Point (Bonus - Character Appearances)

Post by Commander Titan »

As mentioned previously, some notes on the physical appearances of already covered characters:

Bonus Content - Character Appearances

Penny Patrick was an Irish-American woman. She was of medium height, and began pretty slim as a teenager but years of adventuring, mechanical work, and regular workouts gave her a good degree of muscle. Her hairstyle changed a few times, but was always at least shoulder length, sometimes longer, though always bound up when in the cockpit.

Her “costume” settled on a green pilot’s jumpsuit, with a golden “G” inscribed on the right breast (each Banshee had their own symbol in that place). She often wore a retro bomber jacket over it (the other Banshees had their own additions) and sometimes donned an old-fashioned leather pilot’s cap as well. Of course, some of these were calculated affectations - people expected the tomboy-ish but beautiful Goldilocks to look very noticeable. But when she needed to move about undetected she would downplay her looks and wear far more conventional clothing.

She always carried a pistol “in costume,” though what kind varied over the years. She favored automatics.

I don’t have a professional actor in mind to “cast” for her, unfortunately. Suggestions welcome!

When Grendel first arrived, he was shirtless, with simple hide trunks and some bracers. He was a tall man with brown-bronze skin, and usually had long black hair. He was of course in great shape, though this wasn’t always as “six pack abs” cut as people might expect - he wasn’t a bodybuilder, he didn’t work out for appearance but for function. And in his later years, part of what pushed him to retirement was realizing modern life made carousing far too easy, and he was gaining a paunch.

Soon after he arrived, he would switch to wearing various kinds of athletic performance shorts under whatever his other outfit was, and in a very Tarzan-way would quickly strip down to them when danger arose. He tended to dress like a biker in his early years, but as his “career” went on, he started wearing tailored suits in the fashions of the time (now looking horribly dated, often in bright colors or patterns), and even eventually allowed a succession of famous stylists to work on his hair - to their constant disappointment as circumstances always messed it up again.

He sometimes carried small knives after Freddy Fleming nixed carrying a full sword around, but tended to lose and replace them with great frequency. He also developed an affinity for expensive watches and similar jewelry, but these too would be lost when he leaped into action. He had a tendency to see “treasure” as easy come, easy go, to Freddy’s consternation.

Casting would be Jason Momoa, somewhere between Khal Drogo, his take on Conan, and Aquaman, with the more “civilized” Grendel of later years looking like Momoa any time he wears a suit for Hollywood events.

Glorioso was a tall thin bald white man, who tended to wear large dark sunglasses to conceal the Eyes of Eventide and help with his light sensitivity. He had a preference for large coats of various kinds, particularly to help him cut a bigger, more intimidating figure than he did “out of costume.” This would be coupled with undercoats, scarves, vests, and gloves, trying to show as little of himself as possible, as weather permitted. The scarves were often the only splash of color - usually bright red or yellow or blue. Certain black market collectors still pay surprising sums for them decades later.

He never went around armed, but often had a black briefcase carrying all his crime scene investigation tools. Once or twice, it took a dent from being used to thwack somebody.

Casting would be Mark Strong, probably using his Dr. Sivana look from the excellent Shazam! film.

Count Conjuro
As a villain, Count Conjuro wore a dark blue magician’s outfit (the tuxedo and tails), with a purplish cape, and a vest/shirt that had a big stylized white “C” on it, rather than a conventional undershirt. The cape was held together with a black bowtie, and he had a matching dark blue hat. He also had a dark blue domino mask.

As a hero, he revised the costume. It was more akin to a standard superhero outfit - a black and gray spandex jumpsuit, with a red cape and belt. He still had a black top hat, but dropped the domino mask, since everyone knew who he was, and he wanted to show his face to emphasize that he had nothing to hide and was genuinely trying to be a hero.

In his private life, before prison, John Castro wore either a mechanic’s jumpsuit while on work, or a variety of bright, expensive clothing as a civilian. After prison, he inevitable chose drab, utilitarian clothing, often wearing heavy jackets that gave him a place to put his hands and shield himself.

He was a handsome Mexican-American man, with dark black hair that was always styled in a fashionable way before prison. Afterwards, he tended to keep it to a functional shortcut. As a villain he wore a variety of fake mustaches. As a hero, he grew a short one for real.

All his outfits, heroic or villainous, were deftly interwoven with a variety of pockets and pouches for his gadgets and tricks.

No casting in mind for John either, sadly.
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Re: Ember Point (Latest Update - The Bronze Rider - Intro Fiction)

Post by Commander Titan »

Some introductory fiction to the next character I aim to cover - The Bronze Rider, one of the longest serving heroes in general, and a founding member of the Battalion, twice-over. (The Ember Point neighborhoods are still percolating in my brain and need more hooks to be interesting enough to post. I'm also still changing around how they're all located compared to one another).

Anyway ---

The Bronze Rider

Once Upon A Time in Ember Point

In 1974, a bronze statue is erected in Square Seven, within downtown Hartley (the central business and downtown district of Ember Point) as part of ongoing efforts to clean up and beautify the rundown square. The statue is of a cowboy, atop a steed - indeed, the statue is rather simply called “The Rider and His Horse.” Other than a brief review that notes its artistic merits, the statue goes unnoticed by the media and public.

In 1975, a year to the day in the dark of the night, three drunk businessmen harass a homeless man, a Black Vietnam vet, seeking shelter. They knock him off his feet, and are in the process of beating him, when they hear the whinny of a horse.

They expect, perhaps, a mounted officer of the EPPD. What they see, instead, is the metallic figure of the Rider, atop his horse. Both are moving, impossibly alive. And the horse stamps its hoof into the ground, leaving a mark.

“Who the hell are you?” demands one of the men. He’s met with silence. The Rider lifts one hand from the reins and points in a distant direction. The intent is clear. Leave now.

No one takes the hint.

The Rider dismounts, gently pats his metal horse, and it wanders off to the far end of the square. The trio are encouraged - malice and their own excessive self-confidence let them think this is just a street performer playing at being a costumed vigilante.

The brutal brawl that follows shows how wrong they are. They throw punches that the Rider dodges, until one connects. It’s like punching metal. One of the assailants clutches his broken hand in a panic. Another wises up and flees the scene.

The final attacker draws his gun. The Rider halts, for a moment, acts as if to raise his hands. But then with a sudden move, the Rider goes for one of the old-style revolvers on his own belt. The two draw. The Rider clearly pulls the trigger first. Yet nothing happens. He seems surprised, even moreso when the attacker’s own bullet pings harmlessly off the top of his bronze hat.

Undeterred, the final man fires again and again. But the Rider has discovered his invulnerability. So he approaches. Gets closer and closer, shrugging off the gunfire until the shooter’s gun clicks dry. The Rider grabs him by both shoulders and hurls him into a heap next to his friend with the broken hand.

The Rider turns, as if to say something to the homeless victim who saw all of this. When suddenly headlights burst to life. The third man fled to his car, and hits the gas, barreling straight for the Rider. There’s no time to do anything.

And then a noise like the rolling thunder of a storm emerges over the sound of the engine. Out of the darkness, the Rider’s bronze horse intercepts the car from the side, ramming it and sending it spinning, leaving the driver crumpled at the wheel.

No worse for wear, the horse trots back to the Rider, who pets it gently, before remounting it.

The homeless man, astonished to be alive, looks up at the Rider.

“Thank you,” he says, again and again. “Who are you, man?”

The Rider demurs.

“Just passing’ thru,” the bronze figure says, in a raspy voice with evident difficulty.

He tips his hat, and then the Rider and his horse are gone…
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Re: Ember Point (Latest Update - The Bronze Rider - Intro Fiction)

Post by EternalPhoenix »

Looking forward to the next chapter.
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Re: Ember Point (Latest Update - The Bronze Rider - Full Story)

Post by Commander Titan »

Happy New Year! Hope your holidays were better than mine. Gonna keep slowly plugging away at this thread. May revisit how I write up these characters though. Anyway, here's the full story of the Bronze Rider.

The Bronze Rider

Hitting the Trail

To most of Ember Point, the only “story” at first was the disappearance of “The Rider and His Horse” from Square Seven. It was expected, perhaps not without reason, that someone had stolen the statue or vandalized it.

Three hungover Hartley yuppies tried to explain their injuries with a wild story of being attacked by the statue and a “dirty hobo”, but they were ignored. The homeless vet himself kept his head down, but wondered what became of his savior.

The next appearance of the Bronze Rider was stopping a bank robbery in a small town a few miles outside of Ember Point. But this time he acted during the day. Word spread slower without cellphones or the internet, especially given the Rider’s tendency to move on quickly, but for over several months he slowly wandered eastward, helping folks as he went. He was the latest in an age of superheroes and villains, but unlike many of his peers, he stayed mum on his origins and “story.”

This was not merely out of some sort of heroic humility. It was because 1) the Rider may have been brought to life, but he was still mostly composed of bronze and speaking at all was difficult for him, and 2) he genuinely didn’t know.

From the Rider’s perspective, he had simply opened his eyes atop his horse with only vague memories of cattle driving and outlaw hunting. Then he saw an unfair fight and felt the need to jump in.

It would take decades before he learned anything more.

The Rider didn’t need to eat or drink (couldn’t, in fact - he’s not hollow), and while he could enjoy some shut eye he didn’t really need it either. So, for the first few months, he drifted.

His inability to just sit and watch when one person was picking on another made him some enemies along the way, but it also made him plenty of friends. And he was with some of these friends, young music fans traveling to see a concert in Chicago that notably featured Eduardo Curtis (aka the Troubadour).

The events in Chicago that week, of course, famously led to the formation of the Battalion. And the Rider was one of the founding five, alongside the Troubadour. But unlike the latter, who left early on, the Rider was in it for the long haul…

Tours of Duty

As one might expect from a statue, one the Rider sets his mind to something, he sticks to it. Other heroes came and went, but the Bronze Rider remained the core of the Battalion. He wasn’t at heart a loner, just a little reticent. But with his posse, he was in his element.

Bulletproof and hard as hell to hurt, he was also clever as all hell. And when atop his horse Stormy (named such by a friend he made on the road, on account of how his gallop sounded like a thunderstorm), he rode dang fast. His bronze guns worked just like real ones, but he did need to supply his own ammo (and his teammate Miss Terrific provided him a variety of trick ammunitions that let him shoot without worrying about killing anyone, via a whole variety of clever surprises). And his hat was also as indestructible as the rest of him, and while it was heavy as hell, he could remove it and give it to other people as a shield of sorts.

He did have other difficulties. He weighed a ton (metaphorically), making it hard for him to move quickly without Stormy, and impossible for him to swim (this would become a problem later). And given that whatever internal structure he had was mostly somehow mystically animated, without proper lungs he found saying more than a few words at a time to be a struggle. He became known as a monosyllabic grunter, though he would master American Sign Language as an alternative form of communication, and if absolutely necessary could speak or even shout.

Regardless, the Bronze Rider was an easy man to read. While he never took a formal leadership position in the Battalion, demurring whenever offered, he proved an adroit tactician. He kept a keen eye on the field and would often point his teammates where they could do the most good.

For over two decades, he was the glue that kept the team together. His team-ups with Bolt, the Electric Swordsman, amused many. And he continued to play, in private moments, a harmonica given to him by Troubadour before the latter’s departure from the team. He had few individual enemies, given that his entire heroic career was tied to the Battalion. That said, while based in Chicago he opposed the second Ma Cannon (named for the Golden Age bandit who opposed the first Captain Scorpion, using a sonic scream power instead of heavy firepower) and the slippery Hogwash (the less said about his multipurpose super-sweat, the better).

This distinguished career seemingly came to an end in 1997, however, when the Battalion undertook a mission to deal with a kaiju conflict in the Pacific Ocean. During the battle, the Bronze Rider was caught in an explosion and blown into the midst of the swirling sea. His teammates, despite heroic efforts, were unable to find him, even with aid from the Dolphins. Reluctantly, he was declared dead (as much as a statue could be), and the world mourned the loss of a great hero. The Battalion limped on for two more years without him, but without its heart, it would soon disband…

The Abyss

There is no hero in the world of Ember Point with more grit than the Bronze Rider. For you see, he survived the blow his teammates thought killed him. But he was knocked into the raging waters, and he sank. Sank, sank, sank. Like a rock. Like the metal statue he was.

But he didn’t need to breathe. And crushing pressures hurt, but they didn’t destroy him. It took more effort, more strength, then he’d ever had to summon before, but once he finally settled on the seabed, the Bronze Rider dusted himself off, stood back up, and began to walk.

Picture it. No light. Every movement is herculean. Whatever strange sense you have that passes for hearing doesn’t work. The beasts of the depths brushing past you at every turn. It would have driven any human insane. But, for all his human spirit, the Bronze Rider did not have a human mind.

He had no direction - he absolutely walked in circles, wandered to deeper and darker places. There was no map, no sense of direction to follow. But he wasn’t gone yet. So he kept walking.

For ten years.

Ten years under the sea. He doesn’t like to talk about it. Not at all…

Back in the Saddle

When the Battalion disbanded, the statue-horse Stormy eventually wandered, despite the pleadings of the Rider’s former teammates, back towards Square Seven. There he became a local attraction, mostly left alone and used for tourism.

Then, one day in 2007, he took off. Like a rocket. Like lightning. Headed west.

Outpacing cars and all attempts at pursuit, Stormy didn’t stop until he hit the shore of the Pacific Ocean. There, a media circus ensued as he promptly stood around, doing nothing all night but occasionally miming grazing on sand dunes.

Hours after he arrived, as the sun rose, the assembled spectators watched in shock as a figure emerged from the water.

Covered in seaweed and barnacles, his once sharp features and form now rounded and dulled a bit by the pressure, but still recognizable, it was the Bronze Rider, returned.

This was a sensation. Many wondered if the Bronze Rider intended to go back “home” to Chicago, but instead he set course for Ember Point once more. He had a mission in mind. While slightly sidetracked by helping to reform the Battalion, now based in Ember Point, he was not deterred.

While he’d been in the depths of the sea, one thought had kept him going. His light in the darkness had been a burning desire to find out who or what he was.

It was already obvious he had some magic to him. Science couldn’t explain how he came to life, or heard or saw or spoke. So he took a leave of absence from the new Battalion and sought out wizards, and witches, and warlocks, and sorcerers, and magicians, and all manner of mystics.

In doing so, he managed to thwart quite a bit of supernatural and human evils, as well as discovering that he was not a ghost, he was not a god, he was not an elemental, he was not a golem, he was not a homunculus, he was not an dimensional outsider, and he was not many other things either.

Ultimately, he found his answer when he stopped looking for magic, and instead looked at the very mundane records of the commissioning, creation, and placement of “The Horse and His Rider.”

The city records pointed him towards one Beulah Norman. A Black artist and sculptor, she was quite old when the Rider found her, and the two sat and talked. Norman, as far as anyone could tell, was no magician. The only insights she could offer was that she’d modeled the Rider’s likeness, and that of his horse, on a vintage photo of her Wild West ancestor, one Ramsay “Trouble” Norman. Family lore said Ramsay was never able to ignore injustice happening in front of him, no matter what trouble it brought him - hence the nickname.

Perhaps the Rider was Trouble’s reincarnation. Perhaps Beulah had somehow sculpted not just her great-grandfather’s physical likeness, but also his moral likeness.

“But it don’t matter what you are,” explained the wizened Beulah. “But rather, who?”
“Who am I, then?” murmured the Rider.
“A hero, you dang fool.”

And he is.

The Rider’s out there still today. Atop Stormy, with the resurrected Battalion at his side, older and wiser but still unyielding in his pursuit of justice.


Possible Plot Seeds & Campaign Uses
  • An underwater adventure between 1997 and 2007 could encounter the Bronze Rider, deep beneath the waves. What did he see down there? Monsters? Sunken Lovecraftian cities? Warps to other, weirder, watery worlds? It would change the timeline to see him earlier, but that’s up to you! Alternatively, maybe in the present he contacts the PCs, telling them he’s worried something he encountered beneath the waves is rising again…
  • While the Bronze Rider spent a lot of time with the Battalion, he also has wandered and adventured with ordinary people quite a few times. A campaign framework for non or low-powered heroes could be a sort of Scooby-Doo scenario - the heroes investigate mysteries and strangeness and the Rider is their backup / rides up as the calvary to save the day if they get in over their heads.
  • The Rider’s situation as a living statue is meant to be unique in “canon,” but you can always change that. What if another statue (perhaps one of stone or some other material) comes to life? It could be another hero, a PC, with perhaps a different “model” akin to Trouble Norman. Or it could be a villain to be opposed.
  • Obviously I haven’t shown much of the Battalion, new or old yet, but there is a canonical reunited Battalion in 2007. There doesn’t have to be though! The Bronze Rider is a veteran hero. He’s perfect as the gruff mentor to a new team of heroes taking up the Battalion name. His refusal to be the leader, and fairly limited powerset makes it hard for him to take the spotlight from the PCs, but his toughness means he doesn’t have to be babysat or treated like a video game escort mission.
  • Alternatively to the above, during his quest for his origins, the Bronze Rider dealt with a number of mystical threats. In “canon” he mostly journeyed alone, but you could build a team around the quest for his origins, perhaps each member having their own mystic mystery to investigate.
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Commander Titan
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Re: Ember Point (Latest Update - The Bronze Rider - Full Story)

Post by Commander Titan »

As a side note - I'm not big into the "fictional publishing history" approach, but since it did shape The Bronze Rider's development: In my head, I see the Rider as the Vision / Martian Manhunter of the setting. Better known and best remembered as the key inhuman member of the major team. However, at some point, either actually in the late 2000s or more recently, a writer took a Tom King / Vertigo approach and gave the Rider the meditative, high quality solo series where he explores his origins and deals far more with the mystic side of things. A mix of Hellboy or Abe Sapien-style supernatural brawls mixed with philosophical musings and conversations, and the occasional highly stylized flashback to his decade underwater.
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Re: Ember Point (Latest Update - The Bronze Rider - Full Story)

Post by EternalPhoenix »

I have a new favorite Ember Point hero. :D
The Phoenixverse (A 2e OC 'verse!)
The Archetype Blendarama!
You, Dear Reader, may comment on any build at any time. I will be happy regardless.

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Re: Ember Point (Latest Update - The Bronze Rider - Full Story)

Post by Commander Titan »

Thank you! As I've said, a lot of the initial inspirations were randomly generated names / power sets / etc., which includes "Bronze Rider." I'm a fan of the Lone Ranger and similar expies in settings, so at first I almost did something like that with the name. But then a different approach occurred!
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Re: Grendel - The Warrior!

Post by Harnos »

Commander Titan wrote: Thu Nov 03, 2022 4:24 am Grendel

A Brief Introduction to Mount Alexandra

Perhaps THE most distinctive feature of Ember Point, at least to people who don’t live there, is Mount Alexandra.

Constantly in view from any part of Ember Point, Mount Alexandra is an intimidating natural landmark. In fact, it’s even part of the city - Port Roy technically encompasses an area about halfway up the mountain, though by and large these are airship docking facilities with no permanent residents.

But people don’t talk about it, mostly, for its economic impact.

Mount Alexandra, quite frankly, is weird.

Famously, the paranormal investigation and documentary show Threshold of Imagination devoted half a season to the mysteries of Mount Alexandra (the disappearance of Penny Patrick was covered in just one half of a single episode, for comparison). While Mount Alexandra is located within the bounds of the Cascades, it isn’t quite in alignment with the expected location for such a mountain. It’s geological history is confusing and frequently debated, displaying distinctive features of a mountain simultaneously older and younger than its speculated age, and of a peak located in a very different part of the Earth than the PNW.

It is confusingly volcanic - it’s occasional tendency to lazily leak ash is the reason for Ember Point being named as it is, and there is enough geothermal activity that the power company VE (Vondrák Electromatics) maintains a number of facilities up and down the mountain. Indeed, the strange properties Ember Point extend to the mineral water that filters down from its heights - the discovery of its beneficial properties for vampires helped prompt the creation of the Sanguine Sentinels and the modern vampire public relations campaign.

And there are even odder features - the indigenous Coastal Salish peoples who inhabit Ember Point a variety of stories about the “Visiting Mountain,” including an alleged tendency to disappear and “spend time elsewhere.” Trongolosits and paleontologists have noted that recent excavations of the mountain have shown that Mount Alexandra contains numerous buried megatrongorian skeletons (megatrongorians being the species of the famous kaiju Trongo!). And there are rumors of stranger things still, found by explorers in caves that go deep within the mountain…

Down From the Mountain

All this is to say that the appearance of Grendel, while undoubtedly strange, is hardly the weirdest thing to happen on Mount Alexandra.

The exact circumstances of his arrival were unclear, including to the man himself. Sometime in 1963 he wandered into the city, coming downhill from the mountain. Appearing for all the world like a well-built, strangely complexioned man with shoulder-length hair, looking to be in his mid-thirties, he might have been just another eccentric. But when he spotted a group of local toughs attempting to intimidate some women exiting a nearby bar, he stepped in.

Moments later, the toughs were laid out across the street, and an enterprising local hustler named Frederick “Freddy’ Fleming believed he’d found his meal ticket.

Treating the hero of the hour to a lunch at a diner, Freddy pieced together the new arrival’s story, as best as he could recall and present it:

His name was Grendel, and he was a roaming warrior of the realm of Ankore, a brutal and savage place with winged raiders, horned giants, evil sorcerers, and more. It bore little resemblance to the America of the 1960s, save for the presence of a towering mountain. Pursued by bandits and wolves, Grendel had ascended the mountain, before descending it and somehow arriving in Ember Point. Confused, but eager to prove his worth as a warrior and earn renown, Grendel ached for fame and battle.

Freddy took this to be a marvelous stage persona, but needed a proper name to sign for all of Grendel’s paperwork. Thus, he was legally dubbed “John Smith,” though he never answered to that name unless someone reminded him that certain formalities required it.

To Grendel, Fleming was “a bard,” a necessary part of any journey to legend and immortality. To Fleming, “John” was a meal ticket, but then, gradually, a friend.

To the public at large, Grendel was soon to be the third and final of the Three Gs, after Goldilocks and Glorioso

Treading the jeweled thrones of the Earth…

With Fleming’s assistance, “John” became a celebrity. He performed feats of strength and daring, whether it was weightlifting, acrobatics, or wrestling with a variety of willing challengers. Grendel became a wealthy man, and a notorious showman.

While Grendel did think of himself as a “hero,” it was in the Greek sense, of a figure with the power and will to seek glory– not as a selfless defender of the weak and thwarter of evil. Yet Grendel’s hatred of “bullies and tyrants” was so strong that he found himself involved in all sorts of adventures.

More than once, Grendel broke up the drug dens of the Doctor of Delight, Orlando Pagan, though as as a fighter and not a detective he was unable to bring him to justice. More successfully, he took down the boxer-turned-extortionist Mister Hogg (born Gunther Hogan). He also located and brutally beat the serial killer John Doe, targeting the “dead-and-missing man” to defend the otherwise forgotten people of the city late at night that Grendel felt a kinship to. The barbarian-out-of-time was even one of the first to face down the shadowy assassin known as the Infamous Owl, a feat now considered even more impressive given the Owl’s later outing as a vampire of considerable age. And that doesn’t even touch all the times he challenged cops, landlords, and more when they tried to lord their power over the little guy within Grendel’s line of sight.

Grendel spent many a night in a jail cell, but through a combination of public adoration and shrewd legal work and bribery on Fleming’s part, Grendel was never sent to trial. In some ways this fed a concerning attitude, as he continued to be a larger-than-life figure. He never quite fell in the way Glorioso did, his refusal to live within the bounds of modern society began to grate on the public…

From Warrior in the Field to King on his Throne

Grendel outlasted the other two of the Three Gs, and lived to see the rise of the truly superhuman age. No matter how skilled a warrior and brawler he was, increasingly superhuman criminals and villains outpaced him, and superpowered heroes surpassed him in terms of public fascination.

Fleming, for all his schemes, was actually a far better and fairer manager than most celebrities ever luck into having, even today, and made investments that kept Grendel a wealthy man. This helped make up a little bit for how his body began to fail him with age - he didn’t move quite as swiftly, more strike quite as strongly as he used to.

Thus, in 1978, Grendel announced his “retirement” from public life. He withdrew to enjoy the fruits of his career - copious amounts of food, alcohol, and other creature comforts. However, this proved insufficient to sate the appetites of the wandering warrior, and he briefly “unretired” in 1980 to join the Battalion for about a year.

He certainly pulled his weight among true demigods on Earth, but he was unable to recapture the thrills or glory he sought, and left the group after about a year (claims that this was also the result of losing a wrestling match to his teammate, the Volunteer, are ungenerous - even if true, the latter was half Grendel’s age).

Grendel returned to the privacy of retirement for two more years, until he released another, brief public statement in 1984: “I tire of Ember Point, of America, of this loud and exhausting and overbright world you call Earth. I will be going home now.”

Fleming would later confirm that last he heard, Grendel had started to once again ascend Mount Alexandra on foot. The once mighty warrior, dented but not broken, disappeared from history…

The Aftermath

Grendel proved something of a fitness idol for later generations - his “Warrior’s Workout” may have been a cash-in on his celebrity, but it also was a seriously considered regimen, for those able to keep up with it.

Furthermore, while Fleming eventually got Grendel to agree to stick to his fists and grapples, to avoid murder and assault charges, the barbarian hero had several famous photos taken wielding a sword, which Bolt would later admit were partly responsible for inspiring his own heroic career as “the Electric Swordsman.”

Fleming himself, after his friend’s disappearance, would become a talent manager and aid to a number of further celebrities - most of which were not “heroes” or other do-gooders, but some were. He used his considerable, if subtle, influence to push for the acceptance of such vigilantes. Whether this was for a profit motive or out of altruism, or perhaps even shame, brought on by Grendel’s career, is unknown.

As for Grendel himself, investigators have only managed to complicate the truth of his story. While he claimed to have descended Mount Alexandra immediately after climbing a similar mountain in his homeland of Ankore, years after his disappearance a small cabin was discovered on a high ridge. Evidence within the ridge suggested that a man at least resembling Grendel had spent some time there as a woodsman. Some think that Grendel was a mundane man, who had either a psychotic break or burst of inspiration before walking into Ember Point as a time-lost hero. Others think point out that the cabin did not seem long-inhabited, and a confused Grendel who had passed through spacetime may have spent some blurry weeks or months there before he managed to reclaim his identity.

Stranger still is the fact that nearly three decades after Grendel began his final ascent of Mount Alexandra, spelunkers found human remains in a cave high up the mountain. These remains were tested and dental records proved a near perfect match for Grendel’s, aged up to about his mid-eighties. Except the remains were also carbon-dated and found to be several dozen millennia old…

Possible Plot Seeds & Campaign Uses
  • Freddy Fleming contacts the strongest of the PCs, asking to arrange an exhibition match between the hero and Grendel. If they’re reluctant, Fleming agrees to make it a charity match. The hero gets to have a series of press conferences with Grendel, as the warrior acts the heel and gets in the hero’s face (though once backstage he quickly admits it is mostly play-acting for the press). Come the night of the big show, foes of Grendel and/or the PCs sneak into the audience, aiming to disrupt the show, or rob the box office, or otherwise cause a ruckus - the PC in the match must keep the show going while the rest of the players thwart the villains!
  • After a particularly impressive feat, Freddy Fleming reaches out and asks to rep one of the PCs! This is particularly appropriate for phyiscally impressive heroes. This naturally leads to associating with other personalities in Freddy's stable, like Grendel. "John Smith" is perfectly friendly with the PC, but perhaps too much so - they will be invited to all sorts of crazy parties, lasting long into the morning, and then expected to still make both their heroic and performing commitments, no matter how exhausted! Is the life of a celebrity right for the PC? What about when it becomes clear that Fleming has unintentionally gotten into debt with shady criminal figures, and Grendel is ready to cut a far-too-bloody swath through them to help his friend?
  • Generations after Grendel’s disappearance, a hero may be inspired by him. This is appropriate for any superstrong or fantasy warrior-themed heroes. However, this will mean that plenty of people (heroes, villains, and otherwise) will seek to challenge the PC in question, aiming to show they are the world’s strongest / deadliest / toughest.
  • The PCs are asked to help look for a hiker who went missing on Mount Alexandra (or it is an important NPC for one of the heroes, and thus they go looking themselves). Wandering through woods and caves, they emerge to an unfamiliar landscape where armored warriors on horseback come charging up, releasing a hail of black arrows. The heroes are aided in surviving this first battle by a muscular warrior figure. One or more of the PCs recognize him as the legendary Grendel (or he introduces himself) – but this is either a Grendel younger than when he arrived in Ember Point, or an older, more seasoned Grendel. If the former, there may be a risk of somehow damaging the timestream if the heroes interfere too much (but of course the missing hiker needs to be rescued!). If the latter, like Jonah Hex in the Justice League cartoon episode he appeared in ("The Once and Future Thing: Part 1: Weird Western Tales"), Grendel is all-too familiar with modern language, tools, and weapons. He’s the grumpy mentor to the heroes in the strange fantasy land of Ankore.
  • All manner of other strange things may emerge from Mount Alexandra - other lost warriors, wizards, and rogues from Ankore, or perhaps from even stranger times. Your PCs are prepared for any supervillain team, but are they prepared for a pastiche of the last D&D party they played, who wander out from a cave on Mount Alexandra and think Ember Point looks ripe for looting? Especially if these adventurers aren't really villains as much as people completely lost for context in the present day? Perhaps they be reasoned with - even convinced to be heroes like Grendel!
A nice Hyborian touch on the "badass normal" heroes and superhero culture. I liked "Warrior's Workout" especially.
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