Ember Point (brainstorming city details)

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

Post by Davies »

Amazing, and well worth the wait. So many adventure hooks, so little time!
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Re: Ember Point (Latest Update - The Neighborhoods of Ember Point)

Post by Commander Titan »

Thank you! I expect to further detail them over time, though striking the right balance between "superhero" city, "realistic" city, and my own knowledge of urban planning & history is hard! I'm much more knowledgeable about superhero comics characters!

Speaking of, despite all the work to give Ember Point more grounding, my next updates will be the remaining founding members of the Chicago-Era Battalion. That means:
-Captain Scorpion II (Luna Church): Earth's Zodiac Champion, bearer of cosmic power.
-Gatorman (Richard "Dickie" Summers): Loveable loser turned holder of a mystic artifact connecting him to all reptile life.
-Miss Terrific (Teresa Curie): Supergenius able to turn into a cloud of dust thanks to an experiment gone wrong.
-Troubadour (Eduardo Curtis): Folk hero, wandering bard, folk musician, wandering hero.
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Ember Point (Latest Update - Captain Scorpion II)

Post by Commander Titan »

Captain Scorpion II [Luna Church]

An A-Student, Baby

Growing up, Luna Lewis thought she would only teach history, not make it.

She’d always loved school. The textbooks that smelt of old paper and introduced her to the wider world outside her small Texas town. The teachers who praised and encouraged her while her parents (who did love her dearly) worked long hours and left her to her own devices. And even frustrating, annoying, dreamy Ray Church - her academic rival since the sixth grade, her steady boyfriend since the 10th.

Luna and Ray would spend time afterschool, and after their part-time jobs, driving off in his father’s car and staring into the beautiful night sky together. They made their plans - to go to college, to become teachers themselves to help shape the next generation of Black minds, and to get married.

And for a while, things did indeed go according to plan. They got their degrees and their marriage certificate in the same campus chapel. They started teaching jobs in the west of Texas, and for two years their lives were consumed by lesson planning, homework grading, home remodeling, and marital bliss.

Then the visions began.

First in her dreams, and then later in her waking hours, Luna saw a recurring image - a vast, dark canyon, lit by an unearthly glow.

She drew the image in the margins of the novels she read in bed and in the corners of her coursework prep. Luna thought it must be something from a movie she’d seen, or in a book she’d read. But after she caught herself sketching the image on her classroom blackboard instead of the equations she’d meant to write, Luna and Ray realized there was something wrong.

The couple sat and reasoned it out - Luna only ever saw the one image, and never any others. If she wasn’t going mad, then it must some from somewhere. So they did their homework. They poured through atlases and magazines, eventually identifying the scene as “Broome’s Gorge,” in a lonely stretch of New Mexico.

When she saw it on the map, Luna felt a strange certainty settle over her. “We have to go,” she said. She didn’t know what it meant, but the only way to find out would be to visit. And so, when school ended for the summer, the Churchs packed their bags and hit the road.

They arrived at Broome’s Gorge in the early hours of the morning, and after a long hike identified the entrance to the canyon ahead of them - exactly as it had appeared in Luna’s dreams. She felt compelled to enter, but when Ray made to follow her, she had a sudden sense that she had to go alone.

After a firm embrace, Luna stepped ahead, leaving a nervous Ray watching – and then she vanished…

Don’t Know Much About Astrology

Here, the two Churchs had very different experiences:

For Ray, Luna took a few steps into the Gorge, turned a corner, and then – vanished!

He called out to his wife after she left his sight to make sure she was alright, and when she didn’t respond, he went after her. He searched the twisting and turning canyon for hours, nearly getting lost a dozen times, all to no avail. He was sitting on the hood of their car, beside himself with worry and grief, when Luna reappeared, as simply as she had disappeared, walking out of the Gorge.

For Luna?

She wandered and walked the canyon, until she emerged onto a vast, silvery-gray plain, pockmarked by craters, beneath a vast starry sky. She became aware that she was one of a dozen or so figures, all from backgrounds. Somehow, they all breathed without air. And then the twinkling stars above seemed to move, taking vaguely familiar forms, like an audience…

After that, her recollection was even more dream-like, a series of impressions. A competition of some kind. A battle maybe, or a debate? But she won, or was chosen, or both. The stars and heavens above her descended, pouring into her, fueling her with cosmic power and potential.

And then she was walking back out of Broome’s Gorge, stumbling confused into the loving arms of her concerned, now relieved, husband.

Years later, Luna and others would piece together this sequence of events in greater detail:

The cosmic beings known as the Zodiac Council had convened over Earth, as they had on many planets before and after, in accordance with their enigmatic will. Each Sign identified and summoned a potential avatar, who in some way exemplified their ideals. These avatars engaged in a contest. The details are always scarce, but eventually, as they always do, the Signs came to an agreement about which of their number would be allowed to intercede and exalt an avatar. In the case of Earth, this was Scorpio, the Sign of Justice. The other candidates had their memories wiped and were returned to where they were summoned from, while Luna was turned into Captain Scorpion, Scorpio’s Zodiac Champion, and gifted great powers including its ultimate gift, the Sting of Justice.

On other worlds, other Signs may have won, and different Zodiac Champions may have taken up their own causes…

But in 1974, no one on Earth knew any of this yet, including Luna. She just knew that she was mentally and physically exhausted, so Ray started driving, looking for a motel.

In the wee hours of the morning they found one. They paid for their room and Luna collapsed into bed. She was almost drifting off into blissful sleep when the couple heard a commotion outside.

Police had arrived. Summoned after a complaint about certain guests at the motel. A man was being dragged from his room. Panic and fear had set in.

The Churchs watched from their motel room window, Horrified, but feeling impotent. Except, something in Luna burned at this injustice. To her and Ray’s surprise, she stepped out of the room. She yelled at the police, batons already in their hands. They swapped them for guns.

Something tripped within Luna. She refused to let the officers hurt anyone. There was a brilliant white and red light, like a star going supernova.

Then she was standing there in a green and white costume, a nebular cape streaming from her shoulders, and the sigil of Scorpio blazing from her chest. The officers fired, but their bullets bounced off her harmlessly. They were disarmed, their guns were crushed, their car flipped. The man the officers had sought to hurt was given a window to safely get away.

Ray and Luna themselves fled in their car. Luna was terrified, yet exhilarated. Soon she found out how to revert to her former self.

Something about her experiences had granted her the ability to shift into a superpowered form. Triggered, in part, by the perception of thwarting an injustice. In her other form, with the cape and the M-like symbol of the scorpion, she was superhumanly strong, fast, and able to fly. This form she dubbed inspired by both faint historical notes and a cosmic sense of propriety, “Captain Scorpion…”

One and One is Two

As Captain Scorpion, Luna found herself righting wrongs and thwarting injustice across Texas. The hero developed a contentious reputation - she was unafraid to step in where “the legitimate authorities” got it wrong.

But despite the blessings of her powers, Luna still had questions about her experience in Broome’s Gorge, wondering just how she had gotten these powers and what beings might be responsible.

So, in 1975, Luna and Ray traveled to Chicago to consult Laurent Laurier, the noted French UFOlogist (a contemporary of Hynek and Vallée) at the University of Chicago.

This meant that Captain Scorpion was in the Windy City at the right time to join Miss Terrific (herself a visiting professor at the University), Gatorman, the Bronze Rider, and the Troubadour in facing the subterranean threat of the Tyrant. While Miss Terrific and the Troubadour worked on a technological solution, Captain Scorpion and Gatorman fought the villain’s minions to buy time. The innocents freed and the day saved, the heroes decided to make their arrangement permanent as the Battalion.

Honestly, it had all happened so fast, Luna was practically overwhelmed! The Churchs’ trip to Chicago had been meant as a brief excursion, but suddenly she found herself with commitments to her Battalion teammates and a desire to explore and protect the Windy City. So, she and Ray made a permanent move from Texas to Illinois. The pair got jobs in Chicago’s notoriously underfunded public school system (indeed, the 1975 strike happened almost immediately after they started). But the couple were determined, they were resourceful, and they were together.

While the entire Battalion spent time protecting the city (save of course the Troubadour who famously left the team within its first year), Captain Scorpion became specifically regarded as Chicago’s hero. She could respond faster than the others, and her work as a teacher (and eventually as an activist) let her keep an ear to the ground.

Naturally she soon developed a rogues gallery. In 1976 she defended the World Surrealist Exhibition from the mad science artist Sander Sillart, aka the Sculptor (despite the name, he only challenged the Bronze Rider once, and didn’t seek a rematch after the latter broke his jaw). Then there was the assassin Ironsight (Eva Rivera), initially working for various Chicago organized crime factions, and once thwarted by Captain Scorpion spent considerable time and effort trying to acquire weapons potent enough to take down the hero. And, of course, there was Walter Quinn aka Windchill, the technological genius and eco-fascist who nearly froze Chicago solid in 1979, more than once taking on the entire Battalion as well.

But while Luna fought supervillains, she was also fighting to give her students a better future. Before Luna had been granted the cosmic powers of the Sign of Scorpio, she thought this would happen by educating and equipping the next generation. But with the incredible power and profile she commanded as Captain Scorpion, she realized she had to go beyond the classroom. As both Luna Church and Captain Scorpion, she spoke out on the damages of racism, sexism, and other -isms, both personal and institutional. Captain Scorpion advocated against redlining and police brutality while Luna joined legal actions and protests in the streets.

Naturally, this made her even more enemies. Some were never public, but their presence was felt but for example Ironsight suddenly gained access to certain bleeding edge equipment that more than once nearly cost Captain Scorpion her life. But justice isn’t just doing the popular or safe thing – it’s doing the right thing.

In 1980, it became clear that the right thing for the Churchs would be one of the hardest things they’d ever done. After months of tension and stress, Ray admitted to Luna that he wanted to move back to their hometown in Texas. He appreciated the work they did in Chicago, he loved their students, but ultimately big city life just wasn’t who he was. But Luna truly felt she had found her calling in Chicago.

Now, for other couples, this may have been it. But after long discussions, the pair agreed to live separately. Ray returned to Texas, while Luna stayed in Illinois. It was hard, but they loved one another, and knew that love took work. They planned schedules out and found time to see one another - Luna would fly down to visit Ray, and he would fly (sadly only at jet speed) up to stay with her.

There were temptations. There were trials. But ultimately the Churchs persevered.

Which was good, because the life of Captain Scorpion only continued to get more complicated…

What a Wonderful World It Would Be

In 1982, Her longtime friend and mentor, Professor Laurier, had become increasingly obsessed with the possibilities of extraterrestrial life. Luna’s experience had eroded his skepticism, and he privately thought that if someone “like her” had been granted such power, then someone “like him” would qualify for even more. Thus, he eventually sought out Broome’s Gorge, from which he took strange crystalline samples. During his experiments with them, believing them to perhaps have a frequency to contact alien life, he was infected by the matter within. He slowly turned into the rocky monster Krater, fortunately thwarted and contained by Captain Scorpion. Unfortunately, attempts to cure him were only temporarily successful, and ultimately he was reduced to an immobile, crystal monolith, under government observation.

This left Luna feeling more isolated than ever. Which was worsened by the appearance of Vega in 1984.

Perhaps the first true confirmation for the public of alien life, the kaleidoscopic energy-based alien appeared in his saucer over the Chicago Loop and challenged Earth’s heroes to a variety of combat contests, recklessly endangering civilians to do so. When Captain Scorpion joined the fray, Vega expressed joy to have a chance to fight a “Zodiac Champion,” the first time that Luna encountered that term, which triggered certain memories of her close encounter and left her with even more questions. When Vega was beaten, the alien thrillseeker only had hearsay and rumors to pass along, tales of heroes of other Signs on other worlds.

Concerned about the nature of her powers and feeling between them and her time with the Battalion that she was growing too distant from humanity, Captain Scorpion took a sabbatical from the team in 1985. After further thought, she took extended leave from her teaching position to spend several months with Ray, perhaps as a precursor to a permanent move.

Unfortunately, the day after she arrived back in Texas, strange weather events and mass power outages began to strike the globe. Captain Scorpion became part of the investigation, and with the aid of some former graduate students of the late, lamented Professor Laurier, discovered the cause:

Walter Quinn, the villainous Windchill, had been an early member of the environmental movement, sounding the alarm on the harm humanity was doing to the planet. However, he also believed that overpopulation and the “great writhing masses” were part of the problem. He felt that the world could only be responsibly shepherded by the superior race - here he meant white superhumans (despite his own “powers” being weather-and-environment-manipulating technological devices). He’d been repeatedly thwarted over the years, and grew more and more fanatical and desperate.

In the 80s, weary from a lifetime of superhuman combat and sick with a myriad of illnesses from his dangerous equipment, he undertook a final masterplan. He gathered the remnants of his once fearsome Salvation Network and partnered with one faction of the international terrorist society known as the Conquest of Dawn. Then he faked his surrender to the US government, and made it known through certain channels that he was willing to design supertech equipment for military and government use, which certain deniable authorities took him up on. This gave him the industrial supplies and manpower to create a “cosmic cloudbuster,” a device that would manipulate solar weather and allow a final great scourging of the Earth. When the time came, his own agents from the Network and CoD activated and seized control of the facility the ‘buster was built in.

This was Captain Scorpion’s greatest battle – uncovering Quinn’s plot and thwarting it required she call upon all her allies and strengths, and in the final moments she found herself staring down a defeated and dying Windchill. Despite the presence of his young son, Quinn refused to shut off the machine, instead revealing that he had played everyone and that there was no off switch. The indiscriminate destruction was now the point. He aimed to take down everyone with him if he could not have the world he wanted.

Miss Terrific managed to reconfigure the core of the device into something which would disrupt and end the magnetic storms wracking the planet, but the damaged transmitter meant that Captain Scorpion would need to fly into space to deploy it successfully, and even she was not likely to survive the forces involved.

Luna took hold of the device and asked Ray, over her Battalion communicator, to sing their favorite song to her. A Sam Cooke number that he used to sing when they sat on the hood of his car watching the stars. Ray sang and wept until the magnetic interference became too strong, and then could only watch as there was a vast explosion of light and color in the sky, and then the magnetic storms finally faded in a burst that matched the sign of Scorpio, and left it slowly fading across the night.

The world mourned Captain Scorpion, the hero of the hour. Her legacy remains conflicted, with many trying to paint her as less radical than she often was. But it was impossible to deny her influence, especially as her teammates and others exposed not just some of the conspirators who had enabled Windchill’s final scheme, but the systems that let them do so unchecked.

The Battalion mourned their friend, the first founding member to die. She remains a highwater mark for heroism, and a reminder that it goes beyond merely saving today, but rather thinking about how to improve tomorrow.

Students in Chicago mourned the loss of Ms. Church, assumed to be one of many to have died in the collateral damage from the storms. Her students would go on to be leaders and thinkers, but also merely better men, women, and people from the care and education she gave them.

And Ray mourned Luna, the love of his life. He never remarried, instead moving on with his life with quiet and solemn dignity. He became a principal and superintendent, guiding the school district of their hometown with an able hand until retirement, after which he remained a volunteer tutor and community organizer. A photo of him and his wife, degrees in one hand, marriage certificates in the other, sat atop his desk at school every day.

Possible Plot Seeds & Campaign Uses
  • Politically outspoken heroes during Captain Scorpion’s lifetime could easily be approached to join protests or demonstrations. This may make them a target of her own enemies like Ironsight or the Sculptor. It would also mean that the police and other authorities may take a dim view of the PCs rocking the boat. Are they willing to take a stand despite not quite having the power and profile of Captain Scorpion to protect them? (Of course they are, they’re heroes!) She may ask PCs to help protect a march, knowing that if someone plans violence against protestors that they’d likely aim to distract her and lure her elsewhere.
  • A game of teen superheroes could easily have Ms. Luna Church or Mr. Ray Church as their mentor:
    **Captain Scorpion would be reluctant to see young people, even powered ones, endanger themselves as heroes – until one of the PCs gives a good speech about doing their part regardless of age. She’d be a firm but fair mentor, and since she can’t be everywhere she could be used by a GM to rescue PCs in over their heads without always stealing their fire - her responsibilities with the Battalion or her visits to Ray in Texas could mean that she is unable to arrive until dramatically convenient.
    **Ray as a mentor could occur after Captain Scorpion gives her life. His small Texas town, unlike Chicago, never had superheroes before so a group of teen heroes there would quickly attract his attention, and he may find the PCs before they realize who he is! He’d emphasize the importance of spending time with loved ones as well as being a hero, and while he couldn’t join in battle, he’s resourceful and still has many of the world’s greatest heroes in his rolodex if need be.
  • I’ll eventually explain more about the Zodiac Council and the Zodiac Champions. Earth has only ever had the one, Captain Scorpion, but other worlds had different ones. And in your campaign, a player might be selected as Captain Scorpion instead. Or one of the other Zodiac Champions. While a full list will come later, some examples are Starbull, Zodiac Champion of Taurus, the Sign of Power, and Sentinel Leo, Zodiac Champion of Leo, the Sign of Faith. I’m inventing some symbolism and associations for the Signs, so don’t feel beholden to existing cultural / astrological significance.
Last edited by Commander Titan on Tue Feb 28, 2023 12:35 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Ember Point (Latest Update - Gatorman)

Post by Commander Titan »

Gatorman [Richard "Dickie" Summers]

The Early Years

Born in North Carolina in 1952, Richard “Dickie” Summers bounced between distant relatives, his own parents unable to care for him. His own poor luck continued as each caregiver passed him along to the next, always finding a new reason, or a new incident, with which to justify sending Dickie along. He wanted to be helpful, to be likable, but growing up without anyone to rely on he became notoriously unreliable himself. He’d get fired from the jobs he didn’t bail on, fail the classes he didn’t cut or sleep through.

Wherever he might have wound up, life threw him another curveball when at the age of 19, he was drafted into the Army, and sent to Fayateville, then Fort Bragg, and then on to Vietnam.

Dickie was at least lucky enough to survive, though given the shit he saw in-country, he didn’t always consider himself “lucky.” He didn’t make many friends, but he found a way to be useful enough that his squad didn’t leave him behind. He shot at folks, and got shot at. He’s never been proud of his service, or ashamed of it. It was just a necessary step on the way to what happened next.

Time passed, as it must, and Dickie’s two years were finally up. He spent the plane ride home just processing everything that had happened, barely noticing the way the other guys on his flight were on edge, a little off. So Dickie was off in his own head when he stepped onto the tarmac, and into another soldier, both falling to the ground. In the resulting confusion Dickie unknowingly grabbed the wrong bag.

Naturally, Dickie didn’t notice this at the time.

Dickie’s first stop was a proper American bar, to have a proper American beer, and wonder what the hell kind of a proper American job he could find, as a young Black veteran of a wildly unpopular war with no friends, family, or work history to speak of. He was still mulling this over when several of the soldiers from his flight arrived, and gave chase when they spotted him.

Dickie hit the streets, thinking he was done for, when a battered pick-up truck stopped for him. The driver was Jacob “Jay” Walker, an older Black man. When asked by a desperate Dickie why he had stopped, Jay simply said “it’s what you do when you see a man running for his life.” After it became clear Dickie had nowhere to stay, Jay insisted the younger man come stay with him at his fishing shack ‘til he got on his feet.

When Dickie told Jay he couldn’t pay him back for his kindness, the older man told him to “just promise me you’ll do the next fella a good turn when he needs it...”

The Events at Walker’s Swamp

Settling in at Jay’s, Dickie finally discovered that he’d grabbed the wrong bag at the airport. Instead of his own meager possessions, there was just a single strange artifact. A stone crown, intricately carved with images of dragon-like creatures hoisting human figures between them, holding up their own miniature crowns.

It was beautiful, and also clearly, oh so very clearly, a stolen treasure, looted and smuggled out from somewhere in ‘Nam. Things snapped into place for Dickie. The men who’d come after him were part of a smuggling ring, and were after him because he had what they saw as their own rightfully stolen property.

Dickie didn’t know what to do. If he tried to turn the crown in, would anyone believe he hadn’t stolen it himself? That he wasn’t part of the smuggling ring? Also, how connected were the smugglers? Would they have someone to tip them off and come silence him? Even if he did get it back to the proper authorities (whoever that even was in a situation like this), what could they do? It was hardly like the US government was in a position to ship it back to wherever it had been taken from in Vietnam.

Over the next day, which turned into days, which turned into weeks, Dickie mulled this over while living with Jay and helping the older man work his fishing boat. Walker revealed he himself had served in the Second World War. For the first time in his life, Dickie felt a sense of home. Jay began to hint that Dickie could stay permanently, if he wanted.

One morning walking near the marshes, while idly playing with the strange crown and considering Jay’s offer, Dickie put the crown on his head. Suddenly he had a strange sense of communion, of touching minds beyond his own. The minds of the great lumbering alligators, waiting lazily in the nearby waters. The creatures seemed to respond to Dickie’s own thoughts, like loyal subjects. They strode in and out of the water at his suggestion, following his commands like a lion tamer’s lions.

An astonished Dickie ran back to tell Jay of his discovery.

And he found his friend held at gunpoint by the smugglers, who’d finally tracked Dickie down. The ringleader demanded the crown. Jay told Dickie to run, knowing they’d kill them all to cover their tracks anyway. One of the soldiers went to grab Dickie and they struggled, crashing to the ground. There was a gunshot.

The stone crown shattered in Dickie’s hands. But there was something within. Unlike the ornate shell, a mere casing, this looked like a slim circlet of fossilized skin, wrapped around an ancient rope cord. And as Dickie held this treasure in his hands, it seemed to draw life from him. The desiccated material softened, returning to a verdant-green coloration, looking like scales peeled from some great reptile.

Knowing he needed any advantage to save Jay, Dickie put the crown-within-a-crown on his head. Immediately, he again sensed the connection to the gators and pulled on it, summoning them for aid. The crown itself seemed to settle on his head, and Dickie felt invigorated, like he had the strength of ten men.

There was a brawl. There were gnashing teeth. And there were gunshots.

In the end, the confused and disoriented soldiers fled, many missing chunks of themselves. But the exhilaration of victory was short-lived, because in the fracas, Jay had taken a bullet to the leg. A panicked Dickie drove his wounded friend in his own pickup to a nearby hospital, passing him off to the ER but fleeing before the doctors, or police, could question him. Dickie knew he had to leave, to draw the smugglers away before they returned to finish the job.

In all the confusion, he didn’t notice that the scaly crown had settled so far onto his head that it had fused with it, and it would be sometime before he discovered that it wouldn’t come off…

The Legend of the Gatorman

Dickie returned to what he knew best: drifting, floating around, trying not to get attached or involved. He zig-zagged across the map, leaving Jay’s shack far behind in the hopes of protecting him.

But soon, there came a moment when Dickie saw someone in need of help, and he remembered his promise to Jay. And then someone else needed help. And then someone else…

Soon, word began to spread of the mysterious, sometimes frightening, but ultimately helpful Gatorman, who could break tree trunks in half and command gators to attack.

Dickie was quickly realizing that was not all that he could do, however. His strength was indeed growing prodigious, as was his size, and his strength and resilience. This took the form of slowly spreading scales, like a gators, across his body (coming in faster as he healed rapidly from injuries). He developed a keen sense of smell, and other vaguer senses he wouldn’t understand for some time.

And, of course, he could commune with and command alligators. But not just gators - all manner of reptiles, whether poisonous snakes or tiny lizards. Gators were merely the most showy, and most ready to communicate with him.

For the next three years, Dickie roamed far and wide, trying to help people as best he could while not fully revealing his increasingly monstrous self. This led him to seemingly inevitable conflict with a number of other strange entities and occurrences, for example, the Not-Man, a strange living mass of ropey tendrils that lived in the deep woods (and despite initial appearances was not homicidal, just reticent and solitary).

Of course, there were more conventional foes as well. In a freak chance of fate, Dickie at one point spotted one of the smugglers, and began to follow the man. This led to the discovery that the smugglers had been catspaws, unaware of the mystical nature of the crown they’d stolen, for the strange organization Corps Zeta. Several of the smugglers had been recruited directly into CZ now, donning the blue jumpsuits and silver full-head masks. Corps Zeta was a secretive conspiratorial group, dedicated to accumulating “unusual, unnatural, and unorthodox resources” in preparation for what they believed to be the imminent end of the world. The Gatorman would repeatedly clash with CZ over the following decades.

One might think that with all this, Dickie would stay as far away from cities as possible. But he made more than a few nerve-wracking journeys to urban environments. Not all were successes – his ill-thought out trip to New York ensured that “sewer gator” rumors persisted for decades – but his 1975 trip to Chicago, for a mere human moment of seeing the Troubadour perform, proved historic…

An American Gator in Chicago

When Tyrant attacked the concert, Dickie could hardly stay on the sidelines, could he? And so, he found himself making the acquaintance of not just Eduardo Curtis (the Troubadour himself!) but also Captain Scorpion II, Miss Terrific, and the Bronze Rider. Rather than slink off into the night, Dickie let himself get caught up in the moment and agreed to join the others as the Battalion.

Suddenly, after years on the run, Dickie was not just a hero, but a celebrity! His appearance was more inhuman than ever (he’d even started growing a tail!), but his gregarious nature and sheer desire to help out quickly enamored the public to him. He became a Chicago cultural icon, and with no “day job” he could devote all his time to this life.

Naturally he kept some details private - he refused to give his birth name, and indicated he was a mutant of some sort, rather than detailing the odd history of the crown and admitting he was running around with war plunder. He also kept mum about his connection to reptiles beyond the obvious gators, a handy trick to have up his sleeve. Speaking of sleeves, he even found a tailor willing to design him custom suits! Even with his height, and hunched posture, and growing tail!.

Chicago proved good to Dickie, and he tried to be good to it in turn. He was the one to discover, for example, that the mysterious, hypnotic Looker was local ophthalmologist Sherrie Davis, utilizing a homemade formula to recreate Glorioso’s Eyes of Eventide, despite the deleterious effect on her mental stability (not immune to her hypnotic charms, Dickie was able to use his other senses to find and defeat her).

The Battalion were also good for Dickie. He had colleagues, friends, even, who were just as weird as him. His time with the Troubadour was brief, but Eduardo found a new motivation to continue his music career when Dickie explained how much listening to music, Eduardo’s and others’, had helped him both in ‘Nam and during his country wide sojourns. Ironically, this may have contributed to the Troubadour’s decision to leave the team.

Gatorman and the Bronze Rider bonded over their shared distance from the ordinary human experience, and often had ground-level adventures in the Chicago they thought “below the notice” of their cosmic and scientific comrades.

Dickie of course greatly admired Captain Scorpion, for her confidence and seemingly natural sense of right and wrong. She in turn respected that Dickie had spent years as a roaming hero, having more experience than anyone on the team than Miss Terrific (who hadn’t exactly been a “superhero” for most of her time with powers).

And Miss Terrific, while she could find Dickie’s occasionally flippant personality off-putting, greatly respected the hard life the young crocodile man had had. Yes, he was a crocodile, not an alligator. How did he not know that? It’s all in the nose structure– anyway! She was often frustrated by the inexplicable elements of his origin, including the strange crown that seemed to have become a subcutaneous growth. Miss Terrific disliked the simplicity of “it’s magic,” but was forced to accept that many of Gatorman’s powers were otherwise inexplicable. She also was the first to note that Dickie didn’t seem to be aging in any detrimental way, merely growing more powerful…

The Prince of Scales

The Battalion was a good environment for Dickie. So he stuck with it. For years. Through thick and thin, for good and for ill. It was the longest by far he’d ever been in one place.

In 1987, Dickie received a letter. This was not unusual - all the members of the Battalion received fanmail to their HQ, and Dickie himself had just had arguably his greatest triumph earlier in the year when his power to communicate with reptile life proved critical to calming the rampaging kaiju Trongo!.

But this letter was addressed to Dickie, not Gatorman, and came from North Carolina. In response, Dickie took a leave of absence from the Battalion and made the journey to the familiar little shack of Jay Walker.

The reunion was a joyous one, even after all the years apart, even with the small amount of time the two men had actually spent together. Jay’s shack was practically the same, except he’d kept a collection of newspaper clippings, all highlighting and celebrating Gatorman from his earliest days as a rumor on the roads up through his present exploits in Chicago.

Unfortunately, the reason for the meeting soon became clear: Jay was dying of cancer, with under a year to live. Jay had only expected to have a final beer with an old friend, but then Dickie discovered that Jay had no living relatives, and no one to stay with him as things got harder and moved towards the end.

So Dickie moved in, and for the next eight months he served as Jay’s hospice caretaker, giving the older veteran the dignity of passing at his own pace, in his own home. Jay Walker died peacefully in the night at the age of 64, with a smile on his lips and a friend at his side.

Dickie didn’t return to the Battalion right away after Jay’s passing, instead serving as a regional hero in NC. But he did heed the call for aid that went out in what ended up being the Clash of ‘89.

One of the many combatants in that storied tale was the roving warrior known as Spikefist. He came across Gatorman in the battle, and seemed immediately shocked, ignoring everyone else on the field.

“My fellow Prince,” he said, “How was your sojourn in Annam?”

Simply put, Gatorman had no idea what the hell he was talking about. He made this clear, and Spikefist chuckled, made mention of “a succession, then,” and arranged to meet Gatorman after the battle, abandoning the conflict without a second thought.

Days later, at an isolated location, Spikefist made clear exactly what had happened to Dickie all those years ago.

In an ancient time and place, four mystical artifacts had been created, the Wreaths of the Wilds. Those responsible intended for humanity to gain a measure of understanding, of control, of the beasts of the animal kingdom. But one would be too powerful, so the powers were divided in four. The Prince of Fur wore the Wreath of Fur, master of what were now called mammals - this was Spikefist. The Prince of Scales wore the Wreath of Scales, and commanded the world’s reptiles - this was Gatorman. There were also Wreaths of Feathers and Fins, who Spikefist backed away from discussing them, noting that they were less inclined to spend time on land among humanity.

All this, Spikefist considered his royal prerogative to explain, including a parting gift - teaching Dickie how to resume his fully human form. This was not the same as an “abdication,” Spikefist made clear. And with that, he left Dickie to his own devices, alongside a firm warning not to meddle in Spikefist’s affairs - sacred hospitality now over.

In the more than three decades since, Gatorman has remained one of the world’s most respected heroes. He would adventure with the original incarnation of the Battalion a few more times, though he never formally rejoined until after they were reformed in 2007, happy to work alongside the Bronze Rider once again. He remains a reserve member, ready and able to come to the team’s aid at a moment’s notice. Dickie has developed connections with a number of other heroes as well, and makes it a point to try and give a hand to young heroes starting out.

But as Dickie has aged he’s found himself growing more lethargic - many reptiles spend a good deal of time simply sunning themselves after all - and he fears what the complacency of immortality might do to him, seeing the arrogance of Spikefist and several other long-lived figures. So now he looks for a possible successor, or a way to split the power of the Wreath of Scales among several people safely.

Until then, he’s just a man looking to do the next man his good turn.

Possible Plot Seeds & Campaign Uses
  • In the present day, Gatorman is a fantastic deus ex machina and plot device. He wanders, he could show up anywhere to save the PCs’ butts, or to request they help since they’re the closest heroes. He’s also entirely willing to listen to even young heroes who nobody has heard of, if the PCs are trying to expose an evil plot. Getting to Gatorman and showing him evidence of whatever scheme they’ve uncovered could be a solution.
  • In the past, a young Gatorman, pre-Battalion, was an urban legend. The PCs could be heroes in a remote area investigating tales of some sort of monster. They can find (and as required by the superhero genre, fight) Gatorman, but perhaps it's an even more complex misunderstanding - there is a real monster or villain in the area, and Dickie himself is investigating too. The heroes can team up in time to figure out what’s really going!
  • An acceptable origin for a heroic PC would be to be chosen as Gatorman’s successor to wear the Wreath of Scales. Earning such an honor wouldn’t be too complicated - simply showing the right heart at the right moment could earn Dickie’s favor. Now that he can return to human form, and very few people know what that identity looks like, he could be a bystander to watching a PC perform a good deed. Alternatively, for a kinetic campaign opening / origin, Dickie might be attacked by dangerous foes, and wounded horribly, passing the Wreath onto somebody nearby (perhaps someone not traditionally “heroic”) to prevent the villains from getting it, hoping that they rise to the occasion.
  • Spikefist, and the bearers of the Wreath of Feathers, at least, will be detailed in the future. Suffice to say, wearing one of the other Wreaths (or finding the Wreath of Scales in lieu of Dickie) is a valid origin. In broad strokes, the wearer gains the ability to communicate with the relevant type of animals (reptiles, mammals, fish, or birds) and command them (yes, like Aquaman). Furthermore, they begin to take on certain traits or “powers” those animals have - crocodiles for the Wreath of Scales, for example. These are potent mystic artifacts - Gatorman and Spikefist would hardly be the only parties interested in finding a Wreath-wearer.
  • Perhaps the heroes are called to an area and *think* that reports of a monster are Gatorman, only to discover there is in fact a monster of some kind, not the legendary hero!
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Re: Ember Point (Latest Update - Gatorman)

Post by Commander Titan »

Well, I'm well aware that I'm overwriting these! I reserve the right to revise them down later, and am probably going to aim for slightly shorter descriptions, going ahead! I realize I'm crystalizing a lot of ideas that live as bullet point notes by doing these write-ups, but they are certainly walls of text!
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Re: Ember Point (Latest Update - Captain Scorpion II)

Post by Davies »

These are such amazing characters, and so much potential on display. And I wonder if there might be a fifth Wreath, hidden from the other four, possibly the mightiest of them all. The insects have been here longer than us, and will be here long after us ...

And as a wall-of-text-er myself, please don't worry about it.
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Re: Ember Point (Latest Update - Captain Scorpion II)

Post by Commander Titan »

Davies wrote: Tue Feb 28, 2023 12:49 am These are such amazing characters, and so much potential on display. And as a wall-of-text-er myself, please don't worry about it.
Thank you, genuinely!
Davies wrote: Tue Feb 28, 2023 12:49 am And I wonder if there might be a fifth Wreath, hidden from the other four, possibly the mightiest of them all. The insects have been here longer than us, and will be here long after us ...
...would you believe that despite mulling over versions of these characters since at least August or September of last year, that idea didn't occur to me until this very morning while doing laundry?
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Re: Ember Point (Latest Update - Captain Scorpion II)

Post by Davies »

Commander Titan wrote: Tue Feb 28, 2023 1:02 am
...would you believe that despite mulling over versions of these characters since at least August or September of last year, that idea didn't occur to me until this very morning while doing laundry?
I discover things about my guys as I'm writing them to post here, so, yeah, I'd totally believe that. :D
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Miss Terrific!

Post by Commander Titan »

Miss Terrific [Dr. Teresa Curie]

Bachelor of Science (Mad)

Let’s get the obvious question out of the way first: The answer is no, Teresa Curie was not in any way related to renowned scientist Marie Curie. However, that shared surname is what prompted a young Teresa to develop an interest in science, particularly the fields of physics and radiation.

Born to a partly-Creole family in New Orleans, in 1931, Teresa was an excellent student, laser-focused on becoming a scientist. This was enhanced by seeing the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the events that won the Second World War, allowing soldiers like many of her family members to come home.

Despite the post-War effort to undo progress and push women back into domestic roles, Teresa went to college, ultimately earning her PhD in Nuclear Science and Engineering from MIT in 1959. Her academic achievement, and her endorsement of military applications of nuclear technology, led to the newly-minted Dr. Curie being approached by headhunters for the Atomic Business Corporation.

The Atomic Business Corporation, or ABC, was a secretive think tank and research company, officially private but deeply affiliated with the US military and defense industries. They saw themselves as the heirs of the men and women who had developed the atom bomb, and saw it as their duty to push science forward, to give the USA the edge it needed to stay ahead of the communists and protect “freedom and democracy” around the world.

Dr. Curie worked on many projects for ABC, but the most important would end up being the Negation Device, or “N-Device" for short. The goal was something akin to a neutron bomb, which emitted radiation to kill people but was less damaging to property (what Brezhnev would nickname a “capitalist bomb”), but cranked up to eleven. Curie and the team at ABC theorized that akin to an EMP disrupting electronics, a Negation Device could be built that would target the human electromagnetic field, scattering it but leaving valuable enemy equipment untouched, and radiation-free.

That she ever pursued such an idea willingly, even excitedly, would later haunt and horrify Teresa.

But in 1968, she was all aboard, and joined the rest of her team at a classified test site in the Nevada desert to detonate a prototype of the N-Device. This wasn’t even a test of the bomb’s ability to target the human EM field, merely to see if they could in fact harness the arcane frequencies of radiation they had theorized. They were more than a safe distance away. The team nominated Dr. Curie, as the person most critical to the N-Device’s development, to pull the metaphorical trigger.

There had been a tragic miscalculation of the forces being toyed with. The Negation Device did indeed work, and at a far greater range than expected.

In an instant, Dr. Curie, her team, and everyone else at the test site, soldier, scientist, and civilian, was vaporized, leaving nothing but piles of radioactive dust on the floor…

Master of Humanity (Rediscovered)

Even after decades of research, Teresa would be unsure why she survived (if you can call what happened something as mundane as “survival”) when nobody else did.

Her best theory was that while her own electromagnetic field was interrupted like everyone else’s, something interrupted the interruption. Some contaminant she’d been exposed to. Some minor “immunity” from working on the device more than others. Something about where exactly she’d stood, the metals in the shelter, the sand and dust at her feet…

Whatever happened, Dr. Curie disintegrated like the others. But then she alone reintegrated, incorporating the radioactive sand and dust she stood around. Emergency relief teams would find her half buried in the sand, thinking this had somehow saved her, not realizing it was a symptom rather than a cure.

While she recovered in a military medical ward, Dr. Curie discovered her powers. She seemed able to alter her electromagnetic field, and thus her bodily form, with the dust and sand. She could turn into a cloud and fly through the air, flowing through narrow passages or dodging to avoid harm. She could shift parts of her body or the whole, and it would eventually become a signature move of hers to turn to sand, whirl around an opponent, and form a potent fist to sock them in the face. She could sense the world around her through electromagnetism as a cloud, but in turn she left a scant but detectable radioactive trace. She would also come to notice that she had stopped aging, for the time being.

All of this she was careful to hide from ABC and the government, who were eager to salvage something, anything from the disaster. Dr. Curie was able to honestly say she had no idea what went wrong. Less honestly, she said that without the rest of her team, it would be impossible to recreate the Negation Device.

In truth, Teresa probably knew enough to give any new attempt a vast head start. But as she lay in a hospital bed, hearing how with a push of a button she had killed dozens of friends, colleagues, bystanders, in the pursuit of the ability to kill thousands or millions, she’d had a complete change of heart. She swore to herself that she would never again pursue science for its own sake, without thought for how it could hurt others. The wellbeing of humanity would be her goal, and science the means.

To this end, her first test of her powers was to sneak into her old ABC lab and destroy as many of the critical files on the N-Device as she could, so that nobody could ever build such a weapon again.

Cleared by ABC and the government, Dr. Curie tapped into old contacts and was hired on as a professor and researcher at the University of Chicago, working with the Franck and Fermi Institutes

At the university, she embraced interdisciplinary work, expanding her repertoire of expertise far beyond just physics. She also found herself becoming the go-to consultant, reached out to by colleagues across the country, whenever something that could only be described as “scientifically curious” was detected.

Teresa became an expert in so-called “mad science,” and between her intellect and her powers, she had adventures saved innocents from science and scientists run amok. Indeed, while she preferred to keep a lower profile, Dr. Curie was soon a superhero in all but name…

Doctor of Philosophy (Superheroic)

The name, after all, would come in 1975. Already alerted to a series of strange disappearances occurring in the city by several of her students, Dr. Curie would join Captain Scorpion II (who she’d already bumped into on campus), Gatorman, the Bronze Rider, and the Troubadour to thwart the sinister plot of Tyrant. Teresa played a particularly key role by identifying how to disrupt Tyrant’s mind-control devices, and modifying the Troubadour’s instruments to do so.

During an interview with the press after the day was saved, and the Battalion formed, a frazzled and exhausted Teresa flubbed her response to a reporter (“Your name, Miss?” “My name? I’m Tere–, *pause* fuck!…”) and quickly found herself dubbed “Miss Terrific.” While initially annoyed, she quickly resigned herself to the codename, and even embraced it as a chance to reset her life. “Dr. Curie” might be the woman who built the Negation Device, but “Miss Terrific” could be a different woman, a better woman.

One might have expected that Teresa Curie might have felt isolated in the Battalion, being as she was older than the rest of her teammates (though she didn’t fully look it), and already well into her professional career by the time the likes of Captain Scorpion or Gatorman were finishing high school. But this was far from the case.

Miss Terrific respected and admired just how naturally doing the right thing seemed to come to her teammates. They, in turn, looked up to Teresa as someone who already had experience navigating life, both superpowered and mundane. And they all bonded over the strange, fantastic lives they found themselves living.

Indeed, Miss Terrific found that she loved being a superhero, and supported the Battalion in any way she could. This included designing their HQ, the Sanctuary Spire, atop the Sears Tower. Miss Terrific would also make guest appearances at local high schools, to encourage students (especially girls) towards careers in science. She also appeared at local colleges, to remind these budding scientists of their duties to behave ethically.

Miss Terrific continued to answer calls for help outside Chicago as well. She encountered a number of science-abusing villains, and victims of science misused. There was the “radiation vampire” Count Geiger, who proved vulnerable to staking by low-background steel; and the frictionless Superfluid, who committed increasingly bold thefts of cutting edge equipment to improve his powers, feeding an addiction and need to bolster his constantly weakening powers.

Unfortunately, Dr. Curie would come to discover that her own powers were fading. Her strange condition was resolving itself, and she was capable of shifting less and less with each passing year. Reluctantly, she dropped to reserve status on the Battalion in 1980, remaining a scientific resource advisor but no longer engaging in superpowered fisticuffs if she could avoid it. This proved heartbreaking for her when in 1985, during Windchill’s doomsday attack, she was unable to prevent the heroic sacrifice of her friend Captain Scorpion.

By late 1986, Dr. Teresa Curie was fully human, no trace of her powers remaining. She even began to age again. And thus, Miss Terrific officially retired from her superheroic career…

Professor of Education (Scientific, Humanistic, Superheroic)

At 55 years young, and with the body of a 37 year old, Dr. Curie still had plenty of time ahead of her. And she intended to use it.

Teresa could no longer be a superhero, but she could honor Luna Church in another way. And that was as a teacher. Dr. Curie had of course taught while at the University of Chicago, but now she had a very different sort of school environment in mind.

Over her long career, from her time in ABC to thwarting supervillains, Teresa had seen incredible scientific achievements used and abused to cause harm, by purpose and by accident. Brilliant minds were being ignored or ostracized, or taken advantage of, or enabled.

Why was nobody finding the mad scientists, and giving them support (emotional, structural, financial) instead of waiting around for them to strike out at society, or to be snapped up by the Conquest of Dawn or unscrupulous world governments?

It took years of work, but finally in 1992, the Curie Academy and Independent Research Nexus (CAIRN) opened its doors. Built in a remote area of Nevada, not far from where Dr. Curie once pressed the button on the N-Device, CAIRN was meant to give space for cutting edge research in service of humanity, no matter how strange or unusual. It combined top notch lab facilities (and safeguards) with psychological and therapeutic care, and rigorous ethics classes to match the practical instruction.

There were immediate legal challenges, followed by threats, attempted thefts and infiltrations, and supervillain attacks. Dr. Curie and CAIRN weathered them all. And they’ve continued to weather them. CAIRN graduates, and on-location researchers (it also serves as a long-term think tank for those who prefer to stay when their time is up) are building a better world everyday. Whether that’s through means as dramatic as thwarting supervillain plots and designing defenses against alien invasions, or as mundane as improving surgical tools and soil yields.

The experiment was not without its flaws, having on-campus dramas and sadly still producing a handful of supervillains, but its successes were manifold - including at least one graduate becoming a member of the reformed Battalion and carrying Miss Terrific’s legacy of scientific superheroism.

Through it all, Teresa found herself rewarded as much by the growth and nurturing of young minds as by the products of those same geniuses. She sorted out love triangles between clones, cheating scandals by AI, campuses wracked by black holes and miniature ice ages. And she helped young people (and not so young people!) find their place in the world.

Still, not even Dr. Teresa Curie could go on forever, even with her extra 18 or so years. In 2020, she began to make plans for her retirement, and the selection of a successor to head up CAIRN, which had swapped the “Independent” for “International” and “Nexus” for “Network” as it expanded and opened several campuses worldwide. But events kept conspiring to keep her involved, and pushing back the date of selecting her successor.

In 2021, not long after Dr. Curie’s 90th birthday, there was an on-campus crisis. A group of students experimenting with cold fusion had made an error, and their melting down reactor threatened to destroy the campus. Teresa ignored the objections of her senior staff, and made her way in, to personally cool and shut down the runaway machine. In the process, she received a lethal dose of radiation.

She died within hours, her last words expressing gratitude that at least this time she got to “turn the bomb off.” Superheroes, scientists, and civilians the world over mourned her passing. The Bronze Rider and other Battalion members served as pallbearers.

CAIRN is in a precarious position, a temporary President running the organization for over a year, but Dr. Curie’s legacy lives on. As does Miss Terrific’s, in the form of a recently debuted hero named Madame Wonderful, but that’s a tale for another time…

Possible Plot Seeds & Campaign Uses
  • Atomic Business Corporation (ABC) and the Curie Academy and International Research Network (CAIRN) will both be detailed more later, but either provides options for the origins of super-scientists of good or evil persuasions. These could be contemporaries of Miss Terrific, influenced by her or looking to revenge themselves on her. One or more PCs could be fellow morally-conflicted ABC scientists or CAIRN students or grads.
  • The Negation Device is a horrible weapon, fortunately lost to time. Except not! Governments or independent villains could seek to recreate the N-Device. They might work from notes that Dr. Curie failed to destroy, or they may have stumbled upon it independently. Either way, if it’s during her lifetime, Miss Terrific / Dr. Curie may recognize that someone is gathering the materials needed to construct the bomb, and recruits the PCs to thwart the scheme. Or they may come across the villains first, and need to convince a deeply reluctant Teresa Curie to explain what is at stake. If it’s after Dr. Curie’s passing, then the PCs may need to dive into her notes or recruit CAIRN students to help prevent this awful idea from again rearing its head.
  • Maybe Teresa Curie was wrong to think all of her ABC team colleagues died in the N-Device detonation. A PC (or a villain) could have survived and gained similar or different powers. Miss Terrific would have awful guilt either way and feel responsible for dealing with them.
  • Until CAIRN took up all her time, one of the great joys of Miss Terrific’s life was judging science fairs. High school age PCs could have an adventure around competing to see who wins, with or without supervillains attacking or someone’s experiment having unintended consequences. Older PCs could have siblings, children, students, or family friends taking part and get involved that way.
  • During her lifetime, Teresa Curie was THE go-to science consultant for the superhero scene. A group of PCs that don’t have their own super-scientist could reach out to Miss Terrific for aid on a case. She may or may not rope them into some trouble of her own in return!
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Re: Miss Terrific!

Post by Davies »

Commander Titan wrote: Wed Mar 01, 2023 4:43 am During an interview with the press after the day was saved, and the Battalion formed, a frazzled and exhausted Teresa flubbed her response to a reporter (“Your name, Miss?” “My name? I’m Tere–, *pause* fuck!…”)
:lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:
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Re: Ember Point (Latest Update - Miss Terrific)

Post by Commander Titan »

Another example of the writing process in action! Like I said in the first post, most of these character names and secret identities come from random generators. Fairly early on I paired "Miss Terrific" and "Teresa Curie" for the similar sounds. Eventually "Curie" meant that I thought she should be a scientist. And then only today as I was piecing together the writeup did I wonder why she would go by "Miss" instead of "Doctor"? Hence the joke, but also a thought of "well maybe she wants to change her image of herself" and that led to rewrites and emphasizing the N-Device as opposed to vague connections to nuclear testing.
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Re: Ember Point (Latest Update - Miss Terrific)

Post by EternalPhoenix »

And here I'm merely thinking about Terrifica and the recently posted Lady Alchemist. 😅

Good work, regardless.
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Re: Ember Point (Latest Update - Miss Terrific)

Post by Commander Titan »

EternalPhoenix wrote: Wed Mar 01, 2023 8:19 pm And here I'm merely thinking about Terrifica and the recently posted Lady Alchemist. 😅

Good work, regardless.
I admit, I delayed looking at Lady Alchemist until after I completed the writeup for Miss Terrific, once I got a sense that we might be toying with similar turf!

Physicist versus chemist, they'd probably have just enough in common to inadvertently step on one another's toes in the lab, without any ill-intent!

And thank you!
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Re: Ember Point (Latest Update - The Troubadour)

Post by Commander Titan »

The Troubadour [Eduardo Curtis]

A (Mis)spent Youth

Being a superhero was never the most important thing in the Troubadour’s life. Indeed, to many it was hardly the most interesting thing in his long resumé. After all, by the time Eduardo Curtis headlined his first show at the age of 25, he had already been a butcher, a mariner, a lumberjack, a boxer, and a reporter, among a dozen other odd jobs and unorthodox work experiences.

Eduardo (sometimes “Ed” in his early years) was born in 1940 in Chicago, to a Polish-Jewish father (who had changed “Kurz” to Curtis) and a Mexican-American mother. One of five children, he trained to follow in his father’s footsteps as a butcher. However, these plans were derailed when his father died in the same fire that consumed his shop.

Eager to escape Chicago, which he found stifling (and where he’d begun to develop a record of juvenile delinquency), Eduardo lied about his age to enlist in the US Merchant Marine, supporting his mother and siblings by sending wages home from afar.

Life at sea was indeed an adventure, though not always the kind Eduardo had expected. For four years, he criss-crossed the Pacific Ocean. In each port, he met new people and learned new skills, breaking up the long stretches of tedious labor at sea. This period of his life has been highly mythologized, and while many popular stories are false, some have a touch of truth. A young Eduardo did indeed help repulse a pirate raid in the South China Sea (though he was not the leader of the counter-attack, nor did he play music during it as often claimed).

Tiring of a seafaring life, Eduardo disembarked in California, and drifted up the West Coast, working all manner of odd jobs. He spent time as a line cook, and even a promising amateur boxer, but he found hitting a man for sport distasteful, no matter how good at it he was. By necessity, he picked up the bones of auto repair and all manner of other improvisational solutions.

Having slowly but surely moved north, Eduardo found himself in the vicinity of Ember Point. He spent two years in the vast wooded regions outside the city. This was a mix of logging work, and living with some of the Pacific Northwest’s famous eccentrics. Lumberjacks and lunatics alike shared their lives, struggles, and folklore with Eduardo. The tales he was told, and retold to others, would form a critical core of his later musical work. Most famously this included the saga of “Mad-Eyed” Arminio Carson (namesake of Carson Lake), the hermit, who featured in one of the Troubadour’s most enduring ballads - “Mad Man on the Mountain.”

These were just a few of the jobs that Curtis held at various points. He had a remarkable facility for picking up skills – while he was never formally tested and indeed never graduated high school, Eduardo was a complete autodidact, and likely a genius-level intellect. This was coupled with an excellent, though not eidetic, memory. He would recall critical bits of information and field lessons from various friends, mentors, and acquaintances with ease - handy both as a wanderer, and a “superhero.”

In his early twenties, Eduardo was inspired to pick up a pen and try his hand at a career as a reporter. While the word didn’t quite exist yet, he was very much in the school of gonzo journalism, writing from a distinctly non-objective perspective, diving right into his stories. And these were often stories of police brutality, civil rights struggle, and class oppression. He spent time in and out of jail cells, writing all the while. Unfortunately, his editors were neither enamored with his pointedly political takes, nor fans of his writing style.

Indeed, when Eduardo was fired from his last reporting job, his editor complained that “you can’t keep sticking your nose into the story! And you’re writing – it’s too damn lyrical!” Meant as a harsh critique, instead these words would one day become the title of Curtis’s biography (Too Damn Lyrical), and would push Curtis into his next career move…

A Star on the Rise

While Eduardo had failed to make a career out of journalism, he had found that he loved writing. He kept on jotting down notes and turns-of-phrase, and his former editor’s words helped plant the seed that he could set these musings to music.

After all, throughout Eduardo’s life, song had been a constant companion, perhaps the only constant. As a child, Eduardo sang along with his mother’s songs - a mix of older Spanish ones passed down, and more recent radio favorites - to help put his siblings to bed. He picked up rhyming taunts as a teenage delinquent. His Merchant Marine shipmates sang all manner of songs, as has been the tradition of sailors since time immemorial. And as a logger, he’d learned his share of campfire songs, to help occupy the dark and lonely nights in the depths of the woods.

During this time, Eduardo had been gifted a guitar by a fellow lumberjack, “Big Tom”. He’d toyed with it on and off while he worked as a reporter, but once he was out of work, he devoted his days to music.

It was love at first strum. His attention undivided for once in his life, Eduardo found in music a way to express feelings and memories that had long swirled around his head, desperate for an outlet. He wrote songs about the places and people he’d seen – the ones he’d left behind and the ones he hoped to see again. He wrote songs out of the stories he’d heard on his journeys, tall tales and tragedies and farces. Eduardo’s songs could be funny, they could be heartbreaking, they could be righteously angry and they could be riotously joyful.

He was good. Real good. But Eduardo also knew he needed to learn, like he always had, at the feet of experts. So, Curtis traveled East, to the center of the folk scene at the time – New York City. On the way, he played at any place that would have him. He wasn’t quite an overnight hit, but he began to build a following. Not just for his music, but for his tendency to get in scraps - taking on strikebreakers, the Klan, and weirder foes - along the away. He sang about the little guy, and he was willing to back up words with action.

Somewhere along this grand journey, he picked up his other name: “the Troubadour,” a roving musician and a knight-errant, all in one.

By the time he set foot in Greenwich Village, Eduardo’s reputation preceded him. He swiftly made the acquaintance of a number of other famous names in the folk world, names like Dylan and Baez, Mitchell and Barrows, Palter and Shubb.

Yet the most consequential name, by far, would be Garner – Roger Garner. An absolute character right up there with any of the stars he dealt with, “Jolly Roger” Garner was a tireless promoter and manager. A big man prone to belly laughs, Cuban cigars, and wearing an eyepatch for his “condition” (what this “condition” was he never clarified, and sometimes he switched which eye he wore it on), Garner was an odd sight alongside his folk singer clients. But his success was unquestionable. Garner’s guidance took the Troubadour from a talented amateur to an absolute superstar, far beyond just the folk fandom.

Over the next decade, Eduardo Curtis found himself a millionaire, a celebrity, and an icon. He would also become a married man, and soon after a divorced one (the first of several failed marriages).

Curtis began to feel like his fame was as much a trap as it was a blessing. He wanted to reconnect with his fans, the common men and women who couldn’t afford his spiraling ticket prices at major venues. So, in 1975 he began his Four Winds Flying Circus tour, a multi-city trip spanning America and Canada. And right in the middle would be – at Jolly Roger’s insistence, dollar signs in his eyes – a fateful homecoming to Chicago…

The Bands of the Battalion

What else is there to say? What should have been just one (emotionally significant) stop on a long tour became the catalyst for the formation of the legendary Battalion.

The stuff about reconnecting with the common folk wasn’t just a publicity line for the Flying Circus tour. When Curtis heard people had started disappearing, seemingly swallowed up by the ground, he did some digging (mostly metaphorically, but also a little literally). He hadn’t cracked the case by showtime, but apparently the villain responsible thought he was getting too close for comfort. So, one moment Curtis was onstage, playing the fan favorite “Bread and Salt”, and the next some lunatic calling himself the Tyrant was leading a legion of hypnotized soldiers to attack the crowd. And then a lizard in a trenchcoat leapt into the fray, and some kind of walking statue, and then a flying woman. And then some stern looking woman was onstage, altering his equipment and telling him what frequency to play to counteract the “mind control waves” and…

It was a lot. All of a sudden the Troubadour was a “superhero,” part of a “team.” The tour was suspended, and Curtis found himself dealing with crisis after crisis. And everyone kept quoting that silly one-off line he’d shouted in the midst of all the chaos: “Burn bright, Battalion!” There was hardly any time for his actual music! Not that his manager minded. Jolly Roger loved the attention, becoming the whole team’s “manager” for a time, and kept pushing them to do endorsements, public appearances, and more.

The only bright side was that, all these years later, older, and wiser, Eduardo was able to reconnect with his family. He’d always made a point to send money back to support his mother and siblings, long before he’d become wealthy. Now, he came to know them after practically two decades of only the occasional letter or phone call. He also discovered that his father’s death had not been an accident, but arson gone out-of-control, and brought the surviving perpetrators to justice.

After all, a man like the Troubadour couldn’t help but find trouble. With his guitar and other equipment modified into supertech gear by his teammate Miss Terrific, he got into a variety of battles and investigations. Most famously, he unmasked the scheme of “Doctor” Alan Cody, who claimed to have invented a miracle pill that granted superpowers, who became known as the Charlatan of Chicago.

Yet heroics like these were always something of a hobby for Eduardo, not his true passion. So he made the decision to resign from the Battalion after their first year. Living atop a skyscraper with reptile-gods, stellar champions, metal men, and super-scientists was too much for a man of mere flesh and blood. The Battalion refused to officially comment on the split, and rumors have long run rampant. The most intriguing one says that whatever his teammates’ feelings, Curtis bore them no ill-will, and his parting gift was a personal song recorded for each, no other copies made, never to be performed elsewhere, emphasizing what he saw as their best traits. Such a story has never been substantiated, of course.

If audiences expected post-Battalion Eduardo to pick right up where he left off, however, they would be disappointed. He began to incorporate electric instrumentation into his work, experimenting with the devices Miss Terrific had gifted him. His songs evolved beyond folk, incorporating elements of rock, psychedelia, and country, among others. As always, some fans cried foul but he gained others, and was respected for his commitment to an evolving sound, rather than staying stuck in the past. He also had his first international tours, on one of which he met another (eventually ex-)wife.

Things looked bright for the Troubadour (though he’d all but abandoned that name), until he was suddenly faced with evidence that Jolly Roger… had killed someone…

Songs to Die For

Among the many skills Eduardo Curtis picked up during his myriad journeys, he’d become a skilled amateur detective. Even as a cub reporter he’d had a natural nose for news, and he knew how to follow clues.

In 1987, on a tour, Eduardo returned to the hotel one night and came to visit Jolly Roger in his room. Something seemed off – about the room, about his manager’s demeanor, about the scent in the air. Feigning ignorance, Eduardo started investigating.

Putting pieces together over one long night, Eduardo realized that Roger Garner had murdered a hotel maid in his room, the motive unclear but likely unsavory, and inconsequential to the fact that a woman was dead.

Shocked, appalled, and betrayed, Curtis confronted Garner. Jolly Roger, true to form, laughed in his face. Rather than deny it, he admitted to the crime. What did it matter? She was one of the “little people,” and this was the “cost of doing business.” As far as Jolly Roger was concerned, he was untouchable.

“Men like you and I, we’re bigger than them. You know how many of your ‘friends’ in the music world have skeletons like this in their closet? Have done worse?”

Curtis tried to protest, and Jolly Roger played his trump card. Even if the Troubadour wanted to expose him, Roger had been managing the finances for so long that everything was wrapped up under him, under his control. A sort of “dead man’s switch” - if Curtis took action against him, everything would go – not just the money, but the rights to his own music. For all his many skills and interests, Curtis had never been much of a lawyer, Roger taunted.

Eduardo left the room, wondering how on Earth he had so badly misjudged the man he thought his friend. But it turned out Jolly Roger had also misjudged the Troubadour.

At the concert the next day, as his set was about to begin, Curtis told a packed arena that he had “something new” to show them. And he played, for the entire crowd to hear, the recording he’d secretly made of Roger’s taunting confession the night before.

Jolly Roger was arrested that same hour. And true to his word, Curtis lost everything. The media was split between sympathy, and suspicion that Curtis must have known or been complicit. This spiked as after Roger Garner’s trial and conviction, Eduardo simply dropped off the face of the Earth…

Whatever Happened to Eduardo Curtis?

What was first suspected to be a sabbatical stretched to be one of the most talked about mysteries in music. The Troubadour didn’t take part in the Clash of ‘89, and his surviving Battalion colleagues had no more idea where he was than anyone else. His payments to his family stopped with the collapse of his wealth, but they’d invested what he’d already contributed well and were provided for.

There was a false alarm when he seemingly reappeared in the mid-90s, but this was swiftly proven to be a vengeful Alan Cody impersonating the Troubadour – the Charlatan of Chicago trying to get one over Curtis one last time.

Rumors abounded, that he’d died, or adopted a new identity (whether as a musician or a superhero), and he was spotted everywhere, from Chicago to Los Angeles to London to Koalkata to Timbuktu. He was solemnly sworn to be in the company of Bigfoot, or little green men on UFOs, or the Sidewinders, the martial arts nomads.

The controversy eventually faded away, and he was reevaluated and re-appreciated as a songwriter and influence. Among many other honors, he was inducted, posthumously, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the late 90s, the honor presented by members of the Dead Mutants, who performed some of his greatest hits.

Whatever happened to Eduardo Curtis? Nobody really knows.

But in a small corner of Chicago, for the last twenty or so years an older man named “Tom Kurz” has run a small butcher’s shop and deli, sometimes playing the guitar at local bars on weekends…

Possible Plot Seeds & Campaign Uses
  • Eduardo Curtis was a major celebrity before, during, and after his time in the Battalion. A concert of his is a perfect gathering place (especially for teen hero PCs). The PCs could be trying to get to the concert on time, or could be present when a villain attacks or tries to rob the place or do something more subtle. The Troubadour will help, but he’s only human (admittedly with some tricks up his sleeve), so the PCs will have to handle most of the work. But afterwards maybe they get invited on stage to perform with Curtis!
  • Officially, Eduardo had no children. But he was married and divorced several times, and may have had other flings. His child could be a good source of a legacy Troubadour, or a different hero (or villain) who grew up wealthy thanks to their mother’s career (as Curtis had no fortune to leave them in the end). Such a character may want to discover what happened to Curtis after he disappeared. This could be an ongoing journey, a campaign backbone. Maybe all the PCs are half-siblings, children of Curtis joining together to look for their dad! (And play some music along the way?)
  • Alternatively, a present day hero based in, or at least from, Chicago, might meet “Tom Kurz” and become a sort of apprentice. Curtis is an excellent mentor for a badass normal hero, able to teach them all sorts of unexpected skills (likely in a “wax on, wax off” style with butcher shop chores). But he was burnt badly by Jolly Roger’s betrayal, and it will be hard to win over his trust. A hero who does will also be gifted with the Troubadour’s legendary guitar, capable of supersonic power feats thanks to its modifications. They’ll also become an instant celebrity, and will be hounded by people who hope they know what became of Curtis.
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Commander Titan
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Re: Ember Point (Latest Update - The Troubadour)

Post by Commander Titan »

Bonus Content #2: The Top Ten Troubadour Songs (2022 survey)

#10 - “I’ve Seen the World (And Let Me Tell You…)” - An early song, and his first hit. Curtis wrote this when he was young and would be embarrassed by how cocky and worldly his younger self thought he was. Still a perennial favorite

#9 - “A Swim a Pond in the Rain” - The song that Curtis actually wrote while on drugs. Strong elements of psychedelic rock. Sort of an “Alice in Wonderland tale in musical form,” with the singer shrinking to be smaller than a raindrop, and growing to larger than an ocean (the “pond”).

#8 - “Mad Man on the Mountain” - A jaunty retelling, with suitable embellishment, of the exploits of “Mad-Eyed” Arminio Carson, early settler of Ember Point. Naturally, a favorite in that city, but sometimes critiqued for lacking some of the nuance of other Curtis songs. Beloved by academic folklorists for weaving together pretty much every Carson story or fact known at the time, while still being catchy.

#7 - “The Bigger Fish, the Earlier Bird” - A satirical song, sarcastically extolling the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. Except there’s always a bigger fish, an earlier bird, someone who started with more resources than you. Of course, satire often flies over people’s heads, and it has been used unironically at corporate events and political rallies.

#6 - “The Day Robert Palins Murdered Me” - A murder ballad, based on a real case, but mostly known for its vivid (if…esoteric) imagery of the underworld the singer winds up in after their murder. Popular for sampling by rappers, phonk artists, and electronica DJs. Some theorize it to have been written on drugs, but that’s not the case (see “A Swim in a Pond in the Rain”). The inspiration for the visuals actually came from a Battalion adventure…

#5 - “No Maps Where I’m Goin’” - Written right before or after the Troubadour left the Battalion, though it reflects embarking on unknown journeys more generally. Sometimes seen as a response to his earlier self’s arrogance in “I’ve Seen the World.” Famously played by astronauts aboard the first Space Shuttle missions as a sort of unofficial theme song. sometimes interpreted as a song about fatherhood (the fact that Curtis had known children doesn’t dissuade these theorists).

#4 - “Bread and Salt” - A song about fellowship and friendship, especially with strangers. Not originally written as a union anthem, as it was meant to be about all forms of “neighborliness” and community support / unity, but adopted by unions with Curtis’s blessing as a picket line song.

#3 - “What the Thunder Said” - Written during the re-heightened Cold War tensions of the 80s, the “thunder” and the “storm” more generally are usually interpreted as a nuclear apocalypse, itself so horrified at its existence to beg the past not to unleash it. Some view it as a little overwrought as a result. Many grant it a pass for nostalgia reasons - it was the last major hit Curtis had before his disappearance.

#2 - “Bitter Breath” - Often considered to be commentary on one or more of his failed marriages, this is a song about two alcoholics in a rocky, mutually abusive relationship, with “bitter breath” both referring to their drinking and their nasty words for one another. All of his ex-wives denied being the basis for the song, truthfully - it was actually written based on a newspaper article Curtis read, about an alleged murder-suicide. The song ends more ambiguously.

#1 - “It’s Just Smoke, Pa” - A heartbreaking song about Curtis’s father’s death, and widely agreed to have been his favorite. Famously, after the Troubadour discovered his father’s death was a murder, and brought the perpetrators to justice, he added a more triumphant final verse, and sometimes in live shows would sing out the names of the murderers, with a strong “fuck you” attitude.
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