The Myth of The Manipulator -- A Villain RPG Story




This is a story of an old pen & paper RPG game I was in years ago. This forum seems like the most likely place to post it. It's a very long tale.

Many years ago I had a group of friends who regularly participated in a Superhero-based pen & paper RPG. This was back when the only published games of this sort were, I believe, Champions (neat system but incredibly complex -- could take hours to design characters, very hard on the GM who is designing full missions) and Villains & Vigilantes (technically not a game about super heroes). Thus my friend had developed his own Superhero RPG (which he simply called "Superheroes") that was flexible enough to allow many types of characters, but which allowed you to roll up a character in under 10 minutes (much like the old AD&D game in that respect). Since there was always someone new dropping by to join a game session, this was a very useful feature.

Anyway, although my friend's Superhero campaign was wildly popular, people always want to play Villains too. He resisted at first, but eventually he allowed a few players to develop villains in the same universe and ran solo games just for them, which often influenced what our hero groups had to deal with. Later he opened it up for everyone to create a villain and would have special "villain only" game sessions. The only problem is that villains rarely cooperate -- so running a game session for up to a dozen scheming villains was quite a challenge.

When I first created my own villain (his name was Shadowstorm if I remember correctly -- kinda lame, I know) I thought long and hard about how I could gain enough power to take over the world without attracting the attention of heroes and authorities before I was ready to strike. What I decided upon was to create a cult. My base was a compound in South Africa, and the followers of my cult were trained at the base so that they could travel the world begging for money (which was sent back to my headquarters) and could seek converts to my nature-based religion. Oh, and while they were being trained at my base in the ways of my faith, they were also being trained to be experts in combat. I was building an army, after all. ^_^

But the point was, I wasn't doing anything illegal. Just teaching my followers and consolidating power. I had no past history as a villain, so what reason did a hero have to come after me?

The only potential flaw in this plan was that I wound up allying with another player super villain. He, of course, had been involved in some shady activities, but he was a seriously paranoid villain who covered his tracks multiple times over. As far as i could tell, nobody could prove anything against him, or knew half of the stuff he'd really been involved in.

Having such a paranoid (and also quite brilliant, in his own way) partner had its advantages. For one, he built multiple secret backup bases around the globe. If things went horribly wrong, we had places to disappear to. I knew of at least two of these, although I'm quite sure he had more. He was far too paranoid to trust even his closest partner. His paranoia went so far that he had clones of my and his characters waiting in these hidden bases, with a system that could upload our memories to them so that, even if we were killed, we would not be defeated.

The GM was concerned that my plan to build an army before I actually committed any crimes stood a very good chance of succeeding, so he set up yet another player villain to be a counterbalance to mine. This particular plan of his, however, failed. The other player villain was a member of the mers, the people that dwelled on the ocean floor. His entire base of operations was below the sea. His plans extended to conquering the people below the waves, while my plans were centered on conquering only the people on land. We soon came to a mutual understanding that we had no reason to oppose each other. ^_^

Anyway, all of this is pretty much background information to one of our biggest villain story arcs. This arc involved an item of immense power that could grant just about whatever the possessor wished. Some powerful other-worldly entities had placed it up for grabs, essentially. Every villain wanted it. For me and my two allies, however, this was largely an annoyance -- we had our plans all laid out, and didn't need a magic maguffin to grant us anything. What we did need was to prevent any other villain from getting their hands on it. That would, naturally, ruin everything we'd worked for.

At one point in this series of adventures, the maguffin was shattered into multiple pieces, and one piece was given to each of the major players. Possession of a piece of the maguffin allowed you to sense where the others were. Obviously, the one who collected them all -- most likely by killing off the other villains in the process -- would win the jackpot.

There was one player villain that my allies and I feared above all others -- the one villain that everyone feared. I don't remember his actual name anymore, so we'll just call him The Manipulator. He was one of the oldest of the player villains, with a long history of doing things. Doing what, you ask? Well, that's the thing. He had a million aliases and a million plots. He was a bit like our game world's version of Nemesis -- people suspected he was behind just about every weird plot they heard about. It was suspected that he'd set up the current President of the United States, for example, although nobody could figure out how or could prove anything. He was, we all knew, the one guy who probably could kill us all off and claim this magical gemstone thing.

My two allies and I made his immediate death our #1 goal. We really didn't think we could pull it off, but not doing it wasn't an option. Imagine, if you will, Arachnos being forced to team with, I dunno, Vanessa DeVore and Countess Crey in order to take down Nemesis. I don't want to get into any discussions about Nemesis here, but you get the idea -- nobody was sure that this Manipulator really could be killed, but in a kill or be killed game, you had to focus on him immediately.

Because of the crystals, locating other villains wasn't as hard as it might normally be. We quickly figured out where The Manipulator was, went there, teleported in, and immediately hit him with everything we had.

And... it was easy. Far too easy, we thought at first. Then we began to realize that The Manipulator wasn't actually a villain with enormous, godlike power -- he was just a very, very, very smart man. But he was just a man -- no match for our combined onslaught in a fight he wasn't prepared for. His legend made him seem larger than life, but once several villains of sufficient power tried to take him down (something nobody had dared contemplate before), it proved to not be that difficult after all.

We quickly headed back to the compound in South Africa. My allies and I wanted no part of the hunt to gather all of the maguffin crystals, and once we'd eliminated what we perceived as far and away our biggest threat, we felt that we should hunker down and wait for the whole thing to blow over. If anyone else wanted to take us out, they were going to have to do it on our turf.

That, unfortunately, is exactly how it started to play out. It hadn't occurred to us, but since everyone could sense where the other crystals were, and there were three of them concentrated in a small area in South Africa, that was naturally where every other villain headed. This freaked me out at first -- why were they all coming after me, all at once? But then it made sense. And it ultimately didn't matter -- We had to face the others eventually, and again, doing so on our own turf gave us the advantage.

(As a complete aside, much of this part of the game session was conducted entirely in secret notes passed to and from the GM, since nobody wanted anyone else to know what they were doing. This is with a player base of, I don't remember exactly, but at least 10-12 people -- very large game sessions, very stressful on the GM, but much fun for the players. One of the more simple and straightforward villains, who obviously was allied with no one and had no idea what anyone else was up to, got bored with all the note passing, and decided on a lark to write his own note to the GM. He made a really odd list of things he was going to go out and buy at the local store -- it included a brassiere, a loaf of muenster cheese, electrical wiring, explosives, and a bottle opener. The GM was puzzled by this, but said it was fine but he better have a reason he was doing this. The player, taking the GM at his word, panicked, then came up with an elaborate bomb trap that managed to incorporate every single item on his list, although admittedly the cheese served no purpose other than having the wiring pass through it, and the bottle opener was used only to pop open a beer and celebrate once the trap was sprung. Later in the game session, someone did indeed accidentally spring this trap. ^_^ We only heard the full story behind this after the whole game session was over, of course!)

Anyway I don't remember exactly how the whole adventure ended, other than the otherworldly entities that were offering us unlimited power eventually reneged on the deal. I don't remember exactly, I think it was some sort of morality experiment on their part, or maybe some "good" entities from the same race of beings stepped in and halted everything. It didn't really matter, since getting rid of the stupid object was the best solution for me and my two allies.

However, before we reached that point, there was a lot of intense negotiations and backstabbing and the like going on. And something very odd began to take place:

1) Virtually nobody believed that The Manipulator was really dead. You have to understand that, at this point, the players themselves didn't know the truth, and even the three of us that had pulled it off were kind of wondering if he'd somehow given us the slip. His legend was, like I said, very much like that of Nemesis. Just because you've killed Nemesis doesn't mean he's dead, does it? Heck, even my closest partner had backup plans for us to stay alive even if we died. Why not The Manipulator as well?

2) Another villain, while prowling about one of The Manipulator's secret bases (everyone wanted to try and confirm the rumor of his death for themselves) happened upon a set of secret files that laid out many (if not all) of The Manipulator's many secret aliases and information on them. This was quite an eye opener -- there were well-known characters that absolutely nobody had ever realized were actually The Manipulator. One or two of them were even known female villains.

As it turned out, the person discovering these files was a master of disguise himself, and having decided on his own that The Manipulator was truly dead, he instantly appropriated these personas for his own.

What this meant, however, is that some people that were known (among certain villains at least) to be The Manipulator were seen alive after his supposed death. This only fueled the speculation among many that he wasn't, in fact, dead.

And then, just like Nemesis, he reappeared. Turns out he wasn't ever dead after all. Or was he?

Until the entire story arc was completed and secrets could be revealed, only the GM and the player knew for sure.

As it turned out, with so many people in possession of shards of a magical wish-granting item, all gathered in the same area (all under the same roof right near the end -- all cordial guests of my villain Shadowstorm and his two allies, of course, while we all plotted each other's demise), and nearly all of whom were thinking and worrying about The Manipulator and firmly of the belief that he was still alive and plotting to kill us all -- the GM decided that there was a chance that our group belief might cause the magical maguffin stone to interpret this as a wish and cause it to come true.

Which it did. The GM determined the percentage chance, rolled, and magically, The Manipulator was alive again.

I don't know if this makes good reading, but it was one of the most intense string of gaming sessions I was ever involved in. With so many different people, each with their own private agenda, the GM was worn out. He never ran another villain arc that large again. But for me, the best part was realizing how vast The Manipulator's legend was, and how little of it was based on his actual character's abilities. The villain himself had rather modest powers, but he was a master of disguise and had plots ranging far and wide. He really had been the one to decide who had become the US President in our game (which, btw, in true Magneto fashion he had done in order to prevent another candidate from office who was campaigning against the super-powered). Ultimately The Manipulator had no allies, no vast network of operatives, nobody he trusted to be close to him, and no overwhelming super powers. On the face of it he was one of the weakest of all of our player villains. But with only his mind he'd become not only the most feared villain in the world, he even survived his own death.

And, of course, after that he was feared all the more. ^_^

my lil RWZ Challenge vid




"If I had Force powers, vacuum or not my cape/clothes/hair would always be blowing in the Dramatic Wind." - Tenzhi





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Devious just about summed it up. ^_^



The Manipulator, that magnificent bastid .
A man who could put Ethan Hunt and James Bond to shame.