Designer's Notes: GURPS Villains
Cover by Richard Pace
"I've got a story ain't got no moral,
Let the bad guy win every once in a while."
-- Billy Preston, "Will It Go Round"
Evil is a tricky topic, even for the most talented of writers. Just ask John Milton. He set out in Paradise Lost to make Satan the villain of the piece. In the first three books of that daunting work, he shows how the fallen Morningstar mistakes his former employer for a mundane ruler, then declares war on Him. Of course Satan blows it, from a theological perspective, the moment he tries to limit what God is (you can't limit the illimitable), but Old Scratch, with his mammoth ego, never quite catches on that he is warring against a force that is beyond war.
Fast-forward a few centuries and you'll find college students everywhere penning term papers about Satan's character in Paradise Lost. But these budding exegetes don't identify him as a villain. In fact, there's a sizeable population of students and scholars alike who claim that Satan wasn't the bad guy of Paradise Lost at all. He was the prototypical Romantic rebel, the first to flip a big, red, claw-tipped bird to the forces of Authority.
No doubt stodgy old Milton would find these plaudits for his villain a bit disconcerting, especially if he hadn't intended to make his bad guy so attractive. But then the fictional agents of Evil often come across as more compelling than their Good-aligned counterparts. They are, after all, free to follow the demands of their egos rather than a moral code that distinguishes between the acceptable and the unacceptable. This makes them unpredictable and the prime source of conflict for stories of all sorts.
Little wonder, then, that a book of bad guys finally found a place on the GURPS release schedule. The 50-plus villains presented in this collection are both springboards for myriad nights of gaming and an entertaining read in and of themselves. They represent threats from a large spectrum of settings, from Celtic Myth to Space, Fantasy to Black Ops, and an equally wide variety of archetypes. That's how the book is organized, into eight villainous archetypes: sneaks and weasels; monomaniacs; reasonable madmen; forces of chaos; noble thieves and ignoble cops; Jekyll & Hydes; masterminds; and groups.
Of course slotting types of evil behavior into such neat little compartments is a bit like Milton's Satan trying to figure out exactly what sort of plate armor God would wear in a battle, but it's necessary for organizing a book like this. It's a bit comforting, too. If you can slap a simple clinical label onto a behavior you see as threatening or disturbing, you're just a bit more at ease writing about it. (The monster you see isn't nearly as frightening as the one you can't, as the Blair Witch filmmakers proved so profitably last summer.) And there is an atmosphere of unease inherent in writing about characters that murder, torture, or generally mistreat those around them.
The prevalence of humor in depictions of the villainous and the horrific is yet another way for writers (and readers) to confront evil. GURPS Villains does have its share of humorous bad guys, but the laughter they elicit often covers an uncomfortable gritting of teeth. The concept of a physician who conducts often-lethal experiments on his patients is a bit easier to deal with if that doctor happens to be a rabbit. (Cue the Monty Python accent: "Just look at the bones!")
The characters in GURPS Villains were penned by writers from around the globe -- the United States, England, Australia, Norway, Brazil, Croatia, and Denmark. Oddly enough, the ne'er-do-wells submitted by these far-flung designers often demonstrate the pervasiveness of certain villain stereotypes. Criminal masterminds, for example, tend to be identifiably ethnic. The characters submitted as Jekyll & Hydes, villains that seem fair but are actually monstrous, were mostly women -- even those submitted by female authors.
I'll leave it up to the sociologists and cultural critics amongst you to hammer out an explanation as to why those stereotypes linger. For the purposes of a GURPS supplement, however, it's most important to note that the characters submitted by our globe-spanning "Agents of Infamy" make for great gaming. There is, I hope, something in the book to whet most appetites for mayhem. Our villains are a flexible lot, too. Many of their write-ups offer variation notes, which should allow GMs to transport the character from his base setting to a different campaign, as well as detailed adventure seeds for working the bad guy into an existing storyline. And every entry is, at base, the embodiment of a great idea.
The Group below, which was excluded from the printed book only because of their creator's commitments elsewhere, is a fine example of a clever idea manifested in a form that could be translated to any setting with little effort.
The Exploding Hunchbacks
Base Setting: Victorian/Steampunk
Arturo Vatteroni (185 points)
Age 27; 5' 10"; 180 lbs.; a handsome young Italian with blue eyes and black, wavy hair.
ST 11 , DX 15 , IQ 10 , HT 11 
Basic Speed 6, Move 5
Dodge 5, Parry 10 (Brawling)
Advantages: Absolute Direction ; Acute Hearing +1 ; Ally Group (Pacifist sympathizers, medium-sized group, 12-) ; Ambidextrous ; Collected ; Contacts (Crime reporter, skill 15, available 12-, completely reliable) ; Contacts (Whitehall bureaucrat, skill 15, available 12-, usually reliable) ; Double Jointed ; High Technology (+1 TL) ; Night Vision .
Disadvantages: Cannot Kill [-15]; Distractable [-1]; Impulsiveness [-10]; Nosy [-1]; Secret (Criminal activity) [-20]; Sense of Duty (To Hunchbacks) [-10]; Vow (To uphold Doctor Lump's ideals while creating a Sky City) [-10].
Quirks: Hates soup and voices that opinion often; Peeks in windows he passes; Mouth breather; Unruly hair. [-4]
Skills: Acrobatics-17^ ; Airshipman/TL6 (Balloon Vessels)-10 ; Blackjack-18^ ; Brawling-15^ ; Climbing-19**^ ; Escape-19**^ ; First Aid/TL5-10 ; Lasso-16^ ; Lockpicking/TL5-10 ; Navigation/TL5-13* ; Stealth-15^ ; Swimming-15^ ; Throwing-15^ ; Wrestling-14^ .
* Includes +3 for Absolute Direction.
** Includes +3 for Double Jointed.
^ Skill at -2 when wearing balloon suit.
Languages: Italian (Native) 12 ; English 10 .
Maneuvers: Aerial Acrobatics 15^ .
Equipment: Full Hunchback suit and hat; 3/8 rope, 20 yards; anchor grapnel; first aid kit; mallet; four pitons; and knife. (In full suit, Arturo carries around 40 lbs. of equipment, and suffers Light Encumbrance.)
Arturo "Arty" Vatteroni grew up traveling the dusty back roads of southern Europe with his circus family, performing for poor peasants, eating thin soup, and being hounded by police. For him, life with the Aeronauts (he refuses to adopt the name given the gang by the press) is a fabulous adventure full of thrills and comradeship. He believes they can achieve all their goals and live like kings in the sky, occasionally swooping down to grab whatever they desire (from those who deserve to be robbed, of course). He hopes someone will be able to create a lighter balloon suit, as he finds its weight almost unbearable. He is secretly awed by sprawling, cosmopolitan London, and finds it hard not to be distracted by its sites.
"They were hunchbacks, every man-jack of 'em. They had on thick brown overcoats and bowler hats jammed down to their eyes. Seeing me, they muttered frantically to each other before scurrying off with a waddling gait, puffing and wheezing. I easily caught one and laid my hand on his shoulder, informing him of his arrest. Face red and dripping with sweat, he turned and smiled a little smile. Then he exploded. I was thrown flat by the blast, but miraculously not injured at all. All we recovered of the blackguard were a few tattered pieces of his overcoat."
-- Constable Peter Jacobs, London, 1886
Doctor Ekhart Lump was already a noted scientist and pacifist with several patents to his name when he came to England in 1885, seeking financial backing to create and manufacture a new lighter-than-air gas. His boyish enthusiasm, incredible charisma, and impressive demonstrations convinced a consortium of British financiers to back his latest project. Spending their money quickly and lavishly, Lump soon had his new gas, which he proudly named Lumpium.
What the good doctor had failed to inform his backers was that he had no intention of allowing his work to be used in the transport of coal or, worse still, to power airships intended for war. No, the manufacture of Lumpium was the final step in a larger project toward which all of Lump's patents had been but stepping stones: the construction of a utopian sky city.
With his backers hounding him for results or at least reports, Doctor Lump set about recruiting men capable of constructing his city, men who could work under the dangerous and daunting conditions the job would require. He met with trapeze artists and acrobats from all over Europe, as well as amateur hot air balloonists and cat burglars. Those who shared pacifist philosophy were hired immediately. He converted a few others to his cause through his immense charisma. Lump had only recruited about 25 men when the backers finally lost patience and ended his funding. They also started legal proceedings to take control of all of the doctor's patents, something their agreement, which Lump obviously hadn't read carefully enough, paved the way for them to do.
Lump saved the backers the trouble of a lengthy court battle by dying shortly after his project had been terminated. The men he had recruited, however, decided not to let his dream die with him.
Before the financiers could find all of Lump's laboratories or confiscate his equipment, the doctor's recruits fitted a small steamer with huge balloons filled with Lumpium and reworked its propellers into ungainly aerial screws. They named the airship Himmelstadt, "Sky City," and took to the clouds with enough hardware to generate Lumpium. They also took plans for several inventions Doctor Lump had not shared with the world. Among the blueprints and drawings were detailed instructions for constructing a personal flying device, a one-man balloon suit. Before long, the entire crew of the Himmelstadt had been outfitted with these balloons and a few other special inventions. The crew dubbed themselves the Aeronauts, though the press would soon label the group with a less romantic name: the Exploding Hunchbacks.
Properly outfitted, the acrobats and balloonists began conducting raids to regain Lump's equipment and exact additional funds from the financiers who, to their minds, killed their founding genius. Striking only at night, the crew descended from balloon-borne lifeboats mounted with motorized winches. After achieving their objective, they returned to the sky via these winches or their own balloons (in which case they signaled with flares for lifeboats to collect them).
The Exploding Hunchbacks -- the name given to these raiders by the London press -- is a misnomer. When on the ground, the raiders conceal their deflated balloon suits under heavy coats, which give them the appearance of hunchbacks. If cornered, a gang member will deploy his hidden balloon by pulling a cord. This releases the ingredients for the Lumpium gas, which then fills the balloon and propels him upward at great speed. The sound of the "explosion" is the balloon expanding with violent force. It lifts its user so swiftly that a hapless witnesses would believe the man has exploded, particularly since the concealing overcoat is often left shredded. To further this illusion, some of the Hunchbacks carry flash powder. A few jokers even carry hunks of raw meat, which are certain to distract any by-standers to an escape.
The Hunchbacks are dedicated to fulfilling Doctor Lump's dream: the creation of pacifist human cities in the stratosphere. They steal whatever they need to further this goal and to keep the Himmelstadt operating. Their main targets are the financiers who backed Lump's final experiments, though their secondary victims might come from the military or those industries that benefit directly from warfare.
The Hunchbacks will not kill and will not harm innocents, though they find no problem in kidnapping, blackmailing, or outright thievery, so long as the victims meet under their definition of "deserving."
The Himmelstadt is well-stocked with necessities, as well as scientific devices of all sorts. Police suspect that the Hunchbacks have a hideout on the ground somewhere, though this has yet to be discovered. The group undoubtedly benefits from mid-level contacts in the press and perhaps even the government, who tip off the raiders to plans for their capture; these contacts share the gang's pacifist ideals.
The Hunchbacks' main advantage is the equipment left to them by Doctor Lump, which earns them a High Technology advantage (+1 TL).
The Balloon Suit: Each Hunchback wears the "balloon suit" made up of a stiff leather vest with straps running between the legs. Upon this is mounted the "hump," a tightly packed rubber balloon fitted to two small gas flasks worn at the lower back. By pulling a concealed cord, the Hunchback opens a valve that mixes the various chemicals to create Lumpium gas. This inflates the balloon with a tremendous slap of unfurling canvas, ripping his coat apart.
The balloon suit covers locations 9-10 and 17-18. It has PD 3 and DR 3. The suit, gas tanks, and uninflated balloon weigh a total of 28 lbs. On top of its weight, the ungainly suit gives a -2 modifier to all physical skills.
Attacks from the back that strike location 10 will hit the gas flasks (PD 2, DR 2). Penetration releases the gas, which makes everyone within five yards speak in a high-pitched voice for the next 10 minutes. A clever adversary may grab the valve topping the flasks, (providing he knows about it) with a successful Grapple, and in his next turn, inflate the balloon. This can be especially effective when battling a Hunchback indoors and beneath trees or balconies, as he will likely be trapped when his balloon inflates.
Anyone directly behind the Hunchback or trying to grapple him when the cord is pulled is subject to a forceful slam (ST 18) from the deploying balloon. If the victim avoids knockback, he can maintain a hold on the Hunchback. This, however, may be a very bad idea. The Hunchbacks will not knowingly kill anyone, but they are not above dropping an adversary from a great enough height to make him regret the encounter.
The Hat: Each Hunchback also wears a leather-reinforced bowler (loc. 3-4, PD 2, DR 2, weight 3 lbs.). The hat is secured with a strap and conceals a magnesium flare and dark fold-down goggles. By pulling a ring hidden in the brim, the Hunchback releases the flare and deploys the goggles, which cover his eyes as the magnesium flare lights. The flare burns brightly for five minutes, before petering out.
The flare is normally used to signal an aerial pick-up by a lifeboat, but the Hunchbacks have found that it can temporarily blind or discomfort attackers as per the effects of the Flash spell (p. B163), buying the Hunchback time to run or deploy his balloon. A Hunchback will not use his flare in this fashion lightly; since mission members carry no spares, he can expect to spend an uncomfortable night high in the sky, blowing his whistle to attract the collection lifeboat.
Other equipment: For missions, Hunchbacks wear boots with retractable claws (+1 to climb stone surfaces) and sport altimeters disguised as fob watches. They also carry a whistle, a belt winch, and a rope coiled around the waist with a collapsible grapnel anchor. Two members of each team also carry lockpicks, crowbars, and slings for combined lifting of strongboxes or kidnap victims.
The crew of the Himmelstadt consists of between 20 and 30 members at any one time. All are trained acrobats and burglars. The captaincy rotates, with each crewman serving a week-long term. Each five-man mission team is headed by a "bosun." As with the captaincy, this position rotates between off-ship assignments.
A loosely organized group of between 10 to 15 pacifist sympathizers provide land-based support for the Hunchbacks. In times of crisis they offer hideouts throughout London. More typically, they buy supplies and scout targets for raids. A few members of this Ally Group are relatives of men serving aboard the Himmelstadt; others simply share Lump's utopian vision.
The Himmelstadt spends the days floating, disguised, in a lake remote from London. Under cover of darkness (and often fog or low clouds, as well), the ship lifts off and flies toward the city. Its four lifeboats, fitted with small aerial screws and powerful winches, deliver the Hunchbacks to the ground via ropes and later collect them after the mission has been completed. White wicker shields can be erected around the ship to create an admittedly unconvincing artificial cloud, though her crew prefers real clouds or fog to hide their movements.
Aware that their cumbersome equipment makes them vulnerable, the raiding parties make every effort to achieve surprise and create chaotic diversions. The Hunchbacks themselves will enter an area as stealthily as possible. To cover their movements, they rely upon other crewmen stationed on lifeboats, here used as mobile balloon platforms, whose job it is to spray smoke or irritant gas upon adversaries. They also dismay potential opposition to their ground force with flashing lights, fireworks, or thousands of large marbles dropped from the air. The lifeboats have winches capable of ripping a door off its hinges or lifting a hansom cabs into the air.
If cornered on the ground, a Hunchback will attempt to escape by inflating his balloon. Should he have the opportunity to slip away rather than use his balloon, he will run, often heading for a pre-arranged safe house or isolated meeting place.
The Hunchbacks have one pressing problem: money. Their sense of justice demands the Hunchbacks steal only from deserving victims -- particularly the financiers who took advantage of Doctor Lump (to their way of thinking, anyway). Over time, however, the bankers and their cohorts have increased the guards around themselves and their property. This has caused the Hunchbacks to widen their definition of "just victim" to include industrialists and investors allied closely to the financiers, as well as businesses and businessmen who make their fortunes by creating implements of war.
Player characters with pacifist leanings might be contacted by one of the Hunchbacks' allies. Those with ties to the British military-industrial complex or the London financial district might find themselves employed by the would-be targets of the Hunchbacks.
Because of their pacifist tendencies, the Exploding Hunchbacks are far from the worst of criminal conspiracies, and may even make common cause with the PCs against some greater peril. An adventuring group might even join the gang, donning the balloon suit for the glory of Scientific Progress. However, should the secret of the Exploding Hunchbacks be revealed, deadly conflict would surely ensue. Agents of the Great Powers, as well as powerful and nasty archvillains, would stop at nothing to seize the formula for a stable and useful gas like Lumpium.
The Hunchbacks can be transferred to most settings rather easily. Wherever they appear, they should maintain their High Technology advantage, which will be put into use only in the name of peace or some other noble cause. In a futuristic setting, the Hunchbacks might possess some sort of special anti-grav devices or rocket packs they keep hidden beneath bulging space suits. In a Fantasy campaign, the source of their flight would be magical or alchemical.
Article publication date: July 7, 2000
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