Greed of the Cabal
A Champions! Campaign
Inspiration comes from the strangest places, and this is the second time I ended up creating a character based off BlazBlue. If you haven’t heard of it, BlazBlue is a fighting game with the most absurdly intricate and nonsensical backstory the Land of Anime can produce. They also have extremely inventive and colorful character design, that for some reason frequently inspires new ideas. So there’s reason that Nu-13 shows up. Remember: It’s not a rip-off as long as you can call it an homage with a straight face.
Beyond fun character design, the reason I came up with this campaign is because I wanted to see a superheroic campaign where all trouble couldn’t be solved by simply punching the enemy. Many of the best superheroic stories feature the heroes facing enemies which they could defeat, but the heroes know that simply beating up the villains won’t win the day. They have to get past the villains, or sometimes ignore the visible threat to deal with the real problem.
That’s why the Cabal won’t go down easily. Their best fighters could be beaten, particularly if the characters know what’s coming and prepare. Their bases can be destroyed. But just beating up a few baddies won’t end them. They can rebuild, and unless the characters are wiling to kill, even winning a fight against the Cabal’s minions will do not permanent damage. They aren’t commiting any visible crimes – in fact, the characters will be invading their property! And if the characters do kill, the Cabal can turn that back against them with a well-orchestrated media campaign.
This group isn’t designed to be the entirety of a campaign, and in a superheroic game, that’s usually boring anyway. There’s plenty of space for other enemies and other challenges. In fact, the Cabal might well aid the heroes when it suits them.
In fact, the best way to use the Cabal is to make the characters work for it, and realize it exists on their own. If they can draw their own links and conclude an unknown villainous organization exists, they’ll be that much more invested in combatting it.
What is the Cabal?
The better question is who, not what. In one sense, the Cabal doesn’t exist. It’s simply an association of powerful figures manipulating events to best advantage. There’s no membership roll or corporate ledger, just an informal association. The campaign only details one of the Cabal’s leadership: The Chairman, Senator Kyle Stevenson; you can create any of the others to your own satisfaction. Every one of them will bring resources to the table, and may not have any superpowers whatsoever. Those resources may vary: contacts, soldiers, influence, or money. But every leader of the Cabal must be a leader of some sort, not simply a thug with an energy blast, no matter how potent.
Much of what they do isn’t illegal, or it falls into the category of relatively minor crimes such as stock-market manipulation. They don’t care about conquering the world, or having costumed superheroes kneeling at their feet, or posessing alien technology, or dominating strange magical creatures. They care about the material: wealth and power over people.
That should lead you to the kind of plots the Cabal will try. They prefer the simple and the relatively straightforward, just at a considerable distance. One member of the Cabal will do what another can’t, or at least can’t be seen doing. And with completely secure communications, they coordinate very effectively. This could be as simple as ensuring good press or as complex as pushing down the price of a specific stock on a certain day.
How Does it Operate?
The Cabal works very hard to obtain and maintain control of the media, from long-established newspapers to today’s hottest blogs. It’s not simply a way to manipulate events, but also to gain information quietly. If they need anything investigated, it’s easy to send reporters during the day as well as spies in the night. Through the media, they can influence public opinion and support political candidates they favor. Perhaps most importantly, they can kill news unfavorable to the Cabal – or delay it.
Equally important, the Cabal seeks to control local governments, especially the police. Local influence is far more useful to the Cabal than national, at least for the moment. The ability to hinder business rivals or create a tight-knit supporting organization is worth more than trying to steer the destiny of nations. Of course, down the line that may change, and nations do fall within the Cabal’s ambitions.
That said, this is a superhero game and they certainly use supervillains to do their dirtiest work. They have assassins when they need to kill, enforcers when they need muscle, and super-scientists when they need super-science. They simply use these as tools, not ends in and of themselves. Not surprisingly, they prefer agents with similar motivations as the leadership: materialists and mercenaries. They’re much easier to predict and control, although they’ll accept anyone powerful and willing to serve. The Producer and Nu (Dreizehn) are cases in point.
Finally, the Cabal does not and will not act like like cartoon villains. They won’t casually kill their agents (though slaves and grunt laborers are another story), and they don’t need to demonstrate pointless cruelty just to establish how evil they are. They don’t think of themselves as evil at all, in fact. They’re simply smart enough to view sentimentality, patriotism, and “good” as mere self-serving nonsense, and act accordingly. Loyalty only goes to a point, however. Any leader of the Cabal would sacrifice the rest to save his own skin, which is one reason the organization is made of independant cells.
Where is it?
In a manner of speaking, this question is meaningless. The Cabal is where it needs to be. When they need a base or operations, they create one. When it’s no longer useful, they scrub the location and send the personnel elsewhere. They have no permanent operations, just a plan of action and a lot of escape routes. Every team acts on its own when sent orders from above.
However, the Cabal always has operations near where its members operate, and New Jersey is a huge center of action. Jersey has a great deal to recommend it to the Cabal. It’s highly urban, wealthy, has a great deal of commerce including active ports, and close to several cities important to the Cabal’s plans. Sure, New York is important, but they want to control the media networks rather than slugging it out atop the Empire State Building. Apart from New York, they have easy access to Philadelphia (a key area for Senator Stevenson’s ambitions) and Baltimore, with Washington D.C. not far down the road. New Jersey also has the advantage of being unfairly considered a backwater. Heroes and villains alike are drawn to New York, meaning that operations in New Jersey attract far less attention. The Cabal enjoys the privacy.
Obviously, the Cabal’s leaders want ever-greater power and wealth for themselves and the organization, but that’s a rather vague statement. Specifically, they want to dominate parts of the world as dictators, or as close to it as they can manage. Each one wishes to grab total power in one corner of the world or another. Their work in controlling local government is the first step in this: undermine a nation or region locally, and when the time comes it will fall apart without a struggle. More concrete steps they’ll take on that road might include…
…Calling for more controls on superheroes. The Cabal doesn’t actually want superheroes stopped or even hindered from pursuing supervillains. They just intend to delay or distract the heroes when they interfere with the Cabal. Those other supercriminal organizations and world-conquering villains are competitors, after all. Finally, it will definitely be in the Cabal’s interest to have superheroes around once they take over in their respective regions. To achieve this, they might try to frame superheroes, or cover them with an unfriendly media spotlight. Most supers aren’t media-hounds and don’t know how to handle an unfriendly reporter. They can, and will, raise questions with tabloids, spread them with blogs, and then follow-up with a campaign in the mainstream news.
Best of all, the Cabal tailors its actions to individual heroes, granting favorable coverage to some and nasty reporting to others, to achieve the appearance of balance. The “lucky” recipients of favorable reporting, of course, will be heroes not bothering the Cabal.
…Kidnapping, blackmail, and reprogramming. The Producer is a key agent of the Cabal. In addition to controlling information security, he also helps build its media network. He has intimate knowledge of how the media works, and how it spreads messages. Thus, he knows exactly whom to target for pressure. The Cabal prefers to buy their targets off, but failing that they quickly resort to intimidation or even programming hypnotic suggestions. Even in such cases, they will make sure the target accepts pay as well: it makes the victim more compliant, and gives the Cabal an easy way to target the police on the victim should he or she try to rebel!
…Half-way legitimate business. The Cabal frequently engages in trade and buying out existing businesses. Of course, they’re as bent as possible in doing this: They use smuggling to bypass tariffs and improve their profits, deal in illicit drugs, and use every dirty trick they know to turn the best bargain, from strong-arm tactics to blackmail to media manipulation. Disrupting these operations would certainly put a crimp in their plans and cash flow.
… Controlling gangs, but from a distance. The Cabal has a definite interest in street crime, both in using it themselves and avoiding trouble. They don’t own an army of soldiers like Dagger, so having criminals act as lookouts and thugs is essential. One common gambit is to insure their legal merchandise, let gangs “steal” it in exchange for payment up-front. The Cabal doubles it profit with little-to-no risk. Better yet – they often insure with their own companies, allowing an increase in premiums for all clients based on the high risk of theft!
…Developing their own super-technology. Given its wide-ranging interests, the Cabal feels that posessing technology capable of standing up to, or at least hindering, superheroes is a worthwhile investment. To that end, they’ve worked on developing basic powered armor prototypes and some very dangerous weaponry. It’s nothing that couldn’t be built elsewhere, but the Cabal continues work.
Ironically, magic brought the Cabal its greatest successes. They distrust magic in general, but it’s a potent force they feel cannot be ignored. To that end, Doctor Vitus not only proved to be an extremely useful agent for his administrative talent alone, but has immense skill in creating magical artifacts and devices suitable for those not magically inclined. Regardless of their concerns, the Cabal understands it cannot ignore such power, and that it would prove extremely useful when properly abused. If magic works, magic they’ll use. Which leads to the last point:
…Building a golem army. “Army” may be the wrong word. The Cabal doesn’t want to build a a large armed force, so much as an extremely dangerous group of immortal machines who can be hired out as mercenaries. It’s easy for super-mercenaries to move around the world, as they’re not generally wanted for crimes. At the same time the Cabal can then position them as “aiding the revolution” when the group does start to overthrow certain nations, or conquer regions outright. In short, the golems will be assassins, guards, and soldiers bringing profit and security to the organization.
Integrating with DC
Of course, not every game uses the generic Champions background. Should you prefer a D.C. comics-based game, you must contend with the fact that there’s a semi-centralized network of ridiculously powerful heroes, arguably mightier than all the villains put together. In such a case, the Cabal will assume that a superhero will breach their operations eventually, and try their best to stay out of the way of the most powerful and legendary. They really do not need the Man of Steel coming down on their heads.
When it does happen, they simply intend to scrub all visible operations and start over. Moreover, they’ll try to keep branches of the organization even more secret and separate. In this concept, the Cabal will focus much more intently on getting their golem army activated. They’ll feel an intense need for more protection and that’s almost the only way to get it. Even if the heroes never discover their facilities, they’ve far too many espionage tools at their disposal for the Cabal to ever feel secure. (Also, if the Dark Knight or Question ever discovered they didn’t know about a secret criminal conspiracy, they will be pissed).
Integrating with Marvel
Marvel doesn’t project quite the same centralization that DC does. There are definite powerhouses, but no one group that brings so many heroes together. Equally, many of the more famous heroes are much less powerful, or have one potent ability instead of the Honeymoon Suite of superpowers. In this case, the Cabal will spend less time trying to get a golem army, and more on manipulating events and supplying other supervillains.
These will be posted and in the coming days. For now, a few notes on who the important are.
Martyr: A paranoid drug-abusing homeless murder suspect – and he’s the good guy! (Jersey is so screwed.) Despite rough appearance and the not-unjustified belief that the Cabal has infiltrated every level of government and media, Martyr is trying his best to expose the Cabal. Right now, he knows little more than its name and the pattern of their operations. That’s still enough for him to track down one hidden base after another. Martyr needs help, badly, and his biggest problem is not being able to trust anyone. If he knew a group of heroes were fighting the Cabal, he might reveal himself and everything he knows. He’s definitely aware that the Chairman exists, but not his true identity. He’s also met Myrmidon in combat and lived to tell the tale, and has beaten enough information out of Cabal minions to know about Doctor Vitus.
The Chairman/Senator Kyle Stevenson: A respected Pennsylvania politician, the Senator founded the Cabal and still excercises the greatest influence. He intends to use it to fuel his ambitions in the political arena, as well as one day giving him a nation of his own to rule. The Chairman has a disturbing amount of psychic energy, though it’s focused inward and he requires a public audience to fuel it.
Doctor Vitus: The Cabal’s top researcher, The
good bad doctor is a master of mystical enchantment, particularly attuned to the creation of Golems. His ultimate weapon is almost finished. All he needs now is the soul of a hero strong enough to bring it to life…
Eraser/Carla Hawkins: An aging assassin with an unstable personality, Eraser is the loyal enforcer of the Cabal’s will, as well as its most accomplished killer. She’s extremely dangerous in personal combat, but not quite as spry as she used to be. But age and treachery beat youth and skill, and she’s equally good at treachery and skill.
The Producer/Gary Stevens: A warped cartoon-show creator, Gary Stevens controls the Cabal’s information network, and he’s extremely good at what he does. His powers of hypnotic suggestion may require bulky reprogramming units, but they’re undeniably effective. Martyr fears him more than any other Cabal agent, because he’s a master of electronic surveillance as well as mental manipulation.
Myrmidon: Myrmidon is one exceeedingly dangerous mercenary, and not one to be trifled with. The Cabal hires him when it needs extra muscle, or to defend a specific location, and it’s been a good business arrangement for both parties. Myrmidon does not ask questions not related to his specific duties, and he doesn’t accept pay unless he carriers out his task correctly. The Cabal’s leaders place considerable trust in him, although he isn’t part of the group. He has a particular dislike of Martyr, and is extremely frustrated by the wily man’s ability to avoid capture.
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