Difference between revisions of "Bulletproof Blues 2e EN:GM Resources"
m (Admin moved page Bulletproof Blues:GM Resources to Bulletproof Blues 2e EN:GM Resources without leaving a redirect)
Revision as of 14:27, 18 October 2017
While the game moderator (GM) is free to use or ignore the published material as they see fit, the core rules and supplements for Bulletproof Blues take place in the world-famous universe of Kalos Comics.
The GM Resources material is divided into three sections:
- The first section provides a high-level description of the Kalos Universe setting.
- The second section describes some of the key organizations and individuals who take an active role in the Kalos Comics universe. You can use these groups and NPCs as support organizations for your NPCs and villains, or take them straight from the book to recreate your favorite Kalos Comics battles and adventures.
- The third section the provides an inside look at how character-driven, action-packed Kalos Comics are plotted, so you can build your adventures the Kalos Comics Way.
The Kalos Universe
The Kalos Universe is the shared fictional universe where most of the comic book titles published by Kalos Comics take place, including those featuring Kalos' most familiar characters, such as Paragon, Swan, and Manticore.
On the surface, the Kalos Universe closely resembles our own. The place names and television shows are the same, and the victories and defeats of ordinary people are just like the ones you experience. Much as in our own world, extremes of good and evil exist, but the gulf between them is a murky area where those of good will can and do disagree.
However, the Kalos Universe can be a strange place. There are ancient civilizations deep below the surface of the earth and extraterrestrials in the sky above it. Strange forces are at work, and hidden powers manipulate world events and the news reports of those events. Still, few people encounter this strangeness in their day-to-day lives or recognize it when they do. For the vast majority of humanity, the world of the Kalos Universe is virtually the same as the world you live in.
While many events are intentionally hidden from the public, the sanitized actions of select posthumans are crafted into pre-packaged "human interest" stories. Entire cable networks are dedicated to the exploits and personal lives of posthumans. In addition, in a relatively recent two week span, Paragon killed millions of people in Atlanta and Southeast Asia, and held the world hostage -- a rampage that will drive government policy, mass media, and public opinion worldwide for decades.
The Kalos Universe is depicted as existing within a "multiverse" consisting of a large number of separate universes, all of which are the creations of Kalos Comics and all of which are, in a sense, "Kalos universes". In this context, "Kalos Universe" is taken to refer to the mainstream Kalos continuity, which is known as Earth Zero or Earth-0.
The universe of Earth-0 has no particular significance in comparison to that of Earth-1 or any other universe -- the name is simply a convenience. A more technically accurate nomenclature would define the "Kalos Universe" in terms of its "location" in the multiverse within 196,883 dimensional space. Since this would require the listing of 196,883 coordinates, the use of "Earth-0", "Earth-162", "Earth-4661", etc., is a convenient shorthand.
The first half-dozen posthumans who made their presence widely known to the public appeared during World War 2, as part of the Red Army fighting the invading forces of Nazi Germany. Soon after, similar groups of posthumans appeared, fighting for the Axis in Europe and Africa and for the Allies in Europe and the Pacific.
One group of posthumans, however, was actively involved in human affairs and was widely embraced for their nobility and compassion. After the end of World War 2, the posthumans Paragon and Archimedes founded a team of heroes to fight against ignorance and violence: the Justifiers. They recruited other Justifiers over the next six decades: stalwart heroes such as Rook, Doctor Arcane, Antiope, Dryad, Mongoose, Draconian, and Cleopatra. As a group, the Justifiers had a long career marked by exemplary service to the safety and prosperity of humankind, before their untimely end.
Bulletproof Blues source material is set shortly after the Justifiers were killed by their former teammate, Paragon, who also demolished the city of Atlanta, Georgia, drowned the island of Timor beneath the sea, and caused death and destruction throughout the world. It is a difficult time for posthumans, who have never been completely trusted by humanity in the best of times. Unfortunately, Paragon's mass murdering rampage confirmed humanity's worst fears. Although Paragon was ultimately defeated by a small team of posthumans at the Justifiers' headquarters in Antarctica, his actions have forever changed the relationship between humankind and posthumans.
Humankind, who are technically referred to as Homo sapiens sapiens or "modern humans", are a branch of great apes characterized by erect posture, bipedal locomotion, manual dexterity, and a general trend toward larger, more complex societies. The spread of humans due to increasing population has had a destructive impact on large areas of earth's environment and millions of native species worldwide. Humankind tool use is on par with posthumans. Humankind is the first earth native species known to build fires, cook their food, clothe themselves, and create numerous technologies and arts with the intent of distracting themselves from their own mortality and lulling themselves into a false sense of security.
Today, scientists and journalists estimate that there are fewer than 8,000 known posthumans worldwide, roughly 500 of which are in the United States. Despite their incredible powers, posthumans have had a subdued effect on world affairs. Posthuman geniuses have made extraordinary scientific and medical discoveries, but these advances have been kept from the public until the powerful have deemed society "ready". The primary beneficiaries of these scientific breakthroughs have been the governments and corporations who rule the world, and the powerful people who secretly control them.
Similarly, at the behest of conventional authorities, posthumans have generally refrained from involvement in everyday politics and diplomacy. The exceptions to this rule have been condemned as terrorists and threats to all of humanity. This phenomenon was most evident during the 1950s, when a small group of politically active posthumans calling themselves the Committee For The Advancement Of Mankind were convicted in absentia of violating the Smith Act.
Most posthumans have the same thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as their humankind counterparts. These behaviors are the result not only of their individual experiences and environment, but also of what happened to their ancestors millions of years ago. As such, human nature is shared, to a large extent, by everyone on Earth, even posthumans. Like most human beings in the Kalos Universe, posthumans are selfish and seek to improve their own condition. At the same time, human beings have a great capacity to cooperate, and they display enormous depths of compassion, even toward people they have never met; so do many posthumans.
Earth has been visited by aliens many times in its history, although few people are aware of this. Most of these visits were well before 3000 BCE, which is when humans began recording history. Some may have even been before the evolution of Homo sapiens approximately 200,000 years ago.
However, since the beginning of recorded history extraterrestrials have only openly visited Earth twice: Draconian, who came to our world in 1951 after escaping the destruction of his home planet (inspiring the film The Day The Earth Stood Still), and the Isopterans, who invaded Earth in 2009 (inspiring numerous "alien invasion" films in the following years). Some experts believe that a third group of aliens, the Shran, has visited the Earth, but there is little evidence for this, and the claim is disputed.
Even though the Isopterans landed on five different continents and the conflict was reported by every news medium, a significant number of people do not believe that extraterrestrials exist (roughly 30% of the polled populace of the Unites States, for example).
Atlanteans and Lemurians
Twenty thousand years ago, aquatic extraterrestrials founded two colonies on Earth: one in the Atlantic Ocean and one in the Indian Ocean. Today, the colony in the Atlantic Ocean is called Atlantis, and the colony in the Indian Ocean is called Lemuria. Initially, the inhabitants of Atlantis and Lemuria were physically indistinguishable, but as the millennia passed, the two colonies diverged both culturally and biologically.
The Atlanteans chose to mix their genetic structure with that of the native population of Earth, and today they resemble humans in most ways other than skin tone: Atlanteans are more likely to have blue or jet black skin rather than the range of pinks and browns common to humankind. The Lemurians, on the other hand, mixed their genetic code with that of the sea creatures best suited to survival on their new world. The people of Lemuria are fishlike humanoids, with vestigial fins and scales ranging from green to grey. Most Atlanteans are nearly as comfortable breathing in air as in water, but most Lemurians have difficulty breathing in open air.
Although both Atlantis and Lemuria have degenerated since the two colonies were founded, Atlantis has retained most of its scientific knowledge. The Lemurians, however, have lost a great deal of the scientific knowledge they once had. Nonetheless, both civilizations possess technology far in advance of 21st century humanity.
The Atlanteans and the Lemurians both value tradition and military prowess. Lineage and personal combat play a central role in the selection of leaders of both civilizations. However, the Atlanteans have an egalitarian society, while the Lemurians have a caste system which elevates warriors above technicians and laborers.
For most of recorded human history, both the Atlanteans and the Lemurians have practiced an isolationist policy where the surface world is concerned. However, the Atlanteans have recently taken the bold move of sending an envoy to the surface world. The first such Atlantean ambassador was Antiope, who was a member of the Justifiers until she was killed by her teammate Paragon. It remains to be seen whether they will send another.
Even though Antiope spoke at the United Nations and was a member of the Justifiers for decades, a significant number of people do not believe that Atlantis is anything more than a myth (roughly 20% of the polled populace of the Unites States, for example). Of those that do believe Atlantis exists, over half hold erroneous beliefs about it. For example, some believe that it is no longer inhabited, while others believe that the inhabitants of Atlantis were ancestors of humanity, and many people believe that Atlantis "sank" at some point in the distant past and that the inhabitants live in air-filled domes. Public awareness of Lemuria is even less accurate.
Technology available to the public in the Kalos Universe is only slightly more advanced than that of the real world. However, super-technology may exist in secret government or corporate laboratories, where it is studied and slowly introduced to the world at large in order to minimize its disruptive influence on the status quo. In some cases, a posthuman invention has been reverse engineered so that less powerful versions of the device may be gradually introduced over the course of several decades. This was the case for lasers and nanotechnology, for example.
Because posthumans are exceedingly rare, there is no uniform method of coping with or neutralizing their abilities. Items designed to block or neutralize posthuman abilities, such as white thought generators (which are used to counter or impair psionic activity), are rare, expensive, limited in their application, and experimental, and are often morally dubious as well.
Conventional armor in the Kalos Universe is on par with that found in our world. Light, flexible body armor is standard issue for police officers, combat soldiers, and rescue workers. Heavier rigid or semi-rigid armor is used by specialists, such as bomb disposal units. Light armor is proof against most small arms, while heavy personal armor protects the user from explosives, shrapnel, and armor-piercing small arms. However, even heavy personal armor provides minimal protection against large caliber or vehicle mounted weapons.
Powered armor, also known as a powered exoskeleton, is a powered mobile machine designed to assist and protect the wearer. Due to its expense and its maintenance requirements, deployment of powered armor is limited to unique or limited-issue experimental units, such as that worn by Manticore. The primary obstacles to the widespread adoption of power armored are its cost, its weight, and its energy requirements. At the present, only two of these three obstacles can be overcome simultaneously, limiting the availability of light, long-lasting powered armor to individuals or organizations with extraordinary financial resources.
One of the differences between our world and the Kalos Universe is that power plants using nuclear fission are much more common in the Kalos Universe. Thanks to efficient extraction of uranium from the oceans and the recycling of spent uranium, the Kalos Universe has enough uranium to supply humanity with power from nuclear fission until roughly the year 5000. Despite the abundance of safe, affordable nuclear power, a few countries have no nuclear power plants, and depend instead on fossil fuels or hydroelectric plants. Denmark, Norway, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan belong to a coalition of countries opposed to nuclear power.
Nuclear fusion power, which has been practical since the early 2000s, has yet to be commercialized, thanks to opposition from the international coalition opposed to nuclear power, anti-nuclear activist groups like Sortir du Nucléaire, and nuclear industry lobbying groups like the Nuclear Energy Institute.
The Fukushima Disaster
When the former hero Paragon destroyed the island of Timor by pushing it down through the crust of the Earth and into the upper mantle, the earthquakes and tsunamis which followed caused devastation throughout Asia and significant damage to coastlines as far away as Nova Scotia. The earthquake and resulting tsunami damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, leading to a full meltdown of the reactor. Shortly after the meltdown, the Japanese authorities declared the 20 mile radius around the plant a restricted area. Japan has since shut down all 74 of its nuclear fission reactors and joined the coalition of countries opposed to nuclear power.
In principle, genetic research in the Kalos Universe is rigidly controlled and regulated. In practice, the restrictions on genetic research are primarily legal, as the most powerful corporations use the patent system and endless litigation to bludgeon competitors out of existence. Any life form or genetic sequence may legally be patented, other than actual human beings. What constitutes a "human being" is continually being refined and restricted through aggressive court challenges.
The possibilities of genetic engineering in the Kalos Universe are just beginning to be realized.
There are currently over a dozen manned stations in orbit around the Earth, and that number should double in the next eight years. Roughly half of these stations are operated by governments, either individually or jointly: the two largest of these are the International Space Station and Tiangong 7. Private stations are generally smaller than their government counterparts, but this is changing, and it's expected that by 2025 the largest space stations will all be privately owned.
Beyond the Earth, remotely operated or automated probes have been sent to nearly every planet and dwarf planet in addition to a number of smaller but noteworthy astronomical objects. At the present, the cost to exploit these resources exceeds their value, but this is expected to change as rare earth minerals on Earth become scarce. (Earth's reserves of gallium, hafnium, and indium may be exhausted as early as 2019.)
Embassy Station is a space station in a low Earth orbit approximately 500 km (311 mi) above the Earth's surface. The station travels at about 27,400 km/h (17,000 mi/h), making one complete revolution around the Earth in about 90 minutes.
Embassy Station was the headquarters of the Justifiers from 1979 until 1986. The station was originally intended as a permanently occupied "city in the sky" to serve as a launching point for future space exploration, and potentially as a welcome center for any visiting extraterrestrials. Construction of Embassy Station was performed by an international team of engineers and scientists, and funded by a joint partnership of the United Nations, several countries and space agencies, and a large number of philanthropic organizations. Construction of the station began in 1977, and was officially completed in 1982. In 1979, a UN resolution granted the ownership of Embassy Station to the Justifiers, making it the largest privately owned man-made object outside of the Earth.
Unfortunately, the cost to operate and maintain the station made extended habitation impractically expensive for ordinary citizens and business owners, and by 1984 the station was all but abandoned. The Justifiers continued to use the station as a base of operations, but transportation between the station and Earth was a perennial source of difficulty, and in 1986 the team returned to Earth. The Justifiers continued to use the station for research purposes and for storage of dangerous items captured from criminals.
The only extraterrestrials known to have visited Embassy Station are Draconian, the Justifiers member who lived there from 1980 until 1985, and Guardian, who was also a member of the Justifiers.
Despite the apparent failure of Embassy Station as a manned space station, it served as an invaluable source of information about the construction and maintenance of large space structures. Construction of the International Space Station would not have been possible without the lessons learned from Embassy Station.
The primary means of transportation between the station and the earth was the Justifiers' Orion spaceplane.
The ability to travel through time or to alternate dimensions, while theoretically possible, is virtually unknown in practice. As far as the public is concerned, no time or dimensional travel technology currently exists: such devices are the realm of science fiction. The only in-game exceptions are plot devices which cease functioning or leave our universe after their purpose in the story has been fulfilled.
Conventional weaponry in use by the governments, corporations, and subversive organizations of the Kalos Universe are virtually identical to those of our world. Particularly wealthy or brilliant individuals may design or buy advanced weaponry, such as plasma cannons, coilguns, sonic explosives, and custom tailored viruses (both organic and digital), but such weapons are rare and experimental.
Magic and the Supernatural
The Kalos Universe is both secular and humanist: the casting of magic spells and the careful execution of magical rituals produce no tangible results. In spite of this, many people believe in ghosts, gods, astrology, and witchcraft (roughly 90% of the polled populace of the Unites States, for example) just as their hunter-gatherer ancestors did three millennia ago. However, there are no competing pantheons sending emissaries to Earth to do battle, and there is no scientific evidence of vastly powerful supernatural entities belonging to any conventional mythological tradition. Anything which appears to be caused by gods, demons, magic, or witchcraft can safely be assumed to be the result of posthuman abilities, alien intervention, fraud, or coincidence. Spell casting wizards like Merlin and Maleficent exist only in fiction.
However, the Kalos Universe is animistic: there are powerful spirits or essences which correlate to various objects and natural phenomena. This is why a character with the appropriate power can communicate with inanimate objects or even control the weather. It's also how some posthumans gain their powers, whether they are consciously aware of it or not, as described in the Aspect character origin. Tempest, for example, was a mild mannered office clerk before being chosen by Aktzin, the storm eagle, as its avatar.
Conventional science offers no satisfactory explanation for such spirits, if it admits of their existence at all.
SIDEBAR: The Magic Paradox
How do we reconcile the secular, rational underpinnings of the Kalos Universe with the existence of entities like The Bride, the necromancy of Thornmallow, or the reality-warping abilities of Doctor Arcane? We have our own ideas about it, but here are some options for you to use in your own game. Choose one or choose them all: it's your game, so do what you think will be the most fun.
Option 1: There Is A Reason For Everything
Everything, even The Bride and the ability of some people to talk to stones and trees, has a rational explanation. No one may have found that explanation yet, but that's entirely beside the point. In time, science will explain what is currently unknown. There is nothing "supernatural".
Option 2: The Universe Leaks
The Kalos Universe is just one of a vast number of possible realities. At some places, at some times, the barriers between these realities are weak, allowing one universe to bleed into the next. This is how something which appears to violate the physical laws of our universe can take place: any apparent contradiction is caused by another universe's physical laws intruding upon our own. It's not "magic": it's simply a different set of rules.
Option 3: It's A Strange World
There is no evidence that gods or demons exist, and when magic and witchcraft are put to the test, they are soundly debunked. Bigfoot isn't haunting the Northwest, angels aren't sitting on anyone's shoulder, and ghost hunters are doomed to disappointment. And yet... Aktzin exists. Doctor Arcane can accomplish feats that science can't explain. Some posthumans can converse with inanimate objects. It's a strange world.
Key Organizations And NPCs
Not every enemy or ally has to be a posthuman. Organizations, and the people who either publicly or privately lead them, are capable of having a tremendous impact on the lives of humans and posthumans alike. Like any organism, an organization will reflexively defend itself against a threat, and will do anything to guarantee its own survival.
In the Kalos Universe, governments are the tangible expression of the natural tendency of some individuals to seek to dominate others through the use of force. This doesn't necessarily mean that such people are inherently evil. Most people are morally ambiguous: they want the best for their friends and family, but are ambivalent about what that may cost others. Many people who seek power start with good intentions, or at least a benign desire for their own betterment, but power swiftly becomes its own reward. Those who wield this power are the "insiders", while those subject to the government's rule are the "outsiders". Insiders have a pecking order where some wield more power than others, and the means by which insiders rise and fall in the hierarchy depend on the specific form of government.
The goals of those in government depend on their rank in the hierarchy, and vice versa. At the lowest levels, such as a city council or a school board, most insiders will seek to use their power and status to force others to adhere to a certain moral code or to gain some benefit for a preferred social group. Some may even seek to promote what they perceive to be the "common good". At intermediate levels, such as in state governments, smaller national agencies, or even upper levels of national governments in smaller countries, the insider's desire for money, power, and status is as important as their concern for public morality or social justice. At the highest levels of government, such as the legislatures and major agencies of world powers, the goals of those in government are money, power, and status, to the exclusion of all other considerations.
Outsiders, those not in government, often think that governments exist to provide services. Governments may in fact provide services for outsiders, but this is incidental. A government without a postal system, a highway department, or a department that administers medical subsidies would still be a government. A government without an army, on the other hand, would cease to be a government. As Mao Zedong said, "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."
Since the end of World War 2, most governments have kept posthumans at arm's length, wishing to avoid the widespread adoption of posthuman soldiers in international conflicts. In 1970, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Posthuman Combatants, commonly known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, went into effect. A total of 190 parties have joined the treaty, including the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China (the only five nations with posthuman soldiers at the time that the treaty was signed). More countries have ratified the NPT than any other arms limitation and disarmament agreement -- a testament to the treaty's significance. Four non-parties to the treaty are known or believed to employ posthuman soldiers: India, Pakistan, and North Korea have openly declared that they do, while Israel has a policy of opacity regarding its own posthuman recruitment program.
Posthumans are not common enough to have had a significant impact on the law. Posthuman crime is so rare that exceptions have yet to be made for it; what is against the law for humankind remains against the law for posthumans, and the penalties applied to human crime have, thus far, been deemed sufficient for posthuman crime.
No "posthuman prison" has been established: conventional prisons have had to cope as well as they can with posthuman inmates. In practice, posthumans have a higher than average number of escape attempts, and a much higher than average number of these attempts are successful.
The bureaucrats, soldiers, and police officers who carry out the will of their superiors are not cackling, mustache-twirling villains. At the same time, people who are simply doing their jobs can perform acts of extraordinary depravity. In the famous experiments done by Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram in the early 1960s, he asked various subjects to deliver intense shocks to people in other rooms who wrongly answered a series of questions. The shocks increased with each incorrect answer, up to lethal levels at the end. Two-thirds of the participants followed through until the end, administering the final 450-volt shock to their unseen victims. This was the main lesson of his study, that "ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority."
The corporation is the dominant institution of the 21st century. A corporation is a legal entity created to shield the people controlling it from liability. The ultimate goal of a corporation is to make as large a profit as possible. Other considerations, such as the quality of the product or service the corporation provides, the health and welfare of its employees and customers, the integrity of the environment, the survival of future generations, and adherence to the law are discarded when it is cost effective to do so. For example, if the fine associated with violating a government regulation is lower than the cost of complying with the regulation, the corporation will violate the regulation and pay the fine (or challenge the regulation in court, if that seems more cost-effective). Similarly, if a product may result in the death of a percentage of those who use it, and the cost of defending against or settling any ensuing lawsuits is predicted to be lower than the cost of altering the product's design, the corporation will produce and sell the product as-is rather than sacrifice profits to prevent the deaths.
Corporations accrue political power by funding politicians who support the corporation's interests. Typically, political influence is used to increase incomes, eliminate competition, or externalize costs by either enacting or eliminating laws and regulations. For example, the multinational corporation Lastimar used its political influence in the USA to ensure the addition of riders to a multi-billion dollar agricultural appropriations bill. These riders require the Secretary of Agriculture to grant a temporary permit for the planting or cultivation of a genetically engineered crop, even if a federal court were to order the planting be halted until an Environmental Impact Statement could be completed.
When the same individuals serve on the boards of directors of multiple corporations, this is known as an interlocking directorate. A similar practice in Japan is known as a keiretsu. Interlocking directorates increase the efficiency of the separate corporations by facilitating coordinated action and unifying the political-economic power of corporate executives. In this way, corporations can avoid costly competition and focus on coordinated maximization of profit.
Many corporations present a carefully crafted persona to the public designed to increase sales and engender trust. For example, the corporation may contribute to highly publicized environmental causes (while causing massive damage to the biosphere elsewhere), it may donate funds to children's charities (while paying Indonesian children three cents an hour to work in its factories), or it may run commercials featuring a friendly mascot with an innocent smile and gentle, self-deprecating humor. Corporations employ teams of marketing analysts and psychologists to ensure that the consumer perception of the corporation is that of a trusted friend who provides essential goods and services.
Posthumans are too rare for most corporations to target them as either consumers or resources. Some corporations have used posthumans in their advertising campaigns, but like the California Raisins and the Taco Bell chihuahua, these corporate mascots are swiftly replaced when they no longer enhance sales. A few posthumans have managed to find employment as independent contractors, using their abilities for whomever pays them, but most corporations are reluctant to employ posthumans in this capacity. Corporations prefer not to utilize posthumans for two main reasons. First, posthumans are unique and therefore irreplaceable, putting the corporation at a disadvantage if it becomes dependent on the posthuman's services. Second, the hiring of posthumans exposes the corporation to unknown liability. For these reasons, corporate hiring of posthuman contractors is typically done through intermediaries.
"Improving On Mother Nature"
Lastimar, the agrochemical and biotechnological giant, is the world's largest provider of genetically engineered seeds and the world's leading producer of herbicides such as glycine phosphonate (marketed under the brand name BrownOut®). For most of the 20th century, Lastimar was a leader in the fields of plastics, insecticides, and industrial chemicals. In recent decades, Lastimar has pioneered the field of genetically engineered hormones to increase milk and meat production in livestock.
Lastimar became involved in a number of high-profile lawsuits in the 1980s and 1990s as a result of birth defects and environmental damage caused by its herbicides and insecticides, as well as from its dumping of toxic chemicals during the 1960s and 1970s. Through a series of acquisitions, spin-offs, and mergers, the Lastimar that existed from 1901 to 2000 and the current Lastimar are legally two distinct corporations. Although they share the same name, corporate headquarters, and many of the same executives and other employees, no responsibility for liabilities arising out of activities from the pre-2001 Lastimar carry forward to the current Lastimar.
"Nexus makes life better!"
Nexus-McLellan is one of the most powerful and well-known companies in the Kalos Universe. Nexus-McLellan is a multinational corporation which manufactures and distributes pharmaceuticals and provides health information technology and health care management software. It is a leader in the field of genetic research and design, with patents on over 130,000 separate lifeforms and gene sequences.
Nexus-McLellan is the sponsor of Nexus, one of the few posthumans who operates publicly in a role resembling that of a comicbook superhero. The superhero Nexus operates out of the Nexus USA building in Chicago, Illinois. He makes frequent appearances at childrens' hospitals, fund-raising banquets for noncontroversial charities, and rallies for apolitical causes such as food banks, children with special needs, and pet adoption.
"Tomorrow's Technology Today"
Scythian Corporation is a multinational defense contracting firm, specializing in cutting edge research and development. Its primary competition for advanced military research funding is Sterling Industries, the company founded by the late Gregory Sterling (who was killed along with hundreds of others when Paragon attacked a Las Vegas trade show). Scythian Corporation is a privately-held company run by Cyril Landeghem, great-grandson of the firm's co-founder, Bernard Landeghem.
While it is understood by most observers that firms like Scythian Corporation and Sterling Industries conduct the occasional compartmentalized top secret (or "black") project for various governments around the world, Scythian Corporation, unlike Sterling, has been involved in two high-profile black project disasters that have impacted the posthuman world.
The first, Project Gilgamesh, was an early 1970s project intended to develop infantry body armor that could withstand small arms fire and increase physical performance. Unfortunately, an ambitious GORGON assault on the proving grounds captured the prototypes, the designs, and many of the scientists working on the weapon system teams. The current armor and weapons used by GORGON troopers are third generation developments based on the Project Gilgamesh designs.
The second Scythian Corporation disaster, Project Phantom in 1996, was intended to develop and test a man-portable generator which would allow soldiers to slip in and out of phase with our reality. The technology was flawed, and resulted in hundreds of deaths as the test facility and the entire staff was warped into a writhing, fused mass. Initial reports of a lone survivor were quickly dismissed.
Scythian Corporation is currently involved in the activities typical of multinational defense contractors and arms merchants: increasing sales by fomenting unrest around the globe; spending significant amounts of money on dangerous, cutting edge technologies; and attempting to obtain information on the practices of their competitors and customers by any expedient means.
"Get more. Spend less."
Shopway is an American multinational corporation which operates over 10,000 stores in 21 countries under 75 different names. The company is the world's largest public corporation, the biggest private employer in the world, and the largest retailer in the world. Despite being publicly traded, Shopway is controlled by the Hernandez family, which owns a 52% stake in the corporation. Collectively, the Hernandez family is worth a total of $142 billion, and the family members earn over three billion dollars a year in dividends off of their Shopway stock.
The Shopway corporation has come under fire from labor unions, religious organizations, humans rights advocates, feminist groups, gay and lesbian groups, environmental groups, and consumer activist groups, each of which objects to some aspect of Shopway's business operations. Other groups disapprove of the corporation's extensive foreign product sourcing, its treatment of employees and product suppliers, its use of public subsidies, and the impact of its stores on the local economies of towns in which they operate. Shopway has settled out of court or has quietly eliminated any attack which has threatened its hegemony.
"Every Step Moves Us Forward"
Sinochem is a multinational oil and gas corporation based in China. Sinochem employs very few people directly, and its direct assets are mainly in the form of brands, product specifications, and scientific expertise. However, Sinochem owns thousands of other multinational corporations in the energy, petroleum, and natural gas sectors, including many familiar, all-American brands. Through its subsidiary companies, Sinochem is the largest petrochemical company in the world, producing approximately 17% of the world's oil production and earning more than double the annual revenue of its nearest competitor.
"Happiness Is Our Business"
Zhangsun Telecom is a multinational corporation founded by Zhang Ka-shing, one of the twenty richest people in the world. Zhang Ka-shing immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong in 1998 and obtained American citizenship for himself and his two children. Over the course of the next few years, he moved the corporate headquarters of his company to Manhattan from Hong Kong. However, the company still has extensive holdings in China, primarily in land development and telecommunications. In the rest of the world, the majority of their holdings are in telecommunications, hotels, and resorts. In 2012, the 80-year-old Zhang Ka-shing retired and moved back to Hong Kong, where his son runs the Asian divisions of the company, leaving control of the North American and European divisions to his daughter, Zhang Qianwei (called "Chloe Zhang" in English-speaking countries).
Chloe Zhang is a world-famous athlete, actress, scientist, and all-around media sensation and international celebrity. In addition to her responsibilities as the Vice President in charge of Research and Development for Zhangsun Telecom's North American and European divisions, Chloe Zhang is the flying armored adventurer Manticore.
A subversive organization is one that seeks to transform the established social order and its structures through force and deception. In essence, subversive organizations seek to supplant traditional national and cultural loyalties. Subversive organizations are similar to criminal enterprises in that both are primarily opposed by governments (as opposed to corporations, which would happily do business with a subversive organization if doing so would generate a profit). However, the goal of a subversive organization is the supremacy of a cause or ideology rather than material gain. Subversive organizations do seek financial gain, often through criminal activities and donations through various "front" charities, but this revenue is merely a means to an end.
Subversion of the power, authority, and hierarchy of an existing social structure is a labor-intensive task. For this reason, subversive organizations establish or infiltrate front groups and seek to manipulate existing political parties. Front groups may establish further front groups, and so on, to the extent that ordinary members have no idea who is actually in control of their organization. In fact, a given front group may be infiltrated by several subversive organizations simultaneously. This many-layered structure makes it difficult for the establishment to root out and eliminate subversive organizations.
Because subversive organizations place loyalty to their ideology above any respect for law and order (and may in fact be antagonistic to the existing legal structure), the use of force is always an option, and most subversive organizations prepare for eventual armed confrontation with the establishment. For this reason, they exert considerable effort to infiltrate the armed forces, the police, and other institutions of the state, as well as important non-government organizations. In some cases, the subversive organization will attempt to plant "sleepers" in these institutions, but in most cases they will use a combination of bribery, threats, and extortion to gain leverage over vulnerable individuals who already belong to the targeted institution.
Most subversive organizations realize that the overthrow of the existing order would be made simpler if the general populace looked upon the traditional power structure with disdain or apathy. To generate antipathy to the status quo, subversive organizations provide support to groups who generate civil unrest through demonstrations, strikes, and boycotts. Additionally, subversive organizations may infiltrate media outlets in order to shape the narrative that ordinary people use to make their political decisions.
Subversive organizations have many potential uses for posthumans and actively attempt to recruit them unless the organization has an ideology which prevents it. Because subversive organizations depend on subtlety more than on overt force, any posthumans in their ranks are likely to have abilities pertaining to deception and manipulation.
"Silent enim leges inter arma"
("Laws are silent in times of war")
Aegis is a secret, non-governmental intelligence organization dedicated to protecting the nations and peoples of Earth from all threats, terrestrial or extraterrestrial. Aegis primarily focuses on posthumans and on subversive organizations with plans for world domination, such as GORGON.
Operation Aegis was founded in 1911 by high-ranking officials in the US State Department and the US War Department, in part in response to the creation of the Secret Service Bureau by the British in 1909, and in part due to the subversive activities of GORGON in Germany and the United States.
Aegis ceased to be under government control in 1929, when it was officially shut down as part of an effort by Secretary of State Henry Stimson to rein in the United States' intelligence services. However, by this time Aegis was self-funding, and the organization simply continued operations without government oversight.
The continued existence of Aegis is not known to the general public.
"Our vision. Our future."
Publicly, ASGARD (Advisory Science Group for Aerospace Research and Development) was an agency of NATO that existed from 1952 to 1996. As its name implies, ASGARD's activities ostensibly concentrated on aerospace research, but in fact it was a secret plot to funnel NATO resources and classified information to GORGON.
ASGARD separated from GORGON in 1973 due to philosophical differences (prompting GORGON to found the Trilateral Commission to fill the void in that organization). The legitimate functions of ASGARD merged with the NATO Defence Research Group (DRG) in 1996 to become the NATO Research and Technology Organisation (RTO), while their subversive activities secretly continued as ASGARD. Today, ASGARD is a secret organization dedicated to the establishment of a global techno-fascist utopia, with ties to NATO and the International Monetary Fund.
ASGARD provides financial and philosophical support to futurists, hacker groups, and popular technology conferences. ASGARD receives a significant part of its funding by selling advanced weaponry to terrorists, "rogue" states, and other subversive organizations such as GORGON. Illegal arms dealing serves an added benefit to ASGARD, as it provides them with volunteers to field-test ASGARD's experimental weapon designs.
The continued existence of ASGARD is not known to the general public.
"Angst macht den Wolf größer, als er ist"
("Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is")
The organization now known as GORGON began as a dueling society at the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena in the 16th century. Over the following century the dueling society developed into a secret society, the Hocherleuchtete Bruderschaft. Its purpose was to break down society lines, destroy rivalry between classes, improve the quality of life, and increase patriotism. At first, most of its members were students who had taken part in liberating Germany from Napoleonic occupation.
The Hocherleuchtete Bruderschaft became increasingly nationalist as time went on. While freedom, rights, and democracy were given hollow praise, these principles were seen as being valid only when in service to the concept of a united German national state. The concept of nationalism gradually fell out of favor with the organization's ruling elite, and by 1776 their focus had shifted to the control of world affairs through governments and institutions. Much as the ideals of freedom and democracy had been given lip service in previous centuries, the concept of German nationalism became little more than a formality. Along with these changes the organization changed its name, first to Die Gorgonen and then to GORGON.
By the end of the 19th century, GORGON had become a world-wide subversive organization dedicated to global domination. In the tradition of its origins, many of the subordinate subversive organizations and secret societies from which GORGON recruits its core membership have extreme nationalist, fascist, or sovereign citizen agendas, often with an overlay of Nazi fetishism. However, the ultimate goal of the High Enlightened Council which controls GORGON is nothing less than absolute power, divorced from any nationalist pretensions.
The United States Department of State classifies GORGON as a foreign terrorist organization.
Jade Moon Society
고생 끝에 낙이 온다
("At the end of hardship comes happiness")
The Jade Moon Society is controlled by Master Sin, an immortal Korean mastermind. The Jade Moon Society has its roots in ancient Korea, but in the modern era, it is the concealed hand which controls a number of other Asian secret societies, such as the Black Ocean Society, the Heaven and Earth Society, the Green and the Red Societies, and the Yakuza. Through these subsidiary organizations, the Jade Moon Society has global influence.
The true goals of the Jade Moon Society are obscured behind layers of deception. Most of the organizations the Jade Moon Society controls are concerned with returning to traditional cultural values. This is true of the Black Ocean Society and the Heaven and Earth Society, which are overwhelmingly ethnically Japanese and Chinese, respectively. Some of the secret societies controlled by the Jade Moon Society are less than respectable. The Green and the Red Societies, for example, are secret societies of Chinese criminals with millions of gangsters as members, while the Machi-yakko was a 17th century organization subverted by Master Sin, the name of which eventually became modernized into Yakuza. All of these organizations are simply pawns of the Jade Moon Society.
Master Sin's ultimate goal is a world in perfect ecological balance, but this fact is withheld from the Jade Moon's subordinate secret societies and their numerous front organizations. Only the fanatically loyal members of the Jade Moon Society itself are aware of this hidden agenda.
The existence of the Jade Moon Society is a rumour among Asian secret societies, and is not known to the general public.
"Только для персонала, имеющего разрешение"
("Authorized personnel only")
In the early 1950s, the KGB formed a special office under their Operations and Technology Directorate dedicated to the research and development of techniques for creating super soldiers. The office became known as Laboratory 23 and continued to operate until 2004, when it was dismantled by the Justifiers. Starting in 1978, KGB operatives under the direction of Laboratory 23's deputy director, Dr. Leonid Demetriov, implemented a program of identifying young and even infant posthumans, kidnapping or otherwise acquiring them, then brainwashing the posthumans into becoming loyal, lethal espionage agents.
Although Laboratory 23 is no longer functional, many of its scientific personnel and posthuman operatives are still at large.
"Pro aris et focis"
("For hearth and home")
Project Genesis has its roots in Project Greenback, which was one of a series of systematic studies of posthumans conducted by the United States Army. Started in 1952, Project Greenback was the second revival of such a study (the first two of its kind being Projects Apex and Undertow). It had two goals: to determine if posthumans were a threat to national security and to scientifically analyze posthuman-related data.
Thousands of reports of posthuman activity were collected, analyzed, and filed. In December of 1969, the Army provided the following summary of its Project Greenback investigations:
- There was no indication that any posthuman investigated by the Army was a threat to the national security of the United States;
- There was no evidence submitted to or discovered by the Army that posthuman activity represented technological developments or principles beyond the range of modern scientific knowledge; and
- There were less than a dozen posthumans in the United States, and less than forty posthumans worldwide.
This report was a lie. Shortly after his election, President Nixon ordered Army Chief of Staff General William Westmoreland to suppress the results of Project Greenback. Nixon felt that the American populace would panic if they knew the truth: that posthumans were a credible threat to national security, that some posthumans had access to advanced technology, and that posthumans probably numbered in the hundreds in the United States alone.
Unhappy with the President's decision, twelve high ranking Army officers covertly formed Project Genesis (not to be confused with Majestic 12, the clandestine program to trade human children to the Shran in exchange for extraterrestrial technology). Their goal was to prepare for a preemptive war against the posthuman menace. Membership in Project Genesis grew slowly over the next several years, primarily among higher-ranking members of the military and trusted troops under their command. The secrecy of the project was broken in 1975 when a Project Genesis attack against a posthuman at LaGuardia Airport killed 11 people and injured another 75. The bomber, a young Marine named Ernest Stout, was captured by the police and confessed to the bombing, offering to provide detailed testimony about Project Genesis in exchange for leniency. He died in custody shortly thereafter while waiting for his lawyer.
Membership in Project Genesis remained predominantly military until the late 1980s, when significant numbers of civilians began to seek membership in the organization. Today, the leadership of Project Genesis is still primarily military or former military, but the bulk of the rank-and-file membership are civilians recruited from groups that advocate racial, religious, or ethnic purity. Most of the newer members of Project Genesis frame their opposition to posthumans in faith-based terms rather than in terms of national security, likening posthumans to fallen angels or "nephilim". The core leadership and their project teams, however, adhere to the guiding principle that posthuman activity is a threat to national security, and see the "outer layer" of civilian Project Genesis membership as a convenient smokescreen and revenue source.
The FBI classifies Project Genesis as a domestic terrorist organization, while the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies Project Genesis as a right-wing extremist hate group. This only applies to the civilian side of the organization -- the continued participation by high-level military and government intelligence personnel is a well kept secret.
Telling A Story The Kalos Comics Way
A game of Bulletproof Blues is, at its core, storytelling. When any RPG campaign loses the story telling focus, and devolves into a series of battles, the characters are no longer characters at all. They become writing on a piece of paper, just complicated tokens pushed around the game board of the campaign setting.
The players look to the game moderator to provide that setting and a series of problems or situations to resolve. Generally, this sequence of events is referred to as the plot. Sections of the overall plot that take multiple game sessions to resolve are called a story arc. The key to an engaging, thrilling experience for players and game moderator is for the GM to connect the individual game sessions together in a way that engages the persona each player is playing.
It is important to note a plot dynamic in Bulletproof Blues games which does not occur in comicbooks -- unlike a comicbook, each player in the group sees their PC as the main character of the story. The GM needs to give equal "spotlight" time for each player to roleplay in situations that explore their character's motivations, complications, and history. GMs can use the Kalos Comics Way to build a story that features all of the PCs equally.
For comicbook writers, the Kalos Comics Way requires development of two types of structures. First is a conventional, western-style narrative structure for each story arc, containing the classic five elements: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Writers are encouraged to embed some foreshadowing exposition from the next story arc into the rising action and falling action of the current story arc, in order to create a bridge from one story arc to the next.
Second, writers must produce an eastern-style narrative structure known as Kishōtenketsu for each major character. In the Kalos Comics Way, the purpose of the Kishōtenketsu is to communicate how the "person behind the mask" will be engaged in the story arc. The PC hero, after all, isn't a hollow shell with powers. The character is a person (or alien or robot) who lives in the world, and who has worldly emotions, concerns, and desires. GMs are encouraged to use the hero's motivations, complications, and history to build each Kishōtenketsu.
Because Kishōtenketsu is a technique useful for merging two seemingly unrelated plot threads without requiring direct conflict, it is used in the Kalos Comics Way to bring the mask and the person behind the mask together in the story.
In the Kalos Comics Way, after the story arc plot is laid out, and a Kishōtenketsu is done for each major character, they are all woven together to form the basis for the storyboard of the comic art. In Bulletproof Blues, they are all woven together to provide the framework for the game moderator's campaign.
Story Arc Plot
The story arc plot is the sequence of events in the current section of the overall story. The plot is made up of five elements centered around how the main characters confront and eventually (hopefully) overcome the source of the conflict. The five elements are:
The exposition is where the heroes are placed into the location of the story arc setting, key NPCs are identified, background information is provided through dialogue or explanation, and the game moderator provides clues or explicit instructions that lead the heroes into the rising action.
The rising action is a series of conflicts or problems that grow more and more complicated and challenging for the heroes. The resolution of one conflict leads to the next. The rising action builds excitement as each danger is vanquished or mystery solved. The Kalos Comics Way uses two to four combats or encounters to build the rising action.
The climax is the turning point of a story, novel, or script. It is the moment where it seems like the main character is in danger or could even possibly fail at resolving the conflict. Depending on the kind of conflict being faced (man vs. man, man vs. self, etc.), the actions at this point in the work can be either physical or mental.
Taking place after the climax, the falling action includes events that will help to fully resolve the conflict. The results of actions that the main character has taken are presented as well as the results of decisions that have been made, whether good or bad for the character.
The end of a story, novel, or script includes the last plot element -- the resolution. It is here that loose ends are tied up, conflicts are concluded, outcomes are revealed, and a happy or sad ending takes place. As many of the final actions have already taken place, a resolution can be made up of a just a summary of where the main character will end up in the future, instead of including any more active events.
Kishōtenketsu is a compound word formed from the Japanese Kanji characters that explain the structure. The examples here are from poet Sanyō Rai.
Daughters of Itoya, in the Honmachi of Osaka.
The first element places the character in the context of what is important in the character's life. Typically, the Ki element sets the scene, forming the basis for how the things the character cares about will become part of the story.
The elder daughter is sixteen and the younger one is fourteen.
The second element, Shō, expands on the first element and typically contains an action that develops on the scene identified in Ki.
Throughout history, warriors have killed the enemy with bows and arrows.
The third element is the climax, in which an unforeseen development occurs. Typically, the relationship of the content of Ten to the first two elements is not readily apparent. In other words, there is not a linear progression from Shō to Ten.
The daughters of Itoya kill with their eyes.
The fourth element, Ketsu, is the conclusion. Ketsu merges Ten into the narrative direction of Ki and Shō.
The Kalos Comics Way
In the Kalos Comics Way, the comic writer or GM assembles the pieces of the story in the following manner:
- The first step is to assign draft events to the five story arc plot elements. These events may change during the process. The climax is identified first, then the rising action that builds up to it, followed by exposition. Falling action and resolution are done last, then all 5 are reassembled in their chronological order.
- The second step is to create a Kishōtenketsu for each major character based on their motivations, complications, and history.
- Third, the Kishōtenketsu are inserted into the five elements where it makes the most sense from a story and character standpoint.
- And finally, in the fourth step, for the comic writer the assembled plot is reviewed with the editor, then sent to the pencillers and turned into a story board. For the GM, this step is where the descriptions are filled in, and NPC and villain characters are created or taken from sourcebooks.
The Big Example
Below is an example that illustrates how you can use the Kalos Comics Way in your games.
Step 1: Story Arc Plot
The GM wants to use the story arc to reveal a new master villain: Dr. Virago, a super scientist bent on world domination, who has been cryogenically frozen since 1973. Dr. Virago's technology was 100 years ahead of its time in 1973, so it is still advanced, but also strangely dated. The GM intends for Dr. Virago to become one of the PC group's long-term arch nemeses.
With that in mind, it is important that Dr. Virago survive the climax of the story arc in a way that propels the campaign forward. The GM decides that the best way to keep Dr. Virago as an active antagonist is to not have Dr. Virago directly involved in the climax. Instead, Dr. Virago's 1970s-style robot bodyguard/killing machine will take the brunt of the heroes' wrath, and Dr. Virago's involvement will be revealed in the falling action after the climax of the story arc.
Climax: The heroes think they have found the lair of Dr. Virago, but instead they've fallen into a trap! They've been sealed in a subterranean base with Dr. Virago's monstrous death robot, MX-ML1, who's been programmed to kill!
The GM decides that Dr. Virago wants to acquire some bio-weapon technology -- an area that has seen tremendous strides while she was in cryogenic hibernation. Her investigation has led her to Lance Doughty, a virologist, who had a history of selling his private research. But not all of Doughty's research is in government or corporate hands -- Dr. Virago's "sources" say key formulas are stored in a safe deposit vault owned by Doughty's estate.
But Dr. Virago is no fool. She doesn't want to be directly involved at all. So she hires three mercenary villains: Razor, Cacophony, and Equinox. Razor has gang affiliations, so Dr. Virago tells him to hire some local muscle to do the actual break-in. She provides some vials of a mysterious, powerful Transformation Serum so the thugs will agree. Plus, the gang can have everything in the bank vault, as long as they turn over Doughty's safe deposit box unopened and unharmed.
Rising action 1: A 911 call leads the heroes to a couple of gang members who have taken the Transformation Serum. The chemicals have warped their bodies, making them far stronger and tougher than normal, and wildly violent.
Rising action 2: After questioning one of the malformed thugs, the heroes go to the gang's safehouse to recover the stolen goods and the rest of the Transformation Serum. Clues lead the heroes to the mercenary villains.
Rising action 3: The heroes find Razor, Cacophony, and Equinox, and bring them to justice. The villains reluctantly agree to reveal the location of Dr. Virago's hideout.
The police begin to realize they are out of their depth when they see the hole ripped into the brick wall of Metro City National Bank. Their fears are realized when they see three monstrous men on the security tape, so naturally they call the heroes.
Exposition: A call from Metro City police ask the heroes to help capture three "creatures" who broke into Metro City National Bank.
After the heroes defeat Dr. Virago's monstrous death robot, MX-ML1, they hear an odd clacking sound from another room. They enter to find a telex machine sending the last page from a stack of documents. A cursory glance reveals that documents contain complex formulas and engineering specifications. Behind the telex machine is a bank of two dozen 16" tube type color televisions. The screens flicker on, showing a test pattern, then the aged, malevolent face of the dreaded Dr. Virago! She is surprised and angry that the heroes defeated MX-ML1, and swears vengeance.
Falling action: After defeating MX-ML1, the heroes discover that Dr. Virago has been the mastermind behind the bank robbery and the Transformation Serum. The evil genius' whereabouts are unknown.
Once the federal government finds out that Dr. Virago has somehow returned, dozens of agents swoop in on the subterranean base, seizing the documents and the remaining Transformation Serum. The heroes are "debriefed". The gang members who broke into the bank are identified and charged with the crime. Razor, Cacophony, and Equinox are long gone -- they escaped from custody while they were being transferred to jail.
Resolution: Local police and federal law enforcement coordinate to secure Dr. Virago's base. The gang members who broke into the bank are charged with robbery, but Razor, Cacophony, Equinox, and Dr. Virago herself remain free, leaving the heroes frustrated.
In chronological order, the story arc plot is:
- Exposition: A call from Metro City police ask the heroes to help capture three "creatures" who broke into Metro City National Bank.
- Rising action 1: A 911 call leads the heroes to a couple of gang members who have taken the Transformation Serum. The chemicals have warped their bodies, making them far stronger and tougher than normal, and wildly violent.
- Rising action 2: After questioning one of the malformed thugs, the heroes go to the gang's safehouse to recover the stolen goods and the rest of the Transformation Serum. Clues lead the heroes to the mercenary villains.
- Rising action 3: The heroes find Razor, Cacophony, and Equinox, and bring them to justice. The villains reluctantly agree to reveal the location of Dr. Virago's hideout.
- Climax: The heroes think they have found the lair of Dr. Virago, but instead they've fallen into a trap! They've been sealed in a subterranean base with Dr. Virago's monstrous death robot, MX-ML1, who's been programmed to kill!
- Falling action: After defeating MX-ML1, the heroes discover that Dr. Virago has been the mastermind behind the bank robbery and the Transformation Serum. The evil genius' whereabouts are unknown.
- Resolution: Local police and federal law enforcement coordinate to secure Dr. Virago's base. The gang members who broke into the bank are charged with robbery, but Razor, Cacophony, Equinox, and Dr. Virago herself remain free.
Step 2: Kishōtenketsu
For our example, we'll use a team of three PCs:
- Blueshift – Speedster martial artist hero, reformed criminal
- Manticore – Flying, armored superhero persona of an international celebrity
- Monolith – Massive, immensely strong hero who advocates for children's charities
These PCs are established heroes from Kalos Comics who we're teaming together. Along with each hero's motivations, complications, and history is that hero's Kishōtenketsu.
- Guilt: The character is a reformed criminal who is driven by a desire for redemption from the sins of her past.
- Rebellion: The character struggles with social interactions; this isolates her and reinforces her sense that she doesn't fit into society at large.
- Enemy: Blueshift is still hunted by Project Genesis, and not everyone has forgiven her criminal past.
- Outsider: Blueshift's unease around normal people is often taken as disdain.
For Blueshift's history, please see her full character write-up (p. XXX).
The GM decides that Blueshift's background as a leader of Master Sin's strike team would be a good way to bridge the gap between the gang members and the mercenary villains. Equinox, when she isn't using her fire and ice powers to commit crimes, is an alcoholic: a rough and tumble country girl who drowns her sorrows in cheap whiskey and drugs at honky-tonk bars. Having worked with her before, Blueshift knows Equinox's habits, recognizes the description given by one of the thugs captured at the gang's safehouse, and knows how to find her.
- Ki (Introduction): Blueshift and three armored troopers hide outside an industrial complex, watching the guards patrolling behind a razor wire fence.
- Shō (Development): The troopers give Blueshift confused, questioning looks as she checks her watch then looks past them to the horizon and the glowing haze above a nearby town.
- Ten (Twist): A woman is slumped against the bar in a seedy dive, one hand clutching an empty glass, eyes barely open.
- Ketsu (Reconciliation): Blueshift grits her teeth as she slings the woman's arm over her shoulder and drags her out of the bar, in spite of the woman's protests.
The GM can use this Kishōtenketsu series of events as a flashback so Blueshift's player can suggest canvassing local honky-tonk dive bars with a description of Equinox. In addition, this knowledge can be used after the story arc is complete as foreshadowing for future story arcs concerning Blueshift's past and/or the continued pursuit of Dr. Virago.
- Adventure: The character has an adventurous spirit and rarely turns down a quest.
- Protection: The character wants to protect others, particularly the innocent and the helpless.
- Vulnerability: All of Manticore's powers are dependent on her armor and equipment.
- Enemy: Chloe Zhang is internationally famous, which makes her a very easy target for her enemies.
For Manticore's history, please see her full character write-up on page XXX.
For this story arc, the GM uses Manticore's significant experience as a hero and her numerous encounters with the subversive groups that plague the modern world. Recently Manticore defeated a group of infiltration specialists and armored stormtroopers working for ASGARD. Among the information gathered from the defeated agents was a list of contacts.
When the Metro City police show the heroes the security video of the bank robbery, they also have a list the owners of the safe deposit boxes. One box belonged to the estate of Lance Doughty.
- Ki (Introduction): Five years ago, Manticore and her teammates Mr. Shade and Ladon, Guardian of Ages, stand over the unconscious bodies of a group of Vidar: dangerous agents employed by the evil organization ASGARD.
- Shō (Development): Just behind Ladon, a Vidar agent attempts to erase data from a handheld device, but Manticore notices and leaps to stop him.
- Ten (Twist): A disheveled man in a lab coat accepts a thick envelope labelled "Doughty" from a disinterested woman. He gets out of her car, and with a nervous backward glance walks into the night.
- Ketsu (Reconciliation): Manticore can see a phrase, "Doughty 1471" flash across the display as the device melts through the agent's trembling hand.
The GM decides to foreshadow this recollection in the exposition, then drop the reference into the story arc plot during the fight with the mercenary villains. Manticore doesn't have to associate the list of deposit box owners (from the bank manager) with the name from the ASGARD device. Instead the GM will mention "1471" as if by accident while roleplaying the braggart Razor or the uncontrolled Equinox during the fight. Manticore will make the connection, then the team can then use their Investigation skills to trace from the safe deposit box, to Doughty's estate, to recent contacts with the estate, to a landline phone call from an abandoned warehouse just outside of town that disguises the entrance to one of Dr. Virago's underground bases.
- Justice: The character seeks to ensure that misdeeds are met with appropriate punishment.
- Protection: The character wants to protect others, particularly the innocent and the helpless.
- Enemy: Monolith has made many enemies, but Cesspool is the most vile and persistent.
- Uncontrolled Power: Monolith's size and weight make it impossible for him to have a normal life.
For Monolith's history, please see his full character write-up on page XXX.
The GM decides that commitment to charity work would be an excellent opportunity to connect the "human elements" of the story. In the course of his volunteer work, Monolith has met one of the thugs who robbed the bank. Monolith doesn't think the young man is a criminal type, so there must be some other explanation.
- Ki (Introduction): Monolith attends a charity event -- a ribbon cutting for a new inner city playground.
- Shō (Development): One of the organizers introduces Monolith to a teen, Abe Washington, who is good student, but who is having trouble in his tough neighborhood.
- Ten (Twist): Three deformed, monstrous humanoids tear through the wall of a bank and loot the vault.
- Ketsu (Reconciliation): While watching the security video of the bank robbery, Monolith sees that one of the humanoids has the distorted face of Abe, the boy from the playground.
With this information in hand, the GM decides to add a wrinkle to the story arc plot: the genetic damage caused by the Transformation Serum is potentially lethal, and there is no known anti-serum. Two of the gang members involved in the bank robbery have died from the side effects. Only the young man Monolith befriended is alive, but time is running out. As the boy lay dying, he refuses to speak with anyone other than Monolith. As he slowly slips into a coma, he explains to Monolith that Razor threatened his family if he didn't take the Transformation Serum and participate in the robbery. The clock is ticking. Will the heroes find a clue to an antidote in Dr. Virago's subterranean base?
Step 3: Integration
In chronological order, the story arc plot with Kishōtenketsu added is:
- Exposition: Monolith is interviewed by a local news reporter about his attendance the day before at a ribbon cutting for a new inner city playground. A senior Aegis agent stops by to see Manticore and thank her personally -- the only surviving ASGARD Vidar agent from a recent raid has been found guilty of espionage. A call from Metro City police ask the heroes to help capture three "creatures" who broke into Metro City National Bank late last night. While on her way to the precinct station, Blueshift passes by a honky-tonk bar she remembers from a time years ago when she worked for Master Sin. At the station, the bank manager gives the detectives information about what was stolen, and the detectives show the heroes the security camera footage. Monolith recognizes one of the humanoids as Abe, a boy from the playground.
- Rising action 1: The heroes' next steps are interrupted by a frantic 911 call. The heroes fight a couple of gang members who have been transformed, their warped bodies making them far stronger and tougher than normal, and wildly violent. One of them is the boy from the playground. The effects of the transformation begin to take their toll: the boy is dying. He refuses to speak with anyone other than Monolith, revealing the involvement of Razor, a known posthuman criminal, and discloses the location of the gang's safehouse.
- Rising action 2: The heroes go to the gang's safehouse to recover the stolen goods and find out more about the drug that turned the gang members into monsters. After a battle with the thugs, some transformed and some not, but all armed, the heroes question the gang about the location of Razor and the origin of the serum. The gang doesn't know much, but one of them describes an associate of Razor's with half her body on fire, and the other misted over with ice. Blueshift recognizes the description as Equinox, and has an idea of where to find her.
- Rising action 3: The heroes ask around at the bar where Blueshift had found Equinox years ago. The bartender is tight lipped, but a local drunkard gives directions to a fancy hotel where the heroes find Razor, Cacophony, and Equinox preparing to skip town. The villains fight until defeated. During the fight, one of the posthumans complains that they better not go to jail just for 1471. The reference reminds Manticore of her experience with ASGARD's Vidar agents. The name Doughty isn't common. Maybe the two are connected? With the help of police detectives and a list of safe deposit box owners from the bank manager, the investigation leads from the safe deposit box to Doughty's estate, to phone records, to an abandoned warehouse outside of town.
- Climax: Descending into the depths in a secret elevator, the heroes think they have found the lair of Dr. Virago, but instead they've fallen into a trap! They've been sealed in the subterranean base with Dr. Virago's monstrous death robot, MX-ML1, who's been programmed to kill! Can they defeat the robot in time to defuse the self-destruct mechanism? Will they find an antidote to the Transformation Serum and save Abe's life?
- Falling action: After defeating MX-ML1, the heroes disarm the self-destruct mechanism and find a shortwave telex machine sending the last page from a stack of documents. A cursory glance reveals the documents contain complex formulas and engineering specifications -- Doughty's research notes for a massive virus bomb. Behind the telex machine, two dozen 16" tube type color televisions flicker on, showing the aged, malevolent face of the dreaded Dr. Virago! She is surprised and angry that the heroes defeated MX-ML1, and she swears vengeance. The screens click off: the evil genius' whereabouts are unknown. A quick search reveals a few vials of antidote among the dusty boxes of Transformation Serum. The heroes return to town as fast as they can. All of the other young men who took the serum have died -- only the boy from the playground still lives. With the antidote in his system, he slowly returns to normal.
- Resolution: Local police and federal law enforcement coordinate to secure Dr. Virago's base. The boy from the playground is the only survivor of the three who broke into the bank, and without any evidence of him being coerced, Abe is charged with robbery. Razor, Cacophony, and Equinox are long gone -- they escaped from custody while they were being transferred to jail. If Doughty had plans for a virus bomb in his estate, what did he sell to ASGARD five years ago? But perhaps most troubling is Dr. Virago herself. What new terror will she unleash on the world? How will she wreak vengeance on our heroes? Only time will tell.
Step 4: Fill in the Details
With the story arc plot and Kishōtenketsu merged together, the last step for comicbook writers using the Kalos Comics Way is to meet with the editors who ensure continuity with the Kalos Universe, crisp pacing, pithy dialogue, and good taste in character development. The last step for the GM is to fill in the blanks with the materials needed to run the story arc with the gaming group. Here are a few key things you'll need:
- Descriptive passages to give some color and personality to the key locations. These are very helpful when the PCs move from one location to another, since they provide a box of text the GM can read from to set the scene with key details. Think about all five senses: what the characters will smell, and hear, whether the ground is hard or soft, crunchy or slippery.
- Write-ups for the villains. It seems obvious, but improvised villains can prove one dimensional. It's one thing to role-play an unspeaking villain like Cacophony, but having a reference that lists her skills, or the scope of her devastating sonic attacks, or her claustrophobia can be important. Write-ups from Bulletproof Blues sourcebooks are naturally encouraged.
- Maps for complex places, especially for fight scenes. Even a crudely hand drawn map is a better visual reference for GMs and players alike than nothing at all. Think of unusual elements in the environment that can be used in fun and interesting ways.
- Names and one sentence descriptions for NPCs. What are the detectives' names? Was the reporter who interviewed Monolith sympathetic, or did she seem slightly hostile? Little details can go a long way toward improving the game.
- Ideas that build on the events in the story. If the heroes go back to ask the drunkard how he knew where the posthuman villains were, what do they find out? Is he an Aegis agent in disguise? Or was it really Dr. Virago trying to tie up loose ends? Having ideas like these ahead of time can help you dovetail this story arc into the next one.
- An expectation of the unexpected. Role-playing game players are crafty and inventive. Sooner or later they will derail your prepared plot and take the game in a direction you didn't think about. Be ready to improvise!
- The most important thing you'll need is a sense of fun and adventure. Bulletproof Blues is a game in a dark setting. The PCs are surrounded by malevolent corporations and sinister government initiatives run amok in a world shell-shocked from the unprecedented destruction wrought by Paragon. But Bulletproof Blues is a game. It's intended to be a fun way for a few friends to get together and work as partners fighting the good fight. Enjoy it!