Reading Nights Black Agents (Ken Hite’s Spies v. Vampires game) led me to crease a supers-game conspiracy pyramid. For accessibility I’m doing so with the villains in Most Wanted Volume 1 lightly modified.
The Conspiracy Pyramid is a way to make the supers games more investigative, which gives detective themed heroes an additional way to contribute. It has 21 nodes (6 level one nodes, 5 level two and so on) that start at the street level and lead up to the head of a global conspiracy. I’ll be presenting these in groups of 3-6, showing how thematic elements of the conspiracy fit together and how they react if poked by the heroes. Villains in level one nodes are level 1-2, level two node villains are 4-6 and so on.
The Buzzard’s Corrupt Cops
Level Three Node
Buzzard: Lt. Cooper had been a ‘supercop’ (honest, sterling record, top human agility) and hid his narcotics corruption and career as the Buzzard so well that he was promoted to lead the states Super-Human Apprehend & Rehabilitate Program (SHARP). For this make the following updates
* Node Level: 3
* Swap starting S and I – he should be in worse shape but smarter in this version.
* Increase Level to 8. He was an experienced police officer followed by years as a super-villain.
* Training increases E to 9, I to 15 and C to 15.
* Inventions include thermal lenses for 20” range IR vision, the difficult to penetrate communications network for his ‘special’ units and new gasses for his bombs as you see fit – possibly some custom tailored to the PCs to make him a formidable threat. He also carries an auto-pistol and nightstick.
* He has access to SHARP resources – which are high end but not superhuman – to investigate and apprehend criminals, or super –heroes if he can manufacture charges against them. Give him a Security Clearance of 13.
If the PCs are nosing around this level of the Conspiracy it’s either due to lack of trust issues with authority figures or because they’ve already uncovered the corrupt narcotic officers or the freakshow inside of SHARP. Cooper is willing to burn one of those branches to keep his reputation as a good cop who has been victim of a conspiracy under him, but not both. Of course if the PCs have discovered both then there’s no way they’ll buy his teaming up with them to stamp out corruption as there’s just too much of it.
He will absolutely try to bring down the PCs via the method that hasn’t already been used, but backed up with his own attacks, tactical prowess and, if need be confiscated weapons. Buzzard will appear and attack with narcotics, hallucinogens, and firearms whose ballistics can be traced to guns owned by some known or suspected criminal on whom everything might be pinned. Cooper will always, always try to redirect the heroes towards someone else – some other gang, some other villain, some other part of his organization, and ultimately the Buzzard ID itself to keep his Lt. Cooper ID’s hands clear. He’s even savvy enough to have had hypnotic residue implanted in his mind to convince telepathic PCs of his innocence after his capture – and will point to Psi-Phon or Mirage as the real villains, so catching him in the act n the Buzzard suit is not a guarantee of victory.
Corrupt City Narcotics Officers
Mirage: Lt. Cooper co-opted Meryl Johnson by being totally honest with her: if she loyally worked for him as the ‘forensic chemist’ and lead of his corrupt narcotics team he’d support her, if she betrayed him he’d bury her. So far the alliance has worked to her advantage. Make the following updates:
* Node Level: Two
* Swap starting S and I – again, this is a smarter, scientific version of the villain.
* Reduce level to 6. This is minor, but she should be less experienced than Buzzard.
* Reduce E to 10 to account for level loss.
If the PCs start pushing at this level Mirage will move to co-opt the PCs if someone hasn’t already done so, with the vice cops recruiting them against another target. This may well have already happened, and if so it’s time to move to the smear campaign. This starts with solid illusions of the PCs committing a crime – preferably a narcotics related one - and then the PCs being ‘attacked’ by a ‘villain’ who is hurting them who turns out to be a normal person under an illusion while Mirage projects Phantom Pain. Once that happens, the police will move in to arrest the heroes, possibly with lethal force.
Some players will love this chance to temporarily engage in the wanted vigilante plot, some will hate it and some already live there, so gauge how long you can run this.
Once the PCs trace this back and find evidence against the corrupt cops Mirage will move to disappear, letting the cops take the fall, but Buzzard will make sure she’s implicated in everything, attributing mind control powers to her to shorten his men’s sentences and make sure there’s no backtrail to his time in the organization. If he hasn’t co-opted the PCs yet, now’s the time to introduce the Serpico one good cop Lt. Cooper to clean house.
Level One Nodes
The street gang at the back of the V&V 2.0 rulebook is the gang that Buzzards corrupt cops use to do their dirty (well, dirtier) work in the city. They do deliveries and enforcement and only their leaders know that they have some police protection (that can rapidly turn into a lethal raid that kills them all if they spill anything). The Nicotines are very careful to not kill people since that moves their activities out of Vice and into Homicide, where they have less police coverage.
* Assume the Nicotines are 5-6 gangs of this size (with convenient identical stats), but only operate in these smaller groups to threaten low level heroes. At least until the GM wants a full scale gang war.
If the PCs access the conspiracy through this node they’re doing the urban defender thing, going against a drug gang. Depending on their power level this could be complex or easy. The Nicotines have a half dozen hangouts and, if a few of their members are captured will try to set up a two-unit ambush on the heroes. If that fails they’ll go to ground and see if they can just wait the heroes out; if still pursued they call on the corrupt cops to cover for them.
The Nicotines don’t sweat getting arrested – they’ll be released due to irregularities and lack of evidence – but if the PCs kill any of them Buzzard’s police step in very quickly to capture the ‘killer costumes’. If the PCs are too close to taking the Nicotines down entirely the corrupt cops move in to co-opt them, offering to liaison in a drug war that targets other gangs. This will likely work short term, but if the PCs keep digging on the Nicotines it serves as the entrance to the next level of the conspiracy.
Erica Knight is what might happen to the heroes if they underestimate Buzzard. Under Buzzard’s orders Mirage messes with her since her powers make her too difficult to contain. Erica knows Cooper is behind it all, with evidence that he’s working with the Mole-People and Queen Victoria. She’s not nuts, but Buzzard and Mirage have done a great job of making her look that way. Make the following updates:
* Reduce Level to 2; she’s a relatively recent threat.
* Reduce S to 15, A to 12 and C to 12 to account for level loss.
If the PCs access the conspiracy through this node it will be because they have made direct contact with Ebony Angel – either having heard news reports of her and hunted her down or because they responded to the same crime. Buzzard and Mirage keep careful track of EA’s movements and will be alerted if that happens more than once. That’s when Mirage will step in and have an illusion of at least one of the heroes attack EA when they PCs are nowhere close, so that when they encounter EA again she has placed them on her gonzo photographs-news-clippings-and-twine conspiracy board and won’t trust them again without a lot of work on their part.
EA’s initial contact will have her share her story, which is now half-truth and half fiction, and another option is that Buzzard uses Mirage’s powers to frame someone else as being part of Cooper’s ‘conspiracy’ and let EA drag the players in on that attack. Once that goes south and the PCs have helped attack an innocent bystander EA won’t have much stock with them, or her for them. They players might not trust her upward analysis any longer, but her evidence tying Od and the Nicotines together gives them two other avenues of exploration.
In any event Cooper will eventually step in and use this to draw the PCs into his confidence. The Players should be angry with the GM for getting their PCs to trust a nutbar like EA, not suspicious that the SHARP leader is the head of a conspiracy.