The following is an entire chapter which was excised from GURPS I.S.T. for lack of space. (I had written something like 156 pages for what was supposed to be a 128-page book, as best as I can recall.) In earlier versions of this website, I tried to make this page reproduce the standard GURPS page layout circa 1990, but quite honestly, between the general deprecation of table-based page design in the web community and the fact that SJG hasn't used that trade dress in a decade or so, there's no real reason to do so any more. Instead, I'll be putting the former sidebars in boxes close to where they ought to appear. Yes, this superficially resembles SJG's current layout style. That's purely coincidental.
Note also that, in a combination of historical interest and sheer laziness, all game mechanics described below remain in Third Edition, Revised terms. Fortunately, nothing so described is particularly critical, and translating them to Fourth Edition should be reasonably easy, if it's needed.
Dealing with Dates...
This material was originally written for GURPS I.S.T. in 1989, and revised a couple years later for a Roleplayer/Pyramid article that never quite made it. As a result, some of its dates (particularly the 1990s' "ten year plan") -- are woefully out of sync with the real world. It doesn't take a genius to figure that the GM needs to shift things by fifteen or more years when it comes to the active dates in order to put the Circle's plans right where a well-run campaign would make best use of them. Similarly, financial quantities may need to be boosted to reflect two decades of inflation/growth. References to the Church/Circle's computer techonology will also need to be updated as well.
Supers For God: A Secret Conspiracy For The IST World
In the proper tradition of the four-color comics, every group of heroes should have its nemesis organization. The IST is no exception to this rule. But because of the far-reaching scope of the ISTs, any group that tries to oppose them must have vast resources, more than is ordinarily found in the hands of career criminals. Too, it must have a good disguise, lest it be discovered and dispatched quickly. Then comes the matter of motivation. In a world approaching true unity and prosperity, who would oppose the agents of that unity, and why?
Certainly not a traditional villain superteam. Such a group, as depicted in comics, would not be able to hold together long enough to be a true threat. Ego trips and other internal conflicts would tear it apart long before any long-term goals could be accomplished. And short-term goals such as profiting from ordinary crime simply are not realistic reasons for the banding together of such superbeings. As proven by both incarnations of the Deadly Dozen, the only practical, believable motivations for such a union are political or economic, and any such group must have a single leader with a vision to lead them.
The following is one such organization, designed to be a covert foil to the IST, an invisible enemy. Its goals and methods, though, are complex, and it may find itself working on the same side as the U.N. from time to time. By its nature, it is an Illuminated group, the core of a Conspiracy, as described in GURPS Illuminati; GMs may find that volume useful, though it is not necessary.
The Church of God in AmericaOne of the most influential religious organizations in the United States is the Reverend Ogden Matthias' Church of God in America. Unlike many of its sister movements spawned in the 1980s, the Church of God distinguishes itself by its politically moderate viewpoints and notable air of calm.
Reverend Ogden Matthias started his Church with a tiny Sunday-morning "chapel of the airwaves" broadcast on a small local station in the Midwest during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Over the course of the last three decades, this poor young preacher from Wisconsin has watched his Church grow from a $300 per week operation to a ministry which takes in over $500 million annually. His personal reputation has grown to the point where he is well-known public figure, an advisor to congressmen and presidents, and almost a cultural icon. He is commonly referred to as "America's Favorite Preacher." His public approval percentile usually tops 70, and his TV show has an outstanding ratings share. Part of this is due to his breathtaking oratorical skill -- he has been known to hold entire stadiums spellbound and noiseless, solely with the power of his voice.
The charismatic and influential Matthias is currently based in New York City. He owns a large church and television studio complex only a few blocks from the United Nations, housed in a converted former theater located on 51st Street near Broadway. Besides regular services (which are attended by no few of the rich, the powerful, and the super of New York City), he still personally produces his weekly devotional program, now called "Rev. Matthias' Hour In Christ." Its format is surprisingly sophisticated, calculated to appeal to the thinking man as well as the masses. Designed with a keen awareness of the latest demographic trends, it operates as much as a talk show as a devotional program, and often features "opposing viewpoints" without the expected harrassment or condemnation. In fact, the tone of the program always is clearly reasonable; few can find fault with its open structure and honest presentation.
Matthias himself is responsible for the show's atmosphere, as it only reflects his personality and his public image. At a time when other televangelists were being audited by the IRS, only Matthias was spared the scrutiny. In 1982, when the Moral Majority and other right-wing bodies (religious and secular alike) were castigating the Carter Administration for surrendering U.S. sovereignty to the U.N., Matthias preached of world solidarity and brotherhood, and to hell with nationalism. When the Berlin Wall was demolished in November of 1989, he was there at Brandenburg Gate. To the public -- to the world at large -- he appears the epitome of the perfect religious leader: calm, sophisticated, idealistic yet realistic, with vast reserves of sympathy and honesty. That is how he appears.
Reality is another story. Unknown to most of America and the world, Matthias and his Church of God have a sometimes ominous hidden agenda.
As noted in the main text, any or all of the groups found in the sidebars on pp. IST65-68 could be puppet groups manipulated by the Holy Circle. These groups are likely to come into conflict with PC IST members, and all would be on the bottom-most level of the Circle power structure.
Obviously, most would have no knowledge that they are controlled or influenced from outside. Usually there is one person within each group who is the Circle contact, but he or she will not be immediately evident to the characters. Circle contacts are not programmed to suicide, but are very loyal to the organization and may take their own lives to avoid revealing anything. All are supers, even in supers-hating organizations, and all wear psi shields (see p. SU90).
The following are notes on the Circle's involvement and goals with some of these organizations.
THAMF: The Circle encourages the violence of THAMF while ensuring that as few people as possible are hurt by them. Several heroes have died, though, as a result of THAMF bombs and snipers, and public opinion is overwhelmingly against them. The Circle's intent is that the negative backlash to THAMF will anchor itself in the American psyche in the form of a sympathy for supers.
Team 99: Team 99 does not have a Circle member within it, although its administrative contact in the Church does belong, and one of the members' qualifications was their probable willingness to support the Circle's goals. Their purpose in the Circle plan is to provide a set of outstanding role models and to reinforce the growing public approval of supers. It is given special coverage by Church-owned news media.
The First Church of the Supermen: Surprisingly, this church existed before the Holy Circle tried to take it over -- they did not create it, although they might have if it hadn't already been there. The Circle agent in the church is one of the elders of the main temple in Pasadena, and it hasn't taken much prodding on his part to include a new belief, about a heavenly kingdom on earth presaging the return of the True Supers.
The Holy CircleThe secret flip side of Matthias' multi-million-dollar church is an elite group called "The Holy Circle." It is composed completely of supers, and is served by a small but dedicated bureaucracy distributed throughout his regular organization. Unknown to any but the Circle, Ogden Matthias is himself a super, and it is to supers the world over he has dedicated this most secret aspect of his life.
Overview and Goals
The Circle's sole purpose is the eventual domination of the world by metahumans. Having grown up through the most tumultuous years of the supers era, Matthias believes with all his heart and soul that supers are the true children of God, touched by His finger and given powers as evidence of their favor in His eyes. And it followed logically, for him, that the world was rightfully theirs to rule, to build the Kingdom of God on Earth. Normals, being untouched by the Almighty, are to be benevolently ruled by the holy elect.
To this end, Matthias and the Circle have slowly and carefully grown a complex power structure out of their base in the Church. Their means are both political and economic, acquiring and spawning subsidiary organizations public and covert. Each of these groups have a specific purpose, sometimes hidden behind an intricate smokescreen of publicity and secrecy. Although they sometimes seem to oppose each other, each of them is a part of a vast plan orchestrated by the Circle and Matthias.
The basic overview of the Circle's plans can be broken down into eight parts:
The Circle and its power structure are carefully hidden, unsuspected, behind the existing structure of the Church of God in America. The Church, which has dozens of subsidiary organizations performing or funding charitable and medical works, provides the necessary corporate structure needed by the Circle while masking it with its own immensity. Circle operatives in the Church and its departments are effectively double agents, performing not only their cover jobs but Circle duties. Occasionally, old agents are mindwiped of their involvement, and new ones placed in the same departments.
The Church (and the Circle within it) take a number of regular actions in order to minimize possible suspicion and to maximize uncertainty. The Church, for instance, although a nontaxable body makes an annual "gift" of over $1,000,000 to the IRS, with the explanation that although they are exempt, they feel they should contribute to the financing of the nation. Matthias himself consistently overpays his taxes. Carefully controlled by Circle agents, the Church issues occasionally contradictory statements, and "events" are staged which make it appear that the Church is run by good-natured but occasionally squabbling people.
Although the publicly-announced income of the Church is over half a billion dollars (U.S.) per year, the Circle skims quite a bit off before that figure is calculated. In addition, the various groups in the power structure contribute laundered income to the Circle's coffers. All in all, conservative estimates put the Circle's financial resources on a par with the Church's, if not higher.
The final planned size of the Circle power structure has not yet been achieved, so corporations and organizations are constantly being added. Some groups are bought out or completely funded by the Church and then subverted to the Circle's purposes. Other times, new organizations are founded through the Church that have one goal publicly, but another one privately, known only to the Circle members within it. Corporations are acquired through dummy companies to provide equipment or technological innovation, as well as finance. Activist groups have been acquired by infiltration and subversion, although the Circle prefers to organize them itself.
In order to best propound his philosophies, Matthias has established a very strong public image as a political and religious moderate. His sermons and broadcasts revolve around the themes of evolving world unity and brotherhood, and he maintains a very pro-supers stance. The Church of God, likewise, has established and continues to hold an image of a politically-inactive sect dedicated to works of mercy and charity. Unlike other denominations, the Church does profess a very positive (some say glowing) regard for supers, and enlists their aid in many good works.
The Circle utilizes many activist groups as propaganda tools. These groups, which span the spectrums of both politics and sanity, are orchestrated such that extremists on either end of the political spectrum make themselves look either ridiculous or unacceptable, in order that Matthias' true views appear reasonable by comparison when the time comes that they are revealed. Organs run by the Circle also build up public opinion of supers, with the intent that the regard for metahumans eventually reach a stage of near-worship.
The Circle, through Matthias and his powers, controls a number of key public figures around the world. Several congressmen consult him daily. A dozen or more U.N. representatives are under his thumb. Important clerics across the globe unconsciously follow his lead. The front organizations of the Circle have bought off hundreds more officials of governments in both the East and the West.
Eight: Consolidation of Position
Besides expanding their power base, the Circle has taken steps to assure that its plans will unfold with minimal interference. Puppet groups with extremist views are used to discredit or dispose of potential foes and troubles. Corporate or governmental plans which conflict with long-term Circle goals are undercut through the action of moles or influenced officials. Physical installations are located as far apart as is practical, to protect the rest should one fall to any threat.
The Circle and The IST
Although future plans of the Circle call for the deactivation of the IST through the intervention of controlled U.N. representatives, they must deal with the local branches in the present.
You can't hide an operation the size of the Holy Circle's power structure perfectly. Not for long. The COPPF and the ICTF have had their eye on Matthias and his Church for about two years as of January 1992. They have begun to unravel the labyrinthine web of organizations controlled by the Church, and suspect that there may be more to its purpose than it purports.
The COPPF and the ICTF don't know, yet, that this is a complex structure dedicated to overthrowing the United States government, let alone taking over the world. But should they get wind of it... The possibilities for a campaign are breathtaking, and challenging. The possibilities for player frustration are great as well, for they would never be sure that they have finally aborted the great plot. The GM should think carefully before implementing the Church.
The Holy Circle is organized along the classic design of "staff command." Although Matthias is the absolute leader of the Circle, it can and will continue without him, should he die, be imprisoned, or otherwise taken out of action. The members of its ruling elite (not to mention all other Circle members) are all fanatic followers of Matthias, and share his dream.
The Holy Circle's elite is set up in the following manner: Matthias acts as commander-in-chief. Immediately beneath him are twelve supers, called deacons. In addition to being his staff command, each is in charge of one branch of the Circle's monumental structure. Committees organized from the deacon level coordinate and control policy and planning for the entire organization.
Beneath the deacons are hundreds of independent agents, loosely organized into "lobes," with several lobes assigned to each deacon. Agents are sometimes referred to as sextons, but in truth have no official title. Each lobe is coordinated through a main agent, although command does not pass through him; this "high sexton" acts merely as a clearinghouse for information passing up and down the structure.
Besides the deacons, Matthias has a second-in-command, a super by the name of Alvin Russet. Russet, who is based in Matthias' original complex in Madison, Wisconsin, is the minister's appointed successor, and manages the Circle's computer network. He shares with Matthias the command of the Circle bureaucracy within the Church.
The Circle's diversified and distributed structure, as well as its overall covert nature, make it a very hard entity to kill. Attempts to eliminate the Circle must dispatch not only Matthias and the ruling elite, but the secret bureaucracy as well, else it will regenerate and begin again, albeit in a different form. Matthias' long-term plans are very specific, and begin with the assumptions that someone, someday, will attempt just that. Potential successors to the current elite (like Russet) are constantly being groomed and deployed well away from New York.
In addition, the Circle has several complexes established for the training of supers who do not know the full extent of their powers. Included on the faculty are several mindwiped ex-supervillains who have been given entirely new personalities by Circle telepaths.
Odgen Matthias, aware of his metahuman powers since his early teens, was convinced of the near-divine status of supers before he was twenty. A child preacher in a Baptist traveling tent revival show, he saw what his vocal powers could do to a crowd, and decided all super powers, regardless of what they were, had to be gifts from God Almighty Himself. He saw so much of what was possible with them, but he also knew what depths of bigotry lay in the hearts of his fellow men.
The point was hammered home to him when he visited Washington, D.C. in 1950. It was the height of the short-lived madness known as the House Unamerican Activities Committee, and the persecution he witnessed horrified him. When he recovered from the shock he swore to himself that he would not allow this sort of thing to happen ever again. Although HUAC simply collapsed after its two-month reign of terror, Matthias' resolve held. Over the next few years, it merged with his belief about the semi-divine status of supers and his apocalyptic faith in the kingdom of heaven on earth, resulting in the conviction that supers were meant to rule the world for God.
In order to achieve the world he forsaw, he knew that he needed two things: followers, and money. Television, he realized, was the key. He already knew from his tent revivals that the power of control his voice exerted could be transmitted through a loudspeaker with no loss of strength. It stood to reason that television, too, would carry it as well. Once he came to this conclusion, it took only his power and a five-minute appointment with the manager of the local TV station to secure a half-hour slot on Sunday mornings. In 1964, at the age of 31, "Rev. Matthias' Hour in Christ" premiered.
Even before he began to produce his program, Matthias spent considerable time planning how he would bring about his dream. He studied revolutionary and utopian movements from the past two centuries, and perused military theory. He realized that the only way to foster change on the scale that he envisioned was through a large organization. And the only way to guarantee the perpetuation of that organization's original purpose was to provide it with a controlling group which acted as a staff command. Redundancy in its structure would ensure its survival and its vision.
But while Matthias was a visionary, he was no starry-eyed dreamer. He realized that the governments of the world would oppose and harrass such an movement if it operated openly. Matthias came to the conclusion that this work of the Lord were best performed secretly -- hiding one's light under a bushel, as it were. Even as other evangelists had done, he decided to build a religious empire, and hide his holy circle of followers within it. The outer structure would have to pure and unblemished, to hide the secret corps within it.
At his revival meetings, which he still held, he looked for candidates for his movement. In his weekly broadcasts he voiced carefully-worded appeals for the type of fanatic he sought, backed with the metahuman power of his voice. By 1967, he had formed the core of the Holy Circle, and it had begun its growth.
For most of the twenty-three years since then, the Circle's history can be summed up as growth. Its ranks increased cautiously; Matthias made sure that a candidate was truly devoted to the cause before admitting him to the organization. In the early years, this was often a long, tedious process of testing the candidate's reliability and fervor; but by 1973 the Circle had acquired several telepaths, which speeded up the confirmation procedure vastly.
Matthias sought to surround himself with fanatics because although his voice's power could turn any crowd into his followers, the effect was temporary unless repeated often. On a philosophical level, he was troubled by the concept of enforced loyalty within the Circle, feeling it violated the freedom of choice granted by God. However, it did not disturb him in the least to employ his power in this way on outsiders, who were for the most part normals.
As a wider and wider range of potential recruits became available to him, Matthias began replacing the few normals in the ranks with supers that he had seen trained. Potential and confirmed members were trained within the Church for the functions they were to serve for the Circle, and the normals they replaced had their memories edited and were then transferred to the burgeoning bureaucracy.
During the 1970s, the Circle was mostly dormant, its energy spent only in growth and none in activity. In the early Eighties, the rise of the New Right posed a threat to Matthias' goals. He set in motion a plan to discredit most of the newly politically-active televangelists which came to a head in the period from 1985 to 1988. One after another, televangelists fell into disgrace, surrounded by scandal, at the instigation of Circle telepaths. These events, combined with testimonials issued by Circle-controlled newspeople, has led to the growing perception of Matthias as a clear voice of truth and moderation in a field which had been increasingly populated by demogogues and right-wing political activists.
As the 1990s begin, the Circle has already moved into its final ten-year plan, which begins setting the stage for Matthias' long-awaited Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. The initial stage of this plan calls for the takeover of the United States, which can then serve as a staging platform for the rest of the world.
The Church of God in America has no easy access to equipment above TL7, but the Holy Circle does. Through its contacts and its controlled groups, it can provide its agents with just about any equipment available to the U.N. The sole exception is computers, in which the Circle is limited to commercially-available TL7 mainframes and PCs.
Still, with TL7 computers, a lot can be done. The Circle maintains an extensive computer center in Matthias' original headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin, overseen by second-in-command Alvin Russet. This complex is based around a Complexity 6 conventional mainframe with half a terabyte of on-line disk storage. A network of PC-based bulletin board systems (BBS's) have been emplaced across the country, on privately-leased phone lines acquired through dummy front companies. Each BBS is connected by a gateway to the mainframe, and can log in to the main computer and access information requested by agents in the field. (This private network has been implemented because the Circle does not consider the inherently open structure and protocols of the Internet sufficiently secure for its needs).
System security is relatively strong, providing a -2 to any skill rolls needed to hack into the mainframe, and -1 for the PC BBSs. The Circle does not have access to sophisticated security equipment, though, and cannot normally detect any intrusive attempts less obvious than a bungled hack. However, its online security programs do maintain complete password/codephrase access protection on all but the most prosaic of information. An incorrect password on any attempt to access material of "elite"-level security will trigger a shut-down process to prevent a possible hacker from reaching any more information. This process logs the account which triggered it, what data they were trying to look at, and where they logged in from. It then dumps all open files and the entire system configuration to an independently-powered RAMdisk, and closes out all open accounts and shuts off the mainframe. At the same time, it sets off an alarm in the system operator's office, and prints out the log information on the intruder. The process takes fifteen seconds or less.
Alvin Russet is currently designing a new module for the security system which will feed intruders false information before triggering a shutdown.
Methods and Means
In the 1990s, the Holy Circle's two prime tools will be propaganda and subversion. With its intent being the peaceful transfer of power from existing authority (run by normals) to a benevolent theocracy, violent means are eschewed. The plan is to prepare the people to want, or at least accept, the rule of supers.
Tools of Opinion
To this end, an extensive propaganda campaign has been developed, utilizing a large number of the lowest-level, expendible groups in the Circle power structure.
The most extreme of these groups are carefully-aimed tools, designed to swing public opinion away from their views. Groups like THAMF (see sidebar, p. IST67) are given indirect access to all the supplies and funding they need for their activities. The intent is that their excesses will doom their point of view, even among those inclined to be their partisans. Matthias will often invite representatives of these groups on his television show, and then politely and calmly demolish their arguments. At other times, such as immediately after another act of violence, Matthias will come out alone or prompt an ecumenical condemnation of their actions.
To mark the other end of the scale, the Circle also funds a number of fanatically pro-supers groups, most of which echo its own philosophy. For the most part, they are perceived as eccentrics or lunatic-fringe cults, but they, too, are given their role to play in the plan. The Circle sees to it that they have a good deal of media coverage, mostly as "human interest" stories. Their purpose is to expound the viewpoint of the Circle loudly and often, and seat it into the American subconscious, while remaining obviously harmless. These groups are exclusively normals -- any supers found joining one is immediately recruited for the Circle. A typical cult of this type is the so-called "First Church of the Supermen" (see sidebar, p. IST68).
Close in philosophy, but much more repulsive and virulent, are the organizations like the Metahuman Peoples' Research Institute (see sidebar, p. IST68). Unlike the cults, these are neo-racist left-wing groups masquerading as scientific institutions or academic authorities. Their typical program is to research and publicize the "obvious" proposition that supers are a master race, and should rule the world. However, they advocate a violent overthrow of the existing society in order to achieve this. These groups, too, are castigated by the Church and Matthias; their purpose is to be as repellent about violent revolution as possible, again to condition people against it and prepare them to be grateful for a peaceful transfer of power. Supers found joining such groups are either mindwiped or killed, after telepathic examination.
To provide a happy medium, the Circle also funds many superteams across the country. The best known of these, New York City's "Team 99" (see sidebar, p, IST65), is the prototype. Its membership is carefully limited to supers known or confirmed to be sympathetic to the Circle's cause, and its purpose is simple: to be positive role models and figures whom the normals will follow and believe in the chaos expected at the time of transition.
Surprisingly, the Circle does not fund supervillains, although it is one of the "stockholders" of the Exchange.
Besides these bodies, the Holy Circle has obtained the control of a small number of newspapers and radio and television stations. In general, these it leaves alone to continue as they always have, but in special cases (and on certain standing orders), agents therein make sure that special items particular to the Circle's agenda are entered into the public consciousness.
Tools of Example
In the middle 1960s, Matthias and the Circle thought it a wise idea to finance several small supers-run governments, both to use as public examples and as an experiment. So the Circle organized and financed nine separate coups and coup attempts among the nations of Latin America.
In all cases, what were intended to be miniature "Kingdoms of Heaven" became virtually identical dictatorships, varying only in the degree of repression. However, Matthias feels that he has learned quite a bit from the exercise. He has repented of the Circle's involvement and support, and when the atrocities of two of his hand-picked dictators reached record levels, he regretfully ordered their deposal. Within days, one was assassinated, and the other run out of the country by an unexpected palace uprising.
The rest of the tyrants, though, Matthias has consistently ignored. It isn't clear, even to his closest associates, whether he simply wants nothing more to do with them, or whether he is simply blind to their tyranny and atrocities. He has been quoted as speaking favorably of "our boys in Latin America" and their little Kingdoms. Several of the dictators are subscribers to Church newsletters, and almost all of them still have Circle agents planted in their staff.
Tools of Consolidation
In addition to the public supergroups which the Circle and the Church fund, the Holy Circle also maintains what amounts to a large standing super-army (this is besides the members of the supers-only elite). Scattered across the country, this force is divided into squadrons numbering from three to ten supers each, with a minimum of one telepath per squadron. Their purpose is threefold.
First, they are recruiters. They look for supers and normals alike who display signs of being sympathetic to the cause. After being scanned by their telepath(s), recruits are sent on to New York, or the local Circle installation, whichever is closer or more convenient.
Second, they are muscle. Even with the planned takeover decidedly nonviolent, the Circle expects the need for their own combat-ready force of metahumans.
Third, they hunt metavillains. This again is a tool for the manipulation of public opinion. The prime cause of fear of supers in the normal population is the number of metavillains who roam the country. The Circle's squadrons hunt down metavillains, one by one, and generally execute them, if possible. If cannot find a means to kill the metavillain, or the metavillain has skills and powers possibly of use to the Circle, he is mindwiped and sent on to the Circle.
Executed metavillains are disposed of so that they will not be found. The purpose is to reduce the number of villains, not scare them with vigilante justice. As word begins to get around, though, the two may tend to overlap.
The Holy Circle As A PatronAn interesting alternative to attacking the Holy Circle is working for it! In such a situation, player characters become agents and members of the Circle, fulfilling its assignments and ensuring the eventual domination of the world by supers.
Such characters would be required to take a Patron: the Holy Circle, a large, very powerful organization, with super abilities, appearing quite often (12 or less), for a total advantage cost of 50 points. They would also need to take Fanaticism: Holy Circle as a disadvantage worth -15 points. At the GM's option,Circle operatives may also need to take an Enemy: the IST, appearing on either 6 or less or 12 or less (depending on the GM's purposes), for a value of -20 or -40 respectively.
Tools of Manipulation
In order to better prepare the public for a supers theocracy, the Circle has obtained control over several advertising agencies and P.R. firms. These are already developing campaigns (which they think are for an upcoming television miniseries) which will sell the undecided elements of the population on the Circle's planned government. But even beyond the state-of-the-art methods used by the agencies, there is an theory that the Circle is hoping to exploit.
The ministry of the Church of God in America includes no small number of hospitals, hospices, and other places of medical care and research. Included in this vast army of health are several psychiatric institutes and facilities. Ostensibly financed by the Church for research on the treatment and cure of the mentally ill, these institutions are also on the payroll of the Holy Circle. Coordinating through the Circle, each facility has a division extensively exploring memetic theory.
Memetics likens ideas to viruses. A virus' potential for survival is directly linked to its ability to infect new cells. Likewise, an idea or concept, or a group of related ideas, called a meme (pronounced meem), has a survival potential based on how well it can infect minds. The divisions funded directly by the Circle are researching just what features successful memes (like patriotism, fads, and political fanaticism) have in common. They are also trying to isolate what makes a meme long-lived. Their eventual goal is to develop a stable, long-lived meme for the Circle's goals. This meme would then be released into the population (ideally several months before any significant action) to "infect" as many minds as possible and make them open to the actuality of Matthias' Kingdom of Heaven.
Tools of Influence
It has been mentioned before that Matthias and the Holy Circle have control, either psionically, emotionally, or economically, over a number of influential individuals. Currently, these contacts are used to facilitate Circle business and to screen the Church of God from scrutiny.
However, the Circle's plans for their bloodless revolution include exploiting those contacts to their fullest. Congressmen controlled by Matthias will throw their weight on his side when the takeover begins. Other officials will be used to sow confusion in both the government and the military. U.N. contacts will call the Security Council to ban any involvement by ISTs, even "unofficial" and "personal" involvement. (Matthias learned much from the Tienanmen Square incident.)
After the actual takeover, the remaining televangelists and other clerics under Matthias' control will form an ecumenical coalition with him to establish his theological legitimacy. Government and military personnel under the Circle's influence will ease the transition of power over to the Church and the Circle. U.N. representatives will be used to prompt official rcognition of Matthias' government.
After the consolidation of the theocracy's position, the bribe-takers will be executed. The psionically-controlled will be released, if possible.
The Church of God and the Holy Circle need not be limited solely to a Supers campaign. While they do require the Supers rules to be most effective, they can be transplanted into any number of milieux to provide a complex and morally ambiguous antagonist.
Illuminati: The Holy Circle is a classic Illuminati organization. Transplanting it to an Illuminati-based campaign, complete with supers, would provide unique and challenging opportunities. Transplanting other Illuminati into the supers world to challenge the Circle is also a possibility.
Horror: Maybe in addition to creating the Kingdom of Heaven, the Circle is responsible for keeping Things From Beyond from entering our continuum. What happens if the good guys triumph? For the flip side, maybe Matthias isn't really a Christian minister at all, but a worshipper of some Thing that needs supers-level energy in order to enter into our universe.
Space: Where does the Church stand on aliens, especially aliens with powers? Do they count when the rolls for the Kingdom of Heaven are called? Or will there be an anti-alien jihad?
Fantasy: In a Fantasy-Supers hybrid world, there could be competition between mages and supers; the Church and the Circle could easily be planning to destroy magic once and for all...
Campaign Role of the Church
and the Holy Circle
The concept of a benevolent but occasionally violent conspiracy may seem an odd one, but it is appropriate for the milieu. The U.N., though its IST forces and other organs subsidiary to the Security Council, wields a great deal of power. Although characters can content themselves with P.R.-inspired crimefighting and dealing with the occasional natural disaster, they should have an opposition force of equal power to their own. However, its very existence should not alter history and society into unrecognizability. (Imagine, for instance, what 1950s America would have been like without the Soviet Union and the Cold War.) A secret conspiracy is the natural choice. Giving it goals that governments and patriots will oppose, but with which some supers may feel sympathy, provides a moral and ethical ambiguity conducive to good roleplaying.
If the GM should decide to use the Holy Circle in his campaign, he should take care with how he presents it. The GM should introduce Matthias and his church as influential public figures and bits of pop culture trivia, perhaps several adventures in advance of the first involving the Circle; they should continue to appear as background information (ostensibly forgettable) from time to time, especially in adventures that have no connection to them. (If the GM provides "newspapers" for his players in order to keep them updated on the game milieu, this would be the perfect place for such mentions.) NPCs or even PCs may be members of the Church or its branches, and entire ISTs may be involved with one of the Church's charitable organizations.
Drawing the characters into the Circle's web requires a security leak; in the long run this is a not unlikely occurrence for an organization on the Circle's scale. This leak will let the characters discover one small piece of the conspiracy; in the course of defeating it, they should discover information that clever research (and a number of skill contests) shows points to another part of the organization, and so on, and so on. They should not be able to even guess at the scope of the Circle until many adventures later, even though they may be building up evidence of its size.
Obviously, the Holy Circle is best suited for long-term use in an extended campaign. Once the adventurers begin investigating its puppet groups, it will investigate them back and determine if they are a threat to it. When it comes to that conclusion (and it will, if the characters are doing their jobs well), strings will be pulled, and pressure exerted to discourage them. A possible running sub-plot to a Circle campaign would be the constant justifications IST heroes might have to make to their superiors; their superiors' bosses may just be under Circle control...
Remember that the Circle will not be defeated all at once, nor will pruning away its puppet organizations truly hurt it. The characters must find their way through the power structure to the central organization and disable it -- and even then their work may not be finished. They may still have to prove to the U.N that the Circle is what they have deduced, and was a long-range danger to international stability. With the status and image Matthias and the Church of God have, not to mention the direct control the Reverend can exert over anyone he can talk to, PCs may find themselves reprimanded instead of congratulated.
And don't forget that each member of the ruling elite of the Circle have their successors primed and ready to take over. The characters may smash the Circle only to have it rise again, phoenix-like, to challenge them from another direction. Its plans may be revised, and the date of the great take-over pushed back another ten years, but the Circle will continue onwards.
Perhaps the only way to disable the Circle permanently (short of assassinating everybody involved, simultaneously) would be to unmask them publicly on the eve of their takeover. Moving in on the elite and capturing them (no easy task, since they're all supers), as well as their successors, will require deep access to the Circle computers, or a "mole" planted in their organization. Although not always practical for multiplayer campaigns, this lends itself well to solo adventures run parallel to the main game. If the power structure is thus decapitated, it will fall apart. The various lobes and agents may stay coordinated within themselves, providing smaller "mini-Circles" for later mop-up, but the central bureaucracy will effectively vanish. Without further commands, most of these administrative double agents will simply go back to their cover jobs.
The one drawback to a final smash of the Holy Circle will be that many people won't believe it. The Reverend Ogden Matthias is a beloved figure, and his Church of God in America such a bastion of faith and good works, that a significant fraction of the population will cry out in a groundswell of indignation. The damage to the U.N. and its credibility will be great if absolute, damning proof is not provided to back up the charges. Even so, Matthias may be able to apply pressure through his contacts and puppets which will discredit the heroes who captured him, and free him, as well.
As can be seen, including the Holy Circle into a campaign is no easy task. It will effectively take it over, until the characters manage to destroy it. And the danger remains that if they did not destroy it thoroughly enough, it will, like some monster starfish, regenerate entirely and return to haunt them.
The Reverend Ogden Matthias
Age 56, 5'11", 165 lbs. White hair, green eyes
ST 11 (10 points) IQ 16 (80 points) Speed: 4.5
DX 13 (30 points) HT 15 (45 points) Move: 4
Damage: Thrust 1d-1; Swing 1d+1
Charisma +10 (50 points)
Generic Patron (Powerful individual, appears 15-) (45 points)
Reputation +3, everyone, all the time (15 points)
Status 5 (20 points)
Voice (10 points)
Wealth: Filthy Rich (50 points)
Age: 56 (-18 points)
Fanaticism: God's Kingdom of Supers (-15 points)
Secret: He is the leader of a subversive revolutionary movement. (-40 points)
Sense of Duty to Supers (-10 points)
Vow: If he can prevent it, supers will never be persecuted. (-10 points)
Powers and Super-Skills
Telepathy Power-9 (45 points) (One Skill)
Suggest-30 (No Concentration +20%, No Psi Signature +30%, Area Effect +40%, Power Can Be Transmitted Through Audio Signals +40%, Reduced Fatigue Cost +40%, Targets Must Hear His Voice -20%, Only One Message: "You will obey me." -40% [effective-5 to skill]) (112 points)
Second Chance Standard concealable Kevlar vest (PD 2, DR 14), worn only during public appearances.
Brass-handled cane (Can be used in combat as a light club, +2 to damage from the metal head: DMG SW+3 Cr, Reach 1)
Administration-16 (2 points); Area Knowledge (NYC)-18 (4 points); Bard-21* (8 points); Bicycling-14 (2 points); Broadsword (Used with his cane)-15 (8 points); Computer Operations/TL7-16 (1 point); Detect Lies-18 (8 points); Diplomacy-19* (6 points); Economics-14 (1 point); English-16 (0, native tongue); Intimidation-19 (8 points); Leadership-20 (10 points); Occultism-16 (2 points); Performance-21* (4 points); Psychology-17 (6 points); Savoir-Faire-20* (default from Status); Strategy-17 (6 points); Swimming-14 (2 points); Theology (Christianity)-19 (10 points). (* Includes Voice bonus.)
Subtle and careful -- a long-term planner for everything.
Always carries a brass-handled cane.
Insists on good PR, no matter what.
Knows enough to trust expert opinions, if they're experts he can trust.
Rationalizes evil deeds done for a good cause.
Much of Ogden Matthias' life has been detailed elsewhere in this chapter. He was born to parents who made their living with a traveling tent revival show, touring the Midwest through the Thirties and Forties. It was only natural that when the young Ogden displayed some oratorical talent, his parents should set him up as an eight-year-old preacher. A phenomenon not unknown even today, child preachers were common in the Baptist tent services of that era. His performance (if not his sermon) proved riveting, and brought in a larger collection than his parents had seen in the previous six months.
The Matthiases knew when they had something. Ogden proved to be their greatest draw, packing their tent and attracting so large a crowd that two and sometimes three services had to be performed a day. It was at such a service that the fifteen-year-old Ogden discovered he had a special talent -- if he told someone to do something, they did it. It even worked on his parents, he discovered by accident, so it wasn't just the ecstatic attendees at his revivals hanging onto his every word.
Being a deeply religious lad, devoted to the service of the Lord, he realized that God had gifted him with the power to see His will done. But it wasn't to be done on a two-bit revival circuit. Ogden was also a private person, and did not reveal to his parents his power; perhaps he suspected that they would never let him leave if they knew. He spent the next two years pondering his ability and its source. Supers were well known by then, even if some folk still didn't believe they really existed, and Ogden soon came to the realization that he, too, was what the scientists were calling a metahuman. But did that mean any less that God had given him his power? Not at all. And if God gave Ogden his power, then he must have given all the other supers their powers. It only stood to reason, after all.
From there it was no small leap for Ogden to decide that all supers where gifted directly by God. He longed to meet another one, to talk with him and find out how he fulfilled his purpose, how he even found it out. But on the circuit, traveling with the revival show, he had little chance to meet one of the glamorous metahumans that filled the newspapers and newsreels.
At the age of seventeen, he had achieved enough notoriety that he was asked to preach in Washington, D.C. During his free time in the capital, he visited the halls of Congress. By chance, he sat in on one of the first sessions of the House Unamerican Activities Committee. What he saw shook him to his very core. The leader of the Committee, a Senator by the name of McCarthy, was interrogating a super who went by the nickname Fireball. McCarthy harrassed the man, peppering him with insulting and insinuative questions. He refused to accept any answer that Fireball gave, and prodded and pried. McCarthy accused the man of being a Bolshevik, a Fascist, and a homosexual, and when Fireball refused to answer any more questions, cited him for contempt of Congress. As the super was carried out, still mute, by the Sergeant-at-Arms, Ogden asked the gentleman in the next seat what the super had been charged with.
"Nothing," was the reply. "McCarthy called him in because he was in last week's headlines."
Ogden was horrified. Persecuting Jews and Catholics was one thing, but supers? God's gifted children? How could it happen? How could he sit by and let it happen? When he returned from his trip to Washington, he drafted a letter to President Truman protesting the scene he witnessed and the treatment of supers by the Committee in general. But shortly after he mailed his missive, the Committee collapsed, although McCarthy still persisted, like the head of a tick biting skin which doesn't know its body has been broken off. Much to Ogden's pleasure, two years later McCarthy was formally censured by Congress.
Despite the death of HUAC, the problem of persecution still weighed heavily upon Ogden's mind. Over the next decade he would formulate a plan, and refine it, and finally set it in motion. That plan became the Holy Circle within the Church of God in America. In the course of enacting his plan, Ogden built himself up into one of the most (if not the most) well-known and respected religious figures in America and the world, and one the most successful conspirators of all time.
In the character description, the entry "Generic Patron" refers to the large network of contacts that Ogden has developed over the last two decades. In a case where he needs information or services, a normal availability roll will indicate whether a contact is available to provide what he needs.
When preaching, Ogden is a wonder to behold. His voice, amplified or not, can hold a crowd absolutely still or explode them into frantic activity. He exudes a calm confidence and a sense of absolute knowledge, as if he has a personal channel of communication with the Almighty. Many of his followers swear that he does have exactly that. He inspires absolute devotion in his most fanatic followers. Just how much of this is from his secret metahuman power, and how much is from his admittedly charismatic presence is unclear.
On the personal level, he is warm, friendly and distant. No person knows him well or can be called a close friend. He has many acquaintances, but no one, not even among the Holy Circle, who is a confidante. Many men and women in positions of power number him among their friends, taken in by his seeming warmth. He has no lover or wife, and many within the Circle feel he is consumed by his overwhelming obsession with reworking the world. He is undoubtedly a man of conscience, albeit a twisty and self-serving one.
Matthias has never been in a true combat situation. However, his first instinct would be to cry out a command to stop fighting in his most persuasive voice. Depending on the combatants, it just may well halt everything. If forced to fight, he has trained himself in the use of his cane as club.
Typical Dialogue: "I want you to give! Give as much as you can afford, but no more!"
Age 29, 5'8", 150 lbs. Sandy brown hair, blue eyes
ST 12 (20 points) IQ 15 (60 points) Speed: 6.75
DX 14 (45 points) HT 13 (30 points) Move: 6
Damage: Thrust 1d-1; Swing 1d+2
Appearance: Handsome (15 points)
Patron: Ogden Matthias, 12-(50 points)
Strong Will +3 (15 points)
Wealth: Comfortable (10 points)
Duty to Holy Circle (Non-dangerous), 15-(-10 points)
No Sense of Humor (-10 points)
Secret: Member of Holy Circle (-20 points)
Sense of Duty to Matthias (-5 points)
Powers and Super-Skills
Telepathy Power-10 (100 points)
Erase Signature-15 (12 points)
Mental Blow-18 (24 points)
Mind Shield-21 (36 points)
Mindwipe-17 (20 points)
Telereceive-19 (28 points)
Telescan-17 (20 points)
Telesend-19 (28 points)
Administration-16 (4 points); Computer Operations/TL7-17 (4 points); Computer Programming/TL7-14 (2 points); English-15 (0, native tongue); Fast-talk-14 (1 point); Guns (Pistol)-18 (4 points); History-16 (6 points); Holdout-15 (2 points); Intelligence Analysis-14 (2 points); Leadership-14 (1 point); Mathematics-15 (4 points); Politics-14 (1 point); Research-15 (2 points); Savoir-Faire-16 (2 points); Strategy-13 (1 point); Tactics-13 (1 point).
Trained in pistol, but hates guns.
Dislikes most normals.
Glutton for calzones and stromboli.
Still lives like a student.
Deeply religious after meeting Matthias.
Alvin Russet is the successor whom Ogden Matthias has selected and trained.Based in Wisconsin, he manages the Holy Circle's main computer complex, and acts as sysop (system operator) for its mainframe and gateway BBSs.
Born in Green Bay, Wisconsin in 1961, Alvin had a typically average childhood. Stocky for his height but quick, in high school he ended up on the football team, quickly making the varsity squad. He was an average but frequent player of the game until the middle of his junior year, when suffered a head injury in a particularly rough tackle.
After drifting in and out of a coma for over two weeks after the fateful game, Alvin woke to an incessant ocean of voices. Calling the nurse, he complained of the din to her complete bewilderment. Thinking he was suffering some obscure form of tintinitis as a side effect of coming out of the coma, she left the room to summon Alvin's neurologist. Alvin, perceiving her thoughts (and her speech, a fraction of a second before she spoke), realized what he was hearing was not audible voices but mental ones. By the time the doctor arrived, Alvin had already learned to screen out the telepathic background noise, and reassured him that the noise he thought he'd heard had already faded away.
Returning to school after a month, Alvin imagined being a telepath would be fun, but found he was wrong. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't influence anyone's actions. He could read people's minds easily enough. With some practice he could send his thoughts to other people, much to their confusion and concern. And once, in an emergency, he managed to stun another person with a mental blow. But for the most part, his telepathic abilities only made him miserable. The true depths of a person's mind, no matter what their surface thoughts, only served to depress him, and he soon found himself hating most people.
In college, he chose history as a major with a minor in statistics, so that he could avoid socializing as much as possible. Not surprisingly, he was considered a grind and left as alone as he liked. He graduated cum laude, and proceeded into graduate school, again choosing history. He had no real goal in his life, and had begun to consider becoming a perpetual student.
Then he encountered the Reverend Ogden Matthias.
Matthias was a special guest at the university, brought to deliver a speech by the local student Christian fellowship. Alvin, walking past the hall where Matthias was speaking, was ensnared by the jewel-like voice which drifted outside. Easing his way in, Alvin stood in the back of the lecture hall as Matthias finished his speech. It intrigued him, especially the parts where some psychic power ran up against the bulwarks of his mind shield. The speech ended with a recruitment drive for Matthias' New York-based church. "If you have special talents, gifts you think set you apart from the rest of humanity, come to us! We can use you, and teach you to use yourself!" Matthias closed, seeming to look right at Alvin.
Alvin knew he had to speak to the man. Forcing his way through the crowd, he reached Matthias' side, and waited for his turn. Shaking the minister's hand, he said softly, "I think I have some of those gifts you need."
Matthias said, "Do you?"
*Yes, I do,* Alvin projected into the older man's mind. Matthias smiled.
That night, Alvin was with the minister in his private jet back to New York. Within days, he found himself a part of the Holy Circle, and although he had not been particularly religious before, he found the spiritual fervor of the Circle was catching. He worked as Matthias' personal assistant for two years, growing more and more devoted to the man. Alvin was stunned when he was finally told that he was being groomed as Matthias' eventual successor, and since he had reached the stage where he was to be transferred away from New York, he was asked where he'd like to go, and what he'd like to do. After some consideration, Alvin asked to be placed in charge of the Circle's computer network. No sooner was it said than it was done. Alvin was assigned to the Madison, Wisconsin complex, and has remained there since.
Alvin Russet is not a personable individual. He dislikes normals intensely, and only likes supers because it is part of the religious beliefs he acquired from Matthias. He admires Matthias greatly, and respects his goals and beliefs, but does not understand him at all, even though he is the closest any has been to being a confidante of the man. Outside of that relationship he is distant, emulating Matthias in a conscious attempt to live up to the potential responsibility of his position.
Alvin will not enter combat, and thus does not have a typical combat strategy. He has extensive handgun training, and carries, on occasion, and IMI Eagle .44 Magnum, but he hates guns and tries to avoid wearing the weapon. This weapon in particular he feels is overkill -- too much a hand-cannon -- but it was a personal gift from Matthias.
Typical Dialogue: "You wouldn't believe the disgusting things that go on inside your head!"