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Flipping Superhero Tropes: the Robot Villain

Even as I'm running Firefly (and I've told myself I'm going to run that game X number of times before I stop, just to justify buying it), and even as I'm doing little D&D games here and there to try out the new rules, I'm always thinking superheroes.

By that, I mean I'm always thinking about running a superhero RPG, always coming up with villain NPC's and jotting down plot ideas, etc.  Most of these don't show up on the blog for loads of reasons (not the least of which is because at least one of the players in my game reads this blog), but I did want to externally process one idea.  And that is flipping tropes.

In Mutants & Masterminds they did a GM's book where they outlined a bunch of stereotypical villains.  M&M actually uses this archetype notion a lot, given they did the same for hero concepts as well.  In the villains there is the mad scientist, the elemental-wielding guy (pick one: ice, darkness, fire, etc.), the robot, etc.  And I understand how this works and why this works.  I understand that comic books like Astro City played around with a lot of "wink wink nudge nudge" stuff when it came to creating ersatz versions of other companies' characters. (Authority and Planetary and a host of other post-modern third party comic books did it too.)

But lately I've been thinking a lot about reversing some common tropes.  Take the robot villain, for example.  Most robot villains generally a) are Frankenstein-esque creations that are rebelling against their creator, b) despise humans for their inherent inferiority, and c) lack emotions, which usually works out in the heroes favor, thus proving that humans (and meta-humans) still have something on robots.

Here's how I'm thinking about flipping that trope.  What if the robot villain in my game was actually doing exactly what it was supposed to do by its creator, and even had a good relationship with (or at least fondness for) its creator?  And what if, instead of viewing humanity with disdain, instead that feeling of superiority created an elevated, dangerously distorted view of responsibility?  And instead of shunning emotions, sought to achieve its goals through them?

So here's my concept: a brilliant but paranoid computer programmer is convinced that humanity is hell-bent on destroying itself, and that humanity's only possible successful legacy is the creation of artificial intelligence.  Eventually the programmer succeeds, creating an AI whose sole purpose is the preservation of humanity, but adopts the persona of a sort of Robot Messiah whose methodology is the paternalistic control of human society.  If I was creating this NPC in Marvel Heroic, its Distinctions might look like

  • The Apocalypse is Coming
  • Only the Machine is Eternal
  • All Humanity Should Worship the Machine
The Robot Messiah would do things like thwart scientific advancements on the grounds that they are dangerous, unilaterally disarm nations, or start religious cults.  Imagine Annie Wilkes from Misery with Ultron's powers.

For Affiliations, we'll go with Solo first (I don't see much teaming up with this guy), Team second (reflecting the use of cultists, etc.), and Buddy third.

And now we have a semi-fresh take on a familiar villain concept.  Still a villain, still evil, but just a few degrees off from what is expected.  Fishing around thesaurus.com for some possibilities, I like the name "The Conservator" because it has a sinister sound to it, but also underlying the notion of a pseudo-beneficent controller.

I can work out powers on my own, likely the typical giant-powerful robot body as one power set and the AI-software-body-jumper in a second power set.  Tech, Psych, and Menace Specialties (plus the almost ubiquitous Combat) and we're done!

"Rejoice, humanity, for your true god has come."

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