A demon gave you superpowers and it demands EVIL. Maybe a little over-the-top, thwartable villainy will keep it under control. Maybe.
Esther Minges was driving home from work in her Honda Fit, trying to figure out how to stretch her maintenance budget across five line items when there was really only money to do one of them properly. She was paying sufficient attention to the road, but not to the sky, which was why she was profoundly surprised when something swooped down, picked up her car, and wrenched open the roof like a hungry teen tearing into a bag of Fritos.
When she saw the distinctive mask of Desecrator Dread, well-known as the most forthright and direct of the Villainous Nine, she screamed, and she kept screaming as the razor spurs on the heels of his costume sliced through her seat belt. The car fell with a thunderous crash as he plucked her out of it (like a single curled chip, to continue the Frito metaphor, though corn chips don’t scream) and swooped out into the night.
“AAAAIGH! NO, PLEASE, I WANT TO LIVE!” Esther shrieked.
“You’ll live,” Desecrator Dread replied.
“Let me go put me down please please please...”
“Not even a ‘thank you’? Clearly I caved too soon on letting you live,” he said, and then they’d arrived.
They were in the mountains, somewhere. A campfire burned before her, and as her eyes adjusted she took in the bulk of the infamous Cat O’ Nine Tails, the air/sea/land assault craft of the Villainous Nine. She swallowed, hard, and then recognized the distinctive profiles of the seven figures emerging into the red glow. Ripperclaw. The Mess. Violator. The Big Shot. Guts and Brains, always more dangerous together than apart. And then, arising from the fire itself, their leader: General Null.
“Hi,” Null said.
“Please let me go this must be some mistake I’m nobody important oh God please don’t kill me...”
“No one’s going to kill you,” Null said, and she noticed that his frightful fanged faceplate was unsnapped on one side, dangling loose and revealing a slight double chin and chapped lips. “Look, calm down. Violator, d’you mind...?”
“Right.” The Nine’s premier psychic nodded his peculiar helmet and said, “Hey honey, mellow out, it’s fine.” Esther found herself clear headed, so calm it was almost eerie.
“So,” Null continued. “We’re bad guys. You know this, you’ve seen us rob banks, hold various nations hostage, kidnap heads of state, threaten to blow up the moon and so on...”
“Everyone knows you,” Esther said warily.
“Ever wonder why we do it?”
A Roleplaying Game of Ultimate Villainy!
BETTER ANGELS is a supervillain roleplaying game by Greg Stolze, designer of A Dirty World and Reign and co-designer of Godlike and Wild Talents, all of which have earned ridiculously enthusiastic reviews from enlightened tabletop gamers everywhere.
In Better Angels, each player takes the role of a once-ordinary man or woman who's been possessed by a demon that granted superhuman powers. If you're one of the possessed, the demon demands that you perform horrific acts of evil. But it's tough. You don't want to do the really evil sort of evil, right? But if you refuse it altogether, the demon might leave and haunt someone else. Someone who wouldn't mind atrocities so much.
So you find a way to compromise. You act like -- well, you act like a supervillain. You come up with these huge, grandiose, ridiculous plots to rule the world and steal all the money and corrupt all the minds, exactly the stuff that your demon wants to do. What you hope the demon doesn't figure out is that it's all so ridiculous that the superheroes are almost sure to stop you. When they do, the demon's evil will be thwarted. With any luck, nobody has to suffer any atrocities at all.
Did I mention the superheroes? There are superheroes. They're haunted by superpower-granting angels. They're out to stop you. This game is not about them.
One Game, One Roll
Better Angels is a standalone game book. It uses a version of the One Roll Engine rules that first appeared in A Dirty World, combined with angel- and demon-driven superpowers.
It's all about conflicts between characters, and who succeeds depends on what tactics and strategies each side brings. There are Sinister tactics like Greed, Cruelty, and Deceit, and three Sinister strategies: Cunning, Sly, and Devious. So you might be acting with Cunning Greed, or Sly Cruelty, or Sly Deceit. And there are Virtuous tactics like Generosity, Knowledge, and Courage, and three Virtuous strategies: Patient, Open, and Insightful. So with virtue you might act with Patient Knowledge, Open Generosity, or Insightful Courage.
Each character is better at some particular strategies and tactics than others. Match up your strategies and tactics based on what you're trying to achieve. Then roll a few dice, one die per point in the tactic and one per point in the strategy. Got 3 points in Cunning and 4 points in Deceit? Then you roll 7 dice for Cunning Deceit. Whether any dice come up with matching numbers, and how high those matching numbers are, and how many of them match, tells you how well you perform in the conflict.
Better Angels includes detailed rules and guidelines for superpowers, all of which interact with and affect those strategies and tactics in fun ways.
The game has undergone lengthy playtesting and editing by Arc Dream Publishing's award-winning team.
There are pregenerated demons to tangle with -- villains are always going after each other, and some people who have demons aren't reining in their evil -- and angels to pursue you and thwart your deliberately grandiose schemes.
And if you need them, there are guidelines for fleshing out the metaphysics of the whole thing to suit a particular setting or worldview.
Plus, little fiction vignettes in Greg's inimitable style to inspire your games.
Our Goal: Digital and Paperback
If we hit the basic goal, we'll produce Better Angels in two digital editions -- PDF and the ebook format used on Kindle, Nook, iBookstore, and so on -- with full-color art, plus a black-and-white paperback edition for backers who want it in print. It's written by Greg Stolze with art by Todd Shearer. It will be about 144 pages.
If BETTER ANGELS gets a good response, we will add a couple of minor stretch goals as we go -- maybe to get Greg to write a handy, instantly-playable adventure or two, or some longer Better Angels stories.
But the BIG stretch goal, the one we really hope we can pull off, is to get this book printed in full color. We would need to bring in something like $15,000 to pull that off, because printing a lot of books in color is EXPENSIVE. But it would be gorgeous if it works out.
Of course, if it hits the full-color book and keeps going, we'll add something even more crazy like a videogame or a web series or something. We know people. We could make that happen. So, you know, throw us those millions.
Watch the updates for excerpts from Better Angels and news about our goals.
Now, Back to Esther Minges and the Villainous Nine
"Ever wonder why we do it?"
“Um... I guess I just figured... er...” She trailed off.
“Insufficient mommy lovin’?” asked The Big Shot in his distinctive Texas drawl. “Yer a social worker, right? Maybe even had some sympathy for us, I reckon.”
“What do you want?” she asked.
“You’re surely aware that Doomslaughter got captured, right? Front page news, triumph of good, yadda yadda, he’s being held in an impenetrable prison beneath the earth’s crust and so on.”
“I caught that, yes.”
“So we’re one short.”
Esther blinked. “You... think I can help you get him out? I can’t... I mean, I run a homeless shelter.”
“Doing a fine job with limited resources, too,” Brains added, and Guts grunted in agreement.
“You’re a good person,” Violator said, in that eerie echoless voice that always sounded as if it was right behind your ear. “Genuinely decent inside. Just like we were, once.”
“Did you ever wonder where we all got these crazy powers?” Ripperclaw asked.
“I figured... radiation accidents, mutations, experiments...?”
“Naw, 's all demons,” Guts said. “An’ them damn fool heroes? Freakin’ angels. Lucky bastards.”
“I’m not sure I follow.”
“Angels are spirits that want to do good, and demons are spirits that want to do bad. That’s clear enough, right? So what happens when an evil spirit gets into the body of an evil person?”
“EVIL!” The Mess barked, his breath making her flinch. “The rider I got in me, Shaklakar the Potent? Used to have Ghengis Khan as a host. Ghengis. Khan. Rampaged across Asia and Europe leaving piles of heads and thousands of rape victims behind him. Sure, I’ve burned down a few forests, I killed the last Lesser Spotted Prairie Chicken, kept the eastern seaboard browned out for three days, but I don’t think there’s anything on my conscience to compare with the Golden Horde!”
“Mess used to be a beat cop in Detroit,” Null said. “We recruited him after he was forced off the force for whistle-blowing. Like you, he was a normal, everyday good person.”
“I used to teach in an inner-city high school,” Brains said.
“Civic reformer,” Ripperclaw rumbled.
“Null here was a for-real Zen priest,” Desecrator said.
“I don’t believe you,” Esther muttered. “This is some trick.”
“Do you have a better explanation?” Brains asked. “I’m a genius who invented a super-sonic plane that runs on water, along with a material stronger than diamond, flexible as tissue, and selectively adherent depending on what kind of electrical charge you run through it. With a few patents, I could be a multibillionaire and then go about undermining small African nations for my personal amusement or, or funding genocides or making nukes for nuts if I wanted to efficiently maximize my production of human suffering. What have I done instead? The Chicago Giggles Plague? Holding Germany’s autobahnen hostage? C’mon.”
“You killed Morris Stanwick,” Esther said quietly, and Brains looked away.
“Yeah,” he said. “I killed Stanwick. Rider got the better of me that day... no way out.” His voice had become sad, and bitter. “But the rest of those feds just got shot in the legs. Talked it into that, told it they’d suffer longer and slow down the rest of the pursuit.”
“So you see how it is,” Null broke in. “You have to walk that line. Keep your demon... entertained. It loves death and sadism and carnage but... sometimes even more, it loves spectacle. If you’re flamboyant enough, you hardly have to kill anyone at all.”
Wow! We have had a fantastic response to Better Angels, hitting our main funding goal in less than one day!
As promised, we're posting new 'stretch goals' here. The farther we go past our target, the more great stuff we will release. First it's an adventure. If we hit that goal, look for a mobile app for character generation, new Better Angels fiction, a collection of scenario one-shots — and best of all, a full-color hardback edition!
ACHIEVED! $7,000 Stretch Goal— A Dastardly Free Adventure
Greg Stolze will write a complete starter adventure for Better Angels that we will send out free in digital format to backers who get the digital books. It will be put on sale for everybody else. It will be about 12 pages long with art by Todd Shearer.
ACHIEVED! $9,000 Stretch Goal — A Ruthless Supervillain App
If we hit this goal, when the game comes out we will launch an online Better Angels character data web app optimized for iPhone and Droid mobile browsers. In fact the work is already mostly done thanks to a particularly awesome friend of ours who also happens to be a particularly awesome mobile app coder. The web app will tie in to a user database where you can log in and store your own characters for reference any time, alongside all the pregenerated characters from the rulebook and the starter adventure. Plus easy access to mobile-optimized online cheat sheets with key Better Angels rules. Get us to $9K and take your plot for world dominion everywhere!
ACHIEVED! $11,000 Stretch Goal — A Nefarious New Story
At $11K, Greg will write a new Better Angels short story to accompany the game's release. You can get a taste of Greg's Better Angels stories in "Esther Minges and the Villainous Nine" on the main project description page and in "Me, and Karish-Nephet the Defiler," which you can read in serial in the project updates. You can read a lot more of Greg's great stories on his website, www.gregstolze.com.
ACHIEVED! $13,000 Stretch Goal — Six Sinister Scenario Seeds
If we hit $13K, Greg will put together six short but sweet scenario starters to help kick off your Better Angels games. Each will be one or two pages with art by Todd Shearer, providing conflicts and twists that you can easily adapt to your own game.
ACHIEVED! $15,000 Stretch Goal — All the Colors of Evil!
This is the one we're waiting for, the one everybody has been asking about. At $15K, when we print the physical copies of the books they won't be black-and-white paperbacks, they will be FULL COLOR HARDBACKS. And you won't have to pay a dime more. Your pledge that was for a black and white paperback gets you a gorgeous color hardback instead.
So fire up your mind-control ray, turn it on all your gaming friends, and tell them — no, command them to back Better Angels. That hardback is already in sight.
BONUS FOR BACKERS! Downloadable GM Screen/Reference Sheets
We are down to the last few days of the Better Angels project and it has been a rousing success!
As a final “Thank you!” to our backers, we are going to put together a downloadable reference screen that you can print out for use in your own custom GM screen, or use as digital reference sheets at the table or reference PDFs on a tablet or computer. It will include the most vital rules and tables for running Better Angels with art and design by the Better Angels graphic designers.
All backers at the $15 level or higher get the download free. It will go on sale for everyone else.
Watch the Arc Dream Publishing blog for extra Better Angels heroes, villains, demons, and angels, and for conversion notes to bring Wild Talents characters to your Better Angels game and vice versa.
Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.