With the Suicide Squad movie about to open, my mind can’t help but drift back to long ago when I used to dabble in role-playing games, specifically superhero role-playing games. I never played, mind you; I always ran the game as the gamemaster, and one of my favorite tactics was pure Suicide Squad. Come with me and find out how to fine-tune your games and infuriate your players as I discuss Role-Playing and the Suicide Squad.
The Suicide Squad
Although the concept of the Suicide Squad, or Task Force X, dates back to the Silver Age war comics, the version we all know began in the late 1980s. The government took super-villains from Belle Reve Federal Penitentiary and offered to take time off their sentences if they performed certain suicidal missions that no one else would take. This covert black ops team with a ‘revolving membership” was controlled and kept in line by making the members wear collars or bracelets which would inflict great pain or explosively detonate should the wearer disobey orders.
Writer John Ostrander masterminded the series in its 1980s/1990s incarnation with a cast that included Captain Boomerang, the Bronze Tiger, Deadshot, the Enchantress, Nightshade, Lashina/Duchess, Punch and Jewelee, Count Vertigo, Poison Ivy, Shade the Changing Man, and Nemesis, among others. It was led by Rick Flag Jr., controlled by Amanda Waller, with remote recon by Oracle. Some of these characters will appear in the new film, along with a few from newer versions of the Squad, like Harley Quinn.
As well as the dawn of this super-villain version of the Suicide Squad, the late 1980s was also the dawn of role-playing games using comic book characters. Marvel was first, going with the Dungeons & Dragons company, TSR. For my money, the original Marvel Super Heroes RPG from TSR is still the best, mostly for its simplicity and flexibility. Both of the adventures described below were written using MSHRPG stats and rules. DC Comics followed up later with the DC Heroes game from West End Games, who also did the fantastic first Star Wars Role-Playing Game. DC Heroes was a stats-heavy monstrosity, much like GURPS, in that its background source material was amazing, but the game itself was dense in both rules and playability.
DC Heroes produced a few resources regarding the Suicide Squad. Chief among them was The Belle Reve Sourcebook, which not only told you everything you wanted to know about the Suicide Squad, but also game stats, and even some details you didn’t get from the comics on some of their missions. The team also had their own adventure module, Operation: Atlantis, that featured a mission against a couple Aquaman foes and some fairly obscure Justice Society villains. Fun stuff.
Eclipse Over Qurac
Anyone who knows me and has gamed with me, however, knows that I rarely play by the rules, and often import resources from several games to make one adventure. The first time I delved into Suicide Squad territory, I approached players with a mission to retrieve Eclipso’s black diamond from a heavily guarded museum in Qurac, that nation being extremely unfriendly to the United States in the DC Universe.
I let the players choose their own characters in this one for the most part, and ended up with a team that consisted of Catwoman, Black Lightning, Hawkwoman, Isis, the Monocle, Captain Marvel Jr., and the Angle Man, with the gamemaster controlling Rick Flag, Jr. and the Crumbler. This was a motley crew if there ever was one, with the villains in explosive collars and a nasty combat with Eclipso at the end. But I learned something with this one-night adventure: control is very important. Without control, the players will run all over you and your adventure. That goes without saying really; it’s the same in any game.
Operation Bronze Eagle
My next foray with role-playing the Suicide Squad kept more in line with the comics, utilizing all villains chasing that crazy work release program Task Force X offered, and all of them were collared. Player characters are easily to push where you want the story to go, if you have them on an explosive “leash.” I spun this one with a bit of Escape from New York in that the President has been kidnapped, along with the Secretary of State and Air Force One, by the Jihad, the metahuman terrorists from an early Suicide Squad storyline.
This time the characters were also limited to those available, as it’s done at gaming conventions. The players could choose between Jake Benetti, Bolt, Chillblaine, the Gentleman Ghost, Grodd, Magenta, Mirror Master, the Mist, Star Sapphire, Stratos, Thrust, or William Hell. Yeah, I went obscure here, but it was fun, and as the adventure spanned from the mountains of Afghanistan to the streets of Gotham City, and finally to the fire pits of Apokalips. Every character had a special mission. The session was a blast for everyone.
Yeah, I’m a big fan of superhero role-playing games, and the Suicide Squad, especially that effect of forcing together characters that may or may not want to work together to achieve an objective, while balancing their egos and motives, to save us all from certain doom – or suicide. And don’t forget that wonderful Suicide Squad incentive – explosive collars or bracelets. One press of a button, and normally problem players will step in line, and everyone can have fun – just like we hopefully all will when we see Suicide Squad this week!