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Foes of Freedom
Reviewed by Matthew Pook, © 2005

Format: Game
By:   Steve Kenson (writer) and Steven E. Schend
Genre:   Superhero Game Supplement
Review Date:   October 18, 2005

The very latest supplement for the d20 System’s premier superhero RPG Mutants & Masterminds brings another collection of supervillains, supervillain team-ups, threats and entities all designed for the wonderful Freedom City setting. But this being written for Mutants & Masterminds, the contents of this supplement could just as easily be used in any setting of the GM’s choice. What else would you expect from a Mutants & Masterminds supplement?

You would expect the book to look good, and of course, it does. Every villain and character is illustrated in full color, drawn by a noted comic artist and colored by a noted colorist. Boxed text is given a colored wash to make it stand out against the white page and Christopher West’s few pieces of cartography are as ever excellent, especially that of the Blackstone Federal Prison the facility off the coast of Freedom City from which no supervillain has escaped since 1993. If there is a need to quibble, it is that the punctuation is inconsistent. The editor can never decide if there should be a space between the colon and the following text or not.

Foes of Freedom is divided into four sections. The larger two detail seven villain groups and 16 individual villains, respectively, while the smaller two are a detailing of Blackstone Federal Prison and an appendix of new rules. The contents page makes everything easy to find and works hand-in-hand with the listing of all the villains by power level, from 1 to 28.

Each character is handily organized with background, tactics, and status in the usual format, plus material covering the team he is part of. Teams tend to be illustrated together, with headshots used in the individual descriptions. All entries suggest at least one if not three capers ready to be expanded upon by the GM.

Right out of the bag, Foes of Freedom cannot escape its connection to Freeport, City of Adventure, Green Ronin’s d20 System setting of pirates, fantasy, and a dash of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. Thus the first villain group is the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign, the cult devoted to the Unspeakable One, which has an ancient history that long predates mankind. Combined with the serpent people template in the rules section, this forms the first of two threats suitable for use against magic-using heroes. The others include the Mayombe, an evil voodoo cult that occasionally is ally of the Brotherhood, but is mostly opposed to it. It is led by Lady Mayombe, aided by her vain and willful daughter, Voodoo Dahlia, and her half-brother, the snake strongman Cottonmouth.

The first of two worldwide threats is the Foundry, dedicated to the advancement of technology and weaponry that it both sells and hopes will destroy humanity. In this way it works to replace organic life with robots. Its leader, Talos, is detailed elsewhere, so this entry covers his lieutenants. The other is the Labyrinth, as maze- and Illuminati-like as its title suggests. Led by Taurus, the ancient foe of Deadelus (a longtime member of the Freedom League, detailed in both Mutants & Masterminds and Freedom City) and worshipper of Hades (also detailed in the supplement, the first of three links to the Mutants & Masterminds Annual No. 1), the Labyrinth has its fingers in very many pies and reaches throughout all levels of business. Besides Taurus himself, his many lieutenants are described; two of them are amoral scientists who investigate means of creating compliant superpowered individuals, and are thus a potential source of player character origins.

Not all of Labyrinth’s creations have been compliant. For instance, the anti-corporate fun-seeking quartet, Larceny, Inc. Not evil per se, they have a long record of property theft and damage. Larceny Inc. has been designed in a lighter vein, as are to some extent, the Psions. This psionically-endowed family is very much in the mould of the X-Men, suitable for use against Freedom City’s Atom Family or the Claremont Academy. Certainly they are rife with soap opera possibilities. Finally, the section of villainous groups is rounded out with an entry on “monster mayhem” a selection of creatures that can be a nuisance to Freedom City, like the Crater Apes, primate servants escaped from Farside City on the dark side of the moon, or a real threat, like the big purple dinosaur Gigantosaur.

The solo villain Captain Kraken, the squid headed space pirate who enjoys everything about the golden age of piracy, is another nod to Freeport; another is Freebooter, the Internet anarchist who employs an android pirate as his physical presence. And of course, one cannot escape a Mutants & Masterminds supplement without there being a monkey reference. Here it is Dr Simon, a cigar-smoking, cocktail-sipping super-ape genius. Nor can it escape having a Nazi villain, this one better than most, the supervillain Nacht-Kreiger. The master of shadows is the supplement’s second connection to the Mutants & Masterminds Annual after Hades, having been a foe of the Allies of Freedom and the Freedom League.

Other villains fall into particular niches or are nods to well-known villains from comic books. For example, the puzzle-setting Conundrum is a nod to the infamous Riddler, while the man-shark Megalodon is a nod to The Lizard. Overall, the nods and Easter Eggs in this supplement are not as prolific as those in previous releases. The first niche is that of the cosmic villain, filled by Black Star, the rogue Star Knight, a perfect foil to any player character Star Knight. Crimson Katana fulfils the role of the honourable anti-hero with a tragic legacy. Less likely to fall into niches are villains like The Collective, an insectoid gestalt made up of a mutated colony of cockroaches, and Downtime, who uses his control of time to commit his thefts. More horrifying is Jack-A-Knives, the murder spirit who visits various cities to carry out bloody acts, and so harvest souls for its master, Hades.

The appendix details new feats and powers to add to the game. The new feats include Fall Guy (making a minion suffer the effects of an attack or power) and Master Plan (always being prepared) for the super villain, while Confuse and Seize Initiative are suitable for all. The new super feat Immortal Experience allows for characters of over a hundred years of age. Feedback is a new power that can cause another agony when he tries to use his own powers. New templates allow the creation of Olympians and unfortunate victims possessed by Jack-A-Knives.

Foes of Freedom is a fine collection of supervillains, particularly for the Freedom City setting. The larger villainous groups, the Foundry and the Labyrinth, deserve expansion and campaigns in themselves, as they feel a little cramped here. And while it is a useful collection suited to any superhero campaign and as ever presented in an easy-to-use manner, there is the feeling that Mutants & Masterminds does not really need another book of villains, and that hopefully future releases will develop the setting in other directions.

Matthew Pook is games editor of RevolutionSF.

 
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