I finished Netflix’s Series of Unfortunate Events week or so ago. And whenever I watch anything, I can’t turn my GMing/RPG designer brain off. These ideas and tropes roll around in my brain until I spit them out on paper (or the blog) or actually use them in a game.
Because of my obsession, the sentence “ooh this could be in Electric Bastionland too” comes out of my mouth so often that it’s become a bit of a meme. Both in real-life and on the blog too.
But here we are.
Lemony Snicket’s world of precocious children and off-Vaudeville villains totally fits in the only city that matters, that is, the only city that is “in.”
What makes SoUE so “Bastionland?” The main antagonist’s get rich quick scheme is to steal rich orphans and take their money, the adults of the series are more somehow more bureaucratic than in real life, and each chapter is set in an exciting industrial adventure site. It overlaps so easily.
The antagonist Olaf is brilliantly portrayed by Neil Patrick Harris in show. He’s an active threat, as great villains are. While there are rules in EB for making rivals, there are none for villains. Villains are a great source of conflict, so long as you find ways to make it personal. Find the spaces where villains and PCs cross paths and get in each other’s way. Maybe they aren’t out to get them directly, but their goals should be more or less exclusive.
So here’s a list of Vaudeville Villains tied to adventure locales found within the series. The number rolled correlates to the book in the series that inspired it. Enjoy.
1. “Justice Dominique” – A corrupt judge that rules on cases based on style of dress first and logic second. The best dressed lawyers in his court are fashionistas who raise the bar of clothed culture, not pass the Bar exam. Read more about Suit Court here.
2. “Monika Karoos” – This plumber uses snakes to clog the toilets of the wealthy. While working on the pipes, she uses the sounds of clanging and rushing water to cover the sound of breaking into safes. She then charms the snakes to come out of the pipes and is on her merry way.
3. “Lazor Lactican” – Leeches have more medicinal properties than you know. Lazor sells exotic leeches from the Underground to folks in Deep Country and less exotic leeches from Deep Country to denizens of the Underground. The list of health benefits for each type of leech is both extensive and written in an indecipherable font.
4. “Dr. Eekelbarge” – You know what’s less messy than psychedelics but just as pleasurable? Hypnosis, of course. When seated in sticky leather sofas, participants will have their pockets picked by a small, charming mock rat companion. Keep looking at the blinking lights, please.
5. “Headmaster Goolria” – Children are so easy to get private information from, even in schools. Especially at schools. This headmaster devises tests for students that include questions like “What is your parent’s banking information? How often does your father make deposits? On what days does your mother spend the most money?” You know, the standard intellectual and educational learning targets for students in the electric age.
6. “Miss Emsy” – Through some inevitable loop in paperwork, Miss Emsy is the very first in Bastion to have a subscription to an orphanage. She receives one to three orphans each month, each with a moderately-sized financial package of which the orphans don’t see a single pound. Miss Emsy aspires to start a travelling band or dance team or something that merits lots of applause, but has little motivation to put in the time and effort to train orphans, let alone feed them.
7. “Dandy” – This mock crow crashes hot air balloons into tall buildings and receives 30% of the insurance claim. However, his eyesight is quite terrible and he has been known to miss his rather large targets in favor of civilians, hot dog venders, and indebted treasure hunters. Does insurance fraud and careless manslaughter make one a villain? You tell me.
8. “Doctor’s Doctor” – Doctors take care of patients. But who takes care of them? The idea of the “Doctor’s Doctor” is nothing more than a stupid cover story to get into hospitals without a medical license and loot them clean of anti-biotics and cleaning chemicals. Who is the “Doctor’s Doctor’s Doctor?” Don’t be absurd.
9. “Earl Claw” – Accompanied by a collection of freak monstrosities, this mock lion cub claims to be King of Bastion, a title which here means “ruler of the only city that matters until deposed of by an unruly, displeased guillotine.” His solution to unite the boroughs of Bastion is to eat every bureaucrat and plant more jungles. Oh, and any person who participates in a bureaucracy is a bureaucrat via contorted definition and loose interpretation.
10. “Tristan Tripe” – Tristan had been looked down on for making urinal cakes instead of real edible treats. His revenge on culinary critics is to take them on the coveted “dine and demise experience” aboard the Wagon Obstreperous for their final supper.
11. “Cap’n Mash” – This submarine rental company owner only caters to the rich. The subs are made to inevitably sink at several hundred feet deep in the frigid ocean. Even if they survive, the sub certainly won’t which means Mash will be collecting on that obscenely high deposit.
12. “Mister Greenfeld” – Mister Greenfeld owns a labyrinthine motel that reaches to the clouds just outside of Bastion that is nigh impossible to navigate… Unless you pay £10k for the elevator key. People never leave because they “find a better life” at the motel. Greenfeld also acquires whatever vehicles you drove or animal you rode on to get to the motel after spending one month in its clutches. Tourist trap doesn’t even scratch the surface here. Principles for Motel Multiplicity: 1) All guests are losing their grip. 2) Each level has a “fun” “theme.” 3) There are always duplicates and evil clones. (You could really set a whole campaign here.)
13. “Salt-dog Scatt” – Mercenary with a harpoon gun and a pocket island. Works only for other villains, none of whom take him seriously as a self-described villain. Bursts into song when experiencing emotional turbulence but is frequently cut-off before reaching any form of refrain. If allowed to sing, the lyrics tells of his evil plan, like some sort of off-Broadway Bond villain.