ASH: Time Capsules #11 - The Abyss Looks Back

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Thu Sep 27 15:17:03 PDT 2007

     The cover is a simple russet sheet with Courier-font lettering.  On it
is the title, "HOW TO KILL...SUPERHEROES".

    //||  //^^\\  ||   ||   .|.   COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
   // ||  \\      ||   ||  --X---------------------------------------------
 //   ||      \\  ||   ||                  "The Abyss Looks Back"
//    ||  \\__//  ||   ||            Copyright 2007 by Dave Van Domelen

[Excerpt from "Max & Dex's Guide To Freakhunting", Paladin Press 1993.  Full
text available by request to those with appropriate clearance.]


     Let's say you can't take the freak out from a distance by sniping or a
well-laid trap, and you're stuck in a face to face confrontation.  What next?
Well, if your a freak too, doing the world a favor by thinning your own herd,
the details are gonna depend on exactly what your powers are.  You'll wanna
check out chapter seven real carefully.  But keep reading, because some
freaks keep mooks around as security, and those mooks probably know all the
stuff in this chapter already too and will try to use it against you.
     However, if all you have are guts and guns, you're gonna need to know
the appropriate tactics to use against your target.  And yeah, that can mean
surrendering or running away...dying for the cause sounds pretty, but it
doesn't really help the cause a lot.
     We're gonna go into the details of how each type works and the major
subtypes you'll find later in the book, but for now, here's the
classifications me and Dex have worked out for freaks.  You have wimps,
martial artists, bricks, zappers, mentalists, crossclass, suits, mages and

     1) Wimp.  These guys don't really have any powers useful in a fight, nor
are they trained.  Maybe they can fly, or have a little bit of mind power,
but not at a level that will make things too difficult.  These guys you can
deal with however you want, you might even want to use your bare hands for
that extra bit of personal satisfaction.  Just be sure to wipe the crime
scene (see Chapter 9) really carefully.  Odds are you won't be able to claim
self defense on these guys like you can for most of hte others.

     2) Martial Artist.  Maybe they have powers, maybe not, but their main
assets in a fight are their fighting skills.  They depend on mobility for
defense, so you really want to take them by surprise if you can, but in this
chapter we're assuming that didn't work.  Anyway, this group of freaks may
not actually have training, some just get by on inhuman speed and dexterity,
but the same principles apply.
     When I was a cop, they always told us to go for center of mass shots,
and not waste time with head shots or kneecapping, and that's your advice
here too.  Why?  Because no matter how much fancy footwork they may use,
their center of mass (usually in their stomach) is easy to track.  Well,
easier than a head or a leg.  These guys train long and hard to learn how to
fake out attackers and make them waste shots, don't fall into that trap.
You're just wasting your time trying to take that head shot unless you're so
good you're practivally a freak yourself.
     Center of mass shtos are an especially good idea if you have one of
those anime-imitating idiots who's always jumping around.  On the ground they
may be able to bob and weave all over the place, but once they jump they're
just clay pigeons.  Their center of mass has to follow a nice easy parabola
like in high school science class, and that's when to take your shot.  It has
the extra benefit of putting them above anyone else in your crew, reducing
the chances of friendly fire.

     [Callout Box]
     DEX SEZ!

     Max has a good point, but he's forgetting one little detail.  Guys have
been shooting at jumping-bean freaks for years now, and the enemy's starting
to catch on.  There's plenty of ways to make yourself a harder target even
when on a ballistic path.  For one, if you bend into a C shape, your center
of mass is no longer actually inside your body, so you can still dodge a shot
aimed along your trajectory.  Also, throwing stuff at attackers while in the
air will change the trajectory a little, as will doing weird aerodynamic
tricks with capes and robes and stuff.  You might want to arrange with your
crew to assign someone to always shoot at jumpers a little high or a little
low while everyone else is skeet shooting.  Just in case.
     [End of box]

     Now, the thing about being a martial artist type is that you need your
mobility, so armoring up is a bad thing.  You'll run into the occasional one
with a force field or magic "silksteel" togs or diamond skin, but they don't
really count as "martial artists" anymore in our book.  They're that
"crossclass" mentioned earlier.  Anyway, at most they'll have some kind of
torso armor and maybe a helmet.  You see, they know their center of mass is
the easiest to hit, so they armor up there.
     Not a problem.
     Why, you ask?  Because unless you're a freak too, you're not going after
these guys alone.  Trust me, even with body armor, taking a .45 slug to the
chest will throw you off your game for at least a couple of seconds.  Once
you hit the freak in the chest, your buddies can take those harder-to-make
head shots and put the target down.  Although, if you know you're going up
against a martial artist who wears traditional body armor, you might want to
pack armor piercers.
     Area effect weapons are generally a bad idea against these guys, though,
as much as it might seem to cut down their defensive advantage.  It's hard to
get clear of these freaks, and you end up taking down too many of your own
guys in the process.  Even stuff like gas isn't a great idea, because martial
artists are fast enough to snag a mask off one of your crew.  If you can get
some sort of exotic field effect weapon with a defense that's hard to spot
and remove, though, use it.  Sonics are great for this, because you can get
ear filters that go all the way inside the ear.  Keep in mind, though, the
type that got their goods from training might be able to resist the effects
of a lot of nonlethal weapons long enough to feed the weapon to you

     3) Brick.  Built like a brick outhouse, these are the guys who throw
cars and shrug off bullets like rain.  You need serious prep to go after
them, but they have plenty of weaknesses you can exploit, usually.
     Their most common issue is speed.  Where martial artists are all about
not being hit, bricks are about not caring if they're hit.  So you can take
all day to set up your shots.  Even with a regular pistol and ammo, a bullet
in the eye, down the throat, or in the ear can mess up their day, and you
don't have to be Commander Force to make good a face shot on a brick.  And if
you think a kick in the goodies hurts, a bullet there will make even Set bend
over and toss his cookies.  Agile bricks are around, though.  They're rarely
as strong as regular bricks or as nimble as martial artists, but they're
enough of both to count as crossclass.
     The key to fighting a brick, though, is research.  Almost none of them
are protected against everything you could use.  Most are vulnerable right
between the ears, so if you can get your hands on a psi weapon of some kind
your golden.  A lot of them still need to breathe, and they're not fast
enough to grab your gasmask.  Sonics are also usually good against them,
although only as a delaying tactic.  And if you run into a brick you haven't
researched, try out a few of the standards...if nothing else, finding one
that works will help fellow freak-hunters later.
     Forget the armor-piercers on these guys, though.  First off, most AP
rounds are designed to defeat a particular kind of armoring, like ballistic
cloth.  No guarantee a given brick's hide will have the right properties to
be penetrated.  Second, ricochets are gonna happen no matter what, and you
have to think about how well your buddies are gonna be able to handle it with
their body armor.  You may even want to consider glasers instead.  As long as
your not getting through their hide, why risk hurting anyone else?

     [Callout Box]
     DEX SEZ!

     Still, remember the whole research thing.  A lot of bricks just have
thick skins, so an AP round will work just fine on them.  And there's always
the option of getting your hands on specialty "mad scientist" bullets that
release acid or have mini-nukes in them or something.  Doesn't matter what
makes a brick tough, a Californium bullet's gonna hurt.
     [End of box]

     4) Zappers.  These guys are all about throwing energy blasts around.
They can often fly, which messes up tactical training something fierce as
most of us have trouble thinking in a truly three-dimensional way.
     Thing is, they rarely like to get up close and personal themselves.
They might have forcefields that can stop anything you can shoot at them, but
most are pretty wimpy physically.  Try to get into hand to hand combat with
these freaks, wrestle them to the ground and go for a bonebreaker hold or
something.  Forcefields that are great against penetration may not stop you
from twisting their arm out of its socket with the right hold.
     A word of warning, some zappers can go all electric eel on you.  The
ones who use fire particularly like to cover themselves in flames so you
can't touch them.  Usually they're too dumb to keep this secret, though, so
if they look safe to touch they probably are.  Just avoid the ones who come
into a fight crackling with lightning all over, on fire, or otherwise with
clear "no touchy" signs.
     The kind of energy a zapper throws around is often a good clue to
defeating them.  Going up against a fire user?  Get your hands on some of
that new firefighting gel.  Electrical?  Make sure you're well insulated or
even wear a grounding wire so the current goes through it instead of through
you.  Guy emits hard radiation?  Well, don't grapple with that one if you
want to have kids.  But there's some radiation cleanup gizmos out there that
would help.  Make friends with emergency response teams and learn where you
can get countermeasures to various kinds of energy.

     [Callout Box]  
     DEX SEZ!

     Usually the counter-energy trick works, but not always.  Sometimes you
get someone who controls a whole spectrum from one end to the other, like
light and darkness, fire and ice, that sort of thing.  You can't toss an
opposite element at them and expect it to work, and your more passive
defenses might blow up in your face.  For instance, a grounding wire might
stop EMerald's electroblasts, but her magnetic pulses could make it wrap
around you like a snake.
     [End of box]

     Because zappers like to stay away from you, though, area weapons are
easier to use on 'em.  Sure, they're not as hard to hit as martial artists,
but they're not sitting ducks either, and a guaranteed hit is always fun.
Just make sure your area weapon isn't an energy type they's
NEVER fun to have your flamethrower bursts turn around and come after you!
It's also not fun to find out that your zapper feeds on the kind of energy
you're using, like an ice guy who turns out to be a heat-eater and just loves
those flamethrowers of yours.

     5) Mentalists.  I'm talking here about guys whose main schtick is
getting inside your head somehow.  If all they have is telekinesis, they
might be considered mentalists by some, but they're just another flavor of
zapper to us.
     The good news is that mentalists are usually both soft and and slow most
of the time.  Forcefields are likely, though, and some are smart enough to
wear body armor.  The bad news is, they usually avoid getting hurt by simply
making you not attack them.  Or by hiding.  The really sneaky mindfreaks
don't wear costumes or make themselves obvious, they stand around in hte
crowd of bystanders and snipe.  Those guys you really have to concentrate on
taking down without a face-to-face, since they won't let you have one anyway
if they have a choice.
     The key to dropping a mentalist, in general, is to break their
concentration.  While a distracted brick is still armored and can still smash
you into red goo, a distracted mentalist is often all but useless.  Sonics,
flashbangs, puke gas...these are all good things.  So is being a sneaky
bastard yourself and planting someone in the crowd to take a shot from
suprise.  If they don't know an attack is coming, they can't block it.  Mind
you, a lot of these guys can pick up hostile thoughts, so it only works some
of the time.

     [Callout Box]
     DEX SEZ!

     Here's a good time to bring up some points about forcefields, since so
many mentalists use them as a primary defense.  Zappers, some martial
artists, and a lot of Suits do too, though.  There's a lot of styles of
forcefield, but most of them still let you see and hear through.  They'll
blunt lasers or sonic drills down to non-damaging levels, but there's plenty
of things that can get through and mess up your target.  Carry a strobe
along, your target may find out the hard way he's epileptic.  Dazzle weapons
like the military has developed for crowd control are also good, and so are
disorenting sound weapons.
     Of course, a forcefield often does nothing against an old fashioned net,
and once they're down you can pull out the really big guns and see if you
have anything that can get through the field.
     [End of box]

     The worst thing about mentalists, though, is that they love to take over
your own guys and turn them against you.  If you're going after one of these
puppetmaster types, nonlethal weapons are a really good idea, since you might
be staring down one of your own barrels!  Once you have the freak knocked
out, you can always just beat him to death with a rifle butt.

     6) Crossclass.  The speedy brick, the diamondskinned martial artist or
mentalist, the zapper who can punch holes in walls with his hands.  These
guys are a lot harder to deal with, because they tend to cover the weaknesses
of one type with the strengths of another, and your tricks won't work on
them.  Your best bet is often running away or even surrendering and hoping
your legal team's good enough (see Chapter 7 about building a good one).
     However, crossclass types are rarely as good at any one thing as the
more specialized freaks are.  That means that against a specialist, they can
be outclassed.  It's not a reliable or easily used tactic, but you can always
try to sic someone on a crossclass to do the job for you.  Fight freak with
freak.  Your job will be to act as support and make sure that the target is
forced to try to compete with the specialist in their own area.  Keep the
speedy brick from using his speed against your brick.  Keep distracting the
mentalist zapper so he can't brainfry your zapper.  That sort of thing.

     7) Suits.  This is a special sort of crossclass, where most or all of
the powers come from a powersuit of some kind, either high tech or magical.
These guys are often nearly as good in every area as a specialist, but it
comes at a price.  Namely, since the power's not inside them, it can be taken
away or bypassed.
     Tech suits are often susceptible to scrambling, turning the engine of
death into a paperweight.  Then you just need to pop a seal and drop a
grenade inside the suit or something.  Magic suits are harder to deal with,
but there's mystic scramblers floating around on the black market too.  I
think Paladin publishes a catalog.
     Dex is supposed to chime in with some advice on dealing with
forcefields, and a lot of that applies to suits too.  If you can generate a
special tone that makes people puke, puking inside a suit is gonna ruin the
freak's day even faster than puking inside a forcefield.  The tech guys will
tend to install defenses against that sort of thing, though, so you'll never
catch 'em twice with the same gimmick.

     8) Mages.  "True" sorcerers are hard to come by, but they exist.  Mostly
you can treat them like mentalists, but they're a lot more versatile, and the
smarter ones set up defensive spells in advance or even make charms to
protect themselves.
     There is a special way to take down a mage, though, but it's gonna hurt
a lot.  If you can make a mage overextend himself, there's a chance he's
gonna drop one of the many balls he has in the air and suffer what magic guys
call "Backlash".  I'm not really sure how it works, but I've seen it happen a
couple of times, and it's really ugly.  Mages balance a lot of forces, and if
you can make that balance slip, it tends to come crashing in on the mage
hard.  The only problem is lasting long enough to push the mage to that

     [Callout Box]
     DEX SEZ!

     An Anchor can be a great asset to a freak-hunter team, as long as you're
not depending on any supertech.  Some are even professional freak-hunters,
since they can shut down freaks' powers.  But against mages they're
especially useful.
     With a martial artist, odds are good he can still kick your head in even
without his powers.  If a brick throws a car at you from outside the Anchor's
range, the Anchor's not going to do anything against the car hitting you.
But almost everything a mage can do to you will be completely stoppable by an
Anchor.  Plus, just having an Anchor around seems to make Backlash more
likely, from what I hear.
     [End of box]

     9) Megafreaks.  Face it, some guys have it all.  They're so powerful
that either their weaknesses are all covered, or even their weak spots are
too strong to touch.  Guys like WarStar, Antiochus V, or Devastator.  But
notice that these are all "badguys".  You may not be able to touch them, but
you probably don't have to, as the freaks currently pretending to be
humanity's protectors will fight most megafreaks for you.
     With these guys, run away.  Pretend to be a normal joe.  Just don't get
into a fight with them, most of them won't even accept a surrender.  Know
your limits and don't pick a fight with someone way outside those limits.  Or
do something about your limits, like me and Dex did.

     Now that we've covered the basics, let's look at some of these tactics
in more detail.


     Kaoru skimmed the rest of the chapter.  It was all fairly dry, the sort
of thing that looked like it had been half copied from a police training
manual.  Which, considering how Max and Dex were disgruntled cops before they
went on their decade-long quest to eliminate superhumans, it probably had
     "A zealot is one who redoubles his efforts while losing sight of his
goals," said Santayana, or words to that effect.  Max and Dex certainly fit
that definition.  They had been so obsessed with "freaks" that they became
some of the freakiest people of the Third Heroic Age.  Mutated into unstable
forms by Devastator (acting through intermediaries), their brains salvaged by
Antiochus V and placed in robot bodies, their slain spirits dragged back to
unlife by Lord Ebon...if the Wanderer hadn't finally laid them to rest odds
were pretty good Doublecross would have gotten his hands on them and turned
them into photonics, just to complete the set and have them working for all
the era's greatest evils.  
     They never seemed to care who gave them power, so long as they got a
chance to kill superhumans.  And their benefactors didn't really care which
ones Max and Dex killed, using them as distractions or blunt instruments.  A
mutually malignant relationship all around.
     Kaoru closed the file and decided to go get some lunch.  Sometimes there
was only so much hate-filled insanity you could take in a morning, especially
when it was so lucidly presented....


Author's Notes:

     This one started as a quick paragraph or so, written more or less in
Chuck Morse's "voice", as something I thought I should work into a story
eventually (the bit about leaping martial artists).  Then, in the course of
explaining it on my LiveJournal, I decided I could get a "story" out of it
all on its own.  Well, an in-setting piece of "nonfiction", anyway.  After
tinkering with some ideas, I settled on an excerpt from a book by Max & Dex,
a recurring couple of baddies from my ASH Champions game and its successor
Raiders campaign.  Commander Force also comes from that campaign, infamous
for being kicked out of ASH after one mission because he didn't seem to care
about where his missed shots went.  He later got improved targeting software
for his cybereyes, though, and became synonmous with deadly accuracy, the
reason WarStar hired him (see WarStar #4).
     Paladin Press is a real outfit, publishers of the infamous "How To Kill"
chapbook.  I picked up a copy back in college, and it's a hoot.  Purporting
to be based on declassified Army training manual information, its advice
ranges from the probably apocryphal (Russian anti-tank mine dogs) through the
silly and useless (throwing a thermos's worth of liquid nitrogen at someone's
head to freeze it me, it doesn't work) all the way to the
downright hazardous to the user (a recipe for caseless ammo that's all but
guaranteed to explode in the barrel and injure the firer).  There's some real
stuff in there, but it's generally hidden by the bullshine.
     The most convincing story I've heard about Paladin Press is that it's a
dummy company set up by the military in the wake of laws being passed that
required declassification and dissemination of a bunch of stuff the military
didn't want declassified, much less disseminated.  So Paladin Press would buy
the exclusive publishing rights to all this info, then put out deliberate
disinformation like the liquid nitrogen foolishness, with just enough real
stuff in there to be able to claim they were using the info they had the
rights to.  Their books were invariably cheap little black and white
chapbooks like "How To Kill", and by the time I was in college they were
widely known (among those who had heard of them at all) as a joke at best,
and deliberate misinformation at worst.
     Thus making them a perfect target for subversion by Bennett Rush's
"Ringer" agents in the late 1980s, although this is a "retcon" I decided on
just today, not something I used back at the time (although I now wish I'd
thought of it then!).  After all, no one trusted their info to be valid,
making them ideal for publishing stuff Rush wanted spread around right under
the noses of the authorities.  Paladin Press became a sort of supervillain
small press, helping them share information and even spread the word to
normals who might be sympathetic (such as the people who tended to buy Max &
Dex's book).  Even after Rush became the insane Lord of Living Light, his
now-independent former agents in Paladin continued running it as a very
profitable illegal enterprise.  And heck, they even had all that declassified
true military info to draw on for the stuff they sold on the racks in Haven.
:)  Paladin Press went out of business in 1998 for reasons which should be
fairly obvious.  It's possible some of the Ringers were normals and spared
the events of July 6, but there just wasn't a market anymore....

     By the way, you'll notice more typos than usual for me.  This is
intentional.  After proofreading I went back and put in a few to lend it that
"really small press" authenticity.


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