Spiderman in the Marvel Comics has had a lot of memorable foes. From the more comical such as Shocker and Rhino. To the deathly serious in Green Goblin and Kingpin. Peter Parker and his many fellow Spider-Folks have no shortage of villains who left a mark on the minds of fans. But for me, it was always one villain that was memorized in this ol’ skull the most. Or rather, as I soon came to discover, a group. More like a plague when you think about it.
The Symbiotes. These alien menaces would bind to the most heroic of crusaders, granting them a boon of immense power. At the cost of what made them so heroic. They would prey upon the impulses that, in moderation, make us human. Anger. Hate. Jealousy. Pain. Only, they weren’t content with those impulses remaining moderate. They would take the knob and wind it all the way up to the max. These symbiotes would turn heroes into villains.
And as a kid, that both fascinated and scared the ever living hell out of me. These beings were like the zombie virus storylines on adrenaline. They don’t just turn you into a monster. They do it slowly. They whittle away at who you are, amplifying the parts you’d rather forget and minimizing the aspects you hold dear, bit by bit. They turn your love to obsession. They turn your courage to fanaticism. They turn you into…..well, NOT-you.
And when I think of the idea of horror stories in Marvel, I can’t get closer than the idea of a well done symbiote story. Barring Immortal Hulk, cos that’s friggin’ amazing.
So, let’s discuss how to do a symbiote story in Masks. Let’s discuss horror in Masks: A New Generation.
I’ve mentioned multiple times previously how the symbiote is a being that leeches onto someone and is dependent on feeding off them in the most unhealthy of relationships. They manipulate your emotions and turn them into something darker.
And when it bonds to someone as heroic as a Masks PC, bad things happen.
Have the symbiote, as long as it’s bonded to the character, always have influence over the PC. It possesses the ability to shift their Labels at any moment. Kinda hard to ignore that voice in your head after all. Perhaps it starts telling you how the Beacon of your team is holding you back, emphasizing Superior. Maybe it tries to push you to just go a little too violent on that oh-so funny villain your team often deals with, turning you into something of a Danger. The Symbiote is the kind of influence who can get to you whenever. And remember what I said about the voice in your head?
Alternatively, have the ability for the players to utilize the Symbiote to Shift a label up once per session. But granting the symbiote the ability to choose what label gets shifted down. A deal with the Symbiote involves losing something. And you rarely get to choose what.
But, the playbooks are not uniform They all react and work in different ways. So this union of teen superhero and symbiote could go quite a many ways.
Let’s get into that, shall we?
NOTE: Due to the nature of the Symbiote being very similar to an abusive partner/unhealthy relationship, this storyline could easily dip into areas of abuse and gaslighting, amongst others. Please make sure your fellow players are comfortable with such themes before delving in. And I’d STRONGLY recommend using safety tools even with the agreement, such as Script Change and the X-Card.
The Beacon is all about proving yourself as a “true hero” in contrast to the world that so often refuses to acknowledge you as one. When you’re up against literal and physical gods of superheroes walking around and proving your simple bow & arrow to be a bit lacking, you’d be forgiven for looking for an edge.
The symbiotes preys on the nagging idea of the Beacon that they’re “Not good enough”. It eats at them from the inside, feeding into their worries and anxieties. Compare it to writer’s block or Imposter Syndrome. The Symbiote will continually push the Beacon to “Prove they belong” through more and more extreme actions and bravado to spite, not prove them wrong, but spite the naysayers. And chances are, those they see as naysayers will eventually evolve to everyone. The Beacon must somehow overcome this internal anguish of self-doubt to overcome the symbiote.
Or they give in. Power corrupts, after all.
Punching anyone who gets in your way or hurts you or those dear to your heart. The Bull is all about being strong and emotional and not caring (at least at first) about the consequences of those two mindsets. Which makes them easy pickings for a symbiote.
The Symbiote will push the Bull to the most violent and forceful conclusion, even by their usual standards. They will make slights seem as grave insults. The symbiote will contort the most mildest of interactions with their Love & Rival as an attempt to replace the Bull. Anger will soon become all that consumes the Bull.
Think of how the Love & Rival will react to such a change in someone so close to them. How they feel when they see someone they care about so much falling into rage further and further. The Bull works best when pinging off their Love & Rival. Use that.
Conceal. Don’t feel. Can’t let them know. The Janus is about guarding themselves from the idea of their secret identity being revealed. They cannot allow anyone other than those they trust to find out. But, what makes them trust a Symbiote with it? Truth is, they don’t have a choice. Once bonded, they are of one mind. And everything that entails.
The Symbiote highlights the danger of allowing others to learn your secret. First as a simple reminder whenever you feel comfortable with telling someone, warning you of the potential danger. But soon, it will push you away from those who already know.
They’ll hurt those close to you if they knew.
They will tell everyone.
I’m the only one you can trust.
The Symbiote becomes the most poisonous of friends in this world to you, consistently trying to isolate you from those that know you’re in trouble and attempt to pull you out. The Symbiote wants you all to themselves. And they know just about every string to pull to get that.
You’re going to burn out. And not just in the way creatives do. When you burn out, it’ll likely take a city block with you. Everyone you know will be hurt by your power. It’s only a matter of time before they’re killed by your arrogance and ability.
That’s what the Symbiote told you. It’s why you let them bond to you.
The Symbiote can give you the control you crave. It can bond with you and let you finally feel safe around your friends. Let you finally be able to live a somewhat normal life without having to worry about harming anyone. Until it doesn’t. Until the Symbiote starts demanding a little more of you to “Moderate things”. Bit by bit, you are gradually consumed by this creature until there is only the Symbiote with your power, no longer held in check by your fear.
The Nova must learn to overcome their fear and depend on their own strength, and not the strength of this all-consuming codependent relationship with the Symbiote. It will be difficult. And The Nova may find a loss of control once it’s gone. But you will be you.
You stand out in a crowd no matter what. Whether you have green, protruding spines from your skin, flesh like magma, or simply just look off. You don’t fit in. You’ll never fit in.
Unless you, just maybe, had some help…
The Symbiote will offer the Transformed the opportunity to finally be able to blend in. They have abilities. Shapeshifting will be an easy thing for them. They can make you look the way you were before you Transformed. You can walk down the street without fear. You can sit down in a cafe and just enjoy your time there. You can be normal.
But, it’s not only your outside changing. The longer you bond with this creature, the more and more it gradually turns you to something more monstrous on the inside than you ever were on the outside. And at that point, you need to make a choice.
Which matters more to you? The inside or the outside.
You’re meant to be better than this! You’re the student of the best of the best. You’re constantly struggling though. You were the experienced one of this team, and yet you’re continually eclipsed by your fellows. This isn’t fair. You trained for this. What’s the difference between you and them?
While you may not discover what the gap is, the Symbiote offers to help close it for you.
Much like its inspiration in early-Robin, many of the Protege’s traits and moves emphasize confidence in their skills. They’re trained by someone who knows how this superhero thing all works. So, you know what you’re getting into with this Symbiote. Riiight…
But, where the Symbiote would continually neg the Beacon’s own confidence to force them into more and more extreme actions, they will feed the Protege’s own confidence. After all, they’re the elite compared to these other wannabes. Why shouldn’t they be aware of it? Why shouldn’t they let their teammates know? The Symbiote will continually feed the Protege’s ego, making them believe the hype others lay upon them and call those who refuse it liars.
The Protege must come to accept they can’t do everything on their own. Or they can try to. But you’re not REALLY on your own, are you?
It’s hard to get these people around you. They don’t mesh well with you. You don’t know this strange land. You may put upon a smile to cloak it at times, but it’s hard being away from home in some world that doesn’t play by the rules you know of. You could do with an expert who could help teach you.
The Symbiote will make the Outsider feel like an Outsider (been waiting to use that all article). They will offer them enough advice to make them fit in better, but the poison will be slipped in within the honey. A bad piece of expertise to make them feel even more lost every now and then. Until, it’s every piece is bad expertise. And soon, it feels like the Outsider is all by themselves in this strange land.
Barring their dear, dear friend in the Symbiote.
The Outsider will have to accept that, while they may never truly be the same as their team, that doesn’t stop them from having a place in this world. Doesn’t make their friendships any less valid. Like the old song, Malfunction by Steam Powered Giraffe, says:
“Woven strings are worth more than gold.”
You’re really good at pissing people off. Hell, you’re proud of it. But, pissing people off often leads to consequences. A punch. A harsh word. A beat down from a supervillain you really shouldn’t have insulted the mother of. It’s only a matter of time before you eventually piss off the wrong person. If only there was something that could help you escape the consequences…
You may like to piss off people off, but the Symbiote will glorify it. It will make it seem as if you are the only person standing against the arrogance and pretentiousness of the superhero world. The arrogant premier hero who always has to get the camera shot. The villain who won’t shut up about their plan. The fellow teammate who’s worried about how anti-social you’re becoming.
The Symbiote will force a choice on the Delinquent. Fall further and further into rebellion, often without a cause. Or actually look inward and discover why you’re rebelling.
The worst enemies are often ourselves.
You need to take up the mantle. A lot of responsibility is coming from your path behind you. Heroes upon heroes upon heroes. Each of them, whether in spirit or life, all counting on you to carry on their eternal burning flame to make sure it doesn’t go out.
It’s quite a bit of pressure. And oftentimes, it feels like your team doesn’t get it. Doesn’t get how much responsibility is on these shoulders. Wouldn’t it be good if someone else understood? Wouldn’t it be great if you had a partner in this?
The Symbiote will whisper honeyed poison into your ear. Of how they will not only make your forebears proud, but they will uplift you to a point where even they will look up to you. But there’s a fine line between being an ideal example and a cautionary tale. How long before you begin decrying any rule of your predecessors, simply for the fact it didn’t come from and begin with you? How long till the Legacy feels like it holds you back rather than pushing you forward?
The Symbiote will offer you the chance to be something great. But not a hero. What you decide to do without it will decide that.
You haven’t got long in this world. It’s only a matter of quite literally time on the clock for you. But you need more time! Maybe you can’t overcome your Doom. But you can put it off long enough to tell your crush how you feel. To make sure your family will be OK. To make things right before you go. If only something could give you this time.
Or rather, someone.
The Symbiote is powerful. It can ward off your coming end for enough time. That’s all you need with it. A bit more time. Only, it’s never enough. Once you realize you can turn back the clock, you can only think of more and more things that you need to do. And that’s where it gets you. It begins making demands of you, for it knows that you need it now. And eventually, the last decision comes to you.
What’s worse? Coming to your end? Or becoming something you don’t even recognize as yourself?
The Symbiote is an enemy that’s not quite like anything else. It latches and bonds to you, making you believe you need it and need to change to be your “Best-Self”. It’s a terrifying force like no other.
But you’re a hero, after all. And you can beat it.