Allen Varney, Writer and Traveler



An Organization for Champions

by Allen Varney

"Varuna, the all-seeing or all-enveloping one.... With his thousand eyes he was believed to see all and know all; the secrets of men were not secret to him ... Varuna saw all things, far and near, and ... he could perceive whether truth or falsehood dwelt within a man.... In post-Vedic days, ... he became at last only the god of the sea."

-- Robinson and Wilson, Myths & Legends of All Nations (Doubleday, 1950)

In a world of super-powered villains, it makes sense that the normals would try to find out as much as possible about them.

Varuna, Limited, a wholly-owned non-profit subsidiary of the Unity Foundation of Vancouver, collects vast amounts of data on all known super-criminals. It makes this information available free to all duly-appointed law enforcement officials.

Covertly, and for reasons of its own, Varuna, Ltd., also investigates superheroes. The PCs may only gradually come to learn of Varuna's dual motive, and their discovery may pose a dilemma.

You need the Classic Enemies supplement to take full advantage of this agency.


Varuna, Ltd., is the brainchild of philanthropist Calvin Chatwin, the embodiment of the classic Horatio Alger rags-to-riches story.

He was born Khalid Chatterjee in 1944 in Karachi, India, now Pakistan. Khalid was a Sikh, and Muslim intolerance forced his family to leave the region while he was still a child. Two days after their arrival in New Delhi, a bandit attack left Khalid an orphan. He slept under bridges and in railway stations, and he stole food to survive.

In 1957 the teenaged Khalid escaped to Egypt and from there to England, working passage on a tramp freighter. During the next decade, he gained a rudimentary education doing odd jobs and haunting London libraries. When he applied to emigrate to Canada in 1967, he used a new name, Calvin Chatwin.

Chatwin earned a bachelor's degree in business in Toronto, then moved to Vancouver just in time for the big real estate boom of 1972-75. He invested wisely, lived unusually cheaply, plowed all his profits back into further investment, and by 1975 the onetime orphan was worth over seven million Canadian dollars. By 1980, with a wife and new family, he was worth $35 million; after the 1985 depression, $100 million. He was verging on $200 million in 1988, when 44-year-old Calvin Chatwin experienced his crisis of conscience.

"How much money does one person need," he asked, "when so many more live in poverty and fear?" With this thought he placed most of his fortune in trust. The Chatwin Unity Trust funded a foundation to help Third World citizens and improve the peace in North America.

Note: So far, Chatwin's history parallels, almost exactly, that of Canadian millionaire Stephen Sander, whose philanthropy has attracted much media attention.

The Origin of Varuna

Here the history of Chatwin diverges from that of Sander, for one year ago Chatwin's Unity Trust headquarters fell victim to supervillain assault. The villain and motive depend on your campaign; choose an established, independent villain of medium-low power but deep nastiness, such as Blowtorch or Ripper from the Classic Enemies supplement to Champions.

This attack, which destroyed the building and injured many employees, almost disillusioned Calvin Chatwin. But rather than abandon Unity, he rebuilt the headquarters, with (note!) no new defenses or additional security arrangements -- but this time, he also created Varuna, Ltd.

Named for the Indian deity, and specifically the pre-Vedic incarnation that knew all, Varuna combined state-of-the-art computer equipment with satellite uplinks to the FBI, Interpol, UNTIL, and other major law-enforcement agencies. Over the next months, its small but competent staff compiled one of the world's largest private databases on super-criminal activities.

Today, Varuna's staff of 40 people tracks every known super-villain's movements; tries to discern their motives and goals; and catalogues their powers, abilities, and known weaknesses. Varuna, still headquartered in Vancouver, maintains branch offices in Washington, New York, other major sites of super-villain activity, and your campaign city.


Varuna answers data requests from any law enforcement official, free of charge. They may answer other requests, including those of journalists and the general public, but results are unpredictable and usually incur a token fee of at least $5-10. A Varuna report may include --

  • A full dossier of a villain's appearance, fingerprints (where known), publicly-known history, abilities, and weaknesses; known relatives; Hunteds and criminal charges pending; and, in some cases, the villain's particular rivalries or known Psych Lims.
  • Videotapes or DVD-ROM disks of the villain's public battles, when available.
  • A tracking report, updated at least monthly and more often as necessary, listing the villain's whereabouts or, when this is unknown, confirmed sightings of the villain.
  • Addresses of expert sources, including NPC hero groups who have fought the villain.
  • Low priority reports, or those made to the public, omit fingerprints, known relatives, and source addresses.

Determining the content: How do you decide what's in a report? Most facts are judgement calls; but if you don't care or can't decide whether a given fact appears in the report, have the PC asking the question make an INT roll. Success means he or she finds the answer.

Report Time

Turnaround time for reports varies; the staff assigns priority according to the immediacy of the "situation" -- the all-purpose word for any encounter involving a supervillain. Report times run as follows:

1. Ongoing hostage or life-threatening situations: report time 1-5 minutes via satellite datalink.

2. Current situations, not life-threatening: report time as #1, barring priority conflicts; otherwise 5-10 minutes, via telephone lines.

3. Immediate situation aftermaths: report time 5-10 minutes, usually interspersed amid Varuna's lengthy phone interviews with all available witnesses. Reports via telephone, or via satellite telelink from Varuna's "stringers" -- freelance field operatives.

4. Imminent situations or villain threats (i.e., no current situation but time-sensitive): report time 5-15 minutes, by phone or fax.

5. Other requests by recognized agencies or officially deputized hero groups: report time 1-12 hours, by fax (preferred) or phone.

6. All other requests: report time 1-3 days, by mail. These customarily incur the processing fee mentioned above, but Varuna asks this as a courtesy when it sends the report. So the default rate rises quite high, as you may expect.


You're thinking: "Great. A full and reliable information source for PCs who need exposition in a hurry. No more tedious investigation, brilliant deduction, and roleplaying encounters with interesting NPCs. Yippee."

You know there ought to be a good reason to introduce such a play-deadening agency. Here it is: Varuna's information-gathering applies not only to villains, but (covertly) to superheroes. The local administrator, with motives of his own, uses the "research on your foes' strengths and weaknesses" angle to discern just as much or more about the PCs' strengths and weaknesses.

Heroes should have little reason to suspect Varuna, since the inquiry is so low-key. Say Varuna acquires a videotape of Captain Paragon beating Orgo the Brick with a titanic energy blast. "Now we know Orgo is vulnerable to energy blasts," say Varuna's staffers. If that same tape happens to show Orgo stunning Captain Paragon with a water balloon, why should Captain P. surmise anything untoward?

Gradually Varuna begins using its collected data against the heroes -- behind the scenes at first, and finally (almost) openly. A later section discusses the development of Varuna's role during the campaign.


The local branch offers an eclectic bunch: some Jimmy Dugan-type DNPCs, a couple of half-mad scientists, a former Capitol Hill hooker, and a disguised supervillain.

Barry Hogness

Receptionist and dispatcher

STR 10 / DEX 9 / CON 14 / BODY 12 / INT 13

EGO 9 / PRE 11 / COM 8 / PD 2 / ED 3

SPD 2 / REC 5 / END 28 / STUN 24

Cost: 10

That's pronounced HOH-ness, silent `g,' thank you very much." When the PCs contact Varuna, they'll probably meet Barry first. He's not long on looks (mainly because he's too long on kilograms), but Varuna clients deal mostly by phone and fax. For them, Barry offers a mellow voice and constant awareness of the current disposition of Varuna's resources.

Skills and Talents: Bureaucratics 11-, Comp. Programming 12-, Conversation 11-, Systems Operation (phone phreaking) 12-. KS: Law Enforcement Agencies and other appropriate Knowledge and Professional Skills.

Perks: A couple of low-level Contacts among NPC hero groups or law enforcement agencies.

Appearance: An extremely obese young man with a short black beard and no moustache. Though hardly past 20, Barry is already starting to bald. He wears a badly-fitting Big & Tall business suit and a shy look.

Monica Lanwright

Public Liaison

STR 9 / DEX 11 / CON 10 / BODY 10 / INT 15

EGO 15 / PRE 18 / COM 22 / PD 2 / ED 2

SPD 2 / REC 4 / END 20 / STUN 20

Cost: 31

When the PCs contact Varuna, Barry Hogness probably sends them right over to Monica, the all-purpose media and hero contact at Varuna. She can explain the organization's goals, purposes, and history; and she'll probably charm every male hero with her flirtatious manner and her knowledge of their deeds and reputations.

Skills and Talents: Bureaucratics 13-, Contortionist 11-, Conversation 13-, Gambling 11-, High Society 13-, KS: Hero Groups, Persuasion 13-, Seduction 13-, Streetwise 13-, Fam: Handguns. French, Spanish (2 pts each). Well Connected. Monica also gives great phone.

Perks: Lots of Contacts and Favors in Washington, though they don't necessarily like to hear from her.

Appearance: A platinum blonde in her late 30s, starting to develop laugh lines but quite attractive and shapely. Large, classy wardrobe.

Background: Boy, that name sounds familiar -- wait a minute! Monica Lanwright! Wasn't she that bim-- er, lady that Senator Owen Dougherty hired as a secretary? Turned out she used his office to run Washington's highest-priced ring of call girls, and Dougherty furnished their, eh, places of employment using HUD funds. Big sex scandal a few years back. Dougherty had to resign, and whatever happened to that Lanwright woman?

Today Monica hopes to resurrect her reputation through public service. She also enjoys hobnobbing with superheroes, who command power almost as great as Senators but without the accompanying perversions.

Heinz Krauskopf and Gunther Krieger

Research fellows at Varuna's labs

STR 10 / DEX 10 / CON 10 / BODY 10 / INT 20

EGO 12 / PRE 8 / COM 8 / PD 2 / ED 2

SPD 2 / REC 4 / END 20 / STUN 20

Cost: 11

Skills and Talents: Inventor 13-, Electronics 11-. Scientist; Sci: Biochemistry, Genetics, Superhuman Biology, 13-. Scholar; misc. pertinent Knowledge Skills. German (native) and English (fluent w/accent).

Appearance: Both Krauskopf and Krieger are dowdy, gray-haired, nearsighted, balding on top, and absent-minded in their wardrobe. One looks like a stretched version of the other; Krauskopf is the tall one.

Background: We all know the plot schematic -- outsider goes to scientific establishment with crazy idea, gets rejected, vows revenge -- and the refrain: "They called me mad! I'll show them all! Hahaha!"

These two elderly scientists went just the opposite way. One a respected geneticist in Zurich, the other a West German biochemist, they jointly stumbled on gene factors that appeared to bestow paranormal abilities. But despite their confirmed results, they feared to announce their results to the world. "This can't be right," they thought. "We'll be laughing stocks."

So years ago Krauskopf and Krieger officially retired from their profession. (They draw income from a basic patent vital to the sterile-gauze industry). The two became something like camp-followers of the newly emerging superhuman community. They've tried to study every new superhuman who comes along, but most of these dislike the idea.

Therefore, Krauskopf and Krieger have joined Varuna as research scientists. They devote their efforts to designing techniques and mechanisms to defeat known super-criminals. Their success is up to you; if they're good, their gadgets can give the PCs the key to success; if they're bad, they provide comic relief.

The irony here is that, though Krauskopf and Krieger haven't vowed revenge on anybody -- haven't pried into things humankind was not meant to know -- have no ambition to rule the world -- nevertheless, they are, in fact, nuts. Krauskopf works 19 hours a day and has no life outside his work. Krieger, though genial, occasionally speculates that space aliens may be controlling his mind. Just a couple of crazy guys, you know?

Varuna's stringers

These normals report from the field, nationwide, on villain activities. They're typically young, hungry, and fascinated by superhumans; otherwise, they have little in common. Varuna pays stringers a token fee for each verified report, but none of them are in this for the money. They want the experience, and the thrills of being right at the scene of a major hero-villain clash. (As I indicate below, an ideal occupation for DNPCs!)

Calvin Chatwin

Founder and titular head of Varuna

STR 10 / DEX 10 / CON 13 / BODY 10 / INT 18

EGO 12 / PRE 20 / COM 14 / PD 2 / ED 3

SPD 2 / REC 5 / END 32 / STUN 22

Cost: 35

The heroes probably have no reason to meet Chatwin, but if they do, Chatwin occasionally visits the campaign city on business. He always stops in at the Varuna offices for some informal morale-boosting.

Skills and Talents: PS: Finance 14-, Bribery, Bureaucratics, Conversation, Streetwise (all 13-), Survival (New Delhi) 11-, Urdu (native), Hindu, and English (both fluent w/accent). Chatwin is a Traveler with many Area and City Knowledges.

Perks: Formerly Wealthy, now Well Off. Lots of Contacts and Favors. If you count loyal employees as Followers, Chatwin has dozens.

Appearance: Short, slender, and dried out, but with a wiry strength and amazing endurance. Dark tan skin; triangular face, clean-shaven (not a devout Sikh, remember); expensive Saville Row suits and dapper appearance. Soft-spoken, with a lilting voice. "Most glad to meet you. Perhaps you can help us today to help others?"

Bill Chowning

[real name: William Chow]

Senior administrator, local branch

Look in your handy Secret Identity Index. William Chow is the supervillain Utility, by George Mac Donald, revised by Scott Bennie for Classic Enemies, page 92. Chow is the normal but brilliant gadgeteer who likes to outfox supers. He specializes in long-range strategy, and he designs gadgets play on a hero's individual weaknesses.

So, what better front than Varuna? Here Chow collects data on his potential or established foes, the PCs. Then he employs Varuna's labs to work up his Vulnerability-punching devices. All the while, Utility tracks his villainous rivals worldwide, with an eye toward desirable targets he can seize himself.

Appearance: In his secret identity, Chow is a thin, youngish-looking man with wiry black hair and a wide, friendly face. His features hold perhaps a touch of the Oriental. What piercing black eyes!

Background: Check out Utility's entry in Classic Enemies.


Varuna, Ltd. occupies a small middle-altitude office in the city's major skyscraper. White walls, tan carpet, hardwood desks with computer terminals -- it all looks nice enough, if generic.

Half a dozen clean-cut employees file reports by computer, stand over fax machines and photocopiers, or consult files from a long row of voluminous filing cabinets. The atmosphere feels energetic but not especially interesting.

Chow/Chowning's private office, at the back of the room, holds a wall safe cleverly hidden behind his desk, which rests flush against the wall (-3 to Concealment rolls to spot). Depending on the stage of the campaign plot below, the safe contains complete dossiers on the PCs. Otherwise, Utility keeps nothing incriminating in the office.

All this puts off the PCs' interests and suspicions, the better to zap them with the devious plot outlined below.


This proceeds through approximately the following phases:

Introduce Varuna. A police captain or UNTIL lieutenant waves a file folder and spouts off knowledgeably about the evil at hand. Arouse the players' curiosity about his or her source. The file folder contains Varuna's address and phone number.

Make Varuna useful. When the next villain threatens, the heroes can contact Varuna, meet Barry Hogness and Monica Lanwright, learn about Varuna, and gain extensive, accurate information that helps them in the current peril.

Play this low-key, viz., "Here's this new plot device that lets me give you clues without a lot of hassle." The players should suspect nothing when Varuna's stringers ask for reports or videotapes of their battles.

If feasible, let a hero's DNPC hire on as a stringer for Varuna. What a good excuse to plunge the dependent into the midst of future battles!

Leave it like that for a while. The next few adventures establish Varuna as part of the campaign background. Maybe the heroes can stop in at the local branch office to visit the DNPC, but otherwise no one should think twice about it. Meanwhile, Utility is gathering information about the heroes.

Enter: The Plot Device! Utility is meditating a great scheme to overcome an entire super-team at once. To this end, he plans to build a powerful Plot-Device-class gadget that can, for instance, control every PC's mind. Utility must gather several rare components to build this machine.

One of these components -- for example, a pure quartz crystal grown in space during a shuttle mission experiment -- now becomes available. To distract the PCs from interfering with his theft of the crystal, Utility arranges a diversion through Varuna.

Varuna tells the PCs of some known super-villain team's upcoming plot -- a scheme unrelated to any of Utility's plans. Utility arranges for Krauskopf and Krieger to provide the PCs with gadgets attuned to the villain team's weaknesses. The PCs take the gadgets, cream the villains easily, and think all the better of Varuna. Elsewhere, meanwhile, Utility steals the crystal he desires.

(Should the heroes connect these two incidents, Chowning has arranged a convenient fall guy, a stringer with a criminal record. Chow claims that the guy intentionally withheld evidence of Utility's plan. Forged records bear out Chowning's story. Remember, Utility covers all the angles.)

The big backstab. After some intervening scenarios designed to put the players off-guard, the other major component of Utility's plot device comes online -- say for instance, a secret computer program designed for the Pentagon. This time the PCs are guarding the device themselves.

Utility hires some heavy super-villain muscle. As Bill Chowning at Varuna, he tells the PCs that these villains are conspiring to steal the computer program. He provides the heroes with more gadgets that work against the villains -- supposedly.

In fact, during the ensuing battle the gadgets betray the heroes; they just energize the villains, and/or they backfire on the PCs. The bad guys steamroll the good guys, then steal the computer program for Utility.

When the PCs recover, they deduce that something is wrong at Varuna. When they investigate, they run right into Utility's completed plot-device gadget, and they have to fight him at a severe handicap. Of course, the DNPC also manages to fall into danger.

Now what? The aftermath reveals Utility's manipulation of Varuna. Headstrong PCs may go public with the whole story, discrediting Varuna and forcing it to disband.

More circumspect heroes may turn Utility over to authorities, but let Varuna remain functional. This earns Calvin Chatwin's gratitude, and he can become a minor patron for the heroes. In later episodes Varuna should prove less comprehensive, since it lacks Utility's close knowledge of the criminal underworld. But Varuna still works as a convenient source of exposition.

Copyright ©1999 Allen Varney

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