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Charlemagne (Defiant comics)

Charlemagne

(Charles Smith)


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Context

In the early 1990s there was a burst of new comic book universes – the Ultraverse, the World’s Greatest Heroes line by Dark Horse, the Image proto-universe, Valiant… and Jim Shooter’s Defiant books. Despite Shooter’s skills, Defiant did not last very long, largely due to a legal battle with Marvel. Here is a secondary hero from the Defiant Universe.

This profile may have to be revised when/if more Defiant characters such as War Dancer are written, in order to keep their relative abilities coherent. However, it does include some quick description of the workings of the Defiant Universe, which was a complex and different world (and may have well proved to be too complex and different, in the long run).

There are S P O I L E R S in the writeup, which is somewhat unavoidable given how interlocked the Defiant series were (it was quite confusing if you were only reading one book).


Background

  • Real Name: Charles Smith
  • Other Aliases: Charlesmith (this is how Dreamtime people usually refer to him)
  • Marital Status: Single
  • Known Relatives: Peter (brother, deceased), Margaret (mother), Mr. Smith (father, name unrevealed)
  • Group Affiliation: None
  • Base Of Operations: Mobile
  • Height: 6’7” Weight: 245 lbs.
  • Eyes: Blue Hair: Blond


Powers and Abilities

Charlemagne has high levels of superhuman strength and durability, and can lift hundreds of tons above his head or stop a runaway armoured truck barrelling at full speed with his bare hands.

While he lacks any special training, this strength gives him great speed and the ability perform massively superhuman jumps. His agility has also been considerably enhanced, and he can easily perform impressive feats of gymnastics.

Smith always has had tremendous resolve and willpower (MIN, SPI), and knows that he can accomplish anything he sets his mind to because of this (HPs). He had demonstrated great resistance to mental control, spiritual assaults and the like.

Given his great power he often starts a confrontation without spending HPs ; if things go badly he marshalls his resources, think about his cause (often while grasping his brother’s dog tags, which he carries as a memento) then start drawing on his HPs, often with tremendous results.

Charles is also quite smart, especially for his age. He’s very perceptive (but not exceptionally so), and his ability to make accurate deductive leaps from modest amounts of information is remarkable, especially given his lack of life experience. At one point, Charles spotted a person twenty stories below him, indicating that his eyes (and possibly other senses) also are superhumanly strong.

Charles’s abilities and notably his DEX seem to clearly progress during the course of the series, but there are not enough data points to suggest a curve – I’d say all of his Physical Attributes increased by two points to the levels noted above between the beginning and the end of the series, about half this increase taking place under Thrahkahl’s ministration in the dreamtime.

Charlemagne seems to be able to Adapt superhuman powers after watching them or coming in contact with them – it would seem that his power is not so much super-strength but the power to do anything he think he can do and can accurately imagine himself doing.

On his end, War Dancer described Charles power as a mastery of the quantum field, similar to the Dancer’s own ’dancing‘ abilities and making Charles roughly similar to a dreamtime prince such as Tsolmec.

The two clearest demonstrations of his Adaptation were his ability to telepathically track down Nudge after a few exposures to her telepathic powers, and the ability to teleport himself back to Earth after having been taken to the Substratum. He also seemingly used the tracking ability he learned from watching Nudge in action to later track War Dancer down.

Furthermore, Charlemagne seemed to grow increasingly resistant to exotic energies (such as Nudge’s telepathy) after being exposed to them, though there are no super-clear demonstrations of this.


The Defiant universe in a nutshell

Charlemagne is tied to the metaplot of the Defiant Universe – though the series stopped before this could be fully explained to the readers, or even understood by Charles. He had an intuitive understanding of the danger that War Dancer posed, but not much beyond that, and thus the History section below does not delve into those details.

The Defiant metaplot revolve around the dreamtime, a dimension fed by the dreams of humanity. A schism occurred during the Great Plague – which, in the Defiant Universe, seems to have been much more severe and global than in our own history. This near-extinction event shook the dimension of dreams and infused it with despair, and the inhabitants of the dreamtime feared that they would die from this catastrophe.

A great prince among them, Ahrq Tsolmec, performed a powerful dance and ritual to destroy death and thus prevent extinction, but the ritual was sabotaged and ended up sundering the link between humanity and its dreams. The dreamtime, as a side effect of this, became infused with life and mutated into a sort of devouring meta-organism.

Meanwhile, prince Tsolmec was lost for aeons and centuries in the energy and the void, and the botched ritual made him death incarnate, the War Dancer, instead of destroying death. War Dancer started questing for his old love and to discover the universe, which had greatly changed since his days.

Another seeming side effect of the sabotaged ritual to destroy death emerged much later – a new kind of connection became possible between humanity and the energy of its dream. This manifested in a small number of individuals in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and Charlemagne was apparently the first and arguably the best.

Given his incredible resolve, and the fact that he was dreaming full time while plunged into a coma for years, he apparently became an optimum case of the ability of humanity to channel dream energy into the powers they had been dreaming of. Several scholars and entities in the dreamtime came to regard him as the rightful champion of life – the exemplar of humanity’s new potential.

This herald of a sweeping change to come greatly concerned Tsolmec, who considered that humanity was not ready to wield this level of power and wish fulfilment, and would soon plunge the universe into untold war and chaos. As a sort of avatar of death, he decided to destroy the universe so it could start cleanly a new, but wanted to first determine if his beloved was still alive.

War Dancer’s prediction about the results of an empowered humanity was shared by a number of evil, predatory entities from the dreamtime, who thus supported Charlemagne’s emergence as the champion of humanity and wanted him to defeat War Dancer, thus letting humanity gain access to dream energy.


History

Charles Smith is from Louisville and was born in 1961. His brother Peter enlisted or was drafted in the late 60s, but was declared MIA in 1971. Loving his brother, little Charles kept hoping against hope that Peter was still alive ; he kept re-reading his letters home, and had a large map of the peninsula in his all-American boy’s room.

After 2 years, the Pentagon gave up as per procedure and announced that Peter Smith was no officially considered dead due to a lack of information. Refusing to admit this, the exceptionally strong-headed Charles ran away to find Peter, and somehow managed to stow away on a plane and a series of ships after hitchhiking to Cincinnati.

Amazingly, once in Việt Nam, the twelve-year old runaway stubbornly continued his search, eventually managing to learn Vietnamese as he walked around and asked the locals whether they had seen his brother. He briefly helped an American journalist in Saigon – the man had gotten into a brawl with a Marine over political opinions, and Charles warned him that the jarhead had a knife, possibly saving the reporter’s life.

Interested in the extraordinary story of the kid as possible Pullitzer material, the journalist (Gerald “Jerry” Westerberg) presented Charles to an influential, neutral power broker, doctor Tran N’Guyen.

The good doctor considered the entire thing to be amazingly irresponsible, and made arrangements to have the kid safely shipped back to the US. Overhearing this, Smith fled into Saigon. By mid-1975 he was still searching, and the blond American brat speaking Vietnamese and walking across the country to find his brother became locally known.

Viewed favourably by many Vietnamese for his obvious bravery, he eventually learned from a small-time warlord that his brother was in Huang Dao – outside of Bu Tu Suay, on the Cambodian border.

My brother’s keeper

Dr. N’Guyen, who had spent months regretting his decision to ship Charles home rather than help the young man, located him at this point and offered help and transportation to Huang Dao. The well-read and highly educated doctor nicknamed the young American “Charlemagne”, likening the boy’s courage to that of the great King of the Franks.

Charles accepted N’Guyen’s hospitality for a bit, and during his stay in the doctor’s mansion in Saigon met a girl his age, Le Xuan, who had lost her three brothers to the war (two in the ARVN and one in the VC).

Tran N’Guyen pulled some strings and had an American Huey drop Charles five clicks from Huang Dao – but Westerberg was in the meantime learning that Westmoreland’s staff had decided that Huang Dao was a VC stronghold and had sent an aircav mission to raze the place.

Charles had just spotted and recognised Peter, who had seemingly gone native, when the gunships swept in and opened fire with machineguns and rocket pods. In the confusion, Peter was blown up by a 2.75” rocket ; one doorgunner spotted Charles running toward his brother and viciously strafed him in the back with M60 fire.

Amazingly, despite the severe wounds and his legs having been blown away, Charles demonstrated his willpower once again and dragged himself forward, hugging the broken corpse of his brother and taking his dog tags. He swore that he would never allow that to occur again and passed out.

Coma and awakening

An American clean-up crew found him and medevacced him, horrified to discover a white boy had been caught in the carnage. Dr. N’Guyen arranged for top-notch medical care for Smith, and the doctors managed to stabilise him, though the kid stayed in a coma and both legs had to be amputated.

When the Americans started fleeing Saigon, N’Guyen had the boy disappeared and placed into a discreet room, allowing him to pass through the tragic events accompanying the Communist take-over unharmed. Westerberg later wrote a book about Smith, which sold well enough to be fuzzily remembered by many Americans more than 15 years later (though there were some biographical errors).

Smith remained in a coma until February 23, 1993 ; during his coma he dreamt, often wishing with childlike fervour for a world that would be more fair to people and their hopes and dreams. Tran N’Guyen had various young therapists provide the very specific treatments needed to keep Charlemagne alive and, in some measure, healthy, in the hope that he would wake up someday.

One such doctor mentioned that she was exercising Smith’s arms and legs to prevent total muscular atrophy. Flabbergasted, N’Guyen ran to Charlemagne’s room and saw that his legs were somehow back. Charles then woke up.

Now physically in his early 30s, Charlemagne emerged from 18 years in a coma in perfect physical condition and could walk right away. He was in fact now a giant of a man, with an incredible physique and the muscle development of a champion bodybuilder.

Return to the US

After 10 months with the doctor and his staff, Charlemagne left ; the doc arranged for him to join boat people attempting to reach Thailand, from whence he could return to the US without administrative complications. The boat was attacked by Vietnamese pirates, however, who set it on fire and locked the would-be refugees in.

At first shocked and depressed, Charlemagne underwent a brief traumatic flashback to the death of his brother, and remembered his resolution to never let such a thing happen again and see the dreams of ordinary people crushed by senseless violence.

Flying into a rage, Charlemagne demonstrated massive levels of superhuman strength and leaping ability – he burst free of the sinking ship, leapt onto and boarded the pirate’s ship and dispersed the crew, then transferred the boat people to the intact pirate ship before theirs was fully sunk.

Charlemagne about to throw a punch

Having presumably lost his money (or given it away to his fellow refugees), Charles simply decided to walk from Thailand to Siberia, swim to Alaska and walk to Kentucky. In Bangkok, however, he was challenged to a duel by a rogue superhuman muay thai boxer called Ngu, now a criminal.

Charlemagne refused to fight, but was forced to when Ngu had his men threaten to break the bones of a schoolgirl. Though the inexperienced (and still slightly unused to his body) Charlemagne was at first battered by Ngu, his greater strength and willpower were soon brought to bear and he defeated the kickboxer, who mysteriously vanished.

After his long journey, Charles was happily reunited with his now aged parents, still living in Louisville. He then decided to wrap up a few loose ends from the 1970s, such as finding Peter’s high school sweetheart, Susie Contrell, to tell her that he was dead. He found her, married and with a daughter, in Calfornia, but her husband reacted badly to this strange character and the discussion of his wife’s former paramour.

War Dancer and Gatesman

As he was leaving, though, Charles was confronted by a strange, flame-shrouded figure who appeared in the sky – War Dancer. Dancer made a series of cryptic statements : that Charles had gained power by dreaming hard and long enough about it, and that he was the champion of mankind and fated to play a role in “the dark time to come”.

According to the Dancer, the border between dreams and reality was fading and making some dream reality but he, a prince of dreams, was now fated to become death and fight the champion of humanity.

Not very interested in fighting but knowing he should use his power for the greater good and not liking this talk of universal annihilation, Charlemagne accepted the duel, and Dancer teleported them both to Yellowstone. Though he was initially outmatched, Charles made a strong comeback as he realised that Dancer was telling the truth, but was eventually defeated. Impressed by his resolve, the victorious Dancer left and did not kill Charlemagne, who swore to oppose him and his agenda of destruction.

After a short amount of time spent at the hospital following his defeat, Charles openly demonstrated his abilities, attracting a lot of attention and driving the hospital to organise a press conference. This almost immediately resulted in being summoned by one of the richest men in the world, William Gatesman.

Behind Gatesman was his young son Ridgely, who had developed a superhuman level of intelligence. Ridgely was actually running the Gatesman fortune and reigned over it like a sadistic tyrant. Gatesman had detected the curious events that had been taking place on the Defiant Earth, and discerned that a sort of global threat was developing.

Since he intended to conquer and control the world within the next few years, he told Charles such a thread could not be permitted to exist and that they should band together to defeat it. How much he understood about the dreamtime and War Dancer is unknown, but his prognosis was generally correct.

Though Charles was not quite convinced by Ridgely Gatesman, the kid’s descriptions matched somewhat with what War Dancer had told him, and he agreed to help stop a group of superhumans who started storming Gatesman’s private island compound at that point. The team, which Gatesman had described as ’killer commandos’ turned out to just be a bunch of kids, the so-called Good Guys, cementing Charles’s impression that he was being manipulated.

He stopped fighting the kids (whom he vastly outclassed), confronted Ridgely Gatesman and they from then on kept their working relationship at arm’s length – Gatesman gave some equipment designed to locate War Dancer to Charles, who then left after confirming he intended to fight the threat.

Glimmer and Nudge

In New York City, Charles was approached by writer Michael Alexander, also a superhuman sometimes called Glimmer. Alexander’s abilities allowed him to, to some extend, perceive, interact with, move into and control the dreamtime (which he called the Substratum). As such, Glimmer had some understanding of what was going on, and could locate Charles and recognise his nature.

As the two men started becoming friends, Alexander had to leave to attend to an emergency, a short time before the demon lord Bottom, who had crossed over from the Substratum, came to his apartment to kill him. Charlemagne and the demon fought in Central Park West. After testing his physical strength, Bottom instead tried a psychic assault turning Charles’s fears against him, but this also failed, and Bottom was forced to flee back to the Substratum, where he was killed by a rival.

Scant minutes after the defeated the demon, Charles was accosted by Cookie “Nudge” Wazzeneger, a woman with mental control abilities who tried to force him to renounce fighting the Dancer. Charlemagne managed to shrug off her mental influence, but she fled before he could fully recover.

Wazzeneger was one of the humans who, some months before, had been brought to another world in the dreamtime and plunged in the war there. Having fallen obsessively in love with War Dancer, she was determined to kill Charlemagne, whom she feared would prove able to kill War Dancer.

Having failed to simply mind-control him, she opted for the indirect approach, taking control of Charles’ childhood friend Le Xuan in Việt Nam. Though she was now married with two children, Xuan left everything behind to fly to the US, find Charles and throw herself at him, all the while under Nudge’s close mental control.

Meanwhile, the inexperienced Charles did not manage to locate Michael Alexander’s place, and soon ended up penniless and homeless in New York City. After being plunged in the atrocities of an underground refuge of a ruthless homeless community, he ended up shoeless and in shock, and decided to hobo it back to Kentucky to be reunited with his parents. As he was sneaking aboard a train, Le Xuan caught up with him and took him to a hotel.

Le Xuan and Thrahkahl

Still mind-controlled, le Xuan started putting the moves on Charles, but as Nudge relaxed her concentration for a bit the Vietnamese mentioned that she was married, leading Charles to realise something was wrong with her and that she was probably not in control of her actions. Nudge’s plan went awry and she had Le Xuan threaten to slit her own throat if Charles did not give up his conflict with Prince Tsolmec.

Realising that Nudge could not afford to sacrifice her main leverage against him, Charlemagne left and tracked Nudge’s telepathic power to Upper Montclair, bursting into her sister’s house and confronting the telepath. She was forced to flee and, after bidding farewell to the now-freed Le Xuan, Charles found his resolve to kill War Dancer strengthened.

Having secured some money (likely after finding a way to reach his parents), Charles resumed his search for War Dancer, but was recruited by another superhuman with a vaguely Meso-American look, called Thrahkahl, who told him that he too was an enemy of Ahrq Tsolmec and wanted to train him to fight the War Dancer.

Thrahkahl was also a dreamtime person, and his plans to oppose War Dancer had been perturbed by the arrival of the Champion of Life. Unsure of what to do with Charlemagne, he took him to the dreamtime and put him through a series of ’tests’ designed as much to neutralise him and take him off the board as to train him.

Reinforced by dreams

As it turned out, Thrahkahl had considerably underestimated Charlemagne, who benefited enormously from the training and, after some initial setbacks, proved able to sail through the trials and flatten any opposition. Thrahkahl tried to bribe him out of his vow to confront the Dancer by tempting him with the seeming ghost of his brother, but Charles rejected him, teleported back to Earth and telepathically located Ahrq Tsolmec, bursting in and challenging him to a ritual duel.

A local friend of Tsolmec objected and argued that he was too banged up from a previous adventure, and in the name of fairness and since War Dancer had previously spared his life, Charlemagne accepted to proceed with the duel after a wait, and used the delay to recruit his friend White Crane of the Good Guys as a witness and second for the duel. The principals and their seconds teleported to Angkor Wat, where the duel started.

Various parties with an interest in the outcome detected this. Gatesman sent in troops equipped with technology he had personally designed, and the demon lord Mule rounded up a legion of evil dream entities.

At this point, Defiant abruptly ceased publication… so I guess we can assume Dancer won and ended and remade the world, in a way.


Description

Charles still occasionally uses the backpack with which he left home in 1973 – a dated, green schoolboy’s thing with a ’peace‘ symbol painted in red over it. He always wears his brother’s dog tags. His mode of dress still has a strange, hard to pin down 70s vibe to it.


Personality

Charlemagne is still a 14 year-old kid from 1975 in many ways, though he’s had some time to reacclimate to the 1990s and to having a massive, powerful body in its 30s.

He’s definitely not an ordinary teenager, however – he has incredible willpower and resolve, and when he says that the word ’can’t‘ is not part of his personal lexicon, it is not hyperbole. If necessary, he *will* do whatever he must, even if that means walking from Thailand to Siberia, swimming across the Bering straight, and walking from Alaska to to Louisville, Kentucky.

Charles loathes injustice, human predators and those who would break the dreams and hopes of ordinary people. He has sworn that he would never let such things happen again, to atone for his failure to protect his older brother in the midst of a major war. Though he’s not looking for trouble, he will unhesitatingly intervene if he sees people in danger and will always defend innocents.

Coming from another time and still being pretty young, Charles, despite his obvious presence, is socially direct and has a certain childlike naiveté and friendliness. He will happily chat with anyone like a kid his mental age would, and dislikes social engineering and complexities.

Charlemagne acts as a real hero – tough, chivalrous, honourable and extremely courageous. His youth and lack of experience mean he’s sometimes confused and overwhelmed, but he’s determined to be a true hero in the old school mode, and his resolve knows few limits.

When he falters he often holds his brother’s dog tags in his hands, to remind himself of why he fights, what he has accomplished so far and how he failed to save Peter.

Charles does not like being called ’Charlie‘, as he feels it belittles him – he developed this habit as a kid frequentely talked down to by adults. After the time he spent in Việt Nam, he seems to have an affinity for the South-East Asian cultures, and a favourable bias toward people with roots in the area.

As a side effect of his willpower, Charles is quite confident – and as a side effect of being a teenager with a murky grasp on his own mortality and near-unstoppable power, he can easily become overconfident. As with many kids, he’s also quite impatient.


Quotes

“ ‘Can’t‘ ? Never had much use for that word, doctor.”

Charles: “I shouldnt’ve healed up quick as I did. And I shouldn’t look like Charles Atlas.”
Dr. N’Guyen: “Or Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
Charles: “Who ?”

“Let’s just say I’m still a kid at heart.”

Refugee: “A hero — you’re a hero !”
Charlemagne: “No. I just did what i wished I could’ve done a long time ago. For my brother…”

“I’m the little engine who could. If I think I can, I can.”

“Dance around with doubletalk until I take the hint that I’m not wanted. One thing I liked most about being a kid was that kids just say what they mean.”

“We deserve the chance to make our own choices and find our own way ! Not have it handed to us ! Not be dictated to ! Dreams are all some of us in this reality have ! And you or anybody else isn’t going to take them from us !”

“You know what ? Never mind. I don’t know why I’m amazed by you, considering the things *I* can do…”

“Any last words, scum-bums ? That was a dirty trick, and I’m gonna…”

“Aw, go suck an egg ! You’re not scaring me.”


DC Universe History

As noted, Charles is very much tied to the metaplot of the Defiant Universe. Possibilities exist, of course – for instance he could have been empowered by Dream of the Endless as an ancient pact with his sister Death, to oppose War Dancer as he sought to destroy her.


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

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Charlemagne

Dex: 07 Str: 16 Bod: 13 Motivation: Responsibility
Int: 05 Wil: 06 Min: 08 Occupation: Drifter
Inf: 05 Aur: 05 Spi: 09 Resources {or Wealth}: 001
Init: 017 HP: 075

Powers:
Adaptation: 10, Defensive Adaptation: 02, Iron Will: 02, Jumping: 06, Regeneration: 04, Running: 06, Telescopic vision: 03

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • Adaptation is Minor Marginal – however all Marginal fees paid to activate a Power are poured into Character Advancement for that Power
  • Adaptation likely Cannot Adapt Skills, and is likely restricted to ’quantum manipulation’ abilities (whatever those are)
  • Adapted Powers have included Life Sense (specific known person) from Nudge, and Dimensional Travel and Teleportation from Thrahkahl. He was in the process of developing all those Powers as fully-mastered Powers through Character Advancement
  • Defensive Adaptation cannot increase RVs by more than half its APs (i.e., 1 APs) against any given kind of attack, but can add to Mental (and presumably Mystical) RVs.

Skills:
Acrobatics (Athletics, Dodging)*: 06

Advantages:
Astounding Potential, Familiarity (Vietnamese cultures, early 1970s American kid trivia), Iron Nerves, Language (Vietnamese), Rich Friend (Dr. N’Guyen)

Connections:
Doctor Tran N’Guyen (High), Good Guys (Low)

Drawbacks:
Dependants (his parents)


Champion of life

The Astounding Potential Advantage denotes the case, occasionally seen in fiction, of a character who rapidly improves their various stats and develop new Powers, Skills, increase various Attributes, etc.

This is, of course, an intrinsically game-breaking ability – especially since in many campaigns, the baseline Character Advancement rules are considered to be too rapid and some sort of house rule multiplier is slapped onto Character Advancement costs. Thus, it does not have a cost or any precise rules.

If Charlemagne appears in your game, he can use Character Advancement costs at a third of the normal costs (even if the campaign uses Character Advancement rules that are less favourable than those in the rulebook). He will thus steadily become more powerful, though he tends to develop new Powers to increase his flexibility rather than pouring everything in combat abilities.

Replicating this effect with a Player Character is presumably best done by setting aside a large number of Hero Points at character creation, and agreeing with the GM that they can’t be used normally but only to improve the Character following the character creation (rather than Character Advancement) rules.


Design Notes

Though it’s hard to say, I have assumed the action in Bangkok took place in English and not Thai, since Charles would likely not have the time to learn the language.


By Sébastien Andrivet

Source of Character: Defiant Universe

Helper(s): Roy Cowan

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