I’ve always thought the RPG Blog Carnival was a cool idea – a group of writers coming together just for the fun of exploring an interesting theme (like a digital flash mob); but the topics covered so far have been outside of the focus of this site. Fortunately, this month’s host for the carnival, Dungeon’s Master, have set a theme I can really sink my teeth into: RPG characters based on real life people (using no less awesome an example than Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer).
Growing up, my father, an electrical engineer, taught me a healthy respect for alternating current, so naturally my first choice was Nikola Tesla, but Greg at Lungfishopolis beat me to the punch. So I decided to move on to another, lesser known eastern European ‘mad scientist’, Ilya Ivanov.
Ilya Ivanov was a Russian biologist who worked from the turn of the century until the early 1930’s. He pioneered revolutionary artificial insemination techniques and used the technology to create a wide variety of hybrids, including zebra-donkey, antelope-cow, and rabbit-guinea pig mixes (hello owlbear!). As if that wasn’t enough RPG fodder, Ivanov is most infamous for his efforts to create a human-ape hybrid. His first attempts using apes impregnated with human sperm failed. Logically then, the next step was to impregnate human females with ape sperm. In spite of actually having a volunteer willing to carry the hybrid, Ilya Ivanov was arrested in one of Stalin’s shakedowns of the Russian scientific community before he could get the experiment underway. As far as I know, Stalin had no moral objection to human-ape crossbreeds, and the arrest was a purely political one. Ivanov never got a chance to return to his mad work, dying in exile in Kazakhstan in 1932.
Not surprisingly, since then Ivanov pops up regularly in conspiracy theories, fringe science, and pop culture every few years (or the shadow of his ideas do). The forbidden and frightening act of creating a human hybrid, mixed with the sinister exoticism of Stalinist Russia is a brew too powerful to resist. Seriously, we’re talking about an army of cold war, soviet, super apes! That’s pure gold.
The legacy of Ilya Ivanov can be felt in the classic Fantastic Four villain Red Ghost (and his super apes), in DC’s Gorilla Grodd, and in the Planet of the Apes movies (including the soon to be released reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes).
Taking my cue from Seth Grahame-Smith, I’m going to use a similar over the top approach; one that posits Ivanov succeeding where history tells us he failed. And I can think of no better RPG suited to house Ilya Ivanov than one already filled with mutant animals, a blatant disregard for the laws of nature and bucket loads of cold war sensibility: Gamma World.
I present, for use with the current edition of Gamma World (as well as Dungeons and Dragons), Ilya Ivanov and his super apes.
United Soviet Simian Republic
“Species of the world, unite! (Literally)”
Ilya Ivanov was a soviet scientist who worked to create the first human-ape hybrid. In most realities he failed and was arrested by Stalin, but in a few, the mad visionary was able to escape imprisonment and create an army of super apes. With his hybrid commandoes, Ivanov quickly overthrew Stalin and carved out a new Soviet empire. Ivanov, in his role as dictator, ushered in an age of undreamed scientific progress untainted by political ideology, and unfettered by morality or ethics.
By the time of the Big Mistake, Ivanov had ‘outgrown’ his old, perishing body and had transferred his brain to a series of simian hosts.
“You know how I know that monkey is smart? I can see its brain.”
Doktor Ivanov lost the last shreds of his empathy when he abandoned his human body and put his brain in a jar. Now he views everything through the cold, detached lens of a science experiment. In combat Ivanov uses his bestial strength to rip raw hunks of meat out of his opponents, analyze their genetic imprints, and absorb any beneficial mutations found for further study. Should his host body become damaged in his pursuit of test subjects, Doktor Ivanov doesn’t hesitate to transfer his brain to one of his humanzee ‘children’. That the process decapitates the host doesn’t seem to bother either Ivanov or his creations.
Humanzee Shock Trooper
“To err is human, to ape divine.”
Humanzees combine humanity’s capacity for war and violence with the strength and agility of an ape. They are the perfect soldiers, and obey strong commanders without question so long as there is war to wage. Even on Gamma Terra, there is little more horrifying than seeing the raw hatred and naked brutality of a swarm of boiler suited humanzees washing over their foes like a crimson tidal wave.
LoreAlthough he built his empire with the savage power of human-ape hybrids (and they remain his most successful creation), Doktor Ivanov experimented with many other human –animal combinations. With the proliferation of creatures such as badders, hoops, dabbers, fen, and porkers wandering the wastes one has to wonder if prevailing origin theories are wrong and these beasts are actually the orphaned offspring of Ivanov’s abandoned experiments.
I did it. I made another ape monster even though I promised I would keep them to a minimum. I really did want to stat-up Tesla, and when I was looking around for other real life mad scientists to replace him Ivanov just jumped out at me. I’m glad I broke my promise though, I really like how everything came together (there were a few Gamma World monsters that affected the use of Alpha and Omega cards but nothing that took advantage of the card mechanic itself, so I wanted to incorporate that into the design). Plus, I really wasn’t happy with how the picture for Thak turned out, and I wanted another shot at drawing a primate before the next instalment of Monsters of the Hyborian Age.
Incidentally, the brain in a jar aspect of the monster was inspired by another Russian, a contemporary named Sergei Bryukhonenko, who invented a heart and lung machine that could keep a dog’s head alive and responsive detached from its body. I’m sure Ivanov would have had access to that technology during his soviet renaissance of scientific research.