The Phoenix Project actually gets its start in the late 40's. It was an attempt to control the weather using information and technologies derived from the work of Dr. Wilhelm Reich, an Austrian scientist.
Reich is said to have been a brilliant man, credited with discovering the highly controversial "orgone" energy. Orgone energy is also known as "life" or "orgasmic" energy and is very different from more ordinary electromagnetic energy. Reich supposedly proved the existence of orgone energy in various laboratory experiments, and wrote up his findings in several scientific journals. He claimed that orgone energy could cure cancer, a finding that didn't find wide acceptance with his colleagues. Reich also stated that orgone energy has related to "cosmic energy" and with the Newtonian concept of the "ether". Needless to say, his theories where widely criticized by his fellow scientists.
The "ether" is a Victorian concept that refers to a hypothetical substance that suffused all of space. It served as a medium for light and other forms of radiant energy. This ether was a popular concept and was used by more than one science fiction writer as a way to explain space travel. For example, E. E. 'Doc' Smith sprinkles references to the ether all through his Lensmen novels.
With further research, Reich found that orgone energy was responsible for storms and bad weather. "Dead orgone" or "DOR" was the term used to describe the "dead energy" found within violent thunderstorms and hurricanes. This dead energy was also found within people as well. Active people had plenty of orgone energy, while those who were depressed or sullen had an excess of DOR energy.
After extensive research, Reich finally developed a device that would break up concentrations of DOR energy. When set up with a weather balloon, this device would dissipate or deflect thunderstorms. Armed with Reich's storm-buster, the US Government created a device called a "radiosonde". This device consisted of several sensors and a transmitter that could broadcast across several bands to either build up orgone energy or to disrupt DOR energy. With it the government could control the weather.
It should be pointed out that any device capable of transmitting both orgone and DOR energy could be used to affect people as well. It is possible that the Phoenix Project was also looking into methods of population control. Supposedly, the Soviet Union had conducted extensive experiments on select populations by broadcasting orgone or DOR energy into the area to try and alter the emotion content of the population.
For starters, the basic tenants of the Phoenix Project - the manipulation of orgone energy - needs to be examined by the Game Master. Does this fit into the Game Master 's universe? Considering the nature of most superhero worlds, the answer is probably 'yes'. Orgone energy could be any one of a number of strange energies that abound in comic universes - cosmic, mystical, psionic, whatever. The whole idea of orgone energy and dead orgone energy can also be linked to the concept of chi (with its positive and negative forces) and feng shui, with its positive and negative influences on wealth, luck and business. In fact, orgone energy might be considered to work in a manner similar to the 'Force' from Star Wars, able to manipulate moods, emotions and the environment. Relating orgone energy to these sources will allow the GM to determine appropriate powers and abilities for anyone who manipulates orgone energy as a power.
When using orgone energy, the most obvious power is Change Environment. Possible effects include bad weather, good weather, positive feelings and negative feelings. The weather effects should take some time to create, and some good guidelines for using Change Environment in this manner can be found in Hero System Almanac Vol II. As for the more general 'feelings' effect, this should simply be a minor alteration of mood either uplifting or depressing. It shouldn't affect characters too much, unless they are naturally prone to one emotional extreme or the other.
For more intense orgone powers, the GM should use Mind Control. Advantages like Invisible Effects are a must, as the person targeted should not feel the source of the power. The Mind Control should be given the limitation of "Empathic" as well. This -1/2 limitation will only allow the person creating the Mind Control to manipulate base emotions. Calming crowds, or riling up an already angry mob would be typical uses for this power, forcing someone to steal for you (or turning them into a mindless slave) wouldn't.
Go on to the The Phoenix Project (Part 2), or
Return to The Montauk Project