Pandemonium: Against the Maggot

I am waaaay behind on the blog. There are five posts that I want to get up before GenCon next week, so things are going to be busy here the next several days. It also means that some of the play reports may be a little sketchier than you’re used to seeing here. That’s a product of both me rushing to get things done and the fact that some significant time has passed since the actual play session.

Sorry about that.

Now, here’s the first post. One down, four to go.

There was a big gap between the first session of Pandemonium and the second ((Thank you, heavy work schedule, and life schedule, and leaky bathroom ceiling, and bronchitis.)). On the one hand, that sucks because it’s easy for games to lose momentum with big gaps in play, especially in the early phases. On the other hand, it gave me some time to build in reasons for the stuff that happened in the previous session so that, when our heroes started investigating what was going on, I’d have stuff for them to find and learn.

First thing I needed to do was decide who the incursives ((“Incursive” is the word that came up during setting creation to describe extra-dimensional beings who have entered Gotham City via a dimensional incursion. It was a nice example of natural development of terminology, so we kept it.)) selling the tech were. Also, what they wanted, and what the tech was.

It was around thisabin-sur time that I found Names: The Story Games Name Project ((This is an absolutely great book for coming up with a bunch of names for games, as you might imagine from the title. I heartily recommend it to gamers and writers.)), and started looking through it for good alien names. There’s a section called Orrakachu that had names with the right sound to them ((Also a table entitled Weird Honorific that’s just awesome.)), so I decided the incursives were from the Orrakachu Hegemony, and started pulling names from those lists. A bit of web searching led me to a picture of Abin Sur from the Green Lantern movie that I liked for the look of the Orrakachu.

As far as the tech goes, I thought it would be interesting to make it three suits of Orrakachu battle armour, so that’s what I did.

The background on the Orrakachu was pretty basic, but I needed at least a little in case the heroes went looking for it ((And they did, so well done me!)). I decided the Orrakachu were controlling, but not necessarily warlike or evil, incursives. Their MO was to come to a new world, destabilize it, and then persuade the controlling powers of the world that they need to join the Hegemony as a junior member, ceding control to the Orrakachu.

I also came up with why they were selling this stuff to Magus the Maggot and his Styxx gang, and why Magus was co-operating with them, but the characters haven’t figured that out, yet, so I’m not talking about that here. You’ll just have to wait to find out when they find out.

So, with the backstory figured out, we were ready to go. When I ((Finally.)) got the players together in a room and we got to play, they started digging into the mystery of the previous session.

One of the cool things they started doing was co-opting elements of the setting, such as one of the dirty cops from last session, into resources for themselves. I love when characters start interacting with the setting they created and using it for their advantage – not only does it help make the world seem more alive and vibrant, but it also gives me tacit permission to use the things from the setting to make their lives interesting ((Which often means “more complicated.”)).

Anyway, they found out the above information about the Orrakachu, and they did some testing of the Orrakachu tech ((Netting them some nice assets, as well as potential new powers if they decide to go that way.)). They even arranged for a meeting with Magus the Maggot to find out what was going on. That’s where things went a little wrong for them.

Sure, Magus was happy to meet with them. He even set up a location in the Catacombs to do so. But Magus was still a little miffed about not getting the tech he paid for, and also not getting back the money he paid for it. Our heroes had both, and didn’t seem at all inclined to give any of it to him. Thus, the best course for him was a nasty ambush.

I played a little dirty with this fight, partly because the fight in the previous session had been deliberately easy so as to let the players get used to their characters and the system. One of the players had created Magus and his gang as part of her background, and some of the stuff she created made me think of the Purple Man‘s abilities, so I re-skinned him for Magus. I re-skinned a couple of other Marvel characters for Styxx enforcers, and gave them all a few assets in place to reflect their preparation for the fight. Then, I opened with Magus breaking down Escher’s control over her telekinesis ((Activating her Uncontrollable limit. I rolled really well for his attempt, and then gave the player the option of rolling a reaction, or letting him activate the limit, for which she would gain a PP. She chose the PP.)), which blasted all the heroes into different corners of the room.

The fight was pretty tough for the heroes, and I seem to recall almost taking out two of the characters ((Well, at least one.)). In the end, Magus and one of his enforcers fled, all his low-level thugs were taken out, and the heroes managed to capture one of the enforcers ((That’s right, isn’t it guys? You caught Sparky?)). So, the heroes were victorious, but it wasn’t an overwhelming win. And the grudges on both sides have a chance to grow.

And just as I’m writing this, I have remembered that I promised to send some e-mail to a couple of players who want to rework their Milestones ((Character creation in MHR is really easy, but it lacks the kind of structure a lot of players expect from an RPG. The trickiest part of character creation is coming up with Milestones, because they have to both suit the character concept and the campaign. So, that means we need to tweak them sometimes.)). That’ll happen tonight, folks. Sorry about the delay.

Anyway, Saturday is the next game. I’m looking forward to it.

Firefly: St. Marcus

Last Friday was the latest session in our Firefly RPG campaign ((Third session overall.)). I promised myself that, this session, I wasn’t going to wait until the last minute to prepare an adventure, so I actually sat down with my Leverage RPG tables ((Seriously, the job creation tables in the Leverage RPG toolkit chapter are great for this. You’ll have to tweak the results a little for the different setting and the fact that (depending on your crew, of course) you don’t want every job to be a caper, but they rock for giving you a basic skeleton to work from.)) the night before and rolled up the basics.

I was a little leery about what I had rolled up, because the centrepiece of the whole thing was another wrongly accused criminal, which we had done the last two sessions. But one of the issues the players created for the campaign was the corruption, lawlessness, and injustice of the ‘Verse ((Especially on the outer planets.)), so I kept the idea, but tweaked the focus a bit to make it play differently, with a different angle on things.

We opened with a little roleplaying, letting each character do some solo stuff ((Which let me bring in Will Yunick, the depot manager that hates the characters, and does his best to make their lives miserable.)) before winding up at Tiny’s, a local watering hole on New Melbourne where Su Jin can always find a game. Once I had them all gathered, I threw in the hook: a rather desperate looking man dressed as a shepherd came through the doors, and immediately started pushing through the crowd towards the back of the bar. When Walter asked if he could help him, the shepherd asked about a back door – information that Su Jin was able to provide. As they walked the shepherd towards the back, a federal marshal showed up and called out to the shepherd to surrender. He ran, and the marshal shot him.

As the story came out, the shepherd, Marcus Garcia, was wanted back on New Kasmir for his part in defrauding a charitable institution that was supposed to be building orphanages, hospitals, and schools in the newly settled communities. He’d made off with a great deal of money, skimmed from the grants provided by the New Kasmir government, and thus the Alliance. The marshal, Judith Lewis, tracked him to New Melbourne after he fled. She took the crime pretty personally, and admittedly may have overreacted when it looked like Garcia might get away again.

Three of the four PCs ((Su Jin was currently being inconspicuous behind he piano.)) attracted enough attention by administering first aid, calling an ambulance, and gossiping ((Yes, it was too gossiping.)) about the marshal with the itchy trigger finger. Marshal Lewis invited them all down to the local police station as material witnesses. There followed a short interview of Domino, Walter, and Price, wherein I did my best to play the marshal as hard but reasonable, and very professional. The different reactions I got from the characters helped me shape her character so that she became a slightly contentious figure among the characters.

After a little more business, letting the characters do some research and prepare the ship for the next leg of the journey ((And spy on Shepherd Garcia as he lay near death in the hospital.)), I brought in Will Yunick, with a big grin on his face, to tell the crew that they’d just picked up a new contract from the Alliance Marshals’ Office – transporting a marshal and her critically injured prisoner to New Kasmir. This wasn’t too far out of their way – the next stop on the regular run was Heaven, and both Heaven and New Kasmir are in the Kalidasa system – so it was all gravy as far as Will was concerned: money, reputation, and a chance to make the crew’s lives difficult.

Price and Jin pretty immediately bugged the cabin Lewis and Garcia would be using, while Walter went to retrieve Lin Shu ((Yep, it’s the same run as last episode, and Lin Shu is going all the way to Deadwood, so she’s still around. I got to have a little fun with her this session, and I hope to bring her in as a more central character before she gets off the boat.)), the other passenger, and let her know their departure time had been moved up and a detour was taking place. I was pretty happy they had come up with the idea to bug the cabin, because it gave me a good opening to provide some of the backstory and let the characters find out what was really going on ((Or so I thought. Turns out they only looked at the cameras a couple of times in play, usually while Lewis was out of the cabin. But anyway.)).

We played through the three-and-a-half days from New Melbourne to New Kasmir ((Despite using the map of the ‘Verse that I have, travel times are still plot-determined. In-game rationale is because of the very complex orbital mechanics of the systems – which makes sense from a real-world perspective – it’s not always the same distance between any two planets or moons.)), mainly to give the characters a chance to do some snooping and dig into what was going on. It allowed for some good scenes between the characters, and it let me bring a few complications into play.

The most telling one turned out to be the Following Ship d8 that showed up. Price had managed a good navigation roll, giving Peregrine a nice, quick course to New Kasmir, and they noticed a ship following pretty much their exact trajectory, though at a distance. This ship really bothered them ((As it should, right? It’s a complication!)), and they seemed to concentrate more on it than on the marshal and the shepherd ((I should probably mention here that the shepherd was confined to a medical bed with a full life-support system in the cabin shared with the marshal, and no one was allowed in that cabin except the two of them.)). This gave me some pause, but I didn’t worry about it too much. Cortex Plus games always provide openings for the GM to introduce new information, usually in the form of complications and/or assets.

So, the crew came up with a cunning plan. Price plotted a high-burn course change, backed by some engine tweaking by Jin, to lose their tail. Just before they made the change, they would ping the ship’s transponder to get some identifying information from it. They had held off on pinging the transponder because they didn’t want to reveal that they were aware of the ship.

The ship following them was The Jade Monkey ((Stolen directly from the core rulebook intro adventure.)), a refitted Viper-class courier still sporting both cannons and warheads. It was registered to a man named Stark, who had some property outside the small town of Dry Well on New Kasmir. Then Price made his course change, and rolled pretty well, but came up with a couple of jinxes.

I used these immediately to break the marshal’s leg. She had to get up to help Garcia, who was having trouble breathing through the hard burn, and, when there was another change of vector, fell with one foot trapped in the undercarriage of the hospital bed, where she had lodged it to help keep her balance.

Why did I do this? It was the opportunity to hint at deeper things going on between the marshal and the shepherd. With the marshal disabled, she had to confide in someone, and she chose Walter. She told him the following things:

  • She had never heard of Stark.
  • She needed someone to come with her after the trial to get her daughter from some unspecified people.
  • She would really prefer to see her daughter before the trial.

The hint of a kidnapped child got everyone motivated. Price and Domino went through the archived recording from the marshal’s cabin, and managed to piece together the following story.

  • Shepherd Marcus Garcia was hounded off New Kasmir in the wake of the embezzlement scandal. He protested his innocence right up to the time he disappeared.
  • Marshal Judith Lewis, who has a very good reputation on New Kasmir, was dispatched to find him and bring him back.
  • Along the way, she became convinced that Garcia was innocent, and then uncovered evidence that Cordelia Tate ((And this was the first time that name came up in the game.)), Minister for Expansion on New Kasmir, was the actual guilty culprit. Her department administered the grants, and she was the one skimming money, while making it look that Garcia, who was in charge of actually putting the money to use, was guilty.
  • When the marshal reported her concerns, Tate had Stark kidnap her daughter, using the eight-year-old as leverage to make sure Lewis actually brought back Garcia.
  • Overcome by guilt at shooting Garcia – whom they both know isn’t going to live long, despite the medical intervention ((If they had gone inwards from New Melbourne to one of the Core planets, he might have had a chance. But they didn’t.)) – she confessed what she had done, and Garcia, knowing he was dead anyway, agreed to plead guilty in order for Lewis’s daughter to be returned.

After a little discussion, the crew decided to use their lead on The Jade Monkey ((About six hours, I said.)) to land at Stark’s place near Dry Well and search it for the kidnapped girl.

The raid was… interesting. I sketched out a quick map of the area, showing the landing strip for Stark’s ship, the barn/hangar, the house, and a smaller shed. The crew split into two groups: Walter and Domino, and Price and Jun. We kept cutting back and forth between the two groups as they went about searching for the girl.

Now, Walter and Domino are both ex-soldier types, good in a fight. Price is really good in a stealth engagement where he can get some surprise on his side, but not that great in a stand-up fight. And Jin’s primary weapon of choice is her gambling savvy. So, while Walter and Domino were mowing down every bad guy they came up against, Price and Jin had a good first round, and then proceeded to get the crap kicked out of them ((Walter: Next time we split up, we each take one of those guys with us. Domino: Yup.)).

In the end, it was more gunplay than had featured in both the previous sessions combined. Both Price and Jin were in pretty bad shape ((Price, at one point, fell off the top of a water tower. But he got better, thanks to GM jinxes and some friends who were generous with plot points.)), the house was on fire, the girl had been rescued from the shed, and they were all back on board Peregrine and in the air before The Jade Monkey hit atmo.

We played through a short epilogue ((It was a little later than I had planned to play that evening. I had cautioned everyone at the start that this one might turn into a two-parter, and Sandy said, “Challenge!” So, I pushed on a little later than intended to keep this to one session.)), where Garcia died, Tate was impeached but managed to avoid any real punishment through money and connections, and Lewis was stripped of her badge and recalled to the Core worlds for sentencing with her daughter. The (mostly) recovered funds were given to the newly renamed St. Marcus Garcia Development Fund ((They’re a mite casual about canonization out on the border.)) to get the orphanages, schools, and hospitals up and running.

The crew picked a name for the episode – St. Marcus – and we called it a night.

So, was this better than the games where I did the prep at the last minute? I think so. Because I was able to take more time to flesh out the various threads of the adventure, it was easier for me to improvise and change things on the fly. I knew how all the pieces fit, so the changes were easier. It also let me focus more on adding colour to scenes, and managing pacing, making this ((As far as I’m concerned.)) the strongest episode I’ve run of this campaign yet.

How much more prep did I actually do? Well, I made my rolls on the Leverage RPG tables, then I did up stats for both Lewis and Garcia as Major GMCs, and stats for Tate and the kidnapped girl ((Her name, if anyone cares, was Jun.)) as Minor GMCs. And I stole some stat blocks I had done previously for random armed goons, which I wound up using for the bad guys at Stark’s place. Then, I jotted about a half-page of ideas for scenes down. So, overall, about an hour’s worth of prep. The main advantage, though, was the chance to sleep on it before the game and think about it through the day. That let me get very comfortable with the basics of the adventure, and it let some interesting ideas percolate up from my subconscious.

In thinking about my future games, it occurs to me that I also now have a small stable of characters that can recur. Most of these are villains that are still above the dirt with grudges against Peregrine‘s crew, so that’s really handy.

I think I need to schedule the next session soon.

Firefly: Switch

A couple of weeks ago ((I started writing this review much closer to the actual date of play, but then life got in the way, and I’m just getting to finish it now.)) was the second session of our new Firefly RPG campaign. Because of reasons ((Trying to catch up at work, making dinner, and poor organizational skills.)), I wound up starting to prep the game about twenty-five minutes before the players were due to arrive. And then they showed up ten minutes early.

The math on that works out to fifteen minutes of prep time. Now, I was using the same Leverage RPG tables that I had used last session to come up with the adventure framework. That meant that fifteen minutes was enough to get the core problem defined, and a few of the NPCs picked from the archetypes in the book, but not enough to really build scenes or plan anything.

Everyone showed up, and had a nice dinner ((Barbecued pork tenderloin, roasted potatoes and vegetables, and grilled pineapple and pumpkin pie for dessert.)), and then we settled down to play. I started with a little talk about what I had done wrong last session – mainly, not pushing things towards action and conflict – and asked everyone to help me do a better job of moving past the boring stuff to the interesting stuff.

So, here was the basic set-up:

  • The crew were on Albion, picking up cargo and passengers for the Tullymore Run.
  • One of the passengers, Nicholas Tate, was on the run from a businesswoman named Arabella Stanford.
  • Nicholas Tate has been framed. Arabella Stanford thinks he’s carrying confidential data stolen from her business. He’s not.
  • Arabella Stanford has sent Zeke Michaels, her personal off-the-books enforcer, to bring back the data. And also Tate, if feasible.
  •  The Triad are involved somehow that I hadn’t the opportunity to work out yet.

I started with a scene of all the passengers coming on board ((At this point, I realized that I needed to have a passenger not tied in to the plot, both for verisimilitude and to provide a little confusion and potential complications. Thus, I created Lin Shu, who was headed out to Deadwood to be a schoolteacher.)), and turning in their weapons ((Interesting to me is that the crew didn’t search the passengers to see if any were concealing weapons. Then I thought about it for a second, and realized that of course they wouldn’t. They were paying passengers, after all.)). Then, Su Jin said, “This is Albion, right? The place they grow cocoa? Why are we not buying chocolate?” So, I gave her a flashback where she bought a Cocoa d8 asset. I figured I should give the rest of the crew a chance for a flashback, too, to reflect what they’d been doing with their time on Albion before breaking atmo.

Price Jiang wen to visit his parents for dinner, and then paid a courtesy call on Uncle Fung, one of the local bosses for the Jiang Triad. This gave me the opportunity to bring the Triad influence I had  previously rolled buy hadn’t figured out what to do with, as Uncle Fung first praised Price for his work on Heaven, then asked for a favour: bring another Triad operative ((Cousin Martin.)) from Albion to Heaven.

Walter Yu went to visit the local Alliance Marshal’s office, and looked over the various available bounties, saying this was his standard procedure when he came groundside. This, I figured, was as good a way to bring the central issue of the session into play – Walter spotted a poster with Nicholas Tate’s face on it, and the name Alexander Lowe. The bounty was good but not overwhelming, and was being offered privately by Arabella Stanford.

Now, it may seem a little odd that I gave this whole speech about pushing towards the action before play began, and then just ask the players what sort of futzing around they want to do before the story kicks in. And that’s a valid point. I did this for a number of reasons:

  • Having a short, everyday life section of play helps lend some verisimilitude to the narrative. Not every second of person’s life is spent responding to action-movie-style crises, so it makes sense to show the calm before the storm, at least a little bit.
  • It also allows the players to spend a little time rounding out their characters, deciding who they are, and showing the rest of the group. Yeah, that happens in the middle of action scenes, too, but the non-action scenes let the players be more thoughtful and deliberate about it.
  • Mechanically, letting the characters have a chance to make a few rolls helps beef up the story by providing some assets and complications before everything hits the fan. This is especially helpful if you’re a little short on prep for the session.
  • I wanted a little time to think about what other scenes I was going to put in the adventure, and what sorts of drama and action I could pour in.
  • I still didn’t have a clean way to open the door to the adventure for the characters – some reasonable and elegant way for the characters to find out about and involve themselves in what was going on. Fortunately, Walter provided that with his little scene.
  • Su Jin’s player asked for a little side-scene while Peregrine was in port, and it seemed reasonable that I should give the option to the rest of the players.

So, that’s why I did it. And why I’d do it again in similar circumstances.

After the solo scenes, there was a little more character interaction, mostly centred around Cousin Martin meeting the rest of the crew, and Walter deciding to keep the bounty on Tate/Lowe to himself. When things slowed down a bit, I jumped to the lift-off, and a day or so of quiet travel. None of the characters was doing much to push things – they were waiting to see what developed. So, I had a bloodcurdling scream reach the Captain one night shift as she was looking for a snack in the galley.

They all raced ((For varying values of the term “raced.”)) to the source of the scream ((Which necessitated a bit of a discussion of the floorplan of the ship. At least one of the players and I had been searching online to find a good ship layout that we could use for Peregrine, but were stymied by the fact that the Roadrunner-Class Blockade Runners stand on their tails, and are laid out like a rocket ship, rather than the more sea vessel/aircraft layout that pretty much every set of starship deckplans I’ve found on the net assumes. We sketched out a quick division of decks, labeling each one. I’m planning to take some time to create a set of deckplans using Cosmographer. Unfortunately, I suck at art, so that’s gonna take a while.)), and the Captain arrived first to find Lin Shu screaming about a ghost that had attacked her in the dark as she was returning to her cabin from the galley. Some quick work by the Captain let her spot someone wearing a stealth suit lurking in the shadows, and she drew her pistol and ordered him ((Or her.)) to surrender. The figure decided to rush her, and wound up with a bullet in the eye.

The body was revealed to be Zeke Michaels, and he had a small pistol and a pouch containing a hypo spray and a selection of coloured liquids on his belt. Upon seeing this, Walter came clean about the bounty on Tate/Lowe, and the crew started interviewing folks and searching their cabins. They came to the conclusion that Lin Shu was not involved in the mess, that Michaels was looking to take Tate/Lowe out non-lethally, and they found Tate/Lowe’s locked cortex tablet hidden in one of the air ducts. Price did his best to crack the encryption on the tablet, but all managed to do was load a worm into Peregrine’s ship network.

Interviewing Tate/Lowe got him to explain his situation – framed for datatheft, on the run from Arabella Stanford, his life destroyed. He gave Price the code to unlock the tablet, and played them a message he had received from someone who looked kind of like him apologizing for framing him and telling him to start running. This convinced pretty much everyone that his story was true ((I had toyed with the idea of flipping things as a twist, so that he was actually guilty and using the story to get the crew on his side, but we were nearing the end of the evening, and I still had some things I needed to happen to wrap up the session. So, as far as I know, he was telling the truth.)) ((Sandy said as I was thinking about this, “So much for making the game episodic. This one’s going to take another session.” That sounded like a challenge to me, so I was determined to wrap up in one session.)).

All this time, I’d been putting about every other jinx into an unknown complication I was tracking on the big board, marked with a question mark and a die type so that the players knew it was there and growing, but not what it was. This was my solution for having Michaels’s partners show up in their ship to retrieve Michaels and Tate/Lowe. I figured that, if the characters checked for other ships in the area, they’d find it, and the die size at that time would be a surprise complication. And if it reached a d12, then the pursuing ship would get a sneak attack on Peregrine.

Well, no one even so much as looked out a window, so it reached d12, and I added the complication Peregrine Disabled d12 to the table. This got everyone moving pretty sharpish.

The scramble to get away was pretty impressive. Everyone pulled together to get the engines turning and the hull patched ((The Green Livin’ distinction came in handy here, with it’s Organic Life Support trigger.)), and to keep the ship from being hit again or boarded. Once the engines were back up, the rest was pretty much a foregone conclusion – Peregrine is fast, and Price is a pretty hot pilot. They left their pursuers in the (space) dust.

We wrapped up loose ends with Cousin Martin saying that Uncle Fung had use for someone with Tate’s skills ((Whatever they were. I dunno. I hadn’t had him do anything special or clever, but I wanted his story wrapped up without a lot of other futzing around. Now, I can bring him back as an expert on whatever I need in a future episode.)), and had an identity all ready for him to assume on New Melbourne.

The last order of business for the evening was picking a name for the episode – obviously, they went with Switch – and going over character and ship advancement once again.

We’ve got our third session scheduled for this Friday, and I plan to actually prep the session a couple of days in advance. It’ll probably carry on this run, New Melbourne to Heaven to Deadwood, and we’ll see if I can’t work Lin Shu into it somehow.

Until then, keep flyin’!

Pandemonium: Gun Bust

Last Friday was our first session of my new Marvel Heroic Roleplaying campaign, Pandemonium. We had previously done a setting creation session, and a character creation session, and now we were finally getting to play.

In between the completion of the character creation session and the actual play session, there was a fair bit of work getting the characters finished and tweaked, and getting the setting bible finished ((If you want a copy of the final setting bible, you can download it here.)). I am really pretty pleased with the way the setting and characters turned out. And I’m especially pleased that we got the feedback loop going. You know what I’m talking about – ideas from the setting inform the characters, and the development of the characters fleshed out the setting.

You’ll notice that, in addition to the actual setting elements, I’ve added a few extra sections to the bible:

  • Milestones. These are simultaneously one of the coolest and one of the slipperiest elements of the game. Using them is absolutely great in helping characters bring up the issues that they are most interested in during play, but coming up with good Milestones is tricky. So, I created a couple specific to the setting, and stole several others from various published MHR products, tweaking them as necessary. The plan was that the players could either pick from the list or use the ones in the bible for inspiration ((They wound up doing both, so score.)).
  • Experience. Unlike most other RPGs, experience in MHR is best spent, not in “leveling up” your character, but in unlocking various campaign resources ((In my opinion, of course, which I will defend. First, the source material doesn’t generally have the heroes getting stronger, or faster, or whatever – the heroes change, but mainly they weave themselves more into the world, learn more, make contacts, etc., rather than leveling up. Second, bigger numbers on your sheet don’t mean the same thing in this game as they do in other RGGs – the way the balance works in play, there’s just not the huge benefit to big numbers that you see in, say, D&D. Third, it’s just more interesting to have your character be owed a favour by a pandimensional deity than to go from Flight d6 to Flight d8.)) ((That was a really long footnote. There may be a whole blog post lurking in there. Have to think about that.)). This section spells out how to spend experience points, including listing an assortment of campaign resources at various levels of expense and utility for characters to spend their XP on.
  • Pushes, Stunts, Resources, and Assets. One of the things that I had a lot of trouble keeping straight in my head during the Civil War game was the differences between all the ways you could get an extra die to roll in your die pool. I wound up playing very fast and loose with it, and that really contributed to the power-bloat that caused me problems in the game. So, this campaign, I spelled things out so we were all ((Except there were a couple of times in the session that I couldn’t remember how one of them worked – whether it lasted for a single action or for the scene – and just glossed over it because I didn’t want to take the time to look it up. But I can brush up on that before the next session.)) on the same page with how these things worked. I also added the idea of Flashbacks, stolen from the Firefly RPG, to allow the characters to fill in some backstory in order to boost the die they get for what they’re doing.

Eventually, I’m going to get this stuff up on a wiki, but at least I got it out to the players in time for them to read it before the game.

Anyway, when people showed up, I spent some time running through the basics of the mechanics for the game. Once that was done, I dropped them right into the action scene.

With the time spent at the start of the game talking rules ((Two of the players were veterans of the Civil War game, and the other two hadn’t played since I had run the playtest when the game was first released. The fact that I had been doing some things wrong in Civil War meant that everyone – including me – needed to be taught or retaught the rules.)), and the fact that the initial session of a new game is always going to be slow as people learn the system, I picked a very simple first action scene. They had found out about a weapons buy by the Styx, a local street gang, at a warehouse in the Narrows. A group of Styx gang members were meeting some mysterious weapons sellers, with local corrupt cops providing security.

To help learn about the way that Resources and Assets work, I told the characters that, though they were at the warehouse and the buy was about to go down, they each had a chance to set something up retroactively. So, Warlock conjured a ring of tiny watcher lights to keep an eye on the warehouse, Escher put together a pouchful of sleep gas bombs, Artemis ((Who decided she had infiltrated the warehouse while the rest of the heroes were outside.)) sealed up the main doors with her telekinesis, and Inquisitor wired some nightvision goggles into his helmet. Once that was done, I explained how the turn sequence worked, and let them choose who was going to start.

Opposition-wise, I had put together simple stat blocks for the gang members and the police. There were five in the gang mob, and two mobs of three cops each. For the sellers, I used the Kree soldier stat blocks from the Annihilation event book ((I am so glad that I at least got the .pdf of this book before the line ended. It’s a brilliant book, with lots of useful stats and some great new pieces of rules, like vehicles, timed actions, and racial power sets.)), and threw in the Kree Captain as a boss. Now, I didn’t describe the sellers as Kree ((In fact, I really didn’t describe them much at all, except to say, “Yeah, you can tell by looking at them that they’re not from around here.” If they are interesting enough for the characters to pursue, I’ll have to come up with some details.)), but people could see the stat blocks I was looking at, so I explained that I was just looting the stats, not the details.

I also added a short list of things that I could spend Doom Pool dice on, ranging from reinforcements for the various factions to an explosive dimensional breach occurring. This was to make the Doom Pool more threatening to the players, which in turn increases the tension of the action, and seemingly raises the stakes of what’s going on. Also, it lets me spring some cool stuff on the heroes.

The heroes sprang into action and, through good planning and being awesome ((As well as through the fact that I deliberately created fairly easy opposition for them.)), they managed to triumph. All the cops were taken out – including the reinforcements that got called in, the gang members were all mind controlled, and the boss seller got chased back to his home dimension. Pretty much right at the moment the warehouse collapsed into the water. Everyone scrambled for safety at that point, though Artemis took the time to try and snag the bag of money they gang had brought to the buy ((She succeeded, by the way.)).

We wrapped the evening up at that point. I went over the XP stuff again, because it’s easy to forget to track such things during the game. Overall, I was really quite pleased with how quickly everyone got into the swing of the game. Not just the way they picked up how to build dice pools but, more importantly, how to do crazy, cool, awesome stuff – stuff that you’d see in a comic book or action movie – and use the system to support that. So, kudos to my players for that.

I sent them e-mail a few days later, asking them to think about what loose ends from the first session – or from the setting bible in general – they want to pursue. That’ll give me some direction for building the next session’s adventure.

Next session is in about two weeks. I’m really looking forward to it.

Firefly: Something Rotten in Heaven

We had a long weekend here in Canada this past weekend. That made it a perfect weekend to take advantage of the extra day off to fit in the first session of our Firefly RPG campaign. We had completed setting and character creation a couple of weeks back, and I managed to get our setting details typed up just barely in time for the the game on Sunday evening.

Now, because I am a lazy bastard, I wound up getting up Sunday morning with only the vaguest idea of what the adventure for that evening would be. I had some thought about converting over one of the Echoes of War scenarios to remove the canon PCs and fit it into the campaign frame the players had come up with, but that didn’t feel like I was giving enough play to the work everyone had done on the setting creation ((But I hasten to add that the Echoes of War scenarios are all very good. I recommend them unreservedly. And each one comes with all the rules you need to play, so it’s a great way to try the game out.)).

I whined about this on Twitter, and Cam Banks immediately ((It might not have been immediately, but it sure seemed that way.)) responded with a great suggestion:

Use the Leverage tables and tweak!

I had completely forgotten about the great set of tables in the Leverage RPG designed to let you put together a job for your crew of criminals very quickly. The campaign frame for this game meant that the Crew were not criminals ((I was, frankly, agog at that development.)), but instead were subcontractors for someone who held an Alliance contract to carry mail. Still, I figured that I’d give the tables a whirl, and see if I could twist things enough to get them to fit our game. This is what the dice gave me:

Client: Politician/Public Servant

Problem: Framed

Pressure: Police refuse to help; running out of money

Mark: Financier

Mark’s Angle: Greedy, hardnosed

Mark’s Power: Wealthy

Mark’s Weakness: Guilty conscience

Mark’s Vulnerability: Family

Who Else is in Play?: The Vizier

The Twist: It’s personal

Given those factors, and the fact that one of the issues of the game is the lawlessness and corruption of the Rim and Border planets, I boiled these issues down to the following points.

  • Annie Pan, the Federal Marshall based in Bao on Heaven, is a moderately friendly face for the crew. She’s been framed for accepting bribes, and is in jail awaiting trial on corruption and conspiracy charges.
  • The person who has framed her is local business mogul Bunmei Ndiaye, who wants to bring the lucrative flower block market ((See, Heaven has a weird terraforming flaw. It produces beautiful flowers, but they all emit the same kind of smell as a corpse flower. This makes the whole planet stink. But the flowers, encased in clear substances like glass, crystal, or acrylic, are popular exports. Thus, flower blocks.)) under the control of his collective, meaning him and his cronies.
  • Marshall Pan ((That’s the first time I’ve typed that pair of words out. I’d like to claim it was a sly reference to the European Recovery Plan, but it’s just a fluke.)) was concerned about the collective violating anti-trust laws, and so Ndiaye framed her and replaced her with a more… compliant head lawman, Noel Antoniak.
  • Ndiaye’s chief assistant, Gisela Novak, had some undetermined shady ties in case I needed to bring in a gang of skilled criminals to make the crew’s life difficult.

The canny observer might notice that I’ve pretty much ignored mark’s weakness and vulnerability, as well as half the pressure. I kept the notes of these things, but I’ve found that, in Cortex Plus – particularly the Action iteration, like Leverage or Firefly – it’s easier, more fun, and creates a more organic, surprising story to leave a lot of the oppositional details up to the system of Complications. As the game played out, I didn’t really need that stuff ((But if I had needed it, it was there for me to use.)).

The last bit of prep I did was putting together some stats for the various NPCs. I used the archetypes from the rulebook for three of the major NPCs – Annie Pan, Gisela Novak, and Bunmei Ndaiye. Then I stole the sheriff stat block from the intro adventure for Noel Antoniak. And then I spent three minutes writing up stats for minor NPCs – Cops d6, Thugs d6, and Hit Squad (Physical d8, Shoot d8, Fight d8, Knives d6).

Start to finish, prep for the first session took me less than an hour. I giggled about that, and did a little dance.

So, how did things play out? Well, I put together a first scene, with the crew arriving on Heaven, and being greeted by Antoniak who shook them down. I figured that would get them invested enough to go poking into what had happened to their old friend Annie, and I was right.

Almost too right. Walter, being a former lawman himself, got a little cute with Antoniak and his bully-boys and wound up arrested for assault ((Shackled d8 complication, that quickly got stepped down to a d6.)). The fact he kept asking about Annie – who was currently awaiting trial on charges of accepting bribes and conspiring with criminals – increased suspicion about him ((Also the fact that he was being a complete belligerent dick to the cops.)). His plan was, apparently, to get arrested and put in the same cell as Annie, but I really couldn’t see that happening once he kept asking about her. Even these cops weren’t that incompetent. Instead, he “fell down” a few times and wound up in his own little cell ((Me: Take a Beat to Crap d6 complication. Walter: On top of the Shackled d6?. Me: No, just change Shackled to Beat to Crap. They’ve taken the shackles off. Walter: That’s how complications work? That’s cool!)).

After that first scene, though, things started grinding slow. I realized partway through the evening that I had forgotten some important things about running a Cortex Plus Action game:

  1. Skip the boring bits, and go to the action.
  2. Any plan is the right plan, because the characters know what they’re doing, even if the players don’t.
  3. Don’t sweat the details of the plan. That’s what assets and flashbacks are for.

Trying to get back into this mindset, I started pushing the characters a little bit more to be awesome and to get into the right mindset. But we are all steeped in the games of our past, and it was a tough shift for us all. Here’s an example:

Every time they did something illegal, they kept telling me they were wearing gloves. Now, in a more traditional game like D&D or Call of Cthulhu or even Trail of Cthulhu, that’s not only expected, it’s good play. But in Cortex Plus, they’re not going to leave fingerprints at the scene, because they’re competent professionals. Unless, of course, they roll a jinx and get a complication. And then it doesn’t matter what the player says, the character has encountered a problem. Wearing gloves? Fine. The police have a Hair Sample d6. Or they sneeze and set off the audio sensors. Or whatever.

That’s the mindset I need to embrace and share with the players.

So, yeah, the game was a bit rough. Not unexpected, because it was a first session. But it was still fun.

Eventually, they cleaned Antoniak out of all his cash at a poker table, found out who was backing him, and stole a package that was supposed to go to a Jiang Triad front to put in Ndaiye’s office. And Price Jiang, the pilot of Peregrine, had been arrested by Antoniak and was sitting in jail. The players were dithering here about the right order to do things in ((“We need to warn Price that we’re gonna do this.” “Okay, should we warn him before we steal the package, or before we get the package to Ndaiye, or before we…” “JUST DO SOMETHING!”)), so I stole the idea of the end-of-job Mastermind roll from Leverage: I got each character to decide how they were contributing, and put the appropriate skill die into the pool, along with all the assets they’d created throughout the game. Then, one player volunteered to essentially be the anchor, and threw in his/her attribute die, a distinction, and any signature assets that applied. I set the stakes in roughly the same way for the antagonists.

The players handily raised the stakes. So, suddenly Price was released, as was Annie, and Ndaiye was returning to his family home on Bellerophon. Novak, who had Yu Triad tattoos on her arms, was missing after her house burned down. And the Federal Marshalls were showing up to see who was messing with their duly licensed representative.

Summing things up, I was pretty frustrated in the early part of the game, because I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t clicking the way I thought it should. When I finally got my head on straight regarding the system, one of the players said, “Now it’s starting to feel like an episode of Firefly!” It’s a success, if not as smooth as I would have liked it to be.

To fix that, I am rereading the Episode Guide of the core rulebook ((I just realized I never wrote a review of the Firefly RPG core rulebook. I will have to remedy that.)). This chapter is so much better than any other episode guide I’ve seen, as it uses the summaries of the episodes to teach the game in small chunks, with hefty examples from the TV series. Sheer bloody brilliance.

Next session, I’ll be better prepared, rules-wise. And things’ll go smooth. Right? ((As I typed the question mark here, my iTunes shuffle started playing the theme song from The Weird Al Show. I guess that answers that, huh?))

Firefly: Crew, Ship, and ‘Verse

When we were starting our Pandemonium game, I offered the group the chance to play a Firefly RPG campaign, instead. I did this because we were coming to Pandemonium from an experiment with space opera ((Using the Ashen Stars game.)), and I wanted to give them the option of continuing with space opera in a new system, rather than jumping genres to super heroes. The decided to stick with the super heroes, and I’m fine with that.

But the little bit of thinking I had done about a Firefly campaign lodged in my brain and I couldn’t get rid of it. So, I invited some other friends to play in a Firefly campaign, and had four of them join.

We got together on Friday evening a couple of weeks ago and did the by-now-familiar process of game and character creation. I started with the Want/Do Not Want lists, as I’ve done for both Sundog Millionaires and Pandemonium, then we came up with the elevator pitch for the game, which is basically this:

Some time after the events of the Serenity movie, the crew of Peregrine are working under a subcontract to deliver mail and parcels from the Border and Core worlds out to the worlds of the Rim. Adventure ensues.

After the initial campaign structure was determined, we went into fleshing out the universe. The two main issues they came up with for the game were the lawlessness of the Rim and the time pressure of their contract deadlines, both of which fit, leading to a kind of Pony Express feeling for the game.

When it came to the locations and faces, they did something kind of interesting. In a lot of ways, they went at the creation process in a much more structured way than the other creation sessions I’d run ((Which were pretty loose and open, very much like brainstorming sessions.)). They’d start by picking a planet ((From my big map of the ‘Verse. Yep. I’m bragging.)), decide why it was important to them, and then proceed to fill in more detail – individual settlements, people, businesses, gangs, whatever.

They fleshed out four different planets, then called it done. At this point, it was still early enough ((One thing that saved time was that, unlike the other two game creation sessions, we didn’t create distinctions or aspects for the various locations, etc. The reason behind that was that distinctions work differently in Firefly than they do in MHR, so it would have either been wasted effort, or would have required me to come up with some way to use them in game, and I figured I should keep it simple. Turns out that it saved a lot of time to not worry about the distinctions/aspects if you don’t need them. But they really enhance Fate games or MHR, so I don’t regret having done them.)) that that we moved on to character creation. Character creation is pretty quick in Firefly – you pick three distinctions, which give you your basic skills and a few funky abilities, spend some extra points to customize, and then choose signature aspects and specialties. It would have gone more quickly/smoothly if I had seen the Master Distinction List on p344, but I missed that, and just printed the distinction list from the Find a Crew chapter. The list I printed had most of the distinctions, but there were a number of them that featured on the character sheets in the Find a Crew chapter but were not included in the list in that chapter. They all appeared in the Master Distinction List, though, so I wish I had printed that one out ((I found the Master Distinction List the day after the session. I sent e-mail to the players, telling them where to find it in the book, and that if they wanted to swap out some (or all) of their distinctions, I was fine with that. Some did, and some didn’t. But I felt better making sure everyone had a broader choice than I had initially offered them.)).

By this time, it was closing in on midnight, and I asked if folks wanted to finish up by creating their ship, or if they wanted to wrap up for the evening. When I explained what needed to be done to create the ship, they said that it shouldn’t take too long, because it was pretty much identical to the process for creating characters, except with discussion and consensus. So, they wanted to go ahead.

There were some interesting debates about the ship, but they ended up agreeing on what they wanted in under an hour. One of the biggest stumbling blocks was coming up with a name; I wound up loading up a ship’s name generator on my iPad and reading off names until they chose one they liked: Peregrine.

I’m still working on getting the setting bible typed up ((Due to poor decisions on my part, coupled with scheduling delays for me and others, this past month I’ve been scrambling to get THREE separate games up and running. It’s caused me some problems because, whenever I put time in getting one ready, I feel guilty about not working on the others. But Sundog Millionaires launched yesterday and Pandemonium is just finalizing a couple of characters, so I should be able to finish the prep for this game and get a first session scheduled very soon.)), but here’s a list of the crew:

  • Domino – Decorated war hero and captain of Peregrine.
  • Price Jiang – Peregrine’s pilot and legal expert, with ties to the Jiang Triad.
  • Su Jin – Peregrine’s mechanic, and not a grifter at all. Want to play some cards?
  • Walter Yu – Ex-sheriff and general able hand aboard Peregrine.
  • Peregrine – A refurbished once-famous Road Runner with a plant-augmented life support system.

Tonight, I should finish reviewing the characters and send out copies of the form fillable .pdf sheets ((I like filling out the sheets for the players. For one thing, I’ve got a full version of Adobe, so it looks right and doesn’t wind up cutting off window text when the entry runs long. For another, it gives me a chance to review the characters and see if there’s anything I was unclear about. Also, it lets me get to know the characters and start planning scenarios.)) and rough out the setting bible. When I send that out, I’ll look at booking the first game.

It should be fun.

Pandemonium: Coming Together to Fall Apart

After we ended our Ashen Stars one-shot, our group decided to try out a Marvel Heroic Roleplaying campaign. The proposed frame was a street-level campaign set in Gotham City. Upon discussion, it seemed we had a big enough diversity of views on what that meant that I felt it would be a good idea to have a game-building session to make sure we were all on the same page.

Hot on the success of the game-building session for Sundog Millionaires, I decided to use the exact same set-up: start with a Want/Do Not Want list, come up with the elevator pitch for the game, then use the Fate Core game-building method to flesh things out. It’s not a perfect fit, simply because, with Fate Core, you come up with aspects, and there are no aspects in MHRPG. But there are distinctions, which are close enough ((Both functionally and philosophically.)) to substitute.

When we got together a couple of weeks ago, we ran through things. We wound up with a street-level game, but less focused on the common gangs, organized crime, and low-level villains. One of the players really wanted a kind of interdimensional city ((Inspired by the city of Cynosure in the Grimjack comics.)), so we talked things out, and decided that our Gotham City wasn’t the DC Gotham City. We’re still using the Gotham City map I found online, and the name of the city, and the gothic comic book feeling. But no Batman, no Commissioner Gordon, no Joker, etc.

The main threats in our Gotham are the rampant corruption ((Similar to the Gotham of the early Batman days.)) and two linked threats: dimensional incursions, and a turf war between the native Gotham gangs and some extra-dimensional terrorists. Our heroes are among the first people in the world to develop powers, and there is no superhero culture as is usually found in most comic book universes. While the concept of superheroes exists in our Gotham, they are relegated to comic books and cartoon shows. No one actually uses the word to describe themselves in real life, no matter what their powers may be.

While we don’t have the whole setting nailed down, here’s a link to the current version of our setting bible, for the curious.

The next week, we got together again to do character creation. I had asked all the players to come with a solid idea for a character – background, powers, concept, etc. – but not to worry about any of the stats and numbers until we got together. There was a lot of talk early on that MHRPG didn’t have a character generation system. This is not true, but the system is a lot less structured than most people are used to ((Especially from a superhero game.)). Creating a character is more art than science, because there are no real constraints on the process beyond, “Do what’s right for the character.”

This is because most game systems put the mechanics for game balance in at the character generation stage – everyone gets the same number of points, everyone gets to choose one races and one class, everyone gets to pick X items from a list, etc. This gives everyone a character that ((Ideally, if the game design assumptions are solid.)) has equivalent mechanical weight and strength. This mechanical equivalency is then assumed to grant each character equal chances for coolness during play ((Which is really the only reasonable measure of game balance that I ascribe to.)).

In MHRPG, balance happens in the mechanics for taking action. It allows each character opportunity to shine, to do things their way, and show off what they’re best at. It allows Thor to share the stage with Daredevil, and for each to have their own cool moments. They will be very different moments, but they will be equally cool – and the type of cool will be dictated by the type of coolness you decided to build into the character.

What this amounts to is that character creation is mostly about eyeballing a concept, and pulling in the numbers and mechanics that you think best. The section about it in the main rulebook focuses on the idea of modelling an existing character from comic books, but it can easily be used to create an original character. The key, as the rulebook says, is to know as much about the character as possible. For existing characters, that means knowing their books. For original characters, that means a solid character concept.

The lack of a more traditional structure for character creation, and the more-art-than-science nature of it, meant that I really wanted to do things as a group. We started by talking out the concepts, and then walking through the assigning of affiliation dice and picking distinctions. Moving on to the power sets and power traits, I had imposed a few constraints.

One of the challenges I had in running my Civil War mini campaign was that it was difficult to come up with serious challenges for the heroes without either cheating or using so many villains that it becomes far too cumbersome to run. Faced with that, I wanted to limit the overall power of the characters ((This also helped reinforce the idea of the street-level power level of the game.)). I restricted the number of power sets for the characters to two and, within each power set, I set a limit of one d10 power trait ((I wound up saying that the character who was taking a single power set could have two d10 traits. Why? Because, even though I consciously know that balance happens in play rather than in character generation, I and my players still have the knee-jerk reflex that we need to impose fairness at chargen.)), and no d12 traits.

Once we had the basics roughed in, and had talked about SFX, Limits, and Milestones, things were at the point where one-on-one time with each player was necessary to flesh out and finish the characters, so we stopped there for the evening. Now, we’re filling in the rest of the characters via e-mail and, once we get those sorted, we’ll start play.

And here’s our roster of characters for this game:

  • Warlock, a student of the mystic arts who has found a set of magical armour that boosts his power. Unfortunately, when his mind occupies the armour, his body lies helpless and unconscious.
  • Escher, a new psychic suffering from PTSD, torn between caring for those whose minds have been damaged by encounters with the dimensional incursions and punishing those who would prey on the weak and damaged.
  • Artemis, an expert in finding things, with contacts in both this world and the extra dimensional marketplace of the Bizarre.
  • Inquisitor, an extradimensional cop from the Enclave, hunting down Whisper and the rest of the Chant, incursive terrorists from his home.

Stay tuned for more information once play begins.

Civil War: We Are Gathered Here Today

***Spoiler Warning***

My group and I are playing through the Civil War event book for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, from Margaret Weis Productions. While the course of play may not follow the event book – or the comic books – precisely, there’s going to be a certain amount of stuff that does conform to the adventures and comic series.

In short, if you don’t want to know what happens in Civil War, don’t read these posts. Or the comic books.

***You Have Been Warned***

Friday evening was a very interesting session of our Civil War campaign. It was the marriage of Black Panther and Storm in Wakanda, and the Guardians went to celebrate, politic, and recruit for their anti-SHRA campaign. It wound up being a session entirely of roleplaying ((Well, there was one punch thrown, but we’ll get to that.)), which was a nice change from the usual combats that exemplify superhero games.

Now, that’s not to say that I dislike combats in superhero games; quite the contrary. The reason you play a superhero game is, I believe, to have all the awesome excitement and spectacle of reproducing the comic book fights. But a steady diet of combats not only gets boring, it doesn’t accurately reflect the way most comic books tell their stories these days. So, I was pleased to have a whole session of talking to people and character exploration.

Volcanic decided to stay on Volcano Island to safeguard the civilians there, along with Cyber and Daredevil. The rest of the Guardians – Jumpstart, Mega Joule, The Doctor, Luke Cage, and Spider-Man – took the GX-1 to Wakanda for the wedding. At the hotel, they found a whole bunch of other heroes gathered around, and got to do some schmoozing. Some highlights from the evening:

  • The Doctor chatting with Tony Stark and getting the information that a) he’s not as drunk as he seems, and b) “normal” MGH shouldn’t have done what it did to Nitro and Declan.
  • Spider-Man and Human Torch going out to take pictures (and ogle the women, in Johnny’s case), and Spidey talking Torch into joining the Guardians.
  • Mega Joule laying hands on Namor and getting punched. He soaked up the punch, and called the Sub-Mariner rude for striking another guest ((Mega Joule’s kinetic control let him take the punch without damage, and he spun his counter-attack as doing Emotional Stress instead of physical. Very nice.)).
  • Jumpstart warning Reed Richards that, unless he started paying attention to how she was feeling about this whole SHRA mess, Susan was going to leave him.
  • The Doctor finally finding someone who understood how he feels about the SHRA: Cyclops. Though the mutants at the School aren’t in much of a position to help, Cyclops promised to take in any Guardians who needed refuge, and gave The Doctor some contacts in Mutant Town who might be interested in helping.
  • The Doctor and Mega Joule convincing Hercules that fighting the SHRA would be glorious and noble, and thus convincing him to join the Guardians.
  • Sub-Mariner coming to Volcano Island and arranging an alliance with Volcanic, the “King” of Volcano Island.

Of course, the centerpiece of the evening was T’Challa calling together the Guardians and the pro-SHRA forces (represented by Captain America, Reed Richards, and Hank Pym) to try and talk things out. This went about as well as you would expect. Cap is still sore at Jumpstart over the whole insubordination, betrayal, and (possibly) treason thing, so he was less than receptive to the talks right from the start. Reed decided he’d had enough once The Doctor essentially called him a Nazi ((Note that this happened before his little chat with Jumpstart.)).

Once Cap and Reed walked away from the table, Hank Pym explained that this was just a courtesy to T’Challa, and the last chance for the Guardians to surrender with some dignity. He said that the anti-SHRA was doomed, thanks to the new weapons and resources that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been developing, and that it was no longer a question about right and wrong, but about pragmatism – the resistance was going down, and anyone siding with it when that happened was doomed.

When Hank walked away after his little speech, T’Challa thanked the Guardians for being willing to talk and stay at the table. He let the Guardians know that they were welcome in Wakanda, and he would provide a safe haven for them if needed. He also gave them a number of Wakandan nanotech medkits to help with their humanitarian efforts. So, it wasn’t a complete loss.

Then, I got completely blindsided.

Volcanic, who had been back at Volcano Island but was getting periodic updates from the Guardians in Wakanda, climbed into the freshly-finished GX-2, and flew to Wakanda. Not to attend the wedding, but to surrender himself to Captain America for trial.

The reasoning behind this ((I think. I’m viewing it from the outside, and haven’t discussed this with Clint, yet, but I’m pretty sure I’m at least partially right.)) is that Volcanic knows that fighting S.H.I.E.L.D. and the pro-SHRA heroes isn’t going to do much to get the SHRA repealed. Only lessening the fear of the populace and forcing a vote in Congress is going to do that. With S.H.I.E.L.D. controlling most of the information about the situation, the only way to get the counter-arguments out to the general public is a highly-publicized trial.

I’m cool with this, though it’s a huge departure from the published event book. I don’t really care about that so much, really. But it is a factor, because departing from the stuff provided in the book means more prep time for me, so I wanted to make sure that the player was really committed to this idea before accepting it. I had Cap make a demand – Volcanic would have to agree to have his powers neutralized for the duration of his confinement.

Volcanic had a problem with that – see, he accepted the mantle of these powers to remove them from the Volcano God of Volcano Island, and prevent the Volcano God from running amok and sinking Manhattan. If he gives up or neutralizes the powers, they would revert to the Volcano God, and that would be a big problem for the eastern seaboard. He agreed to surrender the powers, but only if Cap would accept them to keep the Volcano God under control. Cap agreed, and we ended the session with a splash page of Volcanic reverting to his human form, Dr. Nick Burns ((Yeah, yeah. It’s comic books. If you can have Ben Grimm and Sue Storm, you can have Nick Burns.)), and Cap turning into a towering mass of lava ((We glossed over the wedding itself. It was a lovely wedding.)).

Now, before the next game ((Which is scheduled for November 15.)), I have to do a few things:

  1. Talk to Clint to get a feel for his ideas about what controlling the mantle of the Volcano God is like for Cap.
  2. Figure out how I’m going to handle the trial of Volcanic.
  3. Get some feel from the other players about how they want things to proceed.
  4. Decide whether the trial is going to be the big showdown for Act II – or even for the entire event.
  5. Check to see if the group are spending XP to unlock Human Torch and Hercules as playable heroes.

Yeah, Clint through me a curve ball with his decision that may change the entire rest of the campaign. I don’t mind, though. I love it ((I didn’t always love it. It took me some time to figure out that saying yes to crazy player plans always led to the best play. I don’t always say yes, even now, but I always wind up wishing that I had.)) when player actions and decisions have the kinds of far-reaching effects. It just means that I need to take a little time to figure out how to respond ((That’s usually the reason I say no. No time to figure out how to handle the coolness.)).

Anyway. I’ve got about two weeks to sort this stuff out.

Then we’ll see what happens.

Civil War: Rescue

***Spoiler Warning***

My group and I are playing through the Civil War event book for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, from Margaret Weis Productions. While the course of play may not follow the event book – or the comic books – precisely, there’s going to be a certain amount of stuff that does conform to the adventures and comic series.

In short, if you don’t want to know what happens in Civil War, don’t read these posts. Or the comic books.

***You Have Been Warned***

Last Friday, we got together for the latest session of our Civil War game. We had a full house, which was great, because the plan was to locate and rescue Spider-Man, who had been captured last session. Seeing as the Guardians had been seen helping Aunt May and M.J. escape S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, Captain America had a pretty good idea that the Guardians ((And especially Jumpstart.)) would come to Spidey’s rescue.

And he was right, of course.

Now, in the three weeks between the last game and this one, we’d worked out a system to allow the Guardians to recruit and use other heroes. First of all, they had to have a hero willing to work with the group – that’s pure roleplaying. They’ve had some success with this, with Luke Cage and Daredevil ((The Danny Rand Daredevil.)) joining them, as well as Cyber, an original hero who used to be an NPC associate of Volcanic ((He built his lab assistant a power suit to keep her safe when she decided to go underground with him.)).

Once someone is well-disposed to the Guardians, they can be unlocked as playable characters for 10 XP. Each scene, the players can decide which character they want to play from the pool, which includes all the unlocked characters plus the players’ original characters.

The players can bring extra characters along for the scene, but each player only gets to play one character – playing multiple characters would really slow things down ((There are lots of things that I love about MHRPG, but it is not a fast game. Quite the opposite.)). Instead, extra characters become assets that the group can use, rated at the hero’s highest die. So, you can have a Luke Cage d10 asset if you bring Luke Cage with you on a mission.

Because Captain America had a good idea the Guardians were coming, and had time to plan and set things up, I pulled off the gloves in setting up the opposition for the rescue mission. Spidey was being transported to 42 via a small convoy of special APCs with Doomtech augmentation ((S.H.I.E.L.D. got a whole bunch of Doomtech thanks to the Guardians, way back here.)). The point APC held Battlestar and a squad of Cape-Killers, the tail APC held Arana and another squad of Cape-Killers. The middle APC held Spider-Man, Venom, Captain America, and another squad of Cape-Killers. Falcon, Sentry, and the Green Goblin were on high watch, flying above the convoy.

I also gave the pro-SHRA forces a few assets for the situation:

  • Captain America’s Plan d12
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. Co-ordination d10
  • APC d10

I also gave Captain America a Reed Richards-built insulator harness for facing Jumpstart ((It added the Insulator Rig power set, with Electrical Absorption d10, and the Gear limit.)), gave Stun Blaster d10 to a couple other guys.

So, yeah. A pretty tough set-up. Of course, experienced Watchers will already see what I’ve done wrong.

Waaaaaaaay too many characters. After all the talk about how I didn’t want the players running multiple characters each, I loaded up my plate with a total of seven heroes and a whole passel of extras. It made things threatening, sure, but it made them very, very slow for me, and thus for the players.

But we’ll get to that.

We started with the gang hacking the S.H.I.E.L.D. computers ((AGAIN. I told them that their S.H.I.E.L.D. Computer Back-Door Codes d12 was going to be used up on this attempt, no matter how well they rolled.)) to find out where Spider-Man was being held. They found that he was being moved the next night to something called 42, and they found the route, but no details about any escort.

They put together a plan ((I shut down one aspect of the plan that would have either had me running two parallel action scenes or completely restructuring the scene I had planned. It wasn’t a good feeling, squashing what was actually an interesting idea, but I did it for the sake of expediency. Sorry, Erik.)), picked a spot to ambush the convoy that was well away from civilians, and set up a few assets of their own, like Conveniently Collapsing Building d10 ((I think it was actually called something else, but can’t remember it offhand, so this gives the general gist.)) and Ambush d10. They all played their regular characters, but brought Cyber, Luke Cage, and Daredevil along with them, using the system I discussed above.

The start of the battle was everything I wanted it to be. The ambush worked great, but the heavy resistance meant that the Doctor and Jumpstart both had stress on them pretty much right out of the gate. They dropped Battlestar and the Green Goblin pretty quickly, as well as a few of the Cape-Killers, and took all three of the APCs out of the fight before the end of the first round.

And that’s when I noticed that, even though they had been careful about the action order and everything, I still had about four groups of bad guys that had actions at the bottom of the round, which would lead into the bad guys getting to go again at the top of round two. Now, as far as tactics go, that’s awesome, but as far as play experience for my friends, it sucked, because it would be a long wait for their turns.

In retrospect, what I should have done is picked a couple of good heroes to run, and threw in the rest as assets, just as I was having the players do. That would have allowed me to build the strong resistance and given everyone a good, challenging fight, while still keeping things moving at a respectable pace.

But I hadn’t done that. So, I screwed with the action sequence a little bit to bring things back around to the heroes, who implemented Operation: Grab Spidey and GTFO. This involved them grabbing Spider-Man and running for the GX-1. This retreat was, obviously, under fire, and the Sentry was heavily involved in that. As the heroes were already leaving, I used 2d12 from the doom pool to end the scene with the arrival of the Void.

The Void and the Sentry duked it out, destroying a couple of city blocks and killing some bystanders ((Which was kind of a dick move on my part. The Guardians had gone out of their way to pick a mostly deserted area, and did everything they possibly could to limit civilian casualties. Why did I do it? Mainly to make sure that the idea that heroes are dangerous to civilians retained validity.)), and incidentally preventing pursuit. The Guardians brought Spider-Man back to Volcano Island, reunited him with his ladies, and started planning the next phase.

Because we had spent part of the beginning of the game session deciding on the three questions they get to ask about AIM, because of the AIM database they liberated a couple of sessions ago, and my stupid decisions that made the combat scene go so slowly, that was about it for the evening. There was some strategizing and socializing after that, and they paid the 10 XP to unlock Spider-Man as a playable character, and then they went home.

Now, I’m going to send them the answers to their AIM questions via e-mail, hopefully this weekend, and that should determine where they go next. They’ve also got their invitations to a wedding in Wakanda that might interest them, and the question about what 42 is.

We’ve got three more sessions on the calendar before Christmas, which should bring us up to the end of Act Two. Then the gloves really come off.

I’m looking forward to it.

Edit: I incorrectly used ATV instead of APC in all the instances above, because of dumb. I have corrected that. Thanks to Erik for pointing it out.

Civil War: Allies

***Spoiler Warning***

My group and I are playing through the Civil War event book for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, from Margaret Weis Productions. While the course of play may not follow the event book – or the comic books – precisely, there’s going to be a certain amount of stuff that does conform to the adventures and comic series.

In short, if you don’t want to know what happens in Civil War, don’t read these posts. Or the comic books.

***You Have Been Warned***

After a four-month hiatus ((Summer is always difficult for scheduling games and this year was worse than most.)), we finally got back to our Civil War campaign this past Friday night. Because there had been such a gap in play, I made sure to reread my blog posts about the game, the Civil War event book, and the MHRPG core book. In doing so, I found a couple of little things that I had missed in the rules and decided to implement.

One of these is the rule that, if a character fails in a reaction roll but has a larger effect die than that of the action roll, the action roll effect die is stepped back one. This didn’t have a huge effect on play, but did add another level of strategy to the dice mechanic.

The other rule, though, I think is going to cause significant change in the way things have been going. That is the rule that you cannot use a plot point in the action that earns you that plot point. You can use other plot points, but not the ones you just earned by taking a d4 on a distinction or by having the GM buy off the opportunities you roll. This seems like a little thing, but it changes the flow of the plot point economy, and invalidates some of the tricks my players have used to pump up their totals and effect dice.

Now, I didn’t set out to nerf things for my players, but I’m not that sorry to see it happen. I’ve been finding it difficult to confront them with challenges that they can’t just walk over, and a large part of that has been how good they are at managing the plot point economy. That said, I’m feeling a little guilty ((Not guilty enough to relent, though.)) about taking away that bit of mechanical mastery they’ve acquired.

Anyway, I introduced these rules in this past session, and the gang ((Well, most of the gang. Erik wasn’t able to join us.)) had a chance to come to grips with them.

But on to the actual play.

We picked things up with a recap of the previous session, and then I had Spider-Man call the gang and ask for help. They had previously tried to recruit Spidey to their cause, but had been unable to do so. Still, the Doctor had given him a little token that he could use to contact the Guardians should he need them, and that’s what he used now. The Doctor was unavailable, being on a shamanic inner journey assisted by some very special mushrooms he grew himself ((If this doesn’t work for you Erik, we can retcon it.)), so the other Guardians were drawn to the Doctor’s room to find him catatonic and a hologram of Spider-Man’s head shouting to see if there was anyone around listening.

Spider-Man was concerned that, as Captain America knew who he was, and he was living in Avengers Tower ((“Spider-Man is living in Avengers Tower? Isn’t that place overrun with S.H.I.E.L.D. agents now that Stark has gone anti-SHRA?” “What, you think that S.H.I.E.L.D. will let him live anywhere else until he registers?”)), with two people that he wanted to keep safe ((M.J. and Aunt May, of course.)), he was going to be the first hero outed, with his loved ones arrested and imprisoned, unless he caved in, registered, and unmasked. He wanted some assistance in getting the two civilians somewhere safe ((Like Volcano Island, f’rinstance.)), while he distracted his guards.

The Guardians agreed to help out. Mega Joule, Jumpstart, and Cyber headed over in the GX-1 in stealth mode, while Volcanic prepared an underground escape route nearby. Spidey burst out of the tower while the GX-1 hovered invisibly over the landing pad, which was full of Cape Killers. The Cape Killer took off after Spidey, as did a number of Thunderbolt agents, including Venom.

Our heroes took the GX-1 up to the window that Spider-Man had departed from and found M.J. and Aunt May inside, surrounded by another unit of Cape Killers, Lady Deathstrike ((Who’s healing factor really pissed the players off. “Man, that’s no fair!” “Can’t you do the same thing, Mega Joule?” “Well, yeah, but…”)), Taskmaster, Jester ((Man, Jester just could not catch a break in this battle. Every roll he made, he screwed up, doing more damage to himself and his team than to the good guys.)), and Bullseye. The good guys had the element of surprise on their side, thanks to the GX-1’s stealth technology, and stormed in with some decisive opening moves. The way things fell out in the action sequence, however, the heroes wound up sucking up some nasty hits while they got M.J. and Aunt May out of harm’s way.

But they managed to rescue them, and with Volcanic’s escape route ((He’s set up an asset of Foolproof Escape Plan d12+.)), they got away clean. Spider-Man, unfortunately, was captured and outed.

The action scene ran a little slower than usual, partly because we were rusty, and partly because the new rules took some getting used to, and partly because the battle was harder with the new rules. So, with the game at a good pausing point, I ran a couple of follow-up scenes to lay some pipe and reward the characters.

First, Luke Cage contacted Mega Joule, whom he had made a connection with way back during the Stamford cleanup, and signed on with the Guardians, along with Danny Rand. Then, Iron Man tapped into the Guardians’ base communications net, and told them where they could pick up a shipment of Stark-tech to help the fight.

Everyone was in a pretty good mood about how things had turned out. Except for the bit about Spider-Man in custody.

But they plan to do something about that.