Civil War: Loyalty

***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 night was the latest session of my Civil War campaign. This being the Christmas season, I was only able to get  two of the four players together, but there was enough stuff to do1 for us to get in a decent evening of play. Besides, one of the heroes who made it to the game was Jumpstart, who had missed the previous session, so I wanted to do some stuff with him to let him catch up.

So, we started with Jumpstart on the helicarrier, trying to track down Captain America and Black Widow2. He wanted to see what Cap’s take on the whole SHRA was. While he was there, he decided to use his Tech Expert to hack into the S.H.I.E.L.D. system and leave himself a back door.

Now, I should mention here that I’ve pretty much decided to ignore the distinction between Action Scenes and Transition Scenes as described in the rules. Well, not ignore, exactly. Rather, I let scenes flow back and forth between these two3 scene types. This means that I can let character actions determine which way things go.

One of the things this means is that I let the players roll to create assets in any scene they’re in, though they also have the option of just using their specialties to declare resources, as outlined in the rules. Frankly, I prefer having them roll for their assets, for a few reasons. First, if they’re rolling dice, I’ve got the possibility of increasing the doom pool. Second, it gives the players the chance to create some very cool assets, with high die values. Third, and most importantly, it gives the players more freedom to tell the story of how they create the asset, using the dice pool mechanic. This reveals a lot about the characters, and allows the players to shape the way their heroes approach things.

This allowed Jumpstart to build an asset for himself: Backdoor to S.H.I.E.L.D. Systems d10. Cap came in while he was doing this4 and invited Jumpstart to come to a conference room for a discussion. There, Cap encouraged Jumpstart to register, and to do it now.

Yeah, in my Civil War game, Captain America is pro-registration.

I did this for a specific reason. At least two of the players are pretty familiar with the Civil War storyline. Indeed, a couple of times, references have been made to future events. Now, I hasten to say that there’s nothing wrong with that – I’m not trying to blame anyone for cheating5 or anything like that. But I don’t like the idea of everyone just walking through a scripted set of events, knowing where things are going and how they’re going to get there. It drains the fun from the idea of an RPG, in my opinion,

I told people going in that I was going to be changing some things up from the canon stories, aside from just substituting the players’ heroes for the ones from the comics. They all nodded and said, “Yeah, sure, cool,” but this was the first big change that they’ve actually run into. And the look on the player’s face as Cap started to apply the pressure to register was wonderful6. I think he was hoping to be able to fight side-by-side with Captain America against the government oppression.

This is one of the things I like about how the Civil War event book is built. It gives you all the pieces to play the canon events as written, but it also provides a lot of hints and ideas and suggestions for changing things up and making the event your own. It’s a pretty fine line to walk, and the book does it beautifully. And it really only takes a few minutes of thought to build the chain of reasoning that can put a given hero on the opposite side of the question.

For Cap, it was simple. It’s the law of the land. It’s the orders of his commanding officer. And a true hero will work with the system to make sure that the new law is administered fairly, and try and curb any excesses. He will work within the law to protect people. He’s a patriot who won’t turn his back on his government and his fellow Americans, and so will work to change things from the inside7.

Cap made his pitch, and Jumpstart hedged. Cap called him on it, and Jumpstart asked for twenty-four hours to make his decision. Cap said that was reasonable, and confined Jumpstart to the helicarrier for the next twenty-four hours until he gave Cap his decision. Cap walked out, and Jumpstart mumbled that that Cap was a prick.

At that point, I cut away from Jumpstart to check in with Volcanic. He was starting to get worried about Jumpstart, who hadn’t checked in for about twelve hours. He spent some time using the sensors of the Guardians’ hideout to lock on to the location of the helicarrier, and then building the Guardjet8, then went to finalize his sabbatical from NYU9 and say good-bye to the Fantastic Four10, all just in case he needed to go on the run after rescuing Jumpstart.

And then he went to rescue Jumpstart.

I expected this to turn out to be the fight of the session, mirroring in some ways the comic book scene where Captain America is confronted by Maria Hill and her Capekillers, and fights his way free to escape the helicarrier. I was ready for that, with all the stats for Maria Hill, the Capekillers, and even Cap to make things more challenging if I needed to.

But Volcanic used intimidation, diplomacy, and bargaining to get in to see Jumpstart. There was a moment when I really thought things were going to go south – Maria Hill was standing up to the boys, telling them that, regardless of registration status or anything else, taking violent action against S.H.I.E.L.D. would make them fugitives and criminals. Normally, that sort of challenge tends to get players’ dander up, and leads quickly to conflict11. But Volcanic and Jumpstart decided that they didn’t want to cross that line – at least, not yet, seeing as they were deep in the belly of the helicarrier. So, Volcanic offered Hill the data he had on Nitro’s chemical signature in return for letting he12 and Jumpstart leave without pursuit until the official deadline passed.

She agreed, but advised that she would be unable to prevent Captain America from coming after Jumpstart, seeing as Jumpstart was violating his promise to Cap. Jumpstart said he understood, and told her that none of this was personal. She disagreed, saying, “You’ve undermined my authority in front of my people, and may have jeopardized S.H.I.E.L.D.’s working relationship with Captain America. That’s pretty damned personal to me.”

Thus Volcanic and Jumpstart left the helicarrier in the Guardjet, resigned to going underground and on the run once the SHRA deadline arrived. I was pleased that it was a difficult choice for them, and that I was able to give them a nice, dramatic incident to force their decision. It felt fitting to me, and seemed to be effective for them.

But since there had been no combat in this session, we ended far earlier than I had intended. I could have thrown a basically irrelevant fight at them – the only relevant fight I’d prepped involved Maria Hill, Capekillers, and Cap – but it would have been just a fight for fight’s sake. The other non-fighty, dramatic bits were things I really wanted the other players there for. And thus, because I hadn’t prepped enough, we called it a night early13.

So. We’ve got three out of four heroes opting to resist registration. I hope to wrap up the first act of the event next session, but I really want the whole group there for that. Here’s hoping.

  1. Well, almost enough stuff. We stopped early because I hadn’t prepped quite far enough ahead, and the heroes threw me a bit of a curve. You’ll see. []
  2. And it was at this point that Jumpstart’s player shared the bit of backstory that Jumpstart had a crush on Black Widow, which I hadn’t known previous. We’ll have to see what I can do with that. []
  3. Pretty arbitrary. []
  4. But Jumpstart was able to finish creating the asset. []
  5. Whatever that means in roleplaying games. Nothing, really, in my opinion. []
  6. Okay, this was probably a factor in making my decision. []
  7. Which brings up the question, “What about Iron Man? Is Tony Stark now anti-registration?” Well, I’m not telling yet. I can make a convincing case for either side, so I’m holding off making a decision until I need to, and then I’m going to base it on character actions and player expectations. []
  8. Clint: “How long will it take me to build a personal flying device?” Me: “It will take you one montage.” Clint: “Done!” []
  9. Bringing Candy along to his newly-expanded and remodelled underground pad. []
  10. And get invited to the gathering leading up to the midnight registration deadline. []
  11. The “Them’s Fightin’ Words” effect. []
  12. Volcanic, not Nitro. Just to be clear. []
  13. Well, we stopped gaming early. We sat around talking for a while, and then it turned out that Tom had never seen a Jimmy Carr act, so we watched one of his stand-up specials that I had on my AppleTV. []
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