Civil War: Final Night, First Strike

***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 night was the latest session of my Civil War game. We’d missed the last game due to scheduling issues, so it had been a long wait between sessions. Now, we’re back on track ((Hopefully.)) and making some progress through the game ((We actually, finally ended Act One! Yay, us!)).

The timing in the game was a bit convoluted, because we had one player who had missed the last couple of sessions ((Welcome back, Doctor!)), but had things that he wanted to take care of before the end of the act. Meanwhile, the other players had done enough stuff that they were up to the last day before the SHRA came into full effect. Rather than just run two solo scenes while the other three players just sat around, I told the gang that they could take part in the scenes if they wanted to, and we’d run them as flashbacks.

The Doctor’s ((I’m going to point out again that this character is patterned on The Authority‘s Doctor, and not Doctor Who.)) first scene was him talking with Doctor Strange about what was coming. Doctor Strange said that he would be guarding the gates of this reality to prevent any nasty extradimensional beings ((I’m looking at you, Dormammu!)) from taking advantage of the chaos that the oncoming conflict was sure to cause. The Doctor’s role as the guardian of the Earth’s metaphysical wellbeing was going to be tested in the coming days, as friend turned on friend, and fear multiplied, and Doctor Strange advised our Doctor to be ready for a nasty, challenging time of things.

The Doctor then wanted to go see Tony Stark ((Our Doctor is a member of the Illuminati, and knows all these big movers and shakers.)) and find out where he stood on things. The rest of the Guardians decided they wanted to come along on this one, so they all climbed into the GX-1 and flew to Stark Tower. There, they met with Tony Stark, who seemed somewhat preoccupied and unwilling to give any straight answers. The Doctor thought something seemed a little off, and used his mystic senses to discover that he got no reading at all from Tony, concluding that it was in fact an LMD ((Life Model Decoy.)).

About this time, Maria Hill and a squad of Cape Killers showed up and began asking Tony when S.H.I.E.L.D. could expect the next shipment of tech for the new initiatives. He talked a bit about needing some more time and such, at which point Pepper Potts showed up to lead the Guardians out. At the GX-1, they tried to get her to talk about where Tony really was, but she stuck to the story that Tony was down in the lab, and then, very deliberately, powered down her tablet and said goodbye to them. And about a minute after the GX-1 lifted off from the landing pad on Stark Tower, all the plane’s systems went dead and it started plunging toward the street.

Here, I stole a new mechanic from the Annihilation event book – a countdown timer ((Seriously, there is so much smart new stuff in Annihilation that you need to buy it. It is all immensely lootable, as I’m demonstrating. I also used the system for starships in the book to wrap some rules around the GX-1.)), showing how much time the heroes have to act before something bad happens. In Annihilation, that’s usually something like a planet exploding, but here it was the GX-1 crashing into the street or a building or a puppy or whatever.

This proved to be a really effective ((In my opinion. I thought it worked great, and the players seemed to have fun with it.)) way of modeling conflict with the environment. Characters rolled against the doom pool ((Plus an extra die or two for some distinctions or complications which may or may not have been obvious right off the hop.)), and tried to get the GX-1 powered up and flying again. Some of them spent their turns trying to step back the countdown die, buying them a little more time to operate, some built assets to help other rolls, and some worked directly to target the Fried Systems d12 complication that I told them they had to reduce to 0 in order to restart the engines.

Once they got the ship powered up again, I told them ((And maybe this was a bit of a dick move, but I did it anyway.)) that they weren’t home free just yet – they were still falling, and needed to pull up by stepping down the countdown die to 0, as well. This kinda sounds like double jeopardy, but I wanted to create the experience of a desperate struggle to get power back to the plunging craft, and then the adrenaline-filled rush of pulling out of the dive mere feet above the ground ((And this is the moment in the session when the players started talking about actually getting the Vehicles specialty for at least one of them if they wanted to continue using the GX-1. Probably a good idea.)).

As the rest of the systems came online in the couple of blocks around Stark Tower, the huge STARK on the side of the building switched over to CLOSED, and a broadcast from Tony Stark informed everyone with any sort of receiver that Stark Industries was officially closed as a protest against the planned nationalization of his company and his technology. The Guardians headed back to Stark Tower to make sure that everyone – specifically Maria Hill and the Cape Killers – was uninjured, then returned to their base.

Now that we had The Doctor caught up with things, we jumped back to the cliffhanger where we had left the previous session – the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier was closing in on the GX-1 that was carrying Volcanic, Jumpstart, Mega Joule, and the apprehended Nitro. I think the group had some idea of being able to outrun or evade the helicarrier, but I had ended the scene last session with 2d12, and so I narrated the opening of this scene as everyone standing on the flight deck of the helicarrier, surrounded by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.

Commander Hill thanked the heroes for apprehending Nitro, and offered a chance to attend a media event the next day, receiving a commendation from the President, and getting all the credit for bringing the butcher of Stamford to justice. The only catch, of course, was that the SHRA would be in effect the next day, and so the Guardians would need to be registered or face arrest.

Surprising no one, the Guardians declined the honour offered them, and decided to take their leave. Commander Hill said she’d allow that ((Though she told Jumpstart that Captain America was on his way up to the deck, and wanted a word. Jumpstart decided not to wait around.)), but that Nitro was now in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, and would remain that way until his trial. There was some discussion of taking Nitro with them, but the gang decided that:

  1. They didn’t want to start an all-out war with S.H.I.E.L.D. right here and now, and
  2. They had planned to turn Nitro over to the authorities anyway, and these authorities at least knew how to confine superhumans.

So they bugged out just as Captain America reached the flight deck ((After Jumpstart’s last interaction with Captain America, I’m having a lot of fun teasing a rematch and building up the tension between the two.)), leaving Nitro in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, and went home to get ready for the gathering at the Baxter Building that evening.

The gathering was some fun roleplaying, with the Guardians taking a bit of time to talk to other heroes and tying themselves a little more tightly to the Marvel universe. They spoke with Reed Richards, Spider-Man, Captain America ((And that was a little tense.)), Sue Storm, and maybe a couple of others that I’m forgetting. And, just before midnight, the Watcher appeared.

I told the gang that the Watcher just looked around at everyone, who had all gone very quiet, with just a few hushed whispers filling those who didn’t know about who the Watcher was. I also told the Guardians that they had the very real impression that the Watcher looked at each of them in turn. Why? Well, mainly to emphasize that this is their story, not the story from the comic books, and not even necessarily the story from the event book. By having the Uatu single them out for special consideration, I wanted to drive home the idea that things in this event will turn on the player character decisions.

That sort of took the air out of the gathering, and people started heading home. The Guardians, now that they were officially outlaws ((Yeah, The Doctor decided not to register, too, refusing to let the dark emotion of fear dictate his actions.)), split into two groups and each took a different underground route home. I asked which group would arrive home first, and they told me that it would be Volcanic and The Doctor, so they popped up in their secret lair, and were instantly attacked.

I snagged the datafiles for Steel Spider, Sepulchre, and Jack Flag from the 50 States Initiative book, and went to town. The surprise round was helpful, but not enough to actually turn the tide in favour of the baddies – I believe The Doctor took some stress, but then our heroes had everything their own way, and took their assailants down pretty quickly. They rendered Jack Flag and Sepulchre unconscious, and shorted out Steel Spider’s arms, leaving him pretty much defenseless. A little bit of negotiation, and they let Steel Spider take his friends out in a Volcanic-crafted box ((The Doctor also healed them. The Guardians are working hard to be above reproach – y’know, aside from the whole breaking the law by not registering thing.)).

Meantime, Jumpstart and Mega Joule were cornered in the sewers by a squad of Cape Killers and Captain America. There was a little discussion, but the fists started flying pretty quickly. Things were not going all that well for Cap and his buddies ((I need to do some thinking about how I run the bad guys. They tend to fold pretty quickly under the combined onslaught of the good guys.)), despite the fact that I was using the 4d12 I currently had in the doom pool very liberally, and buying them back whenever I could. When I saw that things were going to go badly for Cap in the next few turns, I broke down and spent 2d12 to end the scene with a sewer collapse, because I really want to keep the Cap-Jumpstart rivalry going.

That’s where we left things. As we were wrapping up, Clint asked if they had done something to pooch the secrecy of their lair, and I said yes. They didn’t want to just leave my answer at that, though, so I reminded them of the time a couple of sessions ago when Volcanic left the GX-1 ((Still called the GuardJet, at the time.)) sitting unguarded on the helicarrier flight deck for almost an hour as he went to retrieve Jumpstart from S.H.I.E.L.D. custody. Of course Maria Hill put a tracer on it. That’s how S.H.I.E.L.D. tracked them on their little trip to get Nitro. I had thought that would be a clue, but in retrospect, it wasn’t a strange enough event to make the characters wonder, and there was too much time between sessions to keep it in mind. So, I failed on that one.

But still. Yeah. Tracer on the GX-1, and attempt to apprehend the most prominent anti-registration heroes that S.H.I.E.L.D.’s got.

Now, the gang are discussing what they want to do next. I look forward to seeing what they come up with.

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