Civil War: Dry Run

So, I’ve got a group of players that I’m going to be running through the Civil War event for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, with original characters for all the players. We’ve had a character creation session, and two of the players have produced finished characters. The other two are dragging their feet a little bit, but I’m hoping that they’ll have their finished stuff to me soon ((Yes, that is a hint.)).

Anyway, to make sure we kept the interest up, and to give the two players with finished characters a chance to try their characters out, and to give me a little more experience running the game, we decided to do a one-shot with the two finished characters.

Actually, that’s not quite the way it happened.

I was trying to prod the two players with unfinished characters into finishing off their characters, so I offered to run the first session on Friday night if everyone had their characters finished. The two without finished characters were unavailable for completely unrelated reasons, so I figured I’d go with a one-shot for the completed characters who could make it.

Now, while I wanted to get playing, and I wanted to encourage the unfinished characters to get finished, I didn’t want this to be seen as a punishment for those who weren’t done. So, I decided that, while I would award XP as usual in play ((More on that later.)), no XP would carry over to the campaign. It’s just the only way it seemed fair.

The set-up for the session was pretty simple. I was going to have either A.I.M. or Hydra steal a MacGuffin from NYU, where Volcanic ((One of the PCs)) teaches and lives. A tweet from Cam Banks gave me a better idea. He said:

I hope they feel overwhelmed right off the bat and turn it around in the 11th hour!

That gave me A PLAN! I decided that Hydra, with the aid of Mentallo, would steal the MacGuffin (a cylinder of dark matter that had been bombarded by cosmic rays ((That’s pure comic book science!)) ), but be ambushed by A.I.M. troopers before they could leave the building. A quick look at Google Maps showed me that the Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics at NYU is about two and a half blocks straight down a street from Washington Square Park, so I thought it would be fun to have things move down there for the climax, where Madame Hydra was waiting to pick the Hydra troopers up in a Hydra sky car.

I started by telling the characters that they were at NYU, and asking them why. Jumpstart ((The other PC.)) said that his character’s secret identity – a medical doctor and a scientist – was giving a talk there about the effects of cosmic radiation on brain structures, and Volcanic – who doesn’t have a secret identity, being made of lava and all – was listening to see if he could decipher any clues about how to change back into a human form.

The lecture was interrupted by the sounds of weapon fire outside in the main entry. Volcanic stuck his head out to see what was going on, providing a bit of a distraction for Jumpstart to switch into his costume. Outside the auditorium, our heroes were up on the mezzanine, looking down on the entry hall, which was dominated by a giant sculpture of an atom ((Why? Because comic book action!)). A gang of A.I.M. troops had pinned down Mentallo and his Hydra henchmen, but Mentallo had mind-controlled a team of security guards, who were outflanking the A.I.M. folks. Add to that the panicking students, and things looked grim ((I had spent a turn or two while the heroes were bogged down in getting into costume and out of the auditorium to effectively let the villains grandstand, building the doom pool, and deciding what distinctions to put on the scene. Doom pool, which had started at 2d6, was up to 4d6, and there were the distinctions Giant Atom Sculpture, Panicky Students, and Mind-Controlled Security Guards.)).

The good guys were a little intimidated by the big mess, I think, and didn’t know where to start. That didn’t stop them from wading in, though. Hydra took that opportunity to make a break for it, smashing through the plate glass windows despite Volcanic coating them with magma. A.I.M., still pinned down by the security guards, took hostages to try and escape.

There was some discussion at this point about pursuing Hydra before they got away, but the pair decided that keeping the hostages safe was the priority ((I am pleased about that. I like my heroes heroic.)). They concentrated on the A.I.M. troopers and mopped them up before heading out to chase Mentallo and the canister down the street to Washington Square Park.

The battle at the park went pretty quickly, and very much in the heroes’ favour. They were getting the hang of using their elemental control powers ((Three out of four of the characters have some flavour of elemental control, and the fourth has Sorcery. These are very cool powers, but they’re probably the trickiest to use in cool ways during the game, as they are very indirect.)), had established strategies for getting and using PPs, and each had a couple of assets to call on in an emergency. The bad guys got wrapped up in short order, and even Madame Hydra was snagged when her getaway vehicle got electrified.

I had planned for Madame Hydra to snag the canister and escape, with or without Mentallo and the troopers, but the heroes just beat me on that one. See, the second part would have been a Transition scene with the heroes tracking down where the canister was and assaulting a Hydra base – or A.I.M., if they had managed to snag it – and retrieving it before it could get used as a weapon. So, we ended early, and the bad guys all got hauled off to the Raft. I did make the point that this was pre-Breakout at that time, so I won’t have any questions if I use the villains again in the event.

Overall, the one-shot served its purpose – the players got the hang of their characters, I got more practice with the system, and everyone had fun. But no one was hitting their Milestone triggers in the game. I decided not to bring it up during play, but we talked about how important it is after the session wound down. It’s a change of perspective, making the characters decide when they earn XP, but with Milestones, there’s really no way for the Watcher to track the triggers for the characters. At least, not effectively.

I think the players are going to tweak their characters slightly based on how they played, but overall they were pretty happy with what they had built, and I thought they worked well, myself. For me, I got some insight into how to make a scene change location, some more familiarity with managing the doom pool, and some practice making the scene distinctions work for me. So, I call it a win.

We’re trying to set the first full session for September 28. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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