Civil War: Doom & Democracy

***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 before last, we gathered the players and got in our first session of our Civil War game. Well, kind of the second session, if you count the dry run I did previously. Or the third, if you count character creation. But really, it was the first full session where everyone got to try out their characters.

I wanted to ease into things in this session, letting the players fit themselves into the world a little bit before throwing some action at them ((There are good things about starting out with a bang, but sometimes it’s a good idea to ease the players into things. Especially with a new system.)), so I started by saying, “It’s a Wednesday night. Where are you?” This led to the group – who call themselves The Guardians, by the way – spending some time coming up with a secret base for themselves.

It’s the concealed sub-basement of an apartment block in Brooklyn, owned by The Doctor’s parents, with tunnels reaching all over NYC, courtesy of Volcanic. The base has accommodations for all the team members, a gym, science lab, tech lab, ritual room, and med bay.

So, we spent some time fleshing it out, getting into character, and doing a little roleplaying to set the scene. Then I had Reed Richards call Jumpstart to ask for a favour.

I think three out of the four characters have some sort of relationship with the FF, but I picked Jumpstart because he also had ties to S.H.I.E.L.D. and tended to have more of a military outlook. Those qualities made it pretty likely that he would agree to do the favour for Reed ((Possibly committing the whole team without consulting them. Well, a Watcher can hope, right? ‘Cause that would have been some fun drama.)), which is what I wanted, because that was the on-ramp to the story.

To be clear, the game would not have been derailed if they hadn’t taken the bait. I had some contingency plans, layered in stages, right up to the Guardians sitting around playing video games until S.H.I.E.L.D. capekillers came knocking on their doors. This is something I’ve tried to emphasize with the players – they are free to make whatever choices and decisions they want, without worrying about “ruining the adventure.” The structure of the event book ((Which I talk about back here.)) makes it easy to improvise on the themes of the Civil War, build scenes on the fly, and track what changes if the players do something really unexpected. Along with that, I’ve picked up enough experience running more improvised adventures in recent years ((Thanks especially to GUMSHOE and FATE games for the recent practice.)) that I think I can cope with what they throw at me, and make the game about their heroes, rather than about the big names in the Marvel Universe.

I’ve also warned them that I may make some changes from the comic books, especially about who joins what side, so they shouldn’t count on Cap fighting against registration, or Tony Stark spearheading the registration forces. Am I going to change those two, specifically? I’m not sure yet. I’m not making any decisions about this until after the SHRA passes, and I’ll see how things stand then. The heroes have already done some things that will affect the course of events ((No, I’m not telling you what just yet. You’ll have to wait and see)), and I’ve taken notes and done some thinking about consequences.

Anyway.

Reed Richards called and asked Jumpstart to look into a potential problem in Broxton, Oklahoma – reports had reached him of numerous incoming aircraft, currently passing over the Atlantic, ETA two hours. Volcanic was able to build a quick detector to trace the origins of the aircraft, and discovered that they were coming from Latveria. Richards would not confirm or deny that, nor would he tell them what was in Broxton that the Latverians ((Doom, by all reports being dead, or at least trapped in Hell.)) might want – the characters didn’t have clearance for that information from the government.

Why was Richards calling them? Well, he and the rest of the FF were in Washington, giving testimony to the committee discussing the SHRA. I didn’t spell that out to the characters, but Reed Richards in a suit, unable to leave where he was, and the discussions about the SHRA made it pretty clear, I think.

Richards loaned the Guardians ((All of whom agreed to go. I had something up my sleeve for anyone who chose not to go along, but I didn’t need to use it. That’s fine; I can save it for another time.)) the Fantasticar to get them to Oklahoma in time. At the site, they found a military installation – quonset huts, security fence, patrols, etc. The colonel in charge was grateful for their help, but still wouldn’t tell them why the military was on site.

The heroes took some time to create resources before the arrival of the aircraft, and then settled in to wait for the arrival of the invaders. The Doctor, when the armoured personnel fliers started arriving, woke the spirits of the air to knock them out of the sky ((No-Fly Zone d12+ grounded everything. Everything. Including commercial aircraft, who now had to detour around a large section of Oklahoma.)), and Volcanic caused the ground to open and swallow several of the carriers that had landed ((“Did I get them all?” “All you could see.” “How many more are there?” “Enough to make this scene an exciting battle.” “Gotcha. There are PLOT carriers.”)). Then the silhouette of Dr. Doom appeared on a hilltop and everyone stopped and stared.

And another silhouette appeared. And another. And three more, and then a dozen, and then a score. They figured pretty quickly they were dealing with Doombots, but it still made them plenty cautious. Volcanic was swarmed by Doombots ((Applying the complication Covered in Dooooooms! d12.)), and Jumpstart rushed to his defence, trying to pull as many Doombots off him as possible. Mega Joule had set up an ambush, and popped out to delay a another mob of Doombots marching on the encampment, while The Doctor held the main gate.

This scene had a bit of a strange rhythm, to tell the truth. The players weren’t rolling many opportunities, and this my doom pool wasn’t growing, and they weren’t getting Plot Points ((Except, of course, when they used their Distinctions for a d4.)). This meant that they weren’t able to bust out some of the cooler things they could do, but it also meant that I was limited in the tricks the bad guys could pull in.

Still, things turned around eventually, and I was able to turn the real Doom into a Doombot with 2d8 when The Doctor was about to take him down ((Using the You Are Not Worthy of Doom! SFX.)), and bring the real Doom in from the rear, through the fence and the torn-up quonset huts, down to the crater in the middle. He got his hands on what he was after – Mjolnir, sitting in the crater where it landed – and got blasted by Asgardian lightning for not being worthy.

This was the moment when the characters found out what was being guarded in Broxton. Doom made his escape at that point, and the Guardians were left to help with the clean-up, and discuss whether any of them were going to try to lift the hammer themselves. Eventually, they decided against it, and headed back to NYC.

Overall, the battle outcome was a bit ambiguous – the Guardians defeated all the Doombots, but Doom himself got to the hammer, but the hammer blasted Doom, but Doom got away… You know how it goes. They chalked it up in the Win column provisionally.

Reed got in touch with them the next day to thank them for their help, and to warn them that, due to their involvement with Doom and the military ((And the fact that air traffic had to be diverted around Oklahoma for an hour or so with no warning.)), they might be called to testify before Congress. At least, Volcanic would, because his identity is public knowledge. The other Guardians discussed this, and decided that, if Volcanic was subpoenaed, they would all stand with him.

Sure enough, a few days later, Dr. Nicholas Burns, AKA Volcanic, was called to testify before a Congressional committee, so everyone got on the train and headed down to DC, along with a Lawyer d8, thanks to The Doctor’s business connections.

In retrospect, I should have re-read this scene more carefully before the session. Testifying before Congress is run as an action scene using debating skills rather than superpowers ((Well, powers could be used, if they were appropriate. Mind control, for example, or growth for intimidation, things like that.)), knocking out dice from the Committee to win the debate.

My big mistake, I think, was using rolls to determine the effectiveness of arguments made by either side. That produced some strange results, and incidentally devalued the arguments being made. A better approach might have been to conduct the arguments and interview purely through roleplaying ((Or maybe to abstract the arguments and questioning a bit: “The Committee chair launches into a long-winded recitation of rulings by the Supreme Court, many of which seem to relate only remotely to the matter at hand. He’s obviously trying to confuse you and set you off your game.”)), and call for rolls only when one side or the other tried to directly manipulate the other through Psyche or Menace or some power. As it was, the whole thing felt like a mis-handeled skill challenge from D&D 4E.

The main point of contention, as it played out, was the issue of secret identities. The Committee insisted that the Guardians give their legal names in order to be heard, but the gang successfully argued that they should be allowed to testify under their noms de guerre. Well, kind of successfully. They got their remarks on the record, but they were entered as anonymous testimony, and thus carried less weight.

The upshot was that the Congressional committee thanked the Guardians for attending and dismissed them without getting any of their real questions answered. Still, the majority of the committee was favourably disposed towards the Guardians, so that counts as a win. Still, there was the implication that the committee might invite the Guardians back when they had more power to compel answers.

And to wrap things up for the evening, as the Guardians navigated the crowd of reporters out front, the Titanium Man landed in the midst of the crowd and roared out a challenge.

Check out the next issue for - The Terror of the Titanium Man!

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