The New Centurions, Issue #7: Into the Void

Last Friday was the latest episode of Clint’s New Centurions game. We picked up pretty much exactly where we had left off last time – about to take a bug-bus into another dimension to face the invaders on their own turf.

Our expedition was delayed slightly, as we met up with a few of the emerging heroes in our world, such as Captain Vitality ((Here’s an interesting little bit of GM trickery for when you can’t come up with a good name: come up with a bad name, and make it obvious that it’s a bad name. Case in point: Captain Vitality was somewhat abashed about his name, as it had been given to him by a fourteen-year-old. I did a similar thing in a D&D game when I created a magic sword studded with blue gems that I then named Vermillion. Viridian was the word I had actually been looking for, but I messed up, so I made the sword touchy about the fact it had been named by a colour-blind enchanter.)) and Kid Dynamo ((Not, apparently, named after the song by The Buggles.)), and also to rescue some civilians being mind-controlled by the invaders’ parasite-firing guns. But eventually we managed to head off to the portal to the alien realm, leaving our new allies and a warrior made of rock to guard our way home.

Along the way, in the chaos of the invasion and the dozens ((Perhaps hundreds.)) of attacks on civilians, S.P.E.C.-T.E.R. ((Y’know, I thought the acronym thing was a neat idea when I made it up, but it’s really annoying to type t properly. And I’m enough of a curmudgeon that I refuse to drop the capitalization and periods. A cautionary tale for creating names.)) became aware that his mentor and tech specialist was no longer online. This rattled him enough that he made several less-than-heroic suggestions along the way, garnering a set-back die for the GM to use.

Once through the dimensional portal, we found ourselves in empty space. Queen Celeste was able to lead us to the voidship that our bug-bus came from, and we attempted to sneak in with the bug-bus’s recognition codes. We made it all the way to the docking orifice, but then got locked out. When there was no instant destructo-beam deployed against us, and we saw the invaders walking around on the surface of the voidship with no breathing apparatus, we decided to jump out on the surface of the ship and try to make our way inside to break stuff and generally make the bad guys stop with the invading.

The voidship proved to be the same kind of organic tech as the bug-bus, but much larger, of course. As we made our way through the cysts, polyps, and giant hairs on the surface, we woke up a large, nasty worm creature that apparently lives in the flesh of the voidship. It swallowed Paladin, but Widowmaker teleported up onto its head and used her gravity smash to pummel it while Falkata and Queen Celeste cut into the thing’s belly, meeting Paladin cutting his way out. S.P.E.C.-T.E.R. managed to use his advanced predictive algorithms to get the thing to impale itself on one of the tree-sized, spear-like hairs ((Using a hero die to do a power stunt.)), and then the others finished it off.

We crawled into the thing’s burrow, and made our way inside the ship, and that’s where we left things for the night.

I have to say, after a rocky start, the campaign is really starting to click. The major difficulty was the whole switching-systems thing, but we players are starting to get the hang of how to do things in the game, and how to make exciting, heroic choices. Clint’s mixing comic book sensibility with Cthulhoid flavouring in the current scenario to create an interesting, exciting adventure, and the larger questions in the background are keeping the mystery and interest levels high.

It’s a fun game, and I’m looking forward to the next issue.

The New Centurions, Issue #6: Earthblood

Last Monday night ((I love the Christmas break. We get to game on weekday nights)) was the latest session of the New Centurions campaign. We had wrapped up the previous storyline, about a missing pay-off to a mob boss, the session before, so this session, we were getting back to the ongoing problem of mysterious sinkholes appearing in the streets of Manhattan.

The first part of the session was spent thinking about how to deal with the fact that the mob boss now knew where our secret base was, and seemed to think we owed him something. This was mainly just brainstorming how to increase security, and decide if we were going to go visit the mob boss at his house to show him how intrusive that was, or just wait to see if he pushed it any farther.

We decided to wait, because of not wanting to go to war right this second.

So, then we turned our attention to the sinkhole problem. We had discovered a few sessions ago that there was a strange, black, oily substance flowing under the city streets in some areas. A sample sent to an occultist contact told us that it was essentially dimensional blood: a fluid that was produced by the friction between our world and one in another dimension. A similar sample sent to a geologist told us that it seemed to be a molecule containing a great deal of energy, sort of like a hydrocarbon, but that the elements that made it up didn’t exist on the periodic table.

The geologist, who specialized in eastern seaboard seismology, was also able to help us narrow down where the next sinkhole was likely to manifest. We went to investigate, and found that, deep below the streets, the ground was pulverized to loose soil and gravel, below which was this earthblood we had found elsewhere. Queen Celeste drained off some of the mystic potential of the stuff to forestall the forthcoming sinkhole, and the rest of us went topside to help evacuate everyone ((S.P.E.C.-T.E.R. had to put his position with the police department on the line to get authorization for this one.)).

We checked in with the geologist again, who was baffled as to what could have alleviated the build-up of seismic forces without disastrous release ((We figured telling her we had done it by magic would have been a little cruel.)), and she pointed us to the next build-up, which was happening sort-of NOW. This was in a more prosperous part of the city, and it was a much tougher sell to get people to evacuate. At least, it was tough right up to the moment when the giant bug the size of a bus jumped up out of the sinkhole and released a squad of monsters.

Clint used the basic idea of D&D’s mind flayers for the villains, mapping them onto the Marvel Comics idea of Skrulls – alien, inimical beings from another dimension that were bent on humanity’s destruction/enslavement. The bulk of the creatures – five of them, as I recall – were minion grunts, fighting with knives, while one wizard-type stood back blasting at everyone’s brain from behind his forcefield.

We dispatched the grunts, freed the mentally enslaved bug-bus ((Thanks to Falkata making mental contact with it while locked inside.)), and restrained the brainblaster. Except the brainblaster didn’t give up, and mind-controlled Paladin’s brain, forcing him to attack S.P.E.C.-T.E.R. ((Who, as an android, was both immune to and unaware of these mental shenanigans.)) Before Paladin could attack, though, Queen Celeste zapped the brainblaster with her magic, killing him outright, and freeing Paladin from its mental control.

This prompted a bit of a heated exchange between S.P.E.C.-T.E.R. and the others, as S.P.E.C.-T.E.R. was unaware of the mental attacks, and was quite upset about a prisoner in his custody (as he saw it) being executed.

And then the bug-bus agreed to take us to the other dimension to battle the evil monsters to stop the attacks on our reality and incidentally free its people. Which is where we left things.

All in all, a fun game. The investigation section worked significantly better than previously with the solid goal in sight, and there was a real sense of progress and achievement in stopping this squad of invaders and knowing where to go next. I’m looking forward to the next session.

The New Centurions, Issue #5: Street Festival Fracas

Last Saturday was scheduled to be our re-start of my friend Clint’s awesome Shadowlands D&D campaign, which has been on hiatus for a few months. However, because both GM and players found the last session of New Centurions to be somewhat frustrating, Clint wanted to run one more session, so that we wouldn’t end on a low note ((Which would probably mean we would never come back to the game, which would be a shame.)).

One of the things he did to address the issues of the previous session was to have us all discuss and come to a consensus as to what type of superhero game we were playing. After a little bit, we decided that it was essentially Bronze Age, with some drift into Silver and Iron ((Discussion of the ages can be found here, though wikipedia uses the term Modern Age instead of Iron Age.)) at either end of the spectrum. Basically, what we decided was that the world is somewhat dark, but the worst excesses are off-stage, and the heroes are noble examples of what people can be. Honour and justice are important, and heroes don’t kill.

That discussion alone was a huge help in getting everyone on the same page.

The rest of the session was a long, wild combat, trying to stop the heist of a truck full of (stolen) electronics during a street festival. The mob, which had originally stolen the electronics, was using the street festival as cover to move the truck, and our nemesis, Lady Crimson, was going to take it away from them.

Clint set things up in a very interesting manner. Lady Crimson used some hired help ((Mostly patterned after the villains in Big Trouble in Little China.)) to distract us while her main muscle stole the truck. It almost worked, keeping us tied up dealing with the flying Chinese sorcerer, his conjured giant foo-dogs, grenades thrown into the crowd, and the weird orangutan monster, while the Five Dragons snatched the truck.

We managed to keep the truck from being stolen ((And S.P.E.C.-T.E.R. had it impounded for suspicion of trafficking in stolen goods, completely negating any gratitude the mob might have had for us.)), and we also captured Lady Crimson. She eventually told us where the stolen briefcase we needed to find was, in return for turning her over to a military official of her acquaintance ((Who ran a Suicide Squad type of black ops team, it seems.)) with a promise that she leave the city. We got the money back to La Familia, who delivered it to the Gambinos, who in turn promised to keep the lights on in La Familia territory.

And then the Gambinos sent someone to our secret base to let us know they had appreciated our help, and hoped they could count on our co-operation in future ((S.P.E.C.-T.E.R. is not pleased.)).

Over all, the session was a great success. Clint made sure we had clear objectives and could find a path to achieve them. The objectives conflicted at times, but that’s completely fine – it’s great, in fact, because it means we had to make some interesting choices. The key was that we were able to pull together to decide what to do, and then do it. It was pretty much all combat, except for a little wrap-up at the end, but that was good, too, in light of the previous session being pretty much action-free. It made a good balance to the previous session, and left us on a high note. We all had fun, and are looking forward to playing some more New Centurions.

But we’re also looking forward to getting back to Shadowlands in a couple of weeks.

New Centurions, Issue #4: Now What?

Last Friday was the latest session of our BASH superheroes game, run by Clint. I have to say that I think everyone – players and GM alike – found it a little frustrating.

For a change, though, it wasn’t the system. In fact, I think that the system ran pretty smoothly, and generally got out of the way of the adventure, when it wasn’t making the adventure possible. It also wasn’t the adventure itself that caused the problems, nor anything that Clint did.

No, what I think we’ve run into now is the fact that, after four sessions, we’re finally able to start sorting out what our characters are and can do – something that generally happens in the first couple of sessions of a game. What with the system change and the tweaks and the growing cast of players, we’ve been resetting our experience with the game pretty much every session. Now that we’re somewhere fairly stable, we’ve gotta start figuring out who we are and how to make our characters work.

What was so frustrating about this game? Well, we couldn’t seem to advance the plot, is what it comes down to. As players, we couldn’t find a clear path forward, because we kept flailing around in different directions. We uncovered some clues to things, but many of them pointed us to the problem of the sinkholes that started the game. While useful, and the two things may be linked in some manner, we couldn’t find any connection between those events and our main mission – to retrieve the suitcase of cash before the time limit expired ((Speaking as someone who GMs a lot, I know how frustrating it is as a GM to see the players floundering. Judging the clues is a tough call, because the GM sees them in context, but the players don’t. What may seem like a complete giveaway to the GM can still be completely opaque to the players. Kudos to Clint for keeping things moving at all.)).

So, the session was spent interrogating criminals, exploring old theatres, trekking through sewers following trails of black blood, negotiating with mob bosses, and hitting up contacts. All these things were interesting and valid aspects of the adventure, but they felt like what they were – five characters pulling in different directions, flailing around to find a loose thread to pull on in order to unravel the mystery. In fact, near the end of the session, we realized that we had no hope of solving things within the time limit, so we wound up going to a mob boss and negotiating an extension, and that, to me, felt like a failure.

Again, I want to stress that this is not anything anyone has done in the game; it’s not anyone’s fault, and it was still a nice evening out with friends. But I really think we need to get a handle on what our characters are, and what the game is, to make sure we get the enjoyment out of playing that we expect. And that’s something we’re all going to have to work at.

I also want to point out that there was a lot of neat roleplaying in the session, and some great character development. Despite our frustrations, I think we all had fun. The only thing really missing was a sense of accomplishment. I think if we can get a grip on the characters, and get focused on what we want to accomplish in the story, the game will take off in a big way. It’s the fact that we’re four sessions in, and every session feels like we – the players and GM – are fighting an uphill battle to find the fun, that leads to the frustration.

And, at the end of the session, we still didn’t have a solid line on where the stolen briefcase was. Just a lead to someone who might be able to get us to someone who might be willing to tell us where the person who snatched it is. But first, we have to talk to the gang who has us looking for the briefcase to let them know we got them an extension on their payoff, at the low, low price of an extra 50k. I’m sure they’ll understand.

This session didn’t go all that well. Next session will be better, because we’ll figure things out.

New Centurions, Issue #3: Gang War

After the last session of our ICONS New Centurions game, I wrote a post where I enumerated several problems we had with the system, but went on to say that I still liked the system.

Upon reflection, I’ve changed my mind.

And talking to the other players, and to the GM, I’m not alone. The system just was not working for us, for all of the reasons listed in the previous post.

But we still wanted the game to continue, so Clint, who is running the game, went looking for a different simple superhero rules set. He looked at a few of them, but decided to go with BASH ((As Clint has asked at least once, what’s with all the capitals?)).

So, I spent Saturday afternoon converting S.P.E.C.-T.E.R. ((See what I mean about the capitals?)) into a BASH character and learning the system. I gotta say, I like it a fair bit after one session. It moves quickly, seems a little more flexible in play, and uses a neat mechanic ((To be fair, I’m not sure everyone will think the mechanic is a smooth and easy as I do. I spent many years working a till in a bookstore, so multiplying numbers in my head is very much second nature. For those without that advantage, the the game includes a simple chart to do the math for you.)) to handle all the action. It has open-ended rolls, and a mechanic to improve your rolls that I think works a fair bit better than the Determination points in ICONS, allowing more flexibility and improvisation.

Clint added one house rule: he converted the attribute scale to make it more fine-grained, running from 0 to 10 instead of 0 to 5, basically inserting a separate level between each of the previous ranks. Now, I didn’t have any problem with the original scale, and I thought the system he found and incorporated in the game lacked a certain aesthetic quality to the design that was present in the original, but seeing as I had taken all even-number attributes in the new system, it didn’t affect me really at all, so my opinion is not all that relevant.

We did find that, in play, even though it looked like it should run just as easy and intuitively as the base system, the new scale did not. It caused confusion when integrating with the powers, and necessitated an extra layer of math in calculating outcomes. Somehow, the little change wound up generating headaches in play, and not offering enough extra functionality, causing Clint to decide to go with a different optional scale ((The new scale is basically the same as the one we played with, but doesn’t double the attribute numbers, instead inserting a + or a .5 to indicate a level between the two original levels. Doesn’t seem like much, but I think it’s going to address the main difficulties we were having.)).


This session, we were adding two new players to the game, bring the ranks of the New Centurions up to five in total ((Welcome, Tom and Vickie!)). We muddled around a bit at the beginning until we got the point that we were at a dead end with the investigations into the Century Club, Dr. Methuselah, and the sinkholes, and finally got into the story that Clint was using to introduce the new characters. This involved a speeding SUV, armed gang members, and a suitcase of money, the Five Dragons of a Chinese gang, a crimson ninja, hints about the Mafia, and our little group of heroes promising to retrieve the aforementioned suitcase of money from the Chinese gang and return it to the Latino gang so they could give it to the Mafia and head off a burgeoning gang war ((Clint likes making characters choose between the lesser of two evils. Sometimes, you need to measure them very, very carefully.)).

We found that the system ran very smoothly and intuitively, although we intentionally avoided some of the more complex combat options for our first outing. I ran into a couple of weird things with my character that were the result of not really understanding how the system works in play – specifically, I had overlooked a power that would actually make my Clairvoyance power (which is the BASH equivalent of Precognition) have a chance of working, and I had spent power slots on Armour, even though my Defense roll is high enough that it makes the Armour pretty much redundant. Clint has graciously allowed me to rejigger the numbers a bit for the next game.

I’m glad we made the switch to BASH. It’s just a better fit for the group and the style of game we’re playing. And I’m especially glad that we were able to convert the characters pretty seamlessly – but with what I feel are overall improvements -  to the new system.

I’m looking forward to the next game.