Civil War: Taking AIM

***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***

This session almost didn’t happen on Friday night. That is to say that, instead of Civil War, I had scheduled a one-shot AD&D 1st Edition adventure for a group that consisted mostly of the Civil War game, with one additional player. That additional player wasn’t able to make it, so we decided to play Civil War instead ((Why am I bothering to tell you guys this? Well, mainly so that I can assure Chris and the rest of the guys that the AD&D one-shot will still happen.)). What this mainly meant was that, not having planned on another Civil War session before my upcoming vacation ((I’m going to Ireland on Friday for three weeks.)), I had a bit of a scrabble to get my prep work done for the game.

We had ended the last game with the Guardians in the secret AIM base below Ground Zero in Manhattan. Our heroes had just dealt with a couple of squads of troopers and a few scientists, and the emergency lights and klaxons had started, with a PA announcing that the destruct sequence had begun. That’s where we picked things up.

The Guardians decided they had three main objectives at this point: clear the people from the complex ((And preferably confine them for later prosecution.)); shut down the dangerous, overloading, high-energy experiments; and stop the destruct sequence to keep it from reducing lower Manhattan to rubble. Two of these issues were represented by the situational distinctions Overloading Experiments and Panicky Scientists Everywhere!, while the destruct sequence was represented by a countdown die ((Among the many things that make me sad about the end of the MHR license is the fact that the Annihilation event book, with all it’s cool new tricks, won’t be printed. Still, the Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide is coming, so that’s good.)). To take care of these, the gang split up.

Jumpstart, with the help of a lightning sprite summoned by The Doctor, went looking for the main computers to shut down the destruct sequence. They found the sealed main computer room, but it was guarded by Bushwacker.

Now, to make the whole AIM complex scene more interesting, I went looking through the published MHR books looking for tech-based villains that weren’t already serving some purpose ((Or serving some time.)) in the event. I grabbed a few of these, and beefed them up a bit. I did this by giving them some AIM-provided assets and, to avoid the problem I ran into previously, I wrote these down on post-its and stuck them to the cards representing the villains in the turn order. So, Bushwacker had the assets Sniper’s Perch d10 and AIM-Tech Camouflage Field d10, and Living Laser had AIM-Tech Photonic Capacitor Harness d12 ((“How does he wear…” “It’s unstable molecules. Go with it.” “Is it just pots of glow-in-the-dark paint?” “I SAID GO WITH IT!”)) when he pounced on Megajoule.

So, The Doctor and Jumpstart managed to get into the computer room and shut down the destruct sequence, though they took some roughing up from Bushwacker ((Who managed to escape custody at the end of the session, thanks to his AIM-Tech Camouflage Field d10.)) in the process.

Meanwhile, Volcanic and Mega Joule concentrated on shutting down the overloading experiments – Volcanic using his scientific and technological expertise, and Mega Joule using his Universal Off Switch (aka Kinetic Blast). Volcanic did a good job on that, but Mega Joule was distracted by Living Laser trying to mess with him. That didn’t last too long, though; Mega Joule took him out with a single counterattack followed by his own attack. Then he moved on to helping delay the destruct countdown, because Volcanic had managed to cut the power to the labs and shut down the Overloading Experiments distinction.

Volcanic moved on to clearing out the scientists, herding them into a big rock cage adjacent to one of the subway tunnels a few levels up above the base for later disposal. One of the scientists he was shoveling away like this screamed, “No! It will get out!” as he was swept up, which made Volcanic pause beside a large, sealed metal door.

And that’s when the tentacled horror ((From Civil War: Fifty Stat Initiative event supplement, pFS73. I bumped up the die types on all its ratings by one step, because I’ve found that the PC heroes are pretty damned tough.)) came bursting out and tried to eat him. Volcanic made himself a big lava sword and hacked at it until it swallowed him, then he cooked it from the inside.

At that point, the AIM base was empty and stable, and we called it a night ((We had started somewhat late, and I had to work the next morning, so it wasn’t as long a session as I might have otherwise run.)). As people were packing up, we did a little talking about the aftermath of the raid: how it would definitely boost their credibility when it came to attracting more anti-registration folks to their cause, how it would – once again – show up S.H.I.E.L.D., and how they had some limited access to the AIM computers for a little while before S.H.I.E.L.D. swooped in.

To simulate this last point, rather than roll out hacking attempts or spend plot points for assets based on it, I told the group that they could ask me three questions about AIM and I would answer them, and that would represent the datalooting of the AIM base mainframe. They’re going to discuss it via e-mail and put together their three questions for me before the next session. If they get them in early enough, I may even do up some handouts or other in-game props to represent what they find.

And then, to lay some pipe for the next few sessions, I told them they saw a news announcement of Captain America telling all unregistered heroes that, unless they stepped forward in the next twenty-four hours and registered, S.H.I.E.L.D. would ((In a spectacular dick move.)) begin releasing their secret identity information to the public. That got everyone all riled up again, just in time to close down for the evening.

I’m looking forward to seeing where things go from here.

On a Related Note

Margaret Weis Productions has recently announced that their license for producing MHR has been terminated. That means no new MHR products will be released.

I want to say thank-you to the crew at MWP who worked on the game. I think the system is a triumph of design, that the way you built the event books was inspirational, and that the products you put out to the public are beautiful and useful. You should all be very proud of what you’ve done.

I’ve enjoyed playing and running the game immensely. It has got me reading Marvel comics again – I’m still a DC guy at heart, but now there are some Marvel titles ((Outside the Ultimate continuity; I always liked the Ultimate continuity.)) that I follow faithfully. The game books got me interested in picking up The Siege and Annihilation back issues, as well. So, for at least one gamer, the cross-marketing plans for Marvel have been fulfilled.

I want to say a special thank-you to Cam Banks, who has been a great ambassador and advocate for the game. He’s been friendly and approachable, both in person and via e-mail. He’s over at Atlas Games now ((Where, in the before times, some of my own writings were published.)), but still keeps his hand in on Cortex Plus – I hear he’s just finished the system design work on the new Firefly RPG, for example.

So, thanks for everything, folks. The game’s not dead – I’m still running it. And I plan to running it ((And even hopefully playing it.)) for years to come.

Civil War: Fighting Back

***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***

The last session of our Civil War game went a lot smoother than the previous one. I stuck to the basics of the system, relying on the constraints to keep me honest and to provide support for what I was doing, and it all worked pretty well. It also allowed the characters to do some pretty awesome stuff – I think every hero had a moment or two to shine ((That’s vitally important in any game, but even more so in a superhero game. The fact that street-level heroes get the same kinds of opportunity to shine that cosmic-level heroes do is one of the things that I really like about MHR.)).

We picked up with the splash page of The Doctor standing in Walter Declun’s apartment, with Declun cowering in the corner ((I had originally planned to have Declun be an active part of this scene, but the players reminded me that he had been stressed out with Emotional Stress at the end of last session.)), and three four-person squads of Cape-Killers smashing in through the windows that made up two walls of the open-plan apartment. The rest of the Guardians were in the GX-1, hovering a hundred yards or so away with the cloaking field active. Aside from the turn cards for the Cape-Killers, I put out an extra card that I told them represented whoever was in charge of the team.

The Doctor used his sorcery to try and pacify the Cape-Killers, removing their desire to act in a hostile manner. He managed to take hit two of the three squads with a Pacified d12+ complication, thanks to some hefty spends of plot points, but that left one to still attack him, and they did, but he managed to counterattack and pacify them, as well.

And that’s when Sentry arrived ((I can’t take credit for this idea. Cam Banks suggested that I throw the Sentry at the heroes if they’d been having things their own way too much – and they had. None of the fights up to this point had taxed them all that badly.)). The plan changed immediately into bugging out as quickly as possible. Volcanic smashed the GX-1 through the now-glassless windows and grabbed The Doctor, and Jumpstart used his electrical control to take control of the GX-1 and blast away from the building, with Mega Joule providing some extra thrust. They managed to lose the Sentry ((I know! I was surprised, myself! But at least I made them run.)), and retired to their hidden base.

There was a fair bit of discussion at that point about the fact that they had discovered a lockbox marked with A.I.M. logos in Declun’s apartment. They hadn’t taken it, and hadn’t had time to check out what was in it, but assumed that it would be incriminating evidence. What they couldn’t decide was how it would be perceived by S.H.I.E.L.D. – would they use it to convict or pressure Declun, or go after A.I.M., or would they cover it up, or even assume it was planted by the Guardians.

Unable to do much more than second-guess themselves at that point, they put the question aside and started working on other things. They set up an internet radio station, broadcasting essentially The Voice of the Resistance ((Though they haven’t decided on the name of it, yet.)) to help organize the anti-registration folks, and to disseminate their Heroic Code of Conduct.

I think that doing stuff like that is awesome; furthermore, I think that it’s going to be very helpful when they try to get folks to sign on with the Guardians ((Even beyond the die that they get for having the asset. They still get to use it as an asset, but it will have non-mechanical effects on those that hear it, for good or ill. Hell, it’ll probably get some folks coming to them.)). More and more, the Guardians are becoming the public face of unregistered heroes, and that gives them the power to start swaying not just the other heroes’ opinions, but also the way the average mundane person feels about the SHRA.


After that, they decided to look into the A.I.M. connection from the other end, tracking down a local A.I.M. lab and inviting themselves in to ask some pointed questions. They found one deep below the Ground Zero site ((I wasn’t ready for them to go looking for A.I.M. this session, so I quickly scanned the scene in the rulebook, which suggested that A.I.M. likes to build their secret labs under landmarks and important buildings so attackers have to be careful. I took the first idea that came to mind for the location.)), and Volcanic made them a tunnel right down into one of the labs.

The lab had a few scientists and some troopers watching them, as well as blaster turrets for security. Volcanic hacked the security system to get the blasters targeting the A.I.M. personnel, while The Doctor, Mega Joule, and Jumpstart took out the opposition. It was an interesting fight, with Volcanic mainly involved in a hacker duel with the scientists for control of the turrets, and the others dealing with the scientists, troopers, and reinforcements. The fight actually went on longer than I expected, and I had the doom pool up at 3d12 by the end of things.

So, keeping that in mind, when the last defender in the room went down, I had an announcement on the PA warn that the self-destruct protocols had been initiated, and that all personnel should follow their evacuation plans. Then I ended the session for the evening.

Next session, we’ll be able to start with the Guardians inside an evacuating A.I.M. lab, surrounded by fleeing personnel ((And a couple of powered-up types, because I’ll have time before the next game to figure out who to put in there.)) and with a countdown timer die in play. That’ll get things moving.

Civil War: Birth of the Resistance

***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***

One more thing…

This post is kind of long ((And it’s taken me some time to write. Long enough that Chris started whining about it on Facebook. Suck it up, Binky!)), because I talk in some detail about how I messed things up in the game, and what I learned from those mistakes. If all you’re interested in is the play report, jump on down to the Play Report heading.

Well, the last session of our Civil War campaign did not go as well as previous ones. The main problem ((From my point of view, anyway.)) was a heightened sense of adversarial relationship between me as Watcher and the players. There were a couple of moments when things were bordering on the antagonistic relationship that was such a stressful part of the Amber DRPG I ran years ago ((Maybe I’m overreacting. But I didn’t like the vibe of the game, and traced back some choices that I made that led it to where I didn’t want it to go. The fact that the game rules – specifically the Watcher constraints – would have led me to make different choices had I paid proper attention to them is interesting and worthy of examination. So, I’m gonna wonk on about it for a bit.)).

I couldn’t figure out at the time what was going wrong, why the interactions were drifting that way, and where the tension was coming from. At the end of the evening, I was tense and dissatisfied with the feel of the session and the way things had gone, so I spent a few days thinking about things to see if I cold spot the problem. And I think I finally did. Here’s what I think went wrong.

One of the first things that happened in the game was that Mega Joule decided he was going to use his contacts in the underworld and the covert agencies to help him track down one of Nick Fury’s rumoured hidden bases to replace the hide-out that S.H.I.E.L.D. had found in the previous session. The Doctor wanted to help him, providing him with essentially a mystical tracker that would help him tell which rumours were more likely true by attuning him to the essence of Nick Fury. I thought that was a cool idea, so I let The Doctor roll to create the asset ((The group generally likes rolling for assets, using the effect die for the asset die, rather than just take the free die for their specialty rating. While this generally gives them higher asset die values, it also has more potential to boost the doom pool, so I don’t mind. I always give them a choice, though, which approach they want to use.)), rolling against the doom pool.

But – and here’s where the first part of the mistake happened – I added a d12 to my dice pool, explaining that Nick Fury ((Currently on the run and doing his best to hide from, well, pretty much everyone in the world.)) would have extensive detection countermeasures. And then the roll went badly for The Doctor. He failed, and the doom pool grew. And then, to add insult to injury, I didn’t add the d12 to the doom pool for Mega Joule’s search for the hidden base, and I didn’t explain why. The reason, in my mind, was that Mega Joule wasn’t looking for Nick Fury himself, so that protection wouldn’t come into play.

Why was this a problem? Well, there are a few reasons.

  1. I had arbitrarily made a roll more difficult for the players, making it look like I was cheating.
  2. I applied the modifier unevenly, making it look like I was singling out one player for failure.
  3. I fell into the trap of trying to model the world rather than the stories, which worked at cross-purposes with what I was trying to accomplish.
  4. I had opened the game by saying that Cam Banks had given me some advice about how to toughen things up for the players, and this made it look like some of the advice was to cheat.

These things made it look like I was picking a fight – that I was setting up that very adversarial relationship that I dislike so much. And so of course the players responded to it, consciously or unconsciously. Which put me on the defensive, and causing me to be more confrontational, and so on, setting up the classic downward spiraling feedback loop.

To be clear, it didn’t lead to acrimonious shouting or life-long grudges or tears, but it created a less-than-ideal atmosphere for the game, and degraded the trust necessary between Watcher and players. It just made everything less comfortable and less fun for me ((And I’m sure for the players, as well.)).

In looking back at things, I realize that I could have avoided the whole issue by sticking with the spirit and intent of the Watcher constraints that I wrote about back here. Now, there’s nothing in that post that specifically spells out how to avoid this problem, but looking at the idea of open rolls and the doom pool, it becomes very obvious what I should have done:

  • If the heroes were rolling against another character – like Nick Fury – I should have used his stats. This would offset the appearance that I was being arbitrary about setting the difficulty and building the dice pool.
  • If the heroes were rolling against the doom pool, just use the doom pool. That’s what it’s there for. It’s open and understood that the doom pool is the way to adjudicate environmental difficulties.
  • If, for any reason, I want to add more dice to my dice pool, use an asset. Write it down on a sticky note and put it out where everyone can see. That way, it exists in the game world, I remember to use it whenever it comes up, and it becomes more obvious when it should come up.

Those three principles help make what you do as a Watcher look very fair and above-board. It prevents you from making mistakes – like I did – that can lead to a breakdown of trust, and thence ((Yeah, I said “thence.” Deal with it.)) to the adversarial relationship I was talking about above. So, I should have just pulled Nick Fury’s stats from page CW124 of the Civil War book and, if necessary, thrown down a Mystic Countermeasures d12 asset on a sticky note.

What am I really trying to say with this long, rambling discourse? Trust in the constraints of the system. They help foster the trust that makes RPGs fun. Breaking from the constraints can look like cheating, setting up a hostile game environment.

There was one other blinding failure in the way I was looking at things: I was trying to model the game world instead of the fiction being generated by play. What do I mean by that? Well, what I mean is that I should have focused more on what the story was doing than on what “made sense” ((Which is such a loaded idea in a game that I have no business even using it, really.)) in the game world. Would Nick Fury have done everything he could to hide from people, even setting up some sort of mystic countermeasures? Sure. Of course he would.


Let’s look at that moment of play. First roll of the game. It’s a support action, intended to let one hero do something cool in order to help another hero do something cool. What makes a better scene in a comic book?

  1. Mega Joule is heading into Manhattan in the GX-1. The Doctor comes up to him and says, “I tried to work a tracer spell on Nick Fury, but he must have some big mojo protecting him. Sorry I couldn’t help.” Mega Joule replies, “Well, thanks for trying,” and gets into the jet.
  2. Mega Joule is heading into Manhattan in the GX-1. The Doctor comes up and hands him a small stone with a glowing rune on it and says, “This might help. I’ve enchanted this stone to resonate with the essence of Nick Fury. It’ll get a little warmer when someone tells you something true about him.” Mega Joule replies, “That’s awesome! Thanks for the help,” and gets into the jet.

If you don’t think the second scene is more interesting, I don’t think we like the same comic books. ((This is an issue that’s related to the indie game idea of making sure that failure is interesting. If failure isn’t interesting, then it shouldn’t exist as a possibility. This doesn’t mean giving them everything; it just means that failure should be as interesting and exciting as success.))

So, what does this mean I should have done? Either pulling in Nick Fury’s stats, as stated above, or just using the doom pool without that extra d12. It’s not a game-changing roll – the pay-off isn’t going to break anything, for example – so there was no narrative reason to make it more difficult, just because it “makes sense.” Cam Banks and Fred Hicks have both talked before about modelling the fiction, not the physics, and that’s what I should have done here.

Anyway. Here’s the game report.

Play Report

I’m trying in this game ((As in a lot of my games.)) to split the difference  between player-directed play and GM-directed play. That is, I want the players to set a lot of the agenda for play, choosing which things they care about, and how they want to respond to things, but I also want to make it clear that there are consequences to the actions of the characters, and that the NPCs have their own agendas, and that events don’t just sit around waiting for the PCs to get involved. I don’t do this to be punitive, but to make sure that the choices the characters make matter to the way the story of the game unfolds.

To that end, I tried to get an idea from the players before the game via e-mail of what they intended to do this session, so that I could think about ways to make those things interesting and fun to play through. They came up with a couple of solid, short-term goals they wanted to accomplish, as well as a couple of long-term, higher-level goals to work towards over the coming sessions. Here’s the basics of what they decided on:

  • Set up an emergency fallback base on Volcano Island, home of the volcano god that Volcanic has embodied.
  • Find a good base back in NYC to use as their operational headquarters. I suggested one of Nick Fury’s caches, and they thought that was a good idea.
  • Check out Walter Declun, to see what he has to say about Nitro’s accusations.
  • Hack the S.H.I.E.L.D. systems to get a list of heroes, their locations, and whether or not they had registered. ((And boy, didn’t compiling that list eat up some prep time!))
  • Try and figure out why A.I.M. and Hydra are laying low during this, because it looks like a perfect opportunity for them to be running amok.
  • Start gathering anti-registration heroes together. This includes tracking down some specific heroes: Black Widow and Iron Man at the top of the list.
  • Establish a code of heroic conduct for the anti-registration heroes. This is a core piece of their plan to show the public that they don’t need to fear heroes.

I was very pleased to see the heroes taking the initiative is setting up the anti-registration underground. I’d always planned to have the heroes be the driving force behind whatever side ((Or sides.)) they chose, supplanting the canon heroes in those roles. After all, this is our Civil War, and the PC heroes should be the ones calling the shots and being in the middle of things.

Things at the session started out with some more discussion of their aims and goals, and then Mega Joule took off for Manhattan to do his hunting for a Nick Fury safe-house. Volcanic and Jumpstart set up a geothermal power system on Volcano Island to run the computers and communications they had salvaged from their old hideout, and then hacked into S.H.I.E.L.D. through a S.H.I.E.L.D. System Back Door d12 that Jumpstart had set up previously. I warned them that using this asset like this was probably going to use it up ((Why would I take it away from them? Because no asset lasts forever. Why hadn’t I done it previously? Because I wanted them to get some use out of it equivalent to the effort they put in creating it. They’ve done that, now, so I have no problem taking it away.)), despite them having paid plot points to make it persistent, but they rolled so well that I really couldn’t justify taking it away from them.

They got the list of heroes they were after, and succeeded so well that they had another effect die they could spend on something, so they asked for a NOC list – a list of S.H.I.E.L.D. plants in the anti-registration movement. I hadn’t bothered even thinking about that in advance, so I had to take several minutes to go through the list and decide on a few plants.

Meanwhile, in Manhattan, Mega Joule managed to track down some promising rumours about a secret Nick Fury hideout. He called back to the island, and the gang pooled their resources and knowledge to successfully track down a hiding spot. They rolled well, everyone co-operating, and I let them pick the site. They chose underneath Battery Park. I also let them pick three distinctions for the base, because of the way I had so callously snatched away their old headquarters.

Now that they had a new home, they started moving in. And they started planning how to take the next steps in their long- and short-term agendas. They decided that the first thing they wanted to do was start gathering heroes, building alliances, and disseminating their code of conduct. And they decided that the perfect first recruit to their side would be Spider-Man.

Well, that didn’t go all that well. Spidey met them, and spoke with them, but wouldn’t commit to taking their side, despite the fact that he hadn’t registered. They argument they hit him with ((“Registration is an absolute wrong, and making people register is an absolute wrong, and we have to take a stand against the wrongness.” There was more to it, but it kind of got lost in the pulpit-pounding, and Spidey didn’t pick up on it.)) didn’t sit well with him, and he questioned the absolutist stance they were taking. Now, there are other heroes that the argument would have been perfect for, but not Spider-Man, and the fact that none of the Guardians had a tight connection with him meant that he wasn’t quick to trust them.

It ended with Volcanic visibly angry ((Of course, when Volcanic is angry, it’s always visible. Sometimes from orbit.)) at Spider-Man’s lack of commitment, and The Doctor doing his best to try and keep the channels of communication open. Spidey said he was available to help if the Guardians got into trouble, but he wasn’t going to sign on with the cause, and The Doctor gave Spidey a talisman to break if Spider-Man needed the Guardians’ help. With that less-than-ideal outcome, the gang decided to turn their attention to Walter Declun.

Our heroes tracked Declun to his Manhattan home – a high-rise apartment with lots of glass and fancy furniture and all the other lovely bits that a wealthy sociopath might accumulate. They spied on him for a time, hoping that he’d reveal something damning, and started to wonder what they were going to do about it if he did. This led to a lengthy discussion and debate on the morals and ethics of costumed heroes, especially absent even tacit approval by the authorities – the kind of questions that I think make Civil War such an interesting event.

In the end, they decided to table that problem until they were sure that the information they’d received from Nitro was good. So, The Doctor magicked himself a truth detection spell, and went to beard the CEO in his den ((Or at least his foyer.)). He asked Declun point-blank if the CEO had given MGH to Nitro and other villains, and Declun lied through his teeth, claiming innocence.

And that’s the point at which the Cape-Killers, who had been staking out Declun since S.H.I.E.L.D. had got the same confession from Nitro that the characters did, came smashing through the glass walls, pointing guns and screaming for everyone to get down.


So, yeah, we’re starting up the next session with the fracas in Declun’s apartment. I’m mapping out a few more scenes to have in my pocket for the next game, as well, though again it’s going to be mainly up to the players what happens. I just like having some contingencies covered, and a couple of surprises I can drop on them if things start to slow down.

Our next game is this coming Friday, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with it. Act Two of Civil War is where the real roleplaying meat of the event lives, and I get a real charge out of watching the players deal with the many questions and quandaries posed. I’ve got a great group of players in the game, and they seem to like sinking their teeth into the bigger questions of the game, and that’s awesome.

So. More awesome on Friday.


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.

Civil War: Last Hurrah

***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 was the latest installment of my Civil War game. I had planned to finish off the first Act of the game, as we were going to have all the players in attendance, and I really wanted everyone there for the transition to Act Two. Unfortunately, we were hit with a snow storm, and one of the players lives some distance outside the city, so he couldn’t make it ((For those who don’t know, Manitoba snow storms are somewhat ruthless. We Manitobans tend to affect a hardy, blasé attitude towards them, but that’s just our phlegmatic prairie stoicism. When the weather can and will kill you about eight months out of the year, you respect the weather.)). That meant that I had to rethink what I was planning to do for the game in about an hour and a half or so.

There are some awesome things about the Civil War Event Book, and one of them is that there are lots of little – I don’t want to say throw-away and I don’t want to say filler scenes, so let’s call them optional scenes. Or secondary scenes. Yeah. Secondary scenes works. There are lots of secondary scenes that you can bring in if you want, or ignore if so choose. And you can shift them around in the order of the game pretty easily. So, I was able to grab a few of those, arrange them in a rough order, and be ready for the game.

I also sent some e-mail to my players, letting them know that I was putting off the end of the act for one more session, and asking them if there was anything they’d like their characters to pursue this session. Only Volcanic ((Well, not really Volcanic, of course. Clint, who plays Volcanic. You know what I mean.)) replied to that request, saying that he didn’t know what my plans were with Nitro, but he’d really like Volcanic’s last act before being declared an outlaw and hounded out of public life to be turning Nitro over to the authorities. So, I added the Big Sur scene from Act Two to the list of scenes.

I’ve come to realize that, in this event book at least, the Act structure is primarily a pacing device. There is a skeleton to the Act: two or three scenes that tell the overarching story. Those scenes are best when run in the order given. But the other scenes – taken largely ((But not exclusively.)) from the events of the tie-in comics – are there to provide colour and options, and they can be shifted with impunity. These scenes generally stand alone, or have their own storyline linking two or three scenes, and the don’t necessarily impact the main story ((Though I can see some them doing so. For example,

tracking down the whole MGH-boosted Nitro storyline and making it public could conceivably, if it’s unraveled fast enough, really change who’s supporting registration.

That all meant that it was pretty trivial to move the scene from Act Two to Act One. But that’s not where we started.

When the group arrived, I started things with Mega Joule, who had missed the previous session. I wanted to give him a chance to do any character things he had planned to do before the rush to the registration deadline took over. He decided that he wanted to use another plot point to create another persistent contact ((I talked about deciding to allow this kind of expenditure for a plot point a couple of sessions ago. Currently, I’m rethinking it – it might work better as an unlockable, using XP instead of plot points.)) – this time someone in the press. The event book has a nice section on the press in it, so I gave him the option of choosing one of the named characters from that section, and he picked Robbie Robertson.

At this point, I said, “Okay. How do you want to make Robbie Robertson you contact?”

He stared at me for a second, then said, “I… don’t… know…?”

“All right. Let’s take a step back, then.”

We played through a scene with Mega Joule going to the Daily Bugle ((Which I repeatedly called the Daily Planet. What can I say? I’m a DC guy at heart.)), being made to wait in the reception area full of crank superhero wannabes ((You know the kinda thing: guy in Spidey pyjamas, a Doc Ock with cardboard tube arms, a Black Widow with a bad wig and an adam’s apple, stuff like that.)), impressing Betty Brant by hoisting up her desk with one hand. He got in to see Robbie, who interviewed him in a conference room that JJ didn’t have a line of sight to from his office. The upshot of the whole thing is that Robbie is publishing the interview as a human interest piece – The View From the Other Side – in the Sunday supplement of the rabidly pro-registration Bugle, and has agreed to print other pieces as letters to the editor.

Mega Joule headed back to the Guardians’ secret base to find the other Guardians absent, and an unfamiliar woman there. She introduced herself as Candy, Volcanic’s grad student and love interest.

Actually, what happened here was awesome. I said that, as Mega Joule was looking around at the base, which was missing several large pieces of equipment ((Now part of the GuardJet, which was renamed to the GX-1 this session.)), a woman came out of Volcanic’s suite of rooms. Clint, who plays Volcanic, said, “Hi,” in a falsetto voice, so Chris, who plays Mega Joule, turned to Clint to start talking to Candy. I took the opportunity to go out to the kitchen for something to drink, and they carried on the conversation for a couple of minutes until Clint yelled at me to come take over because, as he put it, “Candy is your NPC!”

Why is that awesome? For a couple of reasons. First, it was great that Clint jumped right in like that, having fun and going with the moment, and that Chris just followed along. Second, the fact the fact that he backed off indicates that he’s interested in seeing what I do with Candy as an NPC and an important part of his story, and doesn’t want to do anything that might paint me into a corner with it ((Third, the petty part of me got a kick out of Clint getting flustered when trying to play Candy. He’s an awesome player and GM, and this just caught him off-guard and unsure, but I take my gloating where I can. Right, Clint?)). I would have been fine the conversation going on longer, as long as both the players were comfortable with it, because that would have given me some foundation for figuring out what to do with Candy in the story, but even this little bit was a lot of fun for me.

Anyway, after Volcanic and Jumpstart got back to the base and everyone was filled in on what was happening with everyone else, the gang got to work with what they had decided was their main objective for this session: tracking and, if possible, apprehending Nitro.

Volcanic already had the chemical signature of Nitro ((Obtained as a d10 resource during the Stamford clean-up.)), so Jumpstart hacked into the SHIELD computers ((Using his SHIELD Back Door d10 resource, created the previous session.)), and Mega Joule used his shady contacts to get access to a number of criminal websites. Volcanic took all the information, and cobbled together a device and program to sift the data for information and chemical signatures to try and track Nitro’s whereabouts.

Mechanically, this is what I did: I gave Nitro’s location a stress track -  essentially, Solution Stress. The Guardians had to attack the mystery with their various abilities and resources until it was taken out, and then they’d have Nitro’s location. This is kind of contrary to the way that such things are handled using plot points to establish resources in Transition Scenes, but I find that my players like the idea of being able to use their dice pools outside of Action Scenes to do things like solve mysteries and such ((I have an ulterior motive, here, as well. The more they roll dice, the more chance I have of building the doom pool. For the second session in a row, I found the doom pool really languishing because none of the players were rolling 1s.)). In this particular case, Mega Joule and Jumpstart were assisting Volcanic, so he wound up with some nice extra dice to roll, and they located Nitro at Big Sur.

The all jumped into the GX-1 ((Formerly the GuardJet – there was a bit of an extended discussion during the game about how the name GuardJet was almost as bad as Fantasticar, and how they needed to come up with a cooler name. I don’t know that GX-1 is cool, but it is less stupid.)) and flew across the country to California. As they closed in on the location, they scanned the surroundings and identified one human life sign in a remote cabin, and several non-human life signs closing in on the cabin. The gang decided on the direct approach, and launched Mega Joule from the supersonic plane right through the cabin, taking out Nitro ((Also one end of the cabin.)) with one shot.

At this point, the figures hiding in the woods around the cabin came forward and revealed themselves as Atlantean soldiers, come to bring Nitro back to face Namor’s justice for killing Namorita of the New Warriors, Namor’s cousin. I guess you could call some of what followed “negotiations,” because there was no punching, but right from the get-go, it was pretty obvious that neither side was interested in giving any ground on this. The Guardians wanted to deliver Nitro to the human authorities, and the Atlanteans wanted to give him to the Atlantean ones.

Jumpstart broke the impasse by trying to zip down, grab the unconscious Nitro, and zip back to the GX-1 with his super speed, but the largest of the Atlanteans ((Janus, for those following along at home.)) manage to clothesline him, stopping the kidnap/rescue cold, and then everything went to hell.

The upshot was that the Guardians chased off the Atlantean footsoldiers ((Finsoldiers?)) and the commander, and rendered the big warrior unconscious. They dumped him in the nearby lake and made off with Nitro, improvising some restraints that would keep him from exploding on them. They interrogated him on the flight back to NYC, and managed to get him to say that everything was Declun’s ((Not sure that any of them know who Declun is at this point, but that’s fine.)) fault.

Which was, I felt, the perfect time to use my carefully-husbanded 2d12 in the doom pool to end the scene – and the session – by having the helicarrier appear in the sky above them ((There is a reason for this. The gang just doesn’t know it, yet. Though now that I’ve said that, I expect they’ll have it sussed out by next session.)) and order them to come aboard and turn over the prisoner. Also, themselves.

So, we closed the session on a bit of a cliffhanger.

In the time before our next game, I’ve been going through my notebook ((It’s a Moleskine notebook that I keep beside me as I run games to make notes and such. All the notes on the games I’m running are in there, which makes it rather disorganized.)) and pulling together all the notes on this game to try and put them in a usable form. In particular, I want to come up with a range of unlockables specific to this group and this game. That’s one of the reasons I’m thinking of making the contact thing an unlockable instead of using plot points.

But I’ve got a little bit of time to get that sorted before the next game. I’m sure I’ll think of something.


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 do ((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.)) 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 Widow ((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.)). 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 two ((Pretty arbitrary.)) 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 this ((But Jumpstart was able to finish creating the asset.)) 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 cheating ((Whatever that means in roleplaying games. Nothing, really, in my opinion.)) 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 wonderful ((Okay, this was probably a factor in making my decision.)). 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 inside ((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.)).

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 Guardjet ((Clint: “How long will it take me to build a personal flying device?” Me: “It will take you one montage.” Clint: “Done!”)), then went to finalize his sabbatical from NYU ((Bringing Candy along to his newly-expanded and remodelled underground pad.)) and say good-bye to the Fantastic Four ((And get invited to the gathering leading up to the midnight registration deadline.)), 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 conflict ((The “Them’s Fightin’ Words” effect.)). 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 he ((Volcanic, not Nitro. Just to be clear.)) 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 early ((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.)).

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.

Uncanny X-Mas!

Yesterday was the 11th Annual Winnipeg Harvest Game Day at Imagine Games & Hobbies. This is a day each year that Wendy and Pedro host a bunch of boardgames, miniature games, and RPGs. People come down and donate non-perishable food items to Winnipeg Harvest and, in return, get to compete in the various games for prizes.

The past couple of years, I’ve been running a Gamma World event there. But last year, there was a TPK, so I figured it was time to retire the Gamma World run ((Also, the popularity of Gamma World has waned over the past couple of years. The game, while fun, didn’t really have the legs to support a long-term play experience.)), and start something new. I’ve been enjoying running Marvel Heroic Roleplaying ((Hard to tell from my posts about it, huh?)), so I thought that would be an interesting game to toss in this year. The games are supposed to be Christmas-themed, so I took advantage of the release of the Civil War: X-Men supplement to create Uncanny X-Mas.

As is usual for these things, by the time I arrived to set up for the game, we had a grand total of one name on the sign-up sheet for Uncanny X-Mas. That number had grown to one ((Yes, that’s a joke. It’s also true.)) by the time the 1:00 start time rolled around. I still wasn’t too worried, because I’ve found that I can always fill the table if I wait a little bit. Ray, the fellow who had signed up, had shown up on time, but he was cool about waiting a little while to get more players, because that would make for a better game. I appreciate your patience, Ray!

Shortly after 1:00, a session of The Walking Dead boardgame ended, and two of those players came over to play, and then other people started gravitating towards the table. By 1:30, all the slots were full, and we were ready to start the game ((See? Told you so.)). Our heroes for the day were:

  • Cyclops
  • Nightcrawler
  • Emma Frost
  • Psylocke
  • Micromax
  • Colossus

I gave them the opening pitch for the game:

Uncanny X-Mas!

The madness of the Scarlet Witch has all but eliminated mutants worldwide. In the aftermath of M Day, the 198 remaining mutants gather at the Xavier Institute. The manned Sentinels of the O*N*E keep watch over the refugee camp that now surrounds the school, protecting humans and mutants from each other. Things are bleak – mutants are now an endangered species, Charles Xavier is missing, and tensions between heroes and normal folks are increasing as the SHRA is being discussed in Congress. Cyclops and Emma Frost are trying to keep Xavier’s dream alive, but even they begin to despair in the face of the uncertain future.

But all that is put aside for now. Christmas is tomorrow, and the remaining X-Men have decided that the mutant children in the school and in the camp deserve the best holiday their protectors can provide. And so a group of mutant heroes have gathered in the mansions great hall, drinking egg nog in front of the roaring fire, and wrapping presents.

What could possibly go wrong?

I ran the first scene as a transition scene, giving the players (only one of whom had played the game previously) a chance to get the hang of the mechanics, build some assets ((And contribute to the doom pool.)), and do some roleplaying. Now, because there was a prize at stake, I resorted to my old method of determining a “winner” for RPGs. At the end of each scene, I had the players vote for the character that they though had done the coolest thing. No one could vote for themselves and, at the end of the session, the player with the most votes got the prize.

The first scene, the votes went overwhelmingly to Emma Frost. See, Colossus decided to dress as Santa Clause and go out to cheer up the mutant children in the tents. He blew his roll badly, and I used the opportunity to show how counterattacks work, saying that he had scared the children, which inflicted some emotional stress on him due to guilt. Emma Frost decided to go out and calm the children down, threw in a little mind control action, and wound up with the asset Worshipful Child Minions d10 ((Which she promptly made persistent by spending a plot point.)), a fistful of XP for hitting some milestones related to her criminal past, and everyone’s stunned admiration. Also, their votes.

The second scene started with Psylocke sensing a disturbance outside, and rushed to help. She found packs of misshapen robotic elves pouring out of a giant flying sleigh-like flying ship. They were snatching mutant children, blasting everyone who got in their way. As they hauled the children back to the sleigh, the X-Men rushed out to stop them. The fight went on in a couple of different locales as the heroes split up to deal with the various groups of elves, and wiped them out in fairly quick order, but not before I had my 2d12 in the doom pool to end the scene.

I was really anticipating the reveal that the mutant children were being stolen away by Nanny – I had her egg-shaped form waddle to the open door of the sleigh, calling the X-Men naughty children, and all the rest of the schtick.

And everyone looked at me blankly.

I thought I had been clever using a fairly obscure villain ((She was, in fact, suggested to me by Cam Banks.)), but I was apparently a little too clever, because no one recognized Nanny. So, I outlined Nanny’s backstory to give some context for the whole thing, and everyone went, “Oh. Okay. Cool,” and we were off again.

The next scene was trying to trace where Nanny was taking the children. I ran it as a sort-of combat – the characters made their attempts to figure out where she had gone, using the effect dice from their attempts to inflict “Solution Stress” against the mystery. When they topped d12, the mystery was taken out, and they had her location, which just happened to be The North Pole, a Santa’s village tourist attraction in Connecticut. They hopped in the Blackbird and flew off to get the children back.

They overflew the site, spotting Nanny sitting on Santa’s Throne in the middle of the village, surrounded by her robo-elves and kidnapped ((And brainwashed, of course.)) children, with Orphan-Maker standing beside her. Emma Frost freed the children from Nanny’s control, while Psylocke put her to sleep. Colossus air-dropped onto Orphan-Maker ((Prompting comments about Peter-on-Peter action, which I quickly stifled, because this was a game in a public space and we had a child at the table.)), plowing him through a gingerbread house. Nightcrawler got the children away from the fight, and Micromax and Cyclops teamed up on the robo-elves.

Now, one of the quirks of the Winnipeg Harvest Game Day this year is that players were given cheat tokens for their donations – one token per dollar’s worth of food donated. They could spend these tokens for benefits during play. Here’s the menu of cheat offerings I came up with for the game:

Cheat Menu

1 Plot Point
1 Cheat Point

You can gain an extra plot point at any time for one cheat point. You can do this as often as you like and can afford.

O*N*E Sentinel Intervention
5 Cheat Points

An O*N*E Sentinel piloted by James Rhodes appears and takes one action that you determine. This can happen once per scene, but each intervention costs five cheat points.

10 Cheat Points

Another hero comes along to help you for one scene. Choose another hero datafile from the pile, and you can play both characters for one scene. You can do this once each scene.

Reborn in Fire
15 Cheat Points

With the very existence of mutants in jeopardy, the Phoenix Force reaches out to you and grants you a portion of its power for one scene. You gain the Phoenix Force power set. This can only happen once in the entire game.

Why bring this up now? Because this is the moment that Nightcrawler spent his cheat points to channel the Phoenix Force. This is what I came up with for the Phoenix Force powers:

The Phoenix Force

The Phoenix Force suffuses your body, mind, and spirit, filling you with godlike power. Unfortunately, it will take time to master the full spectrum of the Phoenix’s abilities; in the heat of battle, you can only access the following powers:

Fiery Blast d12        Space Flight d12      Godlike Senses d12

The Phoenix Force power set has no SFX and no Limit.

In addition to these powers, you channel the energy into one of your mutant abilities. Pick one ability from a mutant power set and step up the power die by +1, to a maximum of d12.

So, Nightcrawler unleashed fire on Peter and the elves, Colossus spent a fistful of cheat points for plot points to soak up Orphan-Makers area attack on the whole group, and I think it was Micromax that finally put Orphan-Maker down.

Christmas was saved, the mutant children were rescued, and everyone lived happily ever after.

When the votes were tallied at the end of the game, it turned out that Emma Frost’s early lead had locked up the game for her. She was awarded the prize: a model of Nanny, made from a Kinder Egg, icing, and candy cane bits.

MHR Winner

The proud winner. Hard to see, but she’s holding a little model of Nanny, made from a Kinder Egg.

Thanks to Pedro and Wendy for hosting the event, and for providing the excellent prizes. And thanks to everyone who came down to play. And thanks especially to my players:

  • Colossus – Ray
  • Cyclops – Leo
  • Emma Frost – Kelsie
  • Micromax – Nathan
  • Nightcrawler – Aaron
  • Psylocke – Nadine

Merry Christmas, everyone!


Watching the Watcher: GM Constraints in MHRPG

Cam Banks said this on Twitter:

I’ve had people question me why the Watcher doesn’t just have “full GM powers” in #MarvelRPG. Reason: Constraints are good.

As someone who’s just recently started running a Marvel Heroic Roleplaying campaign ((Or maybe mini-campaign, depending on how you define such things. What I’m doing is running the Civil War event.)), this was kind of enlightening for me. I had been noticing that being a Watcher in MHRPG was qualitatively different than being a GM in a lot of other games, and hadn’t yet put my finger on exactly why.

And there it is: constraints.

Now, I’m a firm believer in Cam’s statement that constraints are good. Constraints can focus a play experience in a very particular direction, and dealing with constraints can help foster creativity as you try and fit what you want into the framework you’re using. The first aspect of that leads to consistency and the second to variety, the combination of which produces what we want in most narratives: something that is both inevitable and surprising ((What this means when you unpack it is primarily that we want things that catch us off-guard but remain internally consistent and do not strain our suspension of disbelief. I could – and have, when I was in university – go into great depth on this one subject, but it’s not really all that interesting. It’s just a good principle to keep in mind when working on any sort of narrative.)).

There are three main constraints on Watchers in MHRPG ((There may be more, and more subtle ones, but these are the three big ones that I’ve spotted so far. Scene definition as either Action or Transition may be another, but I’m as yet unconvinced of that, so I’m leaving it off the list. )) : open rolls, the doom pool, and the initiative system.

Open Rolls

What I mean by this is that every roll the Watcher makes happens right in front of the players. The players get to watch you build your dice pool – which works by pretty much the same method they use ((The only exception is using the doom pool instead of plot points.)) – and then they see you roll the dice, set aside the ones, and pick your dice for the total and the effect. It all happens right out in the open. Why is this a constraint? Well, because one tool in a GM’s toolbox is fudging rolls ((And yes, there are massive arguments over whether fudging rolls is a good idea or a bad idea. I will say that I find it a useful tool in some games, mainly to help control pacing.)), and with everything happening out in the open, you can’t get away with that.

Players get to see the dice rolls, and can do the math as easily as you can, so you can’t cheat to make things harder for them. On the other hand, you can’t cheat to make things easier for them, either. HackMaster has ((Or at least had; I haven’t looked at any of the new editions.)) a rule that states, “Let the dice fall where they may,” meaning that the GM should not be fudging rolls, and should let the dice decide if the characters live or die.MHRPGdoesn’t usually have life-or-death situations resolved by a single roll, but the concept of letting the dice decide is firmly enforced by the fact that they are rolled out in the open.

Now, there are still ways to manipulate the result a little bit, mainly by spending dice from the doom pool, but it becomes very obvious if you’re doing that. I’ll talk a little more about that next.

The Doom Pool

Lots of games give mechanical currency to players, allowing them to affect the results of dice rolls. Fate points, action points, luck points – in MHRPG, they’re plot points. Nothing all that new about that, though the game gives a number of interesting ways to use them, and gain them. Unlike most other RPGs, in MHRPG, the Watcher gets some mechanical currency as well, in the form of the doom pool.

This lets the Watcher manipulate the rolls much like players do, under the same sorts of constraints – the doom pool is currency that gets spent and earned in a manner very similar to ((And intertwined with.)) the way characters get plot points. One of the cool things about this is that it takes the place of fudging rolls as a tool for pacing and shaping the drama, but it happens out in the open, and isn’t cheating, because it happens completely within the mechanical framework of the rules.

One of the interesting things I’ve noticed about using the doom pool is that, when you invoke it to mess up the players in a big way, they tend to blame themselves for letting the doom pool grow as high as it did. When players see you spending doom dice to mess them up, it’s a fair cop. And when they see you deliberately not spending doom dice, they get even more worried, because you’re obviously saving up for the dreaded 2d12 you need to end the scene, which usually doesn’t happen in the players’ favour.

The Initiative System

I’ve written about the initiative system in brief in previous posts. This post by Fred Hicks does the best job of describing the intricacies and subtleties of the initiative system ((One aside, here. I have found that, so far, many of the action scenes only go between one and three rounds. This makes it especially powerful to be the last character acting at the end of the first round, as long as you have allies that you can then tap to start a chain at the start of the second round. In a lot of cases, if you manage that, there won’t be a third round, ’cause you’ve already won.)). In brief, it turns play sequence into a tactical minigame, rather than a random determination. And it puts the Watcher on exactly the same footing as the players. Again, this means that you can’t fudge things, tweaking the initiative order in secret – but you can do some pretty hefty tweaking out in the open, right in front of the players. And it’s not anything they can’t do, themselves, so it’s not really cheating.

The Results of Constraint

These three constraints work together to produce a very specific play experience – one where the Watcher gets to feel like a player in his interactions with the rules. Normally, the GM kind of sits above the rules, and decides when and where to apply them for best effect. You can do that in MHRPG, too, but if you accept the constraints as written, you instead get down into the trenches on even footing with the players.

Why is that good? Not for the obvious reason of balance. I don’t believe balance between GM and players is really possible ((Or all that desirable.)). And the game does a good enough job of making the various mechanical pieces balance against each other using the dice pool mechanic, so that’s not really the issue.

It’s good because it’s fun. It’s good because it lets you play as hard as you can in an adversarial role when it’s time for the villains to act, without feeling like you need to keep anything in check. The constraints and openness mean that, if you pull out the stops and your villain completely trashes a hero, the players start to fear the villain and not the Watcher. They know you played it fair ((And I believe fairness is a very different thing than balance. Fairness, and the perception of fairness, is vital in building trust between GM and players.)), and just flat-out beat their characters.

It’s also a lot of fun because you are bound by the same sorts of triumphs and reversals that make the characters’ lives interesting. Roll enough ones, and even Dr. Doom is gonna have a bad day. It’s surprising, you’re stuck with it, and the player gets to have a moment of awesome that none of you were expecting, as he or she narrates what amazing thing the character did to pwn Doom. And when you roll amazingly well and the player rolls poorly, you get that same opportunity.

A friend once said to me that she felt GMing and playing in an RPG were, in a lot of ways, two different hobbies, and there’s some truth to that. Certainly, in most traditional games, the GM finds enjoyment in different things than the players do. With this sort of constraint system in place on the Watcher, you really get the best of both worlds – all the fun world-building, adventure-making, villain-playing good stuff that GMs usually get along with the dice-manipulation, hail-mary-throwing desperation, surprising reversal and triumph joy of being a player.

Both flavours of fun in one tasty game.

Civil War: In the Shadow of Stamford

***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 night, we got 75% of the gang ((Jumpstart’s player was out of town, but there was enough stuff to do that didn’t require everyone in attendance. So, Jumpstart was off seeing what he could find out from his S.H.I.E.L.D. contacts.)) together for the next Civil War session. We had ended the previous session with the clean-up after the Stamford tragedy, and we picked it up there as well.

The mood in Stamford was turning, especially after the passage of the SHRA, and most of the heroes had done what they could and got out by the third day. The people in Stamford, originally grateful for the help, were starting to look on the heroes with anger and suspicion and fear. By the end of the third day, the Guardians decided that it was best to head back to New York, but not before Volcanic gathered some samples from the blast site allowing him to create a chemical profile that he thinks will help him track down Nitro.

The Doctor also got a copy of the SHRA and read through it. He decided that the rather draconian provisions of the act ((Things like suspension of due process for heroes, conscription into S.H.I.E.L.D., indefinite detention, and treating anyone who aids an unregistered hero as a criminal.)) made him uncomfortable. He shared the information with the rest of the Guardians, and began making plans to go underground.

Volcanic and Mega Joule followed suit, starting to cut their ties with their civilian lives. Mega Joule said good-bye to Coach Nelson and left his job at the community centre to move into Guardians HQ – he had already made up his mind that he wasn’t going to register. Volcanic cleaned out his office at NYU, and had a conversation with the head of his department, who offered some support and suggested that Volcanic ((The only one with a public identity, mainly because it’s hard to disguise an eight-foot-tall humanoid magma being.)) may want to take a sabbatical, and the department head would expedite the paperwork to get it done before the registration deadline.

Volcanic also called Candy, his lab assistant ((And unknowing love interest.)) to say goodbye, and was somewhat astounded when she told him that not only would she support whatever decision he made, she would go with him if he decided to go underground ((Clint: “Just so you know, having Candy respond like that has really messed up Volcanic’s head, so good job!”)).

The Doctor went to see his parents and let them know he was cutting all financial ties with them to make sure that, if he decided not to register, there would be no reason for the authorities to come after them. I decided that I’d given enough ammo to the anti-registration argument at that point, and had the parents encourage the Doctor to register, providing mainly emotional arguments, but with a few logical bits thrown in ((So, it was a mix of “Why wouldn’t you register? You don’t do anything wrong! You’re a hero!” along with “If you’re involved, you can curb the worst excesses.” and the fearful implied argument “Untrained, unsupervised teenagers with superpowers just killed over six hundred people. Doesn’t that sound like training and supervision is a good idea? And that means you need superheroes to train and supervise – and police – other superheroes. Normal folks can’t do it.”)).

The upshot was that Volcanic and the Doctor were both on the fence about registration. A good part of the evening was spent discussing and debating the pros and cons of registration, and what would happen to the team if some opted for registration and others didn’t.

I loved it. They were taking the idea of the SHRA seriously, and were genuinely concerned about the consequences of their choices. That’s some meaty roleplaying fodder.

In the end, I made it clear that they didn’t have to make a decision during that session – I want to save the decision until the whole group is there, and Jumpstart needs to confront the possibilities before the decision becomes meaningful for him. So, maybe next session. In the meantime, everyone got ready to be able to drop off the radar if that’s what they decided to do.

With that discussion tabled for now, the Guardians decided to go after the Sloveniy Bratva, the Russian gang that had hired the Titanium Man to kill Mega Joule. They tracked them to their clubhouse during an important meeting ((Mega Joule rolled an extraordinary success when intimidating information out of gang members, so I gave him the place and decided that there would be an important meeting going on that evening.)), and burst up through the floor in the middle of things ((After carefully clearing the area of civilians and blocking the doors with Stone Walls d8)).

I had decided that the Sloveniy Bratva was being used by the Maggia to make inroads in Manhattan, allowing Nefaria to try and grab a piece of the island without directly challenging the Kingpin, so Nefaria was there to provide a case of A.I.M.-created blasters. Also present was his current bodyguard, Electro.

The fight was interesting. The players are really getting the hang of the system, and are using it to create some memorable moments. Examples? Sure!

  • The Doctor took out Nefaria, trapping him in a repeating time-loop with his Sorcery ((One-shotted him, in fact, in the first action of the combat.)).
  • Mega Joule managed a very cool counter-attack, bouncing the blaster bolts off his body with his Kinetic Control to take out some of the goons.
  • Volcanic single-handedly took down Electro with emotional stress, just humiliating him into submission. First, he let Electro blast him and shrugged it off effortlessly ((With a counterattack against his emotional stress.)), then used a pillar of lava to slam him into the waterpipes in the ceiling, soaking him and grounding him out ((Volcanic spent several plot points on this, winding up with a double-extraordinary success and two effect dice, both of which he stepped up.)).

When they turned the crooks over to the police, things were a little tense. There were a number of the cops who wanted to bring in the heroes, as well, for being unregistered heroes and vigilantes, and all that sorta thing. Mega Joule asked if he could spend a plot point to have a DEA agent who was favourably disposed toward him that he could call, and I said sure ((I made a decision at that point that I would allow the players to spend plot points for persistent contacts, with a couple of caveats. First, they had to name the contact. Second, while the contact belonged to the character, he or she would be played by me, and the relationship would be subject to change depending on how the character treated the contact. Third, it would cost a plot point so that the characters would only create NPCs they were interested in enough to spend the point, and not just create ten new ones each session that I would then have to keep track of. Clint asked, “Can we do the same thing to create enemies?” and I thought that was awesome, so I said, “Absolutely!”)). The DEA got them out of there in good order.

Now Mega Joule, who happens to have the Hunted by M.O.D.O.K. milestone, has information that the Maggia is buying weapons from A.I.M ((That’s quite a coincidence, hmmm?)). He also was able to give his DEA agent contact information on at least a couple of the Maggia’s stash houses, thanks to the drugs they recovered from the meet and the Doctor’s sorcery.

We wrapped things up for the evening then, but had a short post mortem on the game – something I tend to frequently in the early days of a campaign, then every now and then as a campaign progresses – to see how people were liking things.

Consensus is that the system is becoming easier for people. It’s required a bit of a shift of perspective from traditional games, both for the players and for the GM, but as we gain familiarity with it, it’s allowing us some significant freedom in the game. The players are getting better at using the system creatively and effectively, and I’m getting better at judging when I need to invoke the system and when things should just develop through straight narrative. And we’re all getting better at blending the narrative and the mechanics to entertaining effect.

So, here we are, three sessions in, and we’re all having a lot of fun with the system and with the campaign. I’m really looking forward to the next session.


Civil War: The Road to Stamford

***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***

After some scheduling delays, we managed to get the Guardians together for the second session of our Marvel RPG Civil War event. I really wanted the whole crew for this session, because I planned to end it with the Stamford explosion and the clean-up scene. After this, we get more flexible with attendance, but this is pretty much the seminal event of the… uh, event, and I felt that the impact would be diminished if only some of the heroes were present for it ((We also had dinner: homemade beef stew, homemade soda bread, homemade butter, and homemade trifle for dessert.)).

Because of some real-world stuff, we got a bit of a late start. I had planned to run through two scenes this session – Titanium Man Attacks Washington, and Clean Up Stamford. That, I figured, should be enough to fill the evening and would end the session on a good, dramatic note.

We’d left our heroes at the end of last session exiting their congressional hearing into a crowd of reporters. Titanium Man appeared, smashed a decorative fountain, pointed at Mega Joule, and shouted, “You!” That’s where we picked things up, and I gave the first action to Mega Joule ((Just because it seemed dramatically appropriate, really. I mean, Jumpstart had his superspeed, so maybe he should have gone first, or The Doctor, with some warning from his mystic senses, but really, sometimes you just gotta go with your sense of the dramatic.)). He amped up his kinetic ability, spending a Plot Point to bring in both his leaping and kinetic control, to slam into Titanium Man and launch them both out of the crowd and into the reflecting pool.

A good roll on Mega Joule’s part and a bad one on Titanium Man’s part and Titanium Man winds up sputtering in malfunctioning armour in the reflecting pool with Mega Joule standing over top of him ((Yup. First action of the session was Mega Joule one-shotting the villain.)). The scene I had planned to take about half the session lasted less than five minutes.

So, I changed what the scene was about. The Guardians interrogated the Titanium Man ((Now encased in concrete, thanks to Volcanic.)) before S.H.I.E.L.D. agents arrived on the scene, trying to figure out why he had come to Washington to attack Mega Joule. I had to change how I was using Titanium Man to fit this new circumstance; instead of being a realistic and intimidating threat ((Like the original Boris Bullski.)), he became a young  punk ((Because he’d just been taken down like a punk, after all.)) who had newly acquired the Titanium Man armour, and got in over his head.

This, of course, meant I had to come up with answers to the characters’ questions ((I hadn’t made the answers up, yet, because real life got in the way of my prep.)). The story I came up with: Titanium Man had been hired by the Sloveniy Bratva ((A Russian mafia group that I made up on the spot. Name inspired by the Solntsevskaya Bratva.)) to stop Mega Joule from messing with a street gang in Mega Joule’s neighbourhood, said street gang paying up to the Sloveniy Bratva.

This story introduces a new thread to the event, one not intrinsically tied to the Civil War, but that’s something I really wanted to do. See, a lot of the impact of the Civil War is in how it changes the lives of those involved – how it makes doing the normal things that much harder. With original characters like the Guardians, there isn’t the built-in baseline assumption of what “normal” is for the characters the way there is for, say, Spider-Man or Daredevil, so it becomes vital to build in some of these types of concerns into the game. Otherwise, the story has no emotional depth for or connection to the players.


I didn’t have anything prepped for going after the Sloveniy Bratva just yet, and it was too early in the evening to jump right to the Stamford explosion, so I said, “Who wants a mission from S.H.I.E.L.D.?” and everyone put their hands up. I pulled out Crusader Hijacks an Airplane, starting itin media res as suggested – The Doctor, Mega Joule, and Jumpstart disguised as Treasury agents, and Volcanic disguised as cargo – just as Crusader and his minions unveiled themselves.

This battle took a little ((Well, a lot.)) longer, and was more exciting. Volcanic used his massive size to send the plane into a dive ((Putting the complication Gravity is a Harsh Mistress d10 on the villains.)), Mega Joule and Jumpstart went on minion duty, and The Doctor tried to bind the Crusader with magic ((That didn’t work out too well, and The Doctor spent the next little while dodging his physical attacks.)). The doom pool was up to 5d10 by the time they got Crusader disarmed and was sitting at 4d12 and 1d8 by the time the minions were under control. I thought about ending the scene, but that felt a little cheap at this point – the heroes were working for their victory, and the only reasonable way to end the scene seemed to be for the plane to crash.

So, I spent the doom pool d12s to help Crusader in his solo battle ((There’s probably a whole blog post in the idea about spending your doom pool in different ways as a method of shaping the dramatic flow of the game. As I play more, I hope to gather enough insight to actually write it.)). The upshot of this was that the heroes still got the XP from me spending the d12s, it felt like a serious fight, and the heroes got to feel like they earned their victory ((Because they had.)). They got the bad guys wrapped up and the plane on the ground safely ((If just barely.)), and turned the villains over to S.H.I.E.L.D. agents waiting for them.

That’s when they heard the news about Stamford. Well, kind of. Some of the younger soldiers and agents who met them on the ground were kind of freaked out about the whole thing, staring wide-eyed at the heroes and such, acting very nervous. When one tried to tell them what was going on, his sergeant shut him down, and all he could do was tell them to check out the news. They did, and headed out to Stamford to help the cleanup.

I used the scene to set up personal stakes and interests for each of the characters. Volcanic helped with the rescue efforts, developing a real hate for Nitro; Jumpstart witnessed a heated discussion between Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, and Captain America, and later had a rather ambiguous conversation with Captain America; The Doctor had a similar discussion with Iron Man, who seemed to be sounding him out about where he stood on the SHRA; and Mega Joule had a heartfelt talk about what it means to be a hero with Luke Cage.

We wound things down, then, with each character having an idea for what they wanted to pursue next. This is what I want: at this point, I want things to become much more character-driven. I still intend to throw in a few GM fiat scenes to help advance the overall storyline, but mainly I want the characters to determine which direction things go in the event. So, what are their loose ends to track down?

  • Follow up on the Sloveniy Bratva and their attempts to strong-arm Mega Joule.
  • Track down Captain America to see what he was trying to say to Jumpstart.
  • Track down Iron Man to see what he was trying to say to The Doctor.
  • Find Nitro and bring him to justice.

That’s enough to be going on with, I think. I look forward to the next session.