Friday, June 22, 2012

Tabletop Forge/G+ Tools: Superheroes Year One (Part Three)

WORKING WITH THE TOOLS
So we had our first session of the Superheroes: Year One game on Wednesday. I've talked about the Set Up and Planning in previous posts. I hadn’t run anything online before and I hadn’t worked with these tools very much. I used Tabletop Forge with a G+ Hangout. I noticed several things:
  1. Upload: I tested the app beforehand with my wife. We played around with the tools and uploaded the material. I used a simple map, a cover image, and about three dozen tokens. TF currently allows you to save those to the server and load them by a simple command prompt. You can only have one set of each on their server. Apparently you can also save locally to your machine, but I’m not sure how that handles things- as named sets or “last in/last out.” Tokens and maps reloaded keep their sizing, but lose any custom labels attached to them. That meant I had to go through and rename things.
  2. Images: On Wednesday, I got on ahead of everyone to arrange the maps and tokens. That confirmed I could start a G+ hangout and then invite more people from within it. I locked a larger token in place over the bad guys' tokens to keep them secret. I also placed a larger image over the map (a shot of the NY skyline). However in play some users saw the lower map rather than the overlay image- so I deleted that. I suspect next time I’ll simply upload the map from my machine when the time comes. There’s no need to have a cover image and putting maps up is relatively easy (provided I know what dimensions I want).
  3. Maps: My screen offers an extra wide display which gives me significant visual real estate. I can have a sideboard of objects the players probably won't see (unless they scroll over). I need to remember to make my maps longer rather than wider. I used 50x50 token images- that size works well and allows easy spotting of the images. Smaller would be harder to work with. Since I’m using zones on the map (rather than hexes or a grid) I can afford to have some chunkiness.
  4. Browser: Tabletop Forge seems to get along best with Chrome. I’ve used it with Firefox and it has worked, but I lost the command bar and couldn’t recover it. Among the five players, a couple had problems with it in IE and Firefox; those resolved once they switched to Chrome. One player used IE with success throughout. There’s some question about the refreshes- some players couldn’t see when I drew arrows on screen.
  5. Drawing: I’d originally thought to use the drawing tools to annotate the map on the fly. However that ends up looking crappy- even with the stylus input I’m using. That's more a factor of my skills than the app. I think I’ll just draw up and label the maps ahead of time. I’ve considered using aspect tags on zones and I may still do that. I don't want the map to be too busy however.
  6. Video: I was the only one using a camera- and I was glad of that. That meant I could concentrate on the voices rather than watching for players’ reactions. On the other hand, I did like having my face down there so players could see my gestures and movements for emphasis.
  7. Mechanics: I have to remember some of the oddball corner case mechanics for M&M 2e which often come up (sweep, grapples, intimidation, etc.).
  8. Drops: G+ handles dropping out and coming back in pretty well. The TF apps seems to as well.
  9. Rolls: I told everyone they could roll themselves or use the built-in Tabletop Forge dice roller. Everyone opted for the roller- which is easy to use since there’s only one die type. I had a fat stack of d20’s in front of me and was using those, but switched to the roller to put everything out in the open. I felt a little cheap rolling a critical with a die when everyone else was rolling openly in the program. I like the tension of the roll being out clearly in front of everyone and the players reacting to a particularly crappy roll.
  10. Chatter: I was nervous about how chaotic it might be, but once everyone got used to it, it worked. There’s less chat and cross-talk than in a standard rpg, because people don’t want to talk over each other. The group will figure out the balance of that in time. On the other hand, I only ran an extended combat (with masses of mooks, a central baddie, and two baddies with obvious styles-brick and glass ninja). We’ll see how that works when we get to more role-play and investigation.

ASSESSMENT
So for a first try it worked- we’ll see how it sustains itself. I’ve been an exclusively tabletop rpg player, so I had some skepticism. Combat’s where we can most easily bog down in details, especially since most of the group hasn’t played Mutants & Masterminds or a d20 game. We had five players (with two there for most, but not all of the session) plus myself. We should have six players overall. Outside of combat’s still a question- I have to practice clarifying who I’m addressing when I speak.

I chose Tabletop Forge because I wanted a solid and simple set of tools. I tried some of the java and other tools (like MapTools) and didn’t care for those. I know some people have been advocating Roll20 on G+, but so far I’m happy with TF. If we add functionality to saving tokens/maps (including maintaining labels) and allow for multiple scenes, I’d had just about everything I need.

OTHER HEROES
Last time I put up the document covering the world background. Next I gave players a list of other superheroes present in New York. I’m not sure they will meet any of them, but I wanted to use these descriptions to flesh out the world. I debated having them be the “first” heroes, but ultimately decided not to go with that. They’re among the first generation, but they have peers. I still want the PCs to be front and center, so I suspect one or two of these characters might appear as plot hooks or scenario resources.

NEW YORK SUPERS
While other cities have superheroes, New York remains at the top. Most believe it has the largest concentration of metahumans on the planet. There may be as many as two dozen spread across the city. In a city of over 8 million people, they still remain few and far between compared to the general public.

Ms. Marvel
Ms. Marvel’s star has been dimmed by the arrival of other superbeings. Add to that her general aloofness and practicality. She rarely gives interviews or comments, and then only to a handful of select reporters. At times she’s reacted angrily to the fetishizing of her image and the creepiness of some of her fandom. Some have labeled her a femnazi based on her remarks and demeanor.

Ms. Marvel continues to patrol New York, but avoids interacting with other heroes. She has operated outside the city several times, helping out with disaster relief along the eastern seaboard. Late last year she sparked an international incident when she intervened in a conflict in North Africa. Fallout from that event enflamed the debate over heroes acting outside national borders. Since that time, Ms. Marvel has operated primarily in New York. While not treated as well by the media, Ms. Marvel enjoys strong approval among New Yorkers.

Yes Man
On the other hand, recent arrival Yes Man has become something of a media darling. With catch-phrases, coordinated publicity, and a set of flashy powers he can be spotted on local TV and newspapers nearly every day. Yes Man calls himself the “Can-Do” hero and attaches himself to causes and companies with speed. His control over energy makes him a dynamo in combat and allows him short-distance flight. Yes Man has become known for a certain amount of collateral damage as well. In a recent incident, he managed to disrupt the city’s subway systems for several hours. This has made him something of a joke in the city- disliked by people on the street. So far that hasn’t spilled into the open, but given the speed of internet memes and rumors it remains a matter of time.

Moon Knight
This hero has become the scourge of organized crime. While other superheroes battle villains and deal with disasters, Moon Knight has made the Mafia, Triads, and similar groups his target. The NYPD and FBI have been divided over him. Some think he’s getting things done, while others have seen years of investigation destroyed due to his actions. It remains unclear what powers Moon Knight possesses beyond athletic skill, a striking costume, and an array of deadly gadgets. Rumor suggests that Moon Knight may not be a single person but a team.

Engineer
Little is known about this silver-skinned super-heroine. Her armored suit apparently allows her to construct weapons and devices on the fly. So far she’s avoided publicity- leaving the scene when too many witnesses arrive. But a picture has been assembled from snap photos and shaky phone videos. The Engineer seems to concentrate on high-tech crime, having repeatedly clashed with Intergang’s emerging threat. She’s also been spotted at several other research facilities- Star Labs, LexCorp’s New Jersey compound, and the restoration site for the new Oscorp. In some cases she’s been on the scene to foil break-ins, in others she’s arrived in time to prevent experimental disasters. LexCorp’s new CEO has reacted to her intrusions with hostility.

Diablo
One of the more problematic of the new breed of heroes. Diablo claims to have discovered the lost arts of alchemy. He uses these to empower himself and create weapons with strange effects: briefly turning targets to stone, animating statues, summoning darkness. Diablo’s also an avowed and aggressive atheist, who makes a point of commenting on those issues whenever he’s given attention. He talks at length about how the rise of superbeings and the apparent revelation of magic and gods undercut conventional faiths such as Christianity. He mocks the superstition, rites, and suspected hypocrisies of modern religions.

That’s made Diablo the poster child for the fears of people in the “flyover states.” Fox News and other outlets hold him up as an example of what’s wrong with superheroes. Diablo revels in the attention and refuses to back down from any statements he’s made.

The Question
Associated with the African-American community in New York, this faceless vigilante remains a mystery. He’s tangled with street-gangs, drug-dealers, and local police in equal measure. Possessed of no obvious powers, authorities have dismissed him as a rogue vigilante and danger to the community. The Question has evaded several sweeps in an attempt to arrest him. He remains equally estranged from the community he patrols, as many believe he incites violence.

NEW ARRIVALS
While these heroes have be active over the last year, they remain relatively new to the scene. More recently New York gained three more notable heroes. Tony Stark’s press conference revealing his identity as Iron Man shook the country and sent shockwaves through Stark Industries stock. Despite that, Stark has maintained his hero identity and has been spotted several times in Manhattan. Stark’s public identity raises difficult and unresolved questions for the government. Stark himself seems to take that in stride. He continues working on projects he promises will “change the world.”

Nearly as flashy has been the figure of the mighty Thor. Apparently drawing his inspiration from Norse Mythology, Thor has fought several supervillains including the deadly Rhino. While some dismiss his personality as an act, those rescued by the hero describe him as intense and sincere. Who and what Thor is remains uncertain. More is known about Mr. Freeze, a hero who has turned tragedy into motivation. When Victor Fries’ wife Nora contracted a terminal illness, he devoted his scientific knowledge to cryogenically preserving her. Successful in that he spun his skills to developing a set of ice and cold related gadgets he uses to fight crime. He’s notable for having established a foundation in his wife’s name, now supported by the many rescued by Freeze.

Reports and rumors suggest that other heroes exist in New York. Some work hard to avoid notice, some take on the mantle reluctantly, while others have yet to make their debut.





Previous Superhero: Year One Posts