Monday, July 23, 2012

Detective Skills & NPC Scenes: Superheroes Year One (Part Six)

I'm tracking my Superhero G+ campaign closely for a couple of reasons. First, I plan to use this concept again in the future. Second, I want to figure out what working with a different context (online vs. tabletop) does to the gameplay. Third, I hope to offer perhaps some help or spark for other people planning on running games like these- and perhaps help them around some stumbling blocks.

As I mentioned before, I think combat's the easiest part of running online, especially if you have tools like Tabletop Forge. Maps and tokens go a long way to holding attention. Mysteries and interactions don't necessarily offer visual cues. So you can potentially lose players- or even lose yourself in the moment, especially because you don't have the secondary indicators of body language and expression from your players. I'm thinking about ways to do perhaps "mind mapping" or note presentation for these segments.

Last week, since I expected some heavy investigation, I broke up the chucks with some NPC interactions- one per player. I had pictures for the NPCs ready to pull up to illustrate and to signal who was on deck at that moment. I wanted the players to have a chance to develop their background (by showing how they reacted to NPCs) and give them a spotlight for a moment. It also nicely split the session into three parts (follow up, NPCs, new leads). Below I offer some notes on how I handle investigation skills as well as a summary of the session (including those NPC interactions).

I wanted to go over how I handle skills in Mutants & Masterminds. I tend to read these more openly than the book suggests; d20 systems often suffer from this problem. Skill can be used in different contexts- based on the situation and the player’s narration. In the case of a mystery, you can take several different approaches. I’ll also mention some key feats to back these up. I tend to borrow the model for investigations presented by the GUMSHOE system, with Core Clues which provide links and general clues.

The game offers two perception skills: Notice and Search. Notice is most often used to spot a surprise or catch something hidden in an active situation. I’ll often roll for that. I use this rarely for investigations; instead we check it to see if you realize something as you move through a scene. Search is a more active skill- it is used for tossing a room, looking for secret doors, or trying to find concealed cameras. Search implies time. Search doesn’t have forensic precision, but can be a useful fall back for tossing a scene. Thor going through the rubble is a good example of Search, not exactly methodical or organized.

Keep in mind that if you investigate something, I’ll often try to clarify that you’ve eliminated a particular possibility. That kind of research is just as important as uncovering something new.

Gather Information: This is the go-to skill to finding things out. It represents picking up word on the street, talking to sources, searching on the internet, or going through records. If you want to get a general sense of things, go to Gather Info.

Investigation: It represents more sophisticated techniques and channels. On the one hand, it implies forensic training. Making an Investigate roll at a scene can potentially offer more reliable, detailed, and precise information than making a simple Search roll. It suggests an organized approach. Investigate also suggests access to certain deeper sources (like background checks, databases, lab comparisons, and so on). It can be used in place of an appropriate Craft skill for analyzing things. Investigation can also be used to simulate “Cop Talk”- meaning that it can be used as an interaction skill with investigators and police.

Diplomacy: If you have a reasonably friendly contact or NPC, diplomacy can be a useful skill for getting information or assessments from them. You can also use Diplomacy as an investigative skill if you can reasonably explain the persons or group you’re going to talk to and your character would logically have established connections with them. The burden’s on the player to set this up. For example, something strange has happened which might have been an elaborate set up. Mister Miracle might reasonably say that he has strong connections in the Stage Magician community, so he’d like a Diplomacy check to speak with people there to see if they know anything.

Bluff: The “Fast Talk” of this system- often used to wheedle information or other things out of NPCs. It has a combat component as well (used with Feint). If, for example, you’re impersonating someone to get information, I might have you use Bluff or just use it as a complementary skill. Useful for gaining access to places and things. If you’re incorporating a lie in what you’re doing, I’ll likely have you use Bluff over Diplomacy. Bluff can be aggressive convincing, which often means the target will realize later that they may have made a mistake.

Intimidate: Requires a pretty specific situation, and highly affected by the context. Aggressive, so can generate blowback if badly done.

Sense Motive: This is a key skill- used as resistance against most interaction affects (Bluff, Intimidate, Feint, Trick, etc.). Sense Motive is “human perception” and can be used to assess the reaction of a target. If you’re interacting with someone, I may ask for a Sense Motive to pick up on details of behavior or important body language. This is excellent for getting a read on someone and their behavior (for example if you’re tailing them).

Profession/Craft: If a topic falls under a particular Craft or Profession, having the narrow skill related to it will obvious be helpful and offer more detailed information. Depending on the circumstance, you can also use your relevant skill in place of another interaction skill when dealing with other members of that group. For example, Craft (Chemical) could be used for talking to Chemical Engineers or Industrial Chemists.

Computers: Finding stuff online or in general circulation is based on Gather Information. Computers is used for several more specific purposes. If you know of a secure system or database which has information you want, you can make a check to break in. Depending on the security, you might want to set up a “caper” to give yourself bonuses. Computers is used to located information on a system you’ve accessed. Analysis and assessment of that file or information may require another skill.

Fenton Follow Up
The group made sure things had been dealt with properly regarding Fenton. The double they’d seen at the beginning of the fight made them suspect the villain might have arranged some kind of last ditch escape. Mr. Freeze gave an interview to the media, and the group ensured the safety of the rescue workers and site specialists before being moved off-site. While the Heightened Crimes Unit was at least responsive, the got more of a cold shoulder from the DHS personnel, who came in to lock down the scene.

The group gleaned several pieces of information from the interactions. 1. A comatose Prof. Fenton was taken to Faulkner House- kept sedated for the moment- to be secured. 2. Fenton had no conventional “computers” on site. However HCU investigators did find evidence that Fenton had been making notes and looking into two areas. First, the current gang wars- especially those involving the Penguin, the Triads, and the Devilfish. Second, the LexCorp Space Laser under development. 3. The “Black Hole Generator” collapsed in on itself, leaving few traces. 4. The DHS called in STAR Labs to oversee the removal of materials from the site for examination.

The group also discussed a “name” for the group, resulting in little or no progress on that front. In fact, we made have made negative progress.

NPC Scenes
Mr. Freeze returned to LexCorp, where CEO Franklin Richards called him into a meeting. He asked Freeze if he would be willing to change his status from employee to consultant, in order to insulate the company from some liability (a luxury, Richards pointed remarked, Tony Stark didn’t have to worry about). Freeze and Richards exchanged some sharp word- with the latter making clear his position on weaponization and the fact that LexCorp employees had caused the “incident” with his wife. Richards said that those people had been holdovers from the previous administration and had been dealt with. Freeze agreed to the new role, but wanted his lawyers to look over the additional non-compete materials.

Thor, in his Donald Blake identity, took the subway into work. On a packed train, he found himself face to face with Loki, dressed in a business suit. They exchanged barbs, with Loki relaying his stepmother’s words, asking for Thor to beg his father to allow him to return. Thor declined and pressed Loki on the “secret mission” which brought him to Middenheim. Loki revealed that he’d been released and sent here by Odin himself. Finally he left with a cryptic message, telling Thor that the Bifrost would be sealed soon and that a war was coming.

Mister Miracle found Sonny Sumo had returned and was in the midst of arranging repairs to his dojo (damaged in the bug attack). Sonny asked about Miracle’s decision to not only become a “superhero” but also to join a supergroup. They spoke about Thor and his role in the mythology of the Fourth World. Miracle speculated about the coming conflict and what that could mean for this world.

Tony Stark took a break, but was immediately roped into a social event to cool investor fears. With a hastily scooped up model on his arm, Stark attended the gala function. He worked his magic- calming frightened board members, worried about this new super-gang. Later Stark found himself approached by the striking Ularia Spica, a scientist at STAR labs. She mentioned that several large and intact pieces of equipment from Fenton’s labs had been brought in that day. She could offer no other information, as that was under the auspices of another division. Spica did mention that STAR labs had an “off-the-books” department devoted to analyzing and figuring out Stark’s Iron Man armor.

Nightcrawler, still considering Sarge Steel’s offer of recruitment, was approached in his hotel by another mysterious strange with a steel hand. Introducing himself as Forge, he spoke with Wagner regarding the present treatment of mutants and metahumans. He wondered if joining such a visible group of superheroes was the right choice to make? Forge suggested that Wagner might consider instead a group devoted to mutant rights, led by a mentor he wouldn’t name as of yet. They called themselves “The Brotherhood” and invited Nightcrawler to contact them in the future if Nightcrawler changed his mind about joining the superteam.

New Investigation Leads
Mr. Freeze and Mister Miracle approached the DHS in order to gain access to Fenton. Luck was with them, and Director Ziegler was out of the office, leaving them in the hands of his assistant Ms. Fields. She reluctantly agreed to allow them monitored access. The pair went to Faulkner House where they found Fenton still in a coma (and apparently kept in check by some strange DHS devices). When Miracle used the Mother Box on Fenton, he discovered that Fenton’s body was effectively brain dead. His mind had move “through time” to another when. Though they didn’t quote have an explanation for what that meant, it did suggest Fenton was out of the picture for the time being.

Tony Stark looked into the question of the rare microscopic Vibranium K which Fenton had utilized. He check and cross-checked records, eventually tracking things back to two possible leads. One he confirmed as the supply line for Fenton’s underground operations. The other didn’t seem to fit Fenton’s MO. Instead it seemed that the second shipment had “fallen off a truck” in transit.

Nightcrawler and Thor rechecked the third and undemolished building from their earlier investigation. They found the mental signal relay and a webcam. They were able to confirm that this was part of Fenton’s set up, but didn’t seem to be active now, suggesting that the group had managed for the moment to put a stop to Fenton’s activities there.

Mister Miracle and Thor looked further into the Zoravian Baltic connection. They figured that Baltic had been looking into other conspiracy leads (revolving around secret NY societies of old) and had uncovered the existence of the tunnels. Unfortunately for Baltic, Fenton had discovered and was making use of those. Baltic had apparently alerted the criminal, resulting in his murder. The pair of heroes spoke with Baltic’s widow, who grudgingly granted them access to her husband’s papers. Unfortunately most of his more valuable pieces and notebooks had been removed for auction. They went through the remaining scraps, and found only one lead- the name of a fellow conspiracy theorist (Donny Vaccarino) Baltic had been in contact with.

Nightcrawler and Iron Man looked into the missing Microscopic Vibranium K. They led them to an underworld fixer who works with high-tech materials, Annastazia Vladimirovna. She recognized both of them and their reputation. After some negotiation she confirmed that the material had been stolen- not for resale, but for in house use- by The Penguin. He was currently engaged in a serious battle with Devilfish and had hired in some outside help. That aid included Russian Expats possessing power armor, not unlike Iron Man’s.

Previous Superhero: Year One Posts