Thursday, October 2, 2014

Durance Meets X-Men: Days of Future Passed: An RPG Hack (Part Two)

Here's the second part of the reskinning I'm doing to Durance to make it fit with superpowered gulags. You can see the other part here, which actually makes sense of that first sentence. I think I should be ready to run the session now. I do have to figure how I want to track choices. I've put together some modified sheets to use in Roll20, but I need to think about how I want to track the ladder. I still have some seats open for this game at VirtuaCon. The event listing is here. I want the session to go off because I've invested significant time in prep, but also because I really want to play. 

Durance’s social structures also require retooling. More than the original game, a superpower gulag has prisoners at odds with its very existence. So why do they participate? One, the camps obviously have a system for power suppression. The old standby of neutralizer collars, armbands, or the like. These act as tracking and monitoring devices as well. Some physically imbued power types might still function, but I also imagine those prisoners would be kept elsewhere and/or isolated. The players can decide how likely modification, removal, or bleed through from these collars would be (that should be something we can decide in play). Two, several of these camps require the inmates and staff to work together in order to survive. Too much disruption could lead to collapse. Three, though more rarely used I imagine some camps can deploy serious force: armored suits, Sentinel-like robots, co-opted Mutants, and even non-Mutant Superbeings. Four, Mutants here may have family elsewhere (or even here) under threat if something goes wrong. Five, related to that, a good portion of the prisoners will not actually be Mutants. Instead they might be political sympathizers, those who sheltered Mutants illegally, persons of interest, relatives, discredited scientists, wrongly-placed general criminals, aliens, or even banned non-Mutant Superbeings. Six, for some these camps offer a better option than life outside, given the fear and persecution they may have suffered in their homelands. Seven, eventually a dark side of the prison will develop, perhaps driven by supervillains. There will be Mutants here who take power and won’t want to see that disrupted.

The Uncertainty Triangle resolves dramatic uncertainty in Durance. Often a scene will clearly resolve in one direction or another. But if players are unsure about the outcome they turn to this mechanic. To badly describe it, this means is that if the group moves to dice to resolve something, the scene will end in one of three directions. The Triangle begins with two points set: Servility and Savagery. So a scene ending in Savagery might escalate into violence. Players select a third drive to round out these two. All of these drives represent crucial concerns for the camp. They extend across all boundaries, social strata, and affect every waking moment. As the Durance rules say, “Drives are pointers. They don’t, in themselves, decide anything. They tell you which way a scene is going to go and what sort of tone the resolution will take.

For this scenario, players select one of the following six additional drives:
  • Control
  • Memory
  • Safety
  • Harmony
  • Punishment
  • Progress
Durance has a system for “events” tied to certain rolls in scene resolution. I will probably go through and tweak those a little for this scenario, but I don’t want to completely rewrite those (I’ve done enough work on this so far…)

We’ll want to keep that in mind during character creation. Durance presents a “ladder” for the social structures within the colony. That’s split into two sides: Authority and Convicts, with five rungs to each. It’s important to note that players will make up two characters: one for each side of the ladder. We’ll be making some modifications to the rungs for this set up. For each rung, I’ll mention the original label as a touchstone.

(Durance: The Governor: Leader of the Colony)
The Warden’s the highest authority in the camp. They report to outside forces and must make day to day decisions.
Questions: Consider what kind of background they came from: Military, Political, Penal, Scientific, something else? That will make a difference in the focus of the camp. How subject are they to outside auditing and control? They have an obligation to make the camp self-sustaining, but does that also mean profitable? How do they feel about Mutants personally? Are the opposed to experiments and testing on them? How did you come to be in charge of this camp? What measures will you take to keep the camp alive and ensure its success?

(Durance: Functionaries: Judge & Captain of Marines)
Effectively the second most important person in the camp. Several different kinds of characters might fill this role. The Captain of the Guard would obviously be in charge of enforcement. The kind of security systems- boots on the ground, giant robots, armored suits- will affect their level of day to day contact and control. What’s your background- technical, military, something else? What does order mean in the camp, and what steps are you willing to take to enforce it? Where does your true allegiance lie? An Auditor might represent the interests of the groups or nations supporting the camp. They might also be an inspector trying to get the camp to at least pay lip service to basic rights. Who do you report to? What kinds of contacts inside do you have? How do you feel about Mutants? A Chief Scientist would oversee the experimental portion of a camp’s mission. They’re dedicated to finding better ways to contain superbeings, the effects of extreme conditions on transformed people, or even a “cure” for mutations. What do you want to discover? How far will you go in that mission? How do you see your test subjects? One radical choice might be a Superhero assigned to the camp. Perhaps they fought in the supers war. They might be a face to make things look better to outsiders. What circumstances brought you here? How do others see you? What does justice mean to you?

(Durance: Swells: Free Spouses & Merchants)
This can include a variety of different roles. You might be part of the support side: the admin assistants, sanitation, food prep and so on. Or you might be part of the upkeep team, the engineers, IT technicians, plumbers, and others needed to keep the camp in repair. Alternately, you could be draw from the scientists, researchers, and technicians trying to unlock secrets. What in your career led you to this? What do you want to gain for yourself? How do you see the Mutant population? In some more enlightened and long-term camps, spouses might be permitted either for staff or for non-criminal prisoners. What is your relationship with your partner? Why has that brought you here, and what are you are going to do about it?

(Durance: Colonial Marines: The Brutal Hands of Authority)
What the guards look like will depend on the security systems. In some camps, they’re out in the middle of things with electro-batons and restraining devices. In others they’re piloting powered armor or mecha suit? In some places they might be glorified mechanics keeping robotic sentinels in working order. What are the guards here like? Are there divisions among them? Who owns you: The rule of law, your commander the Captain of the Guard, an informal leader, some alternate command channel, or even the Mastermind? What does your choice mean to the other forms of authority, and how will it help you better your position on the Ladder?

(Durance: Emancipists: Former Convicts, Conditionally Free)
AT the bottom of the Authority side are persons who have moved over from the Inmate side. These include depowered, injured, or burnt out Mutants. They may have been given experimental treatments or suffered accidents which removed their powers. Alternately they might possess only incidental powers or abilities (like control of colors). Conditionally freed non-powered prisoners could also be in this group. They’ve all demonstrated good behavior and a willingness to work with the system. Why were you given this role? What debts and resources do you carry with you from your old life as a inmate, and how will they interfere with your peaceful future?

(Durance: The Dimber Damber: Criminal Overlord)
The Mastermind oversees the illicit economy in goods and services. Their word is law among the inmates. How far that power extends depends on the kind of Order the authority imposes. The Mastermind is positioned well enough that the Governor cannot act against them directly. They serve as a crucial cog in the machine of the camp. The Mastermind may have been a supervillain on the outside or perhaps this experience turned them into one. They might have been an idealistic leader attempting to bring harmony between the two sides, but time in the camp has burned that out of them. Now they want to maintain the status quo to maintain their power base. What was your power in the outside? What was your reputation? Who do you trust? How will you maintain control of the criminal masses while gaining control over the Authority?

(Durance: Minions: The Abbot and Captain Sharp)
A mastermind can have two flavors of minions. On the one side is The Enforcer. They keep the rule of order and enforce the Mastermind’s will. They’re more often than not, a homicidal thug and paragon of corruption and violence. There is no such thing as a “good” Enforcer. Any inmate (and in many camps, Trustees, Staff or even Guards) who fails to respect the Mastermind will have a short, unpleasant visit from The Enforcer. On the other hand, the Number Two, acts as the Mastermind’s left hand, procurer and purveyor of vice within the camp. Drugs, gambling, prostitution, luxury items, food theft—the Number Two has a hand in all these, and more, dutifully kicking back the profits to the Mastermind. For those who need an audience with (or mercy from) the Mastermind, appeals to and through the Number Two are the usual route. For either one consider what you were like on the outside. What are the practical limits of your loyalty to the Mastermind, and what do you really want?

(Durance: Bolters: Runaways- convict heroes)
A rare breed, this includes inmates who’ve found a way to escape the grip of the Authority, but still remain in the camp. Depending on the location, they may not be able to get any further. They may have managed to activate a hidden power or bleed enough through their power restraints to give them an edge. Alternately they may not be a Mutant, but instead a non-powered person or even a super. They haunt the fringes- either outside the camp or else managing to conceal themselves within sub-basements, access pipes, and the like. If the camp’s particularly chaotic, they may even form gangs to attack authorities or even the Mastermind’s men. Some view Bolters as outlaw heroes, while others believe they make things more dangerous for everyone. Bolters range from Robin Hood-like crusaders to crazed lunatics. What was your life before this? How did you escape, and why? Who did you leave behind? How you are going to stay alive?

(Durance: Lags and Sables: Thieves, Whores, and Murderers)
When they established Mutant isolation camps, they began by emptying the super-prisons. Regardless of the kind of crime which led to their incarceration (political protest, theft, murder) such Mutants were marked and noted. They’re given fewer rights, tighter restrictions, and increased observation. Some thought that the transfer to the camps might mean a chance at a new life, but they’re still subject to brutality and isolation. They often must turn to the Mastermind for justice, survival, and even the slimmest of privileges. They have to figure out what they want to make of the camp. Rise up above where they were or sink down into the muck of this place? What was your crime, and what was your sentence? What niche have you have carved out to survive? What terrible things have you done in the carving of it, and who have you betrayed? How are you going to escape this role—shall you go up, out, or over? Or who have you aligned yourself with, and who have you destroyed? What matters most to you? How are you are going to get it?

(Durance: Wreckers and Crawlers: Political Prisoners and Outcasts)
This consists of the bulk of the population on the Inmates’ side. It includes non-criminal Mutants, non-Mutants with suspect political ties or allegiances, pro-Mutant Supers, or even close family members of Mutants who opted to come along to the camp. It includes some convicts who have served their sentence and been released to general population due to good behavior. Who were you before you came to the camp? Did you consider yourself a “Mutant” or something else? How do you plan to live your life here? What will you do to survive? If the character’s more politically or philosophically minded state the core of your beliefs. Do you want to tear the camp down or work to make it better? How will you do so?

The rest of the process should proceed pretty much as normal. Select a role from one side of the Ladder, and then one from a different rung on the other side. Other players’ choices may impact this. Come up with a name- the Durance book has a name list if players get stuck. I’d encourage Mutant characters to come up with a colorful nickname as well. The choices of roles and characters help shape the fiction of the world.

Players will also have to come up with an oath. Again Durance has a random table for this which should mostly work. I might make a couple of changes to fit with this but I don’t want to completely rewrite the list. I’ll try to work through this to fit with the set up we’ve built. And that’s it- everything else should play out according to the Durance rules. I’m hoping we’ll get enough people to play this at VirtuaCon given the work I’ve put into it. I really want to play it now.