Thursday, July 14, 2016

Second Wave: Collaborative Superhero Campaign-Building

Last night we did a session of Microscope to build the backdrop for our new Mutants & Masterminds campaign. We weren’t building from scratch. I’d run a three arc, 50+ session campaign for this group called First Wave. This new campaign, with new characters, would take place 18 months after the end of the last one.

For First Wave, I’d had them run “Year One” versions of existing superhero characters. They’d picked Nightcrawler, Mr. Freeze, Thor, Iron Man, and Mister Miracle. That let me include and play around with Marvel and DC elements in a pastiche. In this hybrid world superheroes had just begun to emerge, including the PCs. That however turned out not to be the whole truth. Superbeings had existed for decades, but had been kept secret by a villainous group called the Cabal (the PCs would figure that out midway through the first arc). I lifted that concept from the otherwise atrocious Wanted miniseries.

The last campaign ended with many old heroes and villains released from exile in the Phantom Zone. Vandal Savage briefly transformed by New York into "New Apokolips: with time/dimensional villainy. First Wave defeated him with a dimension & time-travelling counter-strike. Afterwards many New Yorkers remembered all or fragments of that alternate timeline: being dominated by robots and rogue supers. Despite those fears and tensions, in the we established in the post-game that First Wave continued as the premier superhero team.

We came into last night with that in mind. I’d told the players our theme would legacy characters: sidekicks, supers taking up a mantle, heroes with connections to earlier ones, etc. Think Young Avengers, Teen Titans, New Mutants, etc. I only created the bookend periods for the timeline; beyond that I tried to keep an open mind. I didn't think about or plan anything for the campaign and I didn't participate beyond a couple of small additions and clarifications during play.

Below is what they did to came up with for the world. I’ve added a few GM comments in red and done some editing . In a few places they made difficult choices about calling something 'light' or 'dark'. What they settled on in each case colored the result heavily.

Add/Ban List
By default we'll generally stick close to previously established campaign facts.
  • Ban: No Time Travel
  • Add: There is a Multiverse. Time passes the same in other universes.
  • Ban: No Erotica Moves

The group just finished playing Numenera, so apparently the last one was necessary.

Themes for Rounds
Round One: Heroes (Scott)
Round Two: Politics (Carl)
Round Three: The Phantom Zone (Matt)
Round Four: Redemption vs Justice. (Fabian)
Round Five: Dimensional Meta-humans (refugees) (Ben)

Period: Aftermath of Vandal Savage’s Manhattan Takeover
New York works to rebuild and come to terms with memories of a superhero occupation. (L)
  • The Great Subterranean Exodus: In the aftermath of Vandal Savage's takeover, collapsing caverns and tunnels leads to the Mole Man bringing many creatures and “Molemen” to the surface. (L)
    • Question: Are the Molemen citizens? No, but many activists have taken up their cause. (D)
  • Mr. Freeze is elected Mayor of New York City in a landslide accompanied by many insinuations of winning the “meta” and “subhuman” vote. (L)
    • This was an early one and at first I thought I might intrude but I held back. We established that players could only reference/use a previous PC with that players permission. I wasn’t sure about the timing, but hey it’s a superhero world so anything goes.
    • Question: What is Mr. Freeze’s biggest policy blunder? His libertarian views towards superpowers makes Manhattan the center of superhero & metahuman powers. They flock there, leading to more and more damage and conflicts. (L)
  • City agents equipped with rudimentary Phantom Zone projectors back-engineered by Mr. Freeze begin “disposal” of giant monsters and gargantua. This is not done without controversy.
    • There's mention in play that these creatures belong to the Mole Man, a crucial PC ally from the last campaign.
    • Question: What ends this program? They run out of targets. Eventually city agents either drive the Molemen creatures underground or into the Phantom Zone (L).

Period: Appearance of Dimensional Refugees
Governments struggle to deal with this influx and the related strains on their economies. This leads to further fractures in metahuman v human relations due to these “alien” metas. (D)
  • Mister Miracle and allies defeat a force of extradimensional Starks bent on world conquest. The International community is introduced to SHIELD (Super Heroic Interdimensional\Extradimensional Liberty Directive), a group of red white and blue clad adventurers from across space and time. Not long afterwards, Mister Miracle vanishes into the Phantom Zone, as this organization carries on  his mission of spreading freedom across the multiverse.(L)
    • Question: Who is a member of SHIELD? Nick Furious, a massive gamma induced red/white and blue hulk who gets stronger when his country/nation/dimension is threatened. (L)
  • Congress passes legislation creating a path to citizenship for dimensional refugees; however this further incenses the Molemen activism movement. (L)
  • Molemen riot in downtown New York finally leads to some justice for them. Matt Murdock, with the aid of Mister Miracle, negotiates an addition to the legislation to allow to become citizens as well (L)
  • The Great Lakes Avengers are exposed as extra-dimensional counterparts. They claim that some meta-human refugees have disposed of this dimensions counterparts in order to take their place as heroes, and to blend into this dimension. (D)

Period: Superhuman Flyers Grounded
For an unknown reason, all meta-humans gradually lose the power to fly. (D)
  • First Victim of the Grounding. Several dozen supers lose their powers and fall (some to their death), including Angel and Darkstar. (D).  
  • The superhuman group: New Mutants confront and defeat “The Skylord” thus returning the power of flight to Superhumans. (L)
  • One of the dimensional refugees from an “Age of Apocalypse” dimension, Dark Beast, manages to perform genetic studies of “The Skylord” and from there he devises and discovers why and how meta-humans are able to fly, and from that the basis of a super-weapon is created which can ground superman fliers. This becomes a politically charged event, which the military tries to keep secret. (D)
  • Victor von Doom teams with First Wave to halt a massive interdimensional invasion from the remnants of the forces First Wave defeated before. This act of ‘heroism’ sets the stage for Doom to run for the Presidency (L)

Period: President Doom
Dr. Doom (Victor von Doom) campaigns and becomes president of the United States (D).
  • The Latverian People’s Liberation Army, backed by Mindless Ones lent to them by the Dread Dormammu, overthrow the Doom regime. He flees to America, where he holds dual citizenship. (L)
  • Presidential nominee von Doom selects Mr. Freeze as his Vice-President.
  • “Anthony” Stark, himself a dimensional refugee, reveals a device for detecting “dimensional frequency” as a means of identifying non-native supers and persons. He announces its sale to the US government. (D)
  • President Doom fulfills his promise to “build an interdimensional wall and make the “dimmies” pay for it” (D)
    • Question: What is the most common way of breaching the dimensional wall? Dimensional Refugees are able to breach the wall by whenever the Phantom Zone projector is used (L).
  • Extra-Dimensional "Coyotes" manage to steal and create a flawed copy of the Phantom Zone projector to establish a dangerous and expensive means of entering and exiting the prime dimension. (D)
  • Freeze is sidelined initially but then mounts a constitutional challenge to Doom’s eligibility for the Presidency. (D)
    • Question: Why does the challenge ultimately fail? The challenge fails because Doom has replaced key members of Congress with Doombots. As well as a Wrongful Death suit brought against Mr. Freeze for Mr. Cobblepot’s demise eats up his time. (D)
  • Doom promises a cure for Nora Freeze if Freeze confesses his culpability in the wrongful death of Cobblepot. (D)
    • Question: What was Freezes response and why? Torn by his love for both Mrs. Freezes, he vacillates. He alienates the living Mrs Freeze and squanders his opportunity against Doom who then retracts his offer taunting Freeze with a partial formulation. (D)
  • Mr. Freeze resigns as Vice President, rejects all human companionship and begins working on extra dimensional technology to solve the multitude of problems he has been complicit to redeem himself to Mrs Freeze (whichever, he is flexible). (L)
  • Dr. Doom’s advisor is a dimensional “refugee”, who he has taken under his wing, he is a precognitive super-human which allows Doom to preemptively take political & military actions but divides the superhero community when they find out about it (D).
    • Question: Where was this precog from? Earth 238
    • This is a dual reference. The first part alludes to the current Civil War II storyline. The second, Alan Moore’s run on Captain Britain and his James Jaspers character.

Period: Neo-Soviet Super Empire
A superhuman cold war erupts between Neo-Soviet, Neo-Soviet satellites & the Western allies. This is triggered when a refugees using a Phantom Zone projector pull in Red Son Superman, Red Batman, Red Brainiac, Red Wonder Woman, and more. They establish a new regime in Soviet Russia. Batman becomes head of the KGB, and they take over the old buffer states of Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, (Eastern) Poland, Latvaria, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia etc. (D).
  • Latvarian Massacre - In response to the Neo-Soviet forces massacring citizens of Latveria, President Doom deploys the SHIELD to defend them, leading to further devastation and even more hostility between the two powers. This bolsters Doom’s popularity at home. (D)
  • The death and autopsy of Red Magneto reveals the Neo-Soviet supers origins as hybrids squeezed out of two separate dimensions by the projector technology. (D)
  • The NYSE halts trading for the eighth time in response to Super-Soviet/Western warfare and tensions. This time the increasing economic collapse is triggered by algae bloom contamination of the Atlantic Seaboard by Red Aquaman. (D)
  • Revelation of the neutralization of nuclear weaponry by an uncovered Cabal device leads to a military foray into Finland by Neo-Soviet troops. (D)
  • Mole Man is redeemed, he has seen the light (pun intended), and he frees his creatures from the Phantom Zone, but feeling dispossessed by America, he decides to defect to Soviet Russia (L).
  • Doom changes the “Meta Path to Citizenship” to require service in government-sponsored super teams. (D)

Period: First Wave World War I
As the world spirals into chaos and conflict, First Wave steps in to become the arbiter of international justice...whether the world wants it or not. (D)
  • Doom announces a new amnesty program in an attempt to garner public support and shore up his presidency. (D)
    • Question: What is this program? Further recruitment of powered persons generally, but specifically amnesty for hidden Rikti refugees in an attempt to have them assist in the war against the Soviets. (D)
    • The Rikti are a City of Heroes reference. The group originally met playing that MMO.
  • While fighting for the Soviets in Iraq, Mole Man has a mishap with a Phantom Zone projector. He accidentally calls in Jormungandr (the World Serpent) from another dimension and destroys the entire country (D).
  • The Tournament of the Seven Mystical Cities of Heaven convenes on the border of Soviet Russia and is cancelled when Red Heroes attack it. (L)
    • One of the players will probably be running Year One Iron First.
  • First Wave, Rikti, World Serpents, Red Supers, Ninjas, Mutants, Kree, and Phantoms clash in an apocalyptic battle over Turkey. (D)
    • This player deliberately left this open. There’s a battle, but no statement of resolution. He set it as dark, so I can assume the war continues on. He mentions several groups we haven’t seen: Kree and Ninjas for example. But he also mentions World Serpents suggesting some interesting fallout from the Iraq situation. Perhaps some transformations ala TDAR? Or actual giant serpents? Then there’s the mention of Phantoms. What does that mean? In the last campaign the Phantom Zone was a high-unbreakable prison that Mister Miracle finally cracked at the end. In this timeline so far, it’s been a more permeable version of that, with it also used as a means for exiles from other dimensions to reach this one. So what are Phantoms? A slang term? Some kind of person enhanced by contact with the Zone? A fragment of the Zone itself?
Period: Authorities Confirm Vanishing of First Wave
I left this deliberately blank at the start and the players opted not to fill in more here. That gives me plenty of room.
  • Mister Miracle reappears, stumbling out of a Boom Tube in the center of Manhattan, a flood of phantom zone refugees trailing behind him. Strangely aged, with long grey hair and a beard, he collapses upon emerging. (L)
    • Question: How does the new Mayor of NYC discover that the Mr. Miracle is not the original Miracle?  Deputy Mayor Dick Grayson, unnerved by Miracles’ rambling prophesies of interdimensional invasions from tentacled mind gods, investigates and discovers the Mark of Odinson on him. (L) 

Wow.

The players continue to dig Microscope. We’d used it for our 13th Age campaign and they’d used it for Numenera. One of the players hadn’t tried it before and he dug it hugely. Including rules explanation, we managed to get in six rounds (a starter one plus one for each player) in about three hours online.

I wasn’t sure what the tone of the new campaign would be. As I mentioned above, they’ll be running legacy characters. I imagined something like Young Justice, Gen13, Infinity, Inc, or Runaways. But I hadn’t expected that to collide with a really dark timeline. The world’s at war, a war of superbeings. Dimensional invaders and refugees have shifted the balance of power. Victor von Doom is the US President. The economy has collapsed. Humanity has seen whole nations destroyed.

And the major superteam, First Wave, has mysteriously vanished.


So this may well be a darker, grittier superhero game than I’d imagined. More like a Netflix series in a devastated New York? Or perhaps it’ll be about some kind of redemption and rebirth from that crisis. We’ll see. I have a lot to think about for next week.