Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Underestimating Effort: Superheroes Year One (Part Eight)

Tomorrow's Session Eleven (of 12) for our G+ Mutants & Masterminds campaign. I've been really pleased with how things have gone, but I will say it feels like a lot of work. I'm a pretty prep light GM- I like sketching things out and running with them at the table. That's been harder to do with this game for a number of reasons. One, it is a superhero game which for most system implies points and calculations. I have to get my bad guys in a row or at least statted out enough that I can run from the notes. But I also want things to be fairly open ended, which means I do more work in case the players go in different directions. Sometimes I can shift the baddies, but sometimes I end up doing extra work. Two, I'm lucky to have a decent game room in my house and a solid collection of minis and terrain. I can put together a cool fight on the fly with a couple minutes prep. To put together a superhero fight- one that satisfies me- I need to have a cool map and tokens prepped for the bad guys and NPCs. Again, I over-prepare for that in case players go different directions. Getting those eats up time and I have a number of things I haven't used. That's great in the long run, but I keep ending up spending more work than I'd like. Three, mysteries require a little more prep than other story types. Some may disagree, and I admire people who can go total improv with that. I have to sketching clue paths, hooks, and options- not deeply but it is more work than other games. Four, I have seven players (but only six have been on at once). 

I think the next G+ game I do will be really loose- no maps necessary, sandbox choices, and clear goals. Still I really have enjoyed this- if I weren't running five other games, it would be easier. 

One note on these second session below, a case of my making more work than I needed to. I had planned out the fight on the bridge because I wanted a map which was longer than taller (I have a wide screen). I set up lots of "hot spots" on the map- hostages, endangered citizens, fires, etc which the players would have to deal with during the battle. It worked well and the group did an excellent job of handling those. I had a group of bad guys written up, but then I saw a link to Prospass' gallery on deviantart. He's done an amazing series of non-cheesecake gender swapped versions of the characters from Team Fortress. I knew I had to use them as the bad guys- so I threw away my original opponents and wrote them up. 

Session 8/22/12 KINGDOM’S MODEL
We opened with a brief interaction between Sarge Steel and King Faraday, the latter issuing some threats and hints. Steel gave him the whatfor and moved on.

The group headed quickly over to Davion Kingdom’s apartment. After some debate about the best approach, the group opted to check if anyone was home quietly and then move in. The apartment was empty, but signs suggested it had recently been vacated. A number of items had been hastily assembled and taken. Notes found on site suggested that Kingdom was involved with various some of the recent museum robberies. The team “opened” Kingdom’s safe and discovered old books covering occult matters including Lemuria and Atlantis. During the general search, the group noticed a strange effect from an apparently surrealist mural on the wall. It seemed to shift and move when not looked act. Some of the swirling art in the picture echoed images seen in Kingdom’s art: dark places beneath a greenish sky, the figures in amethyst masks, and elements which reminded Mr. Miracle of home. Iron Man took a practical approach and recorded the painting while no one looked directly at it. He saw it moving, and the image of Donny Vaccarino apparently trapped within it. Disregarding the risk, Nightcrawler teleported into the picture, grabbed Donny and teleported out. Freed from his prison, Donny told Firstwave that he’d hidden the Magus Gem in the Danforth Gemological Expedition. Kingdom had pried that out of him and seemed to be heading there.

Arriving on scene, the team realized that Kingdom and his associates had already broken in and had some of the guards hostage. Mr. Freeze worked to secure the innocents while the rest of the team moved in a pincer formation, hitting front and back doors. Kingdom’s cultist allies were little threat, except for a few scaly minions apparently amped up through some means. Kingdom himself in Egyptian occult regalia searched for the gem which Donny had hidden. Nightcrawler stealthily shadowed him and spotted the gem when the bad guys kicked it under a display. As the battle seemed close to finish, a new wrinkle emerged with the arrival of the Masters of Evil: The Black Knight, Klaw, Trapster, Whirlwind, and the Executioner. Firstwave assumed they were there as Kingdom’s back up, but it became clear that the two groups were in competition fighting for the gem (which Nightcrawler had already absconded with). A general melee ensued and the team took down the Masters quickly- capturing all of them except for Klaw who had been blown apart and the Black Knight who took to winged horse and escaped.

Session 8/29/12 A BRIDGE TOO FATALE
With the bad guys in custody, the group debated on how to deal with the situation. The painting and other documents had been taken into safe-keeping by Tony Stark’s people and Sarge Steel’s minions. The group questioned the Trapster, who told them that the Black Knight had hired them with a promised reward- but told them nothing about the artifact/item to be recovered. The Masters had hoped to wait, but The Executioner jumped out to attack the heroes when he saw Thor. The God of Thunder questioned Scourge, but his Asgardian colleague said nothing, becoming silent when questioned about his mistress, the Enchantress. Trapster offered little other help. Miracle, meanwhile, questioned Davion Kingdom about his role and plans. The comic creator/occultist said that he was, like Miracle, a prophet and a proselytizer- a knight of prophecy. He had created those comics from visions granted by his slumbering lord. He had been gifted by his master, the Awakener and Last Son of Lemuria, with his powers and mission. He had been sent to retrieve the Magus Gem. Miracle pressed him about what he knew about the Dark Man and Apokalypis, but Kingdom seemed to lack specific information. The group decided to secure the villains and items using Steel and Stark’s resources, and call DeWolfe to give her an update- then they would pursue some of the occult leads and such.

However, when they called DeWolfe they found her in the middle of a crisis situation. Just prior a group had been spotted mucking with the rail-only Kane Boulevard Bridge. When approached, the group seemed panicked or put plans into operation- killing some workers and eventually blowing up the bridge. DHS immediately sent people to check out the other bridges in case this was a coordinated attack. They discovered three bridges had groups on them engaged in nefarious activity. The situation escalated, with police and SWAT teams scrambled and then facing superior tech and firepower. Ms. Marvel and the Question were dealing with the Hell’s Gate Bridge, while Yes Man, Diablo, The Engineer, and Moon Knight worked on the Kirby Avenue Bridge. That left the Yancy Street Bridge. DeWolfe asked the group to head over there immediately and intervene.

Firstwave took off (after securing items and people). They reached the bridge and could see police boats in the water, trying to rescue officers from a shot-down police helicopter. The SWAT commander on scene gave them the briefing. A team of powered or high-tech baddies, accompanied by agent, had taken the bridge. They’d caused structural damaged and taken hostages. Additionally, they’d erected an energy barrier at either end, making it difficult for the police to move in. Some other tech had been set up to scramble visual surveillance, but the police had identified a series of “hot spots” where they believed civilians might be in danger or something weird was going on.

The group went in- with Iron Man pausing long enough to find and jam possible radio frequencies used by the enemies. Firstwave found themselves in a tough spot- fighting eight powered and highly armed adversaries, putting out fires, rescuing trapped civilians, keeping sections from collapsing, stopping cars from falling off the edge, and hauling a mother in labor to safety. Their enemy, Team Fatale, offered no quarter- and only Iron Man’s jammer kept them from detonating several hostages. The battle went back and forth but the group gained the edge by coordinating. One team member would knock down, lock up, or stun one of the bad guys and then Thor or Iron Man moved in to deliver the final blow. The situation shifted when the team realized that their opponents weren’t trying to blow up the bridge, but instead seemed to be excavating something from one of the towers. Firstwave defeated them all, but many questions still remained.

Previous Superhero: Year One Posts


  1. Impressive and interesting. Good stuff here man!

    I have never been able to understand how anyone uses maps, minis and such in a Supers campaign. I mean, I can't even picture doing it in my mind. You have a very special talent there.

    In the last session of my last Supers game, 4 PCs, about 6 NPC Heroes, 4 Major villains, 4 or 5 Minor villains and a dozen henchmen/soldiers were in a battle inside, under and on top of a subterranean base, while one here and one villain fought in Earth orbit. One PC and one NPC hero on the surface merged together and then joined the others in space.

    I would need a map of the entire planet scaled to the minis. I would need indicators of depth from the bottom of the ocean to the LaGrange point between the Earth and the Moon.

    People are running hundreds of miles an hour, flying even faster, teleporting, changing size and passing through alternate dimensions in any given fight. Minis and maps in Supers game? That sir, is a Superhuman effort.

    1. I think some of that comes out of having run and played Champions for years. Every game of that I played in used battle mats and minis. Even when we did open CH comabt, people had tape measures out. But most games there started at 200 or 250 points. There's always been a strong miniature gamer component to the play among my f2f group. I've moved over the years to avoiding maps when I can, but the players like it. In the G+ game I've abstracted everything- there's no distances. I used zones (ala FATE) to break up the action and show relative positions. Its also fairly low-powered (for the moment); I've tried to keep it show that the players can visualize where things are.

    2. Most of our games of Champions have been 250 to 300 points at the start but a long running campaign a friend started when Champions first came out and ended about 15 years ago has character start at, "100 point plus disads." Yep, if you can come up with 300 points of disadvantages, you start the game at 400 points.

      In his mind, this explained Superman and Robin in the same universe and sometimes on the same team. Robin probably comes to 200 points or just over. Superman on the other hand can be killed by one kind of kryptonite, loses his powers from another, be mutated by another, loses his powers under a red sun, can't stop magic and don't even get me started on those dependent NPCs. Ma, Pa, Lois, Jimmy, Perry and on and on. You know the rest.

      The groups I've run for and I have always been such Superhero comic book fans that we've played pretty much every Supers game ever made. The vast majority of the time the action is crazy fast and crazy...well...crazy. We got into the habit of drawing our characters but never even once tried to use a map or minis. We just deemed it too hard for us to keep up with what was happening if we tried to follow it with tools and tape. I think it would slow down the action to have to stop and measure and move pieces, etc.

      Bear in mind that I feel like those games with smooth and fast combat systems that move really quickly STILL move waaay too slow for my liking. ;)

    3. Agreed- I know many people in my group really love Champions for the crunch, but I don't think I could go back to it given how long it takes to resolve. I really like M&M 2e, but as fast as it is, it still feels like it could go faster. I trim rules and things, but for a superhero game you need speed and energy. There's an interesting tension there between my desire to race along and the players' desire to track and figure things out.