Monday, April 28, 2014

City Building: A New Campaign Jam

New campaign building- one of the great pleasures of the GM’s life. I enjoy it even more when I can combine that with player input and ideas. They provide the scaffolding and I do the finishing work. As I’ve mentioned several times in the past we’ve used several variations on Microscope to do this preliminary development. With the shelving of the Wushu campaign, I got the players together on Friday to assemble something new.

Of the three concepts I pitched, they settled on a fantasy game with the character acting as ‘sort of’ City Guards. The PCs will be keeping the peace in a section of the city, limiting the damage from crazed adventurers, trying to advance themselves, dealing with plots and conspiracies, building a network, and perhaps even figuring out how to line their own pockets a little. The game will have a dash of building (setting up shop, creating networks of contacts, earning promotions), some investigation (solving crimes, preventing incidents, uncovering villains), and some fighting (boots to the head). While the characters will be part of the city authorities, they will be loosely overseen and given a good deal of independence.

The metropolis itself is a rough & tumble city-state on the borderland. It has independence, though it has been conquered from time to time (actually many times). It is a port city, at the headland of a river valley of the ancients. Several rival Empires may prove to be threats. The more I look at it, the more it reminds me of Pavis. The feel and tech level should be close to Lankhmar, Elder Scrolls, Tolkien, Game of Thrones, etc, with magic. I established that basic premise for the players to build from. We plan to use our homebrew, Action Cards, for a campaign that lasts one year real time (24-26 sessions).

With that in mind we went ahead and built the city as a group exercise. I used mostly the same approach we used with Grey Reign. Players build Neighborhoods at the top level, Places/Persons/Things within those neighborhoods, and Rumors/Reports connected to those. We did seven rounds- two of them open and five with a theme determined by the Lens:
  • Round One: Past Glories
  • Round Two: Vice
  • Round Three: Faiths & Cults
  • Round Four: Under Construction
  • Round Five: The Outside World

Instead of Legacies from Microscope, players created a faction or group. We built quite a bit of the city, but there’s still plenty of room for new neighborhoods and ideas. For example I have to sit down and map out the pantheons, how magics structured, some kind of map, and what the major nations of the region are. I should also note that we used the Palette (aka Add/Ban) list more liberally than standard Microscope. Rather than simply being about adding out of genre elements or restricting genre tropes, we used it to add global elements to the world.

I haven't yet come up with a name for the city...

  • Multiple Races—but with a twist. There are “Ancient” and “New” lines for each of the races, including humans. Ancient versions are extremely long-lived, taller & strong, and clearly notable as of that blood. They’re also extremely rarer and dying out. How this split of old and new came remains up for grabs (probably with different stories for it).
  • The city is a port, but at nestled within a river delta. Upriver live and vitality cling close by the banks- with deserts and rocky terrain beyond that. It wasn’t always this way but some event transformed the area. Hence it is a rich site for explorers searching for ancient ruins and lost treasures.
  • The city experiences strange weather phenomena from time to time. These events keep people indoors. The source remains uncertain.
  • There are multiple cultural holidays in the city- representing the numbers of people who have settled here and the fragmented history of the city itself. People have to track days for kinds of events, districts affected, and what kind of business can be held then. Almanacs and posted calendars are useful.
  • There are a limited number of schools of magic. Each possesses a unique “primal” spell which is usually the first one taught, and the one most easily empowered or developed by casters of that school.
  • When travelers leave to head inland, they must leave something behind. It can be a donation, a gift, a precious object, a letter. These are collected in various places in the city.
  • Magic is taught, but it can also be innate. Some wizards are simply born with heightened gifts.

  • The level of engineering is comparable to the Roman era or early Middle Ages. There are no sophisticated non-magical machines (like mass production looms, printing presses, or crossbows).
  • Divination, prophecy, scrying, past visions, even speaking to the dead for information- none of that works in the city. Informational magics of any kind simply do not work here. They do elsewhere in the world, but not here.
  • No subtle magic casting. When you cast a spell- people know it. You might be able to create a distraction, but if observed, you cannot hide your casting- as it gives off some external signs.
  • No non-affiliated people. Everyone belongs to some kind of faith or cult- that’s simply a given. As a result that’s often taken for granted and in some cases viewed simply as membership in a club or organization rather than a statement of philosophy or belief.

A section of the city built vertically during the Sheten Inquisition. It is connected by rop bridges and walkways to the Verdant Stairs. The Vertices reach close to two hundred feet in the area- a mammoth structure much wider at the base. The interior is a hive and constantly under repair. Travelers heading inland from the city must pass through at least the lower sections of the Vertices.
  • Sharvasdar the Minder: An “Ancient” Elf who haunts the Vertices. He fought against the Sheten Inquisition. Sharvasdar usually remains hidden, but he pops out from time to time with lunatic frenzies.
  • Blood Oath Veranda: A covered alleyway known for sanctifying with divine favor all covenants and contracts agreed upon therein.
  • Prefect Bilious Marblespeck: Lord Judge and Assayer for the Office of Relinquishment for Safe Passage.
  • Dorada Ni’Alique: Exiled Noble of the Volosha appears to live a decadent life off the riches her family was able to abscond with. The astute eye notes the circle of bodyguards move with military precision, her salons favor tacticians & strategists, and her lovers are very rich.
  • Wheels of Eternity: A group of buildings in the Vertices shaped like wagon wheels. They house the city’s lawmakers and bureaucrats. Petitioners are said to usually have to wait forever. For judgment, the wheels of justice turn slowly.

Terraced Gardens rising from the flood plains to the top of the city’s riverside palisade.
  • Dusthroat of Gales: A lizardman gardener of note. He maintains several patches on the stairs. Dusthroat raises various herbs, roots, and sacred woods used in the rituals of cults and worship. His secret methods result in an amazing potency for these products.
  • Harbingers of the Golden Lily, Lady of Scents: A cult in the verdant Stairs. They cultivate flowers and plants in order to make the perfect aroma of which one breath will send you to heaven.
  • House of Briars: The embassy of the Elves and creatures of the Fey. It is a tangled place high on the apex of the Verdant Stairs.
  • The Parade of Beasts: The High Time of the Cult of Beasts. Once a season during a full moon, all of the city’s animals gather in the gardens and move in a grand procession through the city until they disperse at daybreak.

The buildings surrounding the remaining three towers of the Archons who rule the city. Once there were a dozen such masters and towers, but time has worn both down.
  • Reckoners Temple: One of the oldest structures in the city, where founders and city namers must appear to “establish” their legitimacy. At least eighteen foundings have been recorded. The temple also tracks the relative strength and influence of cults and gods in the city- with an eye to preventing any one god from gaining supremacy.
  • Lyriel Savant: The great grand-mother of Lucias Savant, the heroic element mage who was part of the group who most recently founded the city. The Savant Monks care for the poor in her honor.
  • Oduan’s Sort: A massive labyrinth library/reliquary of curated treasures given by travelers throughout history. Oduan’s cult’s great work is maintaining, cataloging, navigating, researching, and guiding those with need to the right item./knowledge for a price.
  • Boulevard of the Faithful Ones: A wide streets with the oldest (and richest) cults and religions have their main temples and cathedrals.
  • Dragon Fire Temple: A great golden dragon-shaped temple where both many pray for elder magics in worship of an ancient dragon and thieves ask his blessing to build their own treasure hoards.
  • The Blackened Day: Every year there is an extended solar eclipse and the full day is darkened almost like night. It is celebrated by some in this neighborhood and feared by others.
  • Shadow-Well: The name of the wells within this area. Each neighborhood has a unique name for their water supply. The city’s prime magic consists of the fresh water cisterns and fountains of lovely cool water everywhere. The city desalinates the coastal waters and distributes the water by any available channel.

A jet-black area of the city blasted by a mad wizards, home to the poor. Those who live there long enough find themselves slowly transformed into onyx.
  • Palace of the Beggar King: Ancient ruined manor house, now onyx where the family that claims ties to the hero who ended the mad wizard live. At the center, the wizards & hero remain- locked in stone and battle.
  • Truth in Secrets: A group who tracks and collects rumors & secrets- trading their knowledge only among their own or in trade for other secrets.
  • Cult of Wizardry: Followers of Kahleen Stillwater who claims to be a descendant of the mad wizard. She believes he sacrificed his mind to save the world and resents the Palace of the Beggar King. There has been an ongoing feud between these groups.

A disciplined area of the city deemed of great importance to its livelihood.
  • Fishmonger Square: Plaza inland from the docks where one can purchase any of the day’s catch.
  • Hawk’s Song Plaza: A featureless square transformed daily into shop tents and stalls where the merchants great and small sell their wares. At night it is taken over by moving parties gathered around entertainers, food & drink purveyors, and minor spectacles.
  • Rumor/Report: Every few weeks someone hears that the Archons plan to tear up the plaza for noble born townhouses, a great temple, or the new Moneychangers’ Guild Hall, but so far these plans have not come to fruition.
  • Dace Forewave: The most talented protégé of the legendary shipbuilder Last Timber! One of the few remaining shipwrights here, dale’s ships are magically imbued. They have a sentient figurehead that can navigate and predict the weather.
  • The Yards: Once a place for building fleets from the Woods of Zantyr upriver. Now the Yards serve mostly for the repair, descaling, and refitting of ‘free’ vessels and ships. A mafia of folk from the conquered island nation of Volosha run the area and excludes rival workers.
  • The All Seeing Eye: A tall and massive lighthouse being built from the Cult of Lathos, Lord of Flame, to watch over the harbor.
  • Dead Queen’s Hail: When new settlers or exiles arrive in the city they make their way here to his massive inn/tavern hall. There the Fellows of the Dead Queen direct them to the neighborhoods and enclaves of their fellow natives. The Fellows have perhaps the best sense of the ethnic diversity of the city.

An area full of the best of brothels, theaters, baths, and places to dine.
  • House of Roaring Thunder: A natural amphitheater that magnifies sound coming from the stage. However it steals the sound from the audience in turn. Many illicit deals happen here using a silent hand language known only to a few.
  • Lucinda Totalmeasure’s Spice Emporium: A shop that collects and sells all manner of spices, essential oils, herbs, and ointments.
  • Three Sips Aqueduct: One of the oldest features of the city, this aqueduct transports and purifies water from the river into a cistern in the midst of a square of brewers. It is always attributed to the most powerful brewing cult- but markings tie it to a long-ago struck down cult of prophesiers.
  • The Newest Trend: A fancy little shop featuring all imported items from across the world. Brought in by ships in the harbor. Only the wealthiest can afford the select and unique items sold here, but it has also become a target for thieves and black marketeers.
  • Tae Mann-Bonn: Claiming to be immortal, she is a powerful alchemist who states that the first principle of transformation is a cozy workshop. Her shop is supernatural comfortable and charming.
  • The Carnival of Ghosts: On the night of the High Holy Feast Day, this macabre parade wanders the streets and alleys searching for something…or someone…and will not leave until it is found.
  • The Bronze Players: A richly hued faction from the desert. They’re a travelling group of actors and musicians who came into the city and have an unexplainable fear of roped bridges. Unable to leave, they settled into the city become a permanent part of the Plaza’s features.

A literal undercity, formed during a mad rush for rumored mineral and ancient relics. The illegal excavations unearthed segments of elder dungeons from the past city and collapsed portions of the streets. It is now part topside fragmentary neighborhoods, part sinkhole, and part underground rooms and caverns. It is a ready place for marginal non-human groups and adventurers caught in a pinch.
  • Cavern of Mysterious Vices: A large cave riddled with mouth-like cracks that open and close like a vise. Sometimes things are crushed and sometimes they are turned into other exotic materials…sometimes dangerous…
  • As Above: A tavern located in the deepest sinkhole. The ale is dark and the back booths hide an entrance to a series of tunnels being excavated that run below the streets above and provide navigable, familiar ways to pop up to the city above.
  • Rumor/Report: The owner(s) of “As Above” are identical triplet Dwarves who seek an ancient treasure of their people.
  • Bracemar: A stone giant sorcerer who has established the major school of Crystal Thought, one of the eight forms of non-divine magic. Bracemar is said to craft items for those willing to undertake one of his bizarre quests.

Formed just on the outskirts of the city, one of the local blacksmiths has created a new sandstone material with heat and desert sand to make everything from beads to bricks.
  • Sons and Daughters of the Desert: Overland Scout Guild with ancient survival wisdom and knowledge of the upper river provinces.
  • The Vext: A band of desert exiles who arrived here a dozen years ago mounted on massive insects. While they normally keep to themselves, they do engage in trade. Secretive and said to possess lost magics, they forge their armor and weapons from the carapace of their insects and inject strange elixirs from their venoms.

  • Cultivators of the Bountiful Harvest: Guild which tends to the food plants on the Verdant Stairs.
  • The Grim Pallbearers: A group who ritualistically bear the city’s dead to the Onyx Graveyard. They wear masks and heavy cloaks to conceal their identities so they won’t suffer a social stigma.
  • The Unmarked: One of the oldest remaining Thieves Guilds in the city. They work to blend in and infiltrate their targets. Each member must find a “double” in the city who they work to copy and emulate. This is said to give them a ready patsy.
  • Expansion Scouts: Often made up of random adventurer parties who leave the city, going out into the desert wilds, expanding trade routes to other cities and reporting possible coming threats to the city guard.
  • Tarsand Stalkers: Once nomadic cultists of a sky god, they can never be more than an inch from the sky. They live mainly in tents on rooftops and travel across them as well- using a network of ropes, lines, and bridges.
  • Observers of the Celestial Spheres: A loose group of astronomers and astrologers who claim to find knowledge and fortunes in the study of the night sky.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

One Shots: Prepping & Running: Play on Target Podcast Ep. 27

This week Play on Target considers the challenges of running one-shots. You get to hear just how old-school and conventional we are. I think perhaps we err on the side of planning and prep and don't give enough weight to low-structure one-shot builds. But I only noticed that in going back and listening to the episode again. See what you think- do our experiences parallel yours? I should also note that this is the last episode we did with the new sound set up. You'll hear more pops than usual and one or two offset track bits. Sam did an amazing job cleaning the audio up (lots of work...). After this we return to a more conventional recording set up which should fix this.

I have a bunch of games I want to run, but my campaigns go on too long.

That’s a stupid thing to say, but also weirdly true. I enjoy running ongoing campaigns because they pay off my investment of time. I think players feel the same. Certainly within my group a one-off or one-shot doesn’t hold any extra currency, even if it is something they’d normally be interested in. They’ll indulge me for a couple of these each year- but only as a break; if we know someone’s going to be gone from a particular session. However, a series of one-shots as a regular evening wouldn’t fly.

And I’m much more comfortable with a campaign versus a one-shot. A campaign allows me the room to present the backdrop, set up concepts, react to the players, and have a story emerge. A one-shot adds more pressure. What’s the most important thing to show? What elements, incidents, or ideas absolutely illustrate this place? In a campaign players have time to find their footing. They can shift and change their reactions as they get a better feel for the game's premise. You have much less of this in a one-shot. I suspect that’s why you often see over-the-top characterizations and play in convention games. It isn’t necessarily that players at cons have a need for dramatics. Instead it represents the compressed space they’re working in to figure out who their character is.

Though we touch on it in the episode, I think it’s worth defining one-shot purposes: pure entertainment, exploration, and experiment. Pure entertainment games provide a session just to goof around. Here the system or setting doesn’t really matter- the players know what’s going on, the system’s transparent, or we have a strong linear story (like a mystery). Most of the people in my group know Call of Cthulhu, so if I ran something just to have an event (like Halloween), I might use that. Or perhaps if we wanted to have a retro-session I might run AD&D, GURPS, or Rolemaster.

This particular kind of one-shot may offer a counter-point to something we say in the podcast. We talk about the prep needed and the necessity of structure. But if the players already know the system, setting, and each other you can probably work without a net. Or at least with much less of a net. That could be a “What If” scenario in another part of an established world, an amnesia ‘just figure’ it out set up, or a tactical problem to be solved. I’m reminded of Rob Donohue’s “Two Guys With Swords” which uses Leverage. Some of that’s about showing off the flexibility of the system, but it’s more a kind of play space. We mention a few other low or no prep games and I think they break most of the guidelines we mention in the episode.

A more focused and often highly prepared one-shot form focuses on exploration. This shows off the premise, the system, or both. Most convention demo games fall into this category. If you want to show off the system, you probably want to structure discrete scenes demonstrating different mechanics. These should be introduced over time: skill tests, combat, magic, social interaction, etc. Some of the best demo modules and one shots I’ve read have clearly thought about that. There’s a great quickstart for Weapons of the Gods, “Auspicious Beginnings.” It offers a ton of rich material- and many directions for the players to go in. But it also gently and smartly brings in all of the unusual and distinct systems of the game They’re presented in individual scenes, with many opportunities for the PCs to try them out (or skip them and head elsewhere).

I think demo games which focus on presenting the setting can be even more challenging. You need to consider what elements and details really show off the premise. You need to pick not only what will grab the players' attention, but what will make them say: "That's what makes this set up different from any other." I mentioned running Base Raiders before. That has a great hook: superpowered dungeon crawling. Any good demo module has to play to that. Players should get a chance to explore a modest dungeon with some clever super traps and a few fights. It should feel a little like a fantasy game, but with enough twists to keep them aware of the modern supers nature of it. The second time I ran Base Raiders I made sure to play up the “locating a base” portion of the adventure.

Picking and choosing elements can be tricky. You don’t want to info-dump. Instead you probably need to approach it like a salesman, dangling the cool in front of the players. Of course too much focus on the world can obscure some things. For example I have a friend who played a session of Numenera. He said he could see something of the set up for the world, and how it differed from other games. But he didn’t end up with a good sense of what the players actually did in that world. It ended up presented as a sweeping panorama, with random and unfixed characters.

Of course that particular game had the double demo challenge: established setting and system at the same time. That’s often the most difficult- especially with players who really want to figure out what they can actually do in the mechanics. They may find themselves concentrating on that and not get the backstory. Or they may grok the story but feel frustrated by their character sheet. IMHO when you’re trying to introduce both world and game engine, the latter needs to suffer. Consider if you can offer a lighter or streamlined version of the rules. Make sure the mechanics are presented in the clearest way- without arcana or unusual terms. My own experience with Ashen Stars has made me particularly aware on this.

Lastly, there’s the experiment one-shot. You’ve read the rules and what the heck let’s give it a shot. You’re trying to figure out the game just as the players are. That can be a satisfying exercise. But you should probably make clear to the players that’s what’s happening. Make it feel like a shared enterprise and players will often cut you some slack. My first runs with Kingdom, Dread, Esoterrorists, Vampire: Dark Ages, and Microscope (among others) all had this feel. We’d gotten together to try something new…would it work? We didn’t know. 

If you like RPG Gaming podcasts, I hope you'll check out Play on Target. We take a focused approach- tackling a single topic each episode. You can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follow the podcast's page at

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Gaming Rundown Q1 (and other Updates)

Note: The latest History of Superhero RPGs list will be up next week. I like to post those on the week opposite our new Play on Target episodes. I hope to have some additional news and incentives regarding my gaming history lists next week as well.

Thought I’d give a quick rundown of play and campaign activity for the first quarter of 2014 (to establish my gamer bona-fides???). I want to get a better sense of what we actually get done in three months. All of the f2f games play out bi-weekly; the online games play out weekly but have a higher missed session percentage. If I’ve previously posted a campaign overview, I’ve linked to that.

The New Dragon (Action Cards/L5R): Five sessions (missed one in February). The current arc began with the group finding a lost valley in the northern woods of their province. There they discovered a hidden minor clan. I borrowed concepts from the recent L5R Book of Earth supplement. The PCs intervened to stop a Bloodspeaker assault on the valley. They rescued the survivors and crossed paths with an agent of their mysterious nemesis. Once again they saw signs that their adversary seems interested in the magics and lore of the five old non-human races.

The characters traveled back to Maru Katei and reported to their daimyo. The brought with them junior samurai of the hidden clan, as well as a young but untrained shugenja. We had some political discussions and negotiations and they struggled to figure out how they would present these matters to the Emperor. Later we dealt with some of the complexities of their roles in the clan and I ran a session focusing on the Bon Festival and their everyday lives and relationships. We moved the campaign forward to Winter- which included new events and seasonal actions.

First Wave: Series Three (Mutants & Masterminds/Roll20): Eight sessions. We began the third (and final) arc of this superhero campaign in medias res. The group fought the Carnival of Shadows (a City of Heroes reference) at an amusement park. They discovered that these villains, as well as some recent ones, had been extra-dimensional incursions. They also met a female version of Nightcrawler who appeared at the end of the fight, suffering memory loss.
Next the group faced the threat of Doctor Apocalypse who inundated New York with a freak weather storm. The group defeated his massive Doombot. This in turn led them to The Destroyers, former Cabal agents who had been hired to assist the mastermind. They fought in the Destroyers HQ and then took out Apocalypse. From this, and Lady Nightcrawler’s recovered memories, they began to piece together the real threat facing them.

While the Cabal, who had once ruled their world in shadows, had been destroyed- their legacy remained. The Cabal had raided other worlds and dimensions. Now forces from those dimensions had decided to destroy the Cabal’s homeworld using a hyperdimensional weapon split into three parts. The PCs would have to figure out a way to track those, travel there, and break the weapons or else see their dimension annihilated. After consultation with various experts, the PCs fought their way into a Cabal base and discovered a gate. They traveled through- with some strange fallout from Thor and Mister Miracle due to their singular nature from the Prime world. The first dimension featured a Steampunk society which had been twice ravaged by the Cabal. The group intervened to assist one of the few remaining heroes- The Spiderman. He alerted them to strange goings on at the Galactic Railway Yard.

Ocean City Interface (Action Cards): Six Sessions. This campaign opened with a fantasy arc. Players made up their characters, members of a mercenary company which had suffered losses. They took an assignment to quietly seize a remote valley, to be followed by further instructions. On arrival they checked the area, discovered a travelling carnival in the valley, and negotiated with some locals. More importantly they came across an Orc Raiding party also targeting the area. After bargaining with the local lord, they engaged in a series of battles with the Orcs, eventually emerging the victor- with some minor losses.

Their new orders led the main members of the company (i.e. the PCs) to a magically sealed door in the valley wall. Inside they discovered a massive ancient aqueduct system. Though old, it was not unguarded. Evading pursuit, they reached a chamber which housed the water purification relic they’d been hired to steal. The theft, however, collapsed portions of the retaining walls and the group made a desperate dash out to escape.

At which point the PCs realized that they were in a simulation of some kind. They woke up in the real world of City of Ocean in the year 203X. Somehow they’d been dragged into a mysterious VR game- though much more real and dynamic than any they’d seen before. They discovered new contact information in their phones- with the real world names of their fellow players. They made contact and discovered a sixth name in their lists, a man who had been murdered several days beforehand.

The group set off in various directions trying to uncover the mystery of this murder, how they’d been unwillingly transported into a game, and what Ocean City Interface was. They encountered several bizarre incidents and rumors. Then they found themselves again drawn into another world- this time a “Hub” for Ocean City Interface which called itself Atlantis. They discovered others had also been invited into the simulation, but their own accounts had weird errors. Returning to the real world again, they pressed forward with their rinvestigation. They encountered an exorcist who claimed that children had been infected by “Atlantaen Mind Worms.” Shortly after the group found themselves attacked by Headspacers who’d rented their minds out.

Note: Two of the six sessions covered character creation (once for the Sellsword portal and once for the characters OCI selves). In each case I managed to get at least an hour or two of play in as well. I think we’re keeping the pacing up.

Heroes of Yanzhou Province (White Mountain, Black River): Four sessions. We restarted this Wushu game we’d put on hiatus a couple of years ago. We added a new player and I spent some time producing better player aids for the martial arts (printed cards to make their choices easier). The group encountered a fleeing martial artist and invited him to join their company. They traveled to Only Six Devils, where they learned some of the secrets of the city and made connections to their visions. Gaining sponsorship, they agreed to participate in the local tournament- a series of challenges culminating in a fight and their choice of ancient item. We got through the preliminaries and the first events. However changes in schedules meant that we’ve once again had to put this on hiatus. I hope we’ll return to this in the future (especially since I made up those nice cards).

Changeling Lost Vegas (Fate Accelerated/Changeling the Lost): Five Sessions. We had some serious game bumps due to illness and scheduling. That’s the cost for running at 10PM on a Monday. This quarter began with the group following up on a threat to their friend/ally, the Born-Again Werewolf Lucas. That led to them blowing up a festival and taking down Wayne Newton and his band of supernatural hunters. Back at the estate, the group dealt with the personal fallout of that- and the difficulty of having guests on site. They began to piece together the events which had cost several Changelings in the Freehold their identity and security. A Hob Auditor sent them down into the Goblin Casinos to gather information. Finally the group met with the Spring Court again and John the Smith was accepted as a member of the Summer Court.

Heroes of Tamris (13th Age) Six Sessions. We began with our group hunting down a special herb to counteract poisonings in our city. We found a strange town and fought some ice trolls. Investigating further, we found more members of the Cult of the Crying God hiding in an abandoned castle. We took them out and released the wind spirit they’d been holding. On our return to Tamris, we discovered that our actions had helped reduce the brunt of an undead assault from across the waters.

After a little downtime we heard about occult murders in the city and pursued those. We found the source but he escaped. We did manage to kill a number of duped cultists. We followed up and eventually located a ruined city down the shoreline which more cultists had set up as a staging point for an invasion. We brought in other forces and killed them. We then headed out to a northern town to act as observers. The GM stopped the campaign there. He had stated several times he didn’t like fantasy, but he made a good faith effort with the game. I liked 13th Age and I would definitely play it again if I wanted to play more classic fantasy.

Total: Twenty-eight sessions run in campaigns. Six sessions played in campaigns. Additionally four sessions played in one shots (Monster of the Week, Kagematsu, Dungeons and Draperies, and La Resistance) and three sessions run in one shots (Kingdom and Owl Hoot Trail). 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

NO:LA Nightwatch: A Supers Campaign Seed (Part Five)

More pre-campaign bits and pieces I distributed to the players. I released a new "sheet" every couple of days leading up to the campaign. I wanted to give the players something they could quickly and easily read. More importantly I hoped these entries would give them names and ideas they could play off of. They would know if they wanted to find out X thing, they could talk to Y person. That didn't work quite as well as I'd hoped. Part of the problem was that the information remained isolated from them. I think if I were to do it over, I'd write up the NPC lists, but then make the PCs do some relationship mapping. They could pick and choose some characters to have a connection to. 

Note: some of these elements/characters are reworkings from other sources. You can find the first post and more explanation here. The history of the Second Sunder War is here.

Even before the events of Sunder's War, New Orleans was not rife with superheroes. Other, more notable cities like New York, Chicago and Opal City drew greater numbers of protectors. Many of those who survived the war want nothing to do with New Orleans-- mostly from a combination of bad memories and superstition. Today, despite the greater need for guardians, only four heroes (or vigilantes as the case may be) operate in the city.

Champion: It is unclear whether the original Champion died or simply retired from crime fighting. Certainly he has not been seen since Sunder's assault on Boston. A few months after the war, a woman wearing a set of armor nearly identical to Champion's appeared in New Orleans to help with rescue work during a series of fires in now derelict warehouses. Her armor appears to be a variation on Champion's, but possesses most of the same powers-- protection, increased speed and the ability to produce energy blasts. She travels on a modified hovercycle, but also appears to be able to use her armor for extraordinary leaps. Where the original Champion was legendary for an unpleasant sense of humor, this version is notable only for an extraordinary silence. She has only spoken though an artificial voice device-- an even then infrequently.

Stinger: Gifted with the apparently natural ability to fly and project bolts of neural energy, this hero has been notable for working primarily in the suburbs and outer districts of New Orleans. He's worked to keep crime from spreading into the more stable and wealthier areas of the city. While his results are unquestionable, he has generated controversy among certain communities. In a city with already tense race relations, even an apparently apolitical activity like superheroing can lead to questions. Thus far, Stinger has given no interviews to the press, but is said to have worked with a number of sheriff's departments in the outer boroughs.

The Bellman: With an uncertain appearance and even more uncertain powers, the Bellman is more a figure of legend than a confirmed superhero. There was a vigilante known as the Bellman who operated in New Orleans in the 1970's, but he was killed while stopping home a invasion. Recently rumors have begun to surface among the criminal underworld about a vigilante who particularly targets the most brutal criminals. As to whether this is simply an urban legend or an actual person remains unclear. One fact has pointed towards the Bellman's existence. The DHS: NO quietly issued a directive to its operatives some months ago that any stories regarding the Bellman should be reported and that he should be considered a hostile and potentially terrorist figure.

Hunter Wrath: Less a superhero than a notable public paranormal, Hunter Wrath came to New Orleans alongside a group of fellow exiles from Empyre to aid in the battle against Sunder. Most of Hunter's fellows died, and the few who survived left the city for other parts of the globe soon after. Hunter remained and has interfered with the activities of super-criminals on a couple of occasions (but has also notably ignored others). Hunter appears to be of Sidhe blood-- at least to those who claim to have an understanding of Empyre-- and has features that, to say the least, make it unclear if Hunter is male or female. Wrath has offered consultation to local officials on matters magical, but a general nervousness about the supernatural has meant they have not taken up that offer (at least publicly).

Nancy Belden: Most notable of the current district attorneys in New Orleans. She’s been involved closely in most recent high profile criminal prosecutions. She’s notable for not taking lead chair, but instead helping to oversee and coordinate efforts between the various cases currently going. In this she’s managed to connect the dots between a number of cases and add conspiracy and criminal network charges to them. She’s notable in that after her family moved here as a teenager she made something of a reputation for herself as a “teen girl sleuth.” While she might have pursued a career in law enforcement, she ultimately decided to go into law directly. She graduated from Loyola University’s Law School in New Orleans and made her way quickly into the prosecutor’s office.

Thomas G. Bradley, New Orleans Superintendent of Police: Bradley served for many years as a Deputy Chief having come up the ranks slowly and carefully. During the Katrina crisis and Sunder’s Assault on the city the following year, Bradley’s office became notable for stability and management—but at the same time keeping their work quietly handled. When Superintendent Mitchell retired after the Sunder crisis many expected one of the flashier Deputy Chiefs to move up into the role. However a series of reports in the Time-Picayune concerning Bradley’s work drew widespread public attention, resulting in his promotion. Bradley began with a neutral stance on the issue of vigilantes and paranormals in the city, but pressure from many quarters have meant that he’s now taken a harder line. Officers are generally encouraged not to work with superheroes, though there is no official policy in place. Within New Orleans there are those who blame heroes for what happened to the city (despite other who point out what Katrina would have done had they not been there).

Malcolm Rolff, Chief Enforcement Administrator the Department of Homeland Security: New Orleans: Despite the unwieldy acronym DHS: NOLA, this group has significant influence in some quarters—particularly among certain wealthier segments of the population. There have been accusations that the DHS has generally acted to support and back up efforts at gentrification and the elimination of certain “less desirable” neighborhoods within the city. Rolff’s work deals with law enforcement, criminal investigation, and tracking terrorism. He has used all the new authority given him to step on the toes of locals, seize cases for his department’s ends, and generally carve for himself a potent power base. Formerly of the now defunct MASS division of the FBI, dedicated to finding a solution to the super villain problem, he has a certain chip on his shoulder regarding paranormals. At the same time Rolff has been effective in exposing the rising tide of organized crime entering the city—the so-called Hurricane Mafia, Brick 14, the Green Star Triad Axis—but less successful at generating cases against them.

León De la Sombra: One of the few “supers” employed by the city (though the exact nature of his powers remain unclear). La Sombra came to the US along with several relatives after a crisis among the Super Luchadore’s of Mexico resulted in a splintering of the league and several notable para-celebrities going rogue. Through family connections he managed to obtain legal immigrant status and eventually graduated with a degree in Criminology and several related concentrations in the sciences. Heavily recruited by the FBI, he instead decided to join the New Orleans Science Investigations Division (SID). Despite some basis against him, his demonstrated competency and people skills won him many supporters and he has become a fixture among the Latino community in the city. Currently he is the supervisory field agent for the night shift in the division, meaning that he’s often seen at major crime scenes managing the work.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

NO:LA Nightwatch: A Supers Campaign Seed (Part Four)

More pre-campaign bits and pieces I distributed to the players. Some of these elements are reworkings from other sources. IIRC Terror Firma comes from a suggestion in a Heroes Unlimited book; there's another version of that concept which appeared a couple of years after I did this in Squadron UKYou can find the first post and more explanation here. The history of the Second Sunder War is here.

Japan has a significant split between the two sides of its superhero population. On the one hand it possesses a large and colorful segment of what have been called "Paracelebrities" in the U.S. They draw from across the range of powers from the unstoppable might of the Solar Commando to the less intense abilities of Second Guesser. Many have their own TV programs—reality or otherwise—with more emphasis placed on likeability of their persona's rather than actual powers. In fact, the most popular hero today is Super Taster, whose ability to discern flavors and identify substances has captured the public imagination, despite its decidedly now flashy and non-visual nature. However his careful choice of appearances, his go-to attitude and his recent victory on Ninja Warrior have made him near and dear to many. It is worth noting that Japan has a significant influx of paranormals from around the globe, hoping to make their mark in this lucrative sector. The situation has become somewhat problematic and Japan has recently moved to limit such travel.

The other side of the superhero population in Japan might be called a form of superhero elite. These supers have been recruited by the semi-nationalized zaibatsu, Asaka Concepts, to serve as agents of the government, security handlers, rescue experts and criminal investigation adjuncts. The government heavily monitors press and publicity for members of the Asaka zaibatsu, and is fairly liberal in its use of security restraint orders to prevent negative publicity. Asaka supers never make press appearances except in a carefully controlled situation. Still there exists a large underground network of gossip and fan-fiction dealing with them. To the public at large, these heroes are stoic representatives of the national identity, almost serving as a parallel imperial house in the minds of some.

Having been struck by natural disasters, government corruption, incessant warfare, and environmental damage, many worry about a recent new threat which seems to have struck the continent. Less than a year ago, a government patrol chasing down insurgents in Zaire came across a swath of land vastly different and alien. They reported back to HQ and then went in to explore. They were never heard from again. Several follow up patrols also apparently met a similar fate. At the time a few outsider observers were able to survey the area from a distance. They said the land seemed to have drastically changed vegetation and that there appeared to be movement of animals within the area. Visibility was reduced by something akin to a heat shimmer effect that may have been a property of the temperature or something else. Government Officials soon restricted the area and seized recordings and data from scientists before forcing them out of the country.

In the months that followed, satellites could track the progress of the area, now known popularly as Terror Firma, as it grew in size. Now it encompasses an area many miles across—and significantly spread into a local village. A government blackout within Zaire has kept reports sketchy, but there is some suggestion that the army quarantined the whole of the region forcing people to remain within the village even as the Terror Firma grew. Senior leaders within Zaire apparently believe that this lush development could be key to progress and growth—either through industrial development or perhaps through weaponization. Thus they have been loath to permit any outsiders to study the area. Rumor has it that some western nations have managed to gain samples through backdoor samples and are analyzing the data.

Given a dearth of information, currently scientists can only speculate about the source of Terror Firma. Some fear it may be an alien invasion in the form of a terraforming attack, others believe it some kind of sentiment ecological disaster, some think it might be some kind of magical attack or elemental, and others believe it is some kind of super villain lair. Regardless the situation has become more pressing following the discovery last month of two new and independent areas of Terror Firma in Sudan and Mali.

Following the breakup of the Soviet Union many outside observers expressed concern about the safeguarding and decommissioning of the great nuclear arsenal. Less thought was given to the large numbers of superhumans recruited and trained by the government over the course of many years. Over the next two decades, most former Soviet supers ended up in one of two camps. A good number emigrated to the West or other portions of the developing world where their talents could bring them fame and wealth. Most of the rest remained and began to take up strongman positions if their powers supported it or else joined with one of the Russian crime syndicates or corrupt industrial groups. Battles between superhumans tied to one faction or another became commonplace, adding to the already deadly mundane violence between criminals.

However, some Russian supers remained who loved their homeland and refused to bow down to the corruption around them. They took up classic superhero roles-- fighting crime and battling for justice. In this they found little support from the government or the elite who saw them as roadblocks to gathering wealth and power. When several supers tried to stop a turf war involving persons tied closely to the powerful of the Kremlin, they found themselves arrested and denounced. The few remaining idealistic supers found themselves in a difficult position. Chief among them was The Guardsman,a hero who had been given his mantle from his father, and his father before him. He gathered together a group of loyalists and made a desperate move. In lightning succession he assassinated Putin, the Prime Minister, and a score of other publicly corrupt officials. Within hours battles broke out between Guardman's forces and various other rogue supers. However, lacking any unity these criminals soon found themselves overwhelmed. The Guardsman declared new elections and established himself and his chief allies as the self-appointed guards against corruption, cronyism, and treachery.

Reaction from the world community was swift and negative. Threats were made but never carried out. There was some talk of establishing a Russian government in exile or of assembling an international brigade of supers to stop the Guardsman. Russia found itself without veto power or an official representative in the UN for several months. However, eventually the UN and others found themselves forced to certify the elections which followed. Though other matters, such as Sunder's invasion, have distracted from the situation, many world leaders view the "Russian Problem" with grave concern.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Spirals, Songs, and Summons: Building History for a Portal

Last Friday we had the good fortune to have our old friend Gene Ha drop in. He gave a presentation at a local college, but made time to sit in on for one-shot session. I'd played with Gene is high school and more recently he's played in my online Mutants & Masterminds campaign. Gene and I had spoken about Microscope before, so I wanted to give him a crack at it. To make the exercise practical, we opted to build the history for a Portal from our OCI campaign (more details on that here).

One OCI player, Scott, had selected Masks of the Empire as his portal. The tagline for that is “With the fall of the Witchwalls, the Empire of the Hours expands. Now they must dispatch agents to bring new lawless borderlands to heel. Can the Masks tame this magical frontier?” Using Microscope, we would write the history of this isolated frontier region with the following details in place:
  • The place had once been a distant borderland of the Empire of the Hours.
  • A magical barrier had cut it off- we would determine what that involved in our play.
  • Eighty years had passed in isolation and that would bookend our history.
  • We would be building a world for the PCs to play in- and that play would happen immediately following that last era.
With that premise in place, we decided to set the palette. More than usual, we ended up with a pretty modest list of Add/Bans…

  • Intelligent Magical Machines, not necessarily robots, but other kinds.
  • No Arcane “Firearms”
  • No Black-Powder
  • No individual manufacture or maintenance of magic items. Magic items require a consensus to craft and empower.
We had five participants and five rounds. We did an extra round without a focus to allow players to wrap some threads up. As I’ve done with previous world-building exercises using Microscope, instead of scenes we used Questions. Players could ask a Question about an event and either answer it themselves or pass it on to another player. That trick speeds things up, but does move away from a more rp feel. Usually I see questions when players find themselves stuck. In this case we ended up with everything clicking along so we only had a single use of a question.

I also tried an alternative drawn from our work using Microscope for city-building. Instead of a Legacy, I had players write up a faction, society, group, or people present in the world. The intent was to depend some of the on-the-ground player choices when this world pops up on the tabletop. You’ll see the list of those groups created at the end of the timeline.

Lens Focus (by Round):
1. Masks
2. Building
3. Given Voice
4. Betrayal
5. Scars

Note: I didn’t define the nature or source of the barrier further than this. I figured that would develop through play. My writ was simply that a frontier area of the empire had been cut off by a magical barrier. You’ll see that gains some definition later in the history. Note that, as sometimes happens, it isn’t clear exactly when the barrier arises during the chain of events listed below. That could reshape some of the details.
  • The Tribes Gather in Council: The work to regain contact with the Aether Spirits. (L)
  • The Face of a God: While speaking as Metatron for the God of Evenstar and Death, the Face of the Arch Pontiff is stolen in Mid-Ceremony. His ghost has no face or voice.  (D)
  • Tasks of the Unsleeping: The remaining Unsleeping are set to building canals and slowly turning windmills to redirect the winds and waters blocked by the Barrier. Few outlast the endeavor. (L)
  • The Face Returned: Prince Kalikos returns from the border to the Heartlands with the Face of the Arch-Pontiff and seals it away in the Grand Cathedral. (L)

Air Spirits, driven insane by their captivity within the Barrier, rise and thrash- their screams becoming howling winds striping the land and creating deserts. (D)
  • The Fleet Crashes: The magical air-spirit bound ships of the fleet go mad, betraying their crews and crashing into the ground. They litter the ground and end such travel in a matter of days. (D)
  • The Garden Lost: Betraying her lover’s trust, Pael Nael steals the Fifth Verdant Walker, a massive, mobile mechanical garden. However she gets only a few miles before she sends it tumbling over a cliff. (D)
  • The Earth Revolts: Winter’s Scar opens for the first time. It is a great chasm in the earth stretching across the isolated region. It begins a cycle, with the crevice snapping shut in spring and opening in winter. While open, it reveals great mineral wealth. (L)
  • Lost Tombs: Deep within the Cistern of Morg, uncovered by the rending of the Air-Spirit Illiath, the Tomb of the Curse Warden is found by scavengers. (D)

The spirits of the dead cannot pass through the Barrier. They accumulate and haunt the living. (D)
  • The Devas of Solace Return: Percadrix summons nearly forgotten legends back to the Marches of this fragment of the Empire. (L)
  • Liancarn Reaches the Hollows: Liancarn finishes his pilgrimage across the sealed region with The Key. At the Hollows he breaks the seals and reveals the great store of Fane Silver lost there. (L)
  • Mask Makers: Orchul, high arcanist, and his fellow mages work the Fane Silver into thin masks. Placed upon the spirits, they hide the dead from the living. (L)
  • Question: What is the dark secret Orchul didn’t tell the community about the making of the masks? The Fane Silver binds not only the ghost, but also those of its blood line. When they pass, they find themselves drawn to and merged with the mask’s power as well. This prevents newly dead souls from moving on or finding rest. In later years this would create dreadful masses of bound spirits. (D)
  • The Water Walls: Twerek Scorned completes the Tangled Seals, a set of locks and barriers to protect the Last Lakes from the encroaching desert and keep the waters under the authority of Sibilance. (L)
  • Spirit Rafts: Anlazuli builds the first of the Spirit-Rafts- floating platforms of chimes & lanterns- intended to draw the spirits away from populated areas. A simple and useful enchantment, the rafts soon become a common sight. They seem to cycle the spiral of the central rivers permanently, floating forever. (L)

Cut off from even the most distant Imperial rule, lawlessness rises.
  • Bandit Wars: The Bandit King Zonn Tral takes the Heartlands in a bloody revolt against his former mentor, Jael Allblood. In the midst of Jael’s sudden death, the control rod for “Sanras” is lost. (D)
  • Artoth Reborn: Tine Zeckt-Falling leads the refugees to the abandoned cliff city of Artoth to rebuild its former glory (L).
  • Curses Revealed: Pael Nael unmasks the Queen of Sibilance, revealing Mist-Eyed Drinker who took took the Queen’s form. Drinker, the Curse Warden, slays most of the guests at the grand ball to hide her secret- but many escape and seal the lake-borne palace. (D)
  • Hero’s Path: The Questgiver leads the Troop of the Vanguard through the Misty Glen of Shadow. (L)
  • Spiral-Heart Duel: The rivers, redirected, spiral uniformly to the center of the barriered lands. The three Bandit Kings agree to duel for control at the island in the center. They go but none return and their men fall to war. (D)
  • Bandit’s Fall: Caught out from his paid off Shock Troopers, the last Bandit King Auburth is captured by the Vanguard and jailed in the Tower of Sunfire. (L)

The Moons Vanish from the Skies for a Time (D)
  • The Tower of Lament: Imprisoned by the Curse Warden for her defiance, Tine’s daughter Knaipara learns the Tower of lament was not built as a prison. It is a giant mechanical historian, full of tales. (L)
  • New Masks: Tine’s daughter lives long enough to see the twelve Masks of Aroth- modeled after those of the Empire of Hours- completed and distributed to their fated agents. (L)
  • The Devas Undone: Sacrificing the last Beacon of the Unsleeping, Pael Nael collapses the northernmost section of the Winter’s Scar, burying the Devas of Solace and freeing the region from the perfection-demanding rules of this legendary spirit host. (L)
  • The Lost Ship: With the help of the Barrier Guides, the magical intelligent airship “Savras” and crew attempt to sail above the barrier and find the Moons, but they never return. (D)
  • Godkiller: The Hall of Sign-Solace collapses as Regent Hess, betrayer of the Barrier Guides, drains away the essence of the God of Evenstar and Death, using the blade Saint-Sinner, originally created by the guides to pierce the Barrier. (D)
  • The Summons: Var-seth of the East brings forth the Song of Valor from her Mask of Artoth, calling all heroes to assemble at her side. (L)
  • Death Takes All: The sand, the screams of spirits, and burning winds, the ever darkening sky…few can hold out against the Malaise which begins at the turn of the season. Only the hardiest, the Unsleeping, the Barrier-Touched, and a few of the Guides survive the moonless summer. (D)

Note: Again, I only put the title for this end era before the group. I figured they would develop an explanation which would tell us more about the world.
  • Whispering Lake: The Questgiver’s squire is nearly drowned by the new Bandit King Auburthrit. But young Fain survives to report the dead voices are trapped under the Last Lakes. (L)
  • Litany’s End: Myso, the spurned heir to the Throne of Hours- finally dies. His litany of curses trails off. Finally, the Chorus of the Mask of the Dutiful son is heard. Soon after, the Guides find weakness. (L) Note: this actually refers to events outside the Barrier. The Empire of the Hours is a larger plot point- the Empire which controlled this frontier state previously. The meta-game concept is that the players will be agents of that Empire coming to retake control after the Barrier’s fall.
  • Gates Left Open: Pael Nael arrives at Crotallan, last city of Sibilance, and finds it empty. It has fallen to the Malaise. This leaves only three settlements of significant size left within the Barrier. (D)
  • New Song: For a time the Voice of “Sauras” plays through many other machines. Each delivers a word of a message, but the whole cannot be pieced together yet. (L)
  • Grand Theft: Forgesteel Focus, the core assembly of the War Colossus, has been forged at South Landing. Agents of Regent Hess steal it under cover of darkness. (D)
  • First Cracks: King Dumas of the Dwarves and Technocrat Ablis of the Argent Gnomes find a weak point in the Barrier. They begin piercing it with a great magical intelligent drilling machine. (L)
  • The Second Betrayal: Orchul, traitor high arcanist and minion of Mist-Eye Drinker betrays his new master. The wizard has almost collected all of the words from the Voice of “Sauras” and is disemboweled for his efforts. (L)
  • Enemy of My Enemy: Hess- now a mass of scarred flesh and automaton war colossus- and The Listening Mirror seek to seal the breach. The Curse Warden escapes the Lake Bounre Palace so she can enter the fault and become the Barrier. Fight! (L)
  • True Names: Tine’s daughter’s mechanical scarab escapes her tomb with a secret: the Curse Warden’s True Name is a Millambet, a 1000 syllable poem. (L)
  • The Millambet: The last of Var-Seth’s heroes collects the final verses of Sauras with those Orchul had gathered. The Curse Warden has merged with the Barrier, and her death as her True Name is spoken shattered the Barrier. (L)

  • Argent Gnomes: One of the few peoples with any knowledge of the craft of intelligent machines. They rework and restore these into wearable devices, including armored suits and sleeves.
  • The Barrier Guides: Spirit-Deaf and hardened to desert life, the Guides travel the length of the Barrier testing for the beginning of its prophesied fall.
  • The Farspeakers: Those who can communicate with the Legend Spirits of the Empire and reveal their secrets.
  • The Barrier Touched: Some children are born too near the Barrier or come into contact with it for too long. They develop strange marks and in some cases unusual curse abilities.
  • The Listening Mirror: The secret cabal within the Barrier Guides who seek to become Gods within an eternally sealed realm. 
I'll talk in another post about how to unpack and find threads from that material. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

NO:LA Nightwatch: A Supers Campaign Seed (Part Three)

More of the background for my NOLA: Nightwatch superhero campaign. You can find the first post and more explanation here. The history of the Second Sunder War is here. This is a collection of real world-esque snippets I wrote to give the players a sense of the population's reaction to superheroes.

Fragments from a Weary World
From HR 1191—(Passed 403-13)
The Congress finds the following:
(1) The development and implementation of methods and processes that can be utilized to prevent violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence in the United States is critical to combating domestic terrorism.
(2) The promotion of violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence exists in the United States and poses a threat to homeland security.
(3) The Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States citizens.
(4) The Internet has aided in the spread of dangerous paranormal technologies and sciences in the United States. It has served as a clearing house for the propagation of the techniques to criminals and criminal organizations.

DC today announced the cancellation of the last of its superhero titles, following significant drops in sales over the last year. In September Marvel announced it would put all super titles on hiatus to, "make room for new creative developments." Bookscan sales figures for November show 14 out of the top twenty graphic titles are manga, a new record. Sales tracking over the last two years has shown a dramatic decline in the popularity of both superhero and fantasy graphic fiction. Of the six non-manga titles in the top twenty, two are crime fiction, one is sci-fi, one is historical fiction, one is young adult oriented and one is autobiographical. DC says it is pleased with the success of its new flagship titles: Jonah Hex, Mystery in Space, and The 87th Precinct. Other smaller publishers have announced new initiatives aimed at expanding the existing market—notably Image's new Sequel Series which will produce graphic fiction side stories and sequels to notable fiction in the public domain. They're pleased with the reception to d'Artagnan, which chronicles the adventures of the title character as spy in the years between The Three Musketeers and Twenty-Years After. An informal poll of comic bloggers suggest that the next big genres will be Mystery Stories, Near Future Science Fiction, Steampunk, and supplemental comics to existing properties like The Matrix and Star Trek.

Larry King: I want to go back to New Orleans—why wasn't the government advised about the location of this magical artifact?
Carter Niomis (former sidekick, advocate for parahuman rights): Larry—I think that's a misstatement—we don't have any evidence that the government wasn't informed.
LK: But we don't have any that they were…
CN: Listen, this administration has consistently placed any information under the cover of state security secrets—we don't—and can't know exactly what went on. I honestly can't believe that these honorable people wouldn't have told someone…but they had to be extremely careful, look we know that certain branches of the armed forces were infiltrated by Sunder's people beforehand. I mean, look at what happened at Annapolis.
LK: So you think they concealed this as a security measure?
CN: That's not what I said. What I'm saying is that you can't ignore the track record of good these people did and the sacrifice they made. We can't question them because they're dead. They can't be here to defend themselves.
LK: What do you say to the people, the people who lost their homes and their families and their livelihoods, when they ask—why didn't you just hand it over to Sunder in the first place?
CN: I think that's an insult to everyone who fought at New Orleans and everywhere else…
LK: We'll be back with more from Carter Niomis and then later, how the new exclusion of super-powers from the WWL is impacting the Mexican Luchadore Leagues…

"We tried to contain the damage as best we could. I mean Boston was a mess but at least we had the government hitting on all cylinders to get people out of there. In New Orleans, we still had the mess from Katrina and a half-assed job of getting things in place by FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers. So much of what we did was to get people out of there—from all the areas. We couldn't get everyone, we didn't get everyone…I have regrets…but I'll say this: we lost a lot of heroes because we spent the effort to do that when they could have been helping to prepare for the battle against Sunder."

"When it came time to fight, we had to choose our ground. We didn't have much leeway—we could only distract Sunder so much, and the cost for doing that…I mean, I don't want to think about how many lost their lives. We ended up battling in warehouse districts, shopping areas, parks, and in some residential areas—but I mean the areas where the damage wouldn't be as costly. We lost part of the French Quarter, part of the downtown…so to those people who said we went for the poorer neighborhoods, we lost nicer places as well but we had to make hard choices and choices on the fly."

"It was after that when we started hearing the rumbling, all the conspiracy theories, all the talk about supers having causes the problem. It wasn't just us. We didn't ask for this. I think about everyone who died and it makes me sick to my stomach. I mean I don't blame them—it was overwhelming and I'm not just talking about the people of New Orleans or Louisiana. No, everywhere you go people are looking at you differently. Scared, worried, not trusting. I mean no one trusts the government anymore and they've certainly lived up to that, but we're not tapping people's phones or torturing them…it isn't about supers. No one trusts a hero, or the idea of a hero. No one believes in them."

"That's why I quit."
--Ranger X, Veteran of New Orleans

The government deliberately sacrificed New Orleans

Supers could have done more to protect the U.S.

The government is spying on U.S. Citizens.

The President is doing a good job of protecting us from terrorists.

Superheroes are role models.

The Congress is doing a good job.

The next President will make positive changes.

The government can be trusted.

Superheroes can be trusted.