Tuesday, October 14, 2014

30 Days to Save Science City: Building the One-Shot City (Part One)

On Friday I ran a superhero session for VirtuaCon '14. We used the Venture City Stories rules for Fate Core. Part Two of this post is here and a session summary is here

Here’s the pitch:
Science City, 1937. Once a shining beacon of progress and hope following the defeat of the Kansegu alien invasion, darkness now covers Science City. Some hint at strange forces behind the transformation of this island paradise. But clearly corruption, urban decay, foreign agents, and criminal influence have made Science City a hotbed of vice and crime. 
You’re going to fix that. 
You’re a superbeing with amazing powers and an equally difficult task. The Transatlantic League, the world-renowned team of superheroes has selected your group to fix Science City. But you only have thirty days. How you decide to do that is up to you: quiet, loud, soft, hard, above board or from the shadows. Will you prove that heroes can make a difference and keep yourselves above the muck?
I’ll set the stage and you’ll figure out what to fix and how to do that. Play involves a mix of investigation, social interaction, problem solving, and the occasional head thumping, should you so choose.
This game is based on the superhero world created by a crack team of RPGGeeks just for VirtuaCon ‘14. You can see the full write-up of that history here . You don’t have to read that or know anything about it to play, but that’s pretty cool, isn’t it? 
Game: Fate Core (using Venture City Stories mechanics) Genre: Superhero Brief: Newly-Minted Superhero Team Tries to Save a City of Crime
I put together eight pre-gens for the group. Some of those came from VCS and the rest from example builds posted on the G+ Fate Core community. We ended up with five heroes: Doctor X (a transformed super-scientist ala the Beast), The Phantom (a wall-phasing super-agent), Shockwave (an electrical dynamo), Johnny Speed (a lightning-fast blur), and That Guy (a driven doppleganger). All the players had played some form of Fate Core. I tuned the characters a little higher since it was a one-shot (extra stunt IIRC). I’ll write up a brief session report for this game and the two others later. 

I'm going to present the materials I used to craft the scenario. It was a one-shot, but I ended up over-preparing more than a little. This is the first half of the material; after the other half I’ll talk about how I might rework and consolidate this for the future. I wanted to present an open scenario with pretty clear objectives, but allow the players solve things any way they wanted.

If you want to check out the video for the session, see here. The longer recording covers the whole session recorded via G+. I also used XSplit to record it so that you can see the Roll20 app. That's coolest in the last two parts where we get to the fight maps. 

To begin I gave them the most essential elements from the history I linked to above. The setting's a 1937 pulp America with more fantastic technology. There’s a long history of alien invasions. The most recent one, the Kansegu Invasion, was turned back in great part by Superbeings. Powered humans appeared and began to change the world. Then a short time later Mutants began to appear. They also had powers, but coupled with dramatic physical changes. This led to them being ostracized.

The PCs would all be heroes invited into The Transatlantic League, the world’s greatest superteam.  Lady Paladin, one of the higher echelon members of the League, briefed them on a secret assignment. They would take on this mission before joining offically. It required avoiding direct connection to the League for several reasons.

As Lady Paladin explained, two years ago in 1936, the League received a message from the supervillain, The Iron Gale. It was simple. She said they had until the 15th of August to clean up Monaco. The city had become a hive of scum and villainy- with supervillains, mutant refugees, and European anarchists & saboteurs filling the streets. It was a complex and confusing situation. Uncertain about the veracity, the League ignored the message. On August 15th an earthquake struck the Monaco, killing upwards of 10,000 people and destroying most of the national infrastructure. It remains in ruins today.

Two days ago the League received another message from Iron Gale. She told them they had until October 31st to clean up Science City. (At this point I went into a little more detail about the city- major America city, a close offshore island, major port and shipping locale, center of industry and trade. It had once been focused on progress and technology. Renamed after the 1901 World’s Fair there. But now it was a city given over to crime and corruption. A major superhero, The Watchman and his allies, vanished about five years ago. Since then crime had run rampant. Science City is “comic-book vaguely” located on the East Coast.)

The Iron Gale’s message left the League in a tough position. Science City is a mess. The League has ties in America, but are limited in their ability to unilaterally act there. They don’t want a panic and there’s no way to clear the city safely or reasonably. How the Iron Gale hit Monaco remains unknown. The League can’t be seen giving in to supervillain demands. At the same time they can’t ignore the situation.
Built from a map of Gotham City
So they’re sending the you in. You can decide how you want to operate- loudly or quietly. You will be given a safehouse to operate out of. And you will be given some assistance, which you will need to prioritize. We can assume that you have the basics of these things. If you need to make a roll using these resources, you assign them to do something significant, or you invoke for something, their rating will go down by 1. Assign a +4, +3, +2, and a +1. Consider that like a stress box on the aspect.
  • Agents: Trusted personnel who can carry out tasks. They can deployed as back up or to run something down on their own.
  • Contacts: Trusted local experts. This can be used as a bump to character Contacts rolls, to come up with a new contact, or as an aspect.
  • Cover: Alternate secret identities. Deeper background records- can be normal or costumed identities.
  • Resources: Money, tech, equipment

(The players chose the following order: Contacts, Agents, Resources, Cover)

What follows are the GM notes I wrote up for myself. It focuses on seven major factions in the city, plus local government structures. I tried to use the Venture City Stories structure for most of this. I dropped the “Slogan” concept and instead noted Associated NPCs/Ways In and also Hooks. I present the first three of the seven factions below. I’ll post the rest in the other half, along with a rough relationship map.

Important! This is really rough since I wrote it up purely as my GM notes. 
Current Issues
  • Vanished Local Superhero Leaves a Power Vacuum
  • Rising Tide of Violence Between Criminal Groups
  • Corruption at the Highest Levels
  • Decaying City Infrastructure

Impending Issues
  • Iron Gale’s Going to Destroy the City If They Don’t Fix It
  • Zolana Zinkman Plans to Overthrow the Government
  • Collapsing Section of the City

The Watchman had been a hereditary position, but the last Watchman was killed by his son five years ago. While he lacked the skills and powers of his father, Hippolitto Ratliff has a certain amount of animal cunning. He killed off two of his father’s associates: Dr. Dark (Verna Harrison) and Jack Frost. The third, King Midas, he captured. He’s used Midas’ transformational gifts to supplement his wealth and income. He has to be carefully with this, however, since Midas’ work takes great energy for things of complexity and stability. Ratliff plays at the playboy, enjoying his newfound freedom after his father’s death. Many think he’s simply a fop. He possesses grew physical prowess and extraordinary senses.

Oriflamme arose four years ago, about a year after dispatching his father. He carefully used his father’s accumulated research on criminal in order to carve out a place for himself. He did this by striking at and taking down Warner Harthog and his criminal organization operating in Radium Heights. Oriflamme came out of nowhere- striking quickly and quietly overnight, flipping Harthog’s organization overnight. However he’s had trouble expanding territory since then, as his information’s gone more and more stale.

The front man and highest known person within Oriflamme is Walter Kroon, an organizer and aggregator. He’s especially fond of controlling the gambling interests. Kroon is one of the few who know Ratliff’s behind the operation, but even he doesn’t know that Ratliff is the Watchman’s son. On the street they call Oriflamme "the Flames." But in private they use a set of medieval codes and masonic brotherhood practices.

Associated NPCs/Ways In: Former Housekeeper for the Ratliff family, Private Detective Who Worked with the Watchman, Discredited Organized Crime Specialist, Precious Metals Dealer, Rival Who Wants Control of the Wire Services

Hooks: Walter Kromm has a long-running feud with Davian. He was scammed by the Doctor and wants payback. Hip Ratliff is engaged to be married (Jody Fay Hobbs). His fiancĂ© actually secretly works for the Steel Hand. They don’t know ratlif’s ID, he’s merely a mark.

High Concept: Ambitious and expanding high-end criminal organization.

Secret: Heir to the Watchman Gone Bad

Skills: Espionage +1, Resources +3, Security +2, and Violence +3

In the late 1920’s, early 1930’s Armel Stravinsky ran Stravinsky House, a kind of sanitarium and asylum for mutants. Settled on a large estate near the park which surrounds the Science City reservoir, it grew to house a large population of teens afflicted by mutations. However, in 1933 exposes and investigations by social workers revealed a host of abuses, radical experiments, and criminal activities that violated the sensibilities of the day. Stravinsky House shut down and Armel fled to California. Some inmates returned back home, some were placed elsewhere, and some vanished into the city.

A few years later an organized pattern of criminal activity began to hit Four Points and the surrounding city quarters. Detectives looking into found a weird mix of street crime and evidence of power use. Some suspected that mutant runaways were involved, but evidence suggested a larger criminal network than could account for this. Investigations rarely went anywhere given the level and nature of the crimes. That’s changed in recent years as the activities of the so-called “Orphanage” has stepped up and become more organized.

The group is centered around a handful of Stravinsky House survivors. They’re led by Enoch Kadosa. He and the others were teens when they fled into the woods to make a life for themselves. They decided to carve out a place for themselves in the decaying places and oddly flooded sections of Four Points. They’ve created a street gang, mostly youthful, with Enoch as the Fagin of the group. His low-level mind influence powers have meant that he’s able to attract runaways and keep them in his pack. Over the years he’s dominated his fellow survivors so they believe he’s their savior. The Orphanage is made up of a mixed group- mostly runaway kids and teens, some mutants who’ve heard the rumors about the group, and some adult “graduates” who are under Enoch’s thrall. Right now the group’s dangerous but unambitious. Eventually Enoch will become dissatisfied with that.

It is not generally well known that the Orphanage has mutant leadership- and discussion of that’s kept under wraps.

Associated NPCs/Ways In: Beat Cop, City Rebuilder, Social Worker, Sibling of a Controlled Gang Member, Escaped Mutant Member, Local Alderman, Daring Reporter, Hungry Scientist

Hooks: Group could be played as an ally if approached correctly. Enoch Kadosa is a rabid collector of lenticular baseball cards. One of Kadosa’s dominated humans had an accident which reset his mind. He’s angry and resentful at the manipulation and has begun to organize an anti-mutant backlash group.

High Concept: Streetwise youth gang with an organizational backbone.

Secret: Hidden Mutant Network

Skills: Espionage +2, Security +3, and Violence +3

Zinkman Industries may appear to be a mid-range corporation with some criminal ties, but in reality they are perhaps the most dangerous group operating in Science City today. Industrialist Zolana Zinkman has been ambitious and dangerous all of her life. When she assumed control of Zinkman Industries in 1923, she looked at her father’s criminal contacts not as a weakness, but as an asset. She knew that she would have to be twice as ruthless as any man in order to make her way and survive in a man’s world.

Over the years Zinkman has been suspected of being behind a number of criminal conspiracies: chemical dumping, illegal testing, corporate espionage, theft of prototypes, industrial sabotage. However they’ve managed to evade prosecution time and time again. Witnesses disappeared, accusers recanted, evidence vanished. The Watchman tangled with Zinkman several time. But money, influence, and a long history with the city meant that he was only able to stop plots rather than bring the company down.

Zinkman Industries has a stranglehold on businesses and industries in the Tomorrow Way district. Their complex in the heart of the neighborhood is a veritable independent city-state. Zinkman has several levels of security services, including her corporate agents, police on her payroll, and Department Seven. This group arranges and carries out her black ops work. That’s headed by Trevor Studer, a dangerous and highly efficient criminal with a military background. He’s also one of the few who know the truth- that Zinkman has made a bargain with the German government. In exchange for money and technical secrets she plans the destabilization and destruction of the United States government. In particular she hopes to overthrow Roosevelt by 1940 and put in place a technocrat of her choosing. Zinkman deals in treason, weapon smuggling, and preparation for a coming war.

To that end she has been making strides in adapting alien technologies banned by the United States. She has begun testing and manufacture of several energy beam systems, weaponized dirigibles, as well as battle dress armor which will make her agents invincible. Zinkman recognizes that in order for her plans to go as she wishes, she will first need to take control of Science City. She has been behind the recent escalation of violence. In particular, she has gathered dossiers on her adversaries- she hopes to negotiate with some and surgically remove others.

Associated NPCs/Ways In: Discredited scientist, Polish Agent, Junior Technician Who Knows too Much, Escaped test Subject, Reporter on the trail of a cover up, drunken payrolled cop, accountant with a conscience, sanitation engineer, Zinkman’s former lover

Hooks: Zinkman’s having an important meeting with her German handlers. She’s using the cover of a major soiree, her daughter’s engagement party. The daughter’s her heir apparent. The older son’s resentful and has been hanging out with people from the Sundown Boys. Zinkman’s currently awaiting a vital shipment of rare/illegal goods which will allow her to shift to “Phase Two.”

High Concept: Evil Corporation

Secret: Treasonous German-Allied Exploiters of Alien Tech

Skills: Bureaucracy, Espionage, Resources, Security, Tech, and Violence

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