Thursday, October 23, 2014

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

This is the second half of the background material I developed for a Noir Supers session. You can see the first half here and a session summary here I used Venture City Stories for Fate Core as the system. This is based on a world players built using Microscope, so it has some weirdness. At the end I have some notes on how I might adapt and rework the material. 

The Club is a quiet criminal network, but one with pull at the highest levels. It stays pretty strictly within the confines of white collar crime, including prostitution, forgery, high-end smuggling, and elite drug dealing. Doctor Davian’s reputedly the brains behind the organization. He keeps himself holed up pretty tight in his nightclub, The Seventh Step. Has has a network of other “legitimate” businesses across the city, but particularly in Highmark.

Davian cultivates a sinister reputation and appearance, almost Luciferian. To this end he maintains private parties with strong cultic overtones. He entertains artists, actors, and other celebrities from across the East Coast who want to add some excitement to their lives via association. He draws them into weird midnight ceremonies, secret practices, and pseudo-cultic worship. All of this ought to have an almost Lovecraftian edge.

That’s in great part a cover for Doctor Davian’s real activities. Several years ago he came across a mutant with healing abilities. Through him he’s been able to synthesize and cultivate a drug with young restoring and healing properties. He’s combined this with other narcotics to create an addictive substances he carefully plies onto this intended victims. Davian’s not as clever as he seems- the simple fact that the youth restoring effect fades over time would probably be enough to keep them in his thrall.

Associated NPCs/Ways In: Underground Mutant Looking for Lost Friend, Desperate Fallen Celebrity, Spouse of Influential Person Worried About Cultic Stuff, Scholar Who Can Confirm Ceremonies Are Fake, Chemist Who Works with the Drugs, Ambitious Madam, Rival Mystic

Hooks: Though he’s a manipulator, Davian has a blind spot. He has unquestioning faith in a battle-scarred childhood friend who serves as his investment and financial advisor. Davian ignores some personal problems his old friend is having (which might be possible blackmail material). Davian’s head of security is romantically involved with a mutant who shows no outward signs. He/she has been placed in a crucial role, but absolutely lacks any and all skills for it.

High Concept: High End Sleaze Peddler with Cultist Aspirations

Secret: Trade in Addictive Health Enhancers Harvested From Mutants

Skills: Bureaucracy +2, Espionage +3, Resources +3, Security +2, Tech +2

Smugglers, thieves, and blackmailers the Sundown boys have the reputation of being able to take whatever they want. Their organization is distributed across the city- a loose affiliation of villains, gangsters, and generally bad dudes. They’re much less organized than any of the other major power players. That’s both good and bad for them. On the one hand, they get people rolled up pretty consistently. On the other hand, they’re spread out far enough none of that rolls up hill too far.

They’ve been known to work for other criminal organizations, carrying out dirty work and acting as freelancers. The probably have the most influence in Grey Cross, for strange reasons. The Sundown Boys exist in part because they have deep contacts and influence within the major city builders and contractors. The city planning commissioner, in particular, is in their back pocket. The Sundown Boys have a pretty detailed set up maps of the city’s transit system- and that includes secondary underground transit systems begun in the early 1900’s, but eventually given up as the move was made to street cars and elevated trains. A good deal of that came from work among the Moroccan community. But some kept working on it, and the Sundown Boys know how to get from A to Z the fastest.

Three leaders divide responsibility for the group- with two decently well known. Fahmi Hannan and Talaal Hanann are figures of fear and fascination among the Morroccan immigrant community. Their older brother, Badri Hannan, is rumored to be dead, but he’s actually behind the scenes pulling the strings.

Associated NPCs/Ways In: Urban Explorer, Upright Moroccan Sufi, Crime Fixer, Transit Historian, Disgruntled Construction Supervisor, Overly Greedy City Planner

Hooks: The Sundown Boys know where the Watchman’s base is located. They’re getting people ready to excavate. Badri Hannan was badly injured and is currently addicated to a mix of painkillers and alcohol. He hides this from his brothers. Over the years the Sundown Boys have planted explosives at key locations around the city in case something really bad goes down.

High Concept: Loose criminal network under a charismatic leadership.

Secret: Deep Knowledge of Hidden Transit and Smuggling Network in the City

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

Knee-breakers, gun-dealers, murderers, arsonists, extortionists…the Throck Syndicate is the classic mob group in Science City. They’re mostly closely associated with other mafia groups in the United States, especially the Cleveland and Boston mob organizations. Unlike other places, the Throck group’s run by a loose ethnic confederation of Belgians, Dutch, and French. They don’t fool around and have a reputation as ham-fisted, excessive, and unintelligent. They have dominant control over the Crucible- a mix of industrial, warehousing, and low-income residential. They also have major control over the ship building dockyards and associated industrial zones. They’re also said to be involved in some trans-Atlantic piracy.

However in recent years the Throck Syndicate has become much, much smarter. On the ground they’re still all fists, baseball bats, and steel-toed boots. But they’ve been more careful in their handling of upper level affairs: city contracts, shipping firm pressure, land purchases. They’ve also seemed to have the upper hand in several gangland throwdowns with The Sundown Boys and Oriflamme.

That’s due to an incident a few years back when they were involved in the hijacking of a dirigible coming over from England to Science City University. Contained within was an experimental calculation engine, based on designs and materials lifted from several alien invaders. The machine had been designed as a predictive device, aimed at long term planning. Uncertain what to do with the loot, Lamont Throck, head of the Syndicate called in his nephew, Gilbert Throck, an egg-head who had been studying technology and the sciences at Science City University. Gilbert spent the next several months figuring out how to work the device and eventually how to program it to serve the Syndicate’s needs. The Machine, Opus Zero, requires a great deal of electricity and other resources. Gilbert’s also been quietly using the machine to chart his own rise to power in his field.

Associated NPCs/Ways In: Resentful footsoldier, rival of Gilbert Throck at the University, utilities agent, machinist hired to make odd parts, rival gangster, shop-keeper under the thumb, corporate ship maker who wants to reduce his payoffs

Hooks: A former associate of the Throck syndicate is running a pretty obvious exploitative sweatshop off the books from the Syndicate. He’s respected and has some pull, but if he’s found out they’ll eliminate him. Throck has been gearing up to deal with Oriflamme. The computer has indicated that battle needs to be fought soon. To assist with that, he’s been recruiting super-powered muscle.

High Concept: Old School Mob

Secret: Servants of a Super Computational Engine

Skills: Resources +3, Security +1, Tech +2, Violence +3

This is an actual small-scale supervillain group, not much is known about them. They operate up and down the East Coast. There they carry out daring bank heists and raids. Their numbers have changed over the years, but there are at least four key members. They avoid costuming, preferring bulky jackets and almost heavy military uniforms, including hoods and gas masks.

They’re associated with Science City less because they’ve struck there, but because in several cases they’ve come into conflict with other criminal organizations there, as well as the late Watchman. Many believe the Steel Hand have their home base somewhere within the city. This means that from time to time they act to protect it or more specifically act to protect their interests there.

The Steel Hand is a family of superbeings. It is led by a matriarch, Isabella Shaw. She discovered her powers as a medic during the Great War. Shaped by her experience there, she returned and embarked on a criminal career designed to enhance her position. She did this to support her three daughters. Eventually she remarried a wastrel son of a good family, using her skills to influence and straighten him out. When her daughters came of age, she brought them into the family business. The current line up consists of Isabella Shaw (low-key telekinetic powers with amazingly fine manipulation), Miriane Shaw (Heat Control), Cassandra Shaw (Physical Powers- shift between speed and strength), and the youngest, Kip Shaw their half-brother (Flight, Air Control). The third sister, Sara Shaw (Desolidification) has left the business to get married. There’s some tension there.

The Steel Hand takes pains to disguise their gender. They try not to operate too heavily in Science City, but this is where they live. They have a network of suppliers, fences, and underground dealers who work with them- and they protect them fiercely, hence their clashes with other criminals. They also don’t like anyone pulling anything big in The Lock.

Associated NPCs/Ways In: Sara Shaw’s husband (Willenieke Soppers), Douglas Donald Shaw III, former household staff, gear supplier, money launderer, local expert who saw them fight, federal crime specialist

Hooks: Sara Shaw is considering turning her family in. Soppers has been quietly selling some of the stolen goods on the side. These might be tracable and/or he might have some ties to Davian behind his wife’s back. One of the Steel Hand’s local craftsmen or fences might be known to the cabal of non-corrupt cops in the city. They haven’t moved on the target because it might be too big for them.

High Concept: Well-Organized Supervillain Team Based in Science City

Secret: Old School Supervillain Family

Skills: Resources +1, Security +3, Tech +1, and Violence +3

Science City Police Department
Corrupt and divided. The current police commissioner keeps the different neighborhood divisions fighting compartmentalized and competing against one another. He believes in a weakened police force in thrall to political interests. The local police see it the other way around. There’s a “get what’s mine” attitude.
Secret: There exists a small and informal unit of dedicated cops known as the Fireworkers.

Science City Technical Board
The board of controllers and leaders for the secret. They select the city controller.
Secret: Riven by disagreements, they can’t get anything done because everyone’s in the pocket of different special interests.

Science City Courts
The judicial and Court System. Effectively an auction house for justice.
Secret: Leader District Attorney Lamont Golden is deeply in the pocket of the Oriflamme which has blackmail evidence on him.

The Radio Stations: WTWR, WVRH
The Television Stations: WSCT, WVOP
The Newspapers: Science City Sentinel, The Science City Free Press

Make sure to keep the pulp 1930’s feel. Telephones. Two-way wrist radios are expensive. Black and White television a luxury. Gyrocopters and blimps. Elevated trains, street cars.

Define who controls each one and define the actual area with an aspect plus an Issue.

Four Points: A strange mix. It houses a baseball stadium as well as a massive city park. But flooding, drainage problems and the fire of 1930 has meant that this part of the city has fallen into decay. There have been efforts at some rebuilding, but that’s been less successful. Lots of experimental building and pumping techniques. More industrial locations here. The Orphanage has major control here.

  • Rolling parklands and public spaces.
  • City sections decaying before their time.
  • Weird uncontrolled flooding.
Tomorrow Way: One of the major gates to the city. The World’s fair island has a large number of recreational and amusement park locales. Site of the 1901 World’s Fair. Think Coney Island. Larger portion of the area heavily controlled by Zinkman. University and technical research centers here. Local employee blocks ala Disneyland.

  • Work village blocks.
  • The lingering smell of chemicals.
  • Zinkman security forces on patrol.
Crucible: Densely-packed low income housing. Lots of ethnic neighborhoods. Tight streets in need of repair. Problems with the street cars. Nicer places down by the water. Heavy railroad traffic. The major shipyards. Light industrial serving those interests. Controlled by the Throck Syndicate.

  • Working class heroes trudging home.
  • Cooking smells from across the globe.
  • Strongarm thugs picking up the daily take.
Grey Cross: A mix of larger-scale tenements, high-rise work houses, and low to mid-level shops and stores. This is a lower middle class area, leaning towards the low. More movie theaters and other entertainments aimed at keeping people from heading too far west.

  • Rundown clubs on the strip.
  • Bijou Theater Which Has Seen Better Days
  • Servants of the Wealthy Riding to Work.
The Lock: This is where the political heart of the city lies a mix of Courts, law offices, financial centers, and areas of public display. Some aim to live here in the fancy hotel and penthouses, but it’s a stepping stone to other ambitions. City jail on the island. Political power. The Steel Hand consider this their place of power.

  • The echoing chambers of city hall.
  • Public skating park and other sites for tourists.
  • Dark oak-paneled private clubs for the members only.
Highmark: The theater district, the high end shopping district, the restaurant district, the fashion district. This section of the city contains all of the high end luxuries the city can bestow. Behind the face are packed in all the middle class people who make this work and the desperate up and comers. High end brothels. Distinguished nightclubs. Wonderful places to be seen. Doctor Davian likes to think he runs things here.

  • Dirigible parks for the up and coming.
  • Where to Be Seen.
  • Glitz and glamour conceals the darkness.
Radium Heights: This is where the truly wealthy live, with large parcels of land, estates and grounds. There’s a weird mix of that and services dedicated to keeping them happy. Craftsmen, upper middle class workers, and so on. Docks and yachts to the far west. The Oriflamme controls this area, but want to expand.

  • Have you seen my regatta?
  • Winding roads leading up to the house.
  • Clandestine upper scale private homes for liaisons and assignations.
Also note three major bridges into town, plus they’re working on an underwater tunnel system. Hoping to eventually connect with a proposed Trans-Atlantic tunnel. Other bridges serve as important joins for the city. 

I really enjoyed this session. I have two favorite one-shot approaches. The first is a fairly linear Fight-Investigate-Complication-Big Fight set up I use mostly for demo games. The other is to present a wide open problem with lots of dials and let the players figure out how they're going to solve it. They'll always come up with something. I enjoy that Q&A at the beginning as they chip away at the block reveling the texture of their thinking. Different groups will find different approaches. But you need to give them enough raw material to cut through. 

On the other hand, I think I overdid it here. I ended up getting too excited about the ideas and writing too much. I ended up doing campaign-level prep rather than one-shot (which is still heavier than my standard session prep). I had the cool map which sort of naturally broke into seven sections so my brain decided I needed seven factions. Mind you the players didn't really interact with a couple of them in play- which is either a feature or a bug depending on how you see it. Next time I'll probably consolidate that down to five factions- and make clear from the outset that's how many there are. That means when they take one down, they can feel the satisfaction of having dealt with a significant chunk of the problem. I've talked before about the importance of demonstrating success to the players

So what would get consolidated? First, I think Dr. Davian would be shifted to simply be an agent or a face for the Oriflamme organization. They're too close to one another in their trappings right now, something I realized in play. Oriflamme has a weird name and bad guys in hoods; Davian has a whole cult-like vibe going on. Simply fold Davian into Oriflamme and you get a more obvious target for the players to act against. Plus you scratch out some theme duplication. Second, the Orphanage probably ought to go as an adversarial group. I like them since they're more complicated (badly treated Mutant youths turned bad). But they could function better if presented at the outset as a potential source of allies. Downplay them a little and if the PCs go looking for help, offer them up. Alternately, if I want to keep the Orphange on the table, then I need to eliminate either the Sundown Boys or the Throck Syndicate. Both represent a more classic criminal organization. I like that the former is more rough & tumble and the latter is more upscale mafia. But they do hit on a few of the same themes and could be reworked to fit together into one group. 

We'll see if I ever get to run this again. I hope I do simply because the amount of work I put into it!

You can see the first half here and a session summary here I used Venture City Stories for Fate Core as the system.

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