Saturday, October 19, 2013

Home Campaign Interlude

I haven't bothered writing up the third session, my own, mostly because I felt it was the weakest of the three.  But last night I finally pulled the trigger on one of the bigger meta-plots of my Marvel Heroic Roleplaying campaign.

It began with four members of the Ultimate Posse--Samkhara, Abrasax, Dr. Mind, and novice hero Patchwork--chasing down five villains who had stolen some radioactive isotopes.  The villains were Gale Force, Crowdsource, Feral, Arrowhead, and Headstrong.  Arrowhead and Headstrong had appeared near the beginning of the campaign as a duo, while the other three had previously worked with Empyrean.

It turned out to be a tighter fight than anyone expected.  Arrowhead and Crowdsource could hit the PC's with complications, then have their opponents get hammered by the other heroes.  Eventually the Posse turned the tide, although Samkhara had been badly injured by Crowdsource.

A few days later, the heroes are coming back from patrol when they discover their headquarters have been broken into by a fellow named Control, claiming to represent an international intelligence agency called UNTIL.  He told them the villains they had just defeated before had been broken out, and that there had been an ongoing series of supervillain breakouts going on for some time.  Rather than ask the heroes to provide security for the law enforcement transports, Control had a better idea.

He suggested the heroes adopt alternate, supervillain identities, then stage a fight with some heroes, get captured, and then hopefully get broken out.  While undercover they could find out who or what was responsible.  The four heroes agreed.  Samkhara become Trauma, a flashy and scantily-dressed vixen.  Abrasax used magic to transform his appearance into a vampire.  Dr. Mind became Mentallo (he lost points for not coming up with an original name) and adopted a new costume.  Patchwork created a sleek, aerodynamic armor, took on a Russian accent, and claimed to be a robot called Black Box.

The four new "supervillains" then battled Mr. Eternity, Ghost Raven, and Union Galactic (all of whose players were absent) and feigned losing in battle.  While being transported to the Vault, their transport was attacked by an armored individual calling himself Metalurge.  He led to them a high-tech jet with no windows, and the group was transported to an unknown location.  There they met Taurus, a massive minotaur claiming to be descended from the god Zeus.  Taurus said he had gathered together a supervillain coalition called the Zodiac.  The Zodiac would attack superhero teams en masse, and also provide support for "franchise" villain teams who would in turn pay them a portion of whatever financial gains they made.  The Zodiac are:

Taurus: Taurus
Cancer: King Crab
Virgo: Gale Force
Leo: Feral
Gemini: Crowdsource
Libra: Deathstriker
Sagittarius: Arrowhead
Ares: Headstrong
Capricorn: Empyrean
Aquarius: unknown
Pisces: unknown
Scorpio: Metallurge

Taurus and the team haggled over what percentage they would have to pay, and then the team was returned to the jet, this time accompanied by Libra/Deathstriker.  Once on the ground, Libra revealed himself to be the Ferret!  He had already infiltrated the Zodiac in deep cover, and told them the Zodiac's headquarters was in space!

The group decides to try to continue extracting information about the Zodiac while in their "supervillain" identities.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

End of the World 2013, Day Two

Continuing my coverage of the 2013 End of the World gaming weekend...

The second scenario also took place in the ongoing campaign's “Traveller” universe, but in a very different way. In this game, the king of a Tech 1 world of medieval culture is brought into the Empire of Man. The king arranges to have eight of his elderly and loyal royal knights retrofitted as cyborgs, a process taking about 18 months. When the knights return, having been restored to youthful vigor, they discover the king dead, his son imprisoned, and usurper aspiring to the throne. This, obviously, can not stand.

One of the big factors in the system that is used at EOW is first that it is heavily geared towards shooting combat (mostly firearms) rather than melee combat, and second that the game is so lethal.  You can die in one hit.  Not only that but if you are shot, you're likely to die or at least be no longer able to fight.  That's the "realism" of the system, and it has a big factor on how quick people are to pull a gun in a bar fight or kick a door in and start shooting everything in sight.

This game removed both of those qualities.  It used the melee system I helped introduce a couple of years ago, and the PC's cyborg bodies could be rendered inert as easily as a non-cyborg PC, but the caveat was they could come back in a couple of hours.  Since the PC's were on a tight timetable to rescue the prince before the evil Duke could claim the throne, sitting out a scene or two of play was a palpable hit.

The judge also went all out on props: miniatures, detailed maps of a castle and its keep, interesting PC backgrounds, etc.  What's more impressive is he pulled it all together in a matter of weeks, since the judge who was supposed to be running the second day's session bailed at the last minute.  The game was full of cinematic swashbuckling and loads of flashing blades, all of which was unusual for this system and setting.

Final note: in the end, the group failed, so to speak.  After killing the major bad guy (who was only the usurper's lieutenant) and freeing the prince, the prince was killed by a minor flunkie while the group struggled to lower the drawbridge and allow the loyalist troops to make their way into the castle.  The good guys won, but the prince is now dead as well, and the usurper is still poised to claim the throne.  Stopping him and finding someone else to rule could have made for a great campaign.

Monday, October 14, 2013

End of the World 2013, Day One

For those who have been reading this blog for less than a year, or just don't bother following the minutiae of my life, a little background. Five or six years ago I joined this gaming group that has been in existence for the last 25 years or so. You read that right—25 years of consistent gaming. Now, some caveats about the group. They only gather four times a year. Three of those times they spend the entire day (traditionally a Saturday) gaming. The fourth time, they spend three days gaming with each day being a different adventure led by a different GM. One of those sessions is the “campaign” session, the quarterly game that's run the other times of the year. The other two are one-shots. The first three-day event was held in November of 1989, on the date that the little-known RPG Morrow Project said would be the beginning of World War Three. As a result, the gaming mini-convention would be known as “End of the World,” or EOW.

A little more background. These guys have been using the same game system for the last quarter century, a homegrown pastiche of Traveller, Morrow Project, and the FASA Star Trek RPG. Imagine Traveller's PC creation structure (buildings your PC up year-by-year) and Star Trek's stats and skills with a homegrown gun combat system bolted on top of it that they cobbled together using FBI statistics for real life shootings and you've got the idea. Now, I should also mention that this group has slowly grown over time. Like I said, I only came in about six years ago, and I'm the new guy. A typical EOW has eight or nine people, with one serving as the GM (or as they call it, in their time-capsule antiquated way, a “Judge”). That's a big group, but it works, not by accident but by deliberate thought, which I'll get into in a later post.

For the next three posts, I'd like to re-cap the three-day event, just to share how it all works. Most of the participants gathered together Thursday night for dinner. Some stay in their own homes at night, others stay at the house of the host, while others (like me, who was coming in from out of state) stay in a hotel.

Friday was the “campaign” session. The campaign is a “Traveller” campaign, but only in the loosest sense of the term since they use their own rules and a fairly heavily modified universe. Actually I've read this is pretty typical; many Traveller campaigns tend to take the original universe and head off in some direction. In this campaign, for example, Josef Kafka's consciousness inhabits an ultra-high AI the size of a planet who maintains the order of the Empire as a virtual god. In addition, the running of the campaign sessions revolves between three Judges, who basically collaborate on a shared universe, each making their own changes before handing it off to the next guy. Since their campaign has been going over for several years, it has really moved past the “a few merchants and marines in a Free Trader” to something much bigger. The PC's are the crew of a 800 ton merchant ship (the “Beowulf 2”) with two smaller ship's boats (“Eagle 1” or “Eagle 2”). The players at this point each have two PC's, usually a ranking officer on the ship and a lesser crew member. This allows the person playing the navigator to have someone who might go down to the surface of the planet. Playing more than one PC isn't all that common, especially when you're playing two in the same gaming session, but they have it down to a science and it really is quite effective when gaming a larger spaceship. I just have one PC, since I only can make one out of four session for this campaign. Her name is Natalya, and she was a spy who signed on board as a cargo hand before her mission went sideways and now she's stuck on the ship. I'm basically a red-shirt who is much more competent than she should be at things.

The plot was relatively straightforward: the crew of the Beowulf 2 are hired by a Count and his family to travel deep into unknown space to track down a lost family heirloom. In the process they uncover a long-lost secret about the origins of the Empire, a planet of super-soldiers who have been training in solitude for centuries, and are attacked by pirates. By the end the campaign had taken a major shift from a high-end freightliner to a small mercenary company/space fleet. It's rare to see a sci-fi RPG game go “big” that way; usually most campaigns just end up being the crew of the Millenium Falcon and leave it at that. You don't see too many campaigns revolving around the management of a multi-million credit corporation. In the post-game discussion the Judges discussed the possibility of scaling the campaign down a little bit to focus on specific ships doing specific missions, with a revolving crew of players (even introducing new hires for the Beowulf staff). Again, you don't see this kind of gameplay too often, and it was really, really interesting to take in.

While the session started off a little slowly with some fairly unrelated plot, it definitely picked up and the finale of a large starship desperately trying to hold off a pirate fleet was sci-fi fun.

Next: another Traveller game of a totally different color.

Over at Strange Vistas