Sunday, January 29, 2017

The superhero campaign gets going

I've been talking for a while about starting a superhero game now that the previous "home game" of D&D had wrapped up last year.  For a while I had been planning on running Champions, mostly because I thought it would be fun to run a game that meant so much to me as a college student and might promote long-term play.

But as it turns out (to the surprise of few) Champions was difficult to teach and difficult to make NPC's.  Between the holidays and a bunch of stuff at home nothing was happening and the game seemed to be stalling out.  But then I found Bash, a fairly simple supers RPG that was easy to teach and easy for me to make villains, etc.  Two weeks ago I ran a test session of Bash, using 1940's WW2 characters.

It was a big hit, and suddenly the WW2 session, the PC's the players had been trying to build for Champions, Bash, and the book The League of Regrettable Heroes all jelled together into what appears to be the first session of a campaign.

The League of Regrettable Heroes is an encyclopedia of weird, sad, or just short-running superheroes from the Golden Age to the present.  Many of the Golden Age characters are in public domain and are delightfully bizarre, and Pat Parker (War Nurse) appeared in the first session.  In the first modern session, I took another unusual Golden Age figure, "Stardust the Super Wizard."

In the session Stardust was an alien who claimed to be looking for a new home, and offered to use his great power to protect and serve humanity (proving his worth by defeating a major villain).

Meanwhile, a confluence of events brought together the following PC's:

  • Dynamo, formerly "Kid Dynamo," a child sidekick of the WW2-era hero American Wonder, and still one of strongest people on the planet at 82
  • the descendant of Haute Couture, another WW2 superhero who wears a magical shadowy garb
  • Cosmo, a third WW2 hero and robot
  • Kaos, a heroic sorceress
  • Grendel, a were-minotaur
  • The Lioness, a martial artist and hunter of the arcane
  • Blackhawk, a man/hawk hybrid
  • Haka, a Pacific islander who has magical tattoos (and an annoying talking cat named Toby)
  • Pol, an alien gadgeteer
  • and Volt, a hacker who can turn his body into electricity
Pol had come to Earth from his own planet, which had been Stardust's previous home.  He told them Stardust had inflicted his own extreme form of justice as a hero on Pol's planet until finally wiping out most of the populace in an act of moral outrage.

A few days later a B-list group of villains called Deathstrike held the campaign city for ransom by taking over an experimental power plant.  The heroes realized they needed to defuse the situation quickly before Stardust arrived, but failed and Stardust nearly killed one of the villains.  The heroes rescued the hapless villain and drove of Stardust, but in the process made a powerful and unstable enemy.

As I mentioned earlier, Stardust is a character from the Golden Age created by Fletcher Hanks, who is well known for his bizarre creations and striking artistic style.  Stardust would mete out his own extreme vengeance in the comic books, so I thought he'd made a great anti-hero in the campaign.

An actual page from the original comic
I'm thinking that adding actual but little-down comic book characters, especially from the public domain of the Golden Age might be a lot of fun.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Some more thoughts after the Bash one-shot

I had the chance to follow up with several of my players who were present for the one-shot I ran last Friday of Bash! Ultimate Edition.  Many of their insights matched my own (submitted in no particular order):

  • It's a very easy game to pick up.  The one-rule mechanic of X times 2d6 for effect with X being an attribute or a power, usually between 1 and 5 was pretty simple to grasp.  It also made play pretty quick, even with the six players that I had.
  • The dice mechanic is jammy.  "Jammy" is a term that has somehow made into my gaming group's lexicon, meaning that there is a lot of swing in terms of results.  This is especially true because when you roll doubles of any kind, the dice "explode" and have you roll a third die to add to the total.  If it also matches the others, then it explodes again, etc. For example, if you have an Agility of 3 (low superhuman) you can get a result of 9 (two 1's would explode on the roll, so a 1 and 2 is the lowest you could get) to an unexploded 33.  That's without exploding dice, which could happen 1/6th of the time.  I actually like jammy dice mechanics when it comes to superhero RPG's (e.g. Marvel Heroic Roleplaying) because it seems to match the "beat the overwhelming odds" quality to the genre.
  • Challenging PC's isn't difficult.  I used one of the 40 pt. pre-gen PC's in the rulebook as the Big Bad Villain for six 25 pt. characters and he was a sufficient but not insurmountable challenge.  As the "Superman" knockoff, he had a maxed-out Soak number (the number you roll to resist damage, which in his case was a Brawn 5 and an Armor 3 for a total of 8) without getting into Cosmic level villainy.  That made him difficult, but not impossible to damage, thanks to that jammy exploding die mechanic noted above.  No PC was rendered unconscious, but the players clearly felt threatened.  That's a better feel than MHR, where the big bad villains are a little too easy to steamroll over, especially with a group all going after a single foe.
  • PC's are often one-trick ponies.  There's not a lot of wiggle when it comes to Bash PC's at 25 points.  One pre-gen PC had a single medium-powered burst attack, great of wiping out Nazis but useless against a high-Soak opponent.  This is where more familiarity with some of the more obscure rules would have been helpful, especially the use of "Hero Dice" where you can use power stunts.  It would be interesting to see how it would feel if people knew the rules better.
I don't have a good sense of whether or not this would make for a good game long-term.  It was fun--the main qualification for any successful RPG in my opinion--and my kids think of it as on par with Prowlers & Paragons in terms of superhero RPG's they like, which is pretty high praise.  Might be a solid "what do you want to do tonight" kind of RPG.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Bash RPG One-Shot [Game Recap]

With all the craziness going on right now, I took some good advice and set aside complicated plans for long campaigns but instead ran a one-shot of Bash, a fairly rules-light superhero RPG.

I also took a break from the norm by setting it in the Golden Era of Comics, with the PC's being a group of patriotic superheroes called The Defenders who are called on by FDR himself to battle the Third Reich.  They are led by American Wonder, with his teammates Pyre, Cosmo, Nitro, Haute Couture, and Blind Fury.  By the time the session was done they had battled Nazis, Tiger tanks, and eventually the Nazi's top-secret weapon, the supervillain Ubermensch!  Thankfully they were not alone, being joined at various times by the stubble-jawed Sgt. Brick  and Pat Parker, War Nurse (along with her Girl Commandos)!

Pat Parker, War Nurse is an actual comic book heroine from 1946, depicted here in a bit of fan art.
Bash is a pretty fun, easy system that my group picked up right away.  I have to tell you, I needed this.  I needed a light-hearted gathering of my friends at my new (temporary) digs, full of laughter and fellowship (and macaroni and cheese with bacon, although that came back to haunt me big time later that night).  Hopefully in the next few months things will settle down and I can focus on something more long-term, but until then this was great.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

2016 and the Year That Was

I'm several days late on getting some sort of end-of-year retrospective, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know, I suspect.

Way back in January 2016 I drew my D&D 5E campaign to a close.  This had been going initially as a way to try out the new rules, and lasted until then with a pretty dramatic climax.  At that point the Other Rob picked up the D&D ball and ran with it, doing his own 5E through the Fall.  That was a good game in many ways but to me illustrated the weaknesses of 5E high-level play and made me appreciate bailing out when I did.

But in addition to the regular "house" game, 2016 saw a lot of people get behind the GM screen.  Rachel ran her zombie game using the FATE system.  Emma did a one-shot of her own D&D story, and is talking about starting a club at her school.  John started up a regular game of d6 Star Wars, which had a strong start and is still going on.

a great photo of Rachel perched behind the GM screen

Somewhere wedged in there I ran a couple of off-book sessions with my kids of games like Marvel Heroic (the infamous "Deathwish Brigade") and Prowlers and Paragons.  This was partially to scratch my own GMing itch, partially to have some family fun, and partially to try out some rules.

I bought a few gaming books; Traveller, Champions Complete, Cold Steel Wardens, and Bash! to name a few.  A lot of supers games in there, but the irony is that I'm not sure I'm going to end up using any of them.

With Other Rob done last Fall, the "main game" slot has stood vacant.  Initially I proposed running Champions, inspired by some sentimentality and the release of the new Aaron Allston's Strike Force sourcebook.  This seems to be a real struggle however.  Two months, November and December, were lost educating people about rules, trying to explain PC creation, and the holidays.  Now it looks like I'm going to a brief hiatus in terms of gamemastering as personal issues take precedent.

So for now, a break, at least in terms of post-game reports.  Hopefully they will start up again soon.  In the meantime I'll consider what kind of content I can manage during this period.  Suggestions always welcome.


Over at Strange Vistas