Friday, July 20, 2018

Champions Now Ep. 2: Mistaken Identity

My one-on-one Champions Now campaign with my daughter had its second adventure.  It began with her PC, Jackie "Dark Matter" Lee having the usual college experience: suffering through boring classes with her frenemy Ashley "Dark Elf" Mason, awkwardly talking to a boy she likes (Ben "the Face" Rodriguez), and fending off the unwanted advances of another supervillain classmate (Joseph "Ronin" Kane).

But all the teen drama is interrupted when several students at Waterford College are found suffering from a mysterious malady that leaves them weak and sickly.  Jackie suspects her friend Plaque from her old school, but discovers a strange, tentacled monster is stalking the campus instead.  Unfortunately Jackie, in her Dark Matter costume, is spotted near one of the victims by Captain Hollywood, a minor local superhero.  Now she is a prime suspect in the attacks and dangerously close to having the Guided Studies program exposed.

Captain Hollywood, by Phil Cho
I'm still enjoying the rules-light approach.  A handful of skills manage to cover most of what you come across in a superhero campaign.  There are still a few things about the rules that I am getting used to, like only have one kind of Multipower slot (for those who know the game--it's the flexible kind) and not being able to adjust Endurance or Stun with points, just the base characteristics.

Anyways, this game is picking up steam. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Champions Now: Ep. 1 Welcome to Waterford

Macy and I had our first Champions Now session, featuring her supervillain/heroine Dark Matter.

The story was that Jackie Lee, scion of an Asian supervillain crime cartel, has been forced by her parents to miss a summer vacation and instead spend the semester at Waterford College where she will take several classes including her "Guided Studies" program in villainy.  Waterford is a small, liberal arts college in New England, a long way from her home in California.

Jackie is introduced to many new people, including her dorm resident assistant Kirk and one of her roommates Indu.  Her villainy class is taught by the strict but helpful Professor Monique Richter.  Her fellow students are

  • Bedlam, a female telekinetic who appears unstable
  • Dark Elf, a feral supernatural creature and snobby girl who hates that she and Jackie have similar names
  • Bronze Behemoth, another student from her old university and obnoxious frat bro
  • Ronin, a handsome martial artist and gadgeteer, but also an unwelcome flirt
  • Face, a shy empath and frequent victim of bullying by Bronze Behemoth
The intro session had the students working their way through an obstacle course (to teach Macy how skills and attribute checks work), tearing through barriers (to teach the damage rules), and sparring against each other (to teach combat).

By the end of the first session, Dark Matter was feeling a long way from home.  It didn't help that she discovered that she'd be sharing a quad dorm room with Bedlam, as well as Indu.  Professor Richter had warned her that if Indu or any other student found out about the secret behind the "Guided Studies" program, they would be killed.  But Bedlam doesn't seem to share Jackie's concerns for her roommate's well being.  Add to that antagonistic rivals, irritating suitors, and mysterious acquaintances, and Dark Matter is in for a very long summer...


Jackie's roommate Indu, illustration by Phil Cho on Deviantart

In which I run a teen superhero soap opera

My daughter Macy agreed to help me playtest the new Champions Now rules.  We decided to set the campaign in the fictional superhero universe of the graphic novel she's writing, an untitled work featuring the main character, Dark Matter (I may end up calling the setting "the Dark Matter Universe" or DMU).

The premise of Macy's graphic novel is that powerful and wealthy supervillains have arranged with universities and college across the country to educate their offspring in the ways of supervillainy secretly in concealed elective classes.  Thus Dark Matter, in her secret identity of Jackie Lee, is a regular Asian-American college student with a dorm room, roommates, dating drama, etc. but on the side is trained to be a supervillain along with several other students including Bronze Behemoth, Plague, and several others.

So my campaign doesn't interfere with her graphic novel in terms of continuity, we decided to set the Champions Now game during a "semester abroad" where Jackie leaves Golden Bay University (a large West Coast state university) and attends Waterford College, a small New England liberal arts school.  She will still be in the "Guided Studies" program, but now will have new teachers, new roommates, and new fellow supervillains-in-training.

I have to say, I don't know if it is because the material is so close to my heart, both in terms of being a superhero fan and gaming with my daughter, but the whole campaign has coalesced quickly and beautifully.  I already have nine NPC's worked out, multiple sub-plots in the making, and am really jazzed about making this happen.

To help me out, I once again skimmed the great DeviantArt gallery of artist Phil Cho, whose clean and youth-centric superhero art was perfect for this campaign. He has a whole section called "Supporting characters" in his "Earth 27" art gallery that could easily populate Waterford College for years.  That's not even including his original concept work.

Based on the original style of the Dark Matter graphic novel, this will be a pretty light-hearted affair with plenty of action, comedy, and teen drama (will Jackie's new roommate Indu discover her secret identity?  Who is Professor Monique Richter actually working for?)  The DMU is definitely a "CW" kind of place.

So the first session will introduce the main characters and give Jackie a "danger room" scenario where she can learn the rules.  I'll  post a after-action report to let you all know how it went.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Champions Now: a first look and the first PC

While the final product is theoretically about five months away, those of us who Kickstarted the quasi-retro-clone of Champions 3rd Edition called Champions Now got the files of the old editions of the game plus the playtesting document.  Champions 3rd Edition was the first edition of Champions I owned and had a major impact on my high school gaming until I went to college and discovered the famous 4th Edition/Hero Games "Big Blue Book," which became the core of my roleplaying experiences for years.


Taking another look at the third edition, I was filled with a huge sense of sentimentality, as well as a bit of appreciation for the much more simplistic rules in comparison to 4th Edition.  Gone are all the perks, talents, contacts, etc. that allowed Hero Games to be used for non-supers games (or detail supers ones).  Back was the steep Endurance cost that could leave a hero gasping for air after going full-bore for a couple of actions.

But this is a time for playtesting, so I recruited by daughter, who has been writing her own superhero graphic novel/ongoing series to stat up her main character, Dark Matter.  Dark Matter is actually a villain who finds herself constantly being compelled to do the right thing.  She's got several villain acquaintances, including the supervillain frat bro named Bronze Behemoth, whom I went ahead and built on a slim and tiny 250 points.


Both character creation exercises were fun and easy, and I'm thinking this will be both a great way to do a little side-campaigning and also spend some quality time with my daughter.  More on Dark Matter (including some of my daughter's illustrations) hopefully to come.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Blades in the Dark: A Piece of the Action

As I become more familiar with the rules for Blades in the Dark, a gloompunk fantasy RPG where the PC's play a starting gang of scoundrels, I have begun to really appreciate how much gameplay is taken up with more than just immediate actions.

Basically, in addition to just doing the heists, capers, assassinations, or other immediate criminal activities, the PC group also has to target other groups to increase their reputation, manage a cohort of NPC's lackeys, maintain and expand a hideout, and move into neighboring territories to increase opportunities.  This is on top of doing some abstract bookkeeping of resources, including deciding what you want to keep in liquid assets and what you want to sock away for your PC's eventual retirement.  Oh, and while you're at it, make sure that each PC spends some time engaging in whatever their vice-like activity might be in order to help relieve stress.

A typical BitD character managing their gang.  Also what you get when you Google "steampunk accountant"
That's a lot of non-combat, non-roleplaying activity, representing a kind of world-building gameplay the group is unaccustomed to.  It will be interesting to see how they react, and who in the group will find that portion of the gaming as interesting as scaling wall or punching it out with the police.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Blades in the Dark: Someone Else's Opus

My gaming group decided to give Evil Hat's Blades in the Dark a quick try.  The first session was last Friday, mostly spent introducing the group to the rules and the PC and gang creation system.  The initial PC's include

  • A Leech specializing in pseudo-science technology
  • A Whisper who can influence the weather
  • A Cutter who is a former merchant marine
  • A Lurk who can briefly enter the ghost realm
  • And a Slide who is a professional con artist
For a gang, they decided to be Smugglers, which I thought of as being a fairly "safe" choice and easiest to stay on the morally unobjectionable side (versus say, a Cult or Hawkers, who are vice peddlers).  Some of the younger players also picked fairly "soft" vices, like being obligated to their family instead of gamblers or drug addicts.

Photograph by Orla on Deviant Art.  There is no shortage of possible group photos online for this game.

I suspect that the game will likely be more of a "Han Solo" kind of campaign versus a more gritty, ethically murky affair, but that's okay given the disposition of my group.  What's interesting for me is that it is the first game I'm tried in a while where most of the campaign background, NPC's, etc. are already made up.  There's a huge trove of detailed information in the book that it in and of itself an incredibly impressive corpus of work, but I'm been more likely in the past to do most of the creative work myself on top of a skeleton of rules.

I have mixed feelings about this.  On one hand, I suspect I'll be able to do this game with less prep, which means it will be likely to run longer than some other campaigns have.  On the other hand, it'll never feel like my game. It's someone else's opus, and I'll just be massaging it into something that looks more like me.  Plus I like to engage in the creative process, so it will be interesting to see how much room I have within the construct of the RPG.

How do you feel about super-detailed RPG's?  Love 'em or hate 'em?

Moving