Saturday, August 11, 2018

Champions Now Ep. 4: Enter Ultraviolet

My daughter and I played our fourth session of the solo Champions Now campaign set in my daughter's "Dark Matter Universe" featuring the novice super-villain/unwilling superhero Dark Matter.  In the last session Dark Matter had ended up fighting alongside local superhero to fight a monster threatening her college campus.  In the process, she's being touted as a new superhero in the community.

In this session, Jackie (Dark Matter's secret identity) finds herself being asked out on a date by fellow supervillain-in-training Joseph Kane, aka Ronin.  Later Kane calls to say he hasn't seen his roommate, another supervillain called The Face.  Jackie, who has always had a bit of a soft spot for The Face, scours the campus, eventually finding him in conversation with two mysterious figures who are clearly bullying him into being part of a job.

Ronin, by Phil Cho

After doing some research and talking to some other people, Jackie finds out that The Face is part of a Mexican gang of assassins called the Asesinos, who are led by a vampire called Stalker.  She talks The Face and discovers he is supposed to be part of an assassination attempt on a visiting dignitary from the Middle East, along with two members of the Asesinos, Tombstone Kid and The Maine.  The Face, however, has been forced into a life of crime since his childhood, and worries for his life should the job go badly.

The Face, by Phil Cho

Jackie decides to formalize her "fake" superhero identity, calling herself "Ultraviolet" and getting a new costume.  She surveys the public arrival of the dignitary, drawing the attention of Captain Hollywood, who welcome the new "hero."  The two of them spot Tombstone Kid and the Maine, and leap into action to foil the plan.  Both heroes take a lot of damage from the Tombstone Kid (while The Maine turns out to be a complete failure).

In the end, Captain Hollywood suggests that Ultraviolet make herself scarce while he handles the authorities.  Back at Waterford College The Face thanks Jackie for helping him out of a bad situation.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Champions Now Ep. 3: Plague

Between the last gaming session of Champions Now with my daughter and this one, she hatched a pretty inventive plan to help Dark Matter out of her mistaken identity problem.  Because the mysterious attacker on Waterford College's campus had similar powers to a character from her graphic novel, a young man named Plague, she decided to ask that character (as basically an NPC) to help her out.

The plan was this: Plague would show up, shoot a video claiming that the attacks on the campus were the work of a rival, and that he had attacked Captain Hollywood in an attempt to hunt down the monster.  Furthermore, he would state he was giving up on the chase and leaving town (hopefully getting Hollywood to stop looking for Dark Matter).  In turn, Dark Matter would continue looking for the monster.

Things, however, did not go as planned.  Plague was captured by Captain Hollywood leaving town.  And when Dark Matter freed Plague from UNTIL custody, Captain Hollywood managed to find the monster but ultimately lost to him, getting most of his strength drained away.  Now the monster was on a rampage against the police, and Dark Matter and Plague teamed up to stop him (mostly from wrecking the college and ultimately exposing the Guided Studies program).  They were able to defeat him, and he was revealed to be a transformed Professor Throckmorton, Dark Matter's mythology professor.

In the epilogue, Plague thanked Dark Matter for helping build his reputation, and alluded to a big plan in the future being hatched by his brothers.  Dark Elf bragged at the next class session that she was responsible for transforming Throckmorton as punishment for embarrassing her in class, and in the closing scene Dark Matter was surprised to see a news report about a new superhero in the city, namely herself...
Ashley Mason, aka Dark Elf, in her human form.  Art by Phil Cho

Dark Elf in her supernatural form.  Art by Phil Cho

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.