Friday, July 31, 2015

Annihilation Day! (Marvel Heroic Session One)

The Annihilation Wave has struck!

Last night at the FLGS, I began running the Annihilation event for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.

Eventually we may have five to six players, but tonight we started with just three.  Our starting heroes were the Thing, the Invisible Woman, and Gamora.

Sue and Ben had been captured by the Super-Skrull and brought to the Kyln, along with evidence of their crimes against the Skrull Empire.  Essentially this was a trap being set by K'lrt to lure the two members of the Fantastic Four into his hands after defeating two of the team.

Gamora had been tracking down the former herald of Galactus, the Fallen One, and had turned herself into the authorities of the Omega Corps at the Klyn in an effort to find the Fallen One from within.

As the heroes were being taken to their respective cells, the Kyln was rocked by bombardment, and Sue, Ben, and Gamora could hear murmurings that a fleet larger than a Kree battlegroup had emerged from the Crunch, the natural rift between this universe and the alternate dimension known as the Negative Zone.

The Super-Skrull flew off to his ship immediately, and the members of the Fantastic Four and Gamora were left alone, still infused with nano-wardens that would inhibit them from using their powers.  (Everyone started with a nano-warden complication in place and an extra plot point)

Gamora immediately took off for the nearest hanger, and began to hot wire an Omega Corps patrol ship.  Sue and Ben were at ground zero as a wave of arthrosian drones flooded the hallways.  Sue was badly hurt, and Ben was covered in bugs, slowing down his every move.

While preparing the ship, Gamora overheard Omega Corps conversations that a reinforcement fleet was coming through the Crunch according to the Kyln sensors, so she used the patrol ship's communication gear to transmit Star-Lord's mix tape along the same transmission that one of the queens was using to transmit orders, which caused the reinforcement fleet to fall away for the time being.  (I used a die from the Doom Pool to start a "Reinforcement Fleet" timer, which Gamora acted against to keep from having it go off)

Sue and Ben eventually reached the ship that Gamora had started to prepare, and Ben used his piloting knowledge to make sure the ship was at full power.  Sue slammed a hallway full of Arthrosians into the walls, and cleared the stragglers off of Ben, and Ben used the exhaust of the ship to burn away several of the drones.  When the last of the wave neared the ship and fired, Gamora dropped down from the ship, finished them off, and leaped back to the ship in time for Ben to launch into space.

Ben, emotionally stunned at the size of the fleet and his inability to find a way past it, nearly lost heart.  Gamora plotted a course through the ships, Ben snapped out of his reverie, and the ship jumped into hyperspace.

In hyperspace, the group realized that the Annihilation Fleet was projecting a hyperspace bubble that limited how far they could travel through sub-space, and that the wave would soon hit Xandar, and the edges of the Kree and Skrull empires.  Because it was closer and friendlier, the crew headed to Xandar.  In the meantime, Sue comforted her old friend and helped him shake off his self-doubt, and Gamora used the first aid kit in the ship to help Sue heal from her injuries.  (Recovering from stress for both Sue and Ben, and the nano-warden complication went away at this point)

Upon arriving in Xandar's orbit, the devastation of the planet made Ben mention that it was like coming out of hyperspace and not being able to find Alderaan.  Gamora wanted to know where Alderaan was, and Ben mentioned that it was something out of Star Wars, and that the Death Star destroyed Alderaan, and Gamora was sure that a living malevolent star was going to be the death of Xandar because Ben Grimm had seen it happen before.  (Thus began many XP for Gamora as she continually misunderstood Star Wars references)

The team avoided the bombardment fleet, and zeroed in on a distress call from the Xandarian Worldmind.  Upon finding the resting place for the living computer system, Sue left Ben and Gamora to discuss Star Wars and the ramifications of the film on their current course of action, and she crept up on Hybelea, a warrior of Annihilus, leading a crew of drones and Arthrosian soldiers to sift through the rubble for the entrance to the Worldmind's chambers.

Sue swept aside the drones and slammed Hybelea hard.  Hybelea offered his regrets over the need to destroy their universe to save his own, and Ben was looking forward to a good fight against the Centurion leader, when Gamora lept onto the soldiers and Hybelea, knocking them out of the fight.

The group found the chamber of the Worldmind, and Gamora began to ask it about Alderaan, at which point, the Worldmind began to scan its charts for the possible location of Alderaan, and upon mentioning that it was in a galaxy far, far away, the Worldmind began accessing long range extra-galactic probes, at which point Sue pointed out that they didn't have time for this.  (Gamora's player paid the XP cost to be deputized by the Nova Corps, so she would have access to the Worldmind powerset later, as well as the ability to call in Nova Corp members for some XP in future scenes)

The Worldmind asked for a volunteer to download it into their neural passageways, and Gamora volunteer, if only to prevent what happened to Alderaan and Xandar from happening anywhere else.  Sue helped to regulate the energy flowing in to Gamora, and she successfully emerged from the download, and the Worldmind awarded her with an field promotion into the Nova Corps.

Ben was looking out for any more Arthrosian threats, when a force field encompassed the entire structure and drug it aboard a ship that Sue and Ben recognized as Skrull in design.  On the ship, they ran into K'lrt, who informed them that he had scooped them up from the devastation because he was going to take them with him to help save the Skrull Empire from the approaching Annihilation Wave.  (With the d12s I had left in the Doom Pool, I narrated the end of the scene with Super-Skrull taking them to the Skrull Empire next, taking the Kree destination off the table for now)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Narrative Generic Trek is Not a (Professionally Produced) Thing

The more I read through RPGs like Marvel Heroic, various Apocalypse World derived games, and Fate games, the more I am convinced that the feel and flow of various properties are definitely encapsulated better by more narrative oriented roleplaying games.

I think Star Wars does well in a more traditional framework, because heroes shoot back or run from danger, use different guns and starships to do so, and fight a wide variety of troops, fighters, interceptors, and capital ships.  While you could make a narrative game that does these things, a more traditional RPG still handles a lot of what makes Star Wars work pretty well.

Now, when you move the lens towards Star Trek, I think you might get a slightly different picture.  The traditional Star Trek  (as shown through a preponderance of television episodes) means of resolving a problem tends to revolve around the following:

  • Coming up with some new way to use existing equipment to do (science ex machina)
  • Talking to the right people at the right time to convince them to change their minds
  • Doing science under pressure
  • Doing diplomacy under pressure
  • Finding out there are new rules to a situation that you didn't know about, then learning how to do something more mundane under those new rules
While there is a good deal of fighting in Star Trek, it's usually something that happens earlier in the show, to let you know there is a problem, rather than the solution to the problem.   Outside of the movies, even ship to ship combat is usually about surviving until one of the above happens, or flexing your own ship's capabilities so you can talk to an opponent as equals.

That means, in a more traditional RPG, when you have different stats for a type II or type II phaser, exact hull points and shield ratings, and single pass fail resolution skills that tell you if you "diplomacied" the alien ambassador, you tend to fast forward through the most Star Trek like aspects of a Trek game and spend a lot more time on combat, which is usually a speed bump to the actual resolution in the television series.

It makes perfect sense in the more action oriented Star Wars to know if your smuggler can fast talk his way past customs with one quick roll to get a head start on his pursuers, or to know if he can bluff some stormtroopers to avoid a fight that will potentially give him a few more injuries going into the big fight, but that's the opposite paradigm we see in more traditional Trek stories.

Cortex Plus, Powered by the Apocalypse games, and Fate all have a lot more space for making random science solutions that aren't defined by the rules before the player came up with the solution, longer diplomatic resolutions, or even that everybody is operation by a set of rules that you weren't aware existed in the first place.

That said, I'm surprised I haven't seen a shot at more traditional trek using one (or all) of these RPG approaches.  I'm not talking about fan made attempts.  There are fan made attempts at nearly everything, some very, very good.  I'm also not talking about actual licensed Star Trek games, because goodness knows licensing is an weird and tempestuous beast.  But I have yet to come across a more generic, yet obviously Star Trek styled sci-fi game for these systems, and that kind of surprises me.  

Friday, July 24, 2015

Climbing on the One Shot Horse

Given my last post, I'm happy to be writing this one.  First off, I'm going to attempt to run the Marvel Heroic Annihilation event, and forgive myself if I end up having to postpone a night or two if things come up.  It's straight forward, and I know how to run the system, so I'm just going to do it.

I'd like to thank everybody that read the blog post and offered support and suggestions, or just the kick in the butt to get out there and GM again and not worry about the starts being perfectly aligned for the Most Amazing Campaign Ever.

All of that out of the way, our regular Werewolf the Forsaken game wasn't going off because 50% of our pack couldn't make it, including our Alpha.  Considering the members of the pack that would be present are much more the "support" characters of the pack, we didn't attempt to press on with pack business.  Thus, I volunteered to run a one shot.

Tangent time:  I've been trying to find an urban fantasy game that I really want to run for a while.  I wanted to like the Dresden Files RPG, but it feels oddly complicated for a Fate based game.  I didn't dislike it, I just wanted it to be different.  I started looking into new World of Darkness once I started playing Werewolf, but while I kind of like the system  (especially with the 2nd edition modifications), there are things I'm not happy with in the overall setting.  I'm not sure I can get completely comfortable with Computer God and the Mecha-Angels being the driving force behind everything.

Recently I've been looking at a lot more Apocalypse World based games, which led me to look at Monster of the Week and Urban Shadows.  Of the two, I think Monster of the Week is a bit more geared towards my sensibilities, so I printed out the play books for Monster of the Week in case I ever got a chance to give the game a run  (I've got all the play material ready for World Wide Wrestling RPG and Soth as well . . . just in case).  Since I had it ready, and it was already an "urban fantasy" night, why not give this a whirl?

Full disclaimer.  I've "read" the rules, but in that kind of fast way that you do to get a feel for them, rather the in depth way you do when you know you are about to run a game  (at least if you are like me).  I'm sure I did a few things wrong here or there, and adjudicated things the wrong way.

All of that said, it still seemed to go great.

+Kathryn Rumer, our Werewwolf GM, played the Spooky, named Faye, and +Christopher Osmundson played the Expert, named Brandon.  It turns out that Faye once attracted the attention of a monster's minion with her mental powers, and Brandon helped her out of a bind and has been attempting to help her master her powers.

The two of them went to investigate a cluster of murders in a small town in Central Illinois which appeared to be ritual killings.

Right off the bat, were hit the ground running.  Faye could see elemental spirits and demonic imps swirling around the murder site, and the imps attempted to convince her to let them "ride" her so they could help find the killer.  She didn't agree, but she did try to carry a lightning spirit in her phone, and an imp hitched a ride, thus providing her with a demonically possessed phone that texts her very evil advice and critical times.

At the second murder scene, in a farm house, the state police decided to check up on the car packed at the abandoned farm, and Faye attempted to read their minds, only to get her mind entangled with a passing school bus full of kids, and causing her to cry out and cause the cops to call for the two to come out with their hands up.  Thankfully, Brandon just happened to carry his fake FBI credentials with him, and they talked their way out of the jam.

In town, they went to investigate the lat murder scene, when a mysterious stranger left a note on their car.  Faye was smitten with the tall, dark, and handsome stranger.  While waiting for the meeting time, Faye and Brandon went to the local bar, and Faye nearly got into a fight with the mother of one of the children that had caused her telepathic distress earlier.  Thankfully she managed to alter the woman's mind to get out of the situation, and Brandon decided they should leave before they got into any more local altercations.

At the hotel, Faye and Brandon met Alders, whom Brandon could tell was "supernaturally charming."  Faye spent some quality time with Alders, and Alders "nudged" her mind to keep her from allowing Brandon to kill the perpetrator of the crimes, a vampire possessed by the spirit of an ancient wizard, who was attempting to "remake" his vampire body into a living vessel once again.  Alders wanted the amulet, if possible, and for his friend James to survive.

Brandon and Faye set their ambush, and Faye used her powers to convince Brandon not to take a "sunlight grenade" with him to the encounter to keep James safe.  When James arrived with the final victim for the last ritual, Brandon shot him in the face, but was injured by the wizard spirit's "blood magic."  Faye crept up behind James and stole the amulet away, but it was during a flash of lightning, causing Brandon to not see that the amulet had been removed.  Brandon charged James and cut his head off with a silver sword in one mighty swing.

This could have been the end of the story, but it so wasn't. Faye asked her demon phone how to save James, and it answered that it could only be done with a lot of blood.  So Faye pulled her gun on Brandon and decided to bleed out the victim onto James, so that Alders wouldn't be upset.  When Brandon didn't want to go along with this, she "compelled" him to do so.

Thankfully, Brandon managed to keep the last victim alive and stable after the blood letting so that the local ambulance could save him.  Faye and Brandon returned James and the amulet to Alders, Brandon forgot most of Faye's mental tampering, and Faye spent some more quality time with both Alders and James.

It was a whole lot of fun.  I expected it to be fun, in general, but this went really well.  I'm looking forward to running the system again, and I'm very happy that I managed to pull off another very low prep one shot again.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Gun Shy

I've been away from GMing for a while.  It's been even longer if you count the times that I've started a game and then had to end it after one or two sessions.  Between changing jobs after 12 years and then going back to school, I think I've really kind of panicked when it comes to time management, to the point to where I don't assume I have time for anything unless I don't have anything pressing on me for the next week or so.

I know I've discussed this in the past.  Part of me really needs to get back into running games on a regular basis, even if it messes with my time management, because, to an extent, it will help me to get better at time management.  In part, it will help so I don't feel quite so focused on just getting school out of the way and looking for a new job.

All of that said, I've been out of the game so long, that while I can think of a million games I want to run, when I sit down to think of what kind of campaign I want to run and how, I start to worry.  I've been out of the game so long that I'm afraid I won't be able to hold up my end of the stick.

I know the story of the campaign is only partly due to the GM, but having the initial ideas, the plot hooks, and the "go to" ideas when everything else stalls out is important, and I worry that I've let those skill atrophy too much.

A few years back, I actually jumped at the chance to run Savage Worlds, DC Adventures, and Fate Accelerated sessions as one shots that I spent almost no time doing any prep for.  Those sessions went pretty great.  I also used to love running games at conventions simply because the players were usually new to me, and didn't do things the same way I expected my regular group to do things, and it forced me to up my game and react to new and different ideas.

Now I'm afraid that I can't adapt, that I can't come up with enough of an outline to push the campaign out on a trajectory, and that I'm going to disappoint my players by needed to cancel a session or a whole campaign because I assume I have more time available than I actually have.

I have even gotten so bad that in the middle of midterms, when I should have been rational and logical enough to realize the course load was heavier than normal, I told my gaming group I wouldn't be able to play at all from now on because I was never going to be sure from week to week if I was free.  It was silly, and an over reaction, based on an unusually high stress week.  I could have called off one week and apologized, but I just felt like I was never going to be able to promise to have free time again.

At one point in time, I was very vehement that if someone doesn't have time to play or run a game on a regular basis, they really needed to be adult enough and realistic enough to cancel that game or drop out of it.  While I don't disagree with this, I think I have become hyper sensitive to this, to the degree that even if I call off at all, even with a reasonable amount of notice, I feel like I need to punish myself by keeping myself from ruining everyone else's fun.

I find myself haunted by the specters of failed games more often than I used to be.  I don't want to be aimless and unable to deal with player expectations other than mine, like in my failed Hellfrost game, or painted into a corner with too many sub-plots that I couldn't manage to make fun for everyone, like my Age of Rebellion game.

I want to run a game like my D&D 3.5 Mistledale campaign, which had it's ups and downs, but felt like it ended with some real character development, and with me being able to provide an ending.  I want to run a game slightly better than my DC Adventures game, where I terribly flubbed the ending, but the overall year long arc seems to be something everyone in the campaign enjoyed.  I want to run a game like my Edge of the Empire game, where I think both "sides" of the campaign resolved pretty nicely, even with an ending that was less climactic than I would have liked for one of the teams.  All of these were enjoyable games, with purposeful endings.

I think in some ways I'm more worried about the games that were going really well that I never finished.  I don't want a game that was going great like my Star Wars Saga KOTOR game, my Rogue Trader game, or my Civil War Marvel Heroic game, where there were so many good moments, but I just didn't have the time and ability to deliver a satisfactory ending for the campaign.

In the end, I feel like I need to get back in the saddle, but I still have that voice in my head saying that it would be better to fade away than to potentially fail and let people down.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Man of Steel Hindsight

There has been a lot of talk about the Man of Steel movie in light of the trailer for Dawn of Justice.  Lots of talk about expectations that people have for Superman versus people that have no expectations for Superman but have expectations for a particular style of movie, and where those expectations clash and who was let down by what.

The thing that is weird for me is that I didn't dislike Man of Steel.  I liked Henry Cavill as Superman, and I liked Amy Adams as Lois Lane, and Lawrence Fishburne as Perry White.  There were notes I thought it hit too hard or too lightly, but I didn't think that it was a problem of those notes being part of the story, just how much they seemed to resonate.

There were a few things that didn't work for me all that well.

  • Citing Superman's exact age and pegging him in his thirties struck me as odd.  I guess I'm just geared towards the idea that Clark was Superman by his mid twenties, and I figured if they never pinned down his age, once we advanced the timeframe, we didn't need to have a specific age for Clark.
  • I get that Jonathan wasn't the guy urging his son to always do the right thing and be upright and true, and while that didn't work that well for me in general, it really got weird for me when he essentially forced his son to watch him commit suicide to teach him a lesson about hiding his powers.
  • Juxtaposing Jor-El to being the father that expected Superman to be a hero and Jonathan as the father who just wanted his son to be safe could have been interesting, but for the above fanaticism of Jonathan and the fact that Clark puts so much stock in Jor-El's plan for his life the first time he "meets" him.
  • Having evil Kryptonians as the threat right from the beginning just felt wrong, especially when they show up before Clark ever becomes Superman.  Up to this point, Zod has always been a character that was used for contrast after Clark establishes who he is, not as someone that shapes him before he decides who he is.
None of that was really a deal breaker for me. And you know, that scene.  That one.  Snap!  That one really didn't bother me that much.  Superman has killed other versions of Zod before, and he seemed suitably anguished by the decision that I kind of got that it was Snyder's way of saying "he doesn't want to kill people."

By the end of the movie, I didn't dislike it, I just felt like I was missing something.  Like there was a half-hour that would have put more texture to everything and made it feel more Superman-like.  Maybe a little more of Jonathan just being a good dad and not a zealot.  Maybe a little more of Clark being Clark as an adult.  Something was missing for me.

Earlier in the movie they do a good job of showing Clark quietly doing good deeds that only he can do.  I didn't want another Superman movie where the most amount of action we got was Superman lifting heavy things or ignoring physical threats to himself.  We have ample examples of those in the previous Superman movies.  But Clark doing good deeds did just kind of feel right.

I didn't dwell on the destruction in Smallville and Metropolis much, other than to agree that a fight between Kryptonians under a yellow sun should probably be pretty devastating to the surrounding terrain.  I didn't entirely jump on the bandwagon when people started mentioning what the assumed body count must have been in the Superman/Zod fight.  I guess I just assumed that if we didn't literally see people dying, its possible people were evacuated, or that we didn't see the efforts made to steer towards buildings already abandoned.

I didn't see it as a given that thousands of people had died, at least not during the fight between Zod and Superman.  I can see Zod's machine killing thousands right off the bat, but he's the villain, he started all the crap.

 I did see that it might be something that I felt was missing.  Not that Superman had let thousands die thoughtlessly as he fought Zod, but that the movie didn't show us him scanning buildings for people before he threw Zod into them, that we didn't see the few seconds he might have taken to fly a few people to safety before Zod pulled him back into the fight.  I didn't assume massive carnage, or a heartless Superman, I just thought that it was perhaps a mistake not to emphasize that those more compassionate things might have taken place.

My hope, before we found out that Man of Steel wouldn't be getting a direct sequel immediately, and that we were instead getting Batman versus Superman, was that we might get some context to the first movie.  We's seem more Clark with his supporting cast, maybe see him agonizing over the fact that he tried to save people but couldn't.  We'd get to see him fight a threat that isn't connected to him at all, so he could be a hero without any reservation, as he saved Earth from someone of something that wasn't connected to his won past.  

But that doesn't appear to be the case.  The trailers we've seen so far seem to indicate that maybe Clark's heart was in the right place, wanting to defeat Zod, but that he wasn't such a great super hero, and probably did let a few thousand people die because he was careless and fixated.  In fact, depending on if the clues line up as they appear to be, with might have another movie that kind of says that Earth may have been better off if Krypton had blown up and taken everybody with it.  

I didn't dislike Man of Steel when I saw it.  Had a sequel framed the first movie in slightly different terms, and filled in the gaps, I may have still had fond memories of the movie.  The problem is, Batman versus Superman seems to be wanting to own the criticism that the internet leveled at Man of Steel, and build their story on that, rather than telling people that maybe they assumed the worst.