Kapow! Preludes and Knockouts

We had another good playtest session on Sunday (2/21/10).  I distributed some combat cheat-sheets, which the players found helpful, and Doug, as usual, spotted a cheap exploit that needs to be plugged.

During the session proper, the group decided to hire a PR firm to announce their formation as the Beacon City Watch, and Harbinger’s alter-ego got in touch with his former agent to arrange that.

Namaste was menaced by steroid using thugs outside her Yoga studio, and got in a fight with the monstrous dealer and leader of the gang, Beef.  She polished off the minions with one leg-sweep, but actually got Knocked Out by Beef throwing her through the plate glass window and into the back wall of the studio.  Fortunately she’d called for backup before throwing down with him, and Akela the Jungle Gal, Harbinger, and Public Defender swooped in.  After some amusing banter with Harbinger, whose intangibility frustrated Beef no end, Akela KO’ed him with her trusty spear, and the police hauled him off.

Later that week, on her way back from a society party, Akela’s Heightened Senses detected a blood-curdling scream from far off in the distance; racing to the location she found a semi-secluded park in one of the ritzier sections of Beacon City, mysteriously shrouded in unseasonal fog.  In the park, to her horror, she discovered a young woman, who had been staked out and had her heart cut out and burned on a makeshift stone altar.  The air was filled (at least to her senses) with the cloying scent of flowers from her native jungle.  As she was contemplating this grisly scene, a ghostly Anaconda, at least twenty feet long, slithered out of the fog and attacked.  It proved to be intangible as far as her attacks were concerned, though it didn’t seem to have any problems affecting the physical world, and her Animal Empathy revealed it to be a demon in snake form…so no hope there.  Fortunately her holy jungle potions caused it to unravel into ghastly worms of light that faded away leaving only the scent of rotted flesh and jungle flowers.  When the other heroes showed up they found no trace or trail of whatever had killed the girl, but Akela was able to determine that the wounds had been caused by an obsidian knife just like her own.  At this point, she decided that it would be best if she didn’t hang out until the police showed up…

The next day she went to consult an acquaintance of hers, Professor Potter of the Sherman Museum of Anthropology at the New Towne College (Potter had been on the expedition that brought Jungle Gal back to Beacon City, through the magic of instant back-story).  Before she could subtly pump him for info, Potter showed her the exciting story from that morning’s paper about a genuine Incan sacrifice; as near as he could tell from the pictures and reports the ritual had been performed precisely correctly in every detail, even down to the correct orientation of the sacrificial altar for the latitude Beacon City occupies.  He was amazed that anybody on the continent could have come up with such an accurate hoax, other than himself and “that hack Carruthers of Whitney University in Connecticut.”  Akela made a mental note to investigate Carruthers, and to get Public Defender to suggest to the BCPD that they consult with Professor Potter if it hadn’t already occurred to them.

Meanwhile, that morning as he was shaving Public Defender was startled to find the word REVENGE VENGEANCE written in blood on his shaving mirror, as well as a shaving cut on his cheek and blood on the fingers of his right hand, but no memory of cutting himself.

And there we broke for the evening.

Introducing New Players to D&D via Stonehell

Last night we brought my wife’s college roommate and her two kids, ages 14 and 9, to our Sunday night Bumblers gathering, and introduced them to D&D.  None of them had ever played RPGs before, so I decided that a straight-on dungeon delve was the ticket.  The kids were enthusiastic to try, the mom was at least willing.   We rolled up characters, using my D&Desque homebrew rules, before the game started and they created Hippolyta the Fighter (mom), Dorian the Fighter (14 year-old daughter), and Little Father Muffler (9 year-old son).  My wife Elyssa also rolled a new character, Ranger Joe-Bob.  Yeah, I don’t bother trying to encourage campaign-world compatible names, not for this sort of thing anyway.  Doug and Dan were the only other regulars, what with it being Valentine’s day, and they brought Tomato the Fairy Witch and Hurlon the Dwarven Thief.

For a dungeon, I used Michael Curtis’ Stonehell, the same one I’ve been using with the other set of kids.  (I’m using the free version, though the link it to the more polished and complete version you can purchase from Lulu.) It’s a good beginner’s dungeon with a variety of things to encounter, architectural features, and old-fashioned traps.   I’ve found that I like to beef it up a bit, adding stuff so that almost every room has something interesting to investigate or fight; a lot of the rooms are empty, particularly right around the entrance, presumably so you can more easily tailor it to your taste this way.  There are probably arguments to be made along the lines of naturalism and discouraging too much caution (by making it boring to search exhaustively)  for having a fair bit of empty space, but since it violates the King Kong principle (get to the f*ing monkey), the heck with it… players go into the dungeon to encounter stuff, so let’s have them encounter stuff.

An example: in the Feast Hall I put a niche behind one of the rotting tapestries.  In the niche are a swarm of carnivorous moths; they won’t do any actual damage, but will painfully bite exposed flesh (similar to the bit of a horsefly). They are thickly gathered on a small leather bag that’s been coated with a waxy substance.   After Joe-Bob the ranger found the niche and got badly bitten for his troubles, Father Muffler (the 9-year old boy) came up with the idea of luring the moths away from the bag with the light of his lantern; this worked and they retrieved the bag with no further problems… though they did end up abandoning the lantern; fortunately they had a spare.  In the bag they found a necklace of amber beads, each containing an insect inclusion.  Tomato cast Detect Magic, and found that it was indeed magical, and after some hemming and hawing about whether they should try it out and if so, who should take the risk, Tomato draped it over her(him?)self as a kind of sash.  Nothing bad happened immediately,  and later on in a random encounter with some fire beetles they discovered that it allowed the wearer to control insects.  It also dealt Tomato a 1 HP stinging wound after Tomato had made the beetles fight until there was one left, when Father Muffler smashed the last beetle.  The party speculated that this was some kind of feedback effect.  SPOILER (Doug don’t read): [spoiler name=”Spoiler”]actually, it just deals 1HP sting damage whenever the spell wears off, after one ten-minute turn; otherwise it has no charges or limit on times it can be used[/spoiler].

The new players were a bit confused and tentative at first, but started to get the hang of it as we went along.  I did all the rolling for them (usually I let the players roll for everything except searches and the like where they’re not supposed to know whether they’ve failed or there was nothing to find) and just told them the results.  They had the fairly typical fear that they were “doing it wrong,” but the experienced players really encouraged them to go with the flow.  One thing that I do, which I think helps new players get the hang of the role-playing aspect of it, is encourage them to roll on a random table of motivations: once each for their primary drive and primary aversion.  So, for instance, Father Muffler happened to roll that his primary drive was Religion, and that his aversion was also Religion, so he decided that the was a fanatic about his faith and opposed to other faiths.  Dorian rolled that her primary drive was Knowledge, and her aversion was Danger.  This made for (imo) for a rather interesting character, though I think she was particularly concerned that she wasn’t “playing well” because she was avoiding the fighting that the others were doing (with great enthusiasm on some of their parts.  Elyssa in particular loves hacking away at things as a Fighter).  After the game we all reassured her that as long as she was having fun, playing true to the character’s personality rather than optimally for the party’s goals was playing well.  At least by my group’s standards.  Certainly Doug never lets optimum party strategy or groupthink get in the way of his characters’ outrageous personalities, and as long as he manages to be entertaining about it that’s one of the fun things about playing with Doug.

The evening ended with the poison-gas fish-fountain claiming all three of the new players (everyone had to make a save, they were the only ones who failed).  It was getting late, so we ended there, but we’re going to play again tonight, probably with just the kids and Elyssa…the mom appreciated it as a new experience, but wasn’t as taken with the whole thing.  As they were heading out the door to go visit the museums they have planned for the day, the 9 year-old was busy trying to come up with a name for his next priest…

Superheroes, not Superbowl

Lat night we ran another session of Kapow!, my superheroes rpg that we’re playtesting, and I take it as a good sign that despite the fact that before we started a couple of our players expressed interest in watching the Superbowl half-time show, once we got going they forgot all about it.  We had our first big set-piece battle, and it went really well I think.  Everybody was engaged and involved, and despite the fact that it went for most of the session it felt fairly fast-paced and like they got a good amount done.  They were facing off against the big boss and her 64 minions, so the fact we managed to wrap it up at all is good.

The group had tracked Alexandra LeGrande to a warehouse where she was training her army of Glammazons, and scouted it out to find a secret lab underneath.  They decided to split their forces, with Harbinger (intangible scout) and Public Defender (Force Fields) sneaking in through the storm drains to confront and delay LeGrande, while Namaste (super-yogini), Akela (jungle girl), the Wraith (power-draining mystery man), and Redline (powered-armor/motorcycle multi-form) burst into the warehouse above to round up the Glammazons and prevent them from just running off.

The fight between LeGrande and Harbinger and Public Defender went particularly well, from my point of view. Once she revealed her supervillain persona,  Olympia, and began chucking her pentathalon-themed weaponry (exploding discus, “switch-blade” javelins, and big old hammer) it became evident that one or two on one they were just no match for her.  She KO’ed Public Defender in the first round, which really bummed him out until I reminded him that by the rules he’d be out for a maximum of three rounds or until one of his teammates revived him, whichever came first.   Harbinger then spent his turn reviving him, which meant that he couldn’t stay phased, but managed to avoid her attack anyway and they were both back in action.

Upstairs the fight went pretty much as expected, with the heroes easily clobbering multiple Glammazons per round, though the Glammazons did manage to at least hinder them, and in one case managed to pile on enough to score as a knock-out on Akela…but her jaguar Nushka was able to revive her easily enough.  The Wraith’s exotic power-drain power proved to be the most effective at dispatching large numbers of agents quickly, though Namaste was no slouch in that department either, just using her strength and acrobatics.  Akela’s heightened senses allowed her to detect that the group below were having trouble, so she, Redline and Namaste headed down to the lab, leaving the Wraith to deal with the remaining Glammazons.

Once the full group (more or less) was assembled, they managed to combine their powers and take Olympia down, though she did get a good shot in, disabling Redline’s Super Strength with a javelin through his suit’s shoulders.  Basically it worked exactly as designed: a boss significantly tougher than any individual was defeated by the heroes using team-work in a straight slug-fest, and once they had cleared the decks and gotten together it went only two rounds…no slow war of attrition in Kapow!  It could also have easily gone the other way, I think; if she had been able to take one or two out and press the attack so the group couldn’t afford the time to revive them they wouldn’t have had the numbers needed to overcome her higher defense and she might have been able to defeat them all and capture them or escape.

It was also very gratifying that Wendy at least thought the villain was really cool, and seems to be looking forward to her escaping custody and facing them again some time in the future.  Don’t worry, Wendy, you haven’t seen the last of Olympia!