Last night wasn’t scheduled to be a Kapow! session, but since there was some confusion due to skipping last week’s session to finish Russell’s Gradulfiad arc, Dan didn’t bring his game, so Kapow! it was. Since both Redline’s and Public Defender’s players were absent, I sidelined their plot threads; also, because the players were starting to use Out-of-character reasoning about a mysterious conspiracy tying all the threads together, I took the trouble to disabuse the players of that notion. While it would have been amusing watching them chase their tails for a little while, I know from bitter experience–bitter I tell you!–that if you let this group of players start to get paranoid it’s a death-spiral for the campaign. Telling them flat out that it was just separate plot threads that coincidentally all started at once because it was the beginning of the campaign will save heart-ache down the road. That left tracking down whoever had killed and cut the heart out of the young woman in the park according to the forms of an ancient Inca ceremony.
In the interests of GTTFM (mildly nsfw), while the group was discussing a road trip to Connecticut to consult with the only other expert in the US who could have accurately reproduced the ceremony, a news flash came on the TV: a scantily-clad woman with a 20′ albino ghost anaconda had taken a bunch of children hostage at the Public Gardens and was issuing a challenge to Akela, the Jungle Gal. No, really I had that part planned all along…the villain came to the US to confront Akela, so there was no reason for her to skulk around waiting for them to find her.
The group raced to the park to confront the villain, who revealed herself to be a rival of Akela’s from the jungle village that had (partially) raised her… Nusta, the daughter of the witch doctor who taught Akela her secret jungle recipes. She had come to America to hunt down and punish Akela for her cultural misappropriation, abandonment of the People to side with the Outsiders, misuse of the secrets entrusted to her by the traditions of the witch doctors, and generally being a pain in the ass all those years growing up and overshadowing Nusta. This, of course, pushed all of Akela’s buttons, and she was ready to offer a truce and to show Nusta that the Outsiders really weren’t all that bad and that she was just helping people as the witch doctor would have wanted… until the others reminded her that this young woman had cut the heart out a girl in the park just the other night in order to summon the demonic snake that was menacing the toddlers. And so the fight was on!
The fight went reasonably well from the point of view of play-testing some of the system. We tried out the new way of handling actions in turns (basically having to declare all of your attacks at once if you’re making multiple attacks, instead of making one, waiting to see if it worked, making another, etc.) and it did indeed speed up people’s turns so play went around the table quicker. The rules for disabling powers got a workout when it turned out that Nusta was quick enough (and people were rolling rather poorly) that they were having difficulty tagging her straight-out. First the Wraith disrupted the ghost snake, then Harbinger managed to take away Nusta’s spear, and the Wraith drained her Super Speed. Akela finished the fight magnificently by combining her powers with her jaguar’s to KO her rival. It really did feel like it was straight out of the comics, at least to me.
As she was being hauled away by the police, Nusta vowed that this wasn’t the end of it, and the pharmaceutical companies that were going to tear up the jungle around the village searching for medicinal ingredients would be stopped. Of course, this left Akela further conflicted. Ah, complications.
One thing thing that, unexpectedly, some people found confusing was how the increasing die-sizes work. The problem is there’s no such thing as a d14, d16, and so on, so unless I force everyone to use an electronic die-roller I have to fudge the progression. The progression d8, d10, d12, d8+5, d10+5 was deeply counter-intuitive to the less rules-crunchy types, so much so that I’m considering whether to replace it with d8, d10, d12, d10+d4, d10+d6… All in all, the shakedown continues to go pretty well, I think. I hope the others chime in with their impressions.
My friend Russell agreed to use Kapow! to run a short adventure for Elyssa and me, so that we could get some kind of sense of how well it would go with somebody else running it, and I’m pleased to say that from the point of view of the players it went very well indeed. Russell didn’t seem too traumatized by it, either.
The strength of the game continues to be in the ease and flexibility of the character generation: I was able to (re)create a character that I’ve been trying to play for years in other superhero RPGs, never to my complete satisfaction. He’s a kind of cross between Batman and Sandman, called The Nightmare, and in systems like Champions he always seems to end up being spread too thin as a beginning character. Clever abuse of the point-buy system can alleviate some of that, but he’s always lackluster compared to the more straightforward beat-em-up martial artist or gadget types, and almost gimped compared to the same tricks applied to a more specialized character. In Kapow! that pretty much goes away; he has different strengths and weaknesses compared to the more specialized characters, but I really didn’t get the sense playing him that it would require a bunch of XP before I could afford to have the kind of character I wanted him to be or that he was and also-ran compared to the much more Brick-like Namaste, super-yogini.
The system mostly got out of the way for the rest of the game. It was primarily an investigative scenario, with only two real combats, and neither one really required any of the rules for special situations. But they were quick, and they were satisfying, and that pleased me a lot. I think one thing that was missing, not system related, was at the end we didn’t get an explanation of the villain’s plot from his point of view. I’m hoping that Russell will leave a comment that fills in the details of why those particular victims and the odd calling card….
We had a very good session with the kids exploring Stonehell last night, and it was gratifying to see that one of the primary features of a megadungeon that you return to again and again has started to pay off, namely that they are remembering and taking advantage of their knowledge of the places and creatures they’ve run into before. When they killed a wandering giant ferret that attacked them on level one, they headed over to the Kobold marketplace to sell it, figuring the hide must be worth something (and it was). Later on, on the way out of the dungeon, they used their knowledge of the layout to duck out of the way of a group of hunting Neanderthals… the Neanderthals had come close kicking their asses several times before and now they give them a wide berth when they can.
During the session they almost lost a party member to the haunted straight jacket, and unwisely sat down to party with the Piskes whom they mistook for their benevolent relatives the Pixies; they survived that encounter, thanks to a lucky roll by the party cleric in smiting the Piske shaman, but it was a near thing. They also got some interesting magical loot that I threw in, a potion that granted 10 minutes of unkillability (damage taken while the potion is in effect regenerates) and some random magic lollipops (these were licorice, cure poison).
A good time was had by all, and three of the party leveled up (which reminds me I should make a cheat sheet to make that easier next time).