Faster Than A Speeding Recap

  • Brian managed to show up, and played his super-speedster Fasttrack.  Fasttrack was originally created for a Silver Age Sentinels game that never got off the ground (I blame Doug and Paul for breaking the system before we even started), and a version of him became Brian’s main character in City of Heroes.  He seemed pleased to finally be able to role-play him….and he roleplayed the heck out of him, much to the amusement of the other players.  They were particularly taken with his rapid stream-of-consciousness speech patterns.
  • Fasttrack showed up in time for a brief confrontation between the Order of St. George (Vatican Special Monster-hunting Squad) and the super-group over the disposition of the Wraith’s (Doug’s) evil brother, The Revenant.  Eventually it was resolved with the Vatican “heavy hitters” Codex and Joan completely destroying The Revenant’s body with holy flame, releasing all the souls that he’d consumed over the years in a spectacular spiritual light show.
  • A call for help from Dr. Kelso at Paradigm labs brought the team to the lab complex, which was on fire.  Fasttrack leapt to evacuating the civilians, while the rest of the team plunged into the lab building where Dr. Kelso was, only to  come under attack by gorillas wearing exoskeletons.
  • The gorillas were led by a silver-back, sans exoskeleton, dragging Dr. Kelso by one ankle.  There we broke for the evening.

When next we resumed, the players were treated to the first genuine villain monologue of the campaign, which they sat still for and even seemed to find amusing.  At least part of the reason they bore it patiently is that last time they interrupted a villain’s monologue (in the Weird West Campaign), they destroyed the Universe before the villain had time to warn them against it.

  • The gorilla leader called himself Ape X, or Apex, was a product of Dr. Kelso’s continued research into nerve regeneration and repair.
  • He had dosed the other gorillas with it, but it took a while to take effect, and Dr. Kelso had managed to get away and call in the team before he was ready.
  • Apex tele-operating the other gorillas via the exoskeletons, using a modification of Redline’s (Mike’s) exoskeleton’s kinesthetic feedback controls.
  • Dr. Kelso was dying, neck broken by an inexpertly wielded tele-operated gorilla, but Apex planned to save her momentarily by putting her in a “Captain Pike” chair, where she’d be less trouble.
  • Attacking Apex failed, since what they saw was just a hologram.  “Didn’t I mention that I’m smarter than you?  I’m pretty sure I did.”
  • Jungle Gal was able to use her Animal Friendship to calm the rampaging gorillas, but before they could pursue Apex he warned them that he had sent some of his gorillas to set the Null Energy Generator project in Lab 57 to go super-critical so if they wanted to prevent the Earth’s atmosphere from being stripped away they should probably attend to that.
  • The team managed to stop the Null Energy Generator explosion through teamwork and the first “Power Play” of the campaign (a Kapow! rule that lets players combine their powers and through comic-book logic create a new power).  They then found that it was all a bluff, and if left alone the destabilized field would have damped itself out instead of destroying the world.  “The villain lied to us!” exclaimed one of the characters.
  • The team (except Jungle Gal) agreed that the remaining gorillas would have to be put down, since the evidence was that gorillas granted super-intelligence through the formula were dangerous.
  • Jungle Gal (Wendy) snuck back into the labs and absconded with the gorillas, using her wealth to charter a plane to some jungle island hide-away where she would reign as Queen of the super-intelligent gorillas… or at least guide their development so they didn’t become evil.   Wendy decided to use this as an opportunity to put Jungle Gal on the back-burner and develop a new character.
  • In other developments, the teleporting villain Technik invited herself on a date with Harbinger (Dan); this seemed to freak Harbinger/Dan out much more than I thought it would, given his character’s attitudes towards other attractive NPCs they’d run into.
  • Beef, the minor villain that Namaste and Jungle Gal had defeated, having been released from jail showed up at Namaste’s yoga studio seeking to study under her and “fix up his Karma and shit.”
  • Police detective George Kim showed up at the base, wanting to know what happened with Revenant.  Redline told him, only to find out that he was unhappy that the Vatican had exceeded its authority in this case by executing Revenant without due process.  The team had let them go ahead because they were dubious about the police and prisons being able to hold Revenant, and were afraid that he’d go on a killing spree as he had apparently done back in the late 19th century.  Kim didn’t blame the team, but explained that while in the past they had to rely heavily on the Order of St. George to track down and capture supernatural monsters they weren’t supposed to go beyond that, at least without a trial, and the police had reliable ways to deal with supervillains once they had been captured: there were power-nullification holding cells (using a bulkier version of the tech in the Wraith’s gloves) and for long-term imprisonment there was the super-max prison, the Oubliette, in a dimension where no super-powers of any kind worked.  Part of this was, by agreement with the players, to establish more firmly that the setting really did permit the heroes to turn over captured villains to the authorities without having to worry about a Arkham Asylum revolving-door situation.

All in all it was a highly satisfactory set of sessions.

Kapow! Mini-Recap

We’ve had a couple of sessions since the last report, and the players seem to be enjoying it a lot, but I’ve been too busy with other things (such as working on the manuscript for Kapow!) to do proper recaps.

Just so that we don’t forget what’s gone on so far:

Redline has been working with Dr. Barbara Kelso, the scientist who developed the original treatment for the degenerative nerve disease that young Artemis Simon was suffering from, which eventually led to her being banned from the Olympics (and years later to her become Olympia) and Dr. Kelso being booted from her university on ethics charges.  Dr. Kelso landed at Paradigm Labs, Where the Future is Today!, where she’s being continuing her research on apes.  Redline felt guilty about falsely accusing her of being in cahoots with Olympia, so to  make it up to her offered to help fund her research at the lab; this led to them collaborating on some research having to do with the neuro-mechanical linkages he’s developed that let him control the Redline suit.  Of course, he’s doing all of this obliquely,showing her the interface components without the suit to try to preserve his secret identity.

While he was at the labs he got a call from the CFO/accountant at his small business, saying that he had found something disturbing going over the books before the audit that was supposed to happen in 48 hours as part of the deal Redline was setting up providing certain pieces of the Redline technology on an exclusive basis to a large motorcycle manufacturer; before he could explain what it was he found, the call was abruptly cut off.

Racing into action, Redline headed back to the firm.  On the way back he was challenged to a drag race by a mysterious silver-and-blank racer… and he lost.  Arriving at the parking lot of his company, the silver and black racer was waiting… and transformed into a powered armor suit of an unfamiliar design.

To be continued…

Kapow! Playtest by Guest GM

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….

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…

The Backup Campaign

For a while now I’ve wanted to have a campaign, or at least a setting, which we could use on days when there weren’t enough of us present to run one of our ongoing games.  I’ve tried a couple of things as “backup” games, but so far nothing’s really gelled.   We had a couple of sessions of Basic D&D, but nobody but me really digs the rules (and I’m not 100% on them), plus things didn’t go so well in terms of tone for the party (“We suck!” Wendy shouts in the background).

So I had them roll up new characters for the system (D&D inspired but not quite D&D) and setting that I’m using for the kids Friday night adventures, and so far (fingers crossed) it’s a bit more promising.

Currently the party consists of

  • Tomato, a Fairy Witch (Mage/Actor)
    Str 5 Dex 5 Con 12 Int 17  Wis 8 Cha 22 Siz 2 Lk 20
    HP 3  Stam 6  MP 12
    Talents: Cute (+6), Acting (+6)
  • Hurlon, Dwarf Assassin (Thief/Fighter)
    Str 14  Dex 12  Con 12  Int 10  Wis 13  Cha 8  Siz 6  Lk 13
    HP 6  Stam 10
    Talents: Thievery (+6), Dwarven Background (+3)
  • Poden Persas Human Priest of Maner, God of Scales
    Str 11  Dex 11  Con 4  Int 11  Wis 15  Cha 5 Siz 12 Lk 10
    HP 1  Stam 1
    Talents: Herbalism (+5)

Poden starts the game with one Exotic Trait because of her crappy stats (though as I type it up I realize that she doesn’t quite qualify according to my original rules, because of the 15 in Wis, but whatever…not going to take it back now).  She rolled well for that and got a Wish, which she chose to save for later so it will be interesting to see how that will play out.

Because we got a late start, after they rolled their characters, we didn’t have much time left…just enough for them to be shipwrecked and thanks to a judicious miracle from Maner find themselves beached on the shore of the Sea of Sky.  They found a nearby settlement, Pontus, City of Bridges, persuaded the guard to let them in despite the gates being closed, and secured lodging at the Inn of the Bronze Calf.

I was tempted to start them in Arla, the same town that the kids are playing in, for a bit of West Marches style, but decided it would be simpler to keep things separate for now.  Plus, I’m using Amityville Mike’s Stonehell as the local dungeon for the kids, but some of my regular players might actually be familiar with it from reading this blog if nothing else.  One thing that I know is going to come back to bite me is that I used Mr S Island as the entrance to Stonehell, which is going to make it hard to work the “real” Mr S Island dungeon into the setting once I get it further along.  One thing I’m considering (because the backstory for Mr S Island actually allows it) is that the entrance on the island can actually lead to different dungeons depending on circumstances… or maybe I’ll just live with the fact that there’s a disconnect between different versions more than just that Mr S is originally being statted for Tunnels & Trolls.

Return to the Stinking Sludge

Session Summary for 3/8/09, Elves & Espers

The Party for this session consisted of Idariel 7, Twonkey, Josepi, Bon Go, and Traumiel. It has presumably been some short time (less than an hour) since the last session, and some of the party members have wandered in and out on errands of their own. The early part of the session was spent bringing Bongo and Traumiel’s players up to speed. As the result of a particularly clever Knowledge (Arcana) roll, the party now suspected that the mysterious Figure in Red from the previous session fit the description of a Super-Model, a race of technologically and magically enhanced creatures, gorgeous in appearance, near-perfect in every way, and endowed with what can only be considered “superpowers.” No one else could have held up the zombie mammoth by main strength, or moved quickly enough to be unseen while causing a sonic boom. The Super-Models had evidently taken over the city some decades back, ruled it with an iron (but immaculately manicured) fist for about a year and a half, and then abruptly vanished without trace, after which the current Lords of Infrastructure took power.

Idariel came to the conclusion that finding the Super-Model might somehow lead to the return of her investigator’s license, and she was determined to track down the figure. After the parade ended, the party trooped down to the street to examine the site of the amazing rescue. Unfortunately, investigation of the area proved fruitless; there was no way to track a figure who seemed to have vanished completely. Many bystanders had seen the event, but they had all been deafened and knocked down by the sonic boom, and were unable to provide any leads as to where the figure might have gone. The party decided to change tack and question the G-Nome family. Fortunately, some of the bystanders recognized the girl as the younger daughter of the Gruff family, so the party had somewhere to start. Visiting a G-Nome family isn’t easy, as they all live in the Web. Fortunately, getting G-Nomes to come to you is easier–you simply hire them. Idariel and Josepi made their way to the nearest G-Nome booth, where they were able to request a contract with the Gruff family. Almost immediately, a teenage boy G-Nome by the name of Bob Gruff appeared, offering to take a message. Idariel asked him about the incident, but as he had been busy working, and not attending the parade, he hadn’t heard about it yet. He agreed to carry a message to his mother Phoebe, however…for a fee, of course. Josepi grudgingly paid up, and Bob zoomed off into the Web. Not long thereafter, Phoebe showed up. After expressing their concern, and hoping her daughter was all right (she was), Idariel asked if Phoebe knew anything about the red-cloaked figure. She didn’t.

The party batted around several more ideas and quizzed the GM about Super-Models for a while, but eventually gave up the search as a dead-end. At a loss for anything better to do, Josepi and Traumiel suggested that perhaps earning some money was an acceptable alternative, so they decamped back to Barbis Boltbiter’s establishment to ask for another contract.

Barbis wasn’t in the best of moods when the party arrived — he had been expecting them right back after the parade, and had been wondering where they’d been the past few hours. Setting that aside, though, he informed the party that he’d been negotiating with Lord Shadrach, owner of the Sludge Works, over the rights to the Thaumivorous Ghost Moths. Lord Shadrach had agreed to pay the party a generous percentage of all proceeds arising from use of the Moths (of which Barbis took a cut as well). The party was naturally surprised that things had worked out well for them, through no action of their own…until Barbis mentioned the catch.

It seemed that Lord Shadrach needed a job done. Carvin Spiker, who the party had met previously, manager of the Sludge Works, and therefore employee of Shadrach, had been murdered, his office burned with him in it, and Shadrach wanted the party to investigate. (The GM explained that the police wouldn’t get involved unless they were paid to do so, and that the Lords generally handled crimes on their own properties.) Barbis made clear that the deal about the Moths was contingent on the party taking care of this, so of course they agreed immediately.

The party retraced the steps of their previous expedition, and made their way down to Poisonville. Josepi suffered from the same allergic reaction to the fumes that he had before, this time joined by nature-boy Traumiel. Eventually, the group made its way to Carvin’s office, and found it quite thoroughly torched. Carvin’s corpse sat unmoved, but deeply roasted, behind his desk. Figuring he should put his medical skills to some use, Traumiel examined the body, not entirely certain what more he could learn. He was able to definitively determine that the body was Carvin, that Carvin was quite dead…and that he’d been killed with a garrote before he had been burned. While Traumiel was playing medical examiner, the others searched the office, and noticed that Carvin’s papers had been carefully spread around before they were burned, so that nothing readable would survive. The fireproof safe had also been carefully opened and the contents burned. The party made knowing “Hmmm” noises at each other–clearly, they were dealing with professionals here. But why garrote Carvin before burning the office? Bon Go also noted a spot of flooring that appeared different…she recalled that there had been a locked drawer in that spot before, but it was gone now. Twonkey volunteered that Carvin had never let anyone see what was in that drawer before, and had locked it hastily the one time that Twonkey came into the office while it was open. Idariel attempted to Detect Arcana on the room, and was able to determine that the firebugs, whoever they were, had left behind a spell designed to mask any clues from prospective forensic investigators…and that the spell was working quite well. Idariel had been fortunate to detect it at all.

Giving up on the office, Josepi decided to canvass the neighborhood. He’d noticed a diner nearby that was not only a greasy spoon, but also a greasy knife and fork, and probably a greasy soup ladle and whatever that fork is with the three tines that no one can remember what it’s for. He introduced himself to the owner, M3j (a Droll…a cross between a dwarf and a troll, 4 feet tall and 7 feet wide -jm), and asked if anyone had seen any strange air-cars in the area. M3l was only interested in talking to paying customers, of course, so Josepi and Bon Go each bought a cup of coffee, which turned out to be surprisingly excellent. M3l still wasn’t terribly forthcoming, so Twonkey, an acquaintance of M3l, spilled the beans that Carvin had been murdered.

Meanwhile, Traumiel wasn’t about to go anywhere near a place that ostensibly served food in Poisonville, so he stayed behind. He reasoned that if the arsonists had blocked spells and technology, they might have failed to account for purely physical methods of investigation. With nothing to go on except for memories of cop shows from his youth, he cast around outside the office, and was lucky enough to locate the scorch-marks left by a landing air-car on the street just outside the office. He decided to wait until Josepi came back to see what he made of it.

Back at M3l’s, the cook was visibly upset about Carvin’s murder. After all, Carvin did considerable coffee-and-danish business with the diner. After recovering his composure, M3l opened up a bit more. He hadn’t known Carvin particularly well (people in Poisonville don’t ask too many personal questions), but it was obvious that Carvin had a little something going on the side beyond running the Sludge Works. He was known to flash some cash around, and was frequently seen with some “honeys” on his arms. Given Carvin’s rather expansive physique, it seemed likely these companions were paid. M3L recalled that they’d probably come from the Pussycat Club, and gave Josepi directions as to where to find that establishment. With a couple of new leads and a probably course of action, the players decided to call it a night.