Saturday, September 10, 2011

One more thing about the Marvel Game...

As I was searching through my MSH stuff it occurred to me that while when it comes to D&D I am fine with using published campaign worlds, when it comes to Supers I typically like to make up my own. I think a lot of it is the baggage that comes with 50 years of backstory for a Marvel or DC universe - in the past I've found it constraining and overwhelming to new players.

This time is different though. With all of the movies and the cartoon out now, I feel like the Marvel-verse (?) is an advantage, not a liability. My players know who a lot of these gys are now. Even organizations like Hydra have figured prominently in some of these things, so if I throw them in I don;t get a bunch of blank stares. It's cool for a change.

Plus, and this is pretty important, at one time or another Marvel has had the rights to Star Wars, Star Trek, Transformers, GI Joe, Micronauts, Shogun Warriors, and Godzilla. As if I didn't have enough material to work with before! It would have to be a long-running campaign to work in all of those, but maybe a Secret Wars-style event could bring some of them together all at once a little ways down the road. We will see. Running for a younge crowd makes this even more interesting.

Friday, September 9, 2011

ICONS Friday Special - Adamantium Man!

It's been pretty a supers-intensive week on the blog here so I thought I would close things out right - with a new character for ICONS:


Theme Music, to the tune of the Fox NFL Sunday Theme 

Ad-a-man-ti-um Maaaaaaan!
Ad-a-man-ti-um Maaaaaaan!
Ad a man ti um Maaaa-aaaaan!

Ad-a-man ad-a-man ad-a-mantium
Ad-a-man ad-a-man ad-a-mantium

Ad a man ti um Maaaa-aaaaan !

(I always thought it was odd that the "strongest metal in the universe" was used for weapons and skeletal enhancement but never for a straight-up brick. So I decided to fix that oversight.)

The hero now known as Adamantium Man began life in a small Nebraska farming town. Matthew Thorsen was the middle son out of the three boys and the daughter born to the Thorsens in the late 20th century. Raised on the family farm he had a normal country upbringing and grew into a strapping young man. As a teenager he did the expected things in high school like playing football and working on the family farm. It was a good life and the next big thing on the horizon for Matt was a decision on college.

There weren't many superheroes in Nebraska - most of that stuff was confined to the east and west coasts* - so he never really thought about good and evil and worldwide dangers. When he was 16 though, things changed - at a post-game party on a Friday night in the fall there was some drinking and when Matt and his girlfriend staggered over to his beat-up red F-150 he was feeling it but thought he would be OK. He was not entirely correct.

Headed home down a road he had driven many, many times, Matt came around a curve towards the old bridge and swerved when he saw a cow in the road - the Higgins family was bad about keeping that stupid gate closed - he slid off the road, down an  embankment and into the creek as his girlfriend Lacey screamed in terror.

As the truck headed for a rough water landing Matt felt a change come over him - suddenly he was stone cold sober, and time seemed to slow as he felt a surge push through him and the steering wheel crumpled in his hands. He threw his left arm straight out against the dashboard and his right shot out in front of Lacey, bracing her against the crash. As the truck slammed into the opposite bank the hood crumpled and the airbag burst around his arm, but Matt remained rock solid, holding the dash back and keeping Lacey protected. Feeling as though he was watching someone else, Matt pushed open the door, splashed out into the creek, and pulled the truck up onto the road. As he came around to the passenger side, he realized his girlfriend was staring at him wide-eyed. He assumed it was shock from the crash, but she managed to get out "you look different" before locking up again.

Looking down Matt realized that he had changed - his skin was now a dull gray color and hard - hard like metal. he had been pretty strong for a while now but moving the truck was like picking up a chair, it took barely any effort at all. Something had changed and he wasn't sure it was good. That's when Lacey came around the battered truck and kissed him and suddenly things went back to normal. He collapsed to his knees, shaking, but flooded with relief as his skin went back to its normal look and feel.

Pa didn't ask him too many questions, and they decided not to bring it up with the Sheriff as no one had been injured. He spent the fall fixing the truck back up and riding to school with Lacey. He also practiced changing into his "metal man" form and gradually learned to control it, enabling him to continue his football career without revealing his secret. Lacey was the only other one who knew his secret and it brought them even closer together. Not wanting to disrupt his life, he never used his ability again - he just practiced, "just in case."

Eventually high school was finished and it was time to head for college. Lacey was staying close to home but Matt won a scholarship to Atomic City University.**  Promising each other it would only be for a few years and that they would see each other on holidays the two split up and moved to the next stage of their lives. Matt moved west, went to class, got a job at the farmer's market, and moved into an apartment on campus, all while playing football for ACU.   

The city was different than his home, and there were some things to get used to, but one thing that bothered him was that there were several heroes with powerful abilities running around town fighting crime and helping people. They kept their identities secret, but they still found ways to help out. Matt was very concerned about endangering his family, but if he could figure out a way to protect them and still contribute, then maybe it was time he used his ability to do something. Between classes one day Matt heard some theater students carrying on in some outrageous accents and realized that might be the key - his build, his haircut, and his Nebraska manner of speaking might all give him away but if he dressed in an outlandish costume (as many of these heroes seemed to do), stayed in his metal form when in public, and used a different accent, then it should be enough to conceal his identity!

The next day, a new hero went into action. Donning a red costume he made himself and using a vaguely Russian/Eastern European accent that he had been practicing night and day (though not around his friends) he walked into a street where Ogre was raising a ruckus, caught the bus that was thrown his way, and then proceeded to beat the incredibly strong villain into the ground. Ogre's henchmen opened up on him with various firearms, of course, and as the bullets and super-strong punches bounced off one local reporter commented "wow it's like he's made of adamantium" and the hero was truly born - Adamantium Man! 

Following his debut Matt continues to go to class, play football, and fight the good fight in between. He is not part of any organized team or group, though he has teamed up with a few other local heroes on occasion and he always welcomes the chance to work with a more experienced partner. His theme music came about when he saved a local radio personality and in gratitude a YouTube video was born that was very popular. After his original costume was trashed Doctor Science was kind enough to provide him with a new one made of the same super-material many of the city's heroes use. He is very careful to use his accent when "on the job" and he keeps a gym bag stashed somewhere so that he can change into his normal self before heading home, hoping to throw off any pursuit. When interviewed he is vague about his origins, just stating that "he came here to make the best use of his abilities" and keeping it short. He's not sure what he's going to do when he finishes school, but that's a ways in the future - for now Atomic City is his home and he's going to do what he can to help out.

* As his Pa once said - "not sure why that is but it's alright because they sure seem to need the help."

** Or to the local university wherever your campaign is played 

Adamantium Man for ICONS: 

  • Prowess: 4 (Good) He is not a trained fighter, just a kid who's been in some scraps and plays football
  • Coordination: 4 (Good) He is a college athlete but he does not have super-human reflexes
  • Strength: 8 (Amazing) This is one of his two signature powers - he is immensely strong, possibly the strongest being in the city...for now
  • Intellect: 4 (Good) He's a sharp kid and a good student
  • Awareness: 4 (Good) He's young and an athlete and somewhat nervous about becoming a local hero. He stays on his toes.
  • Willpower: 5 (Excellent) He's been through a few things and does not give in easily, staying true to his roots.

Stamina: 13
Determination: 2

Origin: Birthright (1 extra power)

Specialties: Athletics, Farming


  • Invulnerability - 8 - He turns into the strongest metal in the universe 
  • Leaping - 5 - His super strength lets him jump quite a long ways 
  • Life Support - 5 - In metal form he is protected from some effects: Cold, Heat, Pressure, Radiation, Vaccuum and yes, he still has to breathe.

"Farmboy in the City": Matt is Not From Here and doesn't know the city like the back of his hand. He also doesn't always get what people mean either due to language, accents, or just not growing up in the city.

Code Against Killing: he's fine with administering a beatdown to someone who is asking for it, but he is not going to kill someone - that's for the law to decide.

Connections: Family Back Home, Girlfriend Back Home, Coach & Team Mates Here

Secret: Identity as Matt Thorsen, college student and football player, covered by a costume and a fake accent

Brand New Hero: Adamantium Man is very new at this and has no mentor to teach him. He doesn't know who the major villains are or what kind of powers they have and he doesn't know much about his fellow heroes either. He might get into a mix-up and end up fighting a fellow hero or he might insult a villain just be being ignorant of his grandiose plans and history. He doesn't know much about courts, laws, police procedures, or following clues either. Imagine someone picking up an Avengers or Justice League comic for the first time and trying to figure out who is what, powers, continuity, locations, etc. He's living that.

In human form his strength drops to Excellent (5) and he loses his powers. I could have worked this out as an alter-ego but it's really not a different person, juts a shift into super-form, kind of like changing costumes or suiting up for a battlesuit hero. It could also have been handled as Density Increase, but that kills his Agility and I didn't want that.

He works out to 49 points, which is close to the recommended value. He is not a complicated character at all in play, but he is easily dropped in for a new player to use or for someone who forgot their sheet, or as an NPC ally. His background gives him a few quirks and the accent thing could be fun as could the New Hero aspect. That much background (up above) does violate my usual policy of "give me a paragraph at most" but super characters tend to need more of that kind of thing and I always like to know the origin story of an NPC - it might come in handy to tie them closer to a PC or something in the world.

Yes, he started out as an homage character (I have more than a few) but then he took on a life of his own as I began working on background ... "sure, he has a Russian accent - but what if he's not Russian?" Letting your brain wander off down these rabbit trails can turn up a lot of bad ideas but sometimes they end up making sense. "Nebraska Farm Boy" is not the most exciting background but I think it's pretty solid and whether as a PC or an NPC his attitude might range from "Gosh what's that" to "I don't care if it's from another planet or dimension or whatever, when I hit it, it's going down". Let your PC's have the exotic backgrounds and let him represent the more grounded hero.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Return to the Ruins of Adventure - Session 28: Jaws of Doom

Our Heroes:

Althea, Eladrin Wizard

Mikal, Human Warlock (infernal pact)

Javanni, Half-Elf Bard

Kordan, Human Fighter

Uthal, Goliath Barbarian

(All are 7th level)

After pausing for a few minutes after the battle with the snakes, the party pushed open the old wooden door at the end of the room and realized they had one more battle before them - six armed lizardman temple guardians and a hooded figure with a gleaming golden bow awaited them inside a chamber where much of the floor was underwater and the walls were covered in frenzied writings proclaiming the divinity of Zarius, the lizard king.

The initial volley of magical fire killed several of the guardians but as the hooded figure fired back the heroes realized the arrows were shaped like serpents and envenomed like them as well! Kordan charged, leaping over a watery gap in the floor to close on the archer. Uthal waded into the guardians while Javanni moved to assist Kordan and Althea and Mikal stayed where they were, blasting away at their enemies.

As Javanni fired off a near-constant stream of insults, one of them evidently struck a nerve with the hooded figure and it leaped across the gap, away from Kordan, in an effort to harm the bard. Somewhat surprised, Kordan followed planted his magical battle standard, and engaged with his trusty sunblade. He was even more surprised when the hood came down and revealed a scaled feminine visage with seprentine hair that lashed out, biting him and poisoning him in a sudden furious assault. As he staggered under the attack, the creature's eyes began to glow and as he met her gaze he felt his legs growing heavy and realized he was in serious trouble.

As this was going on, most of the party was gathered on a stone platform in the middle of the room, the dryest part of the room and the place where the fight had come together. The casters, though, had backed into the passageway from the prior room as the guardians swarmed in. Out of nowhere, a column of water erupted from the well behind them and the biggest crocodile in the world lumbered forth, jaws snapping at Althea! As her life flashed before her eyes, she teleported away to safety. Mikal stepped back and began blasting the thing, hoping that it would be enough. As the jaws snapped down on him, he realized it was not and he too teleported across the room to safety. Frustrated by the narrow passage, the croc disappeared into the dark swampy water.

As Uthal finished off the guardians he realized the roaring behind him indicated a new threat had arrived. and turned to deal with it, though the croc was gone before he could react. Javanni moved to a more advantageous position to support Kordan. Seizing the moment, the fighter lashed out in a flurry of sword strikes, separating her head from her shoulders, then finishing the thing off with a shield bash that knocked her dying body off of the stone platform and into the water. As he stood there gazing down, his body stiffened, hardened, and turned to stone, the gleaming golden bow of the creature lying at his feet - a glorious way to end, if indeed it ended here.

Javanni's maneuver had helped to distract the thing but it also exposed him to a new danger as the croc exlploded out of the water in the main chamber, a terrifying storm of teeth and bellowing,  and seized him in its jaws, savaging the bard. Uthal realized it was up to him and charged, Black Spear of Thar held high. Smashing into the big reptile, he managed to slam it back hard enough to free the battered and bloodied bard. Flaming spheres and arcane bolts slammed into the beast with visible effect, but it kept on coming.

As quick as the lightly-armored goliath was, he was not quick enough and the wounded croc seized him next, biting down hard. With Kordan out, Javanni seriously wounded,  and the barbarian being crushed by the giant croc, things looked grim. Then, the power of Kordan's magical standard began to take effect on the huge creature, drawing it forward and forcing it to release Uthal as it advanced. Taking a moment, the barbarian gathered his strength as the enraged croc smashed the standard aside, ending its magic. As it turned back, the heroes realized the fight would soon be over, one way or another. With incredible speed the monster croc rushed the barbarian and seized him once again. Horrified, the arcanists blasted the thing but it only paused long enough to gulp Uthal down completely, then it splashed back into the water and disappeared from sight.

A few minutes later the drenched, chewed upon, and slightly digested goliath emerged from the "well" in the other room, roaring in triumph but accepting aid from the relieved wizard, bard, and warlock. Being swallowed had driven him nearly mad with rage, and he had cut his way out of the beast in a frenzy, killing it, and then fumbled his way to the surface.

The group took a few minutes to enjoy being alive and then began to consider the problem of the fossilized fighter. After much pondering and debate, the wizard and warlock agreed that the blood of the medusa, appllied to the lips of a victim, should reverse the magic. Finding blood from the creature was no problem and was soon smeared across Kordan's lips. There was a shudder, then over the next few minutes some twitching, and finally an intake of breath, and then Kordan was free, back to his human self.

 Looking around the party determined that the serpent-thing was the high priest of Zehir. The only interesting item from the fight was her golden bow, which was identified as a potent magic item and stashed away. Having eliminated the religious leader behind the uprising, the next step appeared to be an assault on the keep itself, the lizard king's seat of power. Slaying him would end the attacks, break the spirit of the rebellion, and secure the party a new home and base of operations. As the sun set, the party camped amid the ruins on top of the hill and gazed across the swamp where they could just barely make out the towers of the distant keep, awaiting their arrival.

DM Notes: Much of this session was consumed by an epic 11 round fight where the party faced off against some minions, a medusa, and a giant crocodile and it was one of the best fights we have had during the campaign. It went back and forth several times and the medusa and the croc were both signifcant threats that managed to hurt the party enough to put some fear into them. The croc outperformed any hopes that I had and was as tough as any solo I have run. The fight ended when the swallowed Uthal used "Rampage" and scored a critical hit - I could not have asked for a more appropriate or dramatic ending as the doomed barbarian managed to pull off a win from inside a monster! Everyone played a part and was pretty happy with the whole thing. They also managed to gather enough XP for almost everyone to advance to 8th level.

Sessions like this are golden to me as even though it was mostly combat there was no lack of role-playing going on. That's one of the things that I laugh at when someone gets on a soapbox about combat versus roleplaying - since when are they mutually exclusive? If you're talking in a funny voice, calling other characters by name, fake-yelling in distress, letting out your battle cry, shouting out plans or battle tactics, or popping off one-liners during a fight, then you are role-playing. There's no set time for it - it happens constantly during the game. It's also not exxclusively vocal - if your character always targets certin enemies first, or always opens wit ha certain move, you might be role-playing! If you consistently move to stay with another character, working together to overcome your enemies, you might be role-playing! Anything that you do as a player that makes your character stand out or makes them more memorable to your fellow players is a part of role-playing that character! Combat is a  time of tension, stress, and danger, a time when some players are at their most-engaged,  and it's when some of the most memorable moments can happen in a game - don't ignore it! Encourage it!

Around the table use character names as turns come up ... liven up descriptions of comabt moves ... give enemies a touch of personality to go along with the stats. In-game let your villains make speeches or snide comments as they fight - let them gloat when they're winning and let them curse as the fight slips away. If the party fighter bears a particular device on his shield then let some oppoinents start to recognize it and react appropriately. If the ranger regularly garbs himself in the skins of his enemies (boots, cape, armor, hat) then give him a reputation that has an impact in combat - maybe the lizardmen automatically lose initiative when informed that they will provide boots for a whole village - especially when they recognize the scale pattern of their high priest in the ranger's cloak!  Movies and comic books do this kind of thing all the time and if it's good enough for them then it's worth a try in your game.


Next up is the final of this little side trip into the swamp as they attempt to take out the Lizard King in his own lair.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tweaking Marvel Super Heroes

After running through the intro adventure for the first time in at least 20 years I had two main areas of concern: 1) the lack of a defensive roll or other way for a character to influence to-hit rolls and 2) Karma and the way it isused in the game.

Defenses: The game as written makes attacks totally dependent on the ability of the attacker, regardless of the defender. A Hydra agent rolls against his own Fighting or Agility to see if he hits, regardless of whether he's shooting at Spider-Man or the Hulk. This felt wrong to me at first, but there is a dodge action in the game. Unfortunately you only get one action per round, so you have to give up your attack to do it. However, I realized that this was really a problem in my eyes because I am so used to once-per-combat initiative. A decade-plus of "roll it once per fight" has conditioned me to think in those terms, whereas the upside of every-round initiative means that if Spidey dodges this round, he has a chance to win the initiative  next round, and punch a goon in the face. This actually works pretty well and makes determining initiative that much more interesting during a fight.

The only tweak I made was that I decided to allow a character who had not acted in this round to abort to a dodge (ala Champions) if he was attacked. The downside though is that if you went first and did punch that goon in the face and didn't take him out, well, he's probably going to shoot you on his turn and you just have to hope he misses.

I have thought about allowing d6 Star Wars style multiple actions per round at the cost of a column shift drop for each additional action (I noticed it's in the Advanced Player's Book as well), but I think it could get complicated and I kind of like the simplicity we have now. I probably will formalize it as Standard-Move-Minor ala D&D 4E as the minor would cover thigns like opening a door or pressing buttons on a control panel or setting the quinjet to "hover" or various other small things that happen in a round that don't really take all that much time. I'm not sure the game needs that much structure but it would lay out things a little more clearly. I'm going to see how the next few sessions go and then decide if we need it.

Karma: This is a larger problem and one I haven't fully solved. I love the rules for acquiring and losing karma as heroes go about their daily lives - I think it's one of the best mechanical systems for enforcing the genre (and alignment for that matter) even if it is a little heavy-handed in places. There's really not much ambiguity to it - heroes act a certain way, and they can be rewarded for it. Now you know the REAL reason Batman doesn't kill...

The problem comes in spending that Karma. Being able to auto-shift an attack into a red result anytime at will could be problematic in a campaign and in a one-shot. Part of me says that's just one of the benefits of those stats and playing true to the hero archetype, but part of me sees it as a game-breaker waiting to happen. I like player-control mechanics like Fate Points, Luck Points, Bennies, and Force Points, but I don't like the varying and unpredictable cost of using them in attacks under this system. I also don't like that it costs 40 points to drop an incoming result by one color, or that it costs 100 Karma to try a new power stunt - that's a huge disincentive to get creative with powers that aren't written up as attacks right from the start. Considering that some published heroes start with over 100 Karma (Wolverine has 121) while others start with under 20 (Wonder Man has 18), I'd like to see those low on Karma points be able to benefit in some way during a game. My initial thoughts on an alternattive Karma system:

  • 10 Karma will drop an incoming result by 1 color (Defensive uses should be cheap)
  • 10 Karma will also stabilize your character if they are knocked unconscious and are dying (Defense again)
  • 25 Karma will raise one of your power or attack results by one color (Offensive uses should be cheaper than they are now, but more than a defensive use)
  • 25 Karma will also let you try a new power stunt (Creativity should be more achievable than it is now)
  • 25 Karma can also be spent to acquire a "second wind", restoring the character to 1/2 of Full Health (Another defensive usage but I'm not totally sure about this one - we're going to try it and see how it works in play)
  • 25 Karma (and a full action round) can be used to get a damaged or unprepared vehicle or device to activate and function temporarily - it might be a car, or a space shuttle, or a giant laser, or a city-wide force field generator (I'm still a little vague on this one but it has so much potential in play I had to put it in, though the cost is subject to change.
  • Karma as an advancement method, i.e. experience points, is dropped altogether. This is a bad practice that tends to lead to hoarding as players suffer through multiple sessions without burning any karma in an effort to get some nifty new power or move one they already have up one level. I don't want that to be a concern so I will use some other method of advancement, completely separate from Karma. 

These options allow a hero like Captain America with 60 Karma to do a few different things during a fight as needed, instead of gambling it all on one roll or having a new power stunt stay completely out of reach and that's my main goal with these changes,

I also feel like there should be some kind of reroll mechanic in there somewhere but I like the color-shifting option a whole lot as it's not something you can do in a lot of other games that are more pass/fail than degree of success. Given that, I'm not sure where to put a reroll option in - at 10 I think most people would take the sure thing and just shift up one, and raising it to 25 only makes this worse. I'm going to table it for now and see how things go.

I also feel like there is potential for some 50 point options like bouncing back from unconscious to half-health or an automatic untrackable escape like a ninja smoke cloud or something like those but I'm not really prepared to nail down just yet.

My only other potential issue right now is the extra effects on a red result for some attacks. It means that there's a small percentage chance of taking down any opponent, even one you cannot normally injure due to tough defenses, in one shot. I'm not sure I like the idea of Cap or Cyclops one-shotting Ultron with a lucky or Karma-fuelled roll. I'm hoping my tweaked Karma rules will help keep the major villains alive long enough to actually be a threat. If not I may have to look into some tweaks to those extra effects and I'd really rather not change that up.

If you're interested, the ultimate home on the web for all things MSH is here.

Anyway there's the first crack at it. Comments and experiences and anecdotes are welcome. I'll also post up something about them after the next session where we get to test them in the heat of battle.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Labor Day of the Octopus?!

Much to my surprise I found myself running Marvel Super Heroes yesterday...

Yeah. Gool old yellow-box MSH, including the starter adventure. We had touched on it once earlier this summer and the Apprentices liked it enough to give it another try. Considering the shelf-load of material I have picked up for it over the years I was open to this, despite my efforts to concentrate on ICONS and M&M 3 when it comes to supers gaming. That's a lot of material to just leave lying around and I hate to waste ready-to-go RPG stuff. So off we went to Marvel New York...

Now the way this came about is tied up in holiday schedules (Labor Day 3-Day weekend), blended family schedules (who has who when), and teenager schedules (homecoming week in Texas means the purchasing or crafting of homecoming mums). I spent a lot of our together time running D&D (more on that later) for the older two but then Apprentice Red was out for the afternoon so Blaster and Who (and Twilight but she's pretty much self-entertaining) were left home with me and were wanting to play something. Annoyingly complicated schedules means that I have a 4E game for Red & Blaster, a Basic D&D game for Red and Blaster, ICONS and Star Wars games for Red, Blaster, and Who, but I do not have a game for just Blaster and Who - how did that happen? Alright, well, here's an opportunity to have another game in the rotation...but what to play?

I really had given zero thought to this and situations like this are kind of bad becasue I have way too many games and indecision can set in pretty darn quickly. I brought up Basic D&D and Who was not terribly interested. I brought up Star Wars and got a maybe. I brought up Supers and got some enthusiasm too (they had been watching plenty of Mighty Avengers and Justice League over the weekend) so after also dismissing Deadlands and Star Trek I retired to ponder options between X-Wings and X-Men. 

Star Wars: We have a Saga going going intermittently now and I considered just picking it up and going with two. They like the Clone Wars era but I didn't really want a same-timeline campaign stepping on the toes of the one we had. However, this could also be a good opportunity to try out some of my d6 revisions. I asked and they wanted to play something different: Knights of the Old Republic. Of course ... I have nothing prepared for KOTOR and it's been at least a year since I looked at anything old republic-related. I dug through my old Star Frontiers adventures and decided that Dramune Run would be pretty easy to convert on the fly and its mix of criminals and smugglers and local military intervention would fit just fine. Plus it's a very space-oriented adventure and would contrast nicely with our other ground-based game. OK, candidate one selected.

Supers: I considered M&M 3 but from-scratch character creation is going to take forever with these two and Apprentice Who is going to get lost in some of the fiddly bits of modifiers and conditions and things. ICONS is fun but we're already in the middle of one adventure for that with all three of them. Briefly considered V&V - nah, same issues as M&M 3. DC Heroes, same thing, plus I don't know it that well. I gave Neccesary Evil a long look, but I don't want them to play villains just yet although I do love that system. MSH was the winner because we didn't need to make characters, it's very easy to run and play, and they were in the middle of a MIghty Avengers episode when I walked out there to talk to them. Candidate two picked out.

I presented both options and Marvel won out. Heroes were quickly chosen - Blaster took Cap & Thing, Who took Spiderman and Wolverine - and a fight began near the Krupp building as the heroes were attacked by Scorpion, Beetle, Fixer, and Radioactive Man.

After getting a quick refresher in mechanics, combat began and Thing failed an Intuition check to avoid surprise. Radioactive Man blasted a hole in the street beneath him and Ben would spend the next 3 rounds climbing out of the hole. Various attacks and moves were made but Captain America threw his shield and nailed Fixer right in the head, knocking him out before the battle really got started! He tumbled to the ground and out of the fight.

Round 2 saw more exchanges and Cap tried out the Karma rules and nailed Beetle with a another thrown shield for a "Kill", knocking him out of the fight too! Round 3 saw Scorpion finally land a tail-smack on Wolverine (who had been winning that fight) knocking him back but leaving him open to another karma-fueled shiled-toss from Cap that knocked him out of the fight as well. Thing also climbed up out of the hole this round. Round 4 saw the angry Thing leap onto Radioactive Man and finish him in one solid punch as well (He had taken down his force field to explode and hit multiple heroes, and hadn't had a chance to get it back up before Mr. Grimm got within arm's reach).

Some legwork eventually (I had to work on Blaster a little bit here - he probably should be playing Wolverine instead of Cap, temperamentally speaking) led to the old boarded up Globe Press building. Breaking in, they see Doctor Octopus standing near a giant, 3-story robot version of himself. He calls them various names and then a bunch of metal tentacles erupt from the printing presses around the room and the fight is on! Spidey is grabbed by a tentacle while the Thing gets hit by a flamethrower and Cap and Wolverine dodge electrical blasts! Cap once again fires up the Karma-shield and KO's Doc Ock with one mighty heave, but the machines keep fighting while the robot just stands over the fight, motionless yet somehow threatening.

This never happened
Within a few rounds the combative printing machines were destroyed with minimal damage to the heroes. They then grabbed Octavius and demanded the controls to the robot. He groggily whispered "too late" as the immense construct rumbled into life, turning to face one wall which slid aside like a giant door.

Springing into action the super team quickly realized that the thing was nearly immune to their attacks. Cap realized that they were in the place that it was built so there should be plans for the thing right at hand. Blueprints were quickly found and reviewed and a weakness became apparent - an access hatch in the bottom of each foot, much weaker than the rest of the robot and also providing access to its inner workings!

Spiderman and the Thing took the lead as the Octodroid took its first step. Spidey unloaded a double-dose of webbing around the foot and leg, binding it to some of the machinery in the room as Ben Grimm stepped in to intercept the giant foot, holding it aloft! Wolverine slid in and slashed through the hatchway with his adamantium claws! Captain America, timing it perfectly, leapt into the now-accessible accessway and began climbing towards the head and the computer brain that the plans placed there. 

 Thing paid the price for these actions as the robot noticed a probelm and increased the pressure on its foot, toppling the tough hero and crushing him under its heel, but he reisted long enough to let Wolverine squirt inside the hatch and begin follwoing Cap up towards the head! As Spidey attempted to distract the automaton by leaping onto its back, a huge metal hand closed around him and things were not looking good. Then the Thing managed to get out from under the robotic boot and grabbed ahold of a leg, trying to slow it down. Spiderman pushed free of the hand and leapt over to a nearby building, earning a blast from one of the tentacles as he did so but his amazing agility kept him from harm.

About this time, Cap finally reached the head and laid about with his shield. At the same time Wolverine found what looked like a power source in the torso and laid into it with his claws. Within seconds the mighty Octodroid shuddered to a halt in the middle of the street, less than a block from where its "rampage" began, utterly defeated by the heroes.

Accolades and thanks were given, villains were taken to jail, and much rejoicing took place that day as four heroes from completely separate walks of life came together to stop a major mechancal menace, and stop it they did.

From the front page of the Daily Bugle
DM Notes: As it turns out one of my first rule tweaking articles for September will be on MSH. As far as this adventure, well, yes, as an intro adventure it is horribly railroady and linear but it's one of those things that a lot of people have played if they played MSH back in the day and I wanted to give the boys a shot at it. We had played through Chapter 1 back when we tried it out so we picked up with Chapter 2 five minutes later. We all had to get reacquainted with the rules but they flowed pretty easily as we got going.

The choice of villains is ... good for a starter adventure. Fixer and Beetle were as crappy as I remembered. Fixer has 6 points of body armor and 24 Health, making him just waiting to be KO'd by a Remarkable (30) attack, which he was on Round 1. There's a good half-page of notes on his gadgets, none of which I needed after that. Once Apprentice blaster understood the Karma rules it was all over for the bad guys as Cap stood in place and shield-chucked them into unconsciousness. Taking out all four villains also makes the rest of the adventure somewhat easier as it means they do not reappear at Doc Ock's HQ in Chapter 4.

At first I thought the robot was stupidly constructed as its Monstrous armor means that no one in the starter set can hurt it, but I appreciated it later as it forced the players to do something other than karma-bash it into oblivion - they actually looked for a weakness and figured out a good plan involving all 4 heroes in just a few minutes with no arguing - SUCCESS!

The heroes felt pretty much like they do in the comics - Spidey was dodgy and came up with clever uses of his web, Wolverine got into trouble and got to use his healing factor in the last battle, Thing proved to be pivotal to beat the robot even when he couldn't just bash it, and Cap used his shield a ton and pretty much ran the show - excellent!

I do have some nitpicks with the rules and will discuss those in another post tomorrow because the final outcome of this run was "I like this game" and "Can we play again?" which is really what I'm looking for when I run something for them. Apprentice Who especially was still talking about it hours later as that's probably the biggest fight he's been in RPG-wise. One interesting thing is that they really like using the published characters, which is something they have been against before. They are talking abou making up one of their own and running them alongside an existing hero, and I'm fine with that. 

Future adventure-wise I'm not sure if I will use any more published adventures as I don't like most of them plus I have some ideas of my own, but they did like the look of "Thunder Over Jotunheim" so I may have to work in some Asgardian adventures pretty quickly. This one was a lot of fun for me too so I'm looking forward to dusting off the old books and seeing what we can do.

Monday, September 5, 2011

One Small Rule Tweak for 4E

Besides limiting races and maybe some classes I really haven't felt the need to mess with 4E all that much mechanics-wise. The Rules Compendium formalized the "Monster Knowledge Check" which is an interesting way to integrate what you know into a combat situation. It also included skill check difficulties by level (rated in Easy, Moderate, and Hard), which allows us to connect monster level to how much someone is likely to know practical information about it without needing a separate subsystem. I tweaked the details a little bit and it has proven to be a popular option in our games.

  • It's a free action once per encounter to make a monster knowledge check (this is normal)
  • Each knowledge skill is tied to one type of monster (this is normal)
  • The level of the monster determines the relevant DC's for the check
  • The outcome of the check determines how much you know:
            < Easy: you know nothing. Should you really be fighting this thing?
          => Easy: You know the Name, Origin, Type, and Keywords
          => Moderate: You know the four Defenses of the creature, Resistance (if any), and Vulnerability (if any)
          => Hard: You know the creature's Attacks and any other capabilities like rage, teleports or heals

Now some of this is tempered by common sense - everybody knows Red Dragons are resistant to fire, and if the Orc in fron of you has a bow he's probably got the ability to hit you at range. ALso, if you've fought the creature before and remember it, that's a freebie.If you want more details and the numbers again, roll again. If you're spending an extended time fighting similar opponents (Cough! Revenge of the Giants! Cough!) then I'm not going to make you roll to know the AC of a Hill Giant - you probably already know it anyway.

I use this idea too, although they're hand-written as needed rather than printed up in advance.

Anyway, the Moderate and Hard results up there are my only real changes. No, I don't tell my players their target numbers in combat, and yes I roll behind a screen so they don't know if that 20 point hit is a good roll on a d10+10 attack or a bad roll on a 4d12 attack. It makes things a little less crunchy, a little more mysterious, and gives them a reason to use those knowledge skills at times.

Motivational Monday

September - a little more real-world humor