Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Big Game: Time of Crisis Session 2

Against all recent precedent I managed to run a second session of a superhero adventure/campaign and almost everyone showed up again! The Big Game I talked about previously has now completed session 2 and is about a third of the way through.

Our Heroes:
  • US Patriot - super-strong, super-tough, flying symbol of patriotism
    (known hero in Freedom City, played by Paladin Steve)
  • The Descendant - heir to an ancient legacy tied to artifacts of elemental power
    (new hero, played by Apprentice Red)
  • Dark Justice - lurking, menacing, bringing justice to the streets - a dark justice
    (known hero in Freedom City, played by Variable Dave) Dark J is only slightly in this episode as Dave couldn't make it this time.
  • Heavy Metal - builder and wearer of a hi-tech armored battlesuit to defend the defenseless and make a difference in the world
    (new hero, played by Apprentice Blaster)
  • Barry Allen, the fastest man alive, aka The Flash - yep, that guy. This whole flashpoint thing is way out of control
    (This is TV show Barry Allen, down-powered, and more is explained in the original post linked above. Played by College Guy Alex)
  • Blank, a brand new hero and a brand new character played by a new player who has never done a superhero RPG before, College Guy Shawn.
So I ended up losing one player but gaining one so the numbers were the same. This session ran 5-6 hours depending on how you want to count it as our actual start times tend to be somewhat later than arrival times and our departure times are often significantly later than the last die roll.

Last session ended with our heroes discussing things with the local resistance movement in Nazi-occupied Freedom City. The cosmic bomb sought by our heroes was probably the same thing as the new superweapon the occupiers had recently discovered and brought to a high technology lab at their base in Freedom City. The resistance could smuggle the heroes on to the site but could not offer much help once inside. This was fine with the heroes. They began to prepare for the journey. Dark Justice realizes that a diversion in the city would help make the infiltration easier. He volunteers to stir things up in the streets of Freedom City, much like he does back home.

Lilith, an agent of the resistance who had first encountered the team in the outer barrens of the city brought a ten year old boy forward. "His name is Blank, because he doesn't remember much of anything. We rescued him from a secret lab. He has some interesting ... abilities. He wants to go with you." 

Patriot laughed - "you want us to take a ten year old into a secret Nazi base? Where there's a universe-destroying bomb?"

Blank responded with "I can help you" and proceeded to demonstrate his power. Once Barry recovered, the team grew quiet and agreed to bring him along.

Packed into a shipping container the heroes from another dimension made their covert voyage on to the base. Along the way they picked up sights and sounds and signals of the terrible conditions in this not-so-free Freedom City. Several of them vowed to make things right.

Eventually the container stopped moving. Cautiously they emerged - into a huge round chamber with multiple levels of catwalks, huge blast doors, and concentrations of advanced technology. The focus of the entire room was a huge crimson orb, thrumming with power as waves of energy crackled across its surface. A classic Mark 1 Nazi Scientist emerged form behind a bank of machinery and gave Classic Nazi Villain Speech A, basically "we know who you are, we know why you are here, and we are so confident in our supremacy that we brought you here, right where you wanted to go, anyway because there's no way you can win." As he does this, a 5-man team of Nazi Superheroes (villains?) drops into place beside him, one by one, until he closes the speech the only way he can - "Gett Zemm!" and the fightin' commences.

The teams square off as the Cosmic Energy Device looms over all ...

Now I won't break it down punch by punch but in classic superhero fashion it goes like this:
  • Paragon of American values, red, white, blue and star-spangled tights and cape-wearing U.S. Patriot slugs it out with paragon of Nazi ideals, black tights red cape swastika-on-his-chest Ubermensch
  • Armored up Heavy Metal goes straight for blazing white flame-aura'd, sword-symbol-ed White Knight
  • Magical Master of the Elements The Descendant moves in on the greenish, translucent, creepy Der Geist
  • The fastest man alive zips over to ... a guy wearing a fairly normal looking coverall type worksuit - perhaps a worker standing in the wrong place?
  • Blank hides behind a crate. This leave Der Eule, stealthy nightbird-themed defender of the Fatherland as a free agent.
The very first thing that happens is that Flash zips over to "normal looking guy" and in a blur punches him a whole bunch. The fact that this merely dazes him should tell you that this is not a normal guy. As the others engage Blank runs to a crate very near this Flash-Guy confrontation. He has "hide in plain sight" as an ability and so is effectively invisible at this point. So nobody notices or cares.

After the Flash-punch "normal guy" can only take one action and it's a doozy - he raises his now green-glowing hands, claps them together, and a blast of green energy erupts from him and hits nearly everyone in the room. Despite the chamber being 150 feet across most of the combatants are engaged in a very small area. Several of our heroes are noticeably injured by the blast from the feared Nazi super "Gotterdammerung" - basically a normal guy except that anything he touches explodes. Oh, and he was a pretty loyal Nazi believer. Also, due to his awesome combat power his personal life sucks as he cannot touch anyone, or anything, really, with his bare skin. He's a troubled man after living this way for years as he's really only good for being a weapon.

Now I share the backstory of this particular villain as what happens next is one of those unplanned one-in-a-million coincidences that makes some sessions live forever in our own gaming history. Blank is nearby when the Guy makes his explosion but manages to survive. Terrified, as a ten year old kid in the middle of an interdimensional super-battle should be he lashes out with his main power:


So Blank turns off Gotterdammerung's always-on-make-anything-he-touches explode power.

Gotterdammerung falls to his knees, staring at his hands, in shock.

The rest of the battle continues around them as Blank maintains GD's "off" status.

Patriot and Ubermensch pound away without a lot of progress until Blank decides he can keep GD down and still do something else to help and ... turns off Uber's Protection power. Right before Patriot lands a full-strength critical punch. Now there's a visible effect happening to Uber here but Patriot has no idea what it is and so no reason to hold back as this guy's been taking his best swings with little impact so far. In this case, the punch does a devastating amount of damage and has about 150' of knockback. The nearest solid object is only 50' away - the cosmic bomb. Uber flies back into it, there is a blinding flash, and when it fades there is no sign of Ubermensch at all. 

Heavy Metal goes a few rounds with White Knight giving better than he's getting until he takes a mighty, mighty swing (power attack) and lands a critical hit. This sends Knight into the opposite wall and he leaves an inch-deep impression of a human form in the concrete before he slides down to the floor.

Descendant's magical artifact happens to have one form which is made to fight spirits. This is most unfortunate for Geist who is shocked the first time this interloper hurts him. It's even more unfortunate a few rounds later when, after switching dance partners a few times, The Descendant pops up behind him ("look I can fly too") and cuts him in half with the mightiest blow he has ever landed!

Flash, once his initial opponent takes a seat, dashes around helping here and there until he sees an opening and runs around the inside of the domed chamber, building up speed, then launches himself from the ceiling at Der Eule in a devastating move-through attack. The red, lightning-lit blur streaks down to the ground then disappears, leaving The Flash standing there unharmed and the Owl laid out unconscious on the concrete.

Through all of this Gotterdammerung is a total non-combatant. He sobs uncontrollably for a bit, then notices Lilith crouched behind some equipment. He walks over to her, falls to his knees, and begs to touch her face while his curse is lifted. Yes, there is a back story here. As the villains fall, our heroes gather around this scene and attempt to figure out what's going on. Lilith notes that he has killed thousands and pulls out a pistol and shoots him in the head - or she would have if Flash hadn't grabbed the gun out of her hand. She continues unfazed that "he wants to die" and whips out another pistol but Flash grabs that one too - "I can do this all day". Frustrated, she turns to the man on his knees and says "don't you"?

"Yes, yes, why do you keep stopping her?" he sobs.

This prompts a long totally appropriate intraparty discussion about what they should do. No one really thinks it's right to just kill him themselves, and they aren't thrilled about letting her do it either but a) "turning him over to the authorities for due process" isn't really an option because the authorities here are Nazis! b) he is a Nazi supervillian who has killed thousands and c) he wants to die.

This is one of the high points of my Super-GM career. There's not a scripted right answer here. This is totally up to the characters and the players.

It gets even better as Patriot finally hits on a solution. "Do you want to die a hero?"

The heroes know they need to disarm the bomb. They explain the purpose and the power of the cosmic device. Metal analyzes the technology of the thing and figures out the best place for GD to touch it. He is pretty sure that they will both destroy each other without a gigantic explosion - at least that's what he tells the others. They start to debate how far away they should be when they realize it's either going to cancel out GD and hopefully disappear like Uber did or, he's going to set the thing off and destroy the universe in which case there's not enough distance available to be "safe".

Gotterdammerung stands, looks at Lilith. She looks away. He looks down, then steps away from everyone and nods to Blank. He begins to glow again shortly thereafter. The most hated and yet in some ways most admired man in the room walks over to the universe-destroying bomb and places his hands on it. There is a rapid series of flashes, some strange noises, then both are gone, leaving only a crystal rod lying on the ground. Metal notes that it's an important part of the detonation system if his analysis is correct. Flash picks it up and then the universe fades around them. 

They see Lilith moving towards them "No wait ..." 

They are back on the asteroid, standing before the great face of the Norn in the place without time.

They are whole again. Blank is with them. Dark Justice is not. 

"That was an excellent performance" says the voice of the Norn. "Are you ready to deal with the second device?" 

They are.

The rock fades from view and they find themselves in a shining, sunlit city. The three towers of Freedom Plaza rise in the distance, the stars and stripes flying in the breeze atop the center skyscraper. This looks like home! They walk out into a main street. They see a police officer. 

"Officer can you help us -"

The officer turns around. It's a gorilla. In full police uniform. Speaking perfect English he stammers out "Wha-what are you?!" as he reaches for his sidearm.

Even better than the first session, this one will stay with me for a long time. Blank was a totally new character run by a new player. He just happened to end up with GD as the villain closest to where he was hiding. He just happened to "nullify" the only person in the room who wanted to be rid of his powers!`A totally unexpected development that completely changed the fight, the tone of the session, and the finale. It was amazing! I did not strictly follow the rules with some of this stuff at the end. When something awesome happens you go with it! It made for a dramatic and ridiculously comic-book-appropriate ending.

All of my players dove into the genre full-force. There were snappy comebacks, witty challenges, puns galore, and it was just a ton of fun. This adventure is one big homage to the big crossover events/team up specials and the author (a regular guest on the BAMF podcast) proudly admits it. The cliches are supposed to be engaged as you're playing it this time, not just reading it. My guys all get it, even the ones who aren't traditional comic book fans have seen enough movies and cartoons to get it. They range in age from 17 to 40-something and they all get it and they all work together to make it better. It's a different mix from my other games as this was Flash's second time to play and Blank's first. It went really well and everyone is pumped for the third session. 

Fun stuff: Barry Allen's need to reveal his secret identity has basically turned it into a greeting at this point. One hand reaches out to shake, the other pulls back the mask as he introduces himself with "Hi I'm Barry Allen, the Fastest Man Alive and I am ... The Flash!

More fun stuff: Blank grows up to become Agent K of Men in Black. The neuralyzer is just a prop, he's really using his "memory wipe" power.

Bonus Example of Fun: As the teams line up and the Nazi scientist makes his speech Patriot clenches his jaw and responds with a tirade about America and beating Nazi's. At the table a joke is made about a tear rolling down his face as Heavy Metal flips on a loudspeaker playing the Star Spangled Banner and inside, Patriot realizes he's going to get to beat up Nazi's while the national anthem is being played at 80 decibels behind him.

Next session is this Friday. As a guy who's waited a decade to run this adventure with "the right group" I could not be any happier with how it's gone so far. 

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