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Friday, 28 October 2016

"The Enemy of My Enemy" (supervillains scenario)

My gaming group has four Sunday specials a year, and this autumn equinox I decided to try a superpowers game based on the Champions rule set from the early '80s.

I'd recently watched The Hateful Eight (and let me just say right now there are spoilers ahead) so that was the germ of the scenario. The reason: disappointment. The Hateful Eight had a great premise, but it turned out Tarantino didn't have the plotting skill to make it work properly. It should have been eight people all with different conflicting agendas. Take the moment when Joe Gage poisons the coffee, and Tarantino actually stops the movie to say, "Ah, they were all talking so nobody except Daisy noticed the guy poison the coffee." But actually they were almost all in the one gang (I did warn you about spoilers) so they would have already had that plan with the coffee, and Tarantino was just wasting our time pretending it was some sort of fiendishly clever mystery. And he had three hours to tell the story. More than three hours! There should have been zillions of twists and turns, cunning plans, reversals of fortune, alliances being made and breaking down, secrets revealed. Instead, after all that, it's just: "Well, we're all members of the gang except for the old bloke, who we threatened so he'd keep quiet."

OK, flame off - but I wanted a scenario where everybody really did have their own agenda.Hence this. In the scenario, five players were supervillains and one was a non-superpowered hero who was caught in the blizzard as he arrived with a new prisoner. As superpowers were being damped for the first third of the scenario, it put the good guy in a relatively secure position. The others could have maybe taken him down if they all piled in together, but being supervillains they couldn't even agree on that.

Your version of the adventure will feature your own players' characters, but just for the record ours are listed on the handouts. I've made those a download so the players don't see them - although if you're going to be playing this then you should have already looked away, obviously.

There were also four NPC villains on the island: Muerte, Holocaust and Belladonna, who together comprised the "Death Squad", and a Doctor Doom type called the Iron Duke. Of those, only Belladonna showed up at the Vistor Centre.

Sycorax Island
Midway between New Zealand and Antarctica
Length 21 miles, Width 3.5 miles.
Highest elevation 1500 feet
Nearest land: the Auckland Islands (600 miles north-west), Melbourne 1500 miles north-east

The island is in two main pieces of plateau of around 150–200 m (490–660 ft) elevation to the north and south, joined by a narrow isthmus close to sea level. The high points include Mount Grimm on the north-east coastal ridge at 385 m (1,263 ft), and Mounts Storm and Kurtzberg in the south at 410 m (1,345 ft).The high security prison complex is just north of the centre of the island.


ACT ONE

Blizzard 
Severe storms building rapidly. (This coincides with NASA’s dark matter probe being activated in orbit above the island.)

Breakout 
There’s a power glitch to the prison, and minutes later a freak blizzard hits. The cell doors open and there's a mass breakout. The warden orders an evacuation. The escapees find two guards with their necks broken, and everyone else gone.

The escapees may not be aware at first that the power outage occurred before the blizzard. And only someone with technical knowledge will realize that the cell doors were designed to lock shut, not open – in other words, somebody planned this.

The nearest escape route is the hangar where the choppers are stored. That’s near to the Visitor Centre.

On their way to the Visitor Centre, the escapees may catch sight of the Monitor to the east, between here and the docks. Fortunately it is dormant.

They may also catch sight (just a glimpse through the snow) of a beam of light a couple of miles to the south.

The good guy arrives
As the Lucky Gentleman (a Clint Barton type, the only hero in the scenario and crucially not dependent on super-powers; he’s just highly skilled and at peak physical fitness) is incoming with Dr Megalo (think: the Hulk) in a chopper, he sees three choppers outbound through the blizzard.

Strong radio interference. There’s no chance of turning back now, and if he went down in the sea outside the island’s power-dampening zone then Megalo would have him for elevenses, so he goes in.

Dr Megalo notices flickers of Cerenkov radiation on the chopper’s metal frame. Connected with the altered time rate on the island, this tells him that cosmic forces are causing the storm – and that, although the NASA probe may have triggered it, there’s got to be something on the island itself attracting the flow of energy.

In fact all of the staff have evacuated except for two guards who were on patrol and are now stranded. (They’ll show up at the Visitor Centre.)

Visitor centre 
A slightly ironic term for the reception area where VIPs are met. In consists of a large foyer with store rooms, lavatories, a CCTV guardroom and a small cafe at the back.

The characters make their way to the visitor centre but there’s no chance of flying the single chopper that’s left in the hangar there. Along with the PCs, Belladonna is here. If nobody else notices, she’ll point out that they still don’t have their powers.

Then the Lucky Gentleman turns up with his prisoner.

No chance of using the chopper. Only other way off the island is the submarine but it’s in the sub pen two miles away.

CCTV Room
This is off the main reception/lounge area. Among other things, it gives a view of the docks on the north-east of the island showing that the ship has gone.

They get a closer view of the light beam that some of them may have spotted earlier. It’s like a searchlight in reverse – ie coming from above and scanning around on the ground.

There’s also a view of the submarine pen on the southern tip of the island. There’s an Ocular Deep 200 sub. It carries only two people, though only somebody who can drive a sub will know that.

The guards
Two prison guards turn up. They’re understandably nervous and they know that a shapechanger (Mr Veils) is in the group, so will voice concern that Lucky (whom they recognize; think Cap) might not be the real Gentleman. He can talk them round – especially if he points out that Veils probably can’t use his power at the moment – but they’ll need some convincing.

The guards’ names are Joe Braben and Kurt Orville.



ACT TWO

The blizzard abates – and with it the dampening effect. More importantly, everyone’s powers come back. (Milk that for dramatic effect.) It’s still very cold and blustery, but going outside is at least possible.

The beam of light is now fixed on a point one and a half miles south of the prison complex. (It has found its target, the serpent crown, and is dematerializing a way through the rock.)

The Monitor 
Unfortunately the lifting of the dampening field also reactivates the Monitor (think: the Destroyer). It will attack if they attempt to reach the submarine pen at the southern end of the island, which the region it’s currently patrolling: “Metahumans detected. Threat assessment pending. Maximum force authorized. Neutralize or eliminate.”



Escape routes
The wind is still too severe to risk taking a chopper up. In any case, the Lucky Gentleman’s chopper is the only one in the hangar and that will take a maximum of four people given the remaining fuel. There’s also the sub (if they saw it) but that only takes two people.

The Iron Duke and the Death Squad
Back up towards the prison complex there’s a wheelchair in the snow. It looks like the snow banked up to the point that the wheelchair user had to abandon it and drag himself on.

The tracks in the snow lead to the Vault. There lies the body of Wesley Wellington, the Iron Duke. It looks like he was heading towards the security swipe plate on the outer door but couldn’t reach it and died of exposure.

Optionally he could have a faint pulse if anybody with medical knowledge thinks to check. He could be brought round in the medical bay.

(The Iron Duke predicted that NASA’s dark matter probe would disrupt the weather as it passed directly over the island. He arranged the power outage, setting everyone else’s door to open ten minutes before his so they would all either kill each other or try to reach the docks, giving him free rein to go for his suit.)

It’s right about now that Muerte and Holocaust show up. Belladonna will side with them. Muerte gives the characters a chance to back off. He wants the contents of the Vault for himself. If they don’t leave, Muerte and his colleagues attack.

If the characters search Wesley Wellington’s body (they have to specify they are doing this) they will find a security card in his hand. It’s obviously homemade – a cut piece of plastic, a tape strip sellotaped on. But it works at Level One (highest) for 2-3 uses.

Entering the Vault
If they find the security card and enter the Vault, they can get the Iron Duke’s armour. It has to be fitted by hand (the auto-fit is linked to an implant only Wellington has) and using any power other than augmented STR requires an INT roll. If the character criticals an INT roll, they can then use the suit’s powers normally.

The medical bay
A character who is wounded can recover 1d6+1 Body points here.

ACT THREE

The beam of light from the sky (“it's like seeing where the rainbow ends”) is focused on the centre of the island. They can see that it’s fading now.

All the characters feel a very powerful intelligence scanning their mind. Ask them their Ego CV and let those who fail know that the intelligence might even be able to compel them if it chose. There’s a sense that the intelligence is growing in strength.

At the centre of the island
If they approach they see a shaft leading down into the rock. The beam fades completely.

The Serpent Crown is here and forming within it is a translucent humanoid form with bronze-like skin and glowing eyes. This is Nebulos. Centuries ago he was stripped of his crown and banished to the Negative Zone. Now NASA’s dark matter probe has opened up a gateway.

Nebulos is growing in strength as he materializes. Let him begin with a 20-point force field, 8d6 Energy Blast and 6d6 Mind Control and that increases by 3 points/1d6 every round.

He opens with a 5d6 Presence Attack, then proposes to make them his lieutenants in the conquest of this world.

It’s obvious that he is growing more solid and the glow from the crown stronger every second.

* * *

In our game, Belladonna tried to get the others to team up against the Lucky Gentleman but failed. During an argument she broke Dr Megalo's nose - for which, when he later transformed into his identity as the Shark, he ate her. One of the characters was a shapechanger called Mr Veils who variously passed himself off as Gary Brand (Holocaust), prison medical officer Dr William Sullivan, Wesley Wellington (the Iron Duke), and a prison guard. In the final confrontation, which against all odds involved all of the players despite an afternoon in which they had frequently split into three or four factions, the Lucky Gentleman went to grab Nebulos's crown, rolled a 3 on 3d6, and the bad guy faded back into the dark matter universe.


And incidentally, by a strange coincidence that in comics would surely presage the arrival of Galactus, there's currently a Kickstarter for a Champions supplement set in the Golden Age (ie the 1940s). I'm tempted to run a Minutemen scenario but I'm not sure that my players could cope with all the rapes, beatings, betrayals, murders, and toxic secrets. Oh, that's not how you see the Golden Age heroes? I'll get my cape...

6 comments:

  1. I've never been a huge super hero fan (apart from Zenith) so never played any super hero RPG's but that looks like a great scenario.

    I agree on the Hateful 8. Great cast, fantastic delivery but I felt the plot was lacking and the final act dragged. Jackie Brown is still my favourite Tarantino film, possibly because he didn't write it

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    1. The WGA might disagree with you there, Rudd, unless you mean that he based it on an existing novel? Much better than Hateful Eight is the movie that Tarantino probably drew his inspiration from: The Day of the Outlaw, with Robert Ryan. I recommend that one. But first wrap up warm ;-)

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  2. Champions is one of those RPGs that has great sourcebooks, that I've read over and over again, but that I've very seldom played. I was rereading it again just recently, during a visit to my mum's (Champions happens to be sitting at the top of my RPG box, so that's what I tend to read when I'm there).

    I own the existing Golden Age Champions supplement. It really captures the flavour of the epoque. Happy to see it's there as an add-on for this new KS campaign.

    Great scenario, Dave! Some of the most fun games I've played have involved a bunch of amoral backstabber types. True, the body count tends to pile up towards the end of the session...

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    1. It reminded me that our games have become much too tame of late. Not that everybody needs to be ready to commit murder, but the best games are ones in which the players each have their own agenda. My friend Nick Henfrey coined the idea of describing people in real life as "player characters" if they displayed a willingness to think flexibly and unsentimentally about how they interact with others. Not that I'm saying that's always a good thing in real life, you understand - but drama (or roleplaying) without conflict is a bore.

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  3. I'm in a game of "Monster of the Week" and one of the players had what was essentially a Dumb Cheerleader with a propensity for wandering off away from the rest of the group or otherwise getting into trouble. In the last adventure she did this while we were saving a group of kids from some kind of Indian Owl monster. We got the kids into a bus and took off.

    The player was "Wait! What about Cindy!"

    The rest of us just shrugged and "You picked the wrong time to use that move, but hey you get to die like a Dumb Cheerleader after all. We'll try to bury whatever the Owl-thing poops out later."

    I don't really want to play in a group of sociopaths, because that becomes its own kind of boring, but I do like the idea of the people I'm with having their characters act like real people would act.

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    1. I'm not familiar with that game, but it does illustrate why I'm not interested in "meta" game systems. If you're playing a character type, then you can't act as the character should really act; instead you have to act as a writer would have them act. I think you get a much richer game if everybody just inhabits their character from the inside, so to speak. The trouble is, you can't sell a game like that anymore. Every rule system has to come structured around archetypes, act breaks, tropes, reversals... gimmicks plundered from screenwriting guides that cynical game designers realize will entice paying customers even while they lead to impoverished gaming experiences.

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