Sunday, January 30, 2011

After Action Report

So, yesterday's DC Adventures game, "The Return of Lex Luthor."

As mentioned previously, this adventure was set in the DC Animated Universe, aka the "Timm-Verse."  I wrote it as a sequel to the end of the "Justice League Unlimited" TV series.  In that, Lex Luthor had inadvertently brought about the return of Darkseid, lord of Apokalypse, who promptly invaded the Earth in order to take revenge on Superman (who'd banished him from existence in the first place).  The Justice League joined forces with the villains of Earth to repel the invaders, and ultimately, it was Lex Luthor who ended the threat of Darkseid, presenting him with the one thing he most wanted, the "Anti-Life Equation."  In the process, Luthor vanished.

For this session, the Justice League consisted of the following members:  Wonder Woman, Flash, Hawkgirl, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Mister Terrific, and (eventually) The Atom.  Six players signed up for the game.  Five turned up, along with one person hoping to get in.  I'd signed up to run for six, but I always make an extra PC, so that no one feels stuck with the last choice character.  This also means that if another person turns up hoping to get in, I can usually accommodate them.

All six (eventually seven) players had played earlier editions of Mutants & Masterminds before, and a couple had copies of DCA, so getting them up to speed on the rules was a breeze.  They were also, to a man, comic book readers and animated DC Universe fans.  This made my job a whole lot easier.

The adventure opened en media res, with the Justice League confronting Metallo and two dozen minions during a raid on S*T*A*R Labs.  This was a "before the opening credits" fight to get everyone used to the system.  The nice thing about the minion rules in M&M/DCA is that two dozen thugs isn't overkill.  It's just a nice way for everyone to participate in the fight, even the characters who'd have trouble scoring hits on the Big Bad.  In this case, The Flash, Black Canary, and Green Arrow started in on the goons, while Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl began waling on Metallo.  Mister Terrific played his support role perfectly, helping Hawkgirl set up her attacks.  The end of the first round of action saw Metallo a bit dazed and a half dozen thugs out of the fight.  In the second round, Green Arrow shifted targets and landed a beautiful shot that dislodged the Kryptonite "heart" that powered Metallo, forcing him into shutdown mode.  Before he could get there, Wonder Woman  KOed him with a beautiful punch.  Meanwhile, the remaining thugs either went down or gave up.

As the Metropolis Science Police cleaned up the scene, the press arrived in the form of Lois Lane.  Ignoring the Flash's inevitable banter, she went up to Wonder Woman to get her reaction to news that Lex Luthor was back.


When we returned from commercial, Lois informed the heroes that Lexcorp had announce that Lex had returned and would be reassuming his position as head of the company.  A press conference was scheduled to be held in an hour outside the Lexcorp tower.  The Justice League immediately left to check it out.

Sure enough, a stage was set up outside the main doors to the building with a banner over it reading, "Welcome Back Lex!"  A crowd of press and Lexcorp employees gathered in front of it.  On stage, Mercy Grace, Lex Luthor's former chauffeur/bodyguard and current head of Lexcorp introduced "The man we'd all given up for lost.  Ladies and gentlemen, it is my distinct honor and privilege to give you our founder, the man who saved the world from Apokalypse: Lex Luthor!"

Luthor took the stage and made a brief statement.  "Thank you, Mercy.  It's been a long road home.  When I undertook my actions in the war against Darkseid, I fully understood the potential consequences of my actions.  But I undertook them to save this precious world.  And I knew that someday, somehow, I would return.  I am surprised -- and humbled -- that it took me so long to pull it off, but I'm back, and better than ever!"

Before he could field any questions, a rocket shot out at the stage from a building across the street.  A massive explosion shook the earth, but a force field around the stage prevented Lex from harm.  The League was able to spot Deadshot lurking on a nearby roof.  Worse, they spotted other supervillains emerging from the crowd:  Captain Boomerang, Bronze Tiger, Count Vertigo, Killer Frost, and Giganta.  This had all the makings of a Task Force X job.  But surely Task Force X was out of business, weren't they?

The answer to that would have to wait, as there were innocent lives at stake.  The JL leapt into action.  The Flash used his air control to divert a large amount of debris from falling onto the crowd.  Black Canary moved in to engage Bronze Tiger.  Green Arrow drew a bead on Deadshot, and a duel of marksmen began.  Hawkgirl drew the ire of Killer Frost, and Wonder Woman flew in to contain Giganta.

Early on, the League didn't make much headway.  Black Canary couldn't hit Bronze Tiger, Killer Frost and Hawkgirl were in a stalemate, and Wonder Woman missed her initial attempt to lasso Giganta's fist.

However, after that, things improved quickly.  Black Canary used her Canary Cry to counter Count Vertigo's attacks, and then stunned him with a blast of her own.  Green Arrow pulled of a monumental feat of marksmanship, shooting an arrow straight down the barrel of Deadshot's wrist gun, jamming it. Mister Terrific hacked their frequency and kept and tried to see if he could figure out who hired them.  Flash dumped a load of debris onto Captain Boomerang, rendering him temporarily harmless, and Wonder Woman got Giganta's full attention.

At this point, our seventh player showed up.  He was friends with some of the other guys playing and they'd texted him when we first realized there was an open seat.  I asked him if he wanted to play The Atom.  He was game, and we just had him show up for the first time in the middle of the scene.

Shrunk to the size of a dust mote, he launched himself at Bronze Tiger's eye.  I ruled this as an Aid Another action which allowed Black Canary a significant bonus to hit the rival martial artist.  She connected and discovered that while the Tiger can dish it out, he can't take it nearly so well.  Her blow staggered him, leaving him vulnerable to The Atom's next action, a quick move to Bronze Tiger's ear, where he pummeled him from within until he fell unconscious.  We described this as "Black Canary is squared off with Bronze Tiger.  Suddenly, he flinches, like something's in his eye.  Black Canary sees the opening and slams him hard with a spinning kick.  Before she can launch a follow up attack, Tiger claws at his ear, cries out in pain, and falls unconscious.  A moment later, there's a glow of energy and The Atom appears beside him. 'I thought you might need an assist!'"

While that was going on, Green Arrow managed to get a net arrow on Deadshot, and Mister Terrific kayoed him with his T-Spheres.  Captain Boomerang dug himself out and decided that discretion was the better part of valor.  And Wonder Woman tossed the end of her lasso down to Flash, who ran circles around Giganta, pinning her ankles and bringing the Brobdingnagian Babe to ground.  At this point, it was all over but the mop up.  Flash easily caught Boomer, and Count Vertigo was never a factor to begin with.

"You disappoint me, Giganta," Wonder Woman said.

"I know," said the villainess (who was, after all, compelled to tell the truth at the time).

Interrogating the villains with the magic lasso, the League found out they'd been hired by an unknown individual to take out Luthor.  While they'd worked for Task Force X in the past, this was not a Suicide Squad job, nor was Amanda Waller involved, insofar as they knew.  Mister Terrific hadn't been able to track their communications in any useful way, and the signal was now dead.  Lexcorp was on security lockdown and Lex wasn't taking calls.

Returning to the Justice League Embassy, the team got to work on investigating matters.  Trying to track the financing of the job hit a dead end at the Swiss border.  Mister Terrific ran an intense data trawl and discovered there'd been a break-in at an old Cadmus facility a few weeks ago, and the payments to the villains were dated exactly three weeks after that.

While the heroes were mulling their options, an unexpected guest arrive.  It was Mercy Grace, looking frightened (a very unusual look for her one must note).  "I need your protection.  I don't know who that is, but it's not Lex."


(During the break -- we actually broke for a few minutes at this point -- I brought The Atom's player up to speed.  One of the guys spent the entire break on his iPad and phone trying to find a copy of DCA for sale in the area.  Between my game and two run by my buddy Rick, I honestly believe someone could have sold ten copies of the game at the convention.  Unfortunately, no dealers had them.  None.  And you wonder why brick & mortar game stores are going the way of the dodo.)

Back at the Embassy, the League questioned Mercy further.  She claimed that whoever it is, he looks like Lex, he sounds like Lex, and he's smart like Lex, but it's not him.  After the attack, he went into his office and put on "Madame Butterfly."  Lex hates opera!"

(At this point, The Atom's player hit on the solution to the mystery.  I didn't tip my hand, but it's worth mentioning because it just shows how good this group was.)

She offered them her executive passcard to get into the building.  "If he hasn't changed the codes, it should work."  She even allowed herself to be questioned under the Magic Lasso, and her story didn't change.  She was worried and afraid and asked them to lock her in a cell until the crisis was past.

Proceeding back to Lexcorp, the team worked out a plan of entry.  Black Canary and Green Arrow would case the penthouse from the shadows.  The Atom and Mister Terrific would take care of getting in and disabling the security system (a good thing, because Lex HAD changed the codes).  Flash took care of remaining security personnel at superspeed, while Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl waited in the air for a chance to hit the penthouse.

Of course, since this is television, everyone arrived at the penthouse simultaneously.  The lights were off, and the only illumination came from the green, yellow, and red circuitry of Lex's armored battlesuit.  "So, Mercy went running to the Justice League.  Now there's some sweet irony.  You lift someone out of the gutter.  You provide her an education.  You give her opportunities.  You think you know her.  Ah well.  After I dispose of you, I'll go teach her a lesson."

And so, the battle was joined.  And a crazy fight it was.  Battlesuit Lex is one tough customer.  Initially, only Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl had a chance of hurting her, but teamwork began to turn the odds.  Green Arrow set off a flare in his face, temporarily blinding him.  The Flash couldn't hurt him but used his air control to pin him to the roof. The Atom got into his knee joint, hindering his mobility, and Mister Terrific managed to hack the strength enhancement system and shut it down.  The Atom burned a Hero Point for a power stunt and altered the atomic weight of the armor sufficiently to allow his teammates to actually hurt Luthor.  Wonder Woman got the lasso on him, and while he resisted its compulsion effect, it did tie him up enough for the Flash to literally dismantle the armor while he was wearing it.

Before the League could do more, bright floodlights filled the room and a picture window smashed in.  Standing in the opening was Amanda Waller, toting one of her big-ass energy weapons, backed by about a dozen armored DEO operatives.  "Stand down, Justice League, I'll take it from here.  This is my mess, and I'll clean it up."

She explained, "As you've probably surmised, that's not Lex Luthor. Well, it is, and it isn't. After the Justice Lords crisis, Professor Hamilton and I realized that if it could happen once, it could happen again. And if we didn't have a Lex Luthor to stop them, we might have a problem. That's when I decided the world always needed a Lex Luthor. A "mere" mortal who isn't bound by intellectual limitations. A human who can stand toe to toe with superhumans on their playing field."

"Unfortunately, someone stole our clone," she finishes, glaring at the ersatz Luthor. "Somebody who's going to pay dearly."

Before she could take further action, the voice of Lex Luthor emanated from everywhere at once: “Ah, Ms Waller. Once more, you monkeyed around with something you shouldn’t. And what good did it do?.”

A blinding light appeared, then faded revealing the figure of a man. Lex Luthor, in the same black suit he wore when he vanished with Darkseid. He acknowledged the Justice League. “Once again, it falls to me to clean up Waller’s messes. First,” he waved his hand, bathing the bound “Lex” in blinding light, “To deal with this impertinence.” The light diminished, revealing a familiar form, the mutated white gorilla body of the Ultra-Humanite. He then turned to Waller, “As for your little science experiment, I’ve removed all records of my genome from your database. You may have thought cloning me was a good idea, Ms Waller, but rest assured, you will not attempt such a thing again on my watch.”

He began to fade from view.

“And rest assured,” he added, with a contemptuous sneer, “I will be watching.”


And that was that.  The players all seemed to have a great time with it. I got compliments on working the story into the existing JLU continuity in a believable way, and I was thrilled to have players who actually knew the continuity well enough to catch the details.  The fights all went well, and the few rules questions that did crop up were either handled by a quick look-up or table consensus (for instance, I had the rules for Impervious wrong in my head.  We worked them out and all was golden).

So, big thanks to the players.  Hopefully, one or two of them will read this.  I had a blast running for you.

And big ups to Steve Kenson and Green Ronin for making such an awesome game.

(NB:  In writing this up, I've doubtlessly misremembered some bits and enhanced the dialog in a place or two to punch things up.  Such is life.)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The players were awesome. The game went great. I will write it up properly when I get some rest.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

And When I Say I Want To Run A Feng Shui Game

This is the level of sheer action insanity I'm talking about.

I know, it's actually from a Bollywood film, but damn if that isn't entirely in the spirit of the game.

Monday, January 24, 2011

To Make The Heavens Laugh, Tell Them Your Plans

So, this morning I got word out of the blue that I have to work Saturday morning.  It's an unavoidable emergency, and there's no getting out of it.

This means my early round at Owlcon is canceled, so no Barbarians of Lemuria, I'm sorry to say.  It does mean I can stop writing up NPCs and monsters for it, and fleshing out my descriptions for the climax, so it is less work in the short term, but I was really looking forward to running it.

At least I'll still be able to run my DC Adventures game in the afternoon and possibly (unless they need me back at work on Sunday AM) get to play Fantasy Hero with Steve Long on Sunday morning.

And on top of everything else, today was mandatory TB testing day at work, so I got jabbed in the arm.  No fair! I want a do-over.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Plots and Plans

I'm fighting off a cold, but it's still a game-tastic day today.  At the moment, I've just finished finalizing the PCs for next Saturdays Barbarians of Lemuria Owlcon round.  I've still got some NPCs and minions to write up, but it's on track for completion.  In about an hour, I've got a one-shot with my 4e D&D group with one of the regular players filling in as special guest DM.

After Owlcon, I've got a couple of projects planned.  I'm looking to run a Castles & Crusades game for a group composed almost entirely of new gamers.  I'm also talking with one of the Tuesday night guys about a supers thing we might put together as a joint proposal, trading GMing chores.

So doubtlessly, something will pop up and completely distract me from either task.  Because that's how my brain works.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Real Middle Ages

It's been an eventful couple of days.  Lots of work crazy, not enough sleep, and sandwiched in between, my wife and I decided to go back to doing stuff in the SCA, which used to be my other Big Hobby (really, more of a lifestyle in and of itself).

Anyway, as a result, I've been looking at medieval history sites and remembering how to access the armchair historian part of my brain.  Along the way, I found this spiffy video:

Quite often on gaming boards, I'll see people asking for visual references.  How did things look in a particular era?  This little film, based on The Luttrell Psalter, a 14th century book of psalms is an outstanding view of how late medieval country life probably looked.  It's twenty minutes long, but worth every minute, and easily applicable to Pendragon, Faerun, Greyhawk, Harn, or any number of other fantasy worlds.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I Got A Request!

Courtesy of Khyron1144:

"Is the Fiend Folio (1e) ridiculous, stupid, inadequate, or perfectly serviceable? I've been looking at my copy with an eye towards writing a review one of these days, but I was not part of the 1e generation to whom it was soemthing new at the time."

A lot from column A & B, a bit from column D.  It's easy to point to all the goofy stuff (very easy) and laugh the whole book off, but to do so is to ignore a lot of awesome material  Death Knights, the Githzerai and Githyanki (all created by SF author Charles Stross, btw), the first write-up of Lolth, Slaad, and the Drow.  Yeah, the Drow made their first non-module appearance in the FF.

As far as I can remember (bearing in mind it was over 30 years ago), a lot of the stuff in the FF just puzzled and confounded me.  I was familiar with White Dwarf, which was a generic gaming mag at the time, and knew a lot of the material in the book came from the magazine, so I just put it down to it being "British."  But even then, I knew it was a window into a different take on fantasy, one I really didn't grok from my middle-class American POV.

(Looking back on it, I think some of my confusion was due to the utter lack of overlap between D&D players and stoners in my teenaged years.  Classic '70s stereotypes be damned, all of the RPGers I knew were in ROTC and definitely not stoners.  Probably to our collective detriment.)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hero Lab Love

I don't know if I've gushed about Lone Wolf's Hero Lab before, but if I haven't that's an oversight I mean to correct.

If I have a vice (or sub-vice) when it comes to the RPG hobby, it's software gadgets.  Character builders, mapmaking programs, automated GM screens, you name it, I'll look at it, and probably use it.  I think some of it goes back to when I was first learning to use office software (Lotus 123 and Wordperfect, later MS Office) and did so by creating formatted and automated character sheets.  Later, I learned how to use PageMaker in order to duplicate the layouts and house styles of my favorite games.  So, moving from there to actual dedicated programs was a no-brainer, really.

It really has nothing to do with whether or not the game is so complicated as to require a character builder.  I don't believe any game fits that criteria, even the Hero System. What character builders do for me is provide me with tools to speed up the process so I can focus on the creative side.  And currently, I think the best product out there is Hero Lab.

(In the interest of disclosure, my initial exposure to Hero Lab was when I won a copy from Lone Wolf in a promotion.  That having been said, I've spent quite a bit on it since and haven't regretted a single purchase.)

Designed as a generic product, HL takes a modular approach to game systems, in that you initially purchase it for one of the licensed systems (Pathfinder, Mutants & Masterminds, World of Darkness, Cortex, and Savage Worlds), which gets you the program and the data files for your system of choice.  Additional systems are purchased separately, but tied to your user license.  The basic license allows the product to be installed on two computers, but can be expanded to more for a nominal cost.  So it's possible to purchase the M&M version for a group at a fairly affordable individual cost, if you choose to do so.

The interface is well laid out and generally pretty easy to navigate.  For a game like Pathfinder, which has fewer options than M&M, it's quite simple to move from tab to tab, selecting Skills, Feats, and Equipment.  M&M requires a bit more figuring out, but it's hardly a steep learning curve and once you get it down, character creation moves quickly.  Before I started this post, I knocked out a pair of supervillains and it took me about a half hour to do each, and some of that time was wasted by my looking up pictures of them online and having to back up and fix a couple of things I screwed up.

Character sheets are produced in XML, and can be tailored via in-program options or by hands on editing (if you're into that sort of thing), but each character also has an "In-Play" tab that allows you to play the character from the computer, with check boxes for conditions and modifiers that will automatically update.  I have yet to use the program in this manner, but it would be quite handy for games with lots of number crunching (like Pathfinder).

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Know Thy Audience And Play To Their Weaknesses

Last night, we playtested some DC Adventures encounters for Owlcon.  Not mine, some from another guy in the group who's running a "Crisis of Infinite Batman" session.  It was good fun and helped me see some rules I need to brush up on before my game rolls around.

The session did bring up one sad truth of an established gaming group:  The need for buy-in.  About half our group are hard-core comics nerds.  The other half like superheroes, but they're not walking encyclopedias of nerditude.  As a result, only about half of the stuff the GM threw at us (like King Solomon Grundy and the Kryptonite/Venom Joker from "Elseworld's Finest") had the desired impact on the audience.  And that's unfortunate.

I've experienced this myself in the past when I tried to run a game on the heels of our very successful "Fair City" Champions campaign.  Unfortunately, the player mix in that game was similarly half and half and I didn't handle or prepare well for the blank stares I got from describing something as "A Thor's Hammer pendant designed by Jack Kirby."

All of which reminds me that in my upcoming Justice League Unlimited game, I can't assume the players are all going to be fans of the animated series or understand the differences between the show's Hawkgirl and the comic version(s) of the same character.  Or even know who the characters are at all, for that matter. 

In short, I need to to a lot more writing between now and then, as well as work up some spiffy visuals.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Brief Diversion

I've been quiet the past few days (both here and commenting on other folks' stuff) due to a trip up to Ft Worth to visit my imaginary sister (in that we're not related by blood, but our mothers are best friends and I've known her since she was born and my folks practically raised her) and her family. It afforded me a chance to visit some different game stores (Toy Soldiers, a place just for mini wargamers and Generation X, an all-around awesome comic and game store).

Best of all, I finally got a chance to play Fantasy Flight's Battles of Westeros, a tactical wargame based on George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire." I bought it back in September, but hadn't found anyone to play it with locally who was willing to sit down with me and puzzle through a completely unfamiliar ruleset.  My friend's husband is as big a gamer as I am, but far more experienced with board and minis games, including Battlelore, the system BoW is derived from.  So, I knew if I took it with me, we'd play it and I'd figure it out along the way.

The game is, as mentioned, based on FFG's Battlelore, though with a number of changes that I'm told substantially improve gameplay.  We played out the first scenario and generally tried to figure things out as we went.  As a result, mistakes were made, but we got through it to an acceptable conclusion.  I was poised to win at the end of turn 4, only to be on the verge of a complete rout before turn 5 was over.

In terms of feel, the game does a great job of capturing the gritty, realistic feel of battle depicted in the novels.  The leaders have abilities that ring true to this fan of the books, and the overall feel of the game matches what I know of medieval warfare (which is a fairly considerable amount, honestly).

I definitely need to play some more before I'll be completely comfortable with it, but I already felt like I got my money's worth after the first game.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Hmmm...well, it seems the whole requests thing bombed.  Such is life.  Instead, you get the following brain-dump.

I'm in the process of cleaning out my garage, particularly a large pile of boxes that I know are mostly filled with old magazines and papers and things I just need to send to recycling.  The problem is, when they were packed (over a decade ago), a lot of non-paper junk got thrown in with them.  So, I'm having to go through the boxes one by one and, in the process I'm occasionally tripping over a long-lost piece of my gaming history.  For instance, a map of the Young Kingdoms that came out of some later edition of Stormbringer, or a set of play-test rules a friend wrote for a rules-light generic game back in the 80s (printed out on a dot matrix printer).

I even found what is doubtlessly my first attempt at producing a game map on a computer, from back in '92 or so.  No, I'm not going to put it up here, it's pretty lousy and the years haven't been kind to the paper.

In other news, I'm still working on the PCs for my Justice League game.  I've got two more write-ups to do, and these are harder than the others because I don't have a lot in the way of existing examples to work from.  Of course, I've still got a bunch of villains to write up, but those will be a lot easier as I can use the "eyeball and shorthand" method of NPC creation.  More worrisome is the second act of the story, which is still pretty weak, but I've got some time to work it out and I'm sure I'll come up with something.

After Owlcon, I want to start running a game at home again, though I'm not sure what.  Lately, I've been on a Western kick, but I'm fairly sure that would attract no players.  I'm good at running supers, but I'm not feeling especially driven to start another superhero campaign.  One that I've always wanted to run is what I call "Gray Box C&C," using Castles & Crusades with the original Forgotten Realms box (and subsequent half dozen gazetteer modules).  The original Gray Box is a big favorite of mine and probably deserves a post of its own someday.

Regardless of what I decide, it'll only go forward if I can recruit some players.  After my Champions game died, my players didn't exactly scatter, but they found other things to do with their weekends, so I'll have to put out the word and see what happens.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Wherein I Take Requests

I'm on vacation this coming week. I've got a garage to clean, some superheroes and villains to stat up, and an adventure to finalize.  So I'm not sure how much effort I'll have to spare in terms of making up subject matter for this week.  Thus, I turn to you, my handful of regular readers:  suggest topics and I will attempt to hold forth on them.