This series chronicles my ongoing Marvel Heroic Roleplaying campaign. This time I playtested some official material I wrote for the upcoming “50 States Initiative” supplement to the Civil War event. While I’ll remain vague on mechanics, you’ll get a teaser of what’s to come and a taste of just how flexible the game can be.
Nightcrawler: Teleporting Mutant swasbuckler. Devout catholic fighting against his demonic origins
The Great Gregory: Precognitive two-bit stage magician and cheater, boredom drove him to register as a superhuman… not that anyone noticed until now.
The One Man Army (Toma): Wisecracking and stubborn, he can instantly clone himself in multiple copies, blatantly violating multiple laws of physics while doing so.
Collateral Damage was flown into to Camp Hammond in Stamford, Connecticut to receive Avengers training and be tested to see if they had hero potential. After failing to impress anyone through a series of training exercises, the heroes were faced against three very deadly Sentinel robots. They overcame that challenge through guile and the massive power of their water-controlling teammate Tsunami who vanished without a trace shortly after*.
Scene 3: Training Day, Groundhog Edition
Faced with such inconclusive training results from the members of Collateral Damage and based on several hunches by Head Scientist Baron von Blitzschlag, the heroes were required to redo the tests. After some grumbling, the heroes accepted.
Game designer aside: I wanted to playtest the scene I had written which was very similar to the last session we played, only more structured. I found an excuse within the game’s story to do it, turns out it was totally worth it.
I gave the heroes four challenges to “beat”:
- An Infiltration Challenge: Recover a Pulse Rifle from the Quartermaster’s warehouse several level under the camp’s main administrative building.
- Capture the Flag: Deal with three combat-bots and recover a flag on an open surface.
- Obstacle Course: Redo the Camp’s obstacle course.
- A Marksman challenge: Shoot targets with some kinda gun (you’ll see).
From the get go, I knew that the session would not be played as I wrote it (they never do). The characters had an established pattern of never doing things in a straightforward way if it could be avoided. I told them they had full control of the order of performing each challenge and the actual details of those. I put cards on the table with the name of each challenge telling them I’d flip them over as they beat them. In Marvel Crunchspeak, they were Scene Distinctions they had to “beat”.
Armed with that freedom, the characters decided to go for the Pulse Rifle covert challenge first. Nightcrawler took the lead (as the only covert hero) and the other two got ready to help. Toma tried to hack into the Camp’s Network to locate the Quartermaster’s storage area. He failed but he got the feed of a camera that was on the same subterranean level (allowing Nightcrawler to teleport there at the very least). Gregory tried to use his pregognition to chart a map from the camera’s feed point to the gun’s emplacement but was interrupted when a time-shifted von Blitzschlag goosed him.
Von Blitzschlag: A precog that downplays his true potential? How clever. Now stop being boring and impress me!
Gregory: I just insulted you in over 5 billion parallel universes you dried up Nazi.
Von Blitzschlag: Try Harder.
That’s when the group went totally off script. Nightcrawler disguised himself as a Technician, snuck into the weapons lab and downloaded the Rifle’s plans. He gave the plans to Toma who built two fully functional Pulse Rifles. Gregory helped Toma by providing parts for the gun… By stealing them from the Obstacle Course’s most critical parts! When Toma gave the gun to Black Widow, all observers were dumbstruck as no one spotted the heroes stealing the fake guns they had planted for the challenge.
Toma left Agent Romanov scratching her head, rifle in her hand.
Chatty: As Toma leaves the barrack in which Black Widow was stationed, you hear a huge explosion as a beam of purple energy pierces through the building’s roof.
Black Widow: WHAT THE %*#$?
Henry Gyrich (Commander of Superhuman Forces): Now this is getting interesting!
I really liked how my players took full control of the story and provided alternative challenges to achieve equivalent results. Plus, they now had a souped up D12 Pulse Rifle for the Marksman challenge and had created an opportunity to ace the obstacle course from Gregory’s “cannibalizing for gun parts” stunt. As predicted, Gregory walked through the course nonchalantly (scratch that, arrogantly) as all obstacles failed around him.
Gregory: As I slowly walk to the finish line, hardly having broken a sweat, I take out the Flag from the Capture challenge and I wipe my brow.
Chatty: Wait, you guys haven’t take the flag yet…
Gregory (PM): Oh believe me, we have, we’re going to play the Capture the Flag scene as a flashback scene now.
Toma (Yan): You did give us the freedom of playing this Montage scene like we wanted right?
Chatty: Oh you crafty bastards! I love it!
The Gauntlet (The Camp’s Drill Instructor): I’m going to tear this smug bastard in two!
Gyrich: Oh shut up, I’m starting to really like that guy.
You should have seen the grin on everyone’s face. They were having a LOT of fun.
The Capture the Flag challenge was a cakewalk. Gregory went to see the many recruits waiting for their turn around the combat arena where the challenge was held. He convinced each and everyone of them that they would win priority evaluation to gain their heroe’s licences if they showed initiative and tagged the combat-bots during the challenge. Gregory aced that roll and the whole arena was crawling with excited teenagers trying to impress the trainers. Nightcrawler teleported in and out to grab the flag… and get a few kids out of danger.
The Gauntlet: I’m going to kill them all! I swear Gyrich, they are yours, I don’t want them under my responsibility.
Gyrich: Just keep an eye on them.
Gregory: And that’s why I had the flag to wipe my face after the obstacle course.
Chatty: Awesome! All right guys, word got around that you were unconventional and cocky…
Toma: Hell yeah! I’m ready for the Marksman challenge!
Chatty: … So Black Widow decided to get some payback. She’s going to make the exercise a bit tougher. She’s asking you to shoot down a bowling ball-sized flying drone with one of the fake Pulse Rifles while wearing a defective Avengers-Issue Jetpack.
(In Marvel crunchspeak, I laid a few more Scene Distinctions down to make things harder)
Black Widow: Cheat yourself out of that one buster.
Toma: Are we still on for tonight baby?
Thing is, Toma managed to pass the challenge without actually succeeding.
Toma: Here’s my intent(**): One of my clone’s going to take the jet pack and the fake gun. I’ll be hidden somewhere and shoot the drone with the real gun! (Clatter clatter… fail)
Chatty: Okay, here’s what’s happening. You end up shooting you’re clone’s Jet Pack by accident, making it explode, catching the drone in the blast.
Toma (Laughing): I’ll take it.
The heroes were called in what promised to be a very lively debriefing session. But the general alarm sounded…
Gauntlet: The president’s ranch is under attack in Texas! Suit up you jokers, time to go save the big boss!
* Ubisoft Alex, now Microsoft Alex left to work in Seattle last month. We miss him. Good luck man.
**Always stating your character’s intent is KEY to a good Action Scene. By telling the GM what you want your character to achieve, you’re making him/her your ally in giving you the right mechanics and tools to have a fair chance of success. I’ve made “What is your intent” a key phrase in my GM’s toolbox.