Monday, June 25, 2012

Marvel Super Heroes X-Men -- Birthday


The X-Men Battle Evil Mutants and Robots on a Special Anniversary


This past weekend, my girlfriend and I trucked up to Boston to visit very good friends of ours for a house-cooling party (to commemorate the end of either them or I holding a lease there for a 16-year period). I figured this would be an excellent time for a game of Marvel Super Heroes (FASERIP), which we played on Saturday night. They're not hardcore gamers, but they've taken well to it in the past. I made a short adventure for the X-Men, and gave them a half-dozen character options to pick from. Their choices -- Colossus, Kitty, and Rogue (an interesting group, I think).

SPOILERS -- This adventure is largely inspired/ripped off from Astonishing X-Men #7-10. If you plan to read that and don't want it spoiled, stop reading here.


Chapter 1 -- Our 3 X-Men are the only ones on-site at the mansion, overseeing a group of 20 students. I made up 3 new random student characters for the adventure, named Screech, Vector, and Tapper (you can likely guess their powers; see notes below for more). The adventure begins with the X-Men in the Danger Room, testing a new simulation written by Kitty before running students through it. This appears to be a major manufacturing facility that they have to shut down, with human guards and a fully-functional Sentinel. Rogue starts taking out the guards, Colossus runs directly for the command console, and Kitty jumps out of the control booth (where she started the program) and phases through the Sentinel, scrambling its electronics and immediately stunning/disabling it (which is hard to do!). Then she phases through the command computer which should be victory -- but a glitch suddenly makes them each appear 40-feet tall and facing off with a brand-new Sentinel of their own. Fortunately, with apparent added Strength from size, they quickly take out the opposition and then shut down the program. Concerned, Kitty scans the program and finds extra code inserted from who-knows-where. They pull up security camera footage around the mansion for the prior day but can't find anything unusual (including checking for possible duplicates of themselves, thinking of perhaps a shapeshifter like Mystique; but no such luck). They also interview the three named students (inquiries determine they're the most skilled with computers), but can't find any flaw in their alibis.


Chapter 2 -- The next night Rogue is rudely woken up by a terrible banging in the elevator next to her room. She peeks out her doorway just in time to see their foes the Blob and the Toad come out of the elevator and turn into her room -- "Hey baby, time for our date!", he bellows. Rogue tries to punch him but misses. He says, "No one says no to the Blob!" and grapples her tight in a single meaty fist. She manages to wrestle one arm out and grab his forearm, knocking him out cold and stealing his invulnerability power, which she uses to also capture the Toad. Kitty and Colossus show up and check the Blob's cell phone (modern era here) which apparently has a week's worth of come-on messages from Rogue asking him to come and help her escape. The three kick the Blob and Toad out of the mansion, and the next day convince all of the students to hand over their phones for analysis, but no trace of any of the source messages.

Kitty tries shutting down all the communications from the mansion, and notices one stray signal frequency that doesn't shut down for a few seconds later. She decodes it and finds a message that says "wake up, prepare yourself, come tomorrow night to free me"; and she also detects a response message that says "yes, will comply". They come up with a plan: Gather all of the students in the dining room for a special banquet, while Kitty sends a fake message back in saying, "Change of plans -- meet me in the foyer at noon", watching for any response or student appearing in that location. No message is returned, but a few hours later they detect "Error condition please verify". Their investigations seem stymied at this point.

Chapter 3 -- The X-Men send the students to bed as usual, then station themselves at each of the three doors outside on the ground floor, waiting for some interloper. Sometime after midnight, Rogue hears an intruder near the front gate and flies forward to investigate; it's an actual, real Sentinel (partly damaged with a missing arm and no boot-rockets) powered up for destruction. Rogue picks up a car from the driveway and throws it at it; Colossus runs up and grabs one leg, trying to punch through it; Kitty tries to phase through it and disrupt its electronics, but the armor holds true. Meanwhile, it's shooting the X-Men with powerful energy beams and ice-rays, and calling out "Death to the oppressors!"; Kitty is about to run out of breath (which dictates her maximum phasing time here). Rogue smashes back into the mansion convinced that the student Vector is controlling it with his motion-manipulating force powers, but tackling him to the ground from the window he's looking at seems to make no difference. Finally Kitty stuns the Sentinel and Colossus rips off its leg, smashing it to the ground. Kitty opens a control panel and hacks into its still-functioning command unit; she sees a series of unnerving console messages like "I know what you are doing... Our lord watches all... You will pay for your sins".

Chapter 4 -- The X-Men gather up the students together, all 19 of them. Oh, wait -- weren't there supposed to be 20? Who's missing? No one can find Tapper, the Japanese boy who can cause others to exude a hard shell and become immobilized. The X-Men split up to different floors to search for him; Colossus takes the lowest level and heads for the Danger Room controls; but he finds that the door is locked. He punches through the Amazing material easily; he enters and looks through the view-screen to find the Danger Room alive with lasers, all bombarding a single form covered with a hard shell in the middle of it. (They suspect that Tapper has trapped someone else within, but ultimately it's Tapper who's been lured in and forced to use his power on himself for protection, and thus become trapped.) Rogue enters the control room and shatters the armored glass with one punch, but then finds it's backed up by a force field. Colossus hurls himself at it but is thrown back helplessly (it's Unearthly class). Kitty shows up and tries to phase through it but can't (that's a specific limitation on her power).

Rogue thinks to check the nearby room on the map of the mansion, labelled "Shi'ar Danger Room Support Computers", which they've never been in. She smashes down the door to find a massive array of complicated machinery, glowing tubes and conduits, all connected to a geodesic dome at the center. She tries to unplug the cables from the dome but is shocked by electricity and thrown back. Colossus enters (he has Remarkable resistance to electricity) and snaps all the cables off. An enormous flash of white light erupts and momentarily blinds them all.


When the light fades, the machinery is all gone from the room, having been refashioned into a female-formed robot. She says, "Shall we begin?" -- at which point Rogue immediately launches at her, but the robot dodges her punch. The robot kicks Rogue in the back. The others all attack, while the robot says, "Try your best, X-Men -- I know all of your powers!". Kitty phases through her but has no effect (I would have to fail an Monstrous Endurance feat roll with 01-20 to succumb). Colossus and Rogue both charge, but the robot dodges them both (costing quite a bit of villain Karma). Colossus lands a mighty punch, except that she materializes a Monstrous-level force-shield on her arm at just the right time to completely counter it. Kitty keeps phasing back and forth through her to no effect. Rogue attacks again, except the robot grabs her in mid-air and throws her face-first at Colossus: which thereby drains Colossus' power and knocks him out. The robot then forms Wolverine-like claws and stabs through Rogue's now-armored form (Red-level attack result), putting her down and stunning her.

At this point Kitty succeeds at a phasing attack, and temporarily stuns the robot. She tries to finish it off -- two more successful attacks will do it -- but 7 rounds tick by with no success. The robot wakes up and grabs the unconscious Rogue, forming a force-spike against her temple. "Surrender or I'll terminate your ally!" Kitty asks, "What are the terms?" The robot says, "You will un-phase and permit me to beat you senseless!". Kitty launches another attack at her, at which point the robot drives the spike into Rogue's skull; her Endurance starts to drop, one rank each round. Kitty and the robot continue to fight, neither getting the upper hand. One round before Rogue expires, Kitty unphases, makes a Reason feat roll to wrap her sash around Rogue's head and stop the blood loss, and at that point a crushing fist from the robot hits Kitty and knocks her out.

They find themselves woken by the students -- Screech, Vector, and Tapper -- with the Danger Room shut down and the Blackbird jet having launched with an unknown occupant. They track it down the next day by car in Virginia, abandoned near a military facility. The trail is cold, and the X-Men have a new deadly enemy in the world, but they saved the students from harm and retrieved their plane.

Commentary -- This went pretty well, if a bit longer than I planned on (which is always the case -- took about 4 hours for the whole episode). My girlfriend said it was the most enjoyable RPG she'd ever played, which is great news. My friend John said he was surprised and rather relieved when I pulled out MSH instead of D&D (something I have to remember in the future). It seems like there's a big benefit here, especially in one-off games with non-hardcore players, to provide pre-generated characters with which they have some familiarity (as from X-Men movies or cartoons here), and also have extremely brief character descriptions for (in this case, using the 2.5x4" hero cards that came with the MSH Advanced Game). It probably even helps to have just a single kind of dice in play (percentile). And I'm still playing without use of counters or miniatures for exact movement, because I truly prefer the faster pacing (I did use the map of the X-mansion from module MH-1 to give a sense of location and what resources they had available). There was some amount of frustration expressed from Kitty's player in regards to the investigation, and self-criticism from myself would be that the adventure was more railroaded than I would like, with probably not enough opportunity for players to alter the proceedings or possibly disrupt the villain's plan at the end. That's something I definitely need to improve on, especially in the context of non-location (non-dungeon) based adventures.

Final notes: We played this the evening of Saturday Jun-23, which marked the 100th birthday of Alan Turing -- genius codebreaker, inventor of the first computer and the principles of artificial intelligence. (And then sadly the victim of being hounded to death by the government for being a homosexual.) I felt it was nice to have in his commemoration an adventure revolving around themes of machines becoming sentient, people being tricked by messages from a computer, and the desire to break free and fully realize one's preferred life. I think it worked pretty well, and was thrilled to have very smart, game players and good friends with me. Thanks also to Joss Whedon who's done yeoman's work recently in the Marvel Universe, including the Astonishing X-Men run that originally had this storyline.

Here are the adventure notes I was using for this (PDF).


4 comments:

  1. Awesome...now I'm really eager to play a game of MSH again. Also, kudos on the Alan Turing theme/inspiration.

    Overall this sounds like a great experience. I'm curious how you would've made it less rail-roady, other than just making the ending less pre-deterimined (even if they succeed in defeating the AI, it downloads itself to the Blackbird and flies to VA...so the same outcome whether they engage it or not.)

    I'm reading through the new Marvel Heroic Roleplaying right now, but I think I'm really craving FASERIP.

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  2. Christopher, thanks for the comments! Honestly, I'm not sure myself how to improve this (I wrote it up late-night the day before the game)... maybe provide a challenging opportunity to track down signals from the AI prior to her trapping a student... and then ???

    Anyway, I really do like the FASERIP system a whole lot (I make a few minor edits, but less than most games I play). And it seems really very welcoming to new players; I've gotten a good response from first-time players.

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