In reading through the Secret War Event and thinking about how I would run it, apparently there are some aspects I need to modify or to create for it. (This probably true for any pre-made adventure a GM would use for any game.) While I really like the Secret War Event as posted, there are some design issues that stem both from its flashback structure (how to make sure that present actions and past actions don’t create narrative paradoxes) and from the serial nature of its creation and presentation (missing elements or loose ends).
Here is my checklist of design elements that need some attention:
- Injured Hero: Not so much a design issue as something the Watcher needs to be aware of from the start. In the Present, a hero is injured and hospitalized — presumably, not to be used any further in the Present. (In the comic, it’s Luke Cage who is in critical care.) Whoever it is in actual play that is injured, that hero needs also to be included in the Past as a Watcher character.
- Hero Roster: In a one-shot Event, continuity is less important. But in an ongoing campaign where each Event is meant to exist in a context and lead from one to the next, continuity becomes much more important. The actual characters in the comic included Black Widow, Captain America, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Nick Fury, Quake (Daisy Johnson), Spider-Man and Wolverine. So presumably, they’re givens.
Replacing any heroes shouldn’t be too difficult (if desired). One solution available straight from the comic is in the extra material included in the alternative choices presented from Nick Fury’s own personal files. For example, Shadowcat is one hero he considered, but rejected. She could be a very interesting alternative for this Event. (Note: Including alternative heroes to the ones provided in the Event means creating for them mission-specific milestones.)
- Missing Characters: One important character missing from this Event is the Tinkerer. He is mentioned in the comic, but only appears in passing. But an Event milestone deals with his apprehension. Presenting players with the side option of capturing him while in Latveria could be fun. (Note: I plan on posting a datafile for him and his toy robots later this week.)
- Motivating Actions: Finally there are actions players must take in the Past to ensure the existence of narrative conditions in the Present. For example, the heroes must choose to undertake the mission in the Past. And Nick Fury needs to activate his Failsafe so that the heroes have lost their memory of it in the Present.
So how do you motivate players to make narratively necessary choices?
One option is to simply remove narratively destructive options. For instance, the Nick Fury’s I Know What I’m Doing 10 XP milestone reads: When you activate the Failsafe device wiping the memories of the others OR choose not to, allowing the others retain their memories. Remove the second option and have the player cash out the milestone by instead taking the necessary, but also more climactic action.
Another option is to offer players a bonus 1 XP if they take a narratively necessary action. The Watcher needs to announce to the players when and why this will happen. (By the way, I call this option/house rule the No-Prize. More on that later.)