Debrief: Secret War #1

ImageOn Monday (January 6), we had our first session for the Secret War Event. There were six players present on Google+ for it. The heroes involved were Captain America, Daredevil, Emma Frost, Iron Fist, Spider-Man and Wolverine. And we were only able to run through one action scene, Present: Ambush!

How did it go? Mixed results, I felt.

Where I struggled as a Watcher was in framing the Scene. When we got to the action and conflict in the scene, trading narrative blows, I thought I did pretty well. The Event is pretty tight and linear in structure, and its plot depends on developing some sequential reveals. To some degree, this seems to run counter to the design of MHRP; the game is unusual in that it encourages near-total transparency. There is no GM screen. (But it can work. I have played the Event previously as a player, and that Watcher handled this well.)

The Scene starts with the players going through their normal routine and then being ambushed by B-List villains for reasons unknown. Players are to announce what they up to when things happen. What made it difficult to frame was that the heroes could be doing anything. (While it gave us a hilarious scene where Spider-Man is attacked at home doing his laundry and has to fight Hobgoblin in the ruins of his apartment as Peter Parker, framing the action in general was awkward.) My sense is that the Watcher needs to more narrowly frame their actions for the players, with their cooperation.

But there are other issues: how do you get them to the hospital? what details of the secret plot do you reveal to them? As I said, I was pretty happy with the action and conflict itself. It moved pretty quickly, and I was able to manage the six players fairly smoothly.

Now my task as Watcher is to recover plot continuity and re-frame elements of the Event to move it forward.

What If You Threw A Party And EVERYONE Came?

marvel universeOK. So when I posted about my upcoming Secret War Event on Google+, I wasn’t expecting quite the response I got. I already had two friends who had committed to playing, and my plan was to simply solicit a couple more players to round out my table. Given the poor response I’d had for Hulk Smash Xmas!, I wasn’t expecting much. Imagine my surprise then, when within a day or so, I had nearly a dozen who wanted to play.

So what I have decided to do . . . was open up a second date. Now I will be running the same campaign twice. Thursdays every other week. Mondays the alternating weeks. My take on it is that this is an opportunity for me to practice my GM-ing. They say practice makes perfect. What I get is two chances to get it right, and to speed up the learning curve. And right now, I’m probably looking at running two sessions of six players each.

But I do have some concerns:

  1. Number of Players: Having six players may prove a challenge to manage in play. It might slow down play considerably, especially in Action Scenes.
  2. Player Attrition: While they may commit to play, not all will show. Or not all will show every week. Between Events, this is less important. But in the middle of an Event, I may end up having to run too many Watcher characters at once.
  3. Creating Content: My original idea was to create mini-Events to fill in the spaces between published Events. But it could be problematic doing so weekly over two competing, parallel campaigns.
  4. Laying Down Some Rules: With so many players, it will be important to lay down some table rules to help keep the game run quickly and smoothly.

Sooo, we’ll just have to wait and see how this all goes. Stay tuned.

Nick Fury’s Dirty, Little Secret War

ImageWhen Nick Fury discovers a disturbing connection between many of Marvel’s deadliest villains, he assembles a ragtag team of the Marvel Universe’s most misunderstood heroes for a secret mission to do what the U.S. government could never allow . . . .”

 Join us for this first issue of Secret War and start of our extended Road to Civil War campaign. If everything goes alright, we will start on Thursday, January 2 on Google+ at 8:00 p.m. EST. Players may choose from any player heroes to be found at my Obsidian Portal campaign site.If you are interested in joining us to play, contact me via Google+, Twitter or by email. Until then, ‘Nuff Said!

Toybots [Watcher Datafile]

Image

Tinker Toybots [not revealed]

Affiliations: Team 5D6
Distinctions: Glow-y Eyes; Toys R Us

TINKER TECH: Energy Blast D6, Enhanced Durability D8, Enhanced Strength D8

  • SFX–Mob ‘Em: In dice pools that include Energy Blast or Enhanced Strength, you may target multiple opponents. For each additional target, add D6 and keep +1 effect die.
  • SFX–Immunity: Spend D6 from Doom Pool to ignore stress, trauma or complications caused by disease, poison, vacuum, hunger, thirst, fatigue or psychic powers.
  • Limit–Mob Cohesion: Defeat Team dice (with D8 stress) to reduce it. Each Team die may be treated as separate target for Area Attack SFX.

Specialties: Combat Rookie D6, Menace Rookie D6

_ _ _ _ _

My idea was it would only be natural that the Tinkerer in his Latverian workshop would create a tiny horde of Toybots to serve and protect him. My thought is that he would base them at least in part on the Doombots. (My inspiration for them and their look comes from the Unknown Thief in the video game Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando.)

Tinkerer [Watcher Datafile]

ImageTinkerer: Phineas T. Mason [public]

Affiliations: Solo D4, Buddy D6, Team D8

Distinctions: Family Issues; Just Business; Tech Savant

TINKER TECH: Mimic D8

  • SFX—Built to Spec: When you activate opportunity to create Science Expert or Tech Master resource, step up that resource die. Spend DD to give resource to another Watcher character to use.
  • SFX—Technological Intuition: When using Mimic to create technology- based complications or assets, add D6 and step up effect die.
  • Limit—Prototype: When you create asset or complication with Mimic, shut down power until asset or complication is eliminated, removed or recovered.

Specialties: Covert Expert D8, Crime Expert D8, Science Expert D8, Tech Master D10

_ _ _ _ _

By nature, the Tinkerer is a B-list, minor villain. He is least effective by himself and is most effective among his toys. I gave him three distinctions instead of two, because the three really fleshed out his character and motivations. His power set is based on elements from Forge’s datafile found in Civil War: X-Men XM80. (I wanted to keep the We Can Rebuild Him SFX, but couldn’t figure out how it could work for a Watcher datafile. And I could not find an example of any Watcher characters with a healing SFX to base it on. Doesn’t matter for the Event, though.)

His Tinker Toybots are entirely my invention and will be featured in a future post. Stay tuned.

Secret War Roster

secret war rosterSo, I did some nosing around on the Internet today, looking into Marvel chronology and studying character bios with continuity in mind. Clearly, the core roster for Secret War are the characters from the comic:

Black Widow, Captain America, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Nick Fury, Quake (Daisy Johnson), Spider-Man, Wolverine

Since I’m trying to run an ongoing campaign with its own continuity, what I’m trying is to establish a campaign continuity timeline. Wherever possible, I’m trying to follow established Marvel continuity, but with minimal departures necessary to enable gameplay. What I’ve decided is to follow up on the concept of a sliding timeline (as explained here on Plot Points).

As I’d indicated before some characters are in my mind problematic:

  • Armor, Nico Minoru: Neither is introduced as a character within our established time frame; including either character would also undermine Daisy Johnson’s perceived role as junior hero.
  • Colossus: Currently dead; won’t be resurrected until after this Event.
  • Hawkeye: One choice I made for gameplay reasons was to move the Avengers Disassembled event one month before Secret War, rather than one month after. What this means is that, if we assume the same storyline, he sacrifices himself to save the day.

The remaining heroes included in the Event look to be OK: Emma Frost, Gambit, Iron Fist, She-Hulk. And given time constraints, I may just leave it at that for right now . . . .

But if I had time to work on some replacement alternative characters and their milestones, they just might be:

  •  Black Panther: He’d be a covert asset; his potential motivation could be building national conflict between Wakanda and Latveria.
  • Ms Marvel, Spider-Woman: As agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
  • Mystique: Fury considers it in his journal: she could be a really, really interesting femme fatale / black ops agent.

Secret War Checklist

secret warIn 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.)