Actual Play – GM Throwdown – (4/30/2011)

Contestants: Mike Bogan and Matt Steele
Players: Tim Carroll, Matt Klein, Michael Ripely, Kevin Fitzpatrick, Karen Twelves, Sean Nittner, Ben Hartzell, and Merewyn Boak
Judges: Brian Isikoff, Wayne Coburn, and Bruce Harlick

Here it was again! The Iron GM Throwdown at EndGame. Karen Twelves organized another throwdown between GMs, this time the two picked from the last competition (here and here). This time the contenders were Mike Bogan (don’t even get me started on his “new” name) and Matt Steele.

Choosing Players

We randomly drew dice (of different colors) to determine who would be in each game. And then something really creepy happened. Karen, Tim, Ben and I all ended up in Matt’s game, which was super eerie as last time Matt, Karen, Tim and I were in Brian’s game. We were suspicious enough that we took all our original seating positions.

Secret Ingredients

The judges announced this contest’s secret ingredients (three instead of four this time, I think and improvement)

Genre: Super Heroes
Antagonist: Ninjas
Location: Underground City

Nice list. After the fact I started thinking of Exalted, Feng Shui, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and anime like Slayers or Ninja Scroll. Unfortunately that I didn’t think of those earlier (see below).

The Game – “Fat Cat, you’ve gone too far!”

Matt threw out a couple options, that we could go for straight up super heroes (4 color style) or masked vigilantes. The latter seemed more fitting with the pulpy nature we’ve become accustomed to in FATE, so that was a pretty easy choice.

We started throwing out character ideas. Ironically, although I felt very active in the character creation process (I’m a total back seat GM), I was the last to thing of a concept.

Karen had an idea immediately. “I was to be a newsie!” Now the fact that I just watched Newsies with Karen and Lovesong a week before I’m SURE had nothing to do with this. She started in immediately with a New York accent and from there is was pretty easy to determine that we were playing in New York Empire City in the 20s prohibition era.

After that ideas came rolling out. Ben was a farm boy, who came to Empire City to save the farm. From who? The fat cat developer that was buying up all the land in Ohio (or whatever nowhere state he was from, didn’t really matter). Boom, we had a our bad guy, Matt pulled the name right out of Ben’s Lips: The Fat Cat.

Pretty quickly on we could tell that Karen and Ben’s characters were going to be fighting over who was the “kid” of our crew. More on this in a bit.

Tim wanted the man from the orient with strange mystical powers. A staple in any genre. He grabbed a hold of the Fat Cat as one who did him wrong, and decided to make it personal, the Fat Cat had killed his brother!

By the time these concepts were out there I knew we needed a character to pull them all together, and thus was born Mike Steele. A veteran of the Great War who fought along side the Fat Cat and while in Germany together they discovered “Things known that cannot be unknown”. Mike returned from the war and put his fortune into the steel industry, where as the Fat Cat publicly pursued political power but in private became a practitioner of the occult.

Mike had tried to stop the Fat Cat through economic, legal and social means but he had grown to powerful. The game started on the cusp of the elections and the Fat Cat was a shoe in for mayor of Empire City. Mike, along with his small crew of vigilantes knew that if he became mayor, the Fat Cat would be unstoppable. After endless frustration (and some cases a pummeling from his goons) trying to fight the Fat Cat through legal methods, these brave four decided they must don mask to protect their identity while they delivered the Fat Cat a swift serving of JUSTICE!

The Game is the Thing

Most of the game was really the characters playing off each other. Karen and Ben were competing for Mike’s approval as the new kid. Tim’s character was embroiled in his brothers affairs as worrying all of us and Mike was painfully honest and blunt. This created many antics as we pursued the Fat Cat’s crimes.

Matt had some trouble getting us into the “underground city” because being players we went all over the place. Eventually ninjas got us there though, because when a ninja jumps you in the middle of Empire City, you’re got to find out where they are coming from… which of course was the UNDERGROUND Empire City, a pocket dimension Bizzaro world ruled by the Fat Cat.

The finale placed us on top of a roof of a skyscraper, which, being the upside down world we were in was just “below” the ground above. Don’t think to hard on that one, it’s a pulp adventure.

It turns out the brother was not dead, but would be soon. The Fat Cat would use his life blood to fuel a ritual that would permanently lock the underground city in place, his own evil empire to rule.

We did what heroes do. We saved the innocent, defeated the bad guy, and looked sharp doing it! Hooray for JUSTICE!

What rocked

Well, as the last GM Throwdown, this whole even was a ton of fun to participate in. Thanks Karen for making it happen. There is so much energy and camaraderie in the room, everyone is sitting around trying to make their game the best game possible, because even though the GMs are the ones competing, everyone wants “their” GM to win. It’s like rooting for a team and being told you can play with them! MADE OF AWESOME.

Matt’s name game me inspiration for Mike Steele, the Man of Steel. Rather than being Superman though, he had built a suit of power armor, but this thing was no Iron Man suit. It was powered by coal, weighed a ton, made a ton of noise and took forever to get going. When ninja’s first attacked as we saw them on rooftops, Mike engaged the “jump jet” to leap on top of the building. This involved ratcheting the strings down in a suit like you would a crank powered arbaest. Later, the farm boy opened the hatch to his coal burning stove and created an impromptu flame thrower, it was literally throwing flaming coals. Awesome!

The group dynamic was great. We all had a little something to prove to each other (especially Karen and Ben’s characters) and the journey was not just one of stopping the Fat Cat, but of coming together as friend and family. I really saw this as a great “you meet at a tavern” adventure because by the end I could totally see this band of heroes sticking together to fight villainy.

Three secret ingredients is definitely the right number!

What could have improved

When the judges came back to the table, The GM formerly known as Mike Bogan, aka The Ultimate Superfly TNT Dolemite GM Ninja of All Time, was declared the winner. I’m sure Mike’s game was awesome, I mean he won, but I had this bad feeling afterwards that we could have made Matt’s game better. The criteria the judges used had them tied almost across the board but Mike won for better implementation of the antagonists. Like the prior competition, the antagonists (in this case ninjas) felt tacked on and a little out of place in Matt’s game. The note I made above about really crafting the genre to match the antagonist had me disappointed; I wish I had said “Let’s do Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” as ninjas would have blended in perfectly. Ah well, there is always next time.

We were cut short on time and I kind of wish the GMs had just a few for minutes for wrap up. I get that the time crunch is part of the competition, but as a player I was sad that we didn’t get the end until after the competition in a post mortem. Note to self: If I’m ever in one of these watch the clock and jump to the end when I’ve got 30 minutes left. Allow exactly two rounds of action (everyone does two things), narrate the rest of the fight and skip to the epilogue.

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