Actual Play – Issue #1 – Has Empire City Lost Its Mind? (9/9/2009)

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Travis, Eric, and Omar
System: Silver Age Sentinels (Tri-Stat)

After a long break (due to absences, picking a system, and character creation), the Silver Age Sentinels game is on!

What just happened? Due to an attack from a nefarious (and yet unnamed) villain, thousands of people in Empire city have lost their memory! This symptom has spread through the city, affecting Metas and normal Joes alike. Some have regained their memory through the help of the Orphic Institute, but many lost souls now wander the streets of Empire City, unaware of the life they have forgotten.

Act 1 – Exploring the Premise

These scenes focused on showing the readers (i.e. the players) three things.

  1. The core issues surrounding each of our heroes.
  2. Important setting elements in the game (specifically memory loss and the prevalence of metas)
  3. A lead in to the dramatic conflict.

The Lair of Lady O

The gleam of computer screens lit a titanic command center in Lady Osiris’s mansion. The lady for her part hardly seemed to pay attention, but in the ruby gem that acted as he right eye, we saw the data streaming by, hundreds of feeds all streaming directly into her consciousness. A few things stood out amongst the rest – sightings of lost artifacts – a news feed of the “League” escorting a museum exhibit – an offer from the Empire City Tribune allowing free use of their classified space to find missing people.

As data continued to stream by Lady O calmly polished her revolvers, fastidiously polishing them to a shine. We saw several scenes as she walked through the wide expanse of her mansion before being interrupted by a large face dominating several computer screens “Madam, it seems there is a visitor at your door… he bears libations as well.” Lady’s O’s electronic butler then brought up a screen of a well built young man wearing a sports coat and a winning smile. The butler also provided some background information for the readers.

[Jason Roburn – Age: 25, First seen: Issue #0, Job: Orderly at the Orphic Institute, Status: New Boyfriend]

Lady Osiris donned her signature sunglasses, covering the Gem of Osiris, and greeted her new boyfriend at the door. With a few cheesy, but charming compliments to her appearance, Jason was invited inside to the mansion. He let out a loud wolf whistle as he appraised he mansion and the next panel showed the loud “POP” of the champagne bottle cork exploding from the bottle.

The one eyed woman woke later than evening and a chill went down her spine. Jason was missing from her bed, but not from the house. “Where is my guest?” Lady Osiris asked out loud. Immediately a giant screen flashed alive in her bedroom, illuminating her beautiful silhouette under the thin sheets. Her digital butler’s face appeared “Madam, I will scan for his presence now… ah yes, here he is, in the restricted zone.” The face was replaced with a camera feed of Lady Osiris’s research area, where Jason was frantically digging through containers in search of something.

[Jason Roburn – Age: 25, First seen: Issue #0, Job: Criminal, Status: Ex-Boyfriend]

I forget her line, but the staff cold clocked Jason into the next room. Sobbing for mercy he revealed the picture of a Tyet, or the Knot of Isis, that he was looking for. Some stranger offered him $500 to steal it for him. As Lady O kicked him out of her house she recovered the real Tyet and remembered some of its occult significance. The runes on the Tyet were a cipher, a cipher for some book… with a little research she was sure she could figure out which one.

That was then….

The Liberator was chained to the wall of hell as the devil’s whip cracked against his back.

This is now…

The liberator stood in a bar as a biker cracked a pool cue against his back. He’d seen worse. In a flourish of blows three drunk, angry bikers were on the floor and the Liberator was back at the bar, ordering drinks. Room temperature: 73 degrees.

On the TV above the bar, supers flew past the monument of the Friendly Flier, a legend of Empire City, but moments later a news flash showed families holding up pictures of their loved ones for the camera. As small girl spoke “Hello, if this picture looks like you, then you are my daddy. Please come home.”

Though the bartender didn’t think much of the Liberator he knew enough to keep his mouth shut. Other patrons, however, chastised him as a second rate hero, or worse, a criminal. As they coaxed him the thermostat read 78°

Before more violence could erupt however, the Liberator was distracted from his detractors by a decrepit looking fellow. Once a business man, he looked to have been taken out with last week’s trash. The man sat beside Liberator and asked the barkeep for a glass of water… with ice. He looked so pathetic that Liberator had to ask “Who are you?” He didn’t know that was probably the most painful thing he could have said.

“Wish I knew” the man replied and explained that he lost his memory, but was apparently mugged as his wallet was missing too. Without identification, he had no idea who he was or where he belonged. So he walked the streets, just trying to live one moment to the next. Taking pity on the man Liberator took him down to the ECPD, hoping the cops might be able to help him.

As the tall doors to St. Mary’s cathedral opened a sliver of light from outside illuminated the two figures waiting for Liberator. Standing was Father Terry, the man whose plea got the Liberator exempted from his eternal torment. Kneeling beside him, praying at the altar was Lisa Abednego. Lisa was a devout patron and besides Father Terry, the person Liberator had seen at the church more than any other.

A panel split to the letter Lisa carried from Empire City Medical. They were sorry to tell her but her cancer was now terminal. She had a month to live. The cancer that Liberator knew he gave her because of her extended exposure to his gamma radiated hellfire.

What to do? Only a month to live and no cure could be found! Why steal the Crook of Osiris of course! Lisa was a docent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that is hosting an Egyptian exhibit which would open the next day. If she could only steal the ancient artifact, she learned that it had mystical properties that could cure any ailment. Reluctantly Liberator agreed to aid her in this larceny.

Who are you again?

A simply dressed man named Walter was talking to a new friend, Ben Khalish, one of the doctors at the Orphic institute. Walter (the current incarnation of El Cubo) was trying not only to foster his new friendship but also gain information about another patient of the institute… Bonesaw! As they discussed patient confidentiality two Amazon warrior women walked by, asking for directions to the bathroom.

Compelled by Walter’s earnest request and a friendly, if knowing smile, Dr. Khalish agreed to take him downtown to the old brownstone building that warehouses the patent records. When they arrived however, the pair soon noticed the smell of natural gas and it was growing stronger! Dr. Khalish dialed emergency services, but El Cubo knew they wouldn’t get there soon enough.

Valiantly he headed down to the basement where he found a passed out gas service technician. The gas however was overpowering and he didn’t have the strength to lift the pipe wrench, let alone, close the valve. Ben Khalish as well as all the other occupants in the building were in grave danger, should anyone light a spark, the whole building would blow!

A shadow appeared over Walter, that of an arm attached to a thin saw blade “Why go looking for my El Cubo, when I’m right here! That is right, you’ve been duped again by the Bonesaw, and while I know you’ll come back from the dead when the sun sets, all I need is a few hours to carry out my plan. So long El Cubo…” With a maniacal laugh, Bonesaw, who wore a gas mask walked out of the building.

Perhaps the draw of air from him leaving thinned the gas some, but our readers know the El Cubo drew up all his strength, drew his divine blade and used it to burrow a hole into the ground where the gas (being hevier than air) followed. There was a titanic underground explosion, but the people of Empire City were safe… and miraculously due to landing in a sewage vent that swept him away, so was El Cubo.

Act 2 – Conflict

In this scene I framed two conflicts, the obvious one of stopping some heinous crime that the Bonesaw would commit, I’ll call that the plot conflict and separate conflicts pertaining to the characters, specifically their relationships with the people of Empire city. I’ll call those the character conflicts.

Plot Conflict. El Cubo knew the when and who (The Bonesaw in the very near future). Liberator knew where (the Egyptian exhibit at the Metropolitan Musuem of Art). Finally, Lady Osirus had put together the what (the Knot of Isis would decipher the hidden meaning in the Oedipus Aegyptiacus). A contrived way to put three superheroes all at the same place? Totally! But that felt appropriate for the comic book genre.

Character Conflict. Liberator was coming here to steal something. If this was found out, he’d become a criminal, just like spider man who is constantly bouncing back and forth between champion of the people and criminal (at least in the Daily Bugle), Liberators public view was on the line. Lady Osiris, her issue is at ones more material and less significant. If possible someone was going to make off with her stuff. Finally El Cubo was trying to hold on to his budding relationship with Dr. Khalish, something he knew he couldn’t do if he died. The end result of those conflicts were turmoil all around, which is exactly the kind of story I love.

The conflict took place at the Metropolitan Museum. At first in the Lobby as a group of thieves broke in from all sides and then finally at the Egyptian Exhibit with Bonesaw, who had been using the fight in the lobby as a distraction.

Some highlights include:

  • The Chopper being a total show boat ass.
  • The liberator loosing it and clocking him.
  • The robbers who ripped off pulp fiction
  • MASSIVE property damage at the museum
  • Not one, but two people being knocked out of the building by Lady O’s whopper of a staff
  • Chopper being one of those people!
  • Really desperate thieves chucking grenades. (Dumb thieves)
  • The Bonesaw having all this gratuitously destructive technology (locked couldn’t be picked, they had to be pried apart with vicious claws, like someone cracking open a crab.
  • Several cases of mistaken identity (The League not recognizing “Walter” and Lady Osiris crossing paths with Bonesaw on a relatively friendly basis)
  • Liberator lighting on fire and burning up the neighborhood.
  • Bonesaw and El Cubo having a dialog that just almost could have meant their reconciliation (or at least as step towards it) only to be ruined by the Chopper clobbering Bonesaw.
  • Finally, the Mark 3 Missiles blowing up Walter (El Cubo) and a quarter of the Museum with him!
  • Lady O escaping the League by traveling to the Realm of the Dead and then Back again.
  • Lady O expecting to reappear next to her car, but instead finding it towed away for being illegally parked.

Act 3 – Reflection

I asked all the players to frame scenes with their characters explaining what this all meant to them and how they had changed. I wanted to know “why does any of this matter, and why should the readers care?”

Lady Osirus framed a scene back in her home, placing one more piece of a collection of artifacts (which she had liberated from the Exhibit as she left). She watched the news as she had in act one, but did so half-heartedly. Her boyfriend had ripped her off and Bonesaw had a book she wanted… but boyfriends are a dime a dozen, and the book would be delivered soon, there’s just no way Bonesaw would be able to figure it out on his own.

On her machine was a message from Peter Tomkins, her doctor from the Orphic Institute. He was calling to check up on her. Her last panel was calling him back to check in.

Ben Khalish and some fellow doctors were drinking coffee next to work but as he left he passed by an attractive woman. He paused briefly, as though he had forgotten his keys at the table, check his pocket and then moved on. As he left the woman looked sad. She followed him outside and asked if they could go out for lunch. A bit awkward, but he accepted just the same, on the condition she go with him to a food shelter. He was volunteering to feed people who had lost their memories and were homless.

There she filled soup bowls and handed over sandwiches, while talking to Ben. A haggard looking man in a business suit that had seen better days held up a bowl with dirty hands. He thanked her for the soup and then went to sit alone and eat it. He seemed the type to always be alone, no matter where he was. And so was the lady who served him. Some days it really sucks to be El Cubo.

The Liberator came home to find people throwing rotten food at his house. Shouts came from the crowd. “He’s a crook, a thief, a no good thug.” – “The call him the Conqueror.” – “I’d like to see this guy, I’d show him a piece of my mind”.

Considered an enemy of the people, Liberator returned to St. Mary’s the only place he could find sanctuary. There Father Terry and Lisa Abednego were meeting again. For the first time the woman had hope in her eyes as she clutched the Crook of Osiris against her chest. Liberator had helped her, even though it meant being branded a criminal himself.

Finally we had a scene with the Bonesaw (who in some ways I still feel like is protagonist) trying to read the Oedipus Aegyptiacus but having no luck. Our last panel with him showed just above the table he was reading as he slammed both fists down in frustration. Forgetting, for a moment that his left arm was in fact a BONESAW!

New Directions

A new category in my AP reports is new directions, or possible twists. Was that I see the story could go from here. These are just ideas but I’d like to get feedback on which ones resonate with the players. Or if they have other ideas they would like to see incorporated. Lemme know!

Lisa now has the Crook of Osiris, which is rumored to have amazing powers of healing. How will this change her? Is that why she really wanted it? Did she just use the Liberator to get at her own ends? Or was someone using her? Or is it just as it seems, she’ll use the power to save herself and be done?

Ben Khalish has now had two moving encounters with El Cubo (albeit in different forms). What does Dr. Khalish want? Is he really just a doctor at the institute?

Someone else was behind this whole deal. Why is Osirus putting his finger in the middle of all this? What about the League? Or yet another unmentioned villain (or hero) that is silently pulling the strings?

The Orphic Institute is around curing people of an ailment nobody really understands yet. So often those who understand the cure are seen as the only ones who could have created the disease. Are Peter Tomkins and his team behind this memory loss?

The guy who is conspicuously lost. He showed up in Act 1 in Liberator’s scene and again in Act 3 in El Cubo’s. What is his deal? Is there something special about him, or is he just the poster child for how bd things are in Empire City?

What rocked

The entire game felt very much like we were drawing panes for a comic book. I loved the use of thought bubbles, sound effects, and the narrator’s voice (using sparingly). I think that just like using movie and or television effects to describe a scene (talking about camera angles, long shots, etc) helps put everyone on the same page, I felt that describing scenes in terms of how the readers would see them really added to the game.

Sound effects. I realized that rather than having strange voices or accents or mannerisms, my NPCs stood out the most by having really distinct sound effects. Specifically, whenever Chopper goes somewhere he goes “Vroo-Vroo-Vroom” like a motorcycle. Only he does it regardless of whether he’s on a bike or not. The Bonesaw has the high pitch squeal of his bonesaw spinning, which I just adore.

Two words: Collateral Damage!

Every character’s “issue” was brought to the spotlight. It was very important for me that in the first game each of those come out so we had a firm idea about what the characters are about. In the future I probably won’t be so forceful about bringing them all to the surface but for the beginning I felt like that was their introduction to the story.

I liked the three act structure. In the first act the Heroes got to present themselves as they pleased. In the second they were challenged. In the third they had to look back at how they had changed. It was a satisfying format for me.

The game mechanics themselves worked better than I had anticipated. I was frustrated that there wasn’t a system for saying “this is what is really at stake here” but we made it work through group consensus. I wasn’t blown away, but I was satisfied.

What could have been improved

My detail on lots of the NPCs was really weak. Lisa, while she had a cool story and motivation had zero personality. She was just the victim, but a boring one. Also, I didn’t have the League created so I had to make up some on the Fly. I ended with some somewhat lame heroes, but that is okay, the League should be somewhat lame. They are the foil to the protagonists. I think Chopper and Captain Steam will be the most prominent members anyway.

Stats. I didn’t have stats for the villains and that really hurt. I was counting on the book having some characters I could steal basic stat blocks form an it totally didn’t. I’m WAY disappointed with that and I was really annoyed that there were stats for gorillas, but not thugs. C’mon this is a Supers game, not the Wilderness Adventures Guide.

Mastery of the system. I had none. It worked out okay, but I really had no idea of I was going to be able to challenge the characters. It meant in the end that we just narrated El Cubo dying rather than doing it mechanically, which felt a little lame.

The game ended on more of a down note than I intended. I should have let the Liberator just take the book from Bonesaw while he was grappling with the Chopper. I’m not really sure why I didn’t do that.

Rewards and advancement. I really want to give players something at the end of a game, but the guidelines for doing that are pretty weak. It’s true supers don’t usually get “experience”. That is something first level noobs do. They are already very powerful. But I want there to be a measure of how they have changed and it doesn’t have a satisfactory one. We talked some after the game but couldn’t come to a consensus on that, so I said I’d keep thinking about it.

I have and I’ve decided to make a compromise. Each player can elect to take either a scar or an insight at the end of a game.

Scar – A painful memory of something that happened, which will help you next time you’re in a difficult situation. Write down one thing that happened in a few words (“Betrayed by boyfriend”, “Lost a friend”, “Branded a criminal”) on your character sheet. Any time you feel the scar would be appropriate, cross it out and reroll one or both dice you just rolled. You have to take the final result. Describe how the scar helps you through this. The scar doesn’t go away, but it mechanically will no longer have an effect.

Insight – You’ve learned something or gained something which may be helpful to you in the future. Take one level of any power that does not have a “multi power ability”, which you must define in advance. This cannot stack with any of your powers and needs to be tracked separately. The insight can be used in one scene of your choice, after that it is used up, destroyed, or just fades to the background of the character. Like a scar it is still present but no longer has mechanical effect. Cross it out but don’t erase it. You may want to buy the insight later through either moving character points around or when I actually award real character points after a few sessions.

One thought on “Actual Play – Issue #1 – Has Empire City Lost Its Mind? (9/9/2009)”

  1. From The Viscount!

    What Rocked:

    I liked the scene framing.

    What could have been improved:

    I feel a bit intimidated by the game as I have no comic book experience.

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