Actual Play – Issue #3 – Tomkins’s Troubles (10/21/2009)

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Travis, Eric, and Omar
System: Silver Age Sentinels

This issue started off with a bang but fell a little flat in the middle as a function of me assuming I had parceled out more information than I thought I had. And that entire idea of me parceling out in the story to the players is one that is upsetting me more and more. Here is the game in a nutshell, with a focus on what I’d like to see changed.

Act 1 – Group Exposition Scene.

I took a page from Living City and gave the players the roll of three NPC characters.

Mustafa – The previously alluded to mastermind.
Jellyfish – His underappreciated Lieutenant, who would be called to action.
Morningstar – The hero created during character creation, but thus far not seen in the comics. Currently a broken captive.

I gave each player an aspect and a motivation to play out. I realized I didn’t include in Mustafa’s motivation the command for Jellyfish to take his men and stop the heroes from finding out anything more about Peter Tomkins but that was easy to improvise. My plan here was for the players to flesh out the Villains a bit and reveal to the audience that Mustafa had been behind the city wide memory-loss and he was afraid that the heroes were going to figure that out.

To that end it worked pretty well, I seeded Morningstar with enough information to make Mustafa doubt the sureness of his plan and send the goons (with a bit of prompting) after Liberator, Lady O and El Cubo.

Act 2 – Group Conflict Scene

The heroes, sure that Peter Tompkins must be the one responsible for the memory list and that Mnemosyne was actually some kind of mind control drug, stormed into the institute looking for a fight.

And a fight they found! While Peter was trying to explain that he was here to help, and that he was not in fact “Dr. Amnesia” as well as being pretty disappointed with what the heroes like Lady O have done now that they have their powers back, the argument was interrupted by gunfire!

Mooks along with Jellyfish bombarded into the doctor’s office shooting everyone in sight. The fight was fun and full of mixed up comic book tropes like thinking all the mooks worked for Tompkins only to have them open fire when he was held up as a hostage and then for him to later turn around and fire and elephant gun ate Jellyfish. Also, we had the surprise appearance of the “Mask” who was furious at El Cubo for standing by and doing nothing as El Paso was destroyed.

The one hitch with the fight was that before the Mask showed up I asked the players which one of them wanted to have a history with Jellyfish. Not knowing the Mask was coming (and me not being on top of it) El Cubo opted to have a history with Jellyfish. Well that meant as the fight progressed El Cubo was first the target of the Jellyfish’s ire and then the Mask’s. That was a bit awkward. I probably should have had Jellyfish show up feeling bad about a debt he hadn’t paid El Cubo from a poker game, or something along those lines rather than the simple SMASH HEAD solution.

Act 3 – Group Reflection Scene

This is where things really fell down. I wanted the players to basically put together the clues I had provided and spell out what had gone on. Ben Khalish (who was surprise, surprise Morningstar all along) had revealed that Mustafa was the mastermind and that he was afraid of Peter Tompkins work. I also put it out there that Osiris was the wealthy benefactor that brought Peter Tompkins from his small research lab in Santa Barbara to found the Orphic Institute in Empire City. My hope was that the players would put some meat on that skeleton. What was Mustafa’s goals? Why was he using Morningstar for information? Where was his secret lair, etc. The result would be some player crafted antagonism.

But it ended up with me trying to half tell the players what was going on through the NPCs in the game. I felt like the GM that leaves all his players saying WTF at the end. It also really didn’t help that I was having a Monster Crash. I had pounded a Monster energy drink at work because I was exhausted and it got me through most of the day until middle of game when my brain suddenly started feeling like mush.

Act 4 – Personal Exposition Scenes

At the end of act three we resolved that the heroes would become the “Heroes of the Institute” and that they would work together to undo Mustafa’s work. Each hero had crafted a short scene of their character being portrayed in the public eye as champions.

Billboards of The General condemning the Conqueror were replaced by Sparkling smiles of the Liberator and Dr. Tompkins. A new line of Lady Osiris action figures and t-shirts were released. Finally the lost soul from Issue #1 was reunited with his family in a soup kitchen thanks to El Cubo.

These scenes were short and high energy. The players drove them for the most part and I felt like they were pretty happy with them.

What rocked

The comic book structure is a great one, it makes revealing certain things (such as what the villains are doing or what someone is thinking) really easy.

Comic book tropes were in full force. Wait… that is Morningstar? What… Mustafa is your son? Peter Tomkins did everything to look like he must have been Doc Amnesia until the moment when it was clear he absolutely wasn’t, etc.

I meant for this issue to be a big reveal and to change the status quo, which it did. The Heroes have a place at the institute, El Cubo has made some more permanent connections (at least Morningstar and Jellyfish) and Lady Osiris has been saddled with the reasonability of at least “looking” like a good guy.

What could be improved

The players need more stake in the game. I want to give them some more ownership of the game but I know (from experience) that it doesn’t work if you just hoist it on them. Feedback on this would be very welcome, as I’m at a loss for turning this into a more player driven story while still maintaining a story arc that will wrap up in 3-7 more sessions.