Actual Play – Mad as Hell (6/13/2009)

GM: Greg Matheison
Players: Kevan Forbes, Sean Nittner, Cassie Gygax, Brent Sturdevant, and Paul Strack, and Cory Maggard
System: Mutants & Masterminds

This was a long weekend of gaming and unfortunately I didn’t take notes, so my recall here is less than perfect. Also, this is a play-test game so I don’t want to reveal any spoilers. The polished game will be run at Good Omens Con. Check it out here if interested: Finally, because we already did a round of “what rocked” and “what could be improved” and everyone threw out their ideas, I know I’ve missed a lot. What I’m left with is my own meager ramblings. I’ll try to do it justice.

The game is set in the timeline of Greg Mathieson’s DC adventures. There have been three previous games and in the first of which, the Joker decided he was going to destroy Gotham but was defeated (and killed) by the other DC villains. It was actually Two Face that gave him a double tap to the head. But of course, well enough can never be left alone. Oh… and the Bat is pretty messed up as well. Here’s the description for the game:

With Batman’s hiatus to regain his sanity and direction after his tortuous death at the hands of his arch-nemesis the Ace of Knaves and rebirth in the Lazarus by his beloved Talia. Over the last year and half it has been up to the Gotham Knights to help Gotham reclaim its sanity and barely managed to stabilize itself from the chaos that was unleashed: from the Clown Prince of Crime’s Tyranny, Gangs, Fires, you know the usual to a Vicious Serial Killer Impersonating the Bat and Cuthulic Entities Invading our realm. That was just the past…Now, comes something much worse!Doctor Fate senses an upcoming disaster that will destroy the very fabric of the universe. Needing seven people for an dangerous ritual, he enlists both hero and villain to represent the key forces of the cosmos: Destruction, Creation, Technology, Nature, Balance & Potential… only one representative is absent that of Chaos. Six figures will enter into the very pits of Hell, face their inner and outer demons to gain a chance to convince the reigning caretakers to release a single soul into their custody: The Joker.If you fail, the world and everything before and after ends.

So, an unlikely group teamed up to go to hell and break the Joker out. Yep, your everyday walk in the park. I played Robin (Tim Drake) and was arguably the only “good guy” in that group. Other than myself, there were enough shades of gray in that party to send Two Face back to arkham on his own accord. As I mentioned though, I can’t give spoilers, so here’s the up and downs.

What rocked

We had a fantastic group of players. Five of them had to drive one to two hours to make it to my place, that’s how dedicated the group was. Me excluded, everyone else there were major DC fans who had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the cast and all their previous run ins. I was the only one who wasn’t very familiar with the characters, but playing Robin made that easy. I was the kid trying to do good and I had ricocheting, homing, razor “R”s, how cool is that! The players are all friends as well, so our group chemistry was fantastic.

Greg picked characters that all had personal agendas with each other. We knew about the other characters secrets and had reason (especially as the game progressed) to act on that knowledge. I really enjoyed the back and forth between Robin and Two Face. At one point Harvey Dent really came out, but Robin was way too upset to hear him, even to the point of cruelty to Harvey. By the time he realized that a good side was showing, Two Face had already resurfaced and it was too late. I loved the character tensions there.

We each faced some pretty nasty incarnations of ourselves in hell, the challenges there were great. I really can’t say much more without giving things away, but if you play this game, you’ll like going to hell!

I can’t say for sure about the other players but my character had no end of tricks up his sleeve. Between swing lines, a collapsible bo staff, my gadget cape, my razor “R”s and access to the bat-you-name-it, I had a killer time describing the action. One of my favorite moments when things were looking dicey was describing a mini remote control on the inside of my wrist that summoned the batwing. Bitchen!

Many times I feel like the game has ended before the last fight. We know who’s gonna win (the players) and we know what’s going to happen. Often some cool moves or powers show up, sometimes there is an unexpected reveal, but for the most part the story as been told and we’re just wrapping up. For that reason, boss fights often ending up being more tiresome than anything else. NOT THIS FIGHT! Not only we’re we really uncertain of the outcome, but we were really uncertain of our allegiances and there was quite a bit of very justified turning against each other. I mean, at the end of the day, we were heroes and villains stuck together, sooner or later that is a recipe for chaos. And on that note, chaos did ensue! This probably won’t happen in any other game but the fight on top of the batwing as it was flying out of control and we were all trying to keep our balance while killing, defeating, capturing, freeing and/or protecting each other was awesome. Barrel roll for the win.

Hero (and villain) points flew across the table. Greg was very generous about handing them out and consequently, we were very happy to spend them like candy. The result was really high energy action. The kind you’d like to see in an awesome comic.

The Joker, as always was a bundle of Joy. Yeah, no sarcasm here.

What could have been improved

The game had some pacing issues that made it lull in some places and go on a little longer than expected. We talked about this and most of it can be resolved by framing the scenes a little tighter and pushing the conflict to the forefront. We made several suggestions that I think will compact some of the longer scenes.

The “middle” fight was a necessary evil. It was definitely there to a) make the players feel like their characters were bad ass and b) give the players some experience with the system, but as presented in the fiction it didn’t excite me. We had some solutions for other potential fights that I think Greg will work with. Suffice to say, he’s still got to find a way to bring in the line “Stop and I’ll shoot you!”

Mutants and Masterminds is a d20 game. There is no great fix for that. Using 2d10 instead of a d20 is nice for rounding things out, but it’s still d20 at the heart of it. That means nine billion feats, two thousand skills, and an encyclopedia of a character sheet. What can be done about this? Sadly not much. Greg has already used a custom character sheet that highlights the most relevant numbers on the front page, but even then we found in the very last fight several of us going “oh look, I can do this”, which really isn’t ideal.

Overall, I had a blast.  I’m sure this will be a hit at Good Omens Con.

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