Don't Forget Your Boots

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Tag: Araignee Rose

No, really, why not D&D?

That last post seemed to stir up some response, with some great discussion over on G+, so I thought I would throw a little more fuel on the fire. As the wise man said, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” 😉

But, seriously, I’m not knocking on the D&D ecosystem. It was what started me on this road.* It’s my gaming roots. Clearly, the idea of playing desperate men and women crawling into a hole in the ground to whack monsters and take their money is an idea that has resonance, even today, decades after the original ideas came up.

I absolutely do not want to push negativity.**  I would rather lift GURPS up than push down the whole wide world of Dungeons And-Or Dragons.

So, that out of the way, I’ll double-down: GURPS has the level of focus that I like, a level of focus that I haven’t seen offered by any edition or variant of D&D.

Here’s an example. I’ll keep picking on the hit points. Everybody loves to pick on the hit points. Some of the G+ discussion centered around how the D&D HP is an abstraction. Take your 20th level fighter, who can jump off a cliff and survive, where her 1st level self would have died outright.

Yes, yes. <waves hands> I know, there are various “massive damage” rules that kick in to discourage high-level fighters from choosing to eat a giant-sized bowl of damage. Doesn’t matter. Say the fighter would have to make extra rolls if she took 50 points of damage, but the actual damage from the fall was only 45 points. That’s plenty enough to kill a 1st level fighter.  (Or, at least, it was in my day. I hear recent editions have given 1st level characters lots of HP? Or something?)

I’ve heard folks complain about that 20th level fighter leaping off the cliff, saying it’s unrealistic. That’s not my beef at all. Take Conan, for example. He’s pretty high level, right? Throw Conan off a cliff.  What happens?

I’ll tell you what absolutely does not happen:  Conan does not fall to the base of the cliff, impact, and die of his injuries! Even if he’s already tossed a dozen soldiers to their deaths off that same cliff, it’s just not going to happen. Sure, it’s a lethal cliff… but he’ll grab the edge. Or a branch on the way down. Or something. So, by that standard, the classic D&D HP mechanic does its job.  D&D Conan goes over the cliff, marks off some HP, dusts himself off, and keeps on truckin’.

But, then, I’ve got the nagging voice in the back of my head, saying, “Sure, but if he grabbed the edge at the last minute to save himself, why is his miniature now at the bottom of the cliff? Shouldn’t he now engage in an exciting battle of strength, using one arm to fend off the enemy’s kicks? … rather than now being out of reach, telling them that they’re #1 in Cimmerian sign language?”

Myself, I’ll want a game that will focus in tight enough to detail the fending-off-on-the-cliff-edge. GURPS does that for me. The various D&D’s set their focus a bit fuzzier, and accept that the mechanics aren’t going to support certain outcomes, in themselves. That sort of cliff’s-edge detail becomes something injected by the DM.

And if you were playing some kind of war game, where the focus is at a higher level of granularity, you wouldn’t even have talked about the time Conan had the exciting battle against the angry demon worshipers at the top of the Cliffs Of Poor Risk Management. You would roll Conan’s dice once and note down: “Conan sacks temple, takes out 100 gold and 1d4 distressed damsels.”

If the war game were at the level of Risk or the like, Conan himself would be abstracted away. He would be a joke after a good roll:  “My one figure took out your whole temple complex! They must have had Conan along! Hey, little figure guy, what is best in life?”

These aren’t flaws and virtues of the different systems. The problem is figuring out the style and level of detail that you’re looking for, and then choose the system that supports that kind of play. For me, that’s GURPS. Specifically, the 4th edition.  Third was great, but Fourth really knocked off all the barnacles and shined up all the brass.

Is it complicated? You’ll hear this one a lot, but I think folks are just repeating what they heard from a grumpy Usenet post from 1992. You could make the case that some parts of Third Edition were a bit complex. (Hey, I loved GURPS Vehicles. I’m not afraid of a very occasional cube root. I use spreadsheets no matter what game I’m running.***) Fourth Edition does a great job a scaling to whatever your game requires… just so long as you’re clear on what that is.

Carrying on with the sad, threadbare hit points question…

Two other GURPS campaigns, besides the current Dungeon Fantasy one, have appeared in this forum:  the Space Cowboys game, and the Marvel Supers 1200 game. They had some pretty different requirements, when it came to the sturdiness of the PCs.

The Space Cowboys game was designed from the beginning to be low-combat. The goal was to do a “slice of life”, “normal guys in an exotic situation” story. If somebody pulled a gun, the metaphorical soundtrack would do something dramatic and we would cut to commercial. Folks built their characters accordingly. You could feel the difference, in play, in combat, between Bubba and Osolo. If you’re familiar with Firefly, it was like the difference between Jayne and Simon. (If you’re not familiar with Firefly, what are you thinking?!? Stop wasting your time here and go watch it! NOW!)

I haven’t actually tried it — threatened more than once — but based on the Space Cowboys experience, I have no doubt that GURPS could handle a high school slap fight, realistically and satisfyingly. No doubt whatsoever.

At the other end, the Supers 1200 game was based on the Marvel Universe, where folks are more sturdy than in the real world. I knew, up front, that I was going to have to rig the game to make that happen. It’s a beyond-cinematic world. So, acting on advice from the forums, I declared that everybody in the universe who had a name, also had Injury Tolerance: Damage Reduction, which divides injury suffered. Fragile ol’ Aunt May had IT: DR 4, dividing any injury she took by 4. (Face it, it’s easy to put Aunt May into a coma but it’s really hard to put her down for the count. Look at the lady’s history.) Actual heroes had more, lots more. It was strictly explained as plot protection… which is to say, it wasn’t explained at all, just noted as How The World Works.

People addressed the issue in other ways, of course. At least one took Unkillable, and I seem to recall a lot of Regeneration and Very Rapid Healing. The point is, we were able to “bolt on” the ruggedness of comic book characters as needed.

Another thing that you’ll hear from the 1990’s is that GURPS can’t do supers right. I would dispute that. In actual play, Araignee Rose felt like Spider-Man. Goliath felt like… well, Goliath. The other one. The dead one. From the comics. You know what I mean. Again, I’ll admit there used to be a grain of truth to the complaint: I tried to run a supers game in Third Edition and had difficulties, back in the mid-90’s. These days, with the current edition? Nope, no problem. The engine supported it. (My energy level didn’t, but that’s another story for another time.)

I would go so far as to say that in my opinion, in a lot of ways, GURPS did a better job at supers than HERO System. (I haven’t seen the latest edition, so I’m talking FREd and the big blue book that had Seeker about to die on the cover.) I ran HERO System for a long while, and I started to notice that every PC I saw was doing pretty much the same amount of damage, roughly the same chance to hit, same small set of disadvantages… everybody was starting to blur into everybody else. With its tighter, more detailed focus, GURPS fixed that problem.

So, there you go. That’s what I was trying to say before. More of it, at least. 😉

* Ok, I’ll admit it. The thing that drew my attention in the first place was the nifty maps. They were what started me on this road. “What’s this ‘S’ on the wall mean? How about this square with an ‘X’ in it, sitting in the middle of the hallway?” Little did I know, that square with an ‘X’ would turn out to be the most lethal thing thus far in the current dungeon, a pit trap.

** This may come as a shock to some. 😉

*** Not really. Almost. I ran some White Wolf, World of Darkness stuff, way back when, that didn’t have any need for math stronger than counting on fingers. Take that how you will.



Throwback Thursday: Supers 1200, Session #7: “The Only Thing We Have To Fear”

This is the big finale, the pay-off, the point towards which the campaign had been aimed the entire time: the “Fear Itself” cross-over. The action was fast and furious. You can tell that everybody knew it was the last session, because they left it all on the table.

We pick up the moment we left off, last session…


What Happened:

… only to be interrupted by a sudden, dramatic change in the lighting. The Tokyo night was washed by the bright light of two objects traveling overhead, creating double shadows. As Goliath calculated that their trajectory would put them landing somewhere in the Middle East, the Spirit reached out to hear the voice of The City. In spite of herself, she muttered, “Captain America is dead.”

The heroes quickly realized that the Avengers’ communications were acting up. They received a general broadcast from Pym, announcing that Sauron had been handed over to “agents of the mutant population”; however, he continued, there were attacks on New York and Washington, DC, and all Avengers were being activated. EL13T took on the form of a transorbital jet (with a face), everyone got on board, and the students of Avengers Academy raced off towards New York City.

Along the way, Cash got a call from Pixie, letting him know that Cyclops had put out an “all hands on deck” call for mutants, and would Cash like to respond? This led to Cash being dropped off halfway across North America, so he could make it to the assembly point east of San Francisco.

As they entered the atmosphere over Manhattan, the heroes started to pick up details about the situation from radio broadcasts, spider-sense, and the mood of The City. The strange “meteors” were actually rune-encrusted hammers. Those who grabbed the hammers then went on crazed rampages. Attacks were ongoing. One hammer had landed on Yancy Street, which happened to be nearby. As the heroes looked in that direction, they saw a series of explosions, and decided to investigate closer.

On Yancy Street, the students found Thor, on his hands and knees, being pummeled mercilessly by the Hulk and the Thing, both transformed by the hammers and shouting in a pre-human language. They swung into action to rescue the Asgardian. Araignee webbed the Hulk’s feet, knowing full well that he could easily break free and was too strong to move, but then handed the web off to Goliath, who grew to his full size and used the web line to fling the Hulk down the block. EL13T blasted the Thing with his de-energizer ray, leaving him prone and gasping for breath.

While all this was going on, the Spirit found herself in an alley next to a young blond boy of perhaps 8 years. They recognized each other as “in the know”, and the boy brought her into a telepathic mindscape to quickly discuss the situation. He introduced himself as Franklin Richards, son of Reed Richards and Susan Storm Richards, two members of the Fantastic Four. He confirmed that his “Uncle Ben” had touched the hammer and become possessed. The two decided that the best thing to do would be to support the others, to bring the fight to a close a quickly as possible.

The Spirit used her probability-influencing powers to draw accidentally-accurate fire down on the Hulk from Hawkeye, several streets over, involved in his own battle. With both his assailants down, Thor managed to get to his feet and pick up Mjolnir. He thanked the students for giving him the breathing room he needed, then waved them away, saying that he had this one, but Pym needed help in Central Park.

Again, the heroes took to the skies. At Central Park, they found the Infinite Mansion’s emergency foothold, a ten-foot wide glowing hole in space and time. Sabretooth was bound and unconscious, just outside the circle, while Dr Pym was inside the circle, defending it against waves of villains. On one side stood the Wrecker and the Wrecking Crew – Bulldozer, Piledriver, and Thunderball – old enemies of Thor from way back, empowered with Asgardian strength and toughness by Loki years ago. On the other, Dr Octopus and Sandman, both famous members of Spider-man’s rogues’ gallery. Finally, hanging back, were the Purple Man, currently possessed by “Hassan”, the Spirit’s nemesis, standing next to Henri, Araignee’s brother. As the students approached, they saw Henri throw a javelin at Pym, creasing his brow and knocking him unconscious. As the villains surged forward, the students threw themselves into the fray.

The Wrecking Crew proved to be no match at all for EL13T. First, he turned himself into a giant block of metal, hoping to knock them out. When this failed, and they grabbed him, he responded by transforming himself into a pool of concentrated acid. While their steel-hard skin saved them from gruesome deaths, they were hurt, blinded, and badly confused. They broke and ran for the river, hoping to wash the acid off.

Goliath came down in a position to defend the Mansion’s foothold, but came under attack by Doctor Octopus. During the tussle that followed, it was shown that Goliath was far stronger than Octavius’ robotic arms. He quickly gained control of the situation and started snapping robot limbs.

Araignee and the Spirit went to confront Hassan and Henri. In both cases, a furious fight ensued. Araignee knocked down Hassan on her initial approach, but was unable to budge her brother, who revealed that Hassan had provided him with super-strength through the “Power Broker” treatment, used by the first generation of Unlimited Class Wrestling participants. The Spirit dove on Hassan, undeterred by a highly-unlikely rain of lethal blue ice, and engaged in a battle both physical and metaphysical.

Deducing the plan from the clues provided by The City and the words Hassan was spitting, the Spirit called out for the heroes to keep Hassan and Doc Ock apart. The villains were under the Purple Man’s sway, working on a plan to destroy the world by “ramming” it, in a 5th-dimensional sense, with the Infinite Mansion. Doctor Octopus was the only villain with the technological know-how to put the plan into effect, but would only do so while closely controlled. Octavius is more in favor of getting rich and/or ruling the world, not destroying it. He lives there, after all. Hassan, by contrast, was just hoping to silence the never-ending voice of The City.

Finally, EL13T shot both the Spirit and Hassan with his electric taser-blast, knocking them both near-senseless, and Goliath flung Doc Ock through the portal into the Infinite Mansion. With Octavius regaining his senses, the plot was defused. The Spirit used the last of her energy to call for a very unlikely outcome, and manipulated probability so that the Purple Man’s innate regeneration finally kicked in enough to bring him back to life… ending the possession by Hassan and sending him on to his final reward. Either from the effort, or because she wasn’t needed anymore, the Spirit, too, fell dead.

Araignee was reunited with her brother, once he threw off the effects of the Purple Man’s pheromones, and the surviving students were declared to have graduated from the Academy into full-fledged Avengers status.

Throwback Thursday: Supers 1200, Session #6: “School’s Out”

I would like to draw your attention to the appearance of a tyrannosaurus in this game session. I’ve got a sort of running joke with these guys that every campaign, sooner or later, will involve an encounter with some form of T. rex. The first time it happened, as I recall, it was a different fantasy game, and they all ran for cover. The next time, it was a supers game, and the brick wrestled it down, rodeo-style, with the help of a length of chain. In the Space Cowboys game, it was a man-sized robot modeled on the dinosaur, and after a bit of cat-and-mouse, it took a laser beam through the CPU. This time around… well, you’ll see.


What Happened:

Cash woke to the sound of heavy footsteps outside his door. Investigating, he came face-to-face with Colossus and the rest of the delegation from the X-men, passing through while Cyclops and Dr Pym argued over jurisdiction over Sauron. Part of the entourage was Pixie, a young lady with pixie wings. Araignee was fascinated by her wings and approached to look closer. In an effort to distract Araignee from her stated intention of talking to Magneto, Pixie dosed Araignee with her mutant hallucinogenic pixie dust. Cash and Pixie struck up a conversation while Araignee bounded off, chasing imaginary playmates.

Meanwhile, Goliath made his report of the death of the Purple Man to his superiors at SHIELD, Maria Hill and Steve Rogers, the original Captain America. Hill announced that if she could, she would give him a medal, but then she would have to take it back, due to the waste of her time. Rogers agreed that nothing more could have been asked of an agent of SHIELD. He then continued: “As a member of Avengers Academy, though, you really have to ask yourself if you lived up to your father’s expectations?”

Spurred on by this remark, Goliath contacted EL13T and began laying plans to rescue his father’s stored mind from Pym’s lab in the Infinite Mansion. When EL13T wasn’t entirely receptive to the plan (“Don’t worry, you’re already infected, I’m pretty sure you’ll be immune!”), Goliath tried to talk Cash into making a dash for it (“You’re so fast, he’ll never lay a hand on you!”). Awakened to the politics of being the only mutant student in the Academy, Cash also declined. Finally, Goliath turned to Araignee, only to find that she was unavailable.

At about this time, the private conference between Cyclops and Pym concluded. Pixie quickly took her leave, giving Cash her number. Pym approached the students, mentioning that there would be an unavoidable delay in classes, while Pym’s team of “top men” extracted Sauron to be turned over to the X-men. Pym told the students that they were absolutely forbidden from taking part in the extraction. When questioned as to the members of his team, he offered “Thor, the current Captain America… I’ve got emails out to some other folks…” and wandered off mumbling to himself.

Araignee had been having the time of her life, and quickly left the mansion. Under the sway of Pixie’s powers, she encountered a talking badger who knocked her out with a touch. Back at the mansion, the students’ earpieces announced that Araignee had lost consciousness. Checking for her location, Goliath found a location just a few blocks north… then a location in the 5th-dimensional space of the Infinite Mansion… then the same location a few blocks north.

The students headed out without informing anyone of their intentions. They quickly located Araignee and brought her around. The Spirit began using her detective skills to investigate the scene, and rapidly reconstructed events. According to her analysis, Araignee had been targeted by a group of costumed villains, likely from Spider-Man’s rogues’ gallery, after they had mistaken her for Spider-Man. They had been holed up in a nearby apartment, caught a glimpse of Araignee, panicked, and sent one of their number to take her out. This accomplished with surprisingly little trouble, thanks to Pixie’s powers, they had ran. The only problem was, the front door of the apartment was still locked, from the inside. The students soon realized that the villains must have gone up the fire escape to the roof, then taken the roof-access door downstairs.

While looking for clues, the team found a CD inside the apartment, which they picked up for later perusal.

Following the deduced trail of the villains, the students went back to the roof. They opened the door, expecting to find a stairwell. Instead, they found a jungle scene straight from Jurassic Park, with giant prehistoric trees, pterodactyls flying in the distance, and a glowering volcano on the horizon.

Overcome with wonder, the students stepped through the door into a small clearing. The door stood in a makeshift frame in the clearing, with no surrounding structure. The Spirit was still empowered by the “spirit of the city”, and so knew that the “jungle” was full of sentient life. Araignee knew that something was off, since her knowledge of the real thing from back home told her that this jungle was missing expected sounds and smells. EL13T realized that the jungle was actually a techno-organic construct after realizing that every plant in it was attempting to connect with its personal network.

In light of this, the students figured out where they were: in the Infinite Mansion, in the area controlled by Sauron. He had reconstructed the environment to appear like a prehistoric jungle, making it more comfortable for himself.

At about this time, the tyrannosaurus reared up from the underbrush on the other side of the clearing.

In a flash, Cash crossed the clearing and punched the dinosaur several times at super-speed, right on its snout, knocking it over. Araignee joined him, grabbing the creature’s tail and slamming it repeatedly against the ground. It disintegrated and was absorbed into the ground. From his vantage point, Cash noticed a trail leading away from the clearing. Figuring the villains must have gone that way, the heroes followed.

Soon, they realized that they were being “holo-decked” – made to believe that they were moving, when actually their surroundings were moving past them, to give the illusion of a large space inside a relatively small room. Splitting up, they tried to overload the illusion and determine the size of the room they were in. With all of them working together, it didn’t take long to locate a wall.

While Goliath prepared to smash a hole in the wall, there was the sound of a high-tech door opening several yards away, hidden in the faux plant life. Sabretooth, the famous mutant terrorist, came bounding through the newly-exposed door, saw Goliath, shouted to his companions behind him, then went on the attack.

While Sabretooth tore into Goliath, he was joined by Batroc the Leaper, a French mercenary and master of savate, who engaged Cash. This turned out to be a mistake, as Cash’s super-speed punches overwhelmed him quickly. While they took the brunt of the assault, Bushmaster took advantage of his speed and tried to make a break for it, while Shocker tried to peek through the door, using the frame for cover. Araignee used her webs to sling Shocker into Bushmaster, knocking them both down. EL13T used his taser-hand form to make sure the three stayed down, but was unable to get a clear shot at Sabretooth, in close combat with Goliath.

Araignee and Cash went to check the door as the struggle wore on. There, they found Death-Stalker and Avalanche, covering the villains’ retreat. It was not clear what they were retreating from, however, thanks to poor visibility in the dust raised by Avalanche’s mutant powers. Striking from surprise, Araignee covered them both in a huge web, but Death-Stalker, being a teleporter, escaped to parts unknown.

Back at the main battle, Goliath managed to get a grip on Sabretooth’s head. To begin with, this only made it easier for Sabretooth to rip into his arm, but Goliath was soon joined by allies. The Spirit pulled advanced martial arts skills from the “spirit of the city”, and used nerve strikes on Sabretooth from behind. She started with one to the torso, which paralyzed his lungs, and followed with several to the groin and abdominal region. (These were less effective, but more enjoyable, she claimed.) Goliath followed this up with a piledriver, putting the mutant down for the count.

As the din of battle died down, those inside the room that the villains had come from heard a voice announcing that someone “would have words” with Avalanche. Recognizing the distinctive idiom of Thor, most of the students fled through that room into the lab containing Goliath’s father’s mind. The Spirit had a lucky accident with a misfiring dimensional transfer mechanism, damaged in the fight, which dropped her out of the Infinite Mansion entirely.

(Of course, Araignee had already webbed her trademark around the room…)

In the lab, the students recovered the mind-recording device, then had Jocasta open a door to Tokyo. There, they met the Spirit, who already had a table and a bowl of raman, waiting for them.

Looking at the CD they found in the villains apartment, they found emails showing that Sauron had been in contact with the Purple Man’s “Villains For Hire” organization, and arranged for an extraction team. Apparently, the villain team’s timetable had been moved up due to the appearance of Arraigne Rose, they had encountered Pym’s “top men”, and then bumped into the students during their retreat.

Goliath then turned his attention towards the stored mind of his dead father….


Throwback Thursday: Supers 1200, Session #5: “A Night On The Town”

About the only thing I see that demands explanation is the bit about EL13T’s fear of sex. (Facepalm time.) One of the character’s quirks was that he (it?) had a deep-seated phobia of sex. Think of a really bright, articulate two-year-old, who has recently read everything in the encyclopedia about human reproduction, and just doesn’t get it. Oh, and the two-year-old can change shape virtually without limit.

It doesn’t come out much in the synopsis, but in play, we got a constant stream of jokes – just the kind of jokes you would expect from this set-up. And that, boys and girls, is why I won’t allow such Disadvantages any more. At least, not in any game that I can imagine running. 

I really have found, over the years, that the best tool that you can use, as a GM, to keep an entertaining and smooth-running game, is the ability to say “No” before the game starts. Once everybody’s at the table, there’s an argument for “Yes, but-“, but when you’re setting up the background, you’ve got to be a harsh skeptic. 

Anyway: the concept behind this session was pure wish-fulfillment. The group included several X-Men fans. I was reminded of one epic game of the Marvel Super Heroes RPG that I played in, back around ’91 or so, where the only thing that happened, really, was the character with the wealthy background threw a party at her beachfront estate and invited all the heroes she had met in her costumed identity. (Oh, the joys of having no secret identity to conceal…) This rapidly turned into a “Who’s Who” of the Marvel Universe at the time, as party-goers brought along friends, and as the event drew the attention of villains. If you’ve ever seen one of the comics depicting one of the poker games that the Thing hosts, you’ll understand the vibe. Anyway, I set out to try to recreate that feeling here.


What Happened:

In a flashback, Goliath did some lab work on the T-O virus.

Pym called the students together to announce that classes were canceled for the day, thanks to “difficulties” with the transfer of Sauron to the Raft. Taking advantage of the powers offered by his new Phalanx form, Sauron had infected portions of the Infinite Mansion. Pym stressed that this was only a temporary situation, which he expected to have remedied soon. In the meantime, to make up for the inconvenience, he had obtained tickets for a Dazzler performance in San Francisco later in the evening. Dazzler, aka Alison Blaire, is a famous singer who is also a mutant with the ability to convert sound vibrations into light.

Cash arrived late, appearing hung over, wearing a dirty “Magneto was right” t-shirt. Upon hearing the news, he yawned and staggered back to bed at only about 30 mph. Pym had Jocasta open a door to S.F. for the rest of the team.

The door opened into Golden Gate Park, where the students were confronted with the awe-inspiring sight of the Dreaming Celestial – a half-mile tall “space god” who stands lost in meditation, considering the fate of humanity. In an effort to figure out the story behind the Celestial, the Spirit opened herself to the voice of the city, and ended up channeling Hank McCoy, aka Beast, of the X-men, who is the world’s greatest expert on mutant biochemistry. While in touch with his skill set, she made some off-the-cuff observations concerning Cash’s metabolism, based on what she had seen of his powers.

Between the Dreaming Celestial and the view of Utopia, the island home of all mutants, the students were quite impressed with the spectacle. They decided to get in some tourist time before the concert. They began interacting with the locals, as well. Araignee started playing frisbee (and showing off) with some visiting hippies. EL13T took the form of a human-sized Dreaming Celestial and offered $5 photos to tourists. The Spirit quickly became bored and wandered off in search of petty crime.

After some time, EL13T realized that s/he was being probed, spotting a drone circling the park. EL13T quietly alerted Goliath, then slipped off to transform into a stealthy flying configuration to stalk and eventually capture the drone. During this time, Goliath discovered that the team’s earpiece communicators had become non-functional. He tried to tinker with his, to figure out what the problem was, only to discover that it suffered from over-engineering: the mechanism actually routed all its functionality through the extradimensional space of the Infinite Mansion, so with the connection broken, it was worthless.

The Spirit, following the prompting of The City, found herself drawn to an illegal craps game, where signs pointed toward imminent violence. She intimidated the potential attacker by snagging his knife from his hand with a whip. Then, she heard a dull thump behind her. Turning, she found an elderly blind Asian man carrying a pool cue standing over an unconscious thug with a drawn pistol. Stick didn’t introduce himself, but the two passed a few friendly words before parting ways.

Back at the park, EL13T had captured the drone and turned it over to Goliath for examination. As they prodded it, they were discussing the possibility of disabling it with an EMP, when a video screen flipped up from the drone’s body. The screen displayed a pair of men who introduced themselves as Madison Jefferies and Doug “Cypher” Ramsey, mutants working on the island Utopia. They explained their interest in EL13T: Various “X-teams” have violently encountered the alien Phalanx in the past, leading the mutants to keep an eye out for future infestations, and EL13T had appeared “on their radar” as a variant Phalanx. Furthermore, they explained, Cypher’s “platonic life partner” was a mutant member of the Technarchy, the alien race who were the progenitors of the Phalanx. It was agreed that the four people would meet in a local coffee shop a short time later.

Meanwhile, Araignee and the Spirit went out on patrol together. They discovered that they have very different approaches to patrol. After several false starts, they ended up shaking down pimps to distribute their money amongst local prostitutes.

At the coffee shop, the two mutants met with Goliath and EL13T. They provided some information on the T-O virus and how it usually progresses in a Phalanx infection. They theorized that when Goliath and Pym freed EL13T from the Phalanx network, they must have burned out his/her pleasure centers, removing the overriding desire to form a techno-organic network. (This also explains his/her fear of sex, in that the Phalanx’s reproductive cycle is the same thing as their networking urge.) When asked, they explained that Cypher had the power of translation, while Jefferies can control and communicate with machines. When questioned about EL13T’s background, Goliath mentioned how s/he had infected Sauron with the T-O virus. The mutants offered their help and advice in the future, and everyone exchanged phone numbers.

The students gathered together at the Mangled Puppy shortly before the doors were supposed to open. Through use of EL13T’s ability to look like anyone, they managed to make their way backstage. On the way in, they passed a short, hairy gentleman with a bad attitude and a cowboy hat1; the Spirit followed him briefly, but didn’t go too far before he got on a motorcycle and left the area. Araignee went out to the bar to mingle, while the others wandered around where they weren’t supposed to be. EL13T and Goliath met Dazzler herself, and only narrowly escaped being thrown out (or possibly attacked) due to EL13T’s antics. During that short meeting, the Spirit got herself autographed, and Goliath asked some pointed questions about that time the X-men died in Dallas, Texas. (They were brought back due to the actions of Roma, a being of cosmic power.)

Out in the bar, Araignee was right at home. Due to the high mutant population, she wasn’t the only person clinging to the ceiling. (Or flying, or floating, or whatever.) In fact, she wasn’t even the strangest-looking person in the room. That award went to the three-foot tall humanoid duck at the end of the bar. He introduced himself as Howard, and started buying drinks. He also introduced her to some of his other friends.

Backstage, Goliath peeked out at the crowd to see how Araignee was getting along. He realized that one of the people she was talking with was the Purple Man – wanted criminal, mind-controller, and his personal nemesis! Signaling to the others, he made his way quietly through the crowd, hoping to come up behind them. Araignee’s danger sense warned her of his intent, giving her a chance to defend her new – and, suddenly, very good, very dear – friend. She tried to kick Goliath in the face, but he caught her foot before she could connect, shot up to over ten feet tall, and punched the Purple Man full-force in the chest.

Of course, since he was wearing no armor and has no particular invulnerability, this was enough to cave in his chest and send him flying more than twenty feet through the air, over the bar. At this point, the entire bar, with the exception of Goliath and El13T, burst into pandemonium. EL13T had been approaching in the shape of Spider-Man, in the hopes of getting Araignee’s attention, but found him/herself lost in the crowd pouring forward to tear Goliath limb from limb. As he climbed over the bar, Goliath was hit in the eye by a thrown high-heeled shoe, which nearly blinded him and drove home the peril of the situation.

On the far side of the bar, Goliath scooped up the Purple Man’s unconscious body and pushed his way through the bar wall, looking to get some space to deal with the situation. The Spirit suddenly felt the Purple Man making more of an impression on the landscape of the city, metaphorically speaking, and stopped, confused. As they came out into the open, the Purple Man stirred and opened his eyes. Groggily, he looked around, then asked “You know what would be really unlikely?”

Then the gas main exploded under Goliath’s feet.

No one was hurt, but in the confusion, the Purple Man slipped away into the San Francisco sewers. Moments later, the smoky atmosphere was made even worse by the arrival of Nightcrawler and Wolverine in a burst of sulfur-smelling smoke. The Spirit confirmed that her nemesis had apparently reincarnated in the Purple Man’s body at the point of his death. In the aftermath, Dazzler insisted on finishing the show. Wolverine ended up tending bar. It turned out that he and Nightcrawler had been on security duty for the concert, even though no trouble was expected. They had responded as quick as they could, but the whole incident had been over in seconds.

After, the students were taken back to Utopia, given a chance to rest, and then offered a ride back to New York in the X-men’s Blackbird. They were joined by Cyclops, Emma Frost, Colossus, and Magneto.

In New York, the Blackbird landed at Avenger’s Mansion. There, the true reason for the trip was revealed: Cyclops told Pym that the X-men were aware that Sauron was being held by humans, and asserted that the villain should fall under mutant jurisdiction. As the discussion grew more heated, the two withdrew.

Later that evening, Pym met with Goliath and mentioned that he had news. First, Pym explained how he and Bill Foster, Goliath’s father, had been working on a way to record human consciousness so as to preserve one’s mind after death. In fact, Foster had been using this prototype technology at the time of his death. Thus, Pym said, he had Goliath’s dead father’s mind on disc.

The bad news was that the mechanism in question was “behind enemy lines”, so to speak: it was in one of the labs on Sauron’s side of the divide in the Infinite Mansion. Furthermore, the “Sauron infection” was proving surprisingly difficult to root out. Not to worry, though, as Pym had called in “top men” to help deal with the problem.

Goliath made a complete report to both Pym and Maria Hill, his superior at SHIELD.

1Yes, Wolverine, though none of the students had any way to know at that point.

Throwback Thursday: Supers 1200, Session #4: “Along Came A Spider”

Is it Thursday already? Between real life and stocking the dungeon, I haven’t had much to post… but the saga of the 1200 point supers continues.

Unlike the Dungeon Fantasy game, the Supers 1200 game was not played “cards up”. The PCs had secrets from each other and background motivations that were hidden. Since I didn’t want to leak extra information at the time, sometimes the reasons behind the PCs decisions are obscure. For example, in this session, we see Goliath pursuing a private project: the resurrection of his father. Living in the Marvel Universe, he had noticed that sometimes, supers come back from the dead. He figured, with enough research, he could uncover a method to bring back his dad. When he questions Hawkeye and goes to consult with Doctor Strange, it’s in pursuit of that goal.

Another thing that might not come across well in play is the nature of the Spirit’s powers, since she herself didn’t really understand them. She was actually the ghost of a cop, whose death had focused her (presumably mutant) powers, turning her into a disembodied ghost. Instinctively attempting to return to the land of the living, she found that she could merge with the body and mind of a dying person, taking possession of their body while also taking on something of their skills and goals. Each cycle of death-and-rebirth would overwrite some amount of old memories with the partial memories of the new host, which clouded her understanding of the process and of her own identity. (All of this was back-story and special effects for Unkillable 3 with Reincarnation.)

While in the world of the living, in a body, the Spirit’s natural low-level telepathy kicked in. She couldn’t read thoughts, or individuals, but she could tap into the telepathy energies generated by minds and use them for various effects. Her powers would wax and wane depending on the number of people around her. To use her full power, she had to be surrounded by a major city. She could take a tiny bit of the citizens’ psychic energy, and channel it into affect probability, heal herself, make herself stronger, and so forth. She could also sample the currents of the peoples’ thoughts, giving her Illuminated and the power to pick up skills possessed by the people surrounding her. 

Befuddled as she was, she decided that all of this meant that she was the chosen avatar of the spirit of the city. (Thus, the name.) 

Araignee and EL13T had simpler motivations. For the most part, they just wanted to mess with folks. Araignee had a bit of a hero-crush on Spider-Man as well. 

Cash was a go-with-the-flow kind of guy, but over time, he developed a sense of the politics of being a mutant in the Marvel Universe.  As the game went on, he seemed to become more militant.


What Happened:

Dr Pym announced a visit from a Dire Wraith expert on shapeshifting, to examine Sauron and his ongoing infection by the tecno-organic virus. Between the villain’s normal transformation into a dinosaur-man hybrid, due to mutant pterodactyl genes, and the transformation into a shape-changing Phalanx caused by the T-O virus, Pym felt the need for an outside expert.

While discussing the visit in the hall of the Infinite Mansion, the students met Mockingbird and Hawkeye, who were apparently using the Mansion as a short-cut while dealing with some terrorist plot. The students offered to come along and help, but were turned down due to their inexperience. While Mockingbird gave Araignee the drill sergeant treatment, Goliath struck up a conversation with Hawkeye. Things were going well, until Goliath brought up Hawkeye’s death and resurrection. At that point, Hawkeye declared that they were wasting valuable time, and drew Mockingbird away.

Discussing the incident with Jocasta, the students learned that Hawkeye had been killed and resurrected, twice, by the Scarlet Witch, a mutant with power to manipulate probability and, indeed, reality itself. While Mockingbird had been reported dead, on the other hand, she had actually been kidnapped by the Skrulls.

The next day, the students were excited to meet their guest instructor, Spider-Man. Araignee, in particular, was almost giddy. They quickly became less interested, when they discovered that the class was to be “chemistry for superheroes”. Araignee asked if they could all go out on patrol, but Spider-Man pointed out that he would need to talk to Pym and get authorization before taking the students out in public.

The students found themselves with time on their hands. The Spirit pointed out that they could follow up on tracking down her “evil twin”. Goliath had Jocasta open a door to his lab on the helicarrier. There, he set up a search of the databases he could access through his position at SHIELD, looking for anyone in a hospital in a coma, or with a terminal condition, making a miraculous recovery, either in Mexico City or New York, since the team’s trip to Mexico.

While Cash eyed the expensive computer equipment, Araignee and EL13T grew bored and quietly slipped out of the room. In the hall, they saw a group of passing SHIELD agents, jogging in formation. Araignee followed out of curiosity, clinging to the ceiling out of sight, while EL13T took the form of a generic, clean-cut agent, and joined the tail of the group.

The search didn’t turn up any clear leads, so Goliath and the Spirit continued to poke around. At one point, while scrolling through patient listings, she pointed to one group of deaths at a New York City hospital and remarked that they weren’t random, they were the product of conspiracy.

When the group of SHIELD agents jogged past the command center, things got out of hand. Araignee couldn’t resist trying to press some buttons, blowing her stealth. Under cover of the confusion, EL13T dropped back to a concealed position and observed as she was arrested.

Meanwhile, back in the lab, the others were surprised by the “intruder alert” alarms. Immediately figuring out what had happened, they rushed out, just in time to join Araignee as Maria Hill tore into her, and them. Seeing a way he could do the others a service, EL13T transformed himself into a perfect duplicate of Luke Cage and approached, claiming that he, too, wanted to teach the students a lesson. He convinced Hill to hand them over to him for concentrated punishment. As soon as she was out of sight, they fled back to the Mansion.

Back at the Mansion, the students decided they might as well go look into the murders the Spirit had picked from the hospital data. While in the Mansion’s halls, they ran into Vlox, the Dire Wraith expert, being escorted into the Infinite Mansion by a Spaceknight. Pym mentioned that they would likely need to transfer Sauron to the Raft, if they couldn’t get the T-O infection under control, as the Mansion wasn’t as well-equipped for superhuman containment. The students offered to help, but Pym assured them everything was under control.

During all the talking, the Spirit got bored and left.

Eventually, the other students had Jocasta open a door in Greenwich Village. Goliath talked the group into using that location as part of his recent researches: he wanted to try to talk to Dr Strange, semi-famous mystic. Araignee and EL13T were quickly distracted when they spotted Spider-Man swinging by, and left to follow him. Cash and Goliath forged ahead.

While swinging around, EL13T started to receive mental messages, saying things like “Why will you not join?” and “Are you there, father?” The messages cut off on a distinctly sinister note, mentioning “fleshy ones” outside who would “join” by force. EL13T realized that this must be its “offspring”, Sauron, completing the transformation into a Phalanx and reaching out to join the hive mind network – the same network that EL13T itself had been released from.

Meanwhile, the Spirit was smacking a confession out of the head of surgery at a NYC hospital, having gone to track down the conspiracy behind the murders.

At Dr Strange’s house, Cash and Goliath rang the silken pull-rope provided. The door was answered by Wong, Strange’s man-servant1. He immediately took a dislike to them, and would not admit that the doctor was home, or that he would ever be willing to see them. While Goliath pressed their case, Cash faded back to take a look around. Discovering Wong’s market bicycle chained nearby, he broke the lock and made off with it, seeing if he could break the sound barrier on two wheels.

In the meantime, Araignee and EL13T had caught up with Spider-Man. While they talked, both spider-people had a flash of spider-sense. Spider-Man took off like a shot, followed closely by the two students. He led them to a cathedral, where they saw what seemed to be Daredevil, a noted hero and friend of Spider-Man’s, at the mercy of Will-o-the-Wisp, one of Spider-Man’s rogues’ gallery. Racing ahead of the students, Spider-Man tried to attack ‘Wisp, only to fall to a sneak attack as it turned out that “Daredevil” was actually Venom in disguise!

Araignee and El13T launched themselves into battle, with the shapeshifting robot taking the form of the Scarlet Spider armor, so that the villains found themselves beset by a gang of spider-people. Venom was up for the fight, but ‘Wisp panicked, went intangible, and started to flee.

Meanwhile, on the far side of the cathedral, the Spirit was dragging the guilty doctor to confession. They ran into Cash, still on Wong’s now-battered bicycle. He offered to give them a lift, which the Spirit accepted over the civilian’s protests. As they approached the front of the building, they saw the glare from EL13T’s boot jets and heard Venom’s roar of rage. Cash dropped the others and the bike, as its wheels were starting to smoke a bit, and ran up the wall to join the battle.

On the other far side of the cathedral, Goliath was walking around in a daze after Wong’s expert tongue-lashing. He, too, saw EL13T’s boot jets. Realizing that something must be up, he approached, growing as he went, only to be countered by Rhino. Rhino had been lurking in the shadows near the cathedral, watching for interfering supers. He charged, but Goliath went to full size and stepped over him, avoiding the attack.

Venom and Araignee exchanged words, while the Spirit sent “good vibes” towards her friends. Under the influence of her powers, one of Spider-Man’s web-shooters exploded from damage sustained in his fall. The web fluid inside exploded, engulfing Venom. Araignee took advantage of the distraction, kicking him in the groin and punching him repeatedly. EL13T went after Will-o-the-Wisp, but was dazed by the villain’s hypnotic light show. Venom tore himself free, leaping to a higher perch to get some room. Araignee followed suit, and the two engaged in a duel of amazing jumps.

Goliath picked Rhino up. As the villain beat upon his thumb, to no avail, he drew back and threw Rhino directly into the biggest bell in the cathedral’s bell tower. Rhino fell to the cathedral floor, where the damaged bell fell upon him.

Rang by Rhino, the bell gave out a huge clang. Having worked his way into position, Cash used his whirlwind attack to blow Venom off the cathedral, putting him near the Spirit, on the ground. The sound of the bell (and a dose of lucky mojo from the Spirit) caused Venom such pain that he fled, rather than continue the fight.

Seeing this, Araignee dropped to the cathedral floor and knocked Rhino unconscious. The students gathered together, watching as Will-o-the-Wisp tried (and failed) to flee at his painfully slow pace. When the authorities, and reporters, showed up, Goliath pulled a mini-EMP generator from his pocket to kill the cameras. In the confusion, the students jumped through the cathedral’s doors, back to the Mansion.

As the doors slammed shut on the crowd of confused reporters, there was a clap of thunder and a loud voice: “Who would dare tamper with the bicycle of Wong?!?

Back in the Infinite Mansion, the students bumped into Vlox again, but this time, she was walking around free. When confronted, she explained that when Sauron’s escape attempt began, she had been set free. The students appeared to accept her protestations of innocence. Checking in with Pym, their offer of assistance was again turned down by Pym, who claimed that the situation was relatively under control.

1Yeah, that’s what they really call him.

Throwback Thursday: Supers 1200, Session #3: “What Happens in Mexico City…”

I’ve been posting old play reports, working my way through our 1200 point Avengers’ Academy game. Those who’ve been following both this game, and the ongoing Dungeon Fantasy game, might be surprised to see some of the selfless acts performed by the heroes. Looking back in the XP log, I see that Goliath (played by the same player as Rho, etc.) was awarded the Cool Point for performing his Atlas impersonation and holding up the collapsing building to save the mooks he had just been fighting – a classic move for a growing brick, incidentally. Furthermore, I see that the Spirit (played by the player of TKotBO) actually spent a point in the effort to save mooks. (We were using rules that allowed different things to be bought with spare character points, like turning a failure into a success.) 

It turned out that the Spirit earned back that point, with a musical aside that caused your humble host to be reduced to tears. Anything that makes me laugh that hard deserves XP.

I don’t think it was really brought out in the previous posts, but one of the Spirit’s quirks was, before she would use her probability-bending powers, she would use her catch-phrase: “You know what would be lucky?”

This session was notable, in that it contains the one round of combat that would set the stage for the entire remainder of the campaign. See if you can spot the crucial plot point!


What Happened:

Seeing Spider-Man on the cover of the Daily Bugle, Araignee Rose declared her intention to go find him and determine if he was, indeed, a threat or menace. The others went along with this plan, having Jocasta open a door into Manhattan. There, they discovered that the majority of the superhuman community was helping with the preparations for Hurricane Sandy. EL13T took the form of a flying car with a police scanner, everyone piled in, and they went off searching. Araignee spotted Spider-Man swinging by, and took off on her own, chasing him, but lost him almost immediately.

While Araignee was casting about, Pym contacted Goliath by communicator. While the local established heroes were busy with the storm, the Academy students were being sent to handle a lower-priority call in Mexico City. Initially, Araignee was reluctant to leave her quest, but after several attempts, she was coaxed into joining the rest of the team.

And that’s how the students signed up for a chupacabra hunt.

At first, they were distracted by the sights, sounds, and smells of the city. Thanks to the upcoming Day of the Dead celebration, masks and finger foods were readily available. After several hours of cruising around, the students spotted some kind of flying lizard. They split up to corner the creature. While EL13T and Araignee stayed close on the creature’s tail, the Spirit and Cash used their superior maneuverability, moving to flanking positions. Goliath ducking into a dark alley where he found himself being mugged by a man in a mariachi outfit wearing a skull mask.

As the team’s pincers came together on the “chupacabra”, they finally got a good enough look at it to identify it as Sauron, the life-draining were-mutant-pterodactyl. Even though he dodged the first few attempts, Sauron was rapidly forced from the skies with entangled wings. He ended up dangling from a wall-mounted flagpole, balanced by the weight of the Spirit on the other end of a line. As they hung there, a window open next to the Spirit. A man leaned out, casually asking “You know what would be really lucky?” before readying a shoulder-fired rocket.

During the same time, Goliath attempted to grab his attacker, but was unable to pin the gun. A burst of gunfire at point-blank range did no damage to the hero, but did intimidate the mugger… and draw the attention of dozens of similarly-dressed gangsters, and their leader, the infamous Don of the Dead.

Seeing that Sauron was down, Cash went to check on Goliath, and finding him in good spirits, continued on into the building full of mooks. He came face-to-face with the Don, and exchanged blows for a few seconds before the criminal fled.

Outside, the Spirit released her grip to drop to the sidewalk, also dropping Sauron into a bad landing that pinched a nerve, paralyzing him momentarily. Araignee took advantage of this to fling him into the crowd of mooks coming out of the cantina. EL13T then dove on the toppled crowd, entangling them. This trapped the normal humans, but gave Sauron the opening he needed to start draining life energy from EL13T. The robot instinctively responded in kind, attempting to infect the dinosaur-man with the techno-organic virus and drain him in turn.

The man upstairs with the rocket launcher fired it – not at the Spirit, but at the building containing Cash, Goliath, the Don of the Dead, and dozens of his men. Suddenly, the battle became a rescue operation for most of the students. Goliath grew to his maximum height to support the damaged building, keeping it from collapsing. Araignee slung herself across the street, through the flames and wreckage, past Goliath, and into the main room to help direct people to safety, while Cash generated whirlwinds to hurry them out the doors.

The Spirit, on the other hand, caught an Uzi thrown by the explosion and fired back, only to be amazed when the man displayed a dynamite vest, waved cheerfully, and blew up the building he was in with a final “Be seeing you!”

With the heroes’ help, evacuating the damaged building took little time. Everyone escaped in relative safety. The Don slipped away in the confusion, along with many of his followers. The others separated EL13T and Sauron from their deadly embrace, taking the lizard-man into custody. Conscious of the chance that Sauron had been infected with the T-O virus and turned into a Phalanx like El13T, the students had Pym open up a containment cell to hold him for observation.

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