Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Past Due Post: Blue Beetle and His Amazing Friends, Part II (or Where the Hell is Blue Beetle and How I Learned to Love the Bomb)

Due to an overabundance of balls in the air this past semester, this particular ball got dropped.

Back in March, I had the privelege of running a Marvel Super-Heroes game for the March 2012 instance of ENWorld's Boston Gameday, after spending the morning playing in an exciting (and hilarious) one-shot scenario of Night's Black Agents, written and run by Kevin "PirateCat" Kulp.

Unfortunately, this happened almost three months ago--so my recollection might be incomplete (or mildly inaccurate)--but here goes:

The session opened in media res: our crew was in the middle of car chase after a nuclear bomb thief through the streets of a run down European country.  The crew comprised of an American wheelman named Mace Hunter, an Irish demolition expert, a Korean hacker, a Columbian thief/temptress, a British analyst/acquisitions specialist, and French surgeon turned "wetworks" operative (played by moi). 
After the high-speed chase that climaxed with the Columbian riding the top of the fleeing target's car.  Between the Columbian's reality-defying acrobatics, Mace Hunter's crackshot driving skills, and the hacker's expert manipulation of the city's traffic light systems, we managed stop the mark's vehicle short in spectacular fashion.
Cutting to the crews safehouse, our interrogation of the Eastern European criminal had hit a wall--it was clear he had information, but wasn't likely to crack; it was at this point I decided to crank my role-playing amp up to 11.  In an absurdly heavy French accent inspired by the comedic stylings of Sasha Baron Cohen in "Talledega Nights," I proceeded to point out the mook's physical imperfections in a casual manner and then relayed that I was willing to do him a solid.  As I opened my doctor's bag and unrolled my surgical tools, I calmly explained I was going to fix those imperfections pro bono--but unfortunately I was all out of anesthetic.  Without a beat, the mook spilled everything, revealing the bomb was likely headed for Columbia.
After our British friend made arrangements for travel documentation and supplies, the demolitionist persuaded a former comrade in arms to fly us to South America.
We arrived only to find out that, in simplest terms, a convention of the local drug cartels was taking place--with a top-notch gala capping that evening's activities.  Making use of our various covers and other skills, we managed to worm our way into the event.  Prior to the event, our recon revealed that there were two major cartels participating in the meetings that were in direct competition for more personal reasons: the head of one of the cartels had acquired an ancient totemic bat statue having ties to the other head's family history, and the former cartel refused to part with it--regardless of price.  When Hunter met with the former cartel in his cover as a cocaine plant manager, he noticed a peculiarity: all the cartel members in attendance blinked in unison.  Later, when he relayed the details of the meeting to the crew, the crack-pot Irishman went on about some occult nonsense he'd picked up over the years regarding the statue and the strange behavior of the cartel, but the crew paid little heed to his caution.
After locating the Eastern European's boss, we formed a plan to have Mace seduce the weapon dealer's main squeeze to gain entry to his room and steal the bomb, while hacker handled surveillance of the room.
During the party, the Brit, Frenchman, Irishman, Columbian, and the Hacker mingled and surveilled the cartels, while Mace Hunter worked the main squeeze.  After getting into the dealer's room, a scuffle ensued with the guard he had posted.  The Columbian and the Hacker slipped out from the ballroom and hit the stairs running. 
Once they got down the hall from the room, a stand-off occured, which Mace and the Columbian then took care of.  Once inside the room, they cracked the safe--inside of which was the bomb with it's timer counting down!  The hacker set to work trying to disable the timer... At this point I'll mention that Night's Black Agents has a character feature granting each player one auto-success with their specialty during a session--and the Hacker used his with electronics to stop the clock with just one second left.
Meanwhile, in the ballroom, the statue covetting cartel boss used some strange charm ability on the Irishman, raising all kinds of occult flags.  Shortly afterwards, a firefight began between the rival cartels and the creepy drug lord fled to the roof--with the Frenchman, Brit, and Irishman in hot pursuit.  During pursuit, they radioed their crewmates to head to the roof to stop their target.
On the roof, the trio spotted the kingpin headed towards his helicopter.  The demolishionist  quickly used his auto-success with explosives to destroy the helicopter at range.  The cartel head emerged as a strange bat-man hybrid--the twist of Night's Black Agents is that its theme is Super-Spies vs. Vampires!  After the man-bat snatched up the Brit, I responded by using my auto-success with thrown weapons to fling a broken flagpole into the beast's chest, dropping it to the roof. 
Crazy times!  Thanks again to PirateCat, Kitesh, Bruce, NerfWright, SarahDarkmagic, and SaladShooter for an action-packed game.

In the afternoon, I ran my super-heroic game--with it's plot pulled from the DC Comics Elseworlds imprint book, Son of Superman.  I was scheduled to have four players for the game: Bruce, NerfWright and SaladShooter from the morning game, and my friend PistolPete.  Unfortunately, PistolPete had misread the start time and couldn't make it for the game--in spite of this, the rest continued the ball of fun that began rolling that morning and jumped right into my one-shot using the SAGA rules iteration of Marvel Super-Heroes.
I wish I could relay most of the details of that adventure, but unfortunately a combination of the time that's passed, my lack of sleep that previous night, and rousing time we had in the morning game have blurred the details of that afternoon session.
What I can still manage to tell you is that the four of us managed to have a blast with the simple free-wheeling nature of the SAGA super-hero rules. Once we got through the initial scuffle with some low-tier villains, they had a basic grasp of the system which carried us through to the end battle.  All in all, it was a nice cap to a fun-filled day.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Blue Beetle and His Amazing Friends, Part I

This coming Saturday marks another Boston Gameday for the EN World gaming community.  For those not in the know, EN World is a top site for role-playing game news, started by Russell Morrissey after having been passed the proverbial torch by Eric Noah--the "EN" in EN World--when his own gaming news site had become too much to manage in addition to his other responsibilities.  EN World primarily covers "Dungeons & Dragons" and other "d20 system" related news (d20 System has become the core mechanics of D&D and its successors, such as the similarly themed Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and the superhero themed Mutants & Masterminds system, amongst others), as well as other various genre games by smaller independent publishers.  Over the past decade, this site has served as a nexus for gamers around the world, serving as a location for keeping up-to-date on the latest product news, in addition to a forum to discuss the merit of these various games and build a community of people with similar interests.
At these Gamedays, local members of this community gather to try out different game systems from what they're used to--partially to try out new systems, but also to meet local members of the community and socialize in general.  About two months beforehand, a few people volunteer to run games for the others--either games that they have a soft spot for, or that they've just been itching to try out.  After determining who's running what, sign-ups begin about a month prior to the game day.  Typically, scheduling works out to be for morning games and afternoon games, with four games running during each time slot. 
Each GM (Game Master or referee, also sometimes referred to as DM/Dungeon Master in D&D style games) posts a blurb about the game they're running, if there's a specific plot, or any general description.  It's the GM's job to act as facilitator and rules arbiter for the game--they make sure the game runs smoothly and manage any plot details related to the game.
This Gameday, I've volunteered to run a scenario using the Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game rules, published by TSR in 1998.  Some systems use polyhedral dice (such as the aforementioned d20) to resolve any actions in the game--this one uses a special deck of cards (called a FATE deck), each card bearing a hero or villain from Marvel Comics, in addition to number values and colors relating to certain abilities in the game.  Each player maintains a hand of cards with which they attempt actions; a card played that matches abilities allow the player to draw additional cards from the deck to add to the hero's attempt to complete the action.  Inexperienced heroes have less cards in their hand to draw on to attempt actions than experienced heroes do.  This mechanic draws on the players' desire to have some level of control over the success of their hero's actions--when choosing which card to play, the player determines how important it is to succeed in that action, perhaps hanging on to that really good card for that dire moment where they may need to succeed in the most daunting task.  Outside of the cards, the system itself is fairly free form, allowing the players to attempt any action they can imagine, based on the abilities and powers of their hero and the difficulty of the task set before them.  Ideally, this should engender a truly improvisational gaming experience--hopefully creating an adventure story fitting of a comic book.
My scenario is loosely based on a graphic novel published by DC Comics in the late '90s.  The game is set about twenty years into the future of the DC universe setting, where superheroes have been practically outlawed and as a result have pretty much disappeared.  Being tentatively titled "New Warrior Titans of Gotham Serve Some Young Justice," the adventure follows the exploits of up and coming teen heroes as they experience a pretty disastrous college tour: a telekinetic superboy, a reformed homicidal boy wonder, an power-armored boy that looks like a blue beetle, a certain freelance photographer with arachnid-like abilities, a showboat with a cold shoulder (amongst other things), and a girl that can whip up a mean batch of bagged popcorn.  All in all, hopefully the makings of a hilarious teen superhero team-up.


Been too long since my last post... time to get back on the ball in terms of time management and get stuff done. 

Goal: catch up on my writing (blogging, etc.) and define the purpose of this blog.

Four-Color Gamer--An enthusiast's take on gaming and comics, highlighting anecdotes and reviewing material in those fields.

Postings-- Monday, Wednesday, and Friday by Midnight...

And this post doesn't count for tonight, so time to get brainstorming on what to cover tonight...

Monday, February 6, 2012

Four-Color Gamer and the Caves of Chaos, Part II

       In Indiana a week before the Bowl to end all Bowls, I sat at a table with fellow gamers to playtest the next iteration of Dungeons & Dragons.  A father and his young son sat to my left and a trio of other guys sat to my right.  We briefly introduced ourselves and where we were from--the father and son had come from Detroit for the day, while the trio of friends had come from some other part of Michigan.  All were friendly--each of the adults mentioned what they hoped the new version would bring to the table, while the kid just sat there in wonder.  Shortly afterward, Phil Menard--one of the playtest Dungeon Masters--came up to get us ready to play.  He handed out pre-generated playtest characters for us to pick from--given that we adults were all so-called veterans in the field at this point, we gave first pick to the kid.

         I'm going to preface the following summary by stating that it's a narrative of what happened--anything stated does not represent any new mechanics, just some highlights from the session.

          Phil began by giving us a brief rundown of the basics of the new game, then we got going.  Our heroes started in Castellan Keep, a Keep on the Borderlands (TM) of civilization in place to protect against the wild beasts and tribes that might destroy or conquer the civilized races.  We set out for the Caves of Chaos to deal with these threats.  On approach to the ravine encircled by the caves, we saw a couple of goblins darting across the ravine from one cave to another, then shortly come back out.  One of our warriors charged straight into them, instigating a melee.  We made short work of them, then discovered a scroll on one of them--it was a message between the goblins and kobolds (little reptilian dog-like men) from another section of the cave complex hammering out the details of an alliance between their tribes to overthrow some other big threat in the complex.  We quickly formulated a plan for the smallest of our party to disguise himself as a goblin to infiltrate their tribe to gain some intel.  He did so in a very morbid fashion, seemingly inspired by two films in particular: a certain John Woo helmed vehicle starring John Travolta and Nicholas Cage, and a specific Anthony Hopkins lead psychological thriller. 

         With disguise prepped, our makeshift goblin headed into the goblins' cave without realizing one small detail: goblins could see in the dark and he could not.  Shortly after stumbling into the cave, he lit a torch and subsequently encountered a few more armed goblins.  They asked him why he was carrying a torch he shouldn't need, to which he replied that he'd stolen it from an adventuring party he'd killed.  They seemed to buy it--until his jury-rigged goblin mask started falling off.  They quickly drew weapons and he started back-pedaling.  In pleading for his life, he told them that if they killed him, they'd never get their hands on the treasure he had hidden outside.  They took the bait, following him out to our trap.

         Another combat began, loud enough to draw the attention of the kobolds across the way.  The fight with the goblins grew intense, with one of them attempting to head back for reinforcements.  The kid playing the spellcaster of the party quickly set a tree over their cave on fire, blocking his exit from he melee.  This was when one of our group decided to solely engage the kobolds emerging from the cave across the ravine.  After seeing him get ganged up on, my cleric and our resident swordswoman decided to charge to his rescue, with the wizard following up behind us.  While we kept them busy, our wizard set another tree on fire over the kobolds' cave, with the swordswoman knocking the weakened, burning tree over on the terrified kobolds.  Then we heard a guttural yell from over behind the trees.

      Falling back to my earliest instincts in this game, and having just laid waste to two groups of monsters with devastating effect, I stepped forward, yelling back to the loud voice that he should surrender, that he didn't stand a chance against our might.  A moment later, an ogre came charging from between some trees, ripping down a branch on the way to use as his club.  Reaching my cleric, he treated me like a tee-ball, knocking my character clear out to the ravine's entrance and out cold.

         This was all within the first hour a half of the session.  In the currently released version of the game, those events would have taken about two three-hour sessions to complete.  After taking a short break, we spent the following two hours exploring two of the cave systems and getting into two more combats.

         From all released accounts, the playtests are an early representation of where they're headed, but so far, I am thoroughly impressed.  Things moved quickly and resolved simply--nothing seemed to drag.  All in all, it felt like the games of my youth, with all the wonder and excitement I remember.  If they accomplish what they set out to do, with modular aspects to cater to each style of player--from the earliest edition players to the latest, I sense great fun brewing.  Their promise to include open playtests of the game only reinforces my initial excitement for things to come.  And so the dreaded wait for this playtest material begins...


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Four-Color Gamer and the Caves of Chaos, Part 1

        Welcome to the musings of Four-Color Gamer--comic book aficionado and table-top storyteller extraordinaire.

        Last weekend, I took the opportunity to venture out to Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Some might ask, "Why Fort Wayne? And aren't you about a week early?" (This being in reference to the current main event for our nation, the aptly named Super Bowl.)

        The draw to Indiana wasn't sports related--no, it was a for a far less fashionable reason:  Dungeons & Dragons.  Formerly a game reserved for socially awkward outcasts and crucified by fundamentalist religious fanatics during the 80s, the game has seen some serious P.R. re branding over the past decade, to the point of many celebrities--including Stephen Colbert, Robin Williams, and even Vin Diesel--admitting to being players of the game.

         I'd gotten into the hobby about twenty years ago, when I'd noticed a red game box on top of an old toy chest at a friend's house.  The cover portrayed an armored swordsman squaring off against a ferocious red dragon, with the title "Dungeons & Dragons" emblazoned overhead.  I'd heard of the game a few times before that, but didn't know quite what it was.  I asked him if we could play it, so we gathered together a small group of four: three players and a "Dungeon Master,"  the rules referee and storyteller.  We quickly put together characters.  My first character was an elf named Evro--equally proficient in swordplay and the arcane arts.  We descended into our first dungeon adventure, shortly afterwards encountering a terrifying cave beast described much like a giant centipede, called a "Carrion Crawler."  I don't remember many details of the first combat, other than we likely had our asses handed to us on a platter.  We survived the encounter, but barely.  Then our consummate "DM" introduced us to an adventuring party's worst nightmare: the dreaded Rust Monster--this creature was so vile that it subsisted on the corroded remains of any metal it encountered, and was fully capable of corroding any intact metal it encountered with a mere touch of its antennae.  After the beast was done with its meal, it left us on our way (all it really cared about was the metal), leaving us without weapons and armor to defend ourselves against whatever threat next awaited us.  This promise of a challenge limited only by my imagination had me hooked from the start.

        A few months later, I had managed to get into a weekly gaming group; it was during this period that I learned the hard way about another facet of the game: teamwork was vital.  Being an adolescent youth, I would impetuously confront any challenge, difficulty be damned--and my characters would suffer for it.  I was the veritable Kenny McCormick of our gaming group--it was rare if I didn't have a fictitious character killed off in some manner worthy of a Darwin Award.

        Twenty years later, I find myself still playing a game that encourages interaction, problem solving, and teamwork.  A few weeks ago, it was announced by the current publisher of Dungeons and Dragons--Wizards of the Coast (a subsidiary of Hasbro)--that they had begun design and playtesting for a new version of the game, one that could possibly unite fans of each previous version of the game.  Some have been playing straight through each iteration, but others have lapsed, not approving of some or most of the changed having taken place over subsequent iterations--especially the latest one, which has taken some inspiration from the latest trend in computer role-playing games, such as World of Warcraft, amongst others.  Shortly after the announcement, it was also revealed that they'd be doing a special playtest event at the annual winter gaming convention, D&D Experience.  After hearing this, my girlfriend--being the wonderful woman that she is--decided to set up a trip out there as an early birthday present.  So plans were made, arrangements booked, we were on our way.

        Last Saturday morning, we were up at 4 a.m. to catch a 6 a.m flight to Chicago.  Upon arrival at 8:30 a.m., we got our rental car and headed towards Indiana.  An hour into our road trip, we stopped for breakfast.  My game slot for the playtest wasn't until 2 p.m., so we could take our time.  After stopping about an hour enjoying a decent breakfast, we were back on the road with about 2 hours left to go.  About an hour and 15 minutes back on the road, the unthinkable happened--the clock on the G.P.S. leaped forward an hour.  We had forgotten to account for the fact that we were heading back into the Eastern time zone.  The G.P.S. was still putting us in Fort Wayne at about 1:55 p.m., so we might still make it.  Flow of traffic was pretty steady, with a few unexpected stops here and there.  We hit the hotel at about 1:50, then rushed over to the convention center. 

      We approached the registration counter for the convention to retrieve our passes and my ticket to the playtest--luckily, it hadn't started yet.  They also presented me with a non-disclosure agreement; since this new iteration is still in its earliest stages, the publishers don't want any information about the new mechanics to get out until they're ready for the public to view them.  So after signing away my life in the event I should disclose any of the aforementioned non-disclosable material, I ventured into the hall to the cordoned off section for the playtest tables.  After being grouped with five other players, I headed to our table.

      Soon to follow in Part II, I'll relay as much as I can of my impressions without breaking the NDA.