Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Orientation Day: Notes


Only James could make it tonight, and he was willing to run solo (I offered him the choice of passing, but he came anyway), so I set aside what I had been going to run and will do that the next time the group is together to run a Halifax Heroes adventure. Instead, I used something from Melior Via: Hope Preparatory School. This is a high school of superheroes. It doesn't have the same voice as Hero High but—on the other hand—it's cheaper. And it's for ICONS. So that's what we went with, the HPS Orientation adventure.


  • Set in Toronto instead of Anycity, USA.
  • It's set up for a group of 7-10 students, but I used 5 because only one was a PC. (In retrospect: 70 freshmen and 10 teams makes teams of 7. But I never specified the number of freshmen, so I'll live with it. Heck, I never specified the number of teams, I just said they were teams of 10.)
  • For NPC characters I used ones from the HPS Character Pack, but changed one of the characters (Lorn) so he better suited the aspects of James' character Hari, who hates Atlanteans: Lorn became Prince Lorn, or Loren, heir to Atlantis. Essentially, I used the same writeup but added Swimming, Immunity (drowning), and Lifesupport (pressure, cold). I explained away the superspeed as water being a thousand times denser than air, so out of water he's fast. Characters ended up being Eric, Kylene, Glimm, Hari, and (Prince) Loren and not the ones from the adventure (which, uh, I had forgotten about).
  • I did include a real attack from the Alchemical Cabal.
  • I added the detail that the staff are arguing about whether to have the RFID tags issued at the beginning of the day or the end of the day (or hire someone so it can happen at any point in the day).
  • I introduced USHER at the end, so maybe they're all part of the same universe. Of course, if it's in the same universe as the Halifax stories and it's set in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, it shouldn't be USHER, it should be SHARD. If we ever do a second one, then I'll have to think about whether it's retroactively changed or if it was a (possibly rare) instance of inter-agency cooperation.
  • Added that Alchemical Cabal members are given poison before a mission. If they complete it and get back, they get the antidote. The poison starts to work if they get knocked out. (Don't use the minion rule with this idea.) Also added that Alchemical Cabal members might not be using poison: the suit might contain interdimensional transporters that get rid of the body, conscious or not. That is, there might be a dead-man's switch on the interdimensional stuff; so long as they keep moving or doing something, it doesn't activate. Bodies disappeared if knocked unconscious, with fumes leaking out from the suit and giving the impression of the bodies dissolving inside the suit.

Thoughts on the adventure:

Not bad, but the character writeups are scattered throughout the pages. (EDIT and correction: My decision to include a real Alchemical Cabal attack meant I had to switch; otherwise, the characters are as they occur—which means that if you have recurring characters, you'll be switching around.) You want to print them two-up because they're meant for reading on a screen so a letter-size page has something like 14-point text. It would be nice if the Alchemical Cabal writeups were at the back of the adventure so all the cast is together. Certainly I'll do more HPS adventures given the chance.

Originally the HPS materials are written for Mutants & Masterminds and I have to wonder why. Hero High does such an excellent job of capturing the possibilities of a high school supers setting that I have to wonder what the advantage is to HPS over Hero High. (Though I have not looked at the M&M versions, so I can't comment on any real difference.) For ICONS though, there is no such setting and it provides one. It also handles the wonkiness of ICONS characters, who can have almost any power level. (I mean, I prefer ICONS now, but I know the game is not perfect.)

But in ICONS there is no high school setting. Or there wasn't, until this came along.

EDIT: Comments from the publisher indicate that the niche in M&M is of a filled-in school setting, rather than a toolbox, which is what Hero High is. Melior Via is specifically trying to emulate a coming-of-age setting in school—echoes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer are possible.

The conversion to ICONS is good, though there's mention of Determination when (I think) they mean Starting Determination, and the character boxes are somewhat hard to read—filled-in bars for the characteristics would have been easier to read for me, but they would have sucked up more ink. (I wonder if you could do anything interesting with a character sheet that uses a circle with ten pie pieces for power levels?) EDIT: I notice the bars are filled in, technically, but between the paleness of the fill (it's paper-coloured, I think) and my colour deficiency, I couldn't tell.

A big part of the adventure is an obstacle course, and I think I ran it as well as I could (for not being prepared), but I wasn't recording time correctly—as I recorded it, the heroes were fast, easily faster than anybody else, and they had a series of embarrassingly bad rolls. (Basically, a panel per roll. I rolled for the NPCs, which isn't ICONS canon, but it became roll or railroad with the number of NPCs I was controlling.) And the hero team had powers that made it easy (telekinesis covers a multitude of things).

There are currently three HPS adventures: Orientation, The Substitute, and a Halloween-themed one. It looks like they're working their way through the school year, but I'd suggest a couple of adventures that can be inserted anywhere, any time. (Though that immediately sparks an idea for an adventure during the holidays.)

Note: Inkjet printing and highlighters don't go together as well as they might. Things smear.

Boy, I'd like a Ten Bullet Points Or Less summary on sections of the setting book (the adventures have them). It's cute to have fictional character writing comments and it's a good mood thing, but it takes time to study and I didn't have much. (My own fault, I guess.) What I wanted on the setting book—the Freshman Handbook—was a summary page: which teachers teach what subjects (Mr. Bailey aka Dr. Pulse: Weird Science), locations of rooms (Science lab: Second floor of wing), so that if I had to refer to anything in a hurry, it would be there. I'll probably produce one for my own use but I can't see how you give it to other people without undercutting the actual product. (EDIT: In retrospect, maybe it could be done with a one-page table, which has the columns Subject, Teacher, AKA, Location, Notes, Rumours?. Just to find things if you don't have it memorized. You might have a second table that has team names, sports, club names, and notes.)

For adventures, the little teaser there, the summary, in adventures—they help, but aren't quite enough. I'd rename the "Talking Points" section of the adventure because I have the impression that Talking Points are short. I might be wrong on that, though.

What Happened

Really, read James' writeup. James' writeup is much more interesting than mine, as usual, though I fill in some facts he didn't (and he fills in some facts I don't).

Orientation day: not the first day of school (that's next week), but everyone new meets and learns the lay of the land. Some seniors have already moved into the dorm or are around.

They suffer through the president`s speech. Hari meets the other people from his group, and they are largely introduced by talking with Jade O`Leary, an older girl with a tattoo of an ankh on the side of her face. She guides them out quickly and tells them about the Cliques in school. Some students don`t like it, and some teachers don't, but it's tradition and Hope Prep like runs on tradition. And why do we have to be superheroes anyway? Can't you just be an artist? Do powers mean you have to be a superhero?

(EDIT: On thinking about it, that's like a theme. Play handball with both sides of it. Go.)

The people are:

  • Hari of the Cerulean Light Unearthly, with TK, teleport, and a severe stick up his ass.
  • Eric Su, a homeless pauper boy and a gadgeteer.
  • Karlene DeLong, with a force field and a knack for healing.
  • Glimm Grivbazz, an alien and a diplomat's son who is big, strong, invulnerable, and clumsy.
  • (Prince) Lorn of Atlantis, who is a speedster of a kind.

The implication is that these are the only aliens starting this year. ("Alien" means essentially anyone who isn't an earth-human, so Atlanteans count; Eric and Karlene got added to the group because there weren't enough aliens.)

Jade does the tour. They learn that it's the one day of the year that the security system is tested and overhauled, because the new students have to have an RFID chip added to them, and because of that, two of the last four years have seen someone attack that day. They learn you shouldn't go to the top floor of the tower after dark—magic things will get you—and you shouldn't go downstairs to the basement without a commuter pass because the security system will get you.

Eventually, she hauls everyone to the obstacle course. They get their uniforms. Ms. Sanchez is there and she gives her little speech. The characters notice that the use of powers is not forbidden, only certain powers are: No flying, no teleporting, no carrying. You can push, pull, or drag a person, but you can't fly or carry. The slowest team earns Ms. Sanchez' scorn all year. The obstacles are:

  1. Wall: Everyone gets over this fairly easily, though Eric makes some bad attempts.
  2. Hidden Bomb Recovery: Each person carries an egg through duct work without cracking the egg (or the duct work). Karlene had to heal Glimm's egg.
  3. Swim: Not surprisingly, the Atlantean excelled. Hari dragged Eric, who can't swim.
  4. Cross the Chasm: Don't fall crossing a rope bridge. By using TK and force fields, everyone was safely hemmed in. Though Lorn did fall, Hari caught him and slowed his fall (though he did debate whether he should or not).
  5. Save the Hostage: Hari used his TK.
  6. Hurdles: Glimm jumped all of them, and then was told you had to jump hurdles one at a time so he re-did it, jumping about 30 feet in the air nearly straight up; Hari used his TK to make sure that he didn't land on the hurdles. Hari didn't think to help anyone else.
  7. Balance Beam: Between force field and TK, balls didn't touch anyone.
  8. Laser Grid: First, they tried to out-think it. Eric checked to see if he could disable all of the lasers with a single power source removal. No go, so Hari did the test. He managed.
  9. Diving: Hari used his TK to pull up the weight, and Glimm set it down.
  10. Relay: They did fine, though it took Eric forever, it seemed.

It turned out that Hari's team won. They each got a detention certificate, good to avoid one detention for forgetting your gym uniform. (Missed roleplaying opportunities: I should have had the second-best team and the worst team named and identified. They could come back at later times. I think I'll have them ready if we ever do another HPS adventure.) And they got good cess from most of the other teams.

The team had lunch. Hari tried to prevent the food fight, but couldn't (hmm, should have given him Determination for that; didn't think of it). That led to the alarm going off, and…the group got left in the hall while all the others were in classrooms under lockdown.

And then the Alchemical Cabal appeared and attacked. Three of them. If Hari had known better or Lorn had remembered, they would have known this was a hazing because the Alchemical Cabal always shows up with a multiple of seven people: one leader, six minions. But they didn't remember or know that. The Alchemical Cabal looks like a clean suit in one of the colours of the rainbow (red through violet): these guys all wore red. They also wear a bandolier of flasks and test tubes that contain various alchemical and magitech reagents. (For instance, one kind splashes acid for a Blast effect; the other unleashes an area Paralysis that petrifies.) The test tubes that these guys threw released some kind of red or green smoke, but everyone missed, so no way of knowing what they did.

The team decided they had to fight instead of run away. So Hari and Lorn fought, and after a few panels discovered that it was just a hazing prank by some seniors. They discovered this because Hari had them captured, and they didn't want to be dragged up before the school president so they offered him a deal. Several deals, but Hari wasn't dealing: they had done wrong and had to face justice for it.

And the school security system was on the fritz. It decided that it had been asked to use lethal force, so robot drones were being sent. Eric looked at the system and decided he couldn't stop it in less than two hours, or make them invisible to the drones in less than one. Not good enough.

The seniors disappeared: having a teleporter really helps. (Hari's ESP shows that they are about a mile away.) Of course, Hari is a teleporter too.

Hari made the extra effort to get his group away to a park, and then he phoned the school…only to discover that the real Alchemical Cabal had attacked. You could tell they were the real thing because they appeared in a multiple of 7: one leader, six minions, all in the same outfits.

They were looking for someone named "Sheena." That is to say, they were looking for one of the three seniors who had been hazing them. Hari teleported over to them and tried to convince two of them to come back. But their teleporter had used all his group teleports (well, had used his Determination points), so they needed Sheena to gate them back. She made a portal and they all went back.

Big fight with the Alchemical Cabal. The cabal lost three people (because Hari suggested all the teens concentrate on one at a time, starting with their leader), then managed to petrify everyone but Hari, Sheena, and Glimm. Hari and Glimm took care of them.
A Cabal member knocked unconscious will die and dissolve or otherwise disappear: they all believe that they have taken poison before the mission and will get the antidote after returning.

Mr. Bailey, the science guy, says he thinks he can restore them with much less radioactivity than last time (a nod to the concrete cows of Charles Stross, in The Concrete Jungle).

Kaleidoscope/Mr. Able looks at the petrified folks and says that a virgin's kiss can restore them. Is anyone here a virgin? Hari volunteers that he is, and kisses each of them. (I'm sure that will have repercussions down the road, but in a culture where pretty much everyone has ESP, there are no secrets.)

Now, the adventure suggests that the characters get determination for completing the adventure, but my understanding is that if you give experience, it's in Starting Determination, so I gave Hari +2 Starting Determination.