Friday, November 11, 2011

The Substitute, Part II (from long ago)


Continuing reposting things from six years ago.

We finished off The Substitute, and much though I didn't want it to be "big fight, everyone goes home," that's pretty much what it was.

James' description is here on Dreamwidth, but the Livejournal cross-posting has more comments; I think for the purposes of my records (the GM's notes) I'm going to point to the LJ version with its more comments, but for the record of the adventures I'm going to point to the Dreamwidth version (eventually the Blogger version), because I like the purity and consistency.

I'm sure I'll have no problem keeping up with a complex system like that. Or I'll make a drive-by on James' account and post the LJ comments I really like to the Dreamwidth versions, just so I can get to them. (Because really, it's all about me.)

James misses the parts where:

  • Good Dr. Bailey, in his quest for supplies, thinks about heading to the teacher's room beetween science labs, but first checks for traps (because in the Old Days, he would have put traps there) and finds several;
  • Hari sees the chairs of the lab are all booby-trapped with blades and electricity, which the teacher can activate (but non-lethal, probably, because there are Ords who might have survived to take the class).
  • Oh, and although there was a coral snake lying across Sari's foot at one point (as a snake who has lost its heat lamp will search out the nearest source of warmth), she was quite effective at beheading it, getting it and a nearby tarantula with a single blow.

The shock troopers are the equivalent of the school patrol, of course. The PCs never ran into the equivalents of themselves.

Presumably the shock troopers who went onto the football field are detained, because the Hope Prep dimension won the fight. That will be something to bring up later: a group of Pryde Academy parents stage a "rescue" mission or the Hope Prep teachers send them home. They didn't discover the connection between the two dimensions, so that didn't get uncovered, and could be fodder for a future adventure.

It is a measure of our, uh, nonchalance about sports that we didn't even ask who won the Homecoming Game, nor did it come up. So that particular set of details skipped by us.

Rumspringa was an NPC for the session because the player couldn't make it, so she got entombed in earth by Serena early on and without life support, she fell unconscious until rescued. She might have done something to break free if she had had PC aura, but she didn't.

The goatees thing started as a joke, a running reference to the goatee that the evil Spock wore in "Mirror, Mirror" on the original Star Trek but somehow by the end of the session, it became established that many of the Twisted Earth residents have goatees, which is part of the reason that Hari was concerned by them when arriving in Peet's. Also, in a fine example of evil sluttishness, the Twisted Earth version of Serena has tattoos and piercings, and according to the players, the shock trooper armor is built to show that the women have secondary sexual characteristics; I don't know why, because in the real world, bumps aren't necessary.

It didn't come out, but the Pryde Academy version of Super-Science concentrates a lot more on poisons and deactivating agents, hence all the animals. The slug gets used to test contact poisons, but for some things, you just have to have a person. "So I want you to tell me, does this cause a burning pain, an excruciating pain, or a bright pain?" The victim had retractable claws, but we didn't learn anything else about him because he booked it.

I notice I still can't design solo villains who are meant to stand up against a group. I feel like I'm still back in 1984 with the Champions villain I designed and only GM intervention kept him going. Same for Professor Pulse. At least in this case, the PCs get Determination Points when I do that. The poison gas was one of those improvs. So was the team of schlock—er, shock—troopers who came through the floor. (I mean, it made sense...Shock troopers are in teams of 4, so there's someone to wake Serevil and her teammate, they rush up to corral the PCs, hoping to get the points...but the team from House Omega is heading there too.)

'Course, it didn't help that the way the adventure ran, the PCs had surprise, and I didn't take that into account. Plus some of the attacks are 8 or 7 damage, and his defenses weren't quite enough: he should have had more, or as GM I should have just bit the bullet and given him more Stamina (or the excuse of all Stamina returning, or given a Determination point for the rolled Stun failing--though I actually hate to do something like that: the PCs fail often enough that I don't want to take a success away from them).

Anyway, group versus group works better, though it is more work for the GM. What doesn't feel like it works is NPC versus NPC. Best (in my opinion) to get them both off the playing field somehow.


I had already noticed that Glimm and Sari were underpowered relative to the other characters who were randomly rolled, and sometimes that happens: it's part of random-roll systems. Brian made good use of Determination points to bring Sari up to speed--the targeted shuriken throws that immobilized part of the Professor's armor were some of them, and Glimm's high Strength mean that he deals out damage quite effectively, so Determination points helped make that up.

But Brian pointed out that Sari's writeup refers to powers she doesn't have, and uses the wrong name for the power she does have...and it's not the Mutants & Masterminds name. (At a guess, it might be from BASH, but I only read the original version of BASH once, so I might be wrong.) That kind of conversion error (and that's what it has to be) is just sloppy, and proofreading should have caught it. For the record, I gave both players 5 points to spend and I threw in Shooting 5 for Sari's player, to represent the darts or shurikens it says she has. (In fact, it should probably be Blast (Shooting) 3, Strike (Slashing) 4, both through devices, because a thrown dart or shuriken should be less than a strike, but that was my mistake.)

Also, the artwork gives the impression that Glimm towers over everyone, but the character sheet suggests he's at best nine inches taller than the shortest kid, and six or less over the rest. In the original part of the adventure, I had him as like, eight or nine feet tall, and the facts on the character sheet don't support that. Clearly, he's about to go through a growth spurt if he's going to get to the height on the cover.

The Determination/Starting determination thing is starting to get to me. I actually thought about whether it was really meant to be Determination (as written) given out as a reward. But in that case, characters who have two less than their starting determination get effectively no reward for the session, because it will reset to their starting determination next time.

So I'm disappointed in the Freshman Pack. I haven't had good results with the characters chosen from it, and I'm curious as to whether they will release the same characters updated in a Sophomore Pack, Junior Pack, and Senior Pack. I don't think they need to; if they want to enlarge the line with other character packs, I suggest (and it's worth exactly what you pay for it) that those packs, if they come about, have other characters in them. Then the characters can be from the same cohort or simultaneous, as the GM prefers.

Yes, I'm complaining about a small press product. I know they don't have much money to spend, I know that it's done on a shoestring by very few people as a labour of love...but they're also saying it can be used with little preparation, and these kind of inconsistencies make that difficult. I like the line, I like the products, but I'm aware of where it comes up short for me.

We will run Halloween Ball as the next adventure. One of the players would like to move on to a different system, I think. James is content with ICONS for a while. Another player is content with ICONS but for less time, so it'll stay a fill-in. And that'll give them time to get one of the spring adventures out. I believe they're revamping the layout of the Handbook, and I suspect they take my criticisms seriously. They might decide not do anything about them--colour-blind fifty-year-old GMs without free time are a rather small subset of their market--but I think they take them seriously and weigh them.

It occurs to me that I've missed the intention in one part: do they mean for the GM to run only the adventures they've prepared, or some mix of homebrew and prepared adventures? I suspect the latter, because one every two months is not fast enough for a weekly gaming group. Certainly after this one adventure, I have enough potential subplots to populate a session or two, so long as I can fit them into the High School esthetic. I won't create my own adventures—ICONS remains a fill-in for our group, much though I love it, and part of the intent is to be able to use published adventures so I don't have to spend a lot of free time.

Oh, sure: this idea would make money (not)—a set of two- or three-paragraph descriptions of fallout from various thngs in adventures. The Hope Prep Followups. In a convenient small package so these plot threads can be dropped as subplots into any adventure to flesh it out and make it even longer....

Ways to handle the Big Villain?

So you have a group of characters, and for whatever reason, they have to face a single character. The nature of ICONS powers and defenses suggest that if you have a group with mixed power levels, the defense level of the villain will be high. So what to do in a fight? I'm sure somebody has written about it somewhere, and if I can't find it, I will. Look for a pointer or a discussion in the future.

Various Ideas for Hope Prep

I was thinking about Hope Prep on the bus, and there must be a club, not school-sanctioned, for what would be jokers and deuces in Wild Cards. Essentially the Hope Prep version of the Legion of Substitute heroes. So you'd have Micro-Fish in there (a character from an M&M adventure that the players remember fondly--he's not my invention, but I'd import him wholesale), and Shadowflask, who has TK and forcefields, works in Shadows only, but whose powers can be defeated by a lit candle and who can't see in the dark to make it all work, and Ice Cream Man, who has "elemental control: Ice Cream (create,attack,control)" but nothing else...but his parents sent him to Hope Prep because, hey, he has superpowers! I don't know what you'd call the club--the Fizzle Club? It might be fun to build a subplot about trying to give a chance to shine to one of those kids. ("Sure, you're a big-time hero, but me? I'm Ice Cream Man. Yeah, my father made up the name.")

Clearly Jade has someone from the Science Club in mind to hack into the school computer and add the gossip blog. Have to think about it, and where the information will be. Will Dakota Heil be involved? Perhaps she's trying to find the source of the anonymous blog, because I'm sure that the blog will be a big topic of conversation while it exists. Heh. Dr. Bailey secretly approves, so he doesn't do anything to fix it, claiming fatigue from "dimension-lag". We'll see if Dr. Bailey continues to approve after they publish something about him...

I am sure that Tommy's and T'kla's upcoming breakup, when the pheromones wear off, will be covered in the new gossip blog.

Also, can Sia read anything electronic? I'm going to say no for now, but it will be only seconds before someone prints out the text of the blog, and he knows what's been said.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Substitute, GM's Notes Part I


We played The Substitute from Melior Via. GM fills this in as he has time. Also includes comments on some of the characters in the >Hope Preparatory School Freshman Pack, also from Melior Via.

We met the primary purpose: We had fun, so the main thing is done. The rest is kvetching.

On the Hope Prep adventure and style:

  • The adventure took quite a while: this is not a one-night adventure, even though I cut out the living chess portion with the Science Club. That may be because I miscalculated and did too much with the slugs. In the grand scheme of things, they are just a side line. (Memo: Have to have them see the giant slugs while they're in the alternate dimension, so they know that the slugs came over then.)
  • Why do Jimmy Tauran and Johnny Starr both have names that begin with J? I used Tommy Starr, just to make it easier, but that meant I had to do the translation. (I am acutely aware of this since I made the Khes mistake earlier in the Jaws of the Six Serpents adventure.)
  • Having Jimmy pick on Glim was a mistake, in retrospect. I should have known better, but maybe in the future, there should be some guidance in the adventures for the GM that says something like, "picks on the character most likely to fight back and get in trouble" as a hint to the GM to look at Qualities and Challenges. If I had been thinking, I would have used Sari instead of Glimm for that conflict, because Sari is (a) not nine feet tall and a wall of muscle and (b) has "Never Backs Down."
  • I found the whole adventure kind of confusing. I added the part where they discover that Tommy found his adoration for the alien sophomore (I had a lot aliens, so I made her a sophomore) with Dr. Bailey. The players, bless them, jumped to the right conclusion. A writeup of her—I didn't notice one—that I could use or ignore, that would have been nice. I claimed that as an alien she has feathers or feather-like extrusions and a tentacle instead of a nose.
  • Even though the adventures claim they're set up for easy use, I still have trouble finding things in the heat of the session. This might just be me.

On our session specifically:

  • Mentioned that there are 10 schools in the metahuman secondary school league. With teleporters and everything, it's hard to claim that each services a particular area, but the majority of students are "local". So there are three in North America (Toronto, New York, San Diego), one in South America (Peru), one in the UK, one in Africa, one in an unspecified place in Europe, one in Australia, one in an unspecified place in Asia (China? Korea? Would Japanese have their own?), and the rest to be named later. Retroactively, I'd probably make it 8 or 6: enough for actual competitions, but not so many that I can't name countries.
  • The adventure as written ends kind of abruptly, sort of a let-down. I'm going to let them have the possibility of a knock-down drag-out with the real Twisted Earth Dr. Bailey, who used to be a superhero but had an operation to make him evil, and who sports all kinds of cyborg enhancements. (I'll start with the Dr. Pulse writeup and go from there.) (Now, we didn't get to the ending, so I can't be sure that it's a let-down, but it reads that way.)
  • But in the interests of sowing confusion, I had Dakota Heil wondering aloud if Dr. Bailey's new interest in sports was the result of an infatuation with someone who played or taught sports...that is, Moon Maiden.
  • Miz Beazley works in the cafeteria. She's the one who supplied Hari with anti-slug chemical...just enough to annoy the mother slug rather than kill her. (And so what if the name is taken from Archie comics?)
  • The players rightly wondered why the janitorial staff weren't looking after the water problem; I claimed that the janitorial duties were handled by a robot, which was currently sitting down and reciting haikus in Japanese, a language which it doesn't know. In other words, an early attempt at takeover by the clone.
  • And I stated that Dr. Bailey sponsors the Science Club, which makes sense, and when they found irregularities in the security system, they told...Dr. Bailey. Which didn't work out well for them.
  • The Shock Troopers have no weapons in their armour, and it's not clear to me that they are supposed to use their natural powers or something in the armour. Probably natural powers, though I didn't (using the excuse that those two were an extraction team).
  • Gonna have to work up a reason why the teachers seem so unconcerned when the kids tell them about a potential threat, or otherwise it's an idiot plot. (Maybe it's an unspoken assumption that the patrol will handle it, or that as metahumans, weirdness is guaranteed to follow these kids for the rest of their lives, so HPS provides a way for them to learn to deal with it, with the teachers there as backup when they fail?)
  • I didn't give out enough Determination, in retrospect; remembering the session, there were at least two incidents where I should have given some out, and I didn't. And anytime they try to warn a teacher, who blows them off, they should get a point. Because, like, they're the Metahumans of Tomorrow. Or people expect great things. One or the other.
  • Have to figure out what gets done with the slugs in the long term. I think they get shipped back to Twisted Earth.

Interesting that Glimm has a crush on Serena. Have to bring her back, then.

We've got these two powerful (and similar) characters and two underpowered characters. One has an obvious niche, the other does not: she's not excellent in brainpower or has powers that no one else has. She's foreign just like the other three. Tough to make her stand out. Have to think about that.

Note: I think I'm going to give Glimm and Sari, the two underpowered characters, the options of their origins (unearthly in one case, probably trained in the other). I don't recall if it suggests this in the Freshman Pack or not. This might be one of the things that happened in the conversion from M&M. The Freshman Pack doesn't include origins at all, so I think this is just a dropped ball on Melior Via's part. (See, they could mention it as a bit of customization for the characters..."You can apply the character's origin as a way to customize...")