Friday, April 7, 2017

(Ex) Sidekicks, An Adventure

Norbert was kind enough to let me run a session of ICONS Assembled for some players in his world. So this is it, cleaned up and genericized, as an adventure. Will it really work for players other than the ones I had? I dunno. But you can at least mine it for things. Should be adaptable to most other superhero RPGs. (But read it first. Chapter 5 has a dicey part.)

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Introduction for Players


The Man of Photons is dead.

Once, Doc Cosmic, the man of photons, the ray of hope, he was one of the greatest. Every PC met him, at least once, before he retired, years ago. Some of them might know what his identity was; some might not. Some might have known him well enough that they expect to be at the reading of the will; some might be surprised.

You were all sidekicks, back when he was active. Now? Up to you, because that’s a decade ago. Maybe you’re heroes. Maybe you’re former villains. Maybe you’ve retired, and you run a sporting goods store in Omaha. Doesn’t matter. For this long weekend, you’re wearing a mask again (assuming you ever did), and on Saturday you’ll be at the funeral. Sunday, you’ll be at the will reading. Monday, you’ll wrap up.

Expenses are taken care of by the estate. They’re paying for the flights, for the rooms and for room service. (Hey, they had enough money to have him in that fancy-pants old age home for supers…they can pay for you, too.)


Characters


Random roll. But when you’re making it all fit together, remember the following:
  • You used to be a sidekick. Now, well, maybe you’re a hero, maybe you’re a sporting goods manager in Omaha, maybe you’re a big name on a TV show, maybe you betrayed everyone for reasons and you’re out of prison on parole. Maybe you’re an immortal 12-year-old, forever on the cusp of puberty and you’re still a sidekick.
  • You’re legal enough to go to the funeral and the reading of the will, at least one of which will see heavy police presence (Police Commissioner Bruce will be there).
  • You should tell me who you used to be a sidekick for, and what happened. (Short is okay. “I was the sidekick for the Zoom Master, but quit when he lost his battle with the bottle. Knocked around for a bit trying to be a sidekick for others, but now I’m a session musician in New York. No wife, but a steady girlfriend, Lisa.”)
  • You know the other player characters. Your choice whether you like them or not, or know them well. But you know them, and you have your own reasons to work with them.
Feel free to create FATE style linkages between your characters: Maybe you always had a crush on the other character. Maybe your new wife is nervous because she’s heard that superheroines are “easy.” Maybe you’re now a ghost, because you got killed in the same fight that killed your mentor but now you fight for the “differently-existing” and you got help from some other character. Even, “Hey, remember how we fought every month because our mentors said it would be good training?”

Background


None of this is canon unless you need it. But if you do…well, here it is.
  • For convenience’s sake, assume there was/is a loose group of heroes called the Guild of Guardians (or just the Guardians), and that there is an even looser group of villains called Eminences Noir. (There’s a spinoff group of the tech villains called Menlo Barons, and another spinoff– I guess we don’t need to go there.) If you can’t think of the name of the group that your sidekick’s hero belonged to, it was the Guardians.
  • If you really really want there to be a team of sidekicks (like the Teen Titans or the Young Avengers), uh, there were two notable ones for our purposes (unless no one wants to mention them). The Free Masks were not approved by the older heroes, and the Equity Ensigns were approved. You can probably guess that the Free Masks were cool but made more mistakes, and the Equity Ensigns were considered dorky but learned the Guardian way of doing things and had access to some Guardian stuff.

There will be no viewing; mindful of the danger from a last-minute revenge scheme, Doc Cosmic will be interred straight from the funeral. (The body hasn’t been prepared in any way; Doc Cosmic was invulnerable to most weapons, making embalming a chancy proposition.)

Answers about Doc Cosmic in particular are in the Investigation write up, but PCs can have some of that information before the funeral, if they want.

Locations

The adventure takes place in Endurance, Kansas, the small city where Doc Cosmic is to be buried.

The Five Corners hotel


The players have rooms rented for them in the city’s nicest hotel, the Five Corners, built at a five-way intersection downtown. Any players who asked for a car have a rental: usually a compact, but there are so many people coming to town, that the rental company had to make mid-size and large cars available, too. (Nothing like a Prius or a Tesla or a Lamborghini is available for rent.) Car
rentals happen at the airport, about a twenty minute drive outside of town.


The hotel has a pool, a business office, a fitness room, a bar (“Outlaws”) and a restaurant (“The Pentagon”). It has WiFi for customers. Security is laughable.

Endurance, Kansas


A small city in Kansas. The city has been down on its luck since about 1981. Endurance was much more rural when Doc Cosmic (aka Steve Hubble) was born in the late 1950s. In fact, he was born and raised as a farm boy, but the city swallowed his parents’ farm in the 1970s.
  • Bars: Bars vastly outnumber cinemas and churches. Some bar names include Spurs (country-and-western bar, with line dancing on Thursdays), Lightning, Outlaws (bar of Five Corners hotel), and Anonymous Rave.
  • Churches: Endurance Methodist Church is a small church on the outskirts of town with a crypt and an attached graveyard; it’s where Doc Cosmic is buried. Crypt is specially fitted to be hard to enter (but easy to escape, if someone were to come back from the dead). Other churches, synagogues, etc. exist. Endurance does not have a notable Muslim population.
  • Hotels: Some chain hotels. Best hotel in town is Five Corners, built at a five-way intersection in town, on Main Street. The hotel has a pool, a fitness room, a bar (“Outlaws”) and a restaurant (“The Pentagon”).
  • Parks: There are a number of small parks, and the Musgrave Memorial Park is probably the best place to talk without probably being overheard. There are picnic stands and the exterior of the park was set up so that shotgun mikes aren’t feasible. Even the park is vulnerable to super-senses.
  • Restaurants: Locally, in order from low to the city’s single Michelin-starred restaurant: Checkerboard (down home feel), Kelly’s Roost, Hero Station (theme restaurant with lots of hero and villain memorabilia), The Pentagon (Five Corners restaurant), Nouvelle (Michelin star, near hotel). The usual chain restaurants exist.

The Golden Age Retirement Home


Outside the city limits of Endurance is a large walled institute with spacious grounds. Buildings include main retirement home, groundskeeping hut, security building, and maintenance building.
  • Main retirement home: Two stories, and shaped like a cross, aligned with compass; each arm indicates level of aid required, from “Aid” to “Complete”, with center containing medical, food, and entertainment facilities. Some staff live here.
  • Security hut: Near gate, cameras, controls invisible force field over grounds. Easier to get into buildings once you’re on the grounds. Tunnel access to underground hangar.
  • Maintenance hut: Controls for HVAC, access to geothermal tap for electricity, etc.
  • Groundskeeping hut: Riding mowers and the like, plus tunnel access to underground hangar.
  • Underground hangar: No vehicles, several entrances/exits, including to medical facilities in main room, groundskeeping shed, security building.
  • Secret operating theater: Through a secret door in an apartment; door is sized for someone in a wheelchair or on a gurney. Long sloped corridor down leading to locker room; locker room exit leads to large circular room with floor drains, possibly former operating theater, and with mystic sigils painted on floor. The room has braziers and tall candle holders.
  • Qualities: Spacious grounds, high security, hidden areas, retirement home.

Introduction for GMs


A brief adventure involving an old age home for supers. Obviously, if you're playing in this, don't go farther.

What's going on?


A villain, Theodora Darna, has found a way to reliably transfer the souls of the old into the bodies of the young, and to fund some other scheme, is selling it to villains in the supers rest home, the Golden Age.

Darna is going to put the souls of the old villains into the bodies of young ex-sidekicks. There are a couple of reasons. The ex-sidekicks are young and have powers, which makes them more attractive to the villains buying the process. This is probably the first time that Darna has done this commercially, so having the best "vessels" available is a good plan. (If you are running an ongoing campaign, a test subject might be around, someone who has already got the soul of someone else.) The death of Doc Cosmic makes it possible to get ex-sidekicks who don't live near the area, because she can use the reading of the will as a way to get them there. (Using ex-sidekicks also appeals to her sense of unfair play.)

At one point, someone tries to warn the heroes. In my original adventure, that was a seed for a later session; it was indirect intervention because the person is not allowed in the dimension. It gave the players a chance to practice combat with the minion option, which was useful for showing them how fast can go. However, you can come up with a different reason or skip it, if you don't need to demonstrate combat.

Chapter 1: Arrival

This is a chance for the PCs to scope each other out, if they don't know each other. If you want, you might play out a small bit involving the arrival of the PCs in Endurance. Possible bits:
  • Car rental
  • Recognizing an old friend
  • Conflict with another ex-sidekick or mentor
  • Being recognized and quizzed about life choices since “the old days”

What Do We Know About Each Other?


In the interests of time, the PCs are able to recognize each other as people in “the life” if they don’t already know each other. The city has a number of visitors who are obviously in the life (usually athletic, low body fat, muscular, tall) or who are recognizable in secret ID if a PC knows them. Presumably someone who recognizes them won’t out them: they’re secret identities, after all.

The PCs run into Putty Lad, who knew at least one of them way back when, and whose nickname in the sidekick community was “Slutty Putty” because he was a pansexual shape-changing horn dog who didn’t care what equipment his partner (or partners) had.

From Putty Lad, they can learn that he has no idea about why the ex-sidekicks are invited, and that he’s heard of the Golden Age (perhaps his former mentor visits someone there).

At the very least, Putty Lad’s attitude toward possible partners hasn’t changed, and he’ll proposition any or all of them.

Chapter 2: Funeral


The funeral is held at the Endurance Methodist Church in the morning, and the body is to be interred in the Hubble family crypt, in the attached graveyard. For the most part, heroes attend in costume, because it’s their costumed identities have the relationship with Doc Cosmic.

The church is packed, and the PCs have to stand near the door. The service is nice (it turns out an attending hero has his Doctor of Divinity and hosts the service). The PCs open the doors for the pall bearers, and are therefore the people who notice the zombies.

Yes, zombies.

(In fact, the zombies are an attempt at a warning by some supernatural being; Theodora Darna is not well liked in some mystical circles. Aim the warning at the logical PC, or skip the zombies entirely. They are useful to demonstrate a simplified version of combat with the minion rules.)

Zombies have pulled themselves out of the ground (mostly…one starts the page still buried to the waist). The PCs are in the best place to deal with them. There are three zombies per PC; use the minion rules. Besides the usual zombie moans, the zombies are trying to say something. An unconscious zombie is an un-animated zombie. A really good hits disintegrates them…these are old bodies, from the 1930s and 1940s. The fact that they even make sounds is a testament to the embalming process.

Using the minion rules, the PCs should make quick work of them. If they need weapons, the groundskeepers left a spade and a rake in sight.

The actual internment in the crypt goes flawlessly, though there might be dead bodies on the graveyard lawn….

After the funeral, people go to the Methodist Community Center for a reception. The church ladies have made sandwiches. It’s a fine opportunity for the PCs to investigate.

Some items are common knowledge (marked “free”); some are public and need only to be mentioned (“I’m investigating…” and marked (investigate). Others are discovered through the use of qualities or pyramid tests.

What was that?


If there was an incident with zombies, the players probably want to know what just happened.
  • With the minion rules, it’s unlikely that they have a zombie to question, but they might. If they do, the complete message is “sidekick name, beware.”
  • In the aftermath, the bodies can be identified by the graves they crawled from. The zombies are just the people who were buried around the crypt. It looks like someone or something with the power to animate corpses used what was available. The PCs get the sense that who they were isn’t important.
  • If anyone can read residual magic, the magic is similar to the magic on the former TwirlyGirl’s magic boots. There’s a difference between “divine” magic (heaven, hell, angels, and demons) and “fey” magic (leprechauns, trolls, dragons). There are other types of magic as well, but the people involved in the adventure are probably only aware of the difference between divine and fey magics. Azuziel can tell them.

Who was at the funeral?


The PCs can identify some of the people at the funeral, including:
  • Rusty Rooster (formerly the Jimmy Olsen to Doc Cosmic’s Superman)
  • Silk Cat (the daughter of the original Silk Cat, but who was currently on the side of the law…though she’d been on both sides)–her mother had a relationship with Doc Cosmic, and her parentage is a mystery, even to her; PCs will. naturally assume that Doc Cosmic is secretly her father.
  • Nurse Dyne from the Golden Age retirement home.
  • An old man in a wheelchair with horrible scarring (Doctor Armageddon, a former world-threat super villain whose body had been so wasted that even though his mind was there, his body is almost useless).
  • The orderly Brock Fenton from Golden Age who was tending him, and who had that muscular super-person look.
  • Putty Lad, of course, whose response to them depends on their earlier response.
  • Azuziel (a winged man), who claims to be a fallen angel, and who gave them information on divine versus fey magic, including that the residual magic around the zombies was “fey magic” but that is not his specialty, so he can’t identify it.
Through talking with other people in attendance, they can learn that no one understands why the ex-sidekicks are even in the will. Apparently that change was made six months ago or so; Rusty made it, saying that Doc Cosmic had asked for it during a lucid period. (Rusty has power of attorney for Doc Cosmic’s estate).

Brock Fenton is interested in any PC who talks to him, and suggests a dinner date, whether it’s romantic or platonic.

Researching Doc Cosmic


This is available by talking to Rusty or (most of it) by Googling. It can be done as a pyramid test, and on successful completion, you give them this information.
  • Doc Cosmic had invulnerability, flight, and “power over cosmic energy,” which had variable effects, but he normally used for increased strength or “cosmic blasts.” He had used it for various sensory powers, too. (Free)
  • Doc Cosmic went public in 1977, and was a founding member of the Guardians (1979). (Free)
  • This was his first death, though he did disappear three times for a year or more at a time. (Free)
  • In the 2000s, he started to show signs of early-onset Alzheimer’s, and shortly after that, he retired, By 2010, his condition had worsened so much that he was put into the Golden Age, an old age facility for supers. Several of his old foes were already in there. (Need to actively investigate to find this out)
  • His father died in 1975; his mother in 1992. Both are in the family crypt. (Investigate)
  • The Hubble family came into the possession of a fortune in gold, after the city bout their farm, while gold was at nearly a thousand dollars an ounce. Their son Steve found the gold while on vacation; appropriate taxes were paid on it.
  • The secret base (in the Colorado mountains) has two entrances. One is under the old farmhouse; an underground rail car goes through an evacuated tunnel to the secret base. The trip feels slightly odd because of Coriolis forces, and takes 22 minutes. There is a password.
  • The crypt is heavily secured but is easy to get out of. (Hubble was aware of the tendency for heroes to return from the dead.)
  • Retrofitting on the crypt was done by Wreckreation, a company that started by dealing with danger rooms.

Researching Old Foes and the Golden Age


Because Doc Cosmic went into the Golden Age as a relatively young man, there aren’t many foes of his in the retirement home. However, there are some, and there are other villains.
  • These foes are in the Golden Age:
    • Electrophasm (ability to change into electrical plasma and electricity)
    • Dr. Armageddon (body wrecked from his armor)
    • Mr. Mephistopheles
    • Crimson Scarab
    • Silk Cat (the original, who was primarily a thief)
  • Other (former) villains include Rocket Raider (Gimmick-based high tech thief), Tech Tok (thief who worked through mechanical “avatars”), and Radium Lord (powered villain).
  • Nurse Dyne is a new hire, having started at the Golden Age fourteen months ago. She has a good record.
    • If anyone actually investigates her record…it exists primarily on paper. If you talk to her references, they say a canned response about how good she is, but they have no actual memories of her.
    • In the time since Nurse Dyne joined, two others have joined as orderlies, and both are on Nurse Dyne’s shift.

Chapter 3: Investigations And a Dinner Date


This is largely a continuation of the previous scene, with the PCs investigating. If any PC accepted Brock Fenton’s invitation for dinner, that happens this evening.

Various heroes who attended the funeral will want to share information without being bugged. Though there might be clever answers, the best place for any non-genius who doesn’t carry anti-bugging equipment is the park.

If the PCs split up, you might need to intercut between them.

Superheroes sharing information can be met at the park or, with the correct powers, overheard. If the PCs missed vital information before, you can insert it here. The important things are:
  • No one knows why the sidekicks are in the will.
  • The change that put the sidekicks in the will is less than a year old.
  • There’s a rumor that Theodora Darna is trying to sell something at the Golden Age.
  • There are conflicting stories about Darna’s origin, but the one that she tells most often has her as a lover of a scholar four hundred years ago who took his books. She has been playing off factions of Hell and Heaven since then, in the quest for greater arcane knowledge. Darna may be a liar, but some famous heroes treat her as a credible threat to the world. She’s certainly a person with a strong magical knowledge and some spells.
At the dinner with Brock, he’ll be open about his power: he can nullify any inherent power. This makes him useful as an orderly, because some of the old folks can’t control themselves any more. He is useful when the old guy who can lift a mountain has an episode. He lives on the Golden Ages grounds…he is essentially on call.

Anyone who can get into the Golden Age (the security system is difficulty 5, though it can be circumvented with the appropriate specialties or powers) can search. The underground hangar is relatively easy to find. The hidden occult chamber is difficult, but access to it is in Brock’s room, and he intends to check it when he gets home tonight.

Chapter 4: The Reading of the Will


The will is read in a converted Edwardian brownstone, the office of Severn Arbogast. Mr. Arbogast has done civil law for the superhero community for several decades; he’s close to retirement. He has started passing off newer work to his assistants, Rachel Karsh and Harvey Creek. However, he handles all the affairs of Steven Hubble.

The will is being read in several sessions, as Mr. Hubble wanted. Principal heirs who knew him as "Steve Hubble" went first; principal heirs from his Doc Cosmic career were dealt with on Friday. This reading is of the secondary heirs.

The prefatory text mentions that Doc Cosmic wanted to leave a legacy. Each sidekick present gets a memento from Doc Cosmic’s base. (Remaining materials go with the base, which is now the responsibility of the Guardians. If you want, the Guardians might give them a second memento, because Hubble’s choices seem odd.)

Each PC gets a memento that matches their origin. This is actually because the memento will act as a focus for Adarna's soul transfer. Posible devices include:
OriginDevice (Memento of)
ArtificialEmotion chip (Dintargan the Destroyer); Heart of Navur (Bunbekin the Golem)
BirthrightNecklace (Mesothrall)
GimmickThe Mephistopholes Wand (Mr. Mephistopholes)
TrainedThe Scarab Ring (Crimson Scarab)
TransformedQuantum Knucklebuster (Quantum Thug)
UnearthlyKatharkian Scepter (Captain Raptor)
Switch them up if something feels like it would be a better match for the PCs.

Mr. Arbogast warns the PCs not to use the mementos; they were in the possession of villainous people. Rusty has been fetching them back and forth, but some mementos can’t be close together or things happen. (If asked, Rusty says, “I had a transformation. I don’t like to talk about it.”)

Rusty will deliver the mementos to the PCs by five in the afternoon.

Researching the Will


A bit of investigation (Googling or investigation) reveals:
  • Rusty Rooster had signing authority for Hubble; he changed Hubble’s will (at Hubble’s request) eleven months ago. Rusty visits Hubble every week.
  • A PC with telepathy might check: Rusty insists that changing the will was Hubble’s idea, but a massive success on Telepathy reveals mental “footprints”. The whole sidekicks idea might have been planted in Rusty’s brain by someone with mind control.
  • Google or web searches will tell them what the mementos might do; only Rusty can tell them how to work the mementos (unless the memento doesn’t do anything or the GM decides they don’t know).

Chapter 5: The Mementos and the Kidnapping


This scene has two purposes: the PCs need to get the mementos, and then they need to be overpowered to be placed in the ritual. The biggest problem with that—even though it’s very comic book—is that players hate to be kidnapped. You bribe them with Determination points (or competency dice, or karma...whatever the bribe of your system is).

The actual mechanism of the kidnapping depends entirely on the PCs. The generic mechanism is this:
  • Rusty delivers the mementos at once.
  • Brock appears, really because he has been following Rusty but ostensibly his reason is to see one or more of the PCs.
  • Brock neutralizes what powers of the PCs that he can. Each players gets a determination point because Brock has to stunt Burst to do this.
  • Other thugs hired by Brock knock the PCs out. If necessary, the thugs have minor powers through items enchanted by Theodora.
It is totally meta-gaming, but it can work to explain to the players that their characters are to be kidnapped. It is worth another determination point to allow your character to be kidnapped.

Scene 6: The Ritual


The PCs are tied to gurneys in the big ritual chamber. One PC is at the center of the pentagram, others are along the edge. The mementos are tucked in with them, but out of reach. Brock is still neutralizing their powers or they don't have their devices.

The pentagram has five people in robes at the corners; Nurse Dyne was in the triangle, and another woman who they had never seen before was in the square. (A PC might recognize her as Theodora Darna.) And the ritual is underway…

Even though the PCs probably don’t have powers, there are a number of ways to escape.
  • Any player can attempt a Coordination roll (plus possibly Sleight of Hand) to escape the ties. Any applicable quality can be invoked.
  • Any player can attempt to disrupt Brock’s concentration and destroy the Burst stunt.
  • At the least, any PC yelling will bring a henchman over to gag them, and that might provide an opportunity.
  • The PC might be able to move the memento into range for use, and provide the extra abilities necessary to escape.

Once the PCs have escaped, they need to fight the cultists (who are paid henchmen, and so are less fanatical than your average cultist). As soon as things go bad, Theodora Darna attempts to escape as soon as things go bad, but fighting Brock and Nurse Anodyne and four henchman should provide a rousing climax (and they might get Theodora Darna).

GMPCs

Zombies

As minions, the zombies don’t need Stamina, but if you ever use them as non-minions, there it is. And the Burrowing is used to get out of the graves, and nothing more. Perhaps it doesn’t even need to be there.
  • Abilities Prowess 3 Coordination 2 Strength 4 Intellect - Awareness 2 Willpower 3 Stamina 8
  • Specialties None
  • Powers Burrowing 3 [Limit: Temporary]
  • Qualities Re-animated corpse.

Putty Lad

  • Abilities Prowess 5 Coordination 3 Strength 3 Intellect 3 Awareness 3 Willpower 5 Stamina 8
  • Specialties Athletics
  • Powers Transformation [humanoids, extra: Objects] 6; Alternate form [Ooze] 3; Stretching 5; Damage Resistance 3
  • Qualities Nickname among other sidekicks: “Slutty Putty”; Eager to fit in

Brock Fenton

  • Abilities Prowess 5 Coordination 7 Strength 4 Intellect 3 Awareness 6 Willpower 5 Stamina 9
  • Specialties Medicine (+1)
  • Powers Nullify [Magic & inherent powers, extra: Ranged] 6
  • Qualities Doing This For Grampa; Eye For The Ladies; Secret Ancestry

Nurse Anodyne (Anne Dyne)

  • Abilities Prowess 5 Coordination 4 Strength 4 Intellect 4 Awareness 6 Willpower 5 Stamina 9
  • Specialties Medicine Expert (+2), Psychology Expert (+2)
  • Powers Stunning [extra: Side Effect: Mind Control (only people she’s Stunned)] 6
  • Qualities Doctor In Her Own Right; Connected to Theodora Darna; Whomever She Needs To Be


Theodora Darna

  • Abilities Prowess 4 Coordination 5 Strength 3 Intellect 7 Awareness 5 Willpower 7 Stamina 10
  • Specialties Business, Occult Expert (+2)
  • Powers Magic 8; Mastered Spell: Herakles’ Gift [Ability Boost Strength 8]; Mastered Spell: Homeward Bound [Teleport extra: Rangeless Limit: Preparation]; Brooch of Odin (device) [Aura 3]; Arguments over her soul [Immortality] 1
  • Qualities Quest for Knowledge; Wanted by Heaven and Hell; Betrayal Is Always an Option

There you have it. Do with it what you will. Let me know what parts were useful!