“Escape from the Science Tubes” – FAE Supers Gaming with my Family, Part One

I could write about this game for a week. It’s possible I might.

There’s so much to take out of this experience, both in terms of game design, game running, game playing, and just the experience of playing with new players, that I probably need a few days just to organize my thoughts, but I don’t have that kind of time – I’m on a plane in 24 hours, and soaking in wall-to-wall busy for the next two weeks.

So instead, you get a series of slightly disorganized actual play reports. Hopefully that’ll work.

Right. Here we go.

The Most Wonderful Time… Of the Year

My sister was coming out to visit for the four or five days between Christmas and New Years. In tow, my nephew (14) and niece (10), and it was pretty much assumed that while everyone was out, Uncle Doyce would be playing games with the kids.

No Experience Required

Although neither niece or nephew do tabletop gaming regularly, I’ve played quite a few games with them in the past. Pilgrims of the Flying Temple went well, as did Happy Birthday Robot, though Dread was probably the biggest reigning hit – my nephew ended up writing a play about the events of that game session (and a proper ending, since we didn’t actually finish the story). At some point, I’ve also run something that required full sets of polyhedrals, but neither they or I can remember what that was. At any rate, they didn’t have a lot of gaming experience, and I needed to keep that in mind.

My daughter, by contrast, has done quite a bit more gaming with me, most recently a Fate Accelerated Edition “supers” game, very loosely set off the beaten track in some backwater DC Universe (I called it Earth-23). When I mentioned I’d be running something when Malik and Jadyn were in town, she got very excited at the idea that she’d be able to play some version of Fate with her cousins.

Note: I didn’t say “Fate” at any point; that was her assumption, and any hint that it might not turn out to be true was met with lukewarm enthusiasm at best. No surprise, as she clearly likes the game.

I didn’t feel like arguing, and at any rate I had some decent ideas for what I could do with a supers game.

So this is what I have:

  • Nephew, Malik, 14. Little gaming experience. Passing familiarity with ‘supers’ thanks to the Batman “Arkham” console games.
  • Niece, Jadyn, 10. Little gaming experience. Very little if any supers familiarity.
  • Daughter, Kaylee, 8. Some gaming experience, almost all Fate or FAE. Has watched Young Justice, JLU, and Justice League series straight through, several times.

Clearly, I can’t just jump in and assume that everyone knows what’s going on with either the game or a setting. Forget “does everyone know who Solomon Grundy is?” – in terms of tropes, I can’t assume most of the people at the table will be familiar with common superhero powers, let alone how you’d express them in Fate or any other game.

So, what I need is a good introduction both to the setting and the system.

The best example I had of this sort of thing was The Demolished Ones, a really fabulous Fate scenario that scratches about every gaming and story itch I have. Unfortunately, the tone and concept are more than a little dark for young/new gamers, and it was too long to wrap up in any kind of satisfactory way in the time we had. Still… the “you start out with amnesia” thing…

I’d asked Kaylee early on if she wanted to play Nataly (her girl from our solo game, about which I still need to write about three or four more blog posts to get caught up), or make up someone new for her cousins’ visit, and she opted to make up someone new, because she likes making new characters almost as much as playing them. (Don’t we all?)

Knowing that, I chucked the “Christmas Gone Amuck in Mercury Bay” concept and focused on the idea of a group ‘origin story’, which brought me back around to something I’d been toying around with a few months ago – basically using the premise of DC Universe Online as the starting point of a tabletop supers game.

They Call It a “Tutorial”

See, the terribly useful thing about the start of most MMOs is that they set things up with the assumption that the new player is somewhat interested in the game, but doesn’t know that much about it – the character is a bit in the dark, and so learns along with the player. Also, a good tutorial at the beginning of the game like this starts out with simple concepts (this is how you attack) and slowly adds mechanics to the experience (this is the room where you learn to use your movement power) until, by the end, you’re doing all the ‘stuff’ you need to do to play the rest of the game (barring more esoteric activities like crafting and whatnot).

This sort of idea is easily (but, sadly, not often) mapped to an introductory scenario for a tabletop RPG like Fate.

Combine that with the amnesia stuff from The Demolished Ones, and good things start to happen.

As you’ll see.

You Wake Up In A Tube

I sat down with my players, an FAE book for each of us, lots of Fate dice, and blank character sheets.

I start with Jadyn, describing a dream her character is having in which she’s swimming around a coral reef, but in her normal street clothes, and she can breathe just fine. As soon as she realizes she’s dreaming, however, she starts to wake up, and finds herself inside some kind of glass tube, breathing mask and other wires strapped to her head, floating in some kind of liquid roughly the consistency of hair gel.

A female voice crackles in her ear (and in those of the other two players who are in similar tubes). “Right! I found you! Give me just a second and I’ll get you out of there.” Probably another minute passes and then the glass front of the tubes starts to roll down like a car window, spilling the goop out onto (and through) the metal grating floor of the large room. The goop flow carries all three of them out onto the deck as well, coughing and trying to squeegee the muck off their arms and faces.

Now’s the time to borrow from The Demolished Ones.

To Jadyn, I say, “You look over at Kaylee’s character. What is the first and most striking thing you notice about her appearance?”

She tells us that the girl has perfectly white hair, and I have Kaylee write that down on the back of her sheet.

I then repeat this for the other players, having each dictate a noteworthy physical feature of the person to their left at the table. Malik’s character has shockingly blue eyes. Jadyn’s character’s eyes are all black, with white pupils.

We do a bit of roleplaying and “what do you do first/next?” type things as I get them talking with each other for a few seconds – there are a lot of these suspended animation pods (immediately dubbed ‘science tubes’ by the players) in the room; most are empty, and those that aren’t contain people that have been in there so long their limbs are skinny and weak, their hair is mostly gone, and their skin has gone ‘water wrinkly’ all over and so badly their faces can’t easily be made out. They may not even be alive. Eww.

Once everyone gets a chance to actually roleplay themselves, I ask each player to tell me the first impression of the personality of the person on their right. Kaylee’s character is a “worrier,” Jadyn’s is “a nerdy expert,” and Malik’s is “an all-star athlete with attitude.”

Right.

My “tutorial” goal for this room:

  • Get (and explain) High Concept aspects
  • Get (and explain) at least one Approach for everyone
  • Build a stunt (if they need it) and explain them

The voice in their earbud returns. “Okay, the good news is, I can get the main door to your room open. The bad news is, there are guards right outside. Are any of you good with weapons?”

Malik says “What have you got?” and some kind of weapons locker opens in the corner. I tell him that it has whatever it is that he’s hoping to find, and he finds a bow and quiver of arrows and some random ‘utility belt’ stuff. No one else even checks the thing.

The door opens and a trio of ‘guards’ turn and then rush in. These guys:

Guard: Small quick combat unit. +2 at: patrolling, pulse rifle. -2 complex thought. Stress: 1 (2 hits takes it out)

I’m basically using the initiative system from Marvel Heroic, with just a touch of Doctor Who, so I ask if anyone is planning to do something that involves just talking.

Jadyn says she is, so I have her go first. She shouts “KEEP THEM BUSY” and runs off into the rows of “science tubes.” I ask what she’s doing, and she informs me she’s looking for a different exit.

Here, of course, is where an MMO disappoints you and a tabletop game (especially Fate) shines. I say “that’s very Cunning” and have her roll her dice and add her rating for the Cunning approach.

“I don’t have a rating in Cunning,” she replies.

I explain she can give it a rating at either 3, 2, 1, or 0, and how many of each rating she has to use, and she gives Cunning a 3, rolls, and easily adds the aspect “Concealed Maintenance Hatch” to the room.

“That’s what you’re doing while they keep the guards busy,” I say. “Who’s going next?”

She hands off to Malik (character: Mikenna), who uses his bow not to shoot the robots, but to burst a pipe and fill the area they’re standing in with steam (interesting choice, that). During this, he picks his +3 approach, writes out his High Concept, and picks up the first Stunt of the game

Mikenna

  • High Concept: High School All-star Marksman
  • Quick: +3
  • Stunt: Because everything moves slowly to my eyes, I get a +2 to Quickly create advantages.

Malik gives the turn to the robots, who have to overcome the passive steam obstacle to shoot, and end up not only missing, but giving both Mikenna and Anna (Kaylee’s character) a boost for their Defense success with style.

Anna is last. She’s scrambling for cover from the plasma blasts of the robots, shrieks, flings her arms out, and freezes… well, pretty much everything. The steam in the air, the water condensing on the bots, the bots themselves… pretty much everything. Two of them are taken out, and the last one is damaged, with ice stuck in its joints.

Anna

  • High Concept: Sub-zero Super Hero
  • Trouble: I bite off more than I can chew (didn’t come up here, but Kaylee already had it written down)
  • Flashy: +3
  • Stunt: Because I don’t know my own strength, I get a +2 to Forcefully attack multiple targets.

Kaylee starts off the next round by handing initiative back to Jadyn, who reappears out of the stacks just as the last robot rounds on Anna, gun leveled.

Her character (Angelia) shouts “Don’t you DARE!” and slams the robot into the ceiling… then the floor… then the wall.

Angelia

  • High Concept: Telekinetic Science Nerd
  • Relationship Aspect: I Look Out for Anna
  • Clever: +3
  • Forceful: +2
  • Stunt: Because I’m better at lifting heavy things, I get a +2 to Forcefully overcome obstacles. (Didn’t get used in this conflict, but the player really wanted it right away.)

“Come on,” she says, while the other two stare at the smashed robot. “I’ve got a way out.”

… and we’ll stop there… for now.

Next Up: “What Do You Mean, ‘Spaceship’?”

  • Sneaking through access tunnels I didn’t even know were there.
  • A little memory returns, leading to…
  • Relationship Aspects, Trouble Aspects, Scene Aspects

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