Masks Actual Play (Sessions 0 to 5)

There’s so much in my head with the weekly Masks game, every time I try to figure out what to say about it, I’m overwhelmed a bit, so this miiiight be a little random. I’ll try to keep a rein on things.

This is NOT going to be a blow-by-blow summary. I’m aiming for a 10-thousand foot view of how things are going.

Session 0

The players (five) came up with a lovely mix of traditional heroes (a speedster Legacy, a green-lantern-ish Nova), and some stuff that really turned the playbook concepts on their heads (a power-armor-and-AI-designing Bull, a nanite-infused Doomed inspired by Johnny Quest, an Outsider who is a ghost from the civil war era, marveling at the modern world).

One of the big things you do as a group in chargen is come up with answers to the “when we first met” questions, and this series of answers (here) presented us with a showdown against “Hannibal Lectric,” an older blue-blood sort of villain that really informed a lot of initial play, especially after some things that came out at the start of Session 1.

Of note: we’re using Roll20 for a play space (and Discord for voice chat), and during our last game (Dungeon World), we’d started making more use of the embedded forums Roll20 provides for each game. This took off in a BIG way for Masks, even before Session 0, with a lot of player pre-planning, and shows no sign of slowing down. I only wish the forum posts could be grouped more, but it’s still great.

If you’re interested, the (basically audio with a slideshow) recording of Session 0 is here.

Session 1 Prep

I made up love letters for everyone in the intervening week and dropped them on the players at the start of session 1. I am quite proud of all of them. They are collected here: Jason Quill: Doomed, Concord: the Nova, Mercury: the Legacy, Link: the Bull, Ghost Girl: the Outsider.

One of the things that came out of the love letters in play was the fact that the whole fight with Hannibal Lectric was a diversion so that something more important could be acquired while everyone was distracted. (This is/was tied to our Doomed in some way.)

Following the love letters, we cut into a tense “first team fight” kind of thing… which turned out to be four of the five heroes getting interviewed on “The Morning Starr” by nigh-plasticine host Tasha Starr.

When sonic-based villain Iconoclast interrupted the broadcast, the Bull was heard to comment “Thank Christ.”

The fight immediately moved to the street outside the studio, and we stopped the session in mid-brawl, with both the Nova and Legacy rocking pretty hefty piles of Conditions.

One of the players later posted a bunch of mocked-up live-tweets of both the interview and fight, which did a great job setting the tone and feel of the city and the world. Those posts are collected here.

Session 2

The street brawl continued, immediately complicated by the arrival of Troll, a meme-spewing bruiser whose strength and power increases in direct proportion to the strength of nearby Wifi signals.

Like Tasha Starr’s excruciatingly awkward interview questions, I put some effort into prepping bits of Troll’s dialogue, which I shared with the Masks community over here.

After this session, I posted a Plotagon-created video of some super-fan’s thoughts on the interview/fight. Plotagon quickly became a fun tool for the players to create their own virtual diaries and the like, so I’m happy I introduced it.

We had some technical problems that shortened the session, which unfortunately meant we were rolling into Session 3 with the ‘introductory fight’ still happening. Eh. We play for two to two-and-a-half hours, online, so we don’t get as much covered as I might like every session, but we’re having fun.

Session 3

I’d prepped a few other villains, ready to jump in to the brawl and get their faces on the news, but the complications didn’t head that direction, so they’re still waiting for their chance.

The (speedster) Legacy raced a self-destructing Iconoclast out of the city, but a decision to “give the villains an opening” introduced the Doomed’s nemesis to the scene (looking for the Doomed, whose energy signal was all over the speedster for fiction-reasons), which in turn led to a roll that resulted in the Legacy’s powers “going horribly out of control.”

I didn’t have anything prepped for that, but a few minutes of pondering and checking some notes got me to a classic speedster complication: getting unstuck in reality/time by overloading one’s powers, leading to foreshadowing – so Mercury was flung into a sepia-toned alternate earth in which a few Big Clues were dropped.

Meanwhile, the Bull’s “Assess the Situation: How Do We End This Quickly?” question from last session was finally answered when one of the Tweeting NPCs from post-session-one let the team know Troll’s weakness with regards to Wifi signal, which lead to a nice team moment with the Bull and the Nova.

And back at the point of the original fight, the Doomed and the ghostly Outsider had a moment of Comforting and Support – the first in the game, but definitely not the last: once that move was on the table, it quickly became one of the group’s favorites.

Mercury rejoined the team (and their reality) back in the city center, and before the authorities (or more bad guys) could show up, were ushered out of sight by Jaguar, the protege of Hyena, a vigilante superhero who’d become interested in the team after their first fight. (Thank you, session 0 team questions!)

By this point in the game, the players were starting to really get into the between-session stuff. The Doomed’s player started doing video diaries with plotagon, and he and the Bull also did a few play-by-post conversations on the forum. Other players were also sharing their thoughts and creations: art, pictures, and even a collection of relevant NPCs. (Here and here.)

Session 4

Most of this session was dealing with fall-out and developments from the first big public team fight. The most ironic thing was that we didn’t do any combat in this session, and our heroes ended up with more Conditions than they’d gotten in the fight.

Highlights included the Legacy’s dad telling him what a great job he’d done (and leaving him Insecure), and the Nova getting so scared of screwing up that he forgets how to fly at the end of the session.

I believe this also marks the point where the Bull changed his “Love” to the Nova character, in a “little brother” sense. His love up to this point had been his own NPC creation, so I liked seeing that, no matter how cool the NPC is. 🙂 (His rival remains the Doomed, which is all good.)

Session 5

The events of this session encompass something like… 3 hours. Maybe four. And no combat. And still chock-a-block with STUFF HAPPENING.

I reintroduced an NPC (@powerpony) as both a contact point for the Bull and the Outsider (gotta love those PC-NPC-PC triangles), which led to some good scenes and exchanges.

The Doomed got to reveal WHY he didn’t like interfacing with the AI in his “sanctum” – its holographic interface is modeled on his dead genius father.

AEGIS makes an appearance.

More CLUES about the “Sepia-verse” come out, linking the Legacy’s walkabout to the Doomed’s backstory.

And we wrapped up with a cutscene following the @powerpony NPC as she’s grabbed by… someone. Probably the start of an Arc. Duh duh dunnnn.

And that’s where we are.

Thoughts

Man there’s a lot going on! I’ve got Hooks set up for all the players (mostly), a main arc as well as several others impatiently waiting in the wings, and I can’t wait to get to ALL of it.

I’ve said this before, but PBTA-type games really feel like running Amber Diceless in a lot of good ways. (Hard to quantify ways, but good ways.) It’s got that same sense of freedom of narration, but the dice resolution injects and asks for a wonderful amount of unexpected plot twisting that takes any prep and dials it up to the point where it simply can’t be contained in the box I’d built. Good, good stuff.

Other Thoughts

There are a lot of different kinds of PBTA games.

Some focus more on genre-emulation and the dice mechanics, less on pushing for a certain kind of story experience (Dungeon World, IMO; also the Star Wars Rebel Ops game I ran).

Some focus more on mechanics that push play hard towards certain kinds of play or story events or whatever. Urban Shadows. Monsterhearts. Stuff like that.

Masks is definitely one of those games, focused on that superhero teen drama from stuff like Young Justice, New Mutants, Teen Titans, Avengers Academy, and so forth. That’s all to the good.

The only downside-like thing I’ve run into so far has been doing the post-session analysis on our shorter sessions has led to a LOT of co-mutual Influence sharing in the group (damn near everyone has Influence on everyone right now, though maybe that’s as it should be), and a lot of Label-shifting that sometimes doesn’t feel as punchy as it could – it feels like the label-shifting could be reduced by about 20%. I’m not sure if that’s just fallout from the shorter sessions.

Other Other Thoughts

Man I don’t know what kind of alchemy is firing off, but the player engagement in this game is through the roof. We’ve been playing together for well over a year and something just hit the gas on this game, hard. I suspect it’s a mix of the mechanics and (to a great degree) the genre.

Final Thought

This one’s from Kaylee, who’s been lurking on the voice channel during games, listening in during her homework like it’s a radioplay. Her thought:

“I wish this really was a comic book, or a superhero show. It would be SO GOOD.”

And it would. It is.

Great stuff.

Masks AP: Icons

Here’s a playlist of our first four (five) sessions of Masks, including Session 0 chargen, plus several plotagon video diaries players have done up.

A few notes:

  • Session 0 video was screwed up, so I turned that into an audio track with illustrative imagery.
  • Session 1 audio is jacked up – you can hear the GM fine and everyone else is EXTREMELY faint.

After that I ironed the bugs out, though honestly the whole thing works best as an audio podcast style thing, because we don’t do a LOT with the video except share illustrative memes while people are talking. 🙂

RPGaDay 31: What do you anticipate most for gaming in the next year?

Right now, Masks. Probably two different games, ultimately, given I'll be running it for the kids as well as the online game. (It's getting easier and easier to pull this off as they get a bit older.)

I'm sure a touch of No Thank You, Evil, maybe with Kaylee running the game.

I'll be playing more 5e DnD Adventurer's League, because playing is nice. Also running that for the kids, since I picked up some miniatures and everything.

And past that, I have no idea. There will be more than that, I think, but I'm really not sure what. Maybe some Palace Job -esque Blades in the Dark? Maybe some Urban Shadows? I really have no idea.

But if the real question is focused on what has most of my anticipation, and not 'what are your predictions', then it's definitely Masks right now; that game is firing on cylinders I didn't even know we had.

PC Video Journal

The player for Jason Quill (nanobot-infused Doomed in our campaign, loosely based on Johnny Quest) posted a video diary, following our first big fight.

(And tip of the hat to our power-armor-designing Bull, who also posted a journal in our Roll20 forum, full of angst and self-recrimination.)

I love living in the future. And damned if I don't love this game.

RPGaDay 30: What is an RPG genre-mashup you would most like to see?

Mash-ups don't get me very far these days.

See, I play with my kids a lot, and they don't know the baseline genres well enough to appreciate mash-ups of those genres.

Which is to say, they just don't get the joke, yet.

At the risk of repeating myself, I'm going to dive into this a bit more.

One of the… I'm going to say "dependencies for enjoyment" in many – I might even say "most" RPGs I've run (or run into) in the last few years is a deep knowledge of the associated genre — not just the genre for the setting, but the RPG genre of the game in question.

So… like this: once upon a time, all you really needed to know when starting to play D&D was "there's magic, no guns, and weird monsters." Same was true, basically, for Traveller or whatever. The premise was simple and straightforward.

Still true for 5e versions of those games, probably.

But there are a WHOLE BUNCH of games/settings out there now that lose a tremendous amount of signal when trying to reach a new player, because that player doesn't have the decades of previous gaming exposure that informs the game designer's decisions for a game.

Steampunk Planetary Romance isn't inherently cool or interesting as a concept if the person you're sharing it with isn't familiar with the "pure" components of that salad, you know? It's just weird sci-fi with wood ships and a lot of brass and goggles. Now, that might still work for the player, but it won't work for the intended/expected reasons.

Masters of Umdaar is… not especially compelling if you didn't grow up on the right cartoons, you know?

I run into this constantly when playing with my kids – stuff I find interesting/entertaining… until I realize that for all intents and purposes, my kids just don't get the joke.

So first, I'd need to run the original games everyone's ironically riffing off of, then we can get to the mashups. Otherwise, it's not a nuanced re-envisioning for them. It's just… weird and kind of confusing.

When I run a game that doesn't have that problem, it's almost always something only trying to be itself.

RPGaDay 28: What film/series is the biggest source of quotes in your group?

I'm going to go out on a limb and say Aliens, but… I mean, it could be a hundred different shows.

This was, however, more true back when I was playing face to face.

These days, a lot of the 'quote banter' that used to suffuse our table talk has been replaced with posting relevant image memes in the Roll20 chat window. I love it, personally; nothing like having the nascent force user fighting the temptation of the dark side… and see a fellow player post a photoshopped Gollum clutching a jedi holocron to their chest. That's good stuff.

Masks Campaign Material – Super-YouTubers

We've had two play sessions of our Masks campaign so far.

The game opened with an excruciating interview between the team and morning show host Tasha Starr (of The Morning Starr), in which she asks them about the team, themselves, and the fight against Hannibal Lectric that brought them all together.

Things got complicated when Iconoclast (and, later, a superthug named Troll) interrupted the interview.

The storm of social media surrounding the interview is still going (as is the fight itself), but that hasn't stopped one fan from posting her thoughts.

In the wake of the interrupted interview between our team and morning show host Tasha Starr, super-tweeter "My Little Power Ranger" (@heroesaremagic) hops on YouTube to share her thoughts on what went down – was it fake? A publicity stunt?

Or was it something else?

https://youtu.be/fbjkH1eQBEI

RPGaDay 27: What are your essential ingredients for good gaming?

Flippant answers aside for once.

Attention. Respect. Engagement.

And a small group people with whom you could easily see sharing a 3 to 4 hour car trip, enjoyably.

Everything else is a bonus.

—–

Now if I was going to go back to the original question and talk about essential TOOLS, I'd talk about Roll20 (which I use even during some offline game sessions), Dropbox, et cetera.

RPGaDay 25: What is the best way to thank your GM?

Players creating stuff or in similar ways demonstrating their interest and enthusiasm for the game. I love that stuff. It just makes my day.

Also feedback, good or bad.

But in either case, just engaging above and beyond "shows up on time every week," you know?

I've been blessed by this level of engagement both in the past and present. Player diaries and session journals (a specialty of +Dave Hill's). Players collecting funny quotes from the game. Art or other visual artifacts based on the game, like +Bill Garrett's fake live-tweets from our first session of Masks, or +Michael Williams great character drawings for Dungeon World.

Heck, I love how my players are nigh-constantly posting relevant image memes in the Roll20 chat while we play, or using the drawing tool to put labels and relevant graffiti on the map. It's just great to see the players really engaged.

RPGaDay 22: Which RPGs are the easiest most enjoyable for you to run?

Switched up the question a bit, so I could answer "Probably PBTA stuff. Probably."

For me it's a VERY GOOD mix of the kind of game approach that favors the GMing style I developed primarily with Amber DRPG, but built on a system and mechanics that regularly inject unexpected elements into the game, which was one of the things lying at the heart of my problem(s) with Amber. (And, more recently, Fate.)

Easiest would be something super-simple like World of Dungeons or Risus or FAE.

And to be fair, I'm comfortable and enjoy running pretty much anything at the table. But something like DnD or DCC requires a degree of nuts and bolts prep that I either don't have bandwidth for [^1], or don't enjoy (CR-balanced DnD encounters, frex) – with those sorts of games, I''m going to run a module or something, so I don't have to do that prep, and in those cases I don't end up bringing as much of my own stuff to the game.

So. PbtA. That's my sweet spot when it comes to all aspects of GMing.

—-

[^1]: The joke about not having enough bandwidth to do prep is, of course, that I did literally hours and hours of prep for only the first session of our Masks game. World maps. NPCs. Encounters… At least an hour just watching awkward celebrity interviews, to get ideas.

So I guess it's more "I don't have time for prep I don't really, really enjoy."