Masks Menagerie Tropes

A couple weeks ago, I joked that I should try to identify the main tropes that show up in our current Masks game.

Unfortunately, some part of my brain didn’t know I was joking. So.

Masks, Actual Play Analysis, Sessions 11 to 15

We’re back! It’s another long flight, so let’s run through Masks sessions to the latest and see what to make of them…

Issue 11: When Sablestar Strikes! (hell-day part 3)

I like when we can start things in media res, if only to skip the fiddly front-loading on a session.

In this one, I skipped away from the school, working off the assumption Leo and Adam would want to get the action as far away from the school as they could. The players agreed, though in hindsight I probably didn’t need to play it so coy with the framing and just tell them what I was thinking. Lesson learned, though unfortunately not until now, and not when I needed it in session 13. More on that in a few.

At any rate, this fight went off quite well, I thought. The team has only had a few fights up to this point, and I was starting to think I’d need to bring in at least a 1-for-1 matchup to really test them, since they pretty much wiped out everyone up to this point.

Sablestar provided an additional and very different data point, proving a real problem for the heroes without me needing to bring in any further bad guys. Part of that was simply using mixed successes to complicate the scene with additional ‘stuff’ – when the heroes can take out a villain with 3 or maybe 4 solid hits, giving them something to do besides punching is much more interesting. This was definitely the most dynamic and interesting combat scene we’d had up to this point, and started to add some great backstory to Adam/Concord.

As things wrapped up, the last big move saw me handing out a pile of ‘take a powerful blow’ moves. I hemmed and hawed about this during the game – it felt right, and normally that’s enough, but for some reason I’m way way way more tentative with GM moves and even narration in this game. I have no idea why, and honestly I don’t think that extra care has benefited anyone very much, so I think I need to trust my instincts a bit more.

Weirdly, this is born out by a fairly egregious overstep I made a few sessions later. More on that in a bit.

Issue 12: When the Dead Walk!

(Hell-day part… four? seriously? – or part 4 and part 0, maybe, due to a flashback? It’s complicated)

This session was a bit weird, and weirdly short.

We started off with a flashback to cover what Ghost Girl had been up to during her Condition-clearing reckless investigation (a scene I should have had in the previous session and never got to). This ended up taking a long while, and didn’t involve anyone else, so that’s just poor use of time on my part, despite the fact I was happy with the stuff we got into and found out. Good narration, bad group-involvement. No GM cookie for that one.

The only other thing we got to was the big reveal that the robot that assembled itself in Link’s home base and came after him at school was actually a back-up of Pneuma that had activated after some kind of “Emergency: Go To 10″ protocol was activated when something bad happened to her.” There was some drama (and comfort/support moves) around this that I liked.

Buuuut, there is a problem I didn’t recognize until it was too late – putting Pneuma in danger is basically a board-clearing, table-flipping deal for Link, which presents problems when we already have a couple-three major plot chainsaws in the air. Bill gave me some good tips on ways to make that sort of thing a bit more of a timed slow burn, and I’ve tucked those away for later, but lesson learned.

Issue 13: If This Be In Media Res!

Day of Hell, part the Fifth

So I screwed up.

The obvious thing I screwed up is that I started in media res and framed the heroes into the middle of a major assault on… the secret basements and sub basements beneath the evacuated Halcyon International Airport, and I did so without checking with anyone first.

Which, when I sum it up like that, is so blindingly obvious a fuck-up it seems impossible I didn’t see it coming.

Now, that sort of framing is fine if you’ve taken the measure of the team and know that’s where things are going and just decide to skip to the higher action parts of things.

But that’s not what I did. Bad me. -2 GM cookies.

The thing is, it wasn’t DOING those things that was the actual screw-up.

The mistake I made was in getting talked into a hard-framed in media res thing in the first place, because I hadn’t prepped for it or really thought about it much, so I was ad-libbing the whole thing without communicating first, during, or after. (My only defense is that I was tired and punchy going into the night, but that’s pretty weak tea.) If I’m going to do something like that it needs prep, and communication. That was the real mistake.

This reinforces, in a weird way, the ‘need to trust my instincts more’ note I made a few sessions back, because my instincts were to not do this, and I didn’t listen.

So that’s both ways not trusting myself (not doing and doing) messing with me, inside two or three sessions. Bleh.

On the Bright Side

It was a deprotagonizing set-up, but everyone agreed the assumptions made were fair, if extrapolated without anyone’s input (damn it just seems to stupid and OBVIOUS every time I think about it). “If we’d played through the whole lead-in,” went the response, “it wouldn’t have looked exactly the same, but it would have been darn close, so it’s okay.”

Put another way, I’m annoyed with what I did, but I think the results in the fiction were good and added a lot of great stuff to the campaign – the introduction of Rosa Rook gets associated in everyone’s mind with the situation being out of their control and with high-handed manipulation by adults, and I guess that’s a plus, there; she’s a great addition I think the whole game really needed.

So… I really wish we’d gotten there differently, but I was glad for the final destination? I dunno.

The very best suggestion in post-session discussion was that getting everyone on the same page with the start of the session could have been handled beautifully with love letters, like that ones I used in Session One and which, in one player’s words “I’ve hoped we’d use more.” Great, great idea.

AEGIS swept in for a PR coverup (“those young heroes were at the airport to stop a power-suited terrorist!”), which leads us into the next session, where I’d take the love letter feedback to heart.

Issue 14: Love Letters… Unleashed!

Hellday 6: The Helldayening

I started off the session (and, really, pretty much filled up the session) playing off of love letters I’d written for each character.

I distributed them days earlier, giving everyone time to process and consider their choices, which gave everyone a lot more buy-in. I was also open to feedback and modification of the letters, but all the feedback was positive, so nothing to do there.

As I said, playing through all this stuff pretty much filled up the whole session, and saw the realization of the 6- rolls from the past three or four sessions that I’d had on my to-do list for awhile.

Jason started … let’s call it ‘hallucinating’ a 10-year-old version of Alycia Chin, bringing the total number of holographic AI relationships on his dance card to something like 4 or 5. I’m pretty happy with that result, and I think Dave was as well, as he had mentioned during the week wishing he could get all the success AND failure results from the love letter.

Concord’s … ‘shard’ finally woke up, which is going to give him something else to contend with – a ‘voice’ for the superhero side of his Superhero/Mundane existence, which we’ve both been looking forward to. The final scene with him and his family was awesome and brutal.

I was happy to see Link protecting his people to the press – I think that was really nice to see after a couple sessions of having them at risk. Also helped us highlight his friend Otto’s accessibility issues.

I was VERY happy to have Harry in a position where we could see him being more of an expert in the public side of being a superhero. It went well, and rolled into some good stuff in the following session as well. I really liked him in that space, and alienating him from his family a bit, which we haven’t seen yet, but will.

Everything else was revealing information (background about Ghost Girl) and laying the groundwork for same (Pneuma has a weird memory error in her backup, and AEGIS has a video of the moments surrounding Jason’s Dad’s … death? which Agent Waters slipped to Quill).

All in all, very happy with this session, and the use of the love letters. I’m thinking about using a “lite” version of this for the coming session to get things sorted out a bit more.

Issue 15: In the Clutches of Late-Night Melodrama!

Thank god this Hellday is ov- WHAT DO YOU MEAN PART 7?!?

I need to get better at rationing time based on how many characters are involved in the scene. I’m not good at that, and I need to get better.

Link moves in with the Gales, a twist I did NOT see coming. Need to think more about that, because there’s some completely unexplored territory there. Yet more good stuff with Harry, which I really liked.

Jason gets some information about his dad, working with Achilles Chin, working against someone… else? Who? What? Jason’s response says he’s expecting this to really blow up in his face in short order, in a big way. I’ve got some more stuff to lay out here.

Concord’s parents tell him they want him to stop working for the Concordance. Maybe. They want to talk about it. I think Mike and I are both excited about where that’s going.

And… a couple rolls go sideways and Ghost Girl starts out investigating her family’s ties to mystic secret societies and… ends up in the Sepiaverse.

So that’s gonna be a thing.

Thoughts

  1. I love this game. I haven’t been pushed like this in years.
  2. I also haven’t doubted myself as much either, which really needs to stop.

Masks “Menagerie” Campaign – Session 6 to 10

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about our ongoing Masks game (superhero antics in the vein of Young Justice, Teen Titans, or Avengers Academy), but that in no way means the game itself has slowed. Quite the opposite.

So, if only for the sake of bragging, I thought I’d catch things up.

The last time, I covered sessions 0 though 5. This time, it’s sessions 6 to 15, so buckle up.

Before I get rolling, I want to recognize two resources that have made this broad overview far more manageable.

The first is the forum that is automatically made available for any campaign you set up on Roll20.net. (Our game is played online, and while the voice chat isn’t able to handle our group’s particular challenges, the other tools it provides are invaluable.) The forum lives here, and sees continuous, nigh-daily activity in the form of fiction, world-building, general discussion, and (of course) the blow-by-blow Actual Play summaries – usually authored by Dave Hill – which supplement if not completely stand in for my spotty recollection.

(Said forum has been made even more valuable with the addition of a custom coded search/scraper that Bill forced around roll20’s forum code at great personal effort.)

The second tool is a more recent addition to our electronic tool box, a wiki built and customized (again, mostly) by two of the players, Bill and Mike. Thanks to the organization of the wiki (and downright sexy layout), I’m able to excavate all kinds of trivia and bits of game lore that might otherwise have flared and died within minutes of being introduced into a session.

With that out of the way…


When We Last Left Our Heroes…

Sessions 1 though 5 were mostly about introducing the heroes to the people of Halcyon, and the players (and myself) to the Masks system. They had a morning show interview, a downtown brawl with some bad guys, and then rode the fallout from those events, (including the speedster getting temporarily lost in an alternate, devastated version of Earth.)

Session five saw the team looking forward or inward – taking stock of the problems they had on their plate and making plans to deal with them.

It also saw their team coming to the attention of AEGIS, the SHIELD-esque organization of the Masks universe.


Issue 6

One of the directives for a Masks GM is presenting adults as supportive but short-sighted; willing to help but always pushing their own vision and agenda on the teen heroes – help with strings attached. Okay.

Enter Agent Ted Waters (who’s probably going to be the most supportive, least strings-attached adult in the game – though that’s a low bar), an experienced AEGIS agent and the father-figure/handler for Link (whose actual father is super-villain Rossum the Minion Maker). Waters shows up at Quill Industries (the ‘sanctum’ for the team’s Doomed character) with paperwork in hand that will officially recognize the team by AEGIS… a move AEGIS hasn’t… umm…. actually sanctioned?

This paperwork is simple – it merely requires the team pick a name and an official leader. Easy, right?

The name had been under discussion via in-character posts on the forum, but we hadn’t brought it to the forefront yet. This was meant to facilitate that. They tell Ted the team will be the Menagerie and it gets the expected, bemused response from the older man (a good sign you’re on the right track in a teen-oriented game).

The ‘strings’ attached to this bit of help were more meta-level than an actual condition offered by Waters – the team had to pick a leader; a requirement I thought might generate some drama/angst/hand-wringing/reflection/et cetera.

It did all those things, so yay. 🙂

The team eventually settled on Jason Quill (the Doomed, played by Dave), a decision which the team treated with varying levels of seriousness. (Jason on one end of the panic-stricken-with-the-weighty-responsibility spectrum; speedster Mercury (Kay) providing the ‘whatever man paperwork is boring just write something in it doesn’t matter’ counterbalance.)

While Jason continued to process this development, Ghost Girl went and got herself in one kind of trouble (attacked by someone who saw her as a dangerous menace, starting both an arc and introducing her current Mundane-vs-Freak Hook), while Like found another (investigating a mutual friend’s disappearance and running afoul their supernatural kidnapper).

This development brought us to the end of the session with the team rushing to help GG, but split (“where the hell is Link?”), and under a leader (technically) who was still a bit in shock.

Issue 7: If the Graveyard Be My Destiny!

(All credit to Dave for the comic-book-classic session titles.

This session was meant to introduce one of Ghost Girl’s issues and a sort-of nemesis; Ghostheart (one of the characters from the Masks Deck of Villains) whose main deal is obsessively keeping living people over THERE, and dead people over THERE, and NO TOUCHING NO TOUCHING NOT EVER.

Charlotte is all about connecting with people amongst both the living and dead (she’s playing the Outsider playbook, and filled with wonder at the modern world in which she now finds herself), so Ghostheart seemed almost a custom-written enemy for her.

Most of the session was a nighttime fight at GG’s home cemetery against Ghostheart and a couple of his summoned demonic henchthings – Rawhide and I-Didnt-Catch-the-Other-Guy’s-Name. After the fight (and some really stilted, useless, uncomfortable leadership, beautifully delivered by Dave), the heroes (reunited, since Link was tussling with Rawhide on his own, initially) tracked down and rescued the kidnappee “@powerpony” – an online-mutual of both Link and GG’s (PC-NPC-PC relationship triangles are good – need more of those).

Offscreen

The players conducted a couple Google-Doc-based scenes after this session, simply to get them done in satisfying fashion without taking up too much in-game time.

The first was Link talking with green-lantern/Blue-beetle-esque Concord about the details of the kid’s powers.

The second was between Link and Jason – an often tense but ultimately fruitful and relationship-building ‘discussion’ about what kind of leadership the team really needed (and what kind Jason could legitimately provide).

Both scenes were great, and the ‘offline’ RP option proved a good one, though we try not to use it too much, as it tends to move characters whose players have the mid-week bandwidth for such things further center stage, in a play environment (online, short sessions) where it already seems someone ends up drawing the Spotlight Short Straw every week.


Issue 8: Lo, There Shall Be an Evening of Character Interaction!

As a means of exploring GG’s current Hook (her Mundane connections with others, versus the Freak nature of her powers), we also learned a bit more about why Ghostheart wanted GG out of public circulation – her interactions with the Living were creating some kind of ectoplasmic catnip that would inevitably attract a terrible entity known as Pandemonium to the material world.

The only way she could guarantee her living friends’ safety was stay away from them. Which sucks.

AEGIS rolled back into the picture much sooner than anyone expected, as the team called them back to take Ghostheart into custody. (The team opts NOT to go the morally-and logically-questionable route of the Flash CW show, with villains held without due process, inside a particle accelerator, and fed Big Belly Burgers on a… mostly daily schedule.)

The rest of the session involved the team either trying to help each other out with Comfort and Support-based roleplaying (with mixed but fascinating and sometimes hilarious results), or working through their own problems; Link’s robotic not-girlfriend Pneuma announced she was departing Halcyon for a bit to visit ‘someone’ in Japan, while Jason went down a digital rabbit hole, investigating how and why his nemesis Alycia Chin infiltrated Quill Compound as a lowly warehouse employee for a month.

Jason’s investigation led to a great scene where he uses his nanobots and latent genius to analyze Alycia Chin’s actions, and gets knocked cold in the process via some kind of latent … mental … something … Alycia left behind in the video recordings of her activities. Remote Memetic Programming, maybe? Image-gestalt boobytrap? That would be bad.

Issue 9: Sizzling Big Adult-Influence Issue!

The Beginning of the Day From Hell

Morning! The second Weekday of the campaign, and time once again for all good heroes to… get to school.

(Assuming they aren’t a ghost from the civil war, or unconscious, of course.)

A while back, Concord’s player had started a discussion on the forum where we all talked about whether the Nova playbook was working for him, and we collectively came to the conclusion that the Janus playbook worked better. So we retconned it.

This session was the one where we started to get into that ‘dual identity’ drama a bit more, very literally in this case (because I am a ham-fisted hack) with Concord trying to help Link with an unconscious Jason (via an energy construct copy of himself) while simultaneously attending school in his ‘real’ body. He didn’t exactly balance this out well, and ended up being sent to the principal’s office when he confused his multiple mouths and remonstrated his English teacher for being a ‘walking deceit’ when he meant to be talking to the vision of Alycia Chin in Jason’s head.

I’d call this situation a solid B effort on my part. Maybe a B-. We get better at this in short order, though, so I’m not going to beat myself up too much.

Meanwhile, Mercury and Ghost Girl spent the morning reaching out to adults for advice and input, before Mercury had to get to school.

Harry’s dad-joking, eggplant-emoji-texting dad, Silver Streak.
This is always a fraught situation in Masks – going into a scene with an adult or adults in Masks carries an undercurrent of threat akin to an armed parley with A-level super-villains. Honestly I’ve never done as much broad-spectrum damage to the team with a bad guy as I have in scenes with their well-meaning mentors dispensing advice, constructive feedback, and (horror of horrors) heartfelt praise.

It didn’t really go better here, with both Harry’s dad and the retired ‘grail knight’ Armiger (Lucius, owner/operator of the Has Beans coffee shop, downtown) kicking in their two cents about Ghost Girl’s ongoing Ghostheart/Pandemonium problem, what they thought the kids should do about it (and, ultimately, who they thought the kids should be.) They got what they were after, but Ghost Girl at least wasn’t feeling great about it afterwards, which lead to some Condition-clearing reckless behavior later. (As it should.)

Issue 10: Halcyon High-Jinks (Hell Day, Part 2)

Dave, Margie, and Katherine were all out of town, which left Jason recovering from his tussle with not-Alycia, Ghost Girl roaming the city doing reckless things without consulting the team, and Harry actually attending Gardner Academy (the private high school that tends to specialize in rich kids and publicly recognized supers).

Concord and Link, on the other hand, are on their way to HHS – Halcyon High South – part of the public school system, where they academically toil in relative anonymity.

Bill and Mike (and I) were excited to play around with that classic of teen superhero comics, the high school, so we had a good time with this. First order of business was to establish the normal day, and I had fun introducing some of the faculty, and went to the players to fill in NPCs (which gave us the wonderful Ms. “No!” Rodriguez, Leo’s lab partner.

I also introduced Taz, a new transfer and tech-nerd who seemed to either be a bit on the spectrum or way over-informed about Leo, or both. She showed up both in Leo’s chem class as well as at lunch with Leo and Adam, and was generally fun to play, freaked out the players a skosh, and has more going on that I’m looking forward to getting into.

With the norm established, it was time to get some Concord-grade villains on the stage, and that mean “galactic” villains. For this, I went back to the Deck of Villainy and pulled out The Farlander (who is just too weird looking and fun to play) and Sablestar who, by sheer coincidence in visual design, seemed to be … related to Concord and his powers in some way. There’s some vague hand-waving on her card about being a member of the Void Collective and something of a space-anarchist, but I already have an anarchist villain, so Sablestar and the VC became a kind of counter-(if not anti-)Concordance, in my head. We’ll see how that fleshes out over time.

So: a bit of fighting at the school with The Farlander, and the introduction of Sablestar, and as things get complicated we call it for the night, ready to bring in the rest of the team next session as things heat up.


That’s five of the ten sessions I wanted to cover, so I’ll stop here and do 11 to 15 in the next post. More soon!

Masks AP Resource

The whelmed podcast (located at the nigh-perfect url http://crashingthemode.com/) is basically "Buffering the Vampire Slayer," but for Young Justice. I've just started in on the beginning of the show, and it's great; if you like podcasts where pop culture love and gaming overlap and/or intersect, I recommend it.

But here's an additional BONUS: the podcast crew recently recorded a session of Masks, GM'd by Brendan Conway (the game's author), in which they play characters from the show in a scenario set in the five years between seasons 1 and 2 of YJ. The people playing these characters are note. perfect. in their protrayals (Kid Flash and Superboy are particular stand-outs), and Brendan does a fantastic job of introducing, integrating, and best-of-all explaining the rules as they go.

If you're looking for an AP recording that works as a primer/introduction to the Masks rules, and want the added bonus of seeing the game presented via characters with which you're probably already very familiar, I can't recommend these recordings enough.

http://crashingthemode.com/podcast/2017/6/21/masks-ap-relations-episode-01

http://crashingthemode.com/podcast/2017/6/28/masks-ap-relations-episode-02

http://crashingthemode.com/podcast/2017/7/5/masks-ap-relations-episode-03

http://crashingthemode.com/podcast/2017/7/13/masks-ap-relations-episode-04

Update: There are also pre- and post-game talks with Brendan, which are pretty illuminating.

http://crashingthemode.com/podcast/2017/6/15/discussion-brendan-conway-masks-ap-pre-interview

http://crashingthemode.com/podcast/2017/7/19/discussion-brendan-conway-masks-ap-post-interview

Podcast

Risus Supers!

S. John Ross (creator of Risus) mentioned a plan to run some one-shot game sessions online. I, like many others, voiced interest in this and (through a combination of luck and getting woken up before 6am by my kids) managed to snag a spot in the first game he decided to run: a one shot supers game this Friday.

Pre-generated characters were available, and while I was fine with that idea, I also pitched a short concept for a character a few people may be familiar with from back in my City of Heroes/DCUO days.

John liked my proposal, and we bounced feedback back and forth until we had nailed down a version we were both happy with. I’m putting it up here both to document the results and because I think it’s neat and interesting how the same basic character concept takes on different nuances when it’s expressed in different game systems.

The bullet lists beneath each cliche for this character are essentially the tools of the trade that come along with each cliche (defining those tools was a lot of the back and forth that John and I focused on). By default, tools of the trade are literal things you might possess, but as you can see, they can also cover demeanor, talents, areas of expertise, and ‘color’ for the character in question.

I’m looking forward to the game.


Lukacs Tolbathy, bastard child of a conniving war-witch and one of the Earth Princes of Utumno. (One of. His mother might know exactly which one, but she’s not saying, and rumors of her misspent youth indicate no less than fifteen likely candidates and twice the number “possibles.”).

With nothing in common with his mother and no connection to Utumno, Lukacs set out into the everworlds to find a life of his own. The alien invasion [or whatever Big Meta Thing is going on in the setting] lured him to Earth — providing him both a place where his native abilities were of use (in the role of a ‘superhero’), and where he stands some small chance of finding… What?

It’s possible Lukacs himself doesn’t know.

Pummelcite

Half-breed earth elemental prince: (4)
– tough skin, manifesting stony fists, forming a big rock hammer to hit stuff with, or doing… sort of earth-bender type stuff with the ground
– sense of hidden nobility
– humility of the low-born
– basic knowledge of the ‘everworlds’

Kind-hearted strongman: (3)
– supernaturally strong
– friendly eyes
– imposing silhouette
– third-tier beard

Half-trained witch’s apprentice: (2)
– basic cantrips and few ‘oh crap’ spells.
– might be able to cobble together a ritual, maybe. Given a lot of time and books he doesn’t possess.
– generalist knowledge of the comic book “supernatural” (as opposed to tech or mutant/metahuman stuff)

Lucky Shots: 0 0 0

tmp_14273-pummelcite-771518943

Playing Hero Kids with my Hero Kids

Last night, in lieu of normal bedtime activities (reading Winnie-the-Pooh, Justice League I-Can-Read books, or our new favorite, Bone), Kaylee and Sean and I played some Hero Kids.

Hero Kids

For those of you unfamiliar, this is an RPG specifically designed for “kids from ages 4 to 10” – says so right on the tin cover. It’s been on my radar for some time, but I hadn’t done anything with it (including read it), partly because Kaylee and I have been entirely happy playing Fate [^And, in fact, I need to write up our most recent game using that system], and partly because I (incorrectly) thought it was some sort of “Pathfinder Lite” set of rules, which I had absolutely no interest in.

Luckily, after running across a few good actual play reports, I gave it a proper read-through, and decided it might be just the thing for getting Sean involved in our games.

This isn’t to say we’ve never done RPG-like stuff with Sean before – we’ve had quite a bit of fun with his Imaginex DC Heroes figures and a superhero hack of a game Cory Doctorow made up for his daughter. The trick of color coding the dice (so that a d12 is “the purple one” not “the d12”) and simply rolling and reporting the number worked out pretty well.

2014-11-15

Epic battle in a makeshift downtown.

But that option didn’t provide much story – it was really just a way for Dad to muck up otherwise frictionless superhero make-believe. I wanted something with a little – just a little – more oomph, but at the same time it had to pass the four-year-old test.

The Four-Year-Old Test

Some recognizable names in tabletop game design have been debating “the most intuitive dice mechanics” for the last several weeks. I haven’t paid much attention to these discussions, so I don’t know if I agree or disagree with any particular person. This is my take on it:

Intuitive directly correlates to A Four Year Old Can Manage It, Without Help.

By this guideline, Hero Kids is the most intuitive dice mechanic in any RPG I’m aware of. You roll a few six sided dice and find the biggest single result. Done.

  • No adding numbers together (he can do it, but finds it incredibly amusing to shout the wrong answer at the top of his lungs)
  • No counting successes Shadowrun/Vampire/Mouseguard style (which, while not beyond him, is marginally more complicated than “find the biggest number you rolled on a single die”).

Roll. Find biggest. Done.

It’s excellent, and combined with the utterly charming artwork provided for each of the (massive pile) of pregens provided, allows a kid to sit down, pick out someone who looks cool, and play. (And the fact that all the maps and paper minis in each module can be printed and prepped in a few minutes makes GM play setup a breeze.)

Example Character

The level of complexity a player deals with increases in direct proportion to how much of the character sheet they understand.
If they can’t read yet, they just focus on the icons and art, and the rest falls away.

And, not for nothing, the rules can easily be reskinned into a light version of damn near anything. Kaylee put together a very passable Hulk-like character for “super hero kids” in about four minutes.

MG-knight

Another example…

So, About the Actual Game…

The premise for the Hero Kids setting is wonderfully simple: all the Hero Kids live in a small town that would be idyllic, if you ignore the fact the place is constantly threatened by calamities both great and small. The kid’s parents are (in general) adventurers of the first water, and often called away for big problems, elsewhere, so it falls to the kids (who’ve been getting adventurer training since they were out of diapers) to deal with any troubles at home.

Anyone who thinks this setup is too silly or contrived to be engaging hasn’t been following current popular animated show and book trends, like Ever After High – my kids loved this simple premise for putting them in the hero-seat. [^You also needn’t worry about clichés or over-used tropes, because they aren’t jaded forty-year-old gamers; it’s games like these that introduce them to the tropes other modern games and books are playing for meta-irony that goes right over a kid’s head.]

As the game started, the two player characters (Swerver and Ashlee, a water/ice wizard and healer, respectively) are enjoying their weekly family dinner at the town’s tavern (the kid’s decided their characters were sisters).

There’s a crash in the kitchen, and the owner of the inn runs out, shouting that some HUGE rats just abducted her son Roger from right out of the kitchen.

The girls look at their parents, who cluck their tongues disapprovingly and murmur something like “Mmm. That’s too bad,” and return to their creamed corn.

“Aren’t you going to rescue Roger?”

“Oh… I suppose someone should, but not us.”

“Goodness no. It’s our one day off.”

“Why don’t you girls handle it?”

“Us?!?”

“Why not? You’ve certainly been training long enough.”

The kids look at their parents, each other, then exchange the very highest of high fives and race each other to the kitchen.

Kill Ten Rats

What followed was a (predictable, if you’re a jaded old gamer, but amazing if you’re them) descent into the inn’s basement, thence into a warren of tunnels beneath the inn, fighting a series of skirmishes with giant rats until finally facing off with the King Rat.

2015-03-10 - playing hero kids

I’m not going to describe the whole thing, but I am going to hit some of the highlights.

  • Sean picking out a girl character, all like “Whatever man, I’m a girl; get over it.”
  • Kaylee both picking a healer and maneuvering her character to take more of the damage to ‘cover’ her little brother. Best big sister ever.
  • Sean dealing with a ten foot high barrier in their way by instantly coming up with “I’m going to make a big water stair and then freeze it.” So awesome. [^We really need to watch Avatar: the Last Airbender and Legend of Korra with him, now that he’s old enough to remember it.]
  • Kaylee leading them into a ‘side cavern’ away from the main plot, and using her “searing light” as a way to see into series of stalagmites in which she could dimly make out… something. Turned out that “something” was four lost villagers, which she and her sister then freed and sent back out of the caves. Awesome.
  • The one rat who escaped every fight and kept retreating until he was finally beaten during the boss fight.
  • Sean spotting the King Rat paper miniature sitting by my notes and trying to convince me to bring him in during every. single. fight. we did.

“What are you going to do, Sean?”

“Well… I think the King Rat shows up now.”

  • The look on their faces when the rats in the last room used rat-sized tunnels to basically teleport around the edge of the room and sneak up on them.
  • The high-fives when King Rat went down.
  • Sean taking the King Rat paper mini with him, to bed.

This morning, seconds after he woke up, Sean came into the kitchen.

“Daddy, do you remember the game we played last night?”

“I sure do, bud.”

“With King Rat?”

“Yup.”

“I think… we should play that again.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. We should play that again. Maybe… we should play it now?”

So… yeah. It was a pretty good game.

2015-03-10 - hero kids

I am a Nerd (Final-ish version)

I’ve posted versions of this on my main blog, but while I like it, it didn’t quite feel like it was completely there.

I had the chance to recite it for an audience last night at Whidbey MFA. I said “recite” because I’d memorized it while driving out from Denver, and that memorization helped me update the piece in a couple ways (dropping or changing clumsy lines, and removing a couple stanzas).

The recitation went pretty well, so I think it’s just about there. I thought I’d share it now, though I’ll probably add a voice recording to it when I get a few minutes.

[Edit: Audio file is available down at the end of the post.]

Anywhere, here it is.


Class reunion
not exactly fun
until the third rum
and Coke.
Then one school chum
interrupts the hum
and buzz
and half-drunken fuzz
for a joke.
His Genuine Draft thunks down
(emblematic drink of this small midwestern town)
and he says
“So… Doyce
“… are you still a nerd?”

(Before I proceed, a disclaimer
about this guy, not me,
he’s
a bit of a skeeze
he might say he hasn’t let the years change him
I might say he hasn’t changed his denim
Wranglers. Might be the same pair
he wore down there
under his gown, where
he stood up with the rest of us
mortarboard on like the rest of us
but all the way down at the end of the line
fiftieth out of forty-nine
diploma-receiving graduates.
No real friend of mine
and, certainly, it would feel sickly sublime
to simply dismiss him this time,
ask how his wife likes the wine
or how it feels standing in line
for unemployment.

But there would be no enjoyment.)

We’re all together here
Feeling the booze and beer
and good cheer
sitting at folding tables
telling each other fables.
about the last twenty five years.

So rather than rage,
I decide to engage
and say:
“A nerd? Me?
Let’s see.”

I’m not going to waste time talking
about roleplaying games, walking
to school every day hauling
three bulging gym bags full of rule books.
And all the funny looks.

I mean, you know that already, you were there
And at the time, it’s not like I cared
What anyone thought
What kind of stares I got.
No one was going to kick my ass
Not when there were only fifty kids in our class
And the biggest nerds in school at the time
Were five of the varsity football front line.
No: let’s move forward in time.

Am I a nerd?

The person who convinced me to write my first book
I met in college when she came over to look
at photocopied posters for a local gaming convention
(my personal invention)
which I and my friends were hanging… on every wall in campus.
And she wanted to ask us
if we’d ever played
Vampire: the Masquerade.
(We’re still close today.
I introduced her to her husband at one of those college game days.
Their daughter’s name is Ray.)

Am I a nerd?

My wife and I met Online,
the story of our times
but a dating site? Tame.
We met playing video games
Saving the world with ice and flame
Or bows and blades
Looting digital upgrades.
From twenty-player raids.
Our date nights
Were orc fights.
Dorks, right?
Sure, we became friends because we’re clever and witty
And had things in common, like saving Paragon City.
But you know what charmed her
What floated her
boat?
I kept up with her Buffy the Vampire Slayer quotes.

Am I nerd?

My kids would say yes
if I had to guess.
My daughter, nine, at recess
plays the part of a zombie princess
scary, but cool, in a ragged black dress.
Leading her armies onto the field
with a magic sword only she can wield.
(The other kid gets an unbreakable shield.)
Does she get teased?
Not that I’ve seen
And if so, she’d handle it better than me.
“You know who’s a nerd?!?” She calls out at school.
I am… but all of you are, too.”
A nerd, she explains,
is just a name
For someone who gets excited about video games
Or Science, or Music, going to space,
reading four inch thick books with a smile on your face.
the local sports teams, shooting some pictures
or baking soufflés with just the right lift. Nerds
are just people
who care
so much
about something
it scares
you.

So you asked me this question to… what?
Make me blush?
See if my spirit is easily crushed?
I can’t even guess
so let me address
your query
with something far less
than indignant fury:

“A nerd? Me?
“Yes.
“Absolutely.”

What does he say?
WOW. Okay.
“I was just wanted to see
“what you thought of those new Hobbit movies.”

And my wife,
thus far silent throughout the exchange
cries out in pain
“OH GOD, now you’re just trolling.
“Both of you go get drinks
“… before he really gets going.”


The Glitcherman

Today, I was walking around the neighborhood with my daughter, looking at trees and houses. (There are only 3 or 4 house templates in our suburb, and we like to try to spot ‘our house’ in other places.)

While walking, we were talking about the concept for Save Game. (Short version: there’s a world-destroying evil virus on the internet that can only be stopped by the characters from videogames – Wreck-it Ralph meets Lord of the Rings.)

“So the heroes are like … I dunno … Batman?”

I paused. “I think it’s supposed to be characters like… Mario, or Samus, or the Minecraft guy.”

Kaylee frowned. “The Minecraft guy? You mean Steve?”

Now, I’d heard her and her friends mention “Steve” in the context of Minecraft before, so I knew who she was referring to. “No. I mean the guy you build stuff with. Steve’s just that one zombie guy with the different-colored shirt from all the others, right?”

“Right, but he doesn’t start out a zombie. He starts out alive in every world.”

“Really.” This was news to me.

“Yeah. His brother kills him.”

This was really news to me. “What?”

“Yeah. My friends and I figured it out. See…” She settled her hands into ‘this is an involved story’ position as we walk. “There’s this one guy who can get into your worlds, even your private ones, and he goes from world to world, looking for the really good worlds.”

“How’s he get in?”

“He glitches into them,” she said, as though it was obvious. “And when he finds a really good one, he — well, the first thing he does, he finds Steve and kills him.”

“… okay…”

“Then he glitches the world. It kicks you out of the game, and destroys the world so you can’t ever get into your world again and even have a really hard time making a new world after that.”

“Why… does he do that?”

“He takes them,” she explained. “He takes all the really good worlds away from the kids that make them.” She paused. “From grown-ups too, I guess.” (She’s vaguely aware that grown-ups also play Minecraft.

“Has this ever happened to you?”

“No, but… I’ve got one world I really like, with a bunch of really cool stuff, and I try not to log into it very much, because I know if I go there too often, he’ll find it.” She scuffed at a leaf. “I’m sort of expecting it to happen, eventually. It’s like fate.”

Boo.

We walked for awhile, then she said “You’re being really quiet.”

“Well,” I said, “I’m pondering the fact that you and your friends basically invented a Minecraft/internet version of the book I read last week.”

“Really?”

“Yeah,” I said. “And I can’t decide if that’s really cool or incredibly creepy.”

She shrugged and grinned. “How about both?”

Why I haven't Blogged about Wildstar Yet

… as explained by Tycho at PA. (See link and disregard first paragraph, which is mostly about something else.)

"When I try to write about Wildstar, I get stuck in a sort of spiral.  I don’t really know where to start, because everything refers to some other part.  It’s interlaced in a way that reinforces everything. […] So where do I even start?  At what point of the spiral do I bring you in, and begin to chart it? Maybe I’ll figure it out if I log in and play this instant."

Yeah. It's pretty much like that.

For me, Wildstar has created one of those vanishingly rare #gaming situations where, if I have a question about how something works, I would rather log in and spend two hours playing with that thing to figure it out… than take twenty seconds looking up an answer.

I'm still looking for the element or aspect of play – a class, a path, a trade, something – that I can point at and say "There. I do not enjoy that. I would not want to play a character with that as a core facet."

I have eight 'main' characters because so far, I haven't found it.?

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