Pretty much since the beginning of this school year, Kaylee has been assembling a short list classmate/friends who have some RPG experience, or interest in same. However, nothing was really happening with that until the last month or two, when she and I hit on the idea of doing a game of Masks.
Right away, this presented some interesting challenges.
As someone who typically finds myself in the GM chair, I found my hands tied when it came to orgainizing the game – I only had contact information for one player (my daughter), and in any case I wasn’t about to start texting random thirteen year olds I’d never met, setting up get-togethers at local coffee shops – that’s a hell of a good way to get angry parental phone calls (and with good reason).
(One of my regular players in the Monday night game said I should just explain to parents that it involves Dungeons and Masks, and everything would be fine. Hmm…)
So it fell to Kaylee to gauge interest, get commitment, explain the game at some basic levels, and organize the first session.
In all these things, she was a STAR. The only help I threw in was, late in the process, sending over a link to a set of basic slides with high-level intros to the playbooks, and I honestly didn’t know if that would even be of use.
When things started to shape up, we ended up with four interested players, all aged ~13, in eigth grade:
- My daughter Kaylee, who has quite a lot of experience with different games, from Fate Accelerated to Risus to DnD5e to multiple flavors of PBTA, including Masks (though she’s listened in on far more sessions of Masks than she’s played.) Her superhero genre exposure is by far the deepest of the group.
- JC1, who has played in a couple DnD games with her Dad, brother, and a couple friends of the family. She and her family are quite familiar with MCU and DCU movies, but beyond that there isn’t much superhero genre knowledge.
- JC2, who has (with her brother) convinced her (non-gaming) dad to run DnD modules for them. (Go supportive dad!) Like JC1, she’s seen most of the MCU movies, and that’s about all the superhero stuff she knows.
- G1, who has no gaming experience, but thought it sounded pretty cool. No idea about genre exposure at this point.
Of the kids, only JC2 voiced much character preference ahead of time, but they voiced it loud and clear: Fire powers, driven by emotion. (Kaylee predicted a Nova playbook, or possibly The Star.)
Kaylee was, until about a week before, holding back on any character concepts – taking what I think of as a kind of ‘veteran player’ stance of “I’ll wait until everyone else decides what they’re doing.”
I pointed out that while that might work with a group of players with more genre and/or gaming experience, THIS group might benefit from demonstration – more specifically, I told her I was hoping to start off character generation with her, so her friends could see what was coming.
I also pointed out that picking a character who was a little more experienced as a superhero might be a good idea, because she could then bring her knowledge of the game and setting into play.
This proved to be all the constraint she needed to take off like a rocket, and she filled the next few days with discussions of background and history.
All I had to do was prepare to run a game for table of 13 year old girls, so… new experiences all around!
The Big Day
Kaylee was basically vibrating with anticipation by the time Sunday rolled around, and to be honest I was looking forward to it as well, but before we headed out to our local game/coffee shop rendezvous, I cautioned her that the Rules of Gaming Schedules would prevail, and she should be prepared for people to be late or, come to that, simply not show up. I didn’t want to kill her excitement, but better ahead of time than in the middle of the game. I’m a stoic; sue me.
Sundays at Enchanted Grounds are busy, but I was able to reserve a table for the morning, and we got set up before JC1 showed up. We already knew JC2 was going to be a late, due to a sibling birthday, so we loaded up on caffeine and got rolling.
Kaylee had already settled on her playbook, and it turned out JC1 had as well, thanks to the slides I had put together. (I was pleasantly surprised and glad making the thing hadn’t been a waste of time.)
So, with playbooks in hand, the two started working on their sheets.
Kaylee went with…
HERO NAME: Silhouette
REAL NAME: Casey Quinn (Casey is actually K.C., for Kendall Charity, which she hates)
* Caucasian, female, lean body, casual clothes
* Very simple costume consisting of combat boots, black cargo pants with some ballistic cloth lining, a sort of long-sleeved black compression mock turtleneck(same lining), and a tight, featureless black cowl.
You are someone’s protégé. Your powers somewhat mimic theirs, but each of you is in some way unique.
- SHARED ABILITY: Detective skills
- YOUR OWN ABILITY: Impossible fighting skills (hyper senses)
- YOUR MENTOR’S ABILITY: telepathy/telekinesis
Sil’s mentor is Vigil, who’s somewhere between Oracle and The Question for one of the city’s premiere adult superhero teams.
She does not do sidekicks.
Vigil EMBODIES Superior logic, and DENIES Mundane concerns.
Casey wasn’t born blind. Her mother died shortly after she was born, due to complications with the birth itself. Her father tried, but being a single parent was overwhelming; at some point in her early childhood, there was a bad car accident. Maybe he dozed off, maybe he was drinking. Casey tries not to think about it.
The accident blinded her, and that added complication to their lives proved too much for Casey’s dad, who abandoned her to child services and a series of orphanages and foster homes.
Things were… not good, but somehow Casey’s positive (albeit sarcastic), bounce-back attitude kept her going.
Then her hypersenses started developing. THAT was fun.
In a way, she was lucky – if she’d had to deal with vision on TOP of all the other sensory overload, she’d have probably gone crazy. As it was… she had a rough couple months.
(Casey could find a silver lining around a tornado.)
She’d never really been very good at people coddling her for her blindness, but now that she could somewhat function with her other heightened senses (the flipside being she had to be careful not to be overwhelmed by too much input), she decided to get away from the foster system. Since she had superpowers… she figured she’d head for Halcyon City.
It didn’t take long for her to get into some trouble.
- How did you first meet your mentor?
- Casey interrupted two street-level drug dealers beating up a third kid – a kid she knew from the local homeless shelter. Casey managed to beat the two thugs (they underestmated the wise-cracking blind girl, luckily), but never noticed the woman watching from the rooftops over the alley.
Vigil kept an eye on Casey for the next few weeks, until Casey noticed her (hypersenses, you know), at which point, Vigil vanished for a few weeks.
When she returned, it was with a stack of critiques of everything from Quinn’s tactics and decision making, to her (non-existent) hand to hand technique.
Making the arrrangement official took longer, but eventually they wore each other down.
- When and why did you choose to train with them?
- Well, she’s a genius. She’s a great teacher. She… also gave me a place to sleep, which is awesome. And she got me into Phoenix Academy as a freshmen, which is fantastic. And I get to be a superhero.
And I’m not alone.
- Why did they agree to train you?
- Because I’m awesome? SHE says it’s because I had tiny bit of potential and I was going to get myself killed without some training, but whatever – it’s because I’m awesome.
- Who else, outside of the team, knows about your training?
- My best friend, Maria Manuel – the biggest superhero trivia nerd who has ever lived.
- Why do you care about the team?
- Because they never coddle me or think I need to be specially protected becuase I can’t see.
Finally, Kaylee picked out her Protégé moves, with an eye toward that ‘veteran’/leadership role she hoped to play.
- Been reading the files: When you first encounter an important superpowered phenomenon (your call), roll + Superior. On a hit, tell the team one important detail you’ve learned from your studies. The GM will tell you what, if anything, seems different from what you remember.
- Captain: When you enter battle as a team, add an extra Team to the pool and carry +1 forward if you are the leader.
- Be mindful of your surroundings: When you Assess the Situation before entering into a fight, you may ask one additional question, even on a miss.
Her mentor is also supposed to provide some resources to her and the team, but she decided to wait on that until she knew what was most needed. (I’m guessing a hidden base is on the list.)
Also, she drew up her character, which is awesome.
JC1 patiently let me run her through all the playbooks, and then selected…
… which is what she’d wanted in the first place.
HERO NAME: Palacene (both heroic and her ‘home’ name)
REAL NAME: Peggy J (She doesn’t really get how names work, yet)
- female human body (at least most of the time), metallic eyes, mismatched clothing (earth fashions are HARD), and a practical costume (which might just be her, shapeshifting something that looks like her idea of a costume)
She can fly, and she’s pretty tough, also:
- radical shapeshifting
- telepathy and mind blasts
Both the shapeshifting and telepathy are native abilities of her people.
- Where do you come from?
- Lucidia – a colorful planet with 3 suns and many moons. It’s got a LOT of ocean, and is heavily affected by varying gravitational forces, so the inhabitants of the world have learned to be very… adaptable and fluid.
- Why did you come to Earth?
- She fled or was sent away from her homeworld when it was invaded by Vanquish (a sort of intergalactic warlord, in the vein of Ronan from Gaurdians of the Galaxy). Her homeworld is peaceful, so resistance has been very slow.
- Why do you want to stay here (for now at least)?
- It’s safer here. More peaceful.
- Why do your people want you to come home?
- I’m the princess, and the resistance needs a leader.
- Why do you care about the team?
- My family tree is EXTENSIVE, so I really miss having a close support network.
Kaylee and JC1 were both mostly done with their characters by the time JC2 showed up (family obligations). So… dad was a LITTLE bit right about that.
Also, G1 totally didn’t show, so… right again. (I’m not smart, I’ve just been scarred by years of gaming.)
Anyway, JC2 is here! Also, she has a really strong idea for her character, and immediately grabs…
HERO NAME: Ember
REAL NAME: Lucy Ray
* woman, caucasian, blonde/reddish hair, blue eyes, casual clothing, and a colorful costume (black, with flames print around the wrist and ankles. Tall boots.)
- When did you first use your powers?
- Who was the first person you accidentally hurt with your powers?
- A bully from her old school was messing with a kid from her old school at the park, and when she stood up to him, he really got in her face and said some horrible things. She got… very mad. He just got out of the hospital a few days ago, and the bandages on his arm and leg still haven’t come off. (GM notes she isn’t showing any remorse about this.)
- Who, outside the team, helps you control your powers?
- An old woman named Agatha, who saw what happened at the park.
- Why do you continue to use your powers?
- If she doesn’t use them, they build up to the point where literally ANY kind of strong emotions can release them. Using them is safer. Kind of.
- Why do you care about the team?
- They trust her. Right now, it doesn’t seem like anyone trusts her.
You all go to Phoenix Academy…
The players were all interested in an intensely school-focused game, so we’re using the “Phoenix Academy” playset from the Masks: Unbound sourcebook. Initially, this meant the next step in chargen was sketching out the faculty of the school and asking the players some questions.
I let them know about Hellbinder, the headmaster/demon parolee in charge of the school, as well as several other ‘stock’ members of the staff, and then went around the table asking questions:
- Ember, which teacher will just NOT cut you a break?
- Sergeant S.U.R.G.E. – the gym teacher currently working off some prison time by teaching at the school. He senses Lucy can’t control her powers, and has decided he’s going to fix that problem with thousands of push-ups.
- Palacene, which teacher do you secretly have a crush on?
- Mr. “Brick” (B. Rick) – the only totally mundane teacher in the school. (Math)
- (This whole conversation led to a hilarious discussion of an alien experiencing blushing for the first time.)
- Silhouette, which faculty member do you suspect is actually a supervillain?
- Hellbinder, the headmaster. She just doesn’t trust him – he just killed too many people. No way.
- Ember, which teacher’s do you think are secretly hooking up?
- The janitor, whom everyone thinks is great, and Princess Arizella, the swashbuckling English teacher.
- Palacene, which teacher do you think should retire?
- Selma Schwatz, the perpetually ancient school administrator know-it-all.
- Silhouette, who do you think would make a better headmaster?
- Princess Arizella – not because she’s got much experience, just because it would be AWESOME.
After that, we went on to the standard –
When the team first came together…
This went pretty quickly. I first asked who the team had been fighting at the time. Kaylee remembered fighting Rampage in some other Masks one-shot, and thought they made a good one-and-done background enemy.
I asked Ember what part of the city had been destroyed during the fight, and found out it had been the downtown arts and theatre district.
Palacene let us know that the girls initially didn’t trust each other, but when Ember stepped out of the crowd and blasted Rampage off of Palacene at just the right moment, the trust started growing.
Finally, Silhouette explained that they stayed in touch afterwards through her efforts to keep communicating with supers her age, and the fact they were all going to Phoenix Academy. They’re not part of an official school club, just an unofficial clique – no school support, but also no school club rules.
After that, they mapped out relationships between each other (with three players, it went fast), and determining Influence (everyone has Influence over everyone else at this point, which is interesting).
We didn’t have much time at this point, so I framed them into a scene waiting for the ferry to take them to the Phoenix Academy island for their first day of sophomore year (2nd year there for Silhouette – 1st for Palacene and Ember).
There was a bit of chit chat, until Silhouette noticed an ozone scent in the air and tingling static along her skin. She took stock (assess the situaiton), realized they were about to be attacked and, based on the environmental clues, guessed it was Voltaic – an AI who had gone rogue and decided the best way to keep humanity safe was kill all metahumans… what better target than a quay full of teen supers?
She’d read the files on Voltaic, though, and quickly let the team know they needed to get the thing into the water, before it could hurt anyone. Go go go!
Time to “Face a Powerful Enemy” – the girls decided Silhouette was the leader, Team points were generated, and we’ll start off next with a fight on the marina, surrounded by Halcyon City’s youngest supers.