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. 🙂

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.

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

Masks, Session 1, Not Exactly Actual Play

For our first real session of Masks, I decided to start off the game[^1] with a super-awkward morning-news-show-style interview with most of the team and the interviewer, Tasha Starr.

It was deliciously horrible. When Iconoclast finally blasted in the streetside window and shouted "this interview is over!" the Bull's immediate reaction – over a live mic – was "Thank Christ."

Then there were supers fisticuffs and the rescuing of civilians and idiot morning show hosts.

One of my wonderful players (+Bill Garrett) put together a series of livetweets commemorating the interview, and I just had to share, because they're great.

The last one in the series is by me, foreshadowing events coming up in session 2 (and the still-ongoing fight just outside the studio).

[^1]: The actual start of the game was the love letters I wrote for all the characters, captured here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+DoyceTesterman/posts/7Vba3bjiu39 https://plus.google.com/u/0/+DoyceTesterman/posts/7onPVFuExmH https://plus.google.com/u/0/+DoyceTesterman/posts/dry21LYnx7P https://plus.google.com/u/0/+DoyceTesterman/posts/dQDWqFRsUVJ

      

In Album 8/18/17

Masks, Session 0

The video recording for this session went wonky, so here's the audio for our Masks session 0.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5y9JJSSCg1pZnNWNDZGS2NQNUk/view?usp=sharing

I'm SUPER excited to see these kids in action.

Link, the power-armored super-genius with a very complicated family life (Bull)
Concord, the way-too-young host of the Powers of Valor (Nova playbook)
Jason Quill, one-time child science adventurer, now 'protected' by a cloud of nanobots that seem to be… absorbing his psyche (Doomed)
Ghost Girl, the ghost of a civil-war-era girl, brought back to the wondrous world of the future (Outsider)
Harry Gale, a.k.a. Mercury – the youngest member of The World's Fastest Family (Legacy)

It's going to be a good time.

2017-08-08 – Masks 0 – w music.mp3 – Google Drive
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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

The Art(ist) of the Game

I’m very lucky to have +Michael Williams in my regular Tuesday night (hangouts-based) gaming group. (we’re currently playing Dungeon World and Lady Blackbird, after wrapping up a 30-session pbta-hacked Star Wars campaign.)

I’m lucky to have him because he’s a great player. I didn’t even KNOW he could draw until he started turning out these wonderful character portraits.

And to be honest, the most enjoyable thing wasn't the final product (that's a very close second); it was the long post in our Dungeon World Roll20 forum in which Mike shared each iteration of the work he was doing, and went deep into the design theory behind each character. Fascinating stuff.

Here’s the finished picture of my Dungeon World…
Here’s the finished picture of my Dungeon World group, currently deep within the bowels of Frostdeath Mountain… I’m excited to see what sort of trouble these kids get into. Their last session ended…

Terribly Dated Game Commentary

After having the core D&D fifth edition books on my shelf for well over a year almost three years, I finally had good cause to read them. (I'm a bit past the point where I can find the time to read RPGs just for the heck of it.)

I'm both surprised and delighted to discover how little of the Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide are actually rules for play: the (300 page) PHB's rules section is about 25 pages (with 175 for character creation, and 100 for magic-related stuff), and the DMG's section is roughly 30 pages, with the other 90% almost entirely devoted to world-building guidelines, advice, or examples of once kind or another (with optional rules from older editions of the game scattered throughout, allowing you to easily customize/homerule the system to whatever flavor of DnD you like best. Potion miscibility tables!)

It's weird to say 600 total pages of rulebooks represent a lean, simple system, but it really does. Good game.

Ready for Prime Time

Last night, we started a new Dungeon World game with the regular Tuesday night group. As I shared yesterday, I've been pretty excited about the game, as have the players, and it went about as well as I'd hoped.

But that's not what I'm posting about.

Normally, +Kaylee Testerman isn't around on Tuesday nights, but she was last night, and in lieu of doing some Overwatch matches with her (which is what normally happens if she's around and has no homework), I asked if she wanted to join the game.

She did.

Now, Kaylee's played quite a few RPGs with me, her cousins, and even with Sean, but she's never joined in on a 'regular' play group, and after I asked and she said she was in, I had a few niggling worries because… come on: she's eleven. She didn't even know two of the guys in the group. What if she ending up being the "super annoying kid of the GM?"

I may be (probably am) biased, but really I needn't have worried. She was focused, polite, thoughtful, inventive, and just all around a positive contributing member of the game – I was particularly impressed with her answer to the question I asked each player: "This land is beautiful/desolate, because…" (here: https://youtu.be/ML-LUfjNgas?t=1h10m26s), but all of her play showed so much thought, I worried people would think I'd coached her.

(She told me after that game that during the owlbear fight, she'd been googling "how to take down big monsters in fantasy games" so she'd have a good action to take when it was her turn.)

Nerd-gamer-me was proud as could be.