Anyone have good suggestions for phone / app friendly play by post platforms or tools?
The Masks game I play with my daughter and two of her friends hit a real high note with the most recent session, but it looks like we won’t be able to get back to the table until almost mid-August. Need something for asynchronous one-on-one play with a generation that associates “email” with “homework.”
Also, they’re going to be on the road a lot, so something that requires a PC for best experience is not recommended.
This weekend has been chock-a-block with face to face gaming goodness with cool kids.
Friday was the 14th session of Masks: Phoenix Academy game with Kaylee and the Jamies and, I think, possibly one of the best sessions so far. (Which is good, because we’re not going to be able to play again until something like mid-August. :sadface: )
Sunday morning had a return to the The Hollow-inspired game for Sean and Zoe and Kaylee (Ryu and Grace and Angel). Things are starting to come apart, and Mr. Weirdo came to them to ask for help(?!?)
And Sunday evening, we tried something new: a Hilda-inspired weird-little-town, with Sean and Zoe and Kaylee playing siblings who are all part of the family who traditionally deal with ‘weird stuff’ in the world. Mom and Dad handle the BIG weird stuff out in the world, because “the town kind of takes care of itself” – without realizing that it’s actually their KIDS who take care of the town.
Back in the old country, their family were the Swartwoods. Grandpa changed his name when he came here, though, so say hello the Smartwoods: Mar (Marzipan), Ken (Kennelworth), and Zo (Zoology) Smartwood.
The characters and game came together well and, after supper, we got ready for bed and played some more in lieu of bedtime stories. The Smartwood kids ran into a little trouble with the town deputies when Ken broke into the new Assistant Principle’s house to poke around, and they haven’t figured out why the town history seems to be … changing … but things are moving RIGHT along.
I’ve been lucky enough to have a regular gaming group for Some Time Now (thanks, #Roll20 !) – I don’t have the hard numbers, but I think we’re averaging ~48-50 game sessions a year in the main Monday night group.
The weekend just past was a bit of a jackpot.
On Friday night, I ran Session 0 chargen for a game of Apocalypse World, using the Baker’s new “Burned Over” playbooks, for a ‘fey revenge’ apocalypse that sees humanity clinging to survival in the ruins of rust-filled cities where the fey can’t easily reach. The notable bit with this game is it’s with three people I haven’t gotten to play RPGs with in ~five years. (That this group also includes my wife speaks volumes about how rough co-scheduling can be, sometimes.) Kate, Kim, and Amanda are playing a Vigilant, Brain-picker, and Medic, respectively, leaving me to come up with a real bastard of a settlement leader and (maybe) set up some patriarchy-smashing revenge fantasy. I have some more meandering thoughts on how excited I am to be playing with this group of strong women, but I’m still unpacking that. More to come.
Saturday night was the fifth actual play-session of the #Masks game with my daughter and her two friends from school – the only game being played face-to-face. This game fills me with joy, because the girls are so utterly into the game and, while they certainly have some level of self-awareness about the tropes involved, are totally invested and have exactly ZERO CHILL when it comes to the events of the sessions. We’re all learning a lot, and there are some real growth opportunities, though not always smiles and glitter (my daughter, for example, paused play for few minutes to talk about how her frustration with trying to play a fun-loving, joke-y character when her instincts is to “get super tense and judgmental of people when they don’t do what I expect, which… blame my mother, pretty much.”
On Saturday, the girls showed up to play WEARING THEIR CHARACTERS’ NON-COSTUME CLOTHING. They cosplayed as their guys, people. My cup runneth over.
And, of course, there’s my regular Monday Roll20 group, who (while still continuing to write fiction and comics NON-STOP about their Masks characters), are now four sessions into a game of the forged-in-the-dark game Scum and Villainy. The crew of the Fast Buck are trying to lay low while they figure out what to do with the insanely valuable/powerful Ur Artifact they’ve accidentally acquired, while the players (and GM) slowly feel our way through a new game system. A good system, to be sure, but ‘fiddly’ feeling to us, after well over a year of playing a game with which we’d become very very comfortable. (Kaylee, who listens in on the Monday group while doing homework, opines: “each session feels like about… half a comic issue.” And she’s not wrong – we’re going pretty slow right now, probably due to me trying to get the rules ‘right’, and asking lots of background questions.)
SO: for the first time probably since before my oldest daughter was born, that’s THREE gaming sessions in a week, all with a completely different group of players (save me). Really fantastic.
The Sepia Squad’s final showdown with Dr. Infinity.
Doctor Infinity’s starfish-robot questions Charade about Charlotte Palmer by sending itself through her timeline. Charade deflects attention onto Hecate and the HHL. Mercury rescues her from the object’s subsequent attack. While Link escapes with an older Jason Quill, Concord faces off against an older Sablestar, and manages to gain the upper hand. He siphons away her special sword, sending her fleeing. Ghost Girl and Jaycee extract the older Charlotte from Pandemonium. Together with an assembled army of ghosts, they wield forces that draw Infinity’s attention, but close the wound.
There’s a game in development called Girl Underground, which focuses on a central Girl (in the vein of Alice in Wonderland, Labyrinth, Mirrormask, Spirited Away, etc) having an adventure in a weird secret world, with her companions.
Only The Girl has stats. No one plays the girl. Everyone plays wondrous companions. You roll with The Girl’s stats.
I’m running a game for my kids, inspired by The Hollow series on Netflix, and for said game I’m basically using a loosey-goosey version of World of Dungeons: Turbo.
However, the setup for the game doesn’t closely match the original World of Dungeons: Turbo premise, so I’ve already spent a fair amount of time scribbling in different abilities and such.
As a result, I figured it would be worth my time to build a character sheet I could tweak as the game went on. So I did that, and I wanted to share it not because anyone would want to run a similar game, but because I figured someone might want a sheet they could customize for their own WoDu variations.
PLEASE NOTE: I am verifiably shit at design of any kind, so this thing is pretty hacktackular, but whatever. It works.
Created at the behest of Mark Hunt, for a silly little project on MeWe.
Small beast, probably evil
Armor Class 16 Natural Armor
Hit Points 30 (5d10 + 5)
Speed 25 ft., fly 80 ft., swim 35 ft.
CHA 3 (because geese)
Immune to Fear (as near as we can tell)
The Fire Goose is basically just a goose, from a fiery pocket dimension. We assume. No one wants to go to whatever beknighted hellhole spawned something as terrible as a goose (which is already terrible) but also on fire. We wouldn’t even know the damned things existed – and might then sleep slightly better – except some idiot in a robe summoned one and the sodding things keep pulling more of their feathered, furious kin over. Seriously, it’s terrible. We may be doomed. Did you learning nothing from the Vrock Debacle that leveled the city of Yll, Kevin ?!?
Not noticeably larger than a typical goose, a fire goose is often mistook as its local cousins, if you approach in bright sunlight (which makes the fiery crown nearly invisible). However, once you get close enough (why would you get closer?!? – even if you didn’t realize it’s on fire, it’s still a goose, and thus nothing but pure evil and spite), it will stretch out its wings and wreathe itself in flames; either as a power display or – and gods above and below help you if this turns out to be the case – a mating stance.
The fire goose is not afraid to attack an intruder, but is also MORE than willing to summon aid and kill anything not goose-shaped with the support of its hellish kin. It is not unusual to see two or three fire geese turn into a large flock of twenty in less than a minute.
Also, they’re apparently mating with local geese as well, now? And get viable progeny? Gods’ tears, Kevin, what did you do? This is the darkest timeline.
Squawking Lava Charge. If the fire goose moves at least 20 feet straight toward a target and then hits it with a beak attack on the same turn, the target takes an extra 7 (2d6) fire damage. The target must also succeed on a Wisdom Save or become Frightened. This is not a supernatural effect: geese are just effing terrifying, man, and this one is on fire.
The Great Honk. When the Fire Goose feels threatened, wants to BE threatened, or – as near as we can tell – just bloody feels like it, it may attempt to summon more Fire Geese to its aid. The Fire Goose must attempt a CON save; on a success, its call was loud enough to be heard beyond the filmy veil between worlds, and another Fire Goose appears within 30 feet, already angry and ready to get stuck in.
Fearsome Hiss. At The start of the Fire Goose’s turn, it wreathes itself in flames and emits a hiss that affects all creatures in a 15-foot cone in front of the dire goose. Each creature in the area must succeed a Wisdom Saving or have disadvantage on its attack rolls until the end of its next turn.
Fire Beak. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 1d6 + 4) burning damage.
Wreathed in Fire Wing Attack. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 10 ft., one horrified target. Hit: 10 (2d6 + 4) fire damage. CON save or become prone.
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)
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.
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.
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.
I love this game. I haven’t been pushed like this in years.
I also haven’t doubted myself as much either, which really needs to stop.
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.
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.
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.
(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).
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.
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.
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.)
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!
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 portrayals (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.
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.
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’
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)
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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?”
“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.
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?”
“I think… we should play that again.”
“Yeah. We should play that again. Maybe… we should play it now?”
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.
not exactly fun
until the third rum
Then one school chum
interrupts the hum
and half-drunken fuzz
for a joke.
His Genuine Draft thunks down
(emblematic drink of this small midwestern town)
and he says
“… are you still a nerd?”
(Before I proceed, a disclaimer
about this guy, not me,
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
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
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
“A nerd? Me?
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.
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
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
with something far less
than indignant fury:
“A nerd? Me?
What does he say?
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
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.”
“Yeah,” I said. “And I can’t decide if that’s really cool or incredibly creepy.”
… 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.?
Penny Arcade – The Cool Of The Pool
Club PA. Ad Free Experience; Club PA Pinny Arcade Pin; Staff PA Podcast; And 10+ more benefits. Learn More · Penny Arcade · News · Comics · Read. Penny Arcade · Read. The Trenches · Read. Camp Weedonwantcha · Read. PA Side Stories · Read. PA Presents · Archive · Forum · Shop …
This has been sitting in my drafts folder for something like six months, so let’s put it out there, just for fun.
I made this guy up for a “feudal, so-high-tech-it’s-low-tech Japan” campaign that ran for (I think) just the character creation session. An obvious riff on the Blade of the Immortal comics (which I’ve never read).
Aspects High Concept: Immortal Samurai Trouble: Mysterious Past, Even to Me – Nanites in my Blood – Everyone Lies, but No One Listens – [open]
Great (+4) Fight
Good (+3) Deceive, Physique
Fair (+2) Athletics, Notice, Stealth
Average (+1) Craft, Ride/Transport, Will, Provoke
Stunts Nanite Repair. 2:Armor, or 2 over average armor in setting. 1x/session, spend a fate point to downshift Minor or Moderate Consequences (2 stunts). See also “Being Immortal in Fate.” Liars know Liars. Use Deceive to defend versus Deception or overcome obstacles created via Deception.
One of the complaints/problems I've run into with previous incarnations of Fate were with character advancement. To be blunt, there wasn't any, or it wasn't satisfying for those familiar with more mainstream RPG gaming.
That is, without a doubt, a 'fixed problem' with Fate Core and FAE. The best demonstration of that I've found have been with write-ups like these: Conan's entire career as a series of FAE milestones.
I self-identify as a gamer more readily and/or instinctively than any other social sub-caste, up to and including “parent.” Good or bad, that’s the way it is.
(To be fair, I’ve been dropping dice on various flat surfaces and expressing their results as bloody narrative for something like 32 years, which is four times longer than I’ve logged as a shaper of innocent human larvae, so maybe that’s okay.)
The thing is, if you consider that randomaverage (which is effectively the oldest blog I have) has no other purpose than to provide a space upon which I can scratch my game-related sanskrit, and you disregard the stuff I’ve written about EVE (which while voluminous was basically a paid gig), it becomes glaringly obvious that despite my well-documented interests, I haven’t been doing a lot of gaming recently.
(Recently: the last three years.)
2010 was essentially the last great gaming hurrah around Casa Testerman — a drought whose origin can be directly tied to the arrival of my son, and with Child3 just arrived, it would be fair to assume another third of a decade wandering the non-gaming wasteland.
2013 has, instead, seen the first green shoots of gaming life pushing up through the smothering mulch of diapers and dried formula that lies deep and crisp and even out to the edge of my personal horizon.
How can this be?
Some of it – a precious and important part – lies with the fact I’ve been able to start gaming with my daughter, but (so far, at least) that’s an unreliable and infrequent event, thanks to school and the mountains of homework we both have to deal with every week.
But aside from that, in the last fifteen weeks I’ve played in a dozen game sessions, which is the most proper gaming I’ve managed in the last three years, and the most time I’ve spent playing and not-GMing in… I think, ever.
The reason: Google+ Hangouts.
MMOs aside (and, really, they aren’t relevant to this discussion), I’ve never enjoyed much success with online gaming; things like play-by-post or play-by-email games just move too slowly to hold my interest for more than a few weeks. I tried out a Heroquest game via IRC text chat at one point, but even then the glacial pace was an issue – it was simply compressed into six-hour sessions instead of stretched over a month. Voice chat by itself never grabbed me – too much going on, and no way to easily sort out what was happening.
But Hangouts? Voice, video, dice rollers, shared maps/images… all available nigh-instantly, in one place, via a technological platform so simple my parents use it as a regular means of keeping in touch with their grandkids. I and the other players might as well be in the same room, with the added convenience that we aren’t — there’s no travel time, no room cleaning, no packing and carrying of game books, and your entire personal library of stuff remains immediately at hand because you haven’t gone anywhere. More than any other game sessions I’ve played, nearly 100% of the time you’ve allocated to playing is spent playing, instead of Getting There or Waiting For The Last Guy To Get There.
I think about how hard this all would have been as little as three years ago…
Now, I’m not a hermit – I don’t hate the idea of gathering together for gaming, nor do I even hate people (much).
But gathering is hard. Schedule a game session for even a modest 3 hours and you’re locked in for (at best) an hour on either side where (thanks to travel time, packing, prep, and the niceties of modern hygiene practice) you are essentially unavailable for any other purpose. As a parent who’d very much like his spouse to keep talking to him on a nigh-daily basis, that’s very nearly a non-starter right there.
But three hours when you don’t have to go anywhere and (in moments of need) can step away to help your understanding and supportive spouse for a few minutes? That’s good stuff.
This is all aided by the degree to which Google+ ties into the rest of the Google ecosystem. Schedule the event in your calendar and you (and your other players) get an emailed reminder at the right time, with a link to click on that will automagically open the hangout in a new window – no muss, no fuss. Pop an earpiece in or on, and you’re at the table. Better yet, wrap up, close the window, and you’re home. A three hour game session largely free of distraction, with the entirety of your home within easy reach, that starts and ended within minutes of the scheduled time and drops you right back into your family’s orbit? Nearly perfect, and no more disruptive to your home life than a long phone call. (I know I’ve spent more time providing long distance tech support to my family members, without forewarning, and didn’t feel nearly as good when the conversation wrapped up.)
“I have to get out.”
I’ve gotten excited about G+ gaming to the point where I’ve tried to set up regular gaming sessions on Google+ with people I actually know and see locally, because (a) I like playing with them and (b) even though they’re here, sitting down at the same table with them isn’t any easier just because we share a zip code – and it won’t be for at least another couple years (just for me, ignoring anyone else’s situation).
This desire to invite local friends to an online game led to an interesting conversation that exposed a fascinating misconception from one of my friends. I was talking about the game I was potentially planning, and asked if he’d be interested in joining. He replied:
“I really need to get out of my house and go meet with people to game.”
I asked if that was because of some technological problem.
“No. It’s that gaming is how I get out and see people. I don’t have the same opportunity you have to visit with interesting people at social events all the time.”
Because crying would have been awkward.
It should be obvious from what I’ve already written, but in case it’s not: I don’t find G+ useful because I’ve already had my fill of face to face contact. I enjoy G+ because it’s the best and often only regular option I have right now to have a conversation that doesn’t involve toilet training or homework assignments, without become completely unavailable as a husband or parent for five or six hours.
“I Don’t Know How You Do It.”
So this is my life right now:
Three kids: Infant, 2 year old, 8 year old
A marriage of which I’m rather fond
MFA program (writing workshop, directed reading, thesis, et cetera)
Part-time technical support for a forum
Guest speaker at a writer’s conference
And yet I fit in:
A regular weekly gaming session
A regular weekly writing workshop unrelated to the MFA (also online)
The reason it’s possible is:
My wife, who is awesome and supportive
Google+, which handles scheduling, reminders, play space, logs, dice rolling, voice, video, map sharing, doc sharing, and asynchronous communication between sessions, all via a platform that is low tech enough for nearly everyone I know
So… there you go. I don’t have a fancy wrap-up. Truth be told, I’ve been meaning to write this post for nearly a month, but I haven’t been able to find time. Funny and sad, when you think about it.
But I made time, because I think this is something more adult gamers need to know is out there. I’ve said before that I’m spending more time on Google+, because it’s the best online space for people who share your passion, and this is part of that. If you’re ones of those gamers who, if you’re honest, is really someone who used to be a gamer, you owe it to yourself to check out some of the Google+ communities and see what’s out there.
I write for a living and, more than that, I write because I love it. I always have: my first coherent story (a taut action-mystery-thriller in the ageless style of Alvin Fernald) is… let’s say “stored for posterity” in an old steamer chest in my garage. Handwritten, hand-bound, and illustrated in pen AND crayon – indisputably the best work I produced, circa 1979.
I’m proud of that little book, and the kid that wrote it. I’m proud of all the stories I’ve written since (even the ones consigned to my “still needs work” folder), the ones I’m working on right now, and (of course) Hidden Things. It’s a hell of a thing, to hold a book in your hands and see your words made solid in the world.
But I’ve never quite felt I was done with Hidden Things. Not quite.
Because for me, part of a story is telling it; actually speaking the words. Putting your characters’ rage and fear and joy into the air. Making listeners laugh, or cry, or groan. It’s simple: I was surrounded by storytellers as a kid, and that was what they did.
Now, I get to do it too.
Thanks to the efforts of my amazing agent and the fine folks at HarperCollins (who returned audio rights to me simply because I asked for them), I now have the opportunity to record the Hidden Things audiobook and make it available exactly the way I wish every audiobook could be.
Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon | TheMittani.com
In my last review, I talked about Atomic Robo, a fairly small-press, not-everyone’s-heard-about-it title. This time, let’s go the opposite route. Let’s talk about Marvel. Specifically, let’s talk about a story that really no one would have pegged as a winner, let alone the best title currently …
* – Should not actually be considered any kind of guarantee. At all.
Atomic Robo & the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne | TheMittani.com
Let’s start with a quick questionnaire. Do you like: Buckaroo Banzai; Indiana Jones; Doc Savage; Hellboy (movie or comic); Science, especially when it is followed with an exclamation point or preceded by the words “violent,” “adventure,” or both; Nikola Tesla; Wisecracks; Beating up Nazis …
We picked up the action from Session Two the following day. Hooray for weekends and little brother’s naptime.
Matthew Cuthbert drives a beautifully preserved old pickup that purrs down the highway like a sleeping lion. Inside the cab of the pickup, the old man and young girl are quiet: Matthew seems a bit uncomfortable with small talk, now that he’s on his own, and the Nataly has always been comfortable entertaining herself — she pulls out several of her comic books once it’s clear Matthew isn’t going to spend the drive quizzing her, and dives in.
After a half-hour or so, he clears his throat and asks what she’s reading.
“Just… my comic books,” she says, looking at the covers as though she wasn’t sure the covers matched the contents.
“Ahh, I see…” he mulls that over. “Which, ah… which ones are those about?”
She shrugs. “Superman. Captain Spectacular. The Clue. War Witch. The Inspectre.”
“Well, now…” he says, smiling a bit, “I’ve even heard of some of those.” He frowns. “You know… it’s a puzzle. There’re superheroes out there, and there’s superhero comics, but a lot of the comics you mentioned are made-up people, instead of the real ones. I wonder why that is.”
[Note: I had not talked this idea over with Kaylee beforehand — we were just roleplaying through the car ride and I lobbed this at her to see what she’d do.]
Nataly considered for a few seconds, then shrugged. “People read the comics to have fun. If they read something that happened to a real superhero, that’s just… news. Nobody likes news.”
Matthew pondered that, then nodded. “I reckon that’s so.”
[The next day, I asked Kaylee which of the superheroes she mentioned were ‘real’ and which were ‘just comics’ in Nataly’s version of the world. The answer she gave told me that we’re in somewhere in the DC multiverse (I’ll call it Earth-23), albeit with a few unfamiliar names in the headlines. I suspect this is at least partly because she’d rather Nataly meet Robin than read about him.]
The drive was a long one — her new home wasn’t anywhere near Clearwater Campus, and Nataly wondered how her new family had even heard of it, let alone her. She asked about her new home, but Matthew didn’t know much.
“We just moved in a few days ago,” he said. “Marilla – my sister – picked it out, while I was coming to get you. Have you ever lived on a farm?”
Nataly shook her head.
“Me neither,” he confided. “I guess we’ll all figure it out together.”
“What did you do before you moved?” Nataly asked.
“Well, now…” he thought it over. “I suppose we were just… looking around for the right thing.”
Nataly dozed for awhile, and Matthew woke her when they got close to their destination.
“Now, Marilla is… really excited to meet you,” he said, “but she gets stern when she’s nervous, so don’t hold her first impression against her. She warms up over time.”
Nataly nodded. A veteran of uncounted “family interviews”, she had no fear of meeting new people.
The farm house looked as though it hadn’t been lived in for quite awhile. It was nice, just a bit run-down.
“We’ll have lots to work on,” thought Nataly.
A woman about Matthew’s age was waiting in the yard, and Nataly got out and walked over right away to shake her hand.
“So,” said Marilla, “you’re the girl.” She tried on a smile, though it didn’t look especially comfortable. “Good.”
Marilla and Matthew give Nataly a tour of the rambling old farmhouse, and she’s encouraged to unpack, but that really doesn’t take very long. The two suggest she ‘do a bit of exploring around the place’, which she does, though she purposely does not do any experimentation with her bracelet at this time, her reluctance explained as a desire to have at least one day go by at the farm with nothing going wrong. Supper and bedtime are pleasantly uneventful, and Nataly dozes off while (re)reading comic books.
The next morning, after helping with breakfast, Nataly is directed back outside for more ‘exploring’, and her own meandering and boredom eventually get the best of her and lead her to more messing around with her bracelet. This goes quite a bit better than the previous morning’s misadventure with Kendra, and after a few hours she finds she’s able to fly reliably and even get up a kind of ‘force bubble’ semi-reliably — it seems to be more of a flinch reaction when she’s about to smash into something hard.
She’s surprised to realize that flying is hard work: something that leaves her quite as winded as she would be from a long run or a series of sprints — it’ll be in her best interests to continue to ‘exercise’ her new abilities.
She returns to the house at lunchtime, washes up, helps lay food out, eats enough for three grown adults, chattering the whole time, and then actually falls asleep sitting in her chair. Matthew carries her up to her room and she naps for almost three hours, then helps her new family unpack and organize the house. Marilla doesn’t think much of her comic books, but does have a surprisingly broad selection of science fiction novels that Nataly has never heard of and which Marilla seems eager for the girl to read.
Nataly wakes in the middle of the night unsure what’s jolted her from sleep, but doesn’t have to wait long — the strange skittering across both the roof of the house and the floor of her room answers that question quickly enough.
She’s still trying to decide if she should go and explore or call for someone when a large, clicking, metallic spider-creature-thing jumps onto the foot of her bed.
Nataly, never a big fan of spiders in general, much less big robo-spiders the size of dobermans, lets out a shriek, shoves at the thing and… blasts it back off her bed and right through the wall, leaving a gaping hole between her room and Marilla’s.
There’s a moment of stunned silence, then Nataly shouts:
Just as Marilla shouts:
“Matthew! They’re here!”
“Who’s here?” Nataly hollers, and jumps out of bed.
“Get downstairs!” is her only reply, and she does so, stopping only long enough to grab her backpack.
The outside of the house is crawling with spiderbots.
Metal Shell, Spindly Legs
+2 to Creepy Spider Stuff
-2 to everything else.
No stress boxes.
Four of the ‘bots leap down, a silvery web spread out between them like a net. Nataly throws a force field up that’s too big for the web to surround, the spiders themselves hit it and bounce away. Matthew tries to grab one and smash it, but it crawls up/wraps around his arm and grapples with him.
Marilla emerges from the house carrying a bag that would intimidate Mary Poppins and snaps at Nataly to get to the barn, but the girl isn’t going to leave her new friends… family. Whatever. She drops her own force field and creates shields around Marilla and Matthew instead, which give them more than enough of an edge against the spiders to do some damage. Matthew peels his loose and smashes it against a second one, destroying both, while Marilla’s arm seems to… fold apart, revealing a very large gun barrel that spews bright blasts of energy that make short work of several spiders (though they also damage the house and start several small fires).
Matthew, at least, is willing to listen to Marilla, and heads to the barn to get his pickup out so they can get away.
Nataly’s a bit traumatized by her brand new home being on fire, but Marilla’s grim determination helps her stay focused. Marilla’s unexpected offensive has the spiderbots reeling. [Rather than going for damage, she created an Advantage for Nataly to exploit, and the dice were very kind, giving Nataly two free +2 aspect invocation bonuses to use against the enemy.]
Nataly takes advantage of Marilla ‘grouping’ the stunned spiderbots into several large clusters and tries to repeat the trick she did to the bot that jumped on her bed, hurling several ‘balls’ of force energy at the clusters of spiders.
[[Between the two free invokes, the +2 bonus she gets from one of her stunts, Kaylee’s insistence on using a Fate Point to invoke her ‘bracelet’ aspect, a good dice roll on her part and a bad dice roll on my part, she ended up with something like fourteen (!) shifts worth of damage to dole out amongst the ‘bots. Not enough to take them all out, but more than enough to cut their numbers by half and give her and her family plenty of time to drive away.]]
It’s quiet in the cab of the truck. Nataly is looking out the back window at her first real home, burning, dwindling in the distance.
“Well…” Matthew finally says. “I’d guess you did a bit of something or other with your bracelet today?”
Nataly doesn’t know what to say, or how he knew, so she simply nods. He nods in return, glancing at Marilla, who’s mouth gets tight.
“It’s our own fault,” she says, “this foolishness about living out in the country. There’s no other anomalous energy signatures out here — anything the girl does will stand out like a spotlight.” She shakes her head.
“I’m sorry,” Nataly’s voice is small, sure that this is all her fault.
“Oh, girl, don’t be silly. We should have known better.”
“I could… just…” she swallows “…not use the bracelet?”
“Well, now…” Matthew drawls. “That won’t do, I don’t think.” (Which is a great relief to Nataly.)
“No it will not,” Marilla agrees, primly. “The problem is being out here in the open.” She considers. “What a body needs is camouflage — the more strange things going on around us, the less likely anyone’s going to notice the girl.” She looks at Matthew.
“City it is, then,” he replies, and spares a smile for Nataly. “Best you get some sleep. It’s a long drive to Mercury Bay.”