This is villainy

My Champions Now alpha play is concluded, and I’m moving into Beta. You’ll see a lot of things in the Defiants game which I decided needed to be revised heavily: Mind Scan, Desolid, assisting, and plenty of others which in the past I accepted as “well, that’s just Champions,” all hit the butcher shop for the first version of something I can genuinely call mine.

We played nine sessions all told, and here you can see #4-5. They are a beast of play-time, a topic I’ll address in the comments, and this is the first time where I’ve felt my necessary-for-viewing edits subtract from the full understanding of how we did things (not an enjoyable perception). I do think the results are entertaining and showcase the rules-use well. Summaries so you know what you’re in for:

Session 4 (below) is more socializing and talking, but it’s not trivial. The characterizations continue to build, relationships broaden, more of San Antonio gets seen. Brian (Silverbeak) spectacularly misreads the situation concerning Man o’War, and we meet Myrmidon, superheroic mascot/representative of Myrmidon Inc, who’s using stick-and-carrot to rope our heroes into the corporate orbit.

Session 5 part 1 is the early stages of the Mymidon-led assault on an ICE detainee camp, or rather, an attempted extraction and an attempted defense to keep Ghost from scorched-earthing the place (ICE figures it’s better to destroy the place and blame the heroes rather than to see it exposed and/or to have to deal with all these detainees anyway).

Session 5/2 is the outcome of those attempts, and if you don’t mind my saying, is one big impressive combat sequence full of characterization and suffering. I direct your attention to Mymidon’s real plan: to associate the new heroes with Myrmidon in public perception, which is another wing of the groundwork for them eventually to accept licensing for their powers, i.e. patronage. The point is for them to be maneuvered into de facto acceptance anyway, and to be so targeted by malevolent foes like Ghost, that signing-on would indeed be merely a formality.

Until then, Rod had struggled with his character concept for the Oblate, which never came together in terms of visual action. For someone with a Variable Power Pool, he relied heavily on his basic energy blast, mainly using the VPP for perception and investigation, and I noticed by this point that he kept saying “wizard” when verbally working out what he wanted to do. After this, though, the VPP really opens up as a visual concept and serious group asset, and a revamped name and look in Session 6. That corresponds in my opinion to Rod also playing Michael as accepting his de facto leader role, and although he might not realize it, priest.

Santiago thought a lot about these sessions as you’ll see in the later ones. One of his points concerned learning about superheroes from movies and TV shows, rather than from comics. The effect is to associate superhero stories mainly with extensive origin stories, especially being baffled or in denial about having the powers, and then being defensive or in denial about using them for anything, and only then and eventually acquiring the signature look. This sequence is so extensive that it’s either the whole first movie or the entire first season of the show, and often followed by B-grade standard A-team plots for the later material.

Therefore the sequence is itself perceived as the auperhero story, and the viewer has no idea, zip zero, that a given issue or brief series of issues of, say, Spider-Man, can itself be a story, often related to character development which is long, long past the origin events, and indeed, is the kind of story that the comics reader is most enjoying.

It’s compounded in Silverbeak’s case by a common trend – not in itself bad – to make one’s Champions character rather complicated. In this case it wasn’t positive: the public/secret power-sets, the point structures of each, Santiago’s unfamiliarity with the system, his insight about what he thought a superhero story was in the first place, his concept of Brian as well-meaning but not very deep-thinking, his reflexive decisions to keep separating his character from the others, a brief spate of mixing up the trial vs. accepted versions of the character sheets … it all gelled to make, or least lean toward, Silverbeak being stupid and rash, and for his powers to be vague in his own player’s mind.

Fortunately, this sequence of sessions corresponds with a number of reflections about it, and Santiago’s surprise decision about it in 5/1 turns out to be the start of Brian becoming a more solid, accessible, and likeable hero.

Speaking of which, Tina/Myrmidon turned out to be a remarkable character to play. I had a much more negative view of her in preparation, but in play, her conflicting array of Psychological Limitations was easier than I thought. I was purposefully grading away from ICE/Ghost as the game’s main antagonist, so ramping up the goals and actions of Myrmidon was important to me – but having a character to hang it on made all the difference. It also let me conceive of Noldo Viera more freely, and I’m sad we never got to see him in play.


14 responses to “This is villainy”

  1. Loads of things to talk about in these videos…

    … but I'm going to start with NPC decision making. In particular it wasn't really clear to me at the time why Ghost bowed out when they did. Was this a endurance risk / return sort of thing? Or becasue they had achieved as much of their agenda as they plausibly could? How did you decide this?

    Meanwhile, picking up on our earlier conversation about presence attacks, watching back it's really clear that these in the context of the interactions with Myrmidon had a real impact that you were considering ongoing Ron. I really liked these interactions and they seemed to result in Tina being a really interesting and sympathetic character, such that Rod's shipping "Cramidon" didn't seem entirely outlandish!

    I'm reluctant to suggest this, since its still possible we might get back to this game one day, but are you thinking of sharing some of the NPC characters, it would be quite interesting to see them, especially things like psychological limitations, to better understand the way these interactions evolved. 

    • Looks like this will be two

      Looks like this will be two replies.

      We should contrast Ghost’s action in this situation against what happened in the first session.

      The first time you fought them, it was a complete surprise to them, and they were also badly hampered by terrible rolls early in the fight. So they ended up burning tons of Endurance and still kept getting surprised by things like tentacle grabs. So it made a lot of sense for them to flee and (as you learned later) to set up an ambush vs. pursuit, rather than stand their ground.

      This time was really different – it was all about the messaging. There was quite an invisible war going on with Myrmidon, who was broadcasting the events in highly edited fashion to serve its/her mission goals, against ICE’s already-in-place mechanisms for controlling the narrative about whatever happens to its zones of control. Tina rolled pretty well in that fight, although not 100%, leading Ghost to go to scorched-earth, wreaking as much havoc as possible before departing and relying on the messaging war to promote the "terrible liberals allowed violent and dangerous detainees the leeway they needed to riot and damage property, as they do; Ghost, what Ghost" interpretation. So they didn't flee; they laid the foundation for the messaging war and departed in good order, even if they didn't manage to get John killed.

      Note that they would have killed quite a few more people if Myrmidon and Silverbeak hadn’t helped against the prisoners’ panic, and if they hadn’t stood down the commander, who would have certainly had many of the prisoners shot; after all, they were “rioting.” And note as well that Scorpion was entirely sincere about Crawl joining them – laying that down as future interaction was important to them, especially since they know Myrmidon is hardly benevolent.

      (Unfortunately I mis-handled the de-Crawling situation; that stuff was supposed to trigger the Susceptibility too, as an ongoing effect.)

      Frankly, going after Ghost as a super-fight situation is not easy. You’ll have to think of ways to analyze and target the group ghost ability – it’s intended to be nearly unbeatable unless you do that. Frustrating as that may seem in a session of play, if we were to play longer, the payoff for legitimately working yourselves out of that disadvantaged position through smarts and teamwork is worth it.

    • Myrmidon’s Disadvantages! Or

      Myrmidon’s Disadvantages! Or rather, the super-character Myrmidon as currently represented by Tina Lang.

      I made up all of this after the very first session.

      • Psychological Limitation: corporate programming (override behavior), uncommon, meltdown; 15
      • Psychological Limitation: corporate programming (legal/paralegal framing for everything), common, irrational; 20
      • Psychological Limitation: dislikes corporate control, common; 10
      • Psychological Limitation: ruthless and selfish outside of family, uncommon; 5
      • Secret Identity; 15
      • DNPC: little brother with muscular dystrophy, only family member [Physical Limitation, severe and constant, 20; Dependent on good medical care] 30
      • Hunted: Myrmidon, extensive organization, manipulative; 20
      • Vulnerable: density, gravity, related physics; 15
      • Unusual Looks (extra perfect corporate, logo, etc), 8 or less; 5

      = 135 for 235 total points at the start, with a ratio jacked into the mid-120s.

      Let me know how well you think these came through in play, indirectly or directly, with or without making them explicit.

      She is not mind-controlled by Myrmidon at all, which is why Michael’s attempted defense for her didn’t work. When she doesn't disagree with corporate, and when she feels that her compliance is maximally serving her brother's needs, she is a terrifying force for Viera's whims.

      Amanda isn’t kidding about her personality, but note that Tina is not casually cruel and does convince herself that Myrmidon qualifies as a lesser good, the best we can hope for, especially when her attention is directed toward entities like ICE. You guys connected with her mainly through the "dislikes corporate control" Pysch Lim, and given some positive Presence interactions (especially with Crawl’s precise content), did not really trigger her potential savagery toward perceived threats to her or her brother’s well-being.

      Frankly, she’s as much of a powder keg as Brimstone, but I bet you’re already imagining that the “brother” issue only adds to the potential for Crawlmidon, like I am.

    • I’m definitely contemplating

      I'm definitely contemplating that "ruthless and selfish" Psych Lim and wondering if she was hoping one of us would get killed in there to give her messaging a big dose of pathos.

    • “Hoping” may be a bit strong;

      "Hoping" may be a bit strong; she doesn't actually wish any of you ill, and has connected with Crawl and Michael more than she (and certainly I) expected. But "OK with that," yes, that'd be true.

      Especially since she psyched herself into full corporate compliance during her speech in Part 1. That was me, being her, stripping out any doubts or second thoughts about this operation and whatever negative effects it might have on you guys specifically, in light of the genuine malevolence of the designated target.

      Another indicator is that she only joined the physical fight when Torment went after the detainees – she never took action specifically to help any of you personally.

    • On Tina, the poor woman’s a

      On Tina, the poor woman’s a mass of contradictions, which maybe contributed to her being more sympathetic than the individual psych lims imply. And maybe understandable is more important than admirable in this context too? Relatedly I got the impression you were concerned about Finn not turning out particularly likeable based on the character creation session and his varied personality flaws, but hopefully that worked out okay. 

      Meanwhile as soon as Tina mentioned “needing the insurance” Finn’s brain started wirring, although I can’t imagine that turning out well given his typically unsubtle, both feet first, poke his nose in approach to helping people. 

    • Re Ghost, that all make sense

      Re Ghost, that all make sense in terms of their actions, at the time it sort of felt like they had gone a bit easy on us, and could easily have given us more of a beating, but it probably stands repeating that getting into superfights is no more the villains goal than it is for the heroes. And meanwhile them being tough to beat is fine (or infuriating and liable to require mature content warnings) as “winning” fights isn’t itself the determining factor in overall outcomes, although what happens in the fight clearly does have an impact.

      Scorpion’s offer to Finn is certainly another fascinating layer on top of this. I can’t imagine him being tempted to consider it seriously but (mild spoilers) after session eight I was thinking about how he might try and leverage it against Amibiota.

      Susceptibility as well would have been pretty brutal, and would certainly have sent Finn off for an early shower (as they say in sports over here). Although equally I was kind of sad, in terms of the fiction, that I hadn’t tied some of Finn’s strength into hero form, which would have been even more limiting. Not that he wouldn’t still have tried to punch Scorpion…

  2. I’ll go ahead and ask: What

    I'll go ahead and ask: What do you mean about my surprise decision in 5/1?
    What I remember about these sessions is that I finally understood how indestructible Silverbeak really was, when you talked about him as a human missile. I overdid it in the last combat, against AmiBiota, as we'll see in later videos.
    • It’s right there in the video

      It's right there in the video linked above. Is it too much to ask for you at least to skim the captioning, before asking? If it's still necessary then OK, but please at least glance.

    • More generally for people

      More generally for people watching – read the captions, some of them are funny!

    • I didn’t mean to imply I didn
      I didn’t mean to imply I didn’t glance! I’ve gone over it a few times since it was posted, but couldn’t find it. There’s a trick I can sometimes use, which is opening up the automated text transcript on a single file, then do a word search on it. Other stuff I’ve done: Watch videos or parts of them, especially if I’m on them, at 2x speed. Listening instead of watching as I do how house chores. By which I mean I’m willing to do the work I can, given my current time constraints. But those tricks don’t work for captions. And I consider it more important to engage in the conversation at this point, when it’s all recent. I can be mistaken though.

    • I’ve contacted Ron privately

      I've contacted Ron privately to explain a bit more where I'm coming from.

    • Oh well then, yeah. I think
      Oh well then, yeah. I think it’s something that I really could do only between sessions. I wanted to come up with something that Brian could fashion on the spot, but I had a week to think about it. Couldn’t think of a better name though. But I think it works with Brian not being really good at keeping his mind powers secret. What I distinctky remember is wanting it to be a different persona, not just an anonymous guy. This San Antonio game deals with PR all the time. All our enemies are semipublic organizations. We really went there with the Hunteds.

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