Halfway Heroes – Session Seven

We jump right into the battle between Connie Bleak and Ed Kalvar.

Connie spent 83 Karma in this fight. She spent 73 points on inflicting a stun on Ed. This result took him out of the action for ten rounds. Ed was putty at this point. Connie phased Ed’s hand and stuck it in the concrete, making Ed an amputee. She also destroyed Ed’s $P3CTR suit 2.0.

I was a little stunned at this result because I forgot how impactful stuns were in Marvel Super Heroes. The victim is out for 1-10 rounds and loses all Health points, only to recover an amount equal to their Endurance rank when waking. I rolled the worst result for Ed as well. It struck me that one-on-one combat is pretty brutal due to this. A team could have done something to protect their fallen member, or there might have been so much happening that the fallen team member may have recovered on their own (but ten rounds is a long time!).

The First Responder and Peter King arrive in the king’s court in Avalon. The First Responder is answering the challenge The Huntsman (aka Samuel Holt) made when jumping through the portal. Peter had his own plans.

At this moment, the Dolorous King is still interacting with the Cernunnos illusion that The Huntsman cast. This illusion is what Peter King and The Huntsman encounter when bursting into the room. The Huntsman had a distinct advantage — he observed this intrusion from a position of safety. He cast his fear spell — and it worked on Peter for three rounds but not The First Responder. Peter fled the scene.

The Huntsman broke the illusion and whales on The First Responder, getting a stun result in the second round. The Huntsman killed The First Responder while he was stunned. The Huntsman loses 30 Karma for killing.

The Dolorous King is very confused at this point. Who are these strangers in his court? Why are they fighting? What’s the deal with the illusion? The Huntsman said he is doing Myrddin (aka Merlin) tricks, satisfying The Dolorous King.

Before Peter re-entered the room, The Huntsman cast an illusion depicting a victorious First Responder. Peter falls for the trick. Peter tries to execute his plan: betray The First Responder and offer him to The Huntsman. He attacks the illusion with his Density Control wand, which does nothing. In this moment of surprise, the Huntsman throws something at the portal generator on Peter’s belt, scoring a bullseye. The bullseye result is sufficient to destroy it. (The Huntsman spent Karma on this roll, but I didn’t write it down). Checkmate on Peter King.

This last turnaround is one of my favorite moments of play in all of Halfway Heroes. It really put The Huntsman over. Connie and The Huntsman are firing on all cylinders in this session. I haven’t written up the next session yet, but they still haven’t met. They are gravitating towards one another. It will be these fully expressed versions of the characters who will (likely) meet. But they may not get off on the right foot based on some of Connie’s actions in the next session.

Not to be outdone by The Huntsman, Noah decides to send Connie back to finish off Ed Kalvar. The dust has settled, and we find Ed Kalvar on a stretcher outside the Specter Industries HQ. Connie scares away the paramedics and takes Ed’s life. -30 Karma for killing Ed.

After fleeing the scene, Connie does a few things at the end of the session. She calls Jill Damarov to ask for a few things. First, Connie wants a fake passport and a safe house for her father. Lastly, she wants her retirement fund. Jill was sitting on Connie’s funds while she was in prison. Connie had started with an effectively lower Resources rank as part of the character concept — the real value is Incredible. Jill Damarov is evasive about returning the funds. Connie then searches her brain to turn up a skimmer in Jill’s organization as an act of good faith. This deed causes Jill to promise to return Connie’s funds.

The last thing we get from Connie is that she wants to find a way to fix her condition (the low Endurance rank).

This session was a watershed moment in Halfway Heroes. The two characters were in full supervillain mode, with no qualms about their actions. Connie went back to kill Ed because she didn’t want to deal with him any longer. She has bigger things in her sights.

This session also included some major non-mook combat scenes. With mooks, I mostly have them run away once things start going badly for them under the rationale that they’re not suicidal, this stuff is not what they signed up for, etc. Fighting other supers is another story, but in this case, the two stun results and the bullseye were pretty decisive. Having a good bank of Karma really helped here too. There are limits on what GM controlled characters can spend (or supervillains depending on how one interprets the text). Many characters start with Karma that is sufficient in most cases to just pick a stun or kill result on the universal table.

4 responses to “Halfway Heroes – Session Seven”

  1. Togethering

    “Watershed” indeed! The session contained climactic action for both of us (agreed with you, David, that the Huntsman’s fight with The First Responder and Peter King was an absolute standout). But it also had the most distance between our characters, almost like they had diverged into two separate titles — “Lost in AVALON, The Huntsman Comes Face to Face with….THE DOLOROUS KING!!!!” “Is Connie Bleak OBSOLETE? Witness $P3CTR’s Most Fantastical Foe Yet….$P3CTR 2.0!!!!”

    I think James and I both felt in our guts that these scenes would have been stronger if that distance were closed, if the earthquake from one scene could tremble the water in the other. 

    In the realm of table-talk, all three of us had made it clear that we were on the lookout for opportunities for our villains to collide. Nothing presented itself this session, but during the next session I decided to just do it. I’ll quickly outline the moves I made, as I am a little proud of how I am breaking through the self-silencing I’ve noticed in myself in previous games:

    1. I told David that it made sense to me to declare Connie’s chronic illness as incurable by conventional methods. If there was a treatment, she would have already found it. This was a courtesy check, to make sure David didn’t have cool prep in place for the disease already.

    2. Given that, I narrated that Connie has turned to the mystic underground, searching out faith healers, street preachers, saints of the sidewalk. Particularly the mysterious figure known only as Kybele: walker of strange ways, giver of impossible gifts.

    3. A successful Reason roll later (as Connie scoured social media for ways into NYC’s mystic underground), and she had identified her fellow inmate Samuel Holt as a potential link to Kybele and the world of magic. Cut to Connie showing up outside Sam’s ex-wife’s place of work. Cue one of our most uproariously fun sessions yet.

  2. Reflecting on super showdowns

    The "final battle," "it ends here," arc closure in today's terms, especially when defined as a violent confrontation … the more I think about it in the comics, the more evenly-matched or complex the early confrontations are, and the more decisive and surprisingly short the final ones are.

    Quick diversion: this concept is a bit marred by the medium-and-commerce based constraints often imposed on superhero comics, e.g., the need to keep a popular antagonist around for future use and especially for IP, or for the hero not to change following what should be life-changing events. However, those constraints have been defied more often than their frequent parodies might imply. I'm thinking now about many of those defiances, whether in long-running comics which – for a moment – seem actually to have been "this story, this time, never mind later," or in short-run comics which are made in the understanding that the constraints are absent.

    Back to the point, I'm thinking about the role of Marvel Super Heroes Karma in these moments. I do not have the play-experience to have a position about it: whether a nice solid and advantageous bank of Karma at the moment actually defines this battle as climatic because it's now "unfair" in favor of the protagonist and thus – finally! – going to be decisive. That's a very interesting notion to me.


    More thoughts, going a bit off-topic however: I'm also comparing it to its equivalent, Hero Points in DC Heroes … which in fact I have discovered myself not to enjoy during play, as it overwhelms the dice, so that the deeper pockets win, which is easily understood at the start of any confrontation.

    Tentatively, based on limited contact (I've played both, but not much of either), it seems to me that MSH Karma is hard-won and often necessary to use, so that banking it, or being flush at the moment, is not a reliable state even a scene or two down the road, whereas DCH Hero Points flow onto one's sheet in handfuls, often overflowing there and on tap for whatever one wants in any given scene.

    As I say, this is entirely tentative. I'd like to know via play whether the protagonists can ever really lose … text-wise, the Marvel game is rather agnostic on that score (and as we've seen, hints surprisingly strongly at villain-centric play) and the DC game emphatically says, "no they can't" (and has no provision whatsoever for playing villains), which matches the companies' content in the decades preceding the two games' designs. But in pratice, I do not know.

    • I’m thinking about the role

      I'm thinking about the role of Marvel Super Heroes Karma in these moments. I do not have the play-experience to have a position about it: whether a nice solid and advantageous bank of Karma at the moment actually defines this battle as climatic because it's now "unfair" in favor of the protagonist and thus – finally! – going to be decisive. That's a very interesting notion to me.


      I usually see Karma spent, not to guarantee success, but to avoid failure. 

      One design wrinkle in this game is that NPC's can spend Karma to reduce the "color level" of a player's roll. Even if a player spends 99 Karma to turn a terrible 01 roll into a perfect 100 critical red result, the villain can still spend some Karma to block it.  If the villain has 100 Karma, they can blow it all in one chunk to escape or arrange a mysterious death.  The move you're talking about is certainly possible, but it requires a bit of a Karma dance with the villain first, getting them to lower their own Karma to the point that they can't afford those options, and then walloping them.  (Basically villains get a limited form of plot-armor.)

      In contrast, a straightforward roll–say, to web up the Doomsday Gizmo–doesn't target the villain personally, and so can't be reduced.  The "spend everything on this one roll" tactic works much better in that situation, and certainly reflects the Bronze Age comics sensibilities.

      One thing to note is that a character with lots of Karma ("The Karmic Whale!") has to be played a very certain way.  You gain a lot of Karma by never spending it, which means that you're indifferent to most failures.  This probably means that your character is in trouble a lot until you hit your big-time redemption moment….

      Which sounds kinda fun, until you realize that not all failures are equal.  You gain Karma through heroic feats and caring about your personal life.  Yet most heroic actions carry the potential for Karma loss–getting defeated, destroying property, committing a crime "for the greater good," or ditching your family.    Meanwhile, prioritizing your personal life often means ignoring crimes, which costs Karma too. 

      The Karmic Whale requires subtle judgment and an optimized style of play.  The style may be effective, but I wonder if it yields a likeable character.  Would be a cool experiment, though…



      MSH Karma is hard-won and often necessary to use, so that banking it, or being flush at the moment, is not a reliable state even a scene or two down the road,

      I'd agree with this 100%.  

    • As I say, this is entirely

      As I say, this is entirely tentative. I'd like to know via play whether the protagonists can ever really lose … 

      In play, the answer is yes or has been for me over the years. The question I find myself asking is:

      Is this worth spending Karma on?

      When I began play, I spent Karma to succeed and not fail like crazy, against even inconsequential opponents. And pretty soon I was out of Karma for when it came time to fight the big boss or one of their lieutenants. It also meant others were able to do power stunts and use Karma for advancement, while I was a bit stuck. I learned to use Karma as a strategic resource, that extra oomph when it was needed the most.

      What that means is taking your lumps when the Beetle gets a few lucky rolls and knocks you off of the Empire State building. Or letting the Inhumans capture you and take you to their leader. In my experience there just is not enough Karma to spend on every potential failure.

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