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Champions Now: Tune-Up

Our Champions Now game continues; you can read about the start of it here, and then I continued the discussion here. As Ron suggested in the comments in the latter thread, my GMing needed a little bit of a tune-up at that point, and making a few simply corrections to go back to doing what the text suggests made a huge difference. The three very straightforward adjustments that ended up having a huge impact: (1) actually revising the Now (I had fallen into the habit after 6 or 7 sessions of eyeballing it and nominally revising it, but without putting much thought into how the various NPCs might have NEW opinions, ideas, and plans based on events of play), (2) taking the opportunity for scenes with NPCs played very cool, allowing relationships to develop without there being anything particularly momentous at stake (i.e., not presented at all as bangs), and (3) leaning heavily on villains' psychological situations to guide my play.

Though the majority of Issue #9 was taken up with the team strategizing on how best to neutralize the superhuman muscle now working for the Odessa Mafia, we opened with a scene of Force and the NSA agent with whom he is having an affair, with her wanting to know, essentially, why with all his powers he was wasting his time playing super cop and not trying to grab the reigns of power in some other way. The conversation was not played as a "bang" or as a provocation, but rather an instance of her genuinely trying to get to know him better (with the ulterior motive, perhaps, of seeing if there is any other way he can be of use to her). Likewise, we started Issue #10 with a similarly cooly played scene of Sarge meeting with his ex-wife to discuss the possibility of him appearing on the reality show pilot she had been asked to participate in (dealing with people who have super powered humans in their lives). In both cases, these scenes really helped to ground the rest of the session and gave everything that followed a richness that had been missing in the prior session.

For the strategizing session, we moved away from the elaborate planning that we had been slipping into (treating things as a tactical challenge for the players to solve) and moved towards heavy use of context/situation shaping skills and powers (in this case Detective Work, Security Systems, and Force's telepathic abilities) to do that work for us. And it was here that I made sure to play up the villains psychological situations (especially in terms of what Force learned about them through telepathy, namely that one of the meta-humans had been coerced into his current mob enforcer employment, giving a potential in for any future Presence attacks against him).

Issue #10 involved the playing out of all the strategizing from #9: there were a couple of moving pieces involved, based on how the various skill, perception, and power rolls worked out. I'll go through the general sequence of those rolls to show what I was doing (although I'm not 100% sure this is entirely by the book):

1) The team used successful Detective Work and Computer Programming to locate the suspected metahumans.
2) Ghost uses his invisibility to plant surveillance devices in the apartments where the suspected metahuman gangsters are living.
3) One of the metahumans, Warlock, has Awareness at a level and with appropriate special effects (mechano-mystical engery sensing) that allowed him to perceive Ghost even while invisible. Here, I had a decision point as a GM: should Warlock react or would he play it cool and pretend not to have noticed Ghost? I decided to let the dice decide and rolled Warlock's Intelligence. He succeeded and so I took this to mean that he wouldn't let it slip that he was onto the surveillance. Importantly, Force failed to successfully use telepathy to covertly read Warlock's mind shortly after this, so they didn't know Warlock was already scheming about a way to use his knowledge of their surveillance against them.
4) And so all this did allow Warlock and his team to set up the Super Squad for an ambush -- leading to a big brawl (which is still in progress -- we had to call the session due to it being way past my bedtime). This brawl is the first time the Super Squad has gone into action while being on the defensive.

This was all very satisfying for everyone, though it did mean, as a GM, I was playing around with hidden information in a way that I'm not entirely comfortable with, although that may be because in my Legendary Lives game we've leaned very hard into "very little hidden information from players but lots of hidden information/misunderstandings/etc. on the parts of the characters". The brawl has been exciting, in part because of the differences in the psychological motivation of the two meta-human "villains": Warlock, very ruthless, very much out for himself, very antisocial, and the Bear, coerced into being in this situation in the first place, and very much vulnerable to Presence attacks directed at that. We unfortunately had to stop, but we're at the point in the fight where almost everyone involved has burned through their Endurance and weighing whether or not to take Knockdown in order to keep swinging.
 

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Actual Play

Comments

Ron Edwards's picture

... is one of those entirely context-dependent techniques.

Lately I've been thinking about these because a couple of them have really struck home, against my prior positions which turned out to be presumptions.

For example, rolled hit location? Gah! Terrible ... until I experienced its shifted position in the sequence and its asymmetrical player/GM usage in Legendary Lives.

In the recent Monday Lab: What We Have Learned, Claudio mentioned this shift in his own understanding for any number of techniques, that they were not intrinsically railroading or not-railroading, but entirely relevant to that effect depending on how most or all of the rest of the system did things.

Regarding information, I want to set aside (away from the conversation) any system in which relevant information is unknown to anyone, and is established later in play via various techniques. So, not InSpectres, not Dirty Secrets, not Ocean, et cetera. Let's stay focused on systems in which information is what it is, much as a bulkhead is a bulkhead or a damage effect is a damage effect.

In that context, the next question is who, of the real people at the table, gets to know it independently of a particular character? (The question is slightly muddled by the notion of "my" character, but I hope you can expand your thinking to see that it can apply more generally or in differently-organized ways.) It includes the crucial point not merely of knowing, but of being empowered to act upon this information.

At one end? All of it, for everyone. At the other? No one, i.e., any given real person only gets to know what some designated character or characters know, in the fiction.

The term "ends" is misleading. Between these two points lies, not a linear gradient, but a confusing structure, which I do not think we collectively understand very well. Monday Lab: Roll to Know only scratched the surface. Teasing apart these variables is well worth our time over the next few months, so that we might, for instance, understand knowing almosts and maybes, as well as entirelynot knowing about something, but differently when comparing Champions Now and The Mountain Witch. Both of these games shine best when this feature (or respective array of these features?) is in place ... but why?

 

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