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Halfway Heroes - Session Four

Session four started on May 10, 2022 (in-game). We began with Samuel Holt (aka The Huntsman) paying a homeless person to walk around Times Square with a sign asking The Grandmaster (aka Peter King) to contact him. "Grandmaster, call the guy who stole your hard hat."

I made a successful roll for Peter to employ his surveillance network to see the message, and he called Samuel as a result. Samuel wanted some dirt on The Silver Shield, and Peter agreed to provide it. In return, Peter (who has a clue that there is something unique about Samuel's powers) wants help researching the portals that his garbage disposal machine can open. Peter knows enough to build the machine, but he has no clue about the cosmology and layout of the multiverse. I am actually just straight up using Realms of Magic for this but changing the characters who inhabit these realms as needed. We also learned that the archnemesis of The Grandmaster was named Duke Midnight (James asked out of curiosity, and I pulled the name from my list).

Connie Bleak went to the lab Mecano (aka Sandro Fenucci) provided and destroyed the unfinished work for her high-frequency trading device in a fit of rage. The work will take too long, and Connie is hot for revenge. She then started working on creating small explosive devices. Her aim is to deploy them at the data centers of Specter Industries. She could do this quickly enough using the Resources provided by the lab.

Despite the new arrangement between Samuel and Peter King, Samuel went to work at the Damage Control work site. He riled up one of Iron Cross's ecofascists last time, and now they have returned in numbers. They confront Samuel at the end of the shift. Samuel throws the first punch and kicks the shit of them. Samuel spent 20 Karma on the fight. He earned 30 Karma for "Commit Violent Crime."

Connie visits her mother, who is set up in a nice condo (in stark contrast to Connie's father's situation). She was pretty cold to Connie, telling her that she deserved to go to prison for killing her son Antoine. She also told Connie she is being taken care of (Ed Kalvar from Specter Industries is paying her bills).

Connie flies into a rage in response to her mother's coldness. She headed down to the Specter Industries HQ, suited up, and phase jumped into the building. She spent 10 Karma on an Agility FEAT to perform this maneuver, and it was successful.

Connie then tried to sneak around the building, looking for Ed Kalvar's office, but the Agility FEAT failed, and people started freaking out. She browbeat one of the people with a successful Psyche FEAT and got directions to Ed's office. The person ran off to security, putting the building on full alert. Connie rushed to Ed's office to confront him.

When Connie found Ed in the office, Ed tried to plea-bargain with her. Connie angrily phased her hand and reached into Ed's chest. She then promised to return and kill him. She successfully jumped out of the building and got away without being apprehended. Connie earned 15 Karma for "Commit Other Crime", doubled for performing this whole operation creatively. The total award amounted to 30 Karma.

Samuel visited his veterinarian friend Mary Chu at her office. They joked around a bit and caught up. Mary Chu cared for some of Samuel's animals when he was in prison. He sends off one of his sacred doves to deliver a message to his master KYBELE to arrange a meeting. The aim of the meeting is to discuss how to bypass his parole officer's lie detecting shield and the portal generator that Peter King is using to dispose of waste from Damage Control cleanup operations.

I experienced technical difficulties during this session and may have missed documenting a few rolls and Karma awards/expenditures. My notes indicate that the Huntsman ended the session with 55 Karma, 98 Resources, and 10 Popularity. Connie Bleak ended with 95 Karma, 3 Resources, and 1 Popularity.
 

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

James_Nostack's picture

This was the session when I began to realize that the Huntsman wasn't gonna save the world in spite of itself (at least, not any time soon) because he had a more urgent problem on his hands: the Silver Shield was gonna find out about his criminal actions, unless I felt like constantly burning Karma to lie to him.  

So, in between sessions, I began thinking about how to leverage the creepy surveillance billionaire (and occasional supervillain) against Sam's parole officer, and then figuring out how to manipulate the billionaire's superheroic foes into an effort to take over the corporation.

Unfortunately the dice weren't with me.  The billionaire didn't know much, and there was no immediate angle on superheroic stooges. The rest of the session involved me developing Sam's cast of characters as a way to stall for time.

I was thinking about how steer my bundle of trouble into Connie's path, but nothing came immediately to mind--I guess I should have asked if the surveillance creep had any industrial rivalries or something.  

One bit of characterization: early in the session and desperate for Karma, Sam was on the verge of crippling a homeless person.  I had a plan and an alibi all worked out!  Luckily I decided that was a bit overboard, and so this session is remembered as, "Hey, he beat up Nazis despite 3:1 odds," rather than "He maimed an innocent person for no reason."

Reflections...

Currently there are two more sessions to write up and things are changing for The Huntsman. But there is already a lot to unpack as of session four. From my perspective, there are specific things I am trying to experiment with and learn from.

One thing is the idea that the calendar is an adversary. The Karma rules already provide some tension by rewarding and punishing the characters depending on how well they meet weekly commitments and maintain interpersonal relationships. The parole officer adds another layer of tension because breaking parole has consequences.

This seems quite effective on one level but we're losing big picture stuff in the process. The Karma rules suggest this kind of play and playing supervillains also inverts the role of the GM here compared to a typical game of Marvel Superheroes. One of my goals in setting up the situation was to try a less heavy-handed approach to GMing. As a result, I haven't really been preparing or thinking about big picture stuff for The Huntsman. But it is also easy to fall into the writing and "prepping plot" trap as well at this stage since I am very used to doing exactly this. And as things are inverted, I have been paying a lot of attention to the consequences of the player's actions instead of just throwing adversaries in their path as would be normal if they were playing heroes.

Another thing to unpack is that we've essentially been playing two duet games. I see places in the situation where the characters could intersect but we haven't gotten there yet. I am quite interested to see group Karma pools in play but also interested in seeing what happens if the players go their own way with no expectation that they will be part of the same team or even meet.

In this session, we see Connie really going directly at her enemy. This was another instance in which Noah's actions as a player delighted and surprised me. (James does something similarly amazing in session five). On the other hand, The Huntsman is still figuring stuff out. I am enjoying this process and the character development associated with it. But I think that both James and myself are struggling with the character in terms of seeing it flourish. James is trying a lot of things and I haven't been up to the task of being a good dance partner thus far. It is a shame because it is such a good character.

For all this, there's also a lot of things that have never been done before in our collective experience of Marvel Super Heroes. There's bound to be things that don't work. There's plenty to reflect on. I am working on breaking bad GM habits. I also have a completely new perspective on the medium, how to read game texts and play based on Ron's courses (Phenomena, People and Play, and Three Fantasies). With all of these factors, I think I have learned a lot but many of the lessons are still sinking in -- especially with this game in particular.
 

PedroPereira's picture

One bit of characterization: early in the session and desperate for Karma, Sam was on the verge of crippling a homeless person.  I had a plan and an alibi all worked out!  Luckily I decided that was a bit overboard, and so this session is remembered as, "Hey, he beat up Nazis despite 3:1 odds," rather than "He maimed an innocent person for no reason.

Can you unpack that  bit? Your character may be a "villain",  but it never quite striked me before as the type to go around kicking puppies for fun.

Also, fun game, so please keep those session reports coming.

 

 

Ron Edwards's picture

A thought, to be taken or left, or assessed for value over time:

One point from the courses is that "what is happening" is due to the exercise of different people's authorities at any given time, including the moments of requiring information from others in order to use them. Any procedural constraints ("mechanics," rolling for this or that, for example, or chapter structure, or whatever) are subroutines of these authorities.

Switching away from the tech language, this means that play doesn't happen unless you say the damn thing you are responsible for saying, significantly, especially at those times when there isn't a subroutine acting as a constraint.

One play-issue I've been spotting a lot lately is a reluctance to do this, perhaps some fear of guiding and controlling. And yes, it's good not to guide or control - but here we're not talking about messing with others' authorities, but using one's own quite rightly and well. Which sometimes means making stuff up or imposing coincidences because that's a legit part of that job at that time. Which also means not hiding behind the procedural subroutines as if they were responsible for telling you what to do.

Each person is the super-routine for the exercise of these authorities (whatever they may be for that person), and the subroutines can't do it no matter how ritualized or how many tables or terms or whatever they may include. If you don't take on that part of the job, then everyone else is looking at a set with missing pieces.

[topic and tone switch now]

I really like the "calendar as adversary" observation. That was apparently a serious consideration in the late-late 70s superhero games Superhero 2044, Supergame, and Villains & Vigilantes. In these, you basically tracked your hero's life with a day-planner throughout play, maybe including some jumps forward, but not missing a moment in terms of income or patrolling the streets or, really, anything. The GM was doing the same thing for everyone else in the fiction. David, you and I saw the same thing in Bushido

Champions (1981) switched to a session unit standard instead, e.g. for Hunteds and DNPCs, but Marvel Super Heroes (1984) maintained the in-fiction unit. I can't say I really understand it. I guess it has something to do with the "day in the life" aspect of playing superheroes, which I do understand and like.

But it's not like the comics themselves were ever very careful about nailing down every fictional date and time. In fact, they were deliberately careless enough so the events could be mentally wiggled to be fairly contemporary with the reading, and even that couldn't be maintained past a single multi-issue story - people complained about it in the letters pages all the time, and had to be reminded that it was impossible to preserve a fictional timeline to that degree.

It seems to me as if the games were shooting for a standard that comics fans wanted, and maybe they would have done better to listen to the comics creators and relaxed a little - maybe allowed for "some time passes" or for rebooting time-associated metrics in the presumption that you had a few weeks to work and socialize without interruptions.

noah's picture

It is great to see the lessons we’re taking from this game of Marvel Super Heroes.

One of my goals in setting up the situation was to try a less heavy-handed approach to GMing. As a result, I haven't really been preparing or thinking about big picture stuff for The Huntsman.

David, your approach to GMing this game was a huge departure from the norm for me. I’ve been playing a lot of situationally intense sessions this year, where even when my characters were resting or reflecting, the wolves were at their door. 

In this game, it felt like Connie had a comparatively huge amount of breathing-room. Before we played this session, I realized that I could, conceivably, play her quietly plugging away in Mecano’s workshop, lying to the Silver Shield, and apartment-shopping with her dad until her long-term plans were laid, which based on resource acquisition rates would only take….a couple of MONTHS of in-game time??!!

My first instinct was to bring this up in session, say “I’m realizing the day-to-day approach to time isn’t working for what I want out of the character. Could we play scene-transitions and time jumps a bit more loosely?”

You can see the rail-roady language creeping in there, the assumption that you are “the The” for this game. Instead (very much inspired by People & Play), I asked myself, “Is there anything toxic or dysfunctional about David’s approach here that is hurting my fun or that warrants an out of game discussion?” Absolutely not. Given that, “What can I do within this particular arrangement of authorities to play Connie in a way I find compelling?” And that’s where the Bang of destroying my machines in a fit of rage came from, which led to a heightened dramatic context and other, emergent Bangs from the both of us.

James_Nostack's picture

One thing I want to point out from this session: during the Huntsman's fight against three Neo-Nazis, I tried to vary the Huntsman's actions.  

There's a lot of things to admire about Marvel Super Heroes, but it does not go out of its way to encourage dynamic combats.  You try to hit someone with your best attack, and they try to do the same.  Most of the time, the tactical situation has not changed very much from the previous round, so you once again try to clobber him with your best attack. 

I was aware of the problem, so I tried to keep the descriptions lively and also shift my attacks from punching, to grappling, to charging.  In Sorcerer and Champions Now, Ron solves this problem by imposing an escalating -1 penalty for repetitive actions, and it works here too.

(Note that static encounters don't really fit the source material, which usually features a tactical objective other than "knock this guy out," may involve an unpredictable third faction in a fight, or some other element that changes over time [room filling with lava, weird magical effects changing how reality works, etc. etc.].)

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