Howard Hughes’ MEN of ACTION, session 1

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I hesitate to write up a full actual-play report lest anyone not personally familiar with me and this group think we are a bunch of sociopaths. Anyone familiar with the “Unknown USA” or “Orlando Trash” (hey Bryant – looks like the OT wiki was spamified) games will realize that this was just par for the course.  Which may say even more uncomfortable things about our psyches, but let’s not talk about that. Let’s talk about the system instead.

John is using InSpectres for this, and it works well. The structure survived the transition from a “Ghostbusters show with the serial numbers filed off” to “Hughes recounting wacky things that may or may not have really happened to his autobiographer, Clifford Irving” pretty well.  There’s not much in the way of mechanics there to start with so not a lot had to be gutted. Pretty simple system – 4 set attributes (Athletics, Academics, Tech and Contacts) cover any kind of skill check you can imagine, plus a  free-form Talent that adds 1 die when you can bring it into play.  Depending on how well your roll goes there’s a continuum of narrative control – at the top end the player narrates what happened and at the bottom the GM does and is encouraged to make Bad Things Happen. There’s a Stress mechanic that you roll when in some kind of pressure situation that can apply penalties to future rolls etc, or can give you bonus dice if you’re cool as a cucumber. Lastly there is a banking/communal bonus dice mechanism representing the franchise, or in this case our “cell” of Hughes’ secret operatives.

The one part we didn’t use much (Brant did once but that was it) is the “Confessional” or “Exposition” feature where we snap back to 1971 where Hughes can narrate some part of the story or respond to Irving’s questions for sort of 4th wall “unreliable narrator” twists. In play it gives the players the ability to spin the plot in a different direction and toss a “characteristic” onto a fellow PC, like tossing out Aspects in SotC.

It all fits together nicely and doesn’t get in the way of gonzo action. Feels a lot like John’s 21 system actually.  Only bit I didn’t like is the structured phases of the game (Briefing, Intel gathering, Action, Climax, Debriefing or some such). I don’t care for rpgs with set story “phases” (I’m looking at you, Burning Empires) because I feel it constricts the natural flow of narrative and forces it to adhere to a formulaic pattern. But it didn’t get too much in the way here. I think I can live with it.

Story-wise, John plucked a short quote from Irving’s “autobiography” to set up the situation that Mr. Hughes needed his crack team of special agents to resolve. From his teaser for next session that looks to be the pattern and Irving’s book is full of great opportunities for this sort of set-up.  This one was in the 1930s and the next will be in the 50s or 60s – we’ll be bouncing around in time as Hughes recollects various interesting anecdotes, possibly playing the same characters each time (remember, the code words for this campaign are “codeine and syphilis.” Mr. Hughes’ memory isn’t what it used to be…or maybe it’s MORE!) or possibly not. Yeah, I warned you we’re not well…

The line of the night that I think sums up where our moral compass sits (delivered as we look over a cliff at the flaming wreckage of two cars below): “Well, what did we learn tonight team? People don’t kill people – magnets kill people. Now, let’s go perform an abortion!Yeah, I warned you we’re not well…

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3 Responses to “Howard Hughes’ MEN of ACTION, session 1”

  1. Bryant Says:

    I keep meaning to fix that. I should keep a todo list.

  2. John O'Brien Says:

    FWIW- the phases pretty much went right out the window last night. I think InSpectres includes them to kind of lead players by the nose and kick start their imaginations as to the kind of skill checks they should be making in order to advance the plot. But you guys hit the ground running, and didn’t need no stinkin’ phases.

    So basically, this game can be played in three acts: Intro (Hughes/GM sets up the problem to be solved), Action (PCs go about solving problem), and Resolution (role-play the debriefing as needed, allocate the Franchise Dice/XP, R&R/heal up, and get the teaser for the next thrilling episode). Easy peasy.

    And I’m wondering about the Exposition mechanic as well. I can see it as a rule ripe for abuse/spotlight hogging. But, paradoxically, also a mechanic ripe for be forgotten or ignored by the players. So I don’t know… I figure I’ll see how the next couple of sessions go. Since so many 6s were being rolled last night, it won’t matter… you guys will be driving the plot already and won’t need to harness Hughes as the VO voice of god.

    • Christopher Tatro Says:

      But you guys hit the ground running, and didn’t need no stinkin’ phases.

      Well, we *are* the best at what we do.

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