Archive for the ‘After Play Report’ Category

Marvel Caper!

June 30, 2014

I’ve recently embarked on an experiment to modify the Caper! rules for a superheroes game— specifically a game of superhuman private security contractors in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some of us in our Boston extended gaming family had played Marvel Heroic Roleplaying last summer, and sadly the rules just never really clicked for me. I liked a lot of what they were trying to accomplish thematically, and the books were absolutely gorgeous, but as a player I never quite groked all of the various mechanics for dice pool builds and Opportunities, Assets, Distinctions, Complications and whatnot. And I know Chris (who was GMing that campaign) also had some problems on his side of the table, what with the Doom Pool, the nuts & bolts of building opposition, etc.

(Chris & I may have further muddied the waters a bit by attempting to bolt on a Smallville-inspired life paths system to the character creation session, adding Values, Relationships & Resources to the mix, but that’s neither here nor there…)

I decided that this summer was going to be the Summer of Marvel Caper! We’ve played two sessions so far, and it is going pretty well. The rules themselves are a work in progress, but what is amazing to see is when the narrative control widgets really click for a player, and when they really grok how to leverage the framing and storytelling of the various Letter mechanics and whatnot… it really takes the stories in very unexpected directions, which is really gratifying for me as a game designer, and I think for the rest of the players as well. This game, more so than any other rpg I think I’ve ever played, makes us all into an audience that can be genuinely surprised by some really clever plot twists and turns.

(Also incredibly refreshing for me as a GM is that the game is essentially zero prep, which I honestly think is a must for me now that I’m in my dotage.)

My first passion being character sheet design, I pulled out all of the stops for this, creating a line of 2-sided sheets that include pretty much all of the rules to the game. However, being the perfectionist/completist that I am, I ended up customizing sheets for each PC for the second session, with art of the players’ characters which I created with HeroMachine (or yanked off of the web if they’re playing a Marvel canon character… apologies in advance to the copyright holders!)

Bunny Hanlon's character: Commander Grace Chopra, ex-SHIELD agent and current Heir of K'un-Lun.

Let me tell you about Bunny’s character: Commander Grace Chopra, an ex-SHIELD agent who is now the current holder of the Iron Fist Legacy. (Photo Credit: Bunny Hanlon)

Rules-wise, I still have some more tweaking to do. After the first session and an overuse of Letters of Introduction— that mechanic works great for heists, but in supers I found it a bit genre-straining— I came up with an alternate use for face cards: rather than going to a contact and having them perform a bonus action on your behalf, you can now instead play a face card to perform an additional “power stunt” during your turn. I freely admit I took a page from Marvel Heroic Roleplaying for this, and I call this mechanic a ‘Letter of Intent‘. Thematically the stunts worked great, but mechanically I feel like they only worked okay— I think having yet another formula for success might have been a bit too confusing for some of the players. (As was the use of Spades/Wild Cards, but that’s always been a real source of confusion for first-time players… and annoyingly I’ve yet to craft the right spiel to adequately explain the rules out loud… hence my summarizing all of the rules on the character sheets!)

Anyways, yesterday’s session was also the first time I’ve ever played the 21 System with an actual GM (and not as a GM-less Caper! session), and I also think that worked out pretty well. There were only a couple of times I had to take over narrative control because I had some specific plot points I wanted to touch upon (when a character consulted some old SHIELD contacts to learn the big bad’s secret identity, for example). Otherwise, I felt like the players were able to sandbox and scenery chew to their hearts’ content.

I’ve always liked to jokingly say (okay, it is not a joke) that I designed a game system using cards as the randomizer because dice hate me. But the ironic thing during yesterday’s session was that my cards hated me! I perpetually had nothing but twos through fours in my hand, punctuated by the occasional seven or eight.  I don’t think I ever had a single face card the entire session! And I *know* I was never graced with an ace… the players gobbled those right up. And an ever-elusive Joker? Ha! Forgetaboutit!

Anyways, this dearth of heavy hitting cards essentially led to a total rout, as my hordes of MGH-fuelled favela kids couldn’t touch the PCs. This’ll necessitate tweaking the mook rules a bit, but I’ll need to avoid going too far in the other direction if the worm turns and I ever find myself with a killer hand… because that’s the other thing I hate in games: swingy math.

My too-clever-by-half XP mechanic was an abject failure. I think. Upon further consideration today, I can’t help but feel that there’s some there there. Essentially, all of the chips the PCs cashed in during the session would get thrown in a box, which represented the ‘boffo box’ that the movie we’re collaboratively creating would earn… get it? ::groan::

Anyways, at the beginning of the session, each player secretly wrote which color of chip they’d want to claim as a share of XP at the end of the session (each chip being worth 1 XP). Which color they choose to claim should be based on how they envision playing their character during the session— if they’re going to be going on the offensive, they’ll want to claim reds; if they’re going to be helping/healing leader-y types, they’ll want to claim whites. Blues are for those who’ll alter the physical and human terrain of the story by creating temporary props & set pieces, retconning parts of the story, etc.

Well, at the end of the session, the box ended up having forty some-odd reds and only like a dozen each of the blues and whites. And once I looked at the slips of paper to see who had claimed what, only one player had claimed red, one player claimed blue, and three players claimed whites. Now, where’s the fault in this mechanic? How much of this chip disparity was caused by my piss-poor hands of cards and never successfully landing an attack on the PCs that they then needed to recover from by spending white chips? How many of the three choices of white had to do with two of those players having never played the game before, so the chip mechanics were entirely new to them?

Even Chris— the sole player to claim red chips as his take— immediately said he shouldn’t get 40+ XP for the session, while the rest of the players only got a pittance. We ended up just doing an even split, with the remainder getting awarded to Bunny, who was voted MVP (she had devised a really cunning plan that totally carried the day and gave both sides— including the “villain”— a win.) So, chalk that one up to the social contract, I guess! [1]

Anyways, maybe its my Caper!-centric ruthlessness, but I can’t help but feel there remains something to this “box office” mechanic. I mean, isn’t a trope of the superhero genre that you reap what you sow? That you get back what you put out into the universe? That with great power comes great responsibility? Like I said, I can’t help but feel there’s some there there, and that with a group of players who’ve played before, who fully understand what the chips do, and are also familiar with each other’s character, their powers, backstory, and what they bring to the table… this mechanic will add an interesting wrinkle to the roleplaying, the storytelling, and will narratively reinforce the chip-cashing that mechanically drives both.

There were some other rule changes that we kicked the tires on for the first time yesterday: an initiative mechanic, I had tweaked the stats for the Letters of Introduction, and I added a new “Previously, on red23…” opening scene mechanic that gives the players an opportunity to introduce their character and enter the session with some chips in their back pocket. All of these seemed to work out fine… or at least I didn’t hear any complaints about them after we wrapped and jawboned for awhile. But that may have been because the XP box office gag dominated the conversation. 😉

Anyways, I’m really looking forward to session three! I’ve already decided its going to be a PvP ‘Danger Room‘ session so I can really see how the combat rules work.

 


[1] Call it sour grapes if you will, but even now— nearly eight(!) years after I designed Caper!— I still fail to understand the complaint I heard from some critics that they didn’t like the game because it led to backstabbing and ruthlessness since— unlike most (if not all) roleplaying games— it has an actual ‘win condition’. Methinks those folks need to play some Diplomacy.

[The Long March] Chapter 1: Sorcerer (and a bit of Chapter 2: Agon)

December 24, 2013

I’ve been busy and haven’t gotten around to writing things up lately, but the Great 13 One Shots Experiment has not died on the vine! We’ve finished off the first chapter (Sorcerer and Sword) and have done character creation for the second (Agon). Due to holidays and grown-up schedules and such it’s slower than I’d hoped, but so it goes.

I’ll discuss the systems and play below. The summary of the story is over at the Book of the Long March site. (more…)

A couple more 13th Age things

September 6, 2012

1. Session 3 of my one-shot went very well. It was an evening of almost entirely combat – 2 encounters plus some stuff in the middle. The encounters went very nicely and there was some sweet improvised stunting.

At one point the characters were on an airship that was plummeting to the ground, out of control.

Len (whose character had taken the ship’s helm and was looking for a place to crash land): “Is there a body of water nearby? or some woods?”
Me: “Well, there’s the Queen’s Wood…”
Len: “Do you think she’d mind?”

Next up for us is converting the characters from our 4e game!

2. Support the Kickstarter to fund the first supplement (which will include the Monk, Druid and Chaos Shaman classes as well as some really sweet setting stuff like Living Dungeons, which are awesome).

3. One thing my players didn’t like was the character sheet. The defenses are on the front (or page 1) but the basic attacks are on the back (or page 2), leading to constant flipping. So the redoubtable John O’Brien cut and pasted up a one-page version from the one that was provided. Since it was directly derived from their sheet I checked with Rob Heinsoo before posting it, and he said okay, 13th Age- New Sheet!

4. Dan – you remember Dan? From the last post? – played a demo at GenCon. Here’s his report:

(more…)

13th Age Seminar at GenCon

August 22, 2012

Friend of the Blog and general sexy beast Dan went to GenCon last weekend and files this report…

My time at GenCon was very limited this year, so I was reduced to the following two humble hopes:

  1. Leave GenCon with the same exact number of diseases as I had when I walked in (CON CRUD!!)
  2. A better understanding of 13th Age

The jury is still out on #1, but my understanding of 13th Age is much, much better after I sat in on a seminar, and then subsequently played in a demo run by Rob Heinsoo. (more…)

Descent (Second Edition) Actual Review

August 19, 2012

Last night I did something I’d long though impossible: I played a game of Descent to completion in about an hour.

Now, this was the introductory scenario for the Second Edition and it is designed to be a pretty quick encounter.  The board is tiny – only 2 “rooms” and some connecting “hallway” pieces.  And there aren’t many baddies to deal with – 2 ettins and a handful of goblins. But still, an hour. And it was fun.

Here then are my observations (aside from “it runs shorter”) on the second edition of Descent: (more…)

Changing Horses Pt 4, 13th Age part 2

August 19, 2012

We ran our second session of 13th Age this past week.  The overall verdict was very good. Everyone had a better handle on the characters and the rules this time around and things went much smoother.

I decided not to record this session for a couple of reasons, primary of which being that recording made me incredibly self-conscious the first time out.  Another big reason was that this session tied in very strongly with some stuff in the overall 4e campaign, and without that context I think the listener would be pretty confused.  Lastly, I knew this session was going to be a lot of talking/planning/thinking things through which would only barely touch the system at all (with some background tests and relationship checks) and although we are wildly entertaining I didn’t think that would have much interest for the half dozen or so of you who are reading this but not actually in the game. (more…)

Changing Horses Pt 3: 13th Age Part 1

July 26, 2012

Last night I ran the first of a 2-part session of 13th Age, a game that is a strong favorite to be the system I convert my 4e campaign over to. It didn’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped but I still have faith.  This system still “feels” like a right fit to me.

13th Age is a d20-based fantasy game. What another one? Yes, but this one is by Jonathan Tweet and Rob Heinsoo, two names with strong game development kung-fu.  Right now the game is in “pre-release” stage; you can pre-order it from the link above and you get a draft pdf. It’s gone through a number of extensive playtesting rounds but its far from finished. Still I couldn’t wait to get my mitts on this game.  It’s closer to 4e than other d20 variants in a number of ways but strips out a lot of the complexity of other versions and replaces it with a shot of indie game narrative control.

For example, where other games present players with a fixed laundry list of Skills, 13th Age uses “Backgrounds”, which are free-form player-created short phrases, much like Distinctions in the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game or Tweet’s own Over the Edge.  The result, I think, encourages players to be more creative to solve skill-based problems and requires that they think a little bit about their character background/values.

For this two-shot I statted up characters beforehand but left off the Backgrounds, the Relationships (connections the character has to the 13 most powerful NPCs/factions in the world) and the character’s One Unique Thing.  Every 13th Age character has a Unique Thing about them, and developing these can help to shape the campaign world as well as defining the character and what makes them special.

(more behind the break, but hey you can download the actual audio of our session here! (please please right click and Save Link As instead of just streaming))

(more…)

Changing Horses Pt 2: Savage Worlds

July 15, 2012

This past Wednesday the group kicked the tires on Savage Worlds as a possible contender as a new system for our D&D campaign. I was really in my heart of hearts looking more for a d20 based game so it wasn’t such a system shock, but I liked what I saw in SW and decided to give it a whirl. (more…)

Assembling

May 26, 2012

Plain and simple, I’m a sucker for supers RPGs.

Thus it was that I grabbed a copy of the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game from Margaret Weis Productions and after some time to read and digest it I ran a one-shot today (wherein the heroes faced yet another splinter cell of AIM and their hideous creation U.L.T.R.O.D.O.K). I’d heard that the game takes a different twist on the genre – it is much more narrative-driven than other games I had played. Based on my experimentation with adapting Dogs in the Vineyard to supers a few years back, this was very appealing feature to me. And following Jack’s review of it a couple posts down I had to check it out. (more…)

1st Ed Greyhawk Campaign

April 15, 2012

I expect more folks will be exploring older editions of D&D as the D&D Next speculation builds, and in anticipation of the promised play-testing sometime later this year (or early next).  The re-issue of the original AD&D core books this spring/summer practically calls for it.  So cue the announcement from the local gaming store that a DM has stepped up to run a monthly 1st Edition Greyhawk game.  Now, I am an old fan of the World of Greyhawk – but specifically from the original presentation in 1st Edition AD&D.  I had most of the box sets and modules based in Greyhawk up until the advent of the Greyhawk Wars meta-plot, after which I kind of lost track of events and situations.  So in my mind, Greyhawk will always be stuck in those early days, which means this is an opportunity to revisit the imagined lands of my childhood.  I remember when my best friend in grade school showed off the original Greyhawk maps, and we gleefully recognized names and locations alluded to in some of our favorite modules.  Later, when I got the first World of Greyhawk boxset, it gave actual map coordinates for many of those same adventures, which brought a sense of depth to the world.  All of which leads this campaign idea to be just my sort of thing.

(more…)


%d bloggers like this: