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Halfway Heroes - Session Two

Noah joined our group recently. James could not make it this session. We decided to a one-on-one session, introducing Noah's character Connie Bleak (sheet is attached). Connie got out of the prison the day after Samuel Holt (aka The Huntsman).

Like The Huntsman, Connie's character was pregnant with Situation. It was very easy to integrate Connie into the material I had prepared in addition to her own struggles. Connie is a hi-tech wonder who served time for murdering her brother Antoine over the direction of their company Specter Industries. Connie's been inside for 20 years.

At the beginning of the session, we talked about prison and I read the obligations that a returning citizen has when leaving prison with regards to their parole officer (I attached a PDF listing these). We didn't do this for James since he is actually the one who provided me with this document. But it was good way to ease into play as it really gave us a sense of what it might be like to get out of prison after a long stretch and then become obligated to a person who could send you back at a whim if you step out of line.

Connie ended up being very similar to an NPC I rolled up called Mecano. They are both hi-tech wonders with a low Endurance score, so they require their technology to function. In Connie's case, it is her SP3CTR suit that gives her power. Mecano is a hodge-podge of better living through chemistry and cybernetics. Mecano is around 100 years old.

Connie's contacts include Jill Damerov, who is part of a Russian crime family. I integrated this family into the crime infrastructure on inside and outside of Ryker's Island. The Damerovs have history with Mecano's prison gang The Furies.

Mecano (aka Sandro Fenucci) is an Italian immigrant who fought on the side of the fascists in WWII. He came to America after the war and had difficulties integrating into society so he turned to a life of crime.
He had no connection to the Italian mafia in New York City at the time and his fascist involvement wasn't an asset in this regard. The Furies started as a prison gang during his first sentence in Ryker's. Over the decades, Mecano has come to think of Ryker's as his house and himself as the master of that house. His gang has been the house gang of the prison for long periods. They were recently displaced by The Young Blades. Mecano is currently on the outside and trying to reclaim control of the prison.

The Damerov family was on the other side of WWII. Eli Damerov is the grand-uncle of Connie's contact Jill Damerov. Eli, now deceased, had bad blood with Mecano due to their connection to the war and their competing criminal interests in NYC and Ryker's. The Damerov family is still cold to Mecano and his gang although Mecano sees an opportunity to make things right with the family in the interest of having an ally in the conquest of the prison. The new Damerov patriarch is Eli's son Boris. Connie's friend Jill is an ambitious up and comer in the gang. Jill protected Connie in prison (and Connie also worked for the Damerov's as a human hard-drive).

So this background brings us to the first scene, where we have Mecano showing up in his limousine to intercept Connie as she is being released from prison. Mecano wants to make an ally of Connie due to her abilities, her associations with the Damerov family, and their shared physical condition (low Endurance). They discuss things and come to an arrangement. Mecano will provide a research facility for Connie and help to take revenge on Specter Industries, who are a service provider at the prison and one of the factions that Mecano wants out of his "house". 

This brings us to the other factions in the corrupt prison infrastructure. Specter Industries outfits the prison guards with their equipment and they have some connections to the prison guard's union. Checkmate Industries is the other big company that provides services for the prison. It is run by a former villain named Peter King (aka The Grandmaster), who is known for his death traps. He is a former inmate who served in Ryker's but went straight and started his own company. They provide the control collars for the supers serving in Ryker's (and possibly some other unspecified services in the prison). They also run the Enhanced Rehabitation program that Ramirez (from session one) is a part of. They recently acquired Damage Control (see session one for more details). Mecano sees Checkmate as a threat as well.

With that information out of the way, we can focus on Connie. She refuses Mecano's ride and offer to stay at a hotel at his expense. Connie is fully aware that there are strings attached regarding Mecano's offer. Connie has already made little adjustments to the arrangement to keep her own autonomy -- she won't take his ride, won't stay at his hotel, and later she decides to keep her storage space around as a backup location for doing research.

She will take the bus to the last known address of her elderly parents Matthias and Jennifer Bleak. It is a very bad, poor neighborhood in the city.

Connie arrives and is greeted by her family. She is surprised that he is happy to see her (or awkwardly happy). Connie learns that her parents separated recently in relation to the Connie's return. Her father is not doing well in life, and still working temporary hard manual labor jobs at his advanced age like moving furniture. The apartment is ramshackle. Connie does bond with her father over the situation and offers to help him. In the meantime, he offers to put her up on the extra air mattress.

The next day (May 7th, 2022, a Saturday) Connie sets out to accomplish a few things. She will first retrieve her SP3CTR suit. While we're here, Noah suggests that this would be a great time for the "ghost" of her dead brother Antoine to make an appearance. What a great idea!

Antoine inquires about what Connie is up to. Connie says she is preparing to take revenge on Ed Kalmar (who owns Specter Industries and was at the center of the triangle that resulted in Connie murdering Antoine). I wasn't sure how to portray Antoine but I ran with something between an Alzheimer's patient and a hologram. The ghost isn't always in the time frame as Connie and is in denial about everything. The more Connie tries to drive home what happened, the more distant Antoine becomes, eventually to disappear completely like a glitchy hologram that just vanishes.

Connie grabs her suit and then sets about to buy a top of the line iPhone and a decent set of clothes. We tally this up to cost 16 Resource points (13 for the phone, 3 for the cloths). Connie started with 20, so she now has 4 remaining.

Connie is quite a powerful character with a number of abilities in the Incredible and Amazing range. Noah rolled a Resources of Incredible, which is more than he wanted for Connie to have at the outset. So instead of re-rolling, we decided that some portion of her resources would be locked up (in offshore accounts and maybe even some of that may be assets she is entitled to from Specter Industries). We gave her an effective Resources of Excellent to represent this. It bakes it some more Situation that can be pursued in play.

Connie uses the iPhone to make an appointment with her parole officer The Silver Shield (see session one for more info about him). She makes the obligatory jokes to the receptionist who answered the call and
learned that The Silver Shield does not have a sense of humor. We set the appoint for Monday, May 9th, 2pm.

When Connie was out and about during the day, I made a roll on my random encounter table. The result is that one of Connie's criminal contacts will reach out to her to ask for a favor. This is obviously Jill Damerov. A Russian man approaches Connie on her behalf and tells her to drop off a package at the docks later in the night. Connie goes along.

At this point, Noah asks to make a Reason FEAT to determine what the package is and where it might fit into Jill Damerov's enterprise. The roll is successful. I just run with what is an obvious real world example -- it is a bunch of fentanyl that is passing through the United States to another destination through the port. Is this the first case of a character in Marvel Super Heroes becoming a drug mule? I don't know but I like this direction. You won't see this is any MCU offering...

The package itself is awkward and barely fits in Connie's backpack along with the SP3CTR suit. Connie decides to lay low in a movie theatre near the docks until it is time to drop off the package. The package must be dropped in an oil drum within the security perimeter.

When it becomes time to execute the job, Connie goes to the location. She is suited up to take advantage of the powers provided by the SP3CTR suit. She uses her leaping ability to jump onto a crane close to the eventual drop-off point. We call for an Agility FEAT to make this manuever and it is successful.

Connie takes a survey of the environment, resulting in an Intuition FEAT. This fails. I apply a -1 CS to the next roll to reflect that she is clueless about the security layout. The next roll is Agility FEAT to sneak over to the oil drum. This roll also fails and she is caught under the spotlight and alarms are raised.

Connie adapts to the situation by phasing into one of the storage containers. A power FEAT roll is made to also phase the backpack and drug parcel. It is successful. She hides out until the commotion dies down 20 minutes later.

Connie then tries to phase back out of the storage container. I call for another power FEAT for this. She fails and the backpack becomes stuck in the wall of the container, exposing her to detection while she tries to wrest it free. I call for an Agility FEAT to evade detection and it succeeds. From this point, she is able to drop the package in the oil drum and get off the premises using her leaping ability with one last successful Agility FEAT.

In the last scene, Connie calls Jill in prison to report the outcome of the job but also asks to not be given mook work. Jill is pleased that the job went off well and reminds Connie that a debt is still owed due to the protection in prison. She also concedes that Connie's skills could be better used and promises to offer her something better next time.

Connie is awarded 30 Karma for "Commit Other Crime". I doubled the award for doing it creatively (as in the rules). This was due to the quick thinking with phasing into the storage container, which averted catastrophe with the guards. She started with 0 Karma and now has 30.

A few stray thoughts about this session...

As a GM I have been trying to train myself out of the mission based adventure structure thing that I am so used to. I was very careful in introducing Mecano to present it as a potential relationship and not a series of missions followed by the eventual betrayal. Connie might have rejected it from the outset, leading somewhere just as interesting as going along with it.

The mission that came up from the random encounter roll was totally ad-lib. It was very fun for the both of us and it actually told me some things about what Jill Damerov is up to and what her motives are. It added some action and Noah was able to flex Connie's abilities in a situation with potential consequences. It would have been very interesting if Connie had refused it as well. What would Jill do with such a refusal due to the perceived debt she thinks she is owed? I want to try to avoid the mission structure thing here too.

It is quite refreshing to run this game. It just rolls along. I have spent around 150 hours playing Burning Wheel since last summer. The scene planning and negotiation, the long discussions about Task, Intent, and Consequence from that game are starting to wear me down. Marvel Super Heroes Basic, on the other hand, has very fast resolution mechanics. It is also very clear how any character can affect the world
through their different abilities, powers, and talents. It's a nice change of pace for me.

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

noah's picture

I don’t want to over-analyze this game (plenty of time for that after we have some serious playtime under our belts). I’ll just say that I am excited for Halfway Heroes as it emerges at the confluence of taking Ron’s “People & Play” course and reading the 1961 Fantastic Four for the first time. The former influence has given me new tools for thinking about my roleplaying, and I’m excited to put them into action. The latter has blown me away with its sense of roiling creative ferment, the feeling that anything can happen (and probably already is). I didn’t fully understand what the “Now” in Champions Now meant until, well, now.

Not much to say regarding procedures yet, except that Connie is actually the second character I rolled. For the first, I couldn’t seem to roll below 80 (I even ended up with 5 Powers and 5 Talents). I didn’t find the resulting spread of numbers/ranks very inspiring. So I started over, notably getting a “Feeble” on the Endurance roll and a “Typical” on one of the Alter Ego scores. A big part of the character clicked into place when I decided to shift the “Typical” result over to the Alter Ego’s Endurance -- Connie’s SP3CTR suit raises her stamina to that of an average person, but only barely. Brief bursts of activity require rest in between, and she needs to be in her suit to exert any kind of extended physical effort (yes, inventing included). I thought there's a character I'm excited to play in crisis situations, and the rest of the process was very straightforward, even the decision that Connie served time for a murder she certainly did commit.

Ron Edwards's picture

David, would you like any thoughts & judgment at this time (or at all)? Based on a lot of superhero role-playing, referencing both MSH and Champions especially.

Yup, would love to hear your thoughts.

Ron Edwards's picture

Well, with every possible proviso that you can adjust and apply whatever you like, including none of it, here goes. You are getting very elaborate with the details, complications, and nuances of the NPCs and backstories.

I have often fallen into the trap of excited elaborations upon the situation, often far removed from the heroes. In my mind, the complications seemed so nicely tuned to "what would be perfect" for this or that hero,  or so obviously right for a deeper matrix in which this or that hero was embedded. Bluntly, they weren't, and the problem wasn't the quality for any one thing, but their sheer quantity.

I wrote about it in two blog posts about a couple of games, in Time travel trippin' up and Going for baroque. Most of what I'd caution about, and why, is stated bluntly and completely in the second one.

 

Those two posts were helpful, thanks! This is one part from the second post that really stuck out to me:

Execution is more than mere rendering and presentation, it’s knowing when you have enough to do the thing, and not to tie so many things into it. If I wanted to do the three identities, then that’s one thing; if I wanted to do the long-unsolved grim-history supergroup murder, that’s another. And furthermore, there’s dropping this whole thing onto a game explicitly predicated on another very rich-and-complex thing. Medium is such a perfect word for what I mean … the physicality not merely of presentation, but of engagement. There must be a person for a transitive act to take place, otherwise the thing is only a thing and not a medium at all. Role-playing’s medium is the spoken word + further spoken words in response. This is often subject to obsessive design attention in terms of fine-grained individual character actions, but doesn’t receive enough attention regarding situations, past events, and priorities.

 

In terms of Execution, I think I was worried that there wouldn't be enough, especially when Noah joined the game between the first and second session. It started as a fun and inspiring GM activity to integrate his character into the prepared and established material but it became stressful at some point. That's probably a pretty good indicator that things have sprawled out of control and I fell into the trap of "more is not more". I was pretty excited about the possibilities of these two characters and got carried away. At one point, I even described them as not additive but multiplicative. That's probably another indicator of sprawl. The characters are very rich but the multiplicative stuff is in my mind in terms of plugging them into the matrix of other things in my mind.

The points about Medium are a good reminder of what we're doing. A lot of this prep is probably going to fall by the wayside but I was thinking of it terms of having more in my pocket to play with should the players become engaged in one thing or another. It is the buffet approach I guess. 

In addition to that it also occurred to me when I was reading the two posts that the medium of superhero comics (and in particular the era MSH is based on and our group is interested in) takes a "less is more" approach. New characters are quite often introduced in terms of how they conflict with the hero and those scenes are played out and then it may be a long time before we see them again. Backstory considerations sometimes come out later when the writers want to develop those characters more.

I'd recently read a bunch of Cloak and Dagger and while they are introduced initially with a bit of backstory, just enough to shock and grab the reader, the elaborate details really come out when they are given their own mini-series. The backstory in their introduction is also specifically tied to what Spider-Man is trying to stop them from doing.

I can think of other things I have read recently where the villain just appears, with whatever their schtick and motives are, and it is basically all action from there. Then in the next issue another one appears and it is the same thing.

Of course I don't want to mix up our medium with the medium of superhero comics but these seem like pretty useful hints with regards to how much is enough when playing MSH.

I will put some thought into these two ideas:

  1. When providing questions and triggers, leave the dramatic buildup and circumstances of climactic conflict up to future decisions of the players, including the full possible range from (i) they don’t care and aren’t going to engage, to (ii) they blaze into it and nail it to the ground right away. Don’t plan & choreograph how it’s going to build and resolve.
  2. When providing revelations and answers, begin with player-generated material which begs for those things. Don’t pose both the question in your original material and your answer for it.

Thanks again, I am trying a bunch of things I have never done before and also rejecting my old set of tools. So your perspective (and any other outside perspective) is really helpful to me. 

Greg's picture

Those are really good comments. It really speaks to me for prep in general. In the current Sorcerer game I play, I got real creative sparks by reading the character sheets, and at some point I was wondering if I had too much things going on.

I'm still trying to find a good intuitive balance - not really techniques but just safeguards or red flags. This is how I did by looking at the quantity of ideas I've scribbled in my not books: I made choices for one or two simple ideas that are needed to frame the first scenes. Then I considered all the other ideas as provisional. I see where those things are going after one or two sessions, as players react to them, NPCs react to them, and dice rolles outcome. I'm not playing to see every of my ideas into play, I'm playing to see which one of them I will need to strike in my notebook and which one will become played material in that list.

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