Sunday, December 5, 2010

Black Friday

As per tradition, I always try to run something when I visit the states, so my players can see me in running a game in person (plus it's far easier to get this group of luddites together in person than online).  This time around, I was inspired by twin revelations: Iron Man + L4D2.  First, I have a friend named Walter whom I have gamed with for years (friend?  I should probably call him my step-brother now ^_^ but one can be both, hmm?) and we often have a hard time gaming with one another.  Specifically, I had been misreading his gaming style for years, and watching Iron Man finally let me grasp what he wanted.  For example, he often wanted to play an inventor character, but hated the grunt work involved.  After seeing Iron Man, I grasped that he wanted to be like Tony Stark (one of his favorite characters) or Doctor Who (another favorite): To be a clever super-hero who solves his problems with his mind, but is always central to the action.

Playing L4D2 got me thinking about zombies.  Normally, I see zombie horror stories and post-apocalyptic scenarios as gritty and a struggle of survival.  You play low powered characters and see if you can handle the situation or not, right?  Walter loved these genres as well, but never really meshed with my vision of them.  It wasn't until I read this article (warning: is known to devour your time!!) that I saw another vision, another way to tackle those genres, and I was reminded of the appeal of Rifts.

With these ideas in mind, I set out to create a character Walter would love in a world that would appeal to my group.  In a continuation of my experiment to stuff as much awesome into a single session as I could, I wanted to give the players this feel of an entire world with just a snippet of character and a single session.  I also wanted to experiment with strong, highly cinematic characters with unique play styles, and to do that, I borrowed from the more cinematic options found in GURPS (and suggestions from the forum).  Those systems tend to involve the expenditure of character points, which I don't disagree with, but once you call them character points, players are less likely to use them.  So I called them "Action Points" and gave them 5 at the start.

For the world, I drew a core inspiration from Rifts, creating a post-apocalyptic world that combined magic and technology, with dystopian dictatorships fighting monstrous madness with the players and survivors caught in between.  I drew further inspiration from L4D2, tossing in crazy assortments of zombies and leaving whispers and hints that the dystopia was created from the corrupt remnants of the CDC, and then added a Supernatural vision of a post-apocalyptic world: Demons as possessing spirits rather than titanic beasts of fire and shadow, subtle rituals meant to fend off monsters, and with tough-but-ordinary men fending off the night.  Finally, I layered a good dose of GURPS sensibilities, including a tech level disparity of 7 (the survivors) and 9 (the remnants of civilization that have moved on) and adding a grand conspiracy for the Illuminated, and then leapt with both feet into the session.

Hunter Clark
 The first character was for Walter and sort of a core inspiration for the setting.  I created Hunter to be a survivalist, a sniper, and a genius. I gave him Quick Gadgeteer and, to forgo any problems with spending too much time at a work bench when he needed to get into the action now, I gave him an "Instant Invention" cinematic ability: He could spend an action point to forgo creation time (provided I didn't think it was too crazy).  Often, Walter finds himself frustrated when the pacing notches up into action scenes that move faster than he can think, and then comes up with an idea that frustrates me.  So, I granted his character the ability to "take a breather" and ask me to step aside, talk things out, figure out what both of us are trying to do.  To make sense of the fact that his various abilities would give him a great deal of insight into my game, I just went ahead and gave him Illuminated (and why not?  He loves conspiracies!  Why not be a part of them?).  The result was a wandering teacher, "the Man of Letters" who understood technology better than anyone else, carried advanced rounds of his own invention for his massive payload rifle, and had the capacity to bring back civilization, if he played his cards right and defeated the other "players of the game."

John Franklin
Does he look familiar?  Byler picked him out, and I think he looks pretty good.  I noticed that Byler really enjoyed  being a politically powerful figure in Vampire, and so I thought I'd give him another taste of it, giving him a military leader.  Knowing his love of Space Marines, I wanted to give him a badass, patriotic ubermensch.  The result was John Franklin (I wanted someone a little more Nordic looking, but Josh Holloway will do), a super-soldier created in America's waning days, who woke up after the fall with no memories but the propaganda and indoctrination given to him while "in the tube," (giving him some very exaggerated ideas about America's glory days), supreme military training and TL 9 equipment, including a combat hardsuit and an enchanted, superfine bastard sword built to his stature.  I also gave him a small army called the Old Guard, and two powerful lieutenants, the Black Agent and the Witch.  The result was a cross between Captain America, a Space Marine and King Arthur.  He certainly enjoyed it.

Cassandra has a love of creative characters and playing with NPCs.  One of her favorite games of all time was Valkyrie Profile, a game where you collect interesting NPCs and make them into an army to fight the final battle, and I wanted to give her that same experience in a table-top game.  Thus, Kyriel was a fallen angel, expelled from Heaven by an unknown enemy after the collapse, but still determined to gather the souls of the righteous for a final battle.  I gave her this "pact" ability as a cinematic power (I can't fathom how I would stat it as an actual advantage, but it's mostly a story-element anyway), so she can make a ghost substantial and give it "another chance" to train and fight (not really resurrection as the ability to remove the Insubstantial advantage at the ghost's request).  I also gave her magic, and the cinematic ability to spend a character point and gain 25 energy points for a single spell.  Oh, and I made the picture myself (it represents the angel possessing some hapless teenage girl whose soul was burned out by the unearthly power of the angel).

Dave was a bit of a challenge.  He basically plays the same character again and again: a big, tough guy who kicks much ass.  There's nothing wrong with that, but I was hoping to challenge my players a little with their characters.  A combat robot fit the bill: still tough, but with speed, grace and excellent sensors.  I made him a full-conversion cyborg and a noir detective (a play on the old "cyborg bounty hunter" from Rifts) and then I added an element of mystery to his conversion, giving him Partial Amnesia, with only faint memories of "the Crying Woman" (his femme fatale) and a mission to kill "Conner Johnson."  I'm not sure he appreciated the other elements, but he liked being a DR 20 robot in a zombie apocalypse.

(I had more characters, but I won't bore you with all the details).

We had a relatively quick session: A detailed battle against a swarm of zombies, a miscommunication and then a meeting with a group of survivors, an ominous gathering of more zombies and the sudden interference of the Authority before we had to close up for the night.  I'm not sure it was my best session, but the group clamoured for more, so it certainly wasn't a failure ^_^

The lessons I learned?  I can design GURPS characters in sweeping cinematic strokes, and I really liked my "specialized for your character" cinematic options. The players certainly used the heck out of their cinematic abilities.  The cinematic options felt like a completely different sort of game, one more narrative than simulationist. I'm not sure I liked that feel for that particular genre, but I like knowing that such a game is possible.  Oh, and even in a cinematic game when you're 450 points, sufficient zombies can still be frightening.

I have a lot to do, so I probably can't get back to Black Friday quickly, but as an experiment, I learned a great deal.  A good game, all around.
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