Monday, February 20, 2012

Smallville Episode 2

Pre-title Scene

Arlington-esque cemetery, in the lashing rain. Black garbed figures, including Joshua, Thomas and Seth bury the remains of Project Ares. A full military gun salute sends a flock of birds flying into the storm. A limousine pulls up and an unknown man rolls down the window and, speaking to a mobile phone, states that ‘It is time he knows the truth.’
Seth appears in the Thorne Industries security control room, to speak to Thomas. He demands that Thomas finds him something to do as he is bored! This is a pretense for the real reason for the visit, Seth would like Thomas to investigate ‘The Man from the Government’ who recruited him last week to serve as a Promethean ‘ambassador’ to Israel in light of the disappearance of the Israeli hero Masada. [The presence of the rogue Promethean ‘Saladin’, with telekinetic powers involving a sword and a carpet was mentioned]. The two argue, as Thomas does not want to investigate his own government contact. Seth stresses Thomas out and he rages at his computer, unwilling to discuss the matter anymore.
Joshua faces a meeting of the Thorne Industries board, who want an explanation for his takeover of his father’s position and the public announcement that he was suspending the Government contract to find the genetic trigger for secondary Prometheans and seeking to make ‘a better place for all’. Some heated debate ensues, with Mr Brown – the finance director – being particularly offensive in his summation of Joshua’s suitability to lead the company. The Board try to usurp Joshua but he reveals that he has bought a majority shareholding. They resign en masse, with Mr Brown venting his spleen on the steps of Thorne Industries (complication…)
One of the directors remains, Mr Antoine Olivier who reveals that he runs one of Professor Thorne’s private divisions, Biodynamics. Joshua is taken into BioDynamics and shown Lab X. He has the purpose of Lab X revealed (To develop a non-Promethean method of creating superhumans as an army to protect America from Prometheans) He is then shown their super-soldier … Project Ares! (Who was recloned at the end of last session). He explains a little of the Project Ares background and notes that two of them cannot be active at the same time or they would share the same memories and psychic powers and the feedback would send them mad. Remember the scene at the end of last session where the other Ares was revealed as still alive? Oh dear…
This version is sparring with some security guards, and beating them. He is being monitored by Jessie (Joshua’s sometimes girlfriend, see last AP). Ares tries to become Jessie’s ‘friend’ but she completely belittles him, with one eye on Joshua, telling him that he is nothing more than a virus grown in a petri dish etc. Ares is suddenly very insecure… and cries (complication). Mr Olivier asks Joshua to take Ares back to the Institute and explain his resurrection.
Later, Thomas tries to take advantage of the fragile Jessie and recruit her as a mole in BioDynamics. She is, however, the daughter of Agent Orange and knows how to keep secrets when it counts. She ends up leaving, insecure after the meeting, but resilient due to her Secret Agent Brat training.
In the now continuous ‘Mess Jessie Up Fest’, Seth decides to go to her apartment and speak to her as he knows he is about to go to Israel and might not be coming back. Really, he’s trying to seduce her. (Complication: he is seen entering the apartment by the paparazzi who are constantly covering Jessie since her Oprah appearance.) Jessie eventually gives in and Seth disappears into the bedroom with her!
Meanwhile Thomas confronts the resurrected Ares and questions him on his reappearance, challenging him on his connections to BioDynamics (using his abilities to have some BioDynamics debris from the explosion last session). In a tense conflict, the relationship between the two changes as Ares asserts his power and Thomas ends up ‘afraid’ of this powerful ‘ally’. Agent Orange looks on… (complication)
[And now, the most devastating, key scene of the game so far…]
Joshua teleports into Jessie’s flat to try to patch up their relationship and encounters Seth in his boxer shorts and Jessie coming out of her bedroom in a pyjama top, open to the waist. There’s no doubt what has occurred here. Joshua is furious and states that Seth has gone over a line that shouldn’t be crossed. Seth counters with the fact that Joshua has done a lot worse! Joshua punches Seth, but just bruises his hand on his invulnerable face. Seth tries to calm Joshua down and understand that everything is fine between them. Jessie wants Joshua to feel some of the pain that she has felt when he has betrayed her. Many relationships and values are challenged. Joshua realises seeing Jessie in the arms of another man hurts more than he could imagine. Emotional carnage ensues. Joshua teleports away, furious.
Jessie, however, wants to make more of this and tries to get a commitment from Seth. Seth does not do commitment. Jessie is devastated. Complications mean that Jessie may be pregnant (!) and another has Agent Orange (her father and a known-to-Seth ally of Agent Tempest and the Renegades) arrives and seeing his daughter distressed, pulls a gun and demands Seth leaves. He turns off Seth’s invulnerability and then shoots him, scarring the face of the century! Seth gathers his things and flies off!
[And breathe!]
Ares updates his online fanbase of his return. He is challenged to prove that this hasn’t actually all been a publicity stunt. He wins the conflict and manages to get four (4!) complications out of the Trouble pool. They turn out that some rumours are flying around that he is a God, some rumours are flying around that there is a Cult of Ares springing up, the information has flew around the planet at the speed of the internet and he is rapidly becoming very famous and him now also being deployed in Israel.
Joshua orders Thomas to lock Seth out of Thorne Towers, as he is no longer welcome (!). The situation could act as a degree of catharsis for Thomas, but no. Joshua then directs Thomas to investigate BioDynamics and gives him the details of Mr Olivier. [Thomas has been trying all session to find an ‘in’ to BioDynamics and now he has it handed to him on an in-story plate]
Seth arrives, is locked out, and is confronted by Thorne Security. He chooses to fly up and land through Joshua’s window. He demands that he has access to the building replaced. Joshua realises the power of the individual he is angry with, gaining Afraid stress, but not letting Seth back into the building. Thomas enters the scene and demands that Seth leaves, which he does, collecting his stuff.
[And now a scene where I challenged the players of Seth, Ares and Thomas to play three political talking heads in a TV debate involving Joshua. A wonderful twenty minutes of pure roleplaying gold erupted with them taking on roles ‘influenced’ by Newt Gingrich, Hilary Clinton and Richard Dawkins. Really cool, clever stuff from everyone involved. Two things did come from it – ‘Newt’ announced that the Senate was passing an emergency bill to relinquish control of the Prometheus Institute from Thorne Industries and place it under the control of the Department for Defence, and when questioned about the battle between Seth and Tempest, Joshua mentioned that they were unsure whether Tempest was actually the aggressor in that conflict!]
In a cut scene, we see Masada being emptied of glue in a LabX style facility, regenerating and then raging about how the young American (ie. Seth) must pay!

Finally (!) Seth, Ares, Agent Orange (oh no tension here…) and a bevvy of marines and PR people are on an army plane to Israel. As they approach Tel Aviv, the pilot screams that something has missile lock on the plane. Ares dives into the pilot’s seat and begins evasive action and Seth, the only flying Promethean on the planet, launches himself to deal with the three missiles, which he does! A slew of complications against Watchtower result in the attackers being seen and found by Israeli security and the entire affair being covered on TV, hardly doing the US heroes any harm on the PR front.
Back in the US, Thomas enters BioDynamics using his shadow walk powers, but complications! Jessie is in the room where he enters. They confront each other – her about why he is here and him about what BioDynamics is doing? They are interrupted by Mr Olivier and Thomas tries to get them to confess to everything. This triggers a protective subroutine that Ares has implanted in the system, aiding Olivier and Thomas cannot move them. As a counter-proposal Mr Olivier suggests that they may have mutual friends (they do, the Man in the Government is Thomas’ contact and also a director of BioDynamics who work for … the Government.) and that, considering the circumstances, Thomas should come over to HIS side and work for BioDynamics. Considering everything, Thomas agrees (the player gave in, because it was so interesting!)
Joshua attends the Emergency Senate Hearing on the acquisition of the Prometheus Institute. After some debate he sees off the Bill and walks away with a new government contract but also the attentions of a new Senate Oversight Committee.
In Israel, Seth and Ares are taken from a number of publicity junkets and go on one of Masada’s patrols through the contested parts of Gaza. In a prime ambush location, they are indeed ambushed by a single gun-toting terrorist-type. The marines shoot him, but each time he is shot, he replicates into another being until there are thirty of him. Saladin (yeah, he was narrated in at the start of the episode so I’ll run with him here…) appears and orders the infidel’s to be slaughtered.
To Be Continued…

Sunday, February 12, 2012

AP: Smallville 1.1 - Strange Bedfellows

Pre-Title Scenes
Thomas Jackson (Nigel) uses his stealthy shadow powers to ghost into a locked vault to retrieve a computer file.
Project Ares (Dave) is a witness to a robbery at a liquor store and uses his time stop powers to interfere wurg the crime, pay for his beer and exit the scene.
Seth Adams (Andrew) is partying on top of Thorne Towers (one of the main sets for the game) with the students from his University, cavorting with both the male and female guests in the hot tub.
Joshua Thorne (Ian) wakes up next to a naked actress in his penthouse suite in Thorne Towers, realises he is late for a press conference on the TV and teleports to said scene. He is never late.

In a world where superpowered beings are the equivalent of nuclear weapons, tensions are running high. The Prometheans have existed since the 60s until the peace treaties of the late 80s and the age of Promethean decommissioning. Prometheans have their inbuild genetic trigger activated and are depowered. Slowly, they retreat from the world ... until a child is born with Promethean powers. The appearance of Seth Adams and the other second generation Prometheans sends the world into a desperate power struggle. Some states reactivate their Prometheans, some throw theirs into prison camps and others scramble to reestablish their programs. The Americans hand over their program, officially, to the Promethean Institute and Professor Thorne (the superpowered version of Oppenheimer). Officially. Honest...

The game begins as Professor Thorne is expected to speak at a UN Symposium on his progression in the field of Promethean Proliferation and the creation of a genetic trigger for secondary Prometheans

Joshua Thorne confronts Professor Thorne about the content of the speech and browbeats him into giving him a copy so that he can read it through himself. (Prof. Thorne given d10 insecure stress)

Thomas Jackson meets with 'Agent Orange', his partner as Prometheus Institute security and plans the security for the UN address, at the Black Bean Coffee Shop (a set in the game) and then the same Agent moves on to confront Ares, who is also at the Coffee Shop. They have a very spikey conversation, as there is no love lost between Orange and Ares. Ares tries to use his time-stop power on Orange at the end, but he cannot. Reveal: Orange is a power-negator! (The players all know, from chargen, that Orange is a double agent, working for the rogue Prometheans... more on them later)

Seth is confronted at college by a girl that he has romanced previously. He brushes her off and is then confronted by her brother who he ritually humiliates in front of a huge crowd and manages to come away smelling of roses. He is a mean and shallow man!

Joshua and Ares discuss the possibility of detaining Professor Thorne somehow, so that Joshua can deliver the speech. They decide to arrange for a liaison with an old flame, using Ares time and mind manipulation powers to help. Thomas uses his shadow meld power to edit himself into the scene and hear everything...
Joshua is the visited by his childhood (and sometimes) girlfriend Jessie, who finds the actresses knickers in his bed and has a very angry break-up with him, screaming her head off and storming through the building. She walks, literally, into Thomas who persuades her to take her story onto Oprah (!) who he just happens to know (Fixer, d12) and she can talk about Joshua's sex addiction and maybe get him help....

Agent Tempest (Seth's mother, the first Promethean, the most powerful still alive and the figurehead of the renegade Prometheans who believe that they should take their place as Gods ruling over men) arrives at the Thorne Penthouse to tell her son to stay away from the Symposium as the Renegades are going to make a statement (there has already been talk of a bombing on the 'net). She tries to persuade him that his place in the world is at her side and he reacts badly. They fight and he nearly beats her, but under the lens' of press helicopters, she smacks him around ... delivering d10 Insecure stress

The next day, Orange summons Ares and Seth and, for reasons that are unknown, tries to get them to argue (exaccerbating their conflicting relationships) over who will be the on-stage back-up to Thorne at the United Nations. Seth grabs the spot and Ares is more than happy to give it to him. Orange is vexed that he cannot get his sport.

Thomas gets on with the actual security work and uses his contacts to narrow down the possibilities to (a) a Promethean who can explode themselves and (b) this might be a smokescreen for something else.
Joshua reinforces Seth's belief in himself in a touching scene of stress relief...

Joshua is then confronted, by video phone, by Paige Hopkins (vitriolic rightwing FOX News style reporter who has been pursuing a line of 'Why are the Thornes now doing MORE to secure America's dominance in Promethean affairs?' for 18 months). She asks him about his work, his impending appearance as a sex addict on Oprah and demands he has an interview with her prior to the Symposium. He uses his Wealthy to create a d6 Useful Detail that he is a shareowner of her company and sees her off with a full on flirtation. (Inflicting d12 Angry!)

At the United Nations
Seth arrives at the UN building to find that hordes of his fans have appeared, bolstered by the blanket news coverage of him fighting the world's #1 terrorist in the middle of New York. Much screaming and fainting.
Thomas takes up his position in the security suite, observing everyone as they move, using the AVRIL computer (from Thorne Towers) to aid in the detection, watching for the exploding female Promethean.
Ares uses his mind control powers on Professor Thorne to take him away to see his old flame (achieved using Mastermind). This works and Joshua has to make the speech in lieu of his missing father. Thomas informs Joshua that his 'plan' is in effect, revealing that he knew about it all along.

Joshua is confronted, from the press pack in the UN lobby, by the FOX reporter who demands her interview, outing him in public as a sex addict. Seth tries to intervene, helping him escape, but they fail and Joshua is grilled, on camera, in the most intense manner. As a complication, however, he later uses his influence with the news organisation to have the reporter sacked.

Meanwhile, everyone is watching the hawkish Israeli delegation (well known for their pro-secondary stance) including the defence minister (who is looking very nervous) and Masada, the Israeli national hero. Israeli minister is seen speaking to Mr Olivier - a fixer and negotiator who works for the NuMen, a group of affiliated interests seeking a private Promethean solution (they have been actively pursing Ares prior to the game)

Seth moves to greet Masada and tests his super strength against the Israeli's forcefield. He wins and the field is fractured slightly. Masada is d12 Afraid - realising that if he is challenged further he will show vulnerability and that would send the rogue Promethean states descending on Israel on their droves. So, a small international incident!

Joshua delivers his speech and announces that Professor Thorne has decided that he is going to retire and cede all control of the Institute to Joshua. (This is, of course, the first time Professor Thorne would have heard of this!) He then announces that the Institute will be ceasing it's studies into the secondary Promethean genetic trigger but that 'together we can make a better tomorrow', sending the room into utter turmoil.

At this point, the bomber is spotted making her way into the room, dressed as a caterer. Seth uses his flight power (he is the only person on the planet who can fly. He's awesome...) to remove the bomber and fly with her into the sky. She then shapeshifts into another, different Promethean form.

Inside, another blonde haired bomber appears, running into the chamber. Thorne teleports to intercept her. Thomas shifts through the shadows to reach her. Ares slows time to reach her first. On the other side of the room, Agent Orange stands and makes a finger-shooting motion, negating Ares power around him, but not around the rest of the room. Ares rushes into the arms of the bomber who explodes, disintergrating him. The explosion is contained by the time stop aura. Ares is gone but the bomber is stopped.

Outside, Seth holds the shapeshifter and interogates him, getting the location of the Renegade camp (South Africa) and then drops him from a great height. Like I said, he is not a nice boy!

Tag Scenes
The press wrap up the situation, showing Seth fighting terrorists for the second time in two days and cementing himself as a national hero. The financials are awash with speculation on the future of Thorne Industries with the shift of power. Inside Thorne, however, there is something more worrying - Thorne has disappeared, never returning from his engineered disappearance. He is MIA. Project Ares ('an unnamed Institute security guard') is feted as the man who saved the United Nations. Thomas, as always, was in the shadows...

Joshua watches his outing on Oprah as a sex addict with quiet interest as he lounges on his bed in his penthouse. The screen flickers and the latest Billboard Top 100 teen starlet of the moment appears, wanting to take him up on his offer of a good time. He accepts and teleports away.

Thomas is drinking at a country and western bar. He is speaking to a man in the shadows, lit only by a smoking cigarette. He tells him that the plan is going well, and the right Thorne is in place now.

Seth is in a high class bar being wined and dined by everyone after his latest heroics. He receives a call from 'The Man from the Government' (the same man that Thomas was talking to above) saying that the Israelis have reported Masada to be out of action (Ares disabled him, using his time stop power and super glue in the lungs!) and they have asked, in light of the special relationship between the two countries, that Seth could be deployed in Israel as a deterrent.

Ares has two tag scenes
In a dark hotel room, Tempest and a number of other renegades sit and take in what they have seen.  Project Ares (remember, he's dead folks...) walks in and addresses them. 'Congratulations, your war has started'
In Laboratory X, a computer notes that Clone 56 has been terminated. Clone 57 activates and a new Project Ares spills out of a green liquid filled gestation tube!

System wise, we talked afterwards and we realised that
- The players need to 'get on each others tits more' in order to really power some of the conflicts.
- Whilst 'giving in' creates some interesting losing situations, it doesn't help with getting a Growth pool or Stress.
- The game needs the NPCs to be statted well to make them effective.
- We were not using enough plot points to power extra rolls AND extra dice, which again might have made for weaker dice rolls (some were stellar)

From a GM perspective, the game really sang in some cases and could have been done better in others. Thomas, in particular, needs some attention from me to really help him sing. Joshua's addiction to the spotlight and Seth's 'mean girls' act really helped drive some drama. I'm also going to have to watch myself because I stand a horrible chance of getting pet NPC syndrome on Agent Orange. The cool, worldly wise and cynical womaniser and drinker is just too much fun.

In the end though, the real pay off for me is that I have always wanted to run a superhero game again (I ran loads of them when I was a kid) but I have never really been able to get a system which favoured the drama rather than the battle. In this game the drama of the sex addict was as hot as the battle between the superbeings. It was more Heroes than Justice League and that was exactly what I wanted.

Next time.... fallout and escalation!