The Real Dark Side of Star Wars: Spoilers

[This is a repost of a post I wrote about two years, which has inexplicably disappeared from the site.]

I need to talk about something pretty shitty, but it requires a little background information, first.

Many of you probably already know this background info, but some of you don’t, so I’m filling it in for them; everyone else, please bear with.


I doubt it will surprise anyone to know I’m a long time Star Wars fan boy.

Am I the biggest Star Wars fan boy who’s ever lived? No, most certainly not.

In fact (and this bit will shock the less-super-nerdy out there), there are groups of folks out in the world who, after examining the extent of my exposure to Star Wars “stuff”, would decide quite seriously that I’m not a real Star Wars fan at all, or at least not a serious one.

The funny thing is, it’s hard to even explain this without getting at least somewhat nerdy, but I’m going to try. (In my head, as I write this, I’m talking to my sister, which is how I approach more posts than anyone would imagine.)

Now, a lot of people – most people – who say they like Star Wars mean they like the movies, because that is literally the only Star Wars thing they know about. I’m going to call these folks “mainstream fans.”

Obviously (because as a species, we really can’t leave this kind of shit alone) there is a lot more Star Wars stuff out there – more stuff than you’d readily believe. Games, of course. Comics – fucking walls of comics – and enough novels to fill a library.

Collectively, all the stuff that isn’t the movies has been (until recently) referred to as the Star Wars “Extended Universe” or “EU”. The quality of the stuff varies, and by “varies” I mean some of it is pretty good, and some of it is pants-on-head fucking idiocy that makes Jar Jar Binks look as cool as Chewbacca, by comparison.

How does stuff like that get the official stamp of approval? Pretty simple: George Lucas really likes making money, and people are willing to pay him a whole shit ton of money to play in his backyard, so he lets them write novels with Force-nullifying space-sloths (yes, seriously) and puts the Official Rubber Stamp on it, because (a) he got money and (b) he knew if he ever came out with a movie that contradicted stuff people had written, his version would invalidate all the drek he’d authorized in the past, so who cares?

In general, I don’t follow the EU stuff, and (with the exception of the first Star Wars roleplaying game that anyone licensed) don’t know much about it.

The quick summary: there is miles and miles of EU stuff, set anywhere from 30 thousand years before to several hundred years after the movies ‘mainstream fans’ know; the whole thing is an virtually unchartable hot mess…

And there are fans out there who know every single inch of it. Or most of it. Certainly more of it than I do. I’ll call them super-fans.

Now: I have no beef with those super-fans. None.

Okay so far? Good.

Now: Enter Disney.

A few years ago, Disney acquired the rights to the Star Wars intellectual property and announced they were going to start doing stuff with it, and that George Lucas wouldn’t have very much if anything to do with it. (Which, after the prequels, was kind of a relief to hear.)

And Disney took a long look at the Extended Universe stuff and, after some thought, said “Yeah that’s… nice and all… but… yeah. None of that shit is official anymore.”

Basically, they boiled down “Official Star Wars” to the movies, the Clone Wars animated series that ran a few years ago, and whatever stuff they make from here on out (like the totally amazing and fun Star Wars Rebels show, a couple new novels, and of course the new movies coming out).

All that EU stuff? It’s not the “Extended Universe” anymore; it’s “Star Wars Legends” which, honestly, I think is a great name – it implies these are stories about the Star Wars universe (which they are, of course) but just that: stories. Unverifiable. Unverified. Unofficial. Enjoy them if you want – please, by all means – but know them for what they are.

Most – and I do mean most – super-fans were fine with this: they get to keep the stuff they’re into, and they get the biggest pop-culture engine in the world cranking out new Star Wars stuff until the heat-death of the universe finally invalidates Disney’s copyrights.

Some of the super-fans are not happy, and have decided to be unapologetically shitty human beings about the whole thing. I will call this small, vocal-like-a-screaming-howler-monkey subset of super-fans the “spoiler fans,” and here’s why:

These people have decided that it’s not enough that they have this stuff they like. Because Disney has said it’s not official stuff anymore, that somehow makes it impossible to love that stuff as much as they once did – their love is somehow capped by its lack of an official stamp, and this cannot be allowed to stand.

What do they want? This is pretty funny, actually: they don’t just want Disney to go back and say “okay, that stuff is still at least as official as it was when George Lucas was taking your money and planning on invalidating anything he felt like, whenever he felt like it” – they (apparently) want Disney to keep making EU stuff, in addition to the stuff Disney is already making.

“Well, that’s nice,” you might say, “maybe they want a pony, too?”

And yeah, it’s kind of funny, until you realize the internet has allowed shitty people to be shitty on a far greater scale.

See, they’re trying to hold Star Wars hostage to get Disney to do what they want.

How? They have vowed that they will spoil each and every spoil-able moment in the new movie as loudly and as broadly as possible (which, today, is pretty loud and pretty broad), if Disney doesn’t cave.

You’ve probably seen those image memes on Facebook or whatever, asking people not to spoil the movie. I have, and thought “yeah, it would suck to be spoiled ahead of time.”

Because that can happen by accident. Well-meaning, happy, enthusiastic fans can get on the internet and broadcast out to their friends, joyfully exclaiming about all the stuff they loved about the movie, and accidentally spoil something for someone who hasn’t seen it yet, because how have you not seen it yet?!?

This isn’t that. This is not an accidental thing. This is not your friend loving the movie so much he spills something.

This is a guy standing outside the movie theater before The Empire Strikes Back, waiting for the line to form, and then telling every single person in line “Darth Vader is Luke’s dad.”

Except the guy has a megaphone the whole world can hear, if they aren’t careful, and he shouts the message at unexpected times.


I’m telling you about this, because it already happened to me, and I don’t want it to happen to you.

I leaned about this little movement of spoiler-fans via a friend’s post on Google+.

The very first comment to that post was one of these guys, and all he posted was a spoiler, and I am pretty sure he spoiled probably the biggest plot twist in the movie for me.

Now, obviously, I haven’t seen the movie yet, so how do I know?

Let me put it this way: if that guy who came up to you in line at Empire Strikes Back had said, perfectly straight-faced “Darth Vader is Luke’s dad,” would you have believed him?

Maybe you think about it a bit, and it syncs up with everything you know about the movies thus far, and it syncs up with what you’ve seen in the trailers, and it just seems like a very Star Wars-y plot twist.

Maybe you don’t believe it, completely and totally, but you believe it enough that you will sit down in the theater and, basically, spend the whole movie waiting for that moment to come. Or not.

Even if it doesn’t, you will not have enjoyed the movie as much as you might have, because you were distracted. And if it does happen just as that guy said? Well.

That’s the kind of thing this guy posted. One line. Ten words, and there goes my 100% unmitigated enjoyment of the new movie.

Now, shut up: this isn’t about me. Yes, you’re very sorry about this happening. Yes. I love you. Thank you, now shut up for a sec.

Listen.

These fuckers are out there. They are doing this on purpose. They’re enjoyment of their pile of stuff has been somehow – idiotically – damaged; Disney made their Masters-level knowledge of a made-up universe less important than it already was, so they have decided to shit on every other person who wants to enjoy the new movie, because (apparently) “Fuck anyone who is enjoying themselves, if I am not.”

I don’t care about me. I’ve watched Empire Strikes Back probably thirty times, if not more, and I know – know I will enjoy it when I watch it again, because I’ll be watching it with my kids, and the shine hasn’t come off for them.

Because of that, I know I will enjoy this new movie when I watch it, because I will be watching it with my kids and even if I don’t feel the same sense of surprise and wonder as I might have, they will, and I will still get to feel that, through them.

And I know they will get to feel that, because I’m going to protect them from these… infantile man-children and their shit-spattering temper-tantrum.

Now: why did I write all this? Because I want to try to protect you, too.

When you see spoiler warnings, heed them. Stop thinking of spoilers as “that one little thing my super-happy friend let out after he saw the movie” and start thinking “halitosis-reeking stranger who wants to dip his filthy index finger in my morning coffee.”

From here until you see the movies, absolutely avoid comment sections on any Star Wars-related post on any kind of social media.

Just… for a few days, expect people you don’t know to be kind of shitty for no good reason.

I realize that’s kind of a downer message, but seriously: I want you to enjoy the movie.

And also, yeah: I want those petty fuckers to lose, because fuck them.

(Comments on this post are disabled, for obvious reasons.)

Masks, Actual Play Analysis, Sessions 11 to 15

We’re back! It’s another long flight, so let’s run through Masks sessions to the latest and see what to make of them…

Issue 11: When Sablestar Strikes! (hell-day part 3)

I like when we can start things in media res, if only to skip the fiddly front-loading on a session.

In this one, I skipped away from the school, working off the assumption Leo and Adam would want to get the action as far away from the school as they could. The players agreed, though in hindsight I probably didn’t need to play it so coy with the framing and just tell them what I was thinking. Lesson learned, though unfortunately not until now, and not when I needed it in session 13. More on that in a few.

At any rate, this fight went off quite well, I thought. The team has only had a few fights up to this point, and I was starting to think I’d need to bring in at least a 1-for-1 matchup to really test them, since they pretty much wiped out everyone up to this point.

Sablestar provided an additional and very different data point, proving a real problem for the heroes without me needing to bring in any further bad guys. Part of that was simply using mixed successes to complicate the scene with additional ‘stuff’ – when the heroes can take out a villain with 3 or maybe 4 solid hits, giving them something to do besides punching is much more interesting. This was definitely the most dynamic and interesting combat scene we’d had up to this point, and started to add some great backstory to Adam/Concord.

As things wrapped up, the last big move saw me handing out a pile of ‘take a powerful blow’ moves. I hemmed and hawed about this during the game – it felt right, and normally that’s enough, but for some reason I’m way way way more tentative with GM moves and even narration in this game. I have no idea why, and honestly I don’t think that extra care has benefited anyone very much, so I think I need to trust my instincts a bit more.

Weirdly, this is born out by a fairly egregious overstep I made a few sessions later. More on that in a bit.

Issue 12: When the Dead Walk!

(Hell-day part… four? seriously? – or part 4 and part 0, maybe, due to a flashback? It’s complicated)

This session was a bit weird, and weirdly short.

We started off with a flashback to cover what Ghost Girl had been up to during her Condition-clearing reckless investigation (a scene I should have had in the previous session and never got to). This ended up taking a long while, and didn’t involve anyone else, so that’s just poor use of time on my part, despite the fact I was happy with the stuff we got into and found out. Good narration, bad group-involvement. No GM cookie for that one.

The only other thing we got to was the big reveal that the robot that assembled itself in Link’s home base and came after him at school was actually a back-up of Pneuma that had activated after some kind of “Emergency: Go To 10″ protocol was activated when something bad happened to her.” There was some drama (and comfort/support moves) around this that I liked.

Buuuut, there is a problem I didn’t recognize until it was too late – putting Pneuma in danger is basically a board-clearing, table-flipping deal for Link, which presents problems when we already have a couple-three major plot chainsaws in the air. Bill gave me some good tips on ways to make that sort of thing a bit more of a timed slow burn, and I’ve tucked those away for later, but lesson learned.

Issue 13: If This Be In Media Res!

Day of Hell, part the Fifth

So I screwed up.

The obvious thing I screwed up is that I started in media res and framed the heroes into the middle of a major assault on… the secret basements and sub basements beneath the evacuated Halcyon International Airport, and I did so without checking with anyone first.

Which, when I sum it up like that, is so blindingly obvious a fuck-up it seems impossible I didn’t see it coming.

Now, that sort of framing is fine if you’ve taken the measure of the team and know that’s where things are going and just decide to skip to the higher action parts of things.

But that’s not what I did. Bad me. -2 GM cookies.

The thing is, it wasn’t DOING those things that was the actual screw-up.

The mistake I made was in getting talked into a hard-framed in media res thing in the first place, because I hadn’t prepped for it or really thought about it much, so I was ad-libbing the whole thing without communicating first, during, or after. (My only defense is that I was tired and punchy going into the night, but that’s pretty weak tea.) If I’m going to do something like that it needs prep, and communication. That was the real mistake.

This reinforces, in a weird way, the ‘need to trust my instincts more’ note I made a few sessions back, because my instincts were to not do this, and I didn’t listen.

So that’s both ways not trusting myself (not doing and doing) messing with me, inside two or three sessions. Bleh.

On the Bright Side

It was a deprotagonizing set-up, but everyone agreed the assumptions made were fair, if extrapolated without anyone’s input (damn it just seems to stupid and OBVIOUS every time I think about it). “If we’d played through the whole lead-in,” went the response, “it wouldn’t have looked exactly the same, but it would have been darn close, so it’s okay.”

Put another way, I’m annoyed with what I did, but I think the results in the fiction were good and added a lot of great stuff to the campaign – the introduction of Rosa Rook gets associated in everyone’s mind with the situation being out of their control and with high-handed manipulation by adults, and I guess that’s a plus, there; she’s a great addition I think the whole game really needed.

So… I really wish we’d gotten there differently, but I was glad for the final destination? I dunno.

The very best suggestion in post-session discussion was that getting everyone on the same page with the start of the session could have been handled beautifully with love letters, like that ones I used in Session One and which, in one player’s words “I’ve hoped we’d use more.” Great, great idea.

AEGIS swept in for a PR coverup (“those young heroes were at the airport to stop a power-suited terrorist!”), which leads us into the next session, where I’d take the love letter feedback to heart.

Issue 14: Love Letters… Unleashed!

Hellday 6: The Helldayening

I started off the session (and, really, pretty much filled up the session) playing off of love letters I’d written for each character.

I distributed them days earlier, giving everyone time to process and consider their choices, which gave everyone a lot more buy-in. I was also open to feedback and modification of the letters, but all the feedback was positive, so nothing to do there.

As I said, playing through all this stuff pretty much filled up the whole session, and saw the realization of the 6- rolls from the past three or four sessions that I’d had on my to-do list for awhile.

Jason started … let’s call it ‘hallucinating’ a 10-year-old version of Alycia Chin, bringing the total number of holographic AI relationships on his dance card to something like 4 or 5. I’m pretty happy with that result, and I think Dave was as well, as he had mentioned during the week wishing he could get all the success AND failure results from the love letter.

Concord’s … ‘shard’ finally woke up, which is going to give him something else to contend with – a ‘voice’ for the superhero side of his Superhero/Mundane existence, which we’ve both been looking forward to. The final scene with him and his family was awesome and brutal.

I was happy to see Link protecting his people to the press – I think that was really nice to see after a couple sessions of having them at risk. Also helped us highlight his friend Otto’s accessibility issues.

I was VERY happy to have Harry in a position where we could see him being more of an expert in the public side of being a superhero. It went well, and rolled into some good stuff in the following session as well. I really liked him in that space, and alienating him from his family a bit, which we haven’t seen yet, but will.

Everything else was revealing information (background about Ghost Girl) and laying the groundwork for same (Pneuma has a weird memory error in her backup, and AEGIS has a video of the moments surrounding Jason’s Dad’s … death? which Agent Waters slipped to Quill).

All in all, very happy with this session, and the use of the love letters. I’m thinking about using a “lite” version of this for the coming session to get things sorted out a bit more.

Issue 15: In the Clutches of Late-Night Melodrama!

Thank god this Hellday is ov- WHAT DO YOU MEAN PART 7?!?

I need to get better at rationing time based on how many characters are involved in the scene. I’m not good at that, and I need to get better.

Link moves in with the Gales, a twist I did NOT see coming. Need to think more about that, because there’s some completely unexplored territory there. Yet more good stuff with Harry, which I really liked.

Jason gets some information about his dad, working with Achilles Chin, working against someone… else? Who? What? Jason’s response says he’s expecting this to really blow up in his face in short order, in a big way. I’ve got some more stuff to lay out here.

Concord’s parents tell him they want him to stop working for the Concordance. Maybe. They want to talk about it. I think Mike and I are both excited about where that’s going.

And… a couple rolls go sideways and Ghost Girl starts out investigating her family’s ties to mystic secret societies and… ends up in the Sepiaverse.

So that’s gonna be a thing.

Thoughts

  1. I love this game. I haven’t been pushed like this in years.
  2. I also haven’t doubted myself as much either, which really needs to stop.

Masks “Menagerie” Campaign – Session 6 to 10

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about our ongoing Masks game (superhero antics in the vein of Young Justice, Teen Titans, or Avengers Academy), but that in no way means the game itself has slowed. Quite the opposite.

So, if only for the sake of bragging, I thought I’d catch things up.

The last time, I covered sessions 0 though 5. This time, it’s sessions 6 to 15, so buckle up.

Before I get rolling, I want to recognize two resources that have made this broad overview far more manageable.

The first is the forum that is automatically made available for any campaign you set up on Roll20.net. (Our game is played online, and while the voice chat isn’t able to handle our group’s particular challenges, the other tools it provides are invaluable.) The forum lives here, and sees continuous, nigh-daily activity in the form of fiction, world-building, general discussion, and (of course) the blow-by-blow Actual Play summaries – usually authored by Dave Hill – which supplement if not completely stand in for my spotty recollection.

(Said forum has been made even more valuable with the addition of a custom coded search/scraper that Bill forced around roll20’s forum code at great personal effort.)

The second tool is a more recent addition to our electronic tool box, a wiki built and customized (again, mostly) by two of the players, Bill and Mike. Thanks to the organization of the wiki (and downright sexy layout), I’m able to excavate all kinds of trivia and bits of game lore that might otherwise have flared and died within minutes of being introduced into a session.

With that out of the way…


When We Last Left Our Heroes…

Sessions 1 though 5 were mostly about introducing the heroes to the people of Halcyon, and the players (and myself) to the Masks system. They had a morning show interview, a downtown brawl with some bad guys, and then rode the fallout from those events, (including the speedster getting temporarily lost in an alternate, devastated version of Earth.)

Session five saw the team looking forward or inward – taking stock of the problems they had on their plate and making plans to deal with them.

It also saw their team coming to the attention of AEGIS, the SHIELD-esque organization of the Masks universe.


Issue 6

One of the directives for a Masks GM is presenting adults as supportive but short-sighted; willing to help but always pushing their own vision and agenda on the teen heroes – help with strings attached. Okay.

Enter Agent Ted Waters (who’s probably going to be the most supportive, least strings-attached adult in the game – though that’s a low bar), an experienced AEGIS agent and the father-figure/handler for Link (whose actual father is super-villain Rossum the Minion Maker). Waters shows up at Quill Industries (the ‘sanctum’ for the team’s Doomed character) with paperwork in hand that will officially recognize the team by AEGIS… a move AEGIS hasn’t… umm…. actually sanctioned?

This paperwork is simple – it merely requires the team pick a name and an official leader. Easy, right?

The name had been under discussion via in-character posts on the forum, but we hadn’t brought it to the forefront yet. This was meant to facilitate that. They tell Ted the team will be the Menagerie and it gets the expected, bemused response from the older man (a good sign you’re on the right track in a teen-oriented game).

The ‘strings’ attached to this bit of help were more meta-level than an actual condition offered by Waters – the team had to pick a leader; a requirement I thought might generate some drama/angst/hand-wringing/reflection/et cetera.

It did all those things, so yay. 🙂

The team eventually settled on Jason Quill (the Doomed, played by Dave), a decision which the team treated with varying levels of seriousness. (Jason on one end of the panic-stricken-with-the-weighty-responsibility spectrum; speedster Mercury (Kay) providing the ‘whatever man paperwork is boring just write something in it doesn’t matter’ counterbalance.)

While Jason continued to process this development, Ghost Girl went and got herself in one kind of trouble (attacked by someone who saw her as a dangerous menace, starting both an arc and introducing her current Mundane-vs-Freak Hook), while Like found another (investigating a mutual friend’s disappearance and running afoul their supernatural kidnapper).

This development brought us to the end of the session with the team rushing to help GG, but split (“where the hell is Link?”), and under a leader (technically) who was still a bit in shock.

Issue 7: If the Graveyard Be My Destiny!

(All credit to Dave for the comic-book-classic session titles.

This session was meant to introduce one of Ghost Girl’s issues and a sort-of nemesis; Ghostheart (one of the characters from the Masks Deck of Villains) whose main deal is obsessively keeping living people over THERE, and dead people over THERE, and NO TOUCHING NO TOUCHING NOT EVER.

Charlotte is all about connecting with people amongst both the living and dead (she’s playing the Outsider playbook, and filled with wonder at the modern world in which she now finds herself), so Ghostheart seemed almost a custom-written enemy for her.

Most of the session was a nighttime fight at GG’s home cemetery against Ghostheart and a couple of his summoned demonic henchthings – Rawhide and I-Didnt-Catch-the-Other-Guy’s-Name. After the fight (and some really stilted, useless, uncomfortable leadership, beautifully delivered by Dave), the heroes (reunited, since Link was tussling with Rawhide on his own, initially) tracked down and rescued the kidnappee “@powerpony” – an online-mutual of both Link and GG’s (PC-NPC-PC relationship triangles are good – need more of those).

Offscreen

The players conducted a couple Google-Doc-based scenes after this session, simply to get them done in satisfying fashion without taking up too much in-game time.

The first was Link talking with green-lantern/Blue-beetle-esque Concord about the details of the kid’s powers.

The second was between Link and Jason – an often tense but ultimately fruitful and relationship-building ‘discussion’ about what kind of leadership the team really needed (and what kind Jason could legitimately provide).

Both scenes were great, and the ‘offline’ RP option proved a good one, though we try not to use it too much, as it tends to move characters whose players have the mid-week bandwidth for such things further center stage, in a play environment (online, short sessions) where it already seems someone ends up drawing the Spotlight Short Straw every week.


Issue 8: Lo, There Shall Be an Evening of Character Interaction!

As a means of exploring GG’s current Hook (her Mundane connections with others, versus the Freak nature of her powers), we also learned a bit more about why Ghostheart wanted GG out of public circulation – her interactions with the Living were creating some kind of ectoplasmic catnip that would inevitably attract a terrible entity known as Pandemonium to the material world.

The only way she could guarantee her living friends’ safety was stay away from them. Which sucks.

AEGIS rolled back into the picture much sooner than anyone expected, as the team called them back to take Ghostheart into custody. (The team opts NOT to go the morally-and logically-questionable route of the Flash CW show, with villains held without due process, inside a particle accelerator, and fed Big Belly Burgers on a… mostly daily schedule.)

The rest of the session involved the team either trying to help each other out with Comfort and Support-based roleplaying (with mixed but fascinating and sometimes hilarious results), or working through their own problems; Link’s robotic not-girlfriend Pneuma announced she was departing Halcyon for a bit to visit ‘someone’ in Japan, while Jason went down a digital rabbit hole, investigating how and why his nemesis Alycia Chin infiltrated Quill Compound as a lowly warehouse employee for a month.

Jason’s investigation led to a great scene where he uses his nanobots and latent genius to analyze Alycia Chin’s actions, and gets knocked cold in the process via some kind of latent … mental … something … Alycia left behind in the video recordings of her activities. Remote Memetic Programming, maybe? Image-gestalt boobytrap? That would be bad.

Issue 9: Sizzling Big Adult-Influence Issue!

The Beginning of the Day From Hell

Morning! The second Weekday of the campaign, and time once again for all good heroes to… get to school.

(Assuming they aren’t a ghost from the civil war, or unconscious, of course.)

A while back, Concord’s player had started a discussion on the forum where we all talked about whether the Nova playbook was working for him, and we collectively came to the conclusion that the Janus playbook worked better. So we retconned it.

This session was the one where we started to get into that ‘dual identity’ drama a bit more, very literally in this case (because I am a ham-fisted hack) with Concord trying to help Link with an unconscious Jason (via an energy construct copy of himself) while simultaneously attending school in his ‘real’ body. He didn’t exactly balance this out well, and ended up being sent to the principal’s office when he confused his multiple mouths and remonstrated his English teacher for being a ‘walking deceit’ when he meant to be talking to the vision of Alycia Chin in Jason’s head.

I’d call this situation a solid B effort on my part. Maybe a B-. We get better at this in short order, though, so I’m not going to beat myself up too much.

Meanwhile, Mercury and Ghost Girl spent the morning reaching out to adults for advice and input, before Mercury had to get to school.

Harry’s dad-joking, eggplant-emoji-texting dad, Silver Streak.
This is always a fraught situation in Masks – going into a scene with an adult or adults in Masks carries an undercurrent of threat akin to an armed parley with A-level super-villains. Honestly I’ve never done as much broad-spectrum damage to the team with a bad guy as I have in scenes with their well-meaning mentors dispensing advice, constructive feedback, and (horror of horrors) heartfelt praise.

It didn’t really go better here, with both Harry’s dad and the retired ‘grail knight’ Armiger (Lucius, owner/operator of the Has Beans coffee shop, downtown) kicking in their two cents about Ghost Girl’s ongoing Ghostheart/Pandemonium problem, what they thought the kids should do about it (and, ultimately, who they thought the kids should be.) They got what they were after, but Ghost Girl at least wasn’t feeling great about it afterwards, which lead to some Condition-clearing reckless behavior later. (As it should.)

Issue 10: Halcyon High-Jinks (Hell Day, Part 2)

Dave, Margie, and Katherine were all out of town, which left Jason recovering from his tussle with not-Alycia, Ghost Girl roaming the city doing reckless things without consulting the team, and Harry actually attending Gardner Academy (the private high school that tends to specialize in rich kids and publicly recognized supers).

Concord and Link, on the other hand, are on their way to HHS – Halcyon High South – part of the public school system, where they academically toil in relative anonymity.

Bill and Mike (and I) were excited to play around with that classic of teen superhero comics, the high school, so we had a good time with this. First order of business was to establish the normal day, and I had fun introducing some of the faculty, and went to the players to fill in NPCs (which gave us the wonderful Ms. “No!” Rodriguez, Leo’s lab partner.

I also introduced Taz, a new transfer and tech-nerd who seemed to either be a bit on the spectrum or way over-informed about Leo, or both. She showed up both in Leo’s chem class as well as at lunch with Leo and Adam, and was generally fun to play, freaked out the players a skosh, and has more going on that I’m looking forward to getting into.

With the norm established, it was time to get some Concord-grade villains on the stage, and that mean “galactic” villains. For this, I went back to the Deck of Villainy and pulled out The Farlander (who is just too weird looking and fun to play) and Sablestar who, by sheer coincidence in visual design, seemed to be … related to Concord and his powers in some way. There’s some vague hand-waving on her card about being a member of the Void Collective and something of a space-anarchist, but I already have an anarchist villain, so Sablestar and the VC became a kind of counter-(if not anti-)Concordance, in my head. We’ll see how that fleshes out over time.

So: a bit of fighting at the school with The Farlander, and the introduction of Sablestar, and as things get complicated we call it for the night, ready to bring in the rest of the team next session as things heat up.


That’s five of the ten sessions I wanted to cover, so I’ll stop here and do 11 to 15 in the next post. More soon!

Masks Actual Play (Sessions 0 to 5)

There’s so much in my head with the weekly Masks game, every time I try to figure out what to say about it, I’m overwhelmed a bit, so this miiiight be a little random. I’ll try to keep a rein on things.

This is NOT going to be a blow-by-blow summary. I’m aiming for a 10-thousand foot view of how things are going.

Session 0

The players (five) came up with a lovely mix of traditional heroes (a speedster Legacy, a green-lantern-ish Nova), and some stuff that really turned the playbook concepts on their heads (a power-armor-and-AI-designing Bull, a nanite-infused Doomed inspired by Johnny Quest, an Outsider who is a ghost from the civil war era, marveling at the modern world).

One of the big things you do as a group in chargen is come up with answers to the “when we first met” questions, and this series of answers (here) presented us with a showdown against “Hannibal Lectric,” an older blue-blood sort of villain that really informed a lot of initial play, especially after some things that came out at the start of Session 1.

Of note: we’re using Roll20 for a play space (and Discord for voice chat), and during our last game (Dungeon World), we’d started making more use of the embedded forums Roll20 provides for each game. This took off in a BIG way for Masks, even before Session 0, with a lot of player pre-planning, and shows no sign of slowing down. I only wish the forum posts could be grouped more, but it’s still great.

If you’re interested, the (basically audio with a slideshow) recording of Session 0 is here.

Session 1 Prep

I made up love letters for everyone in the intervening week and dropped them on the players at the start of session 1. I am quite proud of all of them. They are collected here: Jason Quill: Doomed, Concord: the Nova, Mercury: the Legacy, Link: the Bull, Ghost Girl: the Outsider.

One of the things that came out of the love letters in play was the fact that the whole fight with Hannibal Lectric was a diversion so that something more important could be acquired while everyone was distracted. (This is/was tied to our Doomed in some way.)

Following the love letters, we cut into a tense “first team fight” kind of thing… which turned out to be four of the five heroes getting interviewed on “The Morning Starr” by nigh-plasticine host Tasha Starr.

When sonic-based villain Iconoclast interrupted the broadcast, the Bull was heard to comment “Thank Christ.”

The fight immediately moved to the street outside the studio, and we stopped the session in mid-brawl, with both the Nova and Legacy rocking pretty hefty piles of Conditions.

One of the players later posted a bunch of mocked-up live-tweets of both the interview and fight, which did a great job setting the tone and feel of the city and the world. Those posts are collected here.

Session 2

The street brawl continued, immediately complicated by the arrival of Troll, a meme-spewing bruiser whose strength and power increases in direct proportion to the strength of nearby Wifi signals.

Like Tasha Starr’s excruciatingly awkward interview questions, I put some effort into prepping bits of Troll’s dialogue, which I shared with the Masks community over here.

After this session, I posted a Plotagon-created video of some super-fan’s thoughts on the interview/fight. Plotagon quickly became a fun tool for the players to create their own virtual diaries and the like, so I’m happy I introduced it.

We had some technical problems that shortened the session, which unfortunately meant we were rolling into Session 3 with the ‘introductory fight’ still happening. Eh. We play for two to two-and-a-half hours, online, so we don’t get as much covered as I might like every session, but we’re having fun.

Session 3

I’d prepped a few other villains, ready to jump in to the brawl and get their faces on the news, but the complications didn’t head that direction, so they’re still waiting for their chance.

The (speedster) Legacy raced a self-destructing Iconoclast out of the city, but a decision to “give the villains an opening” introduced the Doomed’s nemesis to the scene (looking for the Doomed, whose energy signal was all over the speedster for fiction-reasons), which in turn led to a roll that resulted in the Legacy’s powers “going horribly out of control.”

I didn’t have anything prepped for that, but a few minutes of pondering and checking some notes got me to a classic speedster complication: getting unstuck in reality/time by overloading one’s powers, leading to foreshadowing – so Mercury was flung into a sepia-toned alternate earth in which a few Big Clues were dropped.

Meanwhile, the Bull’s “Assess the Situation: How Do We End This Quickly?” question from last session was finally answered when one of the Tweeting NPCs from post-session-one let the team know Troll’s weakness with regards to Wifi signal, which lead to a nice team moment with the Bull and the Nova.

And back at the point of the original fight, the Doomed and the ghostly Outsider had a moment of Comforting and Support – the first in the game, but definitely not the last: once that move was on the table, it quickly became one of the group’s favorites.

Mercury rejoined the team (and their reality) back in the city center, and before the authorities (or more bad guys) could show up, were ushered out of sight by Jaguar, the protege of Hyena, a vigilante superhero who’d become interested in the team after their first fight. (Thank you, session 0 team questions!)

By this point in the game, the players were starting to really get into the between-session stuff. The Doomed’s player started doing video diaries with plotagon, and he and the Bull also did a few play-by-post conversations on the forum. Other players were also sharing their thoughts and creations: art, pictures, and even a collection of relevant NPCs. (Here and here.)

Session 4

Most of this session was dealing with fall-out and developments from the first big public team fight. The most ironic thing was that we didn’t do any combat in this session, and our heroes ended up with more Conditions than they’d gotten in the fight.

Highlights included the Legacy’s dad telling him what a great job he’d done (and leaving him Insecure), and the Nova getting so scared of screwing up that he forgets how to fly at the end of the session.

I believe this also marks the point where the Bull changed his “Love” to the Nova character, in a “little brother” sense. His love up to this point had been his own NPC creation, so I liked seeing that, no matter how cool the NPC is. 🙂 (His rival remains the Doomed, which is all good.)

Session 5

The events of this session encompass something like… 3 hours. Maybe four. And no combat. And still chock-a-block with STUFF HAPPENING.

I reintroduced an NPC (@powerpony) as both a contact point for the Bull and the Outsider (gotta love those PC-NPC-PC triangles), which led to some good scenes and exchanges.

The Doomed got to reveal WHY he didn’t like interfacing with the AI in his “sanctum” – its holographic interface is modeled on his dead genius father.

AEGIS makes an appearance.

More CLUES about the “Sepia-verse” come out, linking the Legacy’s walkabout to the Doomed’s backstory.

And we wrapped up with a cutscene following the @powerpony NPC as she’s grabbed by… someone. Probably the start of an Arc. Duh duh dunnnn.

And that’s where we are.

Thoughts

Man there’s a lot going on! I’ve got Hooks set up for all the players (mostly), a main arc as well as several others impatiently waiting in the wings, and I can’t wait to get to ALL of it.

I’ve said this before, but PBTA-type games really feel like running Amber Diceless in a lot of good ways. (Hard to quantify ways, but good ways.) It’s got that same sense of freedom of narration, but the dice resolution injects and asks for a wonderful amount of unexpected plot twisting that takes any prep and dials it up to the point where it simply can’t be contained in the box I’d built. Good, good stuff.

Other Thoughts

There are a lot of different kinds of PBTA games.

Some focus more on genre-emulation and the dice mechanics, less on pushing for a certain kind of story experience (Dungeon World, IMO; also the Star Wars Rebel Ops game I ran).

Some focus more on mechanics that push play hard towards certain kinds of play or story events or whatever. Urban Shadows. Monsterhearts. Stuff like that.

Masks is definitely one of those games, focused on that superhero teen drama from stuff like Young Justice, New Mutants, Teen Titans, Avengers Academy, and so forth. That’s all to the good.

The only downside-like thing I’ve run into so far has been doing the post-session analysis on our shorter sessions has led to a LOT of co-mutual Influence sharing in the group (damn near everyone has Influence on everyone right now, though maybe that’s as it should be), and a lot of Label-shifting that sometimes doesn’t feel as punchy as it could – it feels like the label-shifting could be reduced by about 20%. I’m not sure if that’s just fallout from the shorter sessions.

Other Other Thoughts

Man I don’t know what kind of alchemy is firing off, but the player engagement in this game is through the roof. We’ve been playing together for well over a year and something just hit the gas on this game, hard. I suspect it’s a mix of the mechanics and (to a great degree) the genre.

Final Thought

This one’s from Kaylee, who’s been lurking on the voice channel during games, listening in during her homework like it’s a radioplay. Her thought:

“I wish this really was a comic book, or a superhero show. It would be SO GOOD.”

And it would. It is.

Great stuff.

Masks AP: Icons

Here’s a playlist of our first four (five) sessions of Masks, including Session 0 chargen, plus several plotagon video diaries players have done up.

A few notes:

  • Session 0 video was screwed up, so I turned that into an audio track with illustrative imagery.
  • Session 1 audio is jacked up – you can hear the GM fine and everyone else is EXTREMELY faint.

After that I ironed the bugs out, though honestly the whole thing works best as an audio podcast style thing, because we don’t do a LOT with the video except share illustrative memes while people are talking. 🙂

RPGaDay 31: What do you anticipate most for gaming in the next year?

Right now, Masks. Probably two different games, ultimately, given I'll be running it for the kids as well as the online game. (It's getting easier and easier to pull this off as they get a bit older.)

I'm sure a touch of No Thank You, Evil, maybe with Kaylee running the game.

I'll be playing more 5e DnD Adventurer's League, because playing is nice. Also running that for the kids, since I picked up some miniatures and everything.

And past that, I have no idea. There will be more than that, I think, but I'm really not sure what. Maybe some Palace Job -esque Blades in the Dark? Maybe some Urban Shadows? I really have no idea.

But if the real question is focused on what has most of my anticipation, and not 'what are your predictions', then it's definitely Masks right now; that game is firing on cylinders I didn't even know we had.

PC Video Journal

The player for Jason Quill (nanobot-infused Doomed in our campaign, loosely based on Johnny Quest) posted a video diary, following our first big fight.

(And tip of the hat to our power-armor-designing Bull, who also posted a journal in our Roll20 forum, full of angst and self-recrimination.)

I love living in the future. And damned if I don't love this game.

RPGaDay 30: What is an RPG genre-mashup you would most like to see?

Mash-ups don't get me very far these days.

See, I play with my kids a lot, and they don't know the baseline genres well enough to appreciate mash-ups of those genres.

Which is to say, they just don't get the joke, yet.

At the risk of repeating myself, I'm going to dive into this a bit more.

One of the… I'm going to say "dependencies for enjoyment" in many – I might even say "most" RPGs I've run (or run into) in the last few years is a deep knowledge of the associated genre — not just the genre for the setting, but the RPG genre of the game in question.

So… like this: once upon a time, all you really needed to know when starting to play D&D was "there's magic, no guns, and weird monsters." Same was true, basically, for Traveller or whatever. The premise was simple and straightforward.

Still true for 5e versions of those games, probably.

But there are a WHOLE BUNCH of games/settings out there now that lose a tremendous amount of signal when trying to reach a new player, because that player doesn't have the decades of previous gaming exposure that informs the game designer's decisions for a game.

Steampunk Planetary Romance isn't inherently cool or interesting as a concept if the person you're sharing it with isn't familiar with the "pure" components of that salad, you know? It's just weird sci-fi with wood ships and a lot of brass and goggles. Now, that might still work for the player, but it won't work for the intended/expected reasons.

Masters of Umdaar is… not especially compelling if you didn't grow up on the right cartoons, you know?

I run into this constantly when playing with my kids – stuff I find interesting/entertaining… until I realize that for all intents and purposes, my kids just don't get the joke.

So first, I'd need to run the original games everyone's ironically riffing off of, then we can get to the mashups. Otherwise, it's not a nuanced re-envisioning for them. It's just… weird and kind of confusing.

When I run a game that doesn't have that problem, it's almost always something only trying to be itself.

RPGaDay 28: What film/series is the biggest source of quotes in your group?

I'm going to go out on a limb and say Aliens, but… I mean, it could be a hundred different shows.

This was, however, more true back when I was playing face to face.

These days, a lot of the 'quote banter' that used to suffuse our table talk has been replaced with posting relevant image memes in the Roll20 chat window. I love it, personally; nothing like having the nascent force user fighting the temptation of the dark side… and see a fellow player post a photoshopped Gollum clutching a jedi holocron to their chest. That's good stuff.

Masks Campaign Material – Super-YouTubers

We've had two play sessions of our Masks campaign so far.

The game opened with an excruciating interview between the team and morning show host Tasha Starr (of The Morning Starr), in which she asks them about the team, themselves, and the fight against Hannibal Lectric that brought them all together.

Things got complicated when Iconoclast (and, later, a superthug named Troll) interrupted the interview.

The storm of social media surrounding the interview is still going (as is the fight itself), but that hasn't stopped one fan from posting her thoughts.

In the wake of the interrupted interview between our team and morning show host Tasha Starr, super-tweeter "My Little Power Ranger" (@heroesaremagic) hops on YouTube to share her thoughts on what went down – was it fake? A publicity stunt?

Or was it something else?

https://youtu.be/fbjkH1eQBEI