Friday, February 22, 2013

Heroes of the United Worlds 10

10: The Moriarty Of Mars arc, part 1

7: Stalg 3013

The PCs are captured and tossed into a prison camp designed to counter their powers. They’ll have identify the traitor amongst the prisoners and deduce the secret of Stalag 3013!

8: Search for the Centurions

A third of the Centurions are missing, and another third are now hunting for their friends.

7.1 Rude Awakening

In keeping with the game design ethos that you never force players into a situation where their actions don’t matter this session starts with the PCs, Miss Chrysalis and Kid Chanticleer already captured. They all remember flying out to help in an emergency rescue on Siarnaq (Quill Queen’s homeworld) when they were attacked by an invisible force. They wake up inside a prison; Miss Chrysalis and any female PCs are in a separate part of the cell, blocked off by transparent screen that can be polarized to give the ladies some privacy.

Any 21stC PCs have on Low Entropy leg bands attached to force field chains/weights that sap their strength and prevent them from flying.  The prison is made with curved walls that KC deduces act as parabolic reflectors, echoing his sound waves back into the room. Any other known powers of the PC should be equally logically limited or eliminated

Also in the room with them are five other prisoners: three men and two women. These figures are

Man #1: Tether Waq, a member of the Saturn space patrol who was researching the Siarnaq conspiracy. He has dark hair, a bulbous nose and an eyepatch on his left eye.

Man #2: Yelan Rev, who says he is a hero on New Australia, one of the world-sized cities on Saturn. He claims to have energy projection powers being sapped by his manacles. His eyes flare convincingly when he says this. His name is Energy Lad.

Man 3: Car Terjon, aka The Red Raven, is a hero from Mars. His power is his wings, which are all cartilage and membrane and fold up very well (and fairly dexterous), but which are currently compressed and bound to his back by an all but indestructible harness.

Woman 1: Gaia Girl, from session 5. On this tiny planetoid her powers won’t work, but will be very glad to see the centurions, especially any she has already met, confident in their ability to escape.

Woman 2: Jenfri Ferr aka Shieldmaiden, who can generate modest sized force fields on her hands that she can use to parry or reflect attacks. There’s nothing restraining her powers because they can’t help her here. She is another heroine of Mars, and can vouch for Red Robin (and vice versa).

The players have a little time to get used to their surroundings and try any obvious escape techniques, which should be quickly countered – the designer of the prison did have a 43 Intelligence, after all. If anyone has vision powers that let them see the outside they see the planetoid surrounded by massive asteroids on all sides, constantly bombarding the pelxi-globe around it. (actually the plexi-globe is a magnifier, making the small ring debris around the prison seem huge and blocking sight.)

There should be an emotional B plot here – if nothing else presents itself it’s Gaia girl falling for one of the other captured PCs.

7.2 Meet the new boss…

The captured Centurions have a chance to talk to their fellow prisoners, learn their stories and powers, and how long they’ve been there. Red Raven has been there the longest, nearly two months now, and has tried to escape with no avail. The Warder, master of this prison, has blasted him more than once on escape attempts, and he’s afraid that on the next one his wings will be amputated. That puts some real fear into him. Shieldmaiden, who had gone looking for him, sympathizes with his position.

Energy Lad scoffs at that, saying that his being blasted isn’t enough to get him to quit, and he has figured out how to harness his power and plans to blast Warden as soon as he appears again. Tether councels against that, advocating waiting – now that the Cnturions are here another chance will present itself – but Energy Lad is just as stir crazed as Red Raven, just in a different direction.

Tether has been here next longest, and is unique in that he’s just a lawman and not a superhuman. He’s convinced he was on to something on Sarnaq, and that some conspiracy there is responsible for it. He also thinks they’re in the Oort cloud somewhere based on comments the Warden has dropped.

Shieldmaiden explains that she’s a young hero who decided to take up Red Raven’s call against the criminal elements on Mars, using her enhanced reflexes and shields to take the fight to the foe. Apparently she stumbled across the same thing Raven did since she ended up here, but neither of them have a clue what that might be.

Gaia Girl was captured immediately after the events of adventure #5; she doesn’t have much to add.

This is when the Warden appears, materializing next to the wall on the men’s side of the cell. He is a large, imposing man in full armor and a face mask with a booming voice. He lets the Centurions know they’ll be here for a long time.

This is when Energy Lad strikes, diving towards the Warden, arms outstretched, eyes flaring. The Warden raises a hand and as Energy Lad gets close fires a light beam at him. Energy Lad screams and vanishes, like he’d never been. All that’s left is a pile of fine black ash and the bracelets, which promptly explode and melt. (If anyone sorts through the ash later they’ll find a pair of rigged contact lenses in the ash as well – lenses that generate light.)

Tether and Raven try to hold any other heroes back after this display, and Warden lets them know that this fate awaits them if they try to escape. He then vanishes.

OK it’s important for the GM to know what happened here – Warden, Tether and Energy Lad are all bodies of Quad Kid, just in different disguises with different devices. Warder appears in the room by duplication (remember the 5’ range) from his 4th body, outside the room. Energy Lad was ‘disintegrated’ by being absorbed into Warden when he got within 5’ of him (the ‘ash’ is actually his hair dye hiding his distinctive Umbran purple hair).Tether is staying inside here in disguise to keep an eye on the prisoners. He reconvenes with the other parts of him by standing against a wall, absorbing one from outside and then duplicating him back out.

8.1: An Ominous Call

The centurions get a call from authorities on Siarnaq that the Centurions never arrived. Blackbird (assuming that the leader is captured, if not the leader can send whatever team he likes) and a group of Centurions go to investigate. After much searching around and investigation (or perhaps very little based on their powers) the PCs find the Centurion shuttle crashed on Pandora, a rocklike moon of Saturn. The ship is melted almost beyond recognition and displays to all the world like it was a reactor core failure. One third of the Centurions are dead in a horrible accident!

Or are they? Any scientific or detective skill checks will find holes in the story – some of the PCs might have been able to survive that, there’s no sign of bodies of any sort in the wreckage, there’s evidence of a plasma beam cutting into part of the ship. This was not a boating accident! Now they have to find the missing heroes. Easier said than done.

7.3: The First Attempt

The PCs spend time exploring their prison, trying to make sense of the connections between them and otherwise get some control over their environment. Sooner or later they’re going to be ready for an escape attempt, which they will be able to get Tether, Gaia Girl and Shieldmaiden to sign on to fairly quickly but getting Raven will require some work.

It is also doomed to failure: whatever their plan is (unless they have somehow shared it with neither Tether or Raven (who would share it with Tether)) they are stymied by preparations from Warden. The walls may extend weapons, they might get as far as facing Warden himself, but with their powers stymied and his devices prepared for them  and his ‘robot doubles’ (actually Quad Kids 3 and 4 in identical armor) they don’t stand much chance.

8.2: Opening Pandora’s Box

The searching PCs will likely start with the one structure on Pandora – the manor of a reclusive millionaire who owns the whole planetoid and retired here some time ago to get away from all of this presumed enemies. Of course this is suspicious and all get out, and of course the mansion is trapped to destroy anyone who enters it. How could it not be. The traps aren’t specific to the PCs, so they should all be surmountable – just the usual spears, guns, lasers and the like.

The manor is also home base of a gang of Saturnian criminals who realized the old man was dead and started using his undefined mortality to their advantage, pretending to be under his command. These are ordinary thugs armed with defensive screen (drop HTH to a 4, but that reduces a lot of bonuses) and blaster pistols. Once captured they can be questioned but they honestly do know nothing of the PCs disappearance: they were an impediment to the Red Queen and she just used the PCs to take them out. The PCs will have to do more research.

Quad Kid aka Hypoc Jenn

Hypoc Jenn is a typical Umbriel, blessed with their racial quadruplication power. He is also a con man, second story man, rounder and general cad who uses his powers to the fullest on thefts and cons .

S: 11 E: 10 A: 15 I: 15 C: 19 Level 3
Background: Acting and Crime
1) Self Duplication: Quad Kid can create up to 4 bodies. Each creation appears or disappears at 5’ distance, so this is a crude short range teleportation. Each extra body that joins in an attack adds +1 to hit/+2 damage (up to four bodies , +3/+6) to the single attack roll. Four bodies working in concert reduce the save difficulty of an action by one level. Track HP and Power for each quartet at 4x each (though rolling with attacks and dodging are at ¼ this pool).
2) Heightened Charisma A: +9 Charisma, +5 Intelligence and an extreme skill with disguises.
3) Warden Armor [temporary] 80 ADR with built in Force Field style attack for 1d12 damage – 12 charges. It is also keyed to operate the many doors and traps of the Stalag

GM Note: Cuing

I think I need to define a new term to handle some inevitable problems with this game concept: Cueing.

Cuing is a way for the GM to tell the players what they’re expected to be doing this session. (As such it works best in GM directed games). There have been several adventures this month that would be exceedingly frustrating if not properly cued.

For example, in the Traitor Centurion the goal of the session is to figure out a mystery (who is betraying our plans to the raider) that makes it possible for them to solve the secondary problem (the raider is damaging sites on Europa). Until they do that Star Zynski – with access to advanced technology and tactical skill – is going to keep beating them.

Well, he’s going to keep beating them with GM Fiat: in the stories we’re emulating he would keep beating them, and I’m not bothering to work out every possible weapon or technology he might employ against every possible tactic. He’d just be well armed and well prepared enough to have a really high chance of success. Some players (i.e. those that hate losing, suffering the appearance of loss or in some cases encountering any setback or loss of agency at all) might get stuck in a rut of hammering their head against that conflict looking for a way to stack the deck so much in their favor that they can “win” without solving the mystery.

Stalag 3013 is similar: the prison has been built by someone with  a 40+ intelligence and advanced engineering skills to hold the PCs. Trying to write out how it does so (especially with me not knowing your PCs) is an exercise in futility. We should be able to trust that it can do so. The players need to be cued that this too is a mystery: two of the prisoners are not what they seem, the warden is not what he seems and once they suss out those mysteries they will have a much better chance to escape. If the players just pound their head against the wall for hours they won’t get anywhere and be extremely frustrated.

So how do we resolve this? In this campaign it’s by the adventure ‘covers’, the capsule descriptions of the adventure given to the players before it starts so they can select which of their PCs they want involved. The ‘covers’ should make it clear what the adventure goal is: in the Traitor Centurion it would eb Blackbird pointing at a group of team members yelling “one of you is a traitor!” with an editorial box stating “can you find…the Traitor Centurion?” Likewise in Stalag 3013 the cover would be the heroes in prison with all the NPCs and an editorial box saying “In the Stalag of Space, who can you trust?” or something to that effect.

This sort of cueing is only necessary – or even desirable – in GM directed games. The more the PCs control the direction the less the GM should try to maneuver the story down a particular path.