Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Teen Titans - Episode 7 "Override" Report

Hey, readers!

So, after a long hiatus due to international studies and trips and things, I finally managed to wrangle the team back together to run a good old game of Teen Titans using the Marvel Heroic system. I've been waiting to jump back into this for a while, as people who have read some of my early posts can probably tell. Hopefully, we'll be able to make this a weekly thing, which means you guys have one more game to hear me rant about!

Except, this time, you'll see it from a GM's point of view rather than a player, so it'll be a bit of a different flavor than my other session reports. Additionally, this is all part of my own version of the DC Universe that has some pretty radical changes to some stuff, so I may go on rants about how such and such a character is different from the mainstream and things like that.

Before we dive into the summary of this session in particular, I think you deserve to know briefly what has happened before, 'cause that's important.

Previously, on Teen Titans:

Banded together by chance to stand against the anti-superhuman government task-force known as VATOR, the Teen Titans have dedicated their time to defending the city of Detroit from evil in order to prove that superheroes do more good than harm. They live in the mansion of Mr. Oliver Queen, who spends his days running a multi-million dollar business from his basement and his nights as the mysterious vigilante, the Green Arrow. United, they are the Blue Beetle, (a young teenager who adores superheroes and finally has the chance to live his dream in the armor he received from his deceased father) Dullahon, (a teen with a mysterious past and even more mysterious powers involving a mass of ethereal tentacles that comprise his face), Johnny Thunder, (the teen with a 'fuck-you' attitude and mystically imbued powers over sound) and Schrodinger (a teen who is almost literally everywhere at once, trained to be an effective killer).

So far, they have saved a classmate from execution by the League of Assassins, rescued Robin from the Joker (but not before he had cut out her tongue), stopped Dr. Light from terrorizing a shopping mall during the holidays, discovered a sinister conspiracy within their own ranks, and survived on an island with Solomon Grundy thanks to the mad genius Dr. Ivo.

Session Summary:

Things begin in Oliver Queen's mansion. Johnny is rocking out to "We're Not Gonna Take It" in his room, alone as usual. James (Dullahon) is reading a copy of Frankenstein on the couch while Ray (Blue Beetle) is obsessively vacuuming. It seems that after the traumatic experience of being beaten to a pulp by Solomon Grundy and failing the team as a leader, he has been trying to cope with a variety of new hobbies, including cleaning, macaroni art, and joining the new 'Cheese Appreciation' club run by Mr. Terrific.

A comment about how Frankenstein is a zombie sends Ray into a 'Iron Man 3 Tony Stark esque' anxiety attack and he leaves for his room. James follows after to apologize, going into Ray's room to find a disturbing amount of hobby creations he has made. They chat a bit, and Ray shows him a macaroni art version of their caretaker Oliver Queen.

Meanwhile, Juan is dueling with Green Arrow in the 'Arrow Cave' when he gets a mysterious message on his communicator. It seems that Agent Chase of VATOR, who Juan has convinced to act as a double agent in return for her life, has a hot tip. Apparently, there is a fight club in Detroit that has sprung up a few weeks ago, and the big prize is the chance to get onto the coveted VATOR Override list, which would make them immune to weapons and technology used by the taskforce and clear their information from the records. Knowing the worth of that, Juan gathers the team and decides to give it a chance, despite the illegality of it.

They arrive at the fight club, which is erected out of an abandoned race track. It is supposed to be condemned, but it is obviously alive and well... And covered in question marks. Thanks to the manipulations of Agent Chase, the group is allowed to compete, but the crowd hates their guts, considering it is composed of gang members and thugs. Juan places some bets on their opponents and themselves, and someone goes over the basic rules with them. It's an elimination round tournament, and I broke it up into three stages. The first was a mob of gang members, which they easily defeated. The second was a mob of mystics, which they also soundly defeated.

Between rounds, Dullahon was strangely recognized by a few of the gang members who called him 'Straight Face.' While James didn't remember himself, he went along with it, learning that he apparently worked for the Joker at some time before. Go figure.

The final round was a cage match against the Fearsome Five! Yes, one of the main Teen Titans enemies in the mainstream comics. However, in this universe, they are a bunch of powered enforcers from various gangs and groups across the city who have only banded together to get VATOR immunity so that their services would be in super high demand. We've got Mammoth and Shimmer, a brother and sister unit. Psimon, who is a psychic who was imbued powers by Trigon. Gizmo, who is a little person Mac-Gyver style inventor. And finally, Dr. Light, who is a recurring joke villain in this campaign. Johnny has a bit of a grudge against him, since their encounter during Christmas almost permanently blinded him.

(Oops, wrong Fearsome Five...)

This fight had some rather cool moments. Ray began by pile-driving Mammoth, after which, James picked the hulking beast up and slammed him against the bars of the cage, knocking him out. A cool feature of the datafiles that I made for him and Shimmer was that I emphasized their brother-sister bond. One of their limits is that, if the other one takes trauma, they get emotional stress equal to the highest die in the Doom Pool. Therefore, Shimmer gets slapped with a d10 of emotional stress from seeing her brother collapse. Johnny blasted Dr. Light with a huge sonic boom that knocked him back against the cage, sending some of his tech suit flying. Gizmo, being a genius, was able to scramble over and collect those pieces, making an improvised gun with duct tape... at a d12. Aren't assets great? Shimmer, likewise, erected a bunker of sorts around Gizmo, turning the air into a solid state or another element, or whatever her powers do. Dr. Light tried to repeat the blinding action that nearly killed Johnny before, but thanks to a quick assist from Dullahon, he managed to dodge it. Psimon hit Dullahon with a mental blast, trying to wear down his defenses.

Things began to wrap up as Juan knocked Dr. Light out, sending him into a coma. We swiftly found out that Psimon is completely awful at physical combat, and a blast from Blue Beetle almost took him out. Dullahon got a spot of revenge by finishing off the psychic while Johnny Thunder continued blasting everyone with sonic booms. For some reason that I still can't figure out, everyone was rather attracted to Shimmer, and didn't want to beat her up too bad. Juan did manage to push her over in emotional stress by scaring the living daylights out of her, causing her to faint. All that was left was Gizmo, with his cool d12 gun. Still, he didn't do so hot, and got defeated pretty quickly.

(That's more like it)

So, a beautiful woman with a question mark tattooed on her cheek approaches the winners and tells them that they just have to ride with her to claim their reward. Feeling bad for Mammoth and Shimmer, they decided to drag their unconscious bodies along for the ride to give them VATOR immunity as well. I'm still not a hundred percent sure why they did this, but go figure. Players will be players. A chauffeur drives the crew out to the docks with a rather inconspicuous yacht is waiting for them. They go in the side, and the door locks shut!

It's a trap! Well, sort of. Kinda. Meh.

Turns out they end up in a circular sort of room with a wide pillar in the middle. On the pillar is a screen that has instructions on how to get the prize, which is also a riddle. The voice of an arrogant man who identifies himself as the Riddler announces that they have proven they are worthy of the prize with brawn, but now they must prove that they are worthy of it with their minds, which is the only thing he respects. Just to sate your curiosity, I'll post the main riddle below. Can you figure it out?

Think you have what it takes to win
Written here is what you need to do
Since you are so poor at following directions

Immunity is yours
But what unlocks the door

The keys needed cannot be held
They can be found
And brought back to the beginning

Three rooms below deck

Find the key within

Below deck, there were three rooms each with their own riddle and some sort of puzzle to figure out. I handled this by saying that the Riddler created a complication, which is the room, that they have to step-down and eliminate in order to defeat. When they defeat it, Riddler has a limit that he takes emotional stress with each riddle solved. So, the players would roll to do things such as fly across the room or deactivate something. If they failed, the room attacked with the Doom Pool plus the complication, like a scene complication would. The only caveat was that if they figured out how to do the riddle and got it right, they automatically succeeded and didn't have to roll. When they got it, they received a clue for the main riddle.

The first room's riddle was:

What divides time, completes a thought, and is not found here?”

The answer was period, and the room was designed so that it was a tiled floor with darkened tiles representing a keyboard. They had to figure out which one was the period space and stand on it to release a force-field at the end of the room. If they stepped on the wrong tile, the room shocked them. Once at the end of the room, they had to hit the period key on a keyboard in order to solve the room. The clue received was:

 “Sometimes, punctuation makes all the difference.”

The second room's riddle was:

 “Massing. Messing. Mossing. Mussing. Myssing.”

All of these words were arranged in alphabet blocks on separate pedestals that were covered with a force-field that had a letter keypad on the side. These pedestals were all in a line, and there was an empty pedestal standing behind them. In order to open the force-field the players had to input the first vowel in each word on the keypad. If they typed in anything else, they got shocked. Once they did that, they would have to spell out the answer in blocks on the empty pedestal, which is "Missing", and hit the vowel 'I' on that keypad to win. The clue received for room two was:

 “Sometimes, something that is missing isn't what you expected. The right answer can be wrong.”

The final room's riddle was the following:

 “Fix the order. Matter

The room had a giant Jenga tower with these words printed on the horizontal blocks that were facing the entrance. Two staircases led up to the top of each tower. The answer was rather simple, putting mind over matter. However, you had to move the Jenga pieces like you would in the game. If the tower fell over, the entire room exploded. The clue received for the last room was:

 “Sometimes, it's best to read carefully and follow directions, no matter how absurd they may seem.”

So, the Titans completed these riddles with some struggle, which I'll cover in my reactions section. However, with a little help on my part, they were able to answer them all and not get hurt too badly. Taking all of these clues, they went back to the original riddle and tried to piece everything together.

Ready for the answer?

Basically, all you had to do was follow the command on the first line, "Think, 'You have what it takes' to win." However, that's tricky, since most people would take that as a challenge and a question rather than a command. Once the team figured that out, the pillar in the middle opened, revealing a device with an eye-scanner, fingerprint taker, and an area to place a blood sample. The Riddler accepted that the Titans had proved their mind power and allowed them, and Mammoth and Shimmer, to input their DNA and get on the coveted VATOR immunity list.

Now, here is where things get interesting.

James uses his tentacles to figure out that the Riddler is below deck somewhere, so he and the team go out of the boat and down a porthole, finding Edward Ngyma surrounded by computers. They demand an explanation. The Riddler explains that he is doing this in order to test the minds of common criminals by offering up a universal needed reward. His ultimate goal is to weed out the weak-minded and find those who would join him on his ultimate quest for knowledge without the limitations of morality, religion, or things like that. Those that pass his test and join him are marked with a question mark, because that is the universal symbol for seeking after knowledge. Allegedly being the world's greatest hacker, the Riddler has access to a ton of information, including having knowledge of almost everything about the Titans.

The team has mixed feelings, which is awesome! They all agree that the Riddler is an extremist and quite possibly insane, but there's no doubting his knowledge, skill, and intelligence. Ray thinks he's going too far and should be arrested. Juan thinks that he could be a good informant and wants to teleport him out somewhere safe. James is in the middle, but decides to hold Ray back, only because the Riddler promises him some information about his past. While Juan teleports the villain away and coordinates a back and forth trade of information for services, Ray and James fight over the question of morals and selfishness against good.

We end the session with an emotional moment of Ray putting up macaroni art of villains on punching bags and beating them up. Yeah, Ray's kinda messed up. 

My Reactions:

Let me just say the following first: these are the sessions I live for. When a relatively straight-forward adventure challenges the player character's perceptions and beliefs in ways you did not anticipate, sparking character interaction, growth, challenges, all that... It's magic. This is the magic I live for, as a player and as a Game Master.

Since this is my first reaction piece as a Game Master on this blog, I'll discuss first what I believe went well, and what could have been done better.

What Went Well:

The arena battles went perfectly. While the set-up was a bit cliched and the moral quandary of whether or not to participate in an illegal fight club in order to get a technically illegal prize didn't go over as well as I would have liked, (Hell, they're teenagers. Breaking rules is what they do best) the fights themselves were satisfying. Everyone got their moment to shine, took some licks, and had some pretty graphic and creative moments. The cage match against the Fearsome Five, in particular, was awesome.

Also, the role-playing and interactions went very well, as they often do in this group. Dullahon's player sent me a text suggesting that some of the thugs in the arena recognized James from his past, which turned out to be an entertaining and enlightening moment all at once. Seeing Blue Beetle act out his d10 of emotional trauma by acquiring a ton of hobbies and being more awkward than usual was also refreshing to see. Not to mention the interactions with the Riddler at the end, which were completely unexpected.

Speaking of the Riddler, while his riddles didn't quite go as I would have liked, (More about that below) I think I succeeded in turning a typically counted off and shtick-heavy villain into someone more unique and competent. I imagined him as a marriage of a hacker and Jigsaw with an obsession on knowledge, and that got across to a great level, I believe.

What Could Have Gone Better:

So, puzzles are a tricky part of an RPG. Some players really like them, and it is not used often enough in games, in my opinion. That's why I like to throw them in on occasion, and when you're against the Riddler, puzzles are a given. Not to toot my own horn, but I do believe the riddles I constructed were rather clever, and the players thought so as well. Watching the Riddler episodes of Batman: The Animated Series really helped me on that avenue.

Still, this part of the session was not perfect. The main reason why this didn't go off as well as it could have was the time. It was about one in the morning when this part of the session began, and the players were starting to get fatigued, Johnny's player especially. Additionally, James' player is dyslexic, so riddles based around vowels, punctuation, and grammar were not up her alley at all, so... That was a miscalculation on my part.

Additionally, the mechanics I kind of half cooked up myself and half borrowed from a datafile of the Riddler on the Margaret Weis forums didn't work smoothly. Maybe this would have gone better if I designed the rooms to be a little more obstacle heavy rather than, 'You mess up, you get shocked.' I did want the focus of these rooms to be the riddles rather than the obstacles, but a better focus on the obstacle would have helped engage the less thinking inclined heroes more.

Finally, some of the rooms were less straightforward than I thought they would be. Especially the third one, which was supposed to be very simple with putting mind over matter, but the players assumed the other words had to go into some sort of order as well. Again, that was my bad, especially with the wording of 'Fix the order' which implied all of the blocks were out of order.

Despite these hiccups, I think I learned a lot about implementing puzzles in a session of this nature, so that was valuable to me, and the players did enjoy this section regardless.

So, that's my session summary! Hopefully you will also get these weekly as this group gets back into the swing. Some exciting episodes are coming down the pipeline. I hope you enjoyed this post! If not, here's a funny picture.


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