Monday, August 12, 2013

Tales of MaricopaCon 2013 IV: Better Angels, The Unbearable Being of Lightness

 Better Angels was the first game of the convention run on Sunday.

I have to admit that this running 12-1/2 hours of games on a Saturday was a lot easier when I was under 30 (or 20, for that matter) than it is at just a couple of years under age 50.  Needless to say, I was dragging on Sunday.  Still, caffeine got me going, and it wasn't long before I recreated the adrenaline buzz I'd had through most of Saturday.

For this event, I broke a couple of my own rules.  To me, the best portion of Better Angels isn't the chance to play supervillains (everybody's been doing some of that going back to FGU's Villains and Vigilantes and the original TSR Marvel Heroes RPG back in the 1980s, and there are settings that specifically playing supervillains (such as Savage Worlds' Necessary Evil).  It's the interplay between the human and demon halves of the supervillain that really makes it a fascinating game.

Convention Game Rule 1: Always Have Pregenerated Characters.

Therefore, breaking with long-standing tradition, I decided this dynamic would be best created by letting tthe players generate characters.  I armed them all with a list of the Fiendish Powers and Demonic Aspects, a two page walkthrough, step by step of character generation that I created for my previous runthrough of the game for a new group, and actually printed copies of the Powers/Aspects chapter of the PDF for use at the table.

We walked them through it in about 45 minutes.  With everybody else new to the game, I thought that an accomplishment.

Convention Game Rule 2: Always Have a Prepared Scenario in Hand.

Yes.  I went there.  For Better Angels, I created an opening scene, a couple of NPCs, applied a lot of the Better Angels Mobs and Mook rules, and let the chips fall where they may.

They were told that they were at the Hope Museum of Art (hopefully you'll see more about my Better Angels setting for Hope in the future), and that they were to steal a very important artifact from a touring Egyptian Museum Exhibition that was touring the United States.  One of the artifacts actually housed a demon, Magnifico Giganticus (bonus points if you get the literary reference to a Golden Age Work of Science Fiction) the Unconquerable, Indomitable, Indestructible, and Infernal, Lord of the 7th Circle, Prince of the Lesser Regions of Hell.  For clarity's sake, we'll call him Magnifico from this point forward.

I had set up this exact scenario for my previous play group in what was my first run of Better Angels, and chaos and hijinks abounded.

Meet Security Guard Bill

Whereas in the previous playthrough, the human halves of the characters had at least tried to minimize the collateral damage, in this playthrough, the human side of the characters basically handed the keys to the car to the demon, got in the passenger seat, and were along for the ride.  The id was basically given full reign vs. the ego and superego.

The characters then went about whole hog trying to not only acquire the artifact, but to find a willing stooge to serve as Magnifico's vessel.  Did they look for some sort of shining paragon of virtue, a Mother Teresa or Gandhi who would keep the demon mostly in check and use the powers, if not for good, at least to avoid doing any great harm?  Of course not.  Page 1 of the PC playbook kicked in, and the group looked for the most ruthless, utterly irredeemable, character to empower.  In this case, a luckless (but essentially corrupt) museum security guard named Bill Williams.

Bill was a sketchy character who failed in everything he'd ever done in his life.  Joining the Army after completing his GED (naturally, he'd dropped out of high school), he was a disciplinary problem who was discharged for reasons that weren't entirely clear (the DNA test to prove or disprove rumors that he'd impregnated the base commander's 16 year old (but of legal age) daughter were never done).  After leaving the Army, he then failed the Hope Police Department's entrance exam.  He then bounced around a series of low-paying jobs, first in retail, then private security, and finally as a security guard in the HMoA.  Needless to say, this didn't make him look like a shining paragon of virtue, and when approached by the PCs, he came across as a bitter, sullen personality who clearly would be a dangerous man to give superpowers to.  So naturally, the PCs set about to do exactly that.  All they needed to do was steal the artifact.

The Museum and Collateral Damage

Being the rat-bastard GM that I am, the first big fight of the scenario was set in an environment where there couldn't help to be a large amount of collateral damage.  That's right, an Art Museum, on a School Day, with busloads of grade school children, teachers, and parent chaperones along to visit said Egyptian Art Exhibition.  

And along comes Collateral Damage.  Needless to say, she doesn't call herself Collateral Damage.  She's styled herself the Avenging Angel.  The media named her Collateral Damage, simply because wherever she showed up, people tended to wind up dead.

Without fully detailing the character, Collateral Damage is a 15 year old, Olympic Games-caliber, pious young woman (her particular faith is Christianity, though I didn't chose a particular sect beyond that) who has been possessed by a demon who has convinced her he's an avenging angel.  Her main problem is that she doesn't really distinguish levels of sin.  She is as likely to pummel somebody for double parking, adultery, or having too many library overdue fines as she is drug pushers, mobsters, pimps, or street gangs.  And wherever she went, innocents would be harmed.  It was no different today.  She came crashing down out of a glass dome like Batman from the first Tim Burton film (if Batman truly didn't care about the innocents of Gotham), sending shards of glass into the crowds below, and then proceeded to try to beat the characters to the artifact.  However, this plan didn't get going.  First, two of the characters had the ability to create objects.  One of them hit her with a net, which caused her flight ability to become a plummet ability, while the other was creating, then hurling harpoons at her.  By the end of the battle, she was on the ground, tangled in a net, with two harpoons sticking out of her in very inconvenient places, and the players had not only beaten her down, but indeed had broken the news to her that she was being ridden by a demon, not an angel.  By the end of the battle, she wasn't so much a villain as a cautionary tale, carefully prepared face paint running down her face in streams from the tears, with wounds all over her from broken glass and harpoons.

Needless to say, the group got the artifact and immediately handed it over to Bill the Amoral Security Guard.

If we had continued, I'd have undoubtedly had them have to take on Bill, the newly Empowered Amoral Security Guard Who Could Shoot Laser Beams Out of His Eyes, but we had run out of time.

I'm fairly certain I probably sold a couple of copies of the game, and the group had a good time.  And that's about all there is to report.  Runtime: 3-1/2 hours.

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