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Author Topic: [With Great Power] The Vigiles Revisited  (Read 3018 times)
Thor Olavsrud
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« on: November 22, 2005, 10:17:26 AM »

I've owed Michael another actual play post about my With Great Power game for a while now. Here's the thread I started after our first session.

Last week we had our seventh session of our game. It was the second issue of the second story arc (our new Struggle is Personal Needs vs. Responsibility).

The first thing I'll note is that With Great Power is a game that really needs to be played over time to be fully appreciated. It makes great one-shots (I've run a few at cons), but the real reward in With Great Power is watching the characters and their aspects evolve over time in response to the Struggle they face.

Rob's character, Monolith, is a perfect example of this. At the end of our first story arc, Rob had devastated four aspects in the fight against the sinister villain Cabal and the alien Mumbral Hive. One of those aspects was his Power: Body of Obsidian. In the scene in which he devastated it, he was struggling to hold up Grand Central Terminal as massive explosions rocked the tunnels underneath and the whole block began to collapse. Now, the Body of Obsidian aspect was only of Municipal Scale. It normally wouldn't be able to handle something like this. But Rob devastated the aspect and narrated Monolith melding with the earth and causing columns of rock to erupt and hold up GCT. This would totally change his character, and lead to some awesome moments of play in the second story arc.

After we finished the story arc, it was time to discuss how the heroes' devastated aspects would be changed. Rob decided that Body of Obsidian would become Avatar of the Earth (National...though it may end up Global!). Cool! And it laid the foundation four our next story arc. After everyone adjusted their devastated aspects on the Scratch Pad, we had another session in which we settled on a new Struggle (Personal Needs vs. Responsibility). New items were added to the Scratch Pad. Among the most fun: Rob added Identity: Leader of the Vigiles and Power: The Tower of Vigilance to Monolith; Dina added Duty: Keep My Friend Monolith Grounded in Humanity to Download; and Phredd added Power: Freddie Prinze the Frog-Dog Demon (a vicious spirit that had been sent after the group by Cabal before Phredd's character tamed it) to Blackwater.

With all sorts of new stuff on the Scratch Pads, it was time to create new character sheets. A new character sheet for each story arc is one of the aspects of With Great Power that I just love. It's a very tactile way of saying "yes, all that stuff on the Scratch Pad is still my character, but these six things are the only things that are really important to this Struggle...cough... premise!... cough."

And dividing the aspects to a side of the character sheet based on which side of the Struggle they're associated with is just perfect. Even when players make choices in the game without reflecting on how that choice aims back at the Struggle, they really can't help but make a thematic statement about it. It's just about hard-coded.

Anyway, the new setup had some powerful juice. I created two new villains to target the heroes. One was Simon Fox, US Attorney for the District of New York, who claims The Vigiles are a danger to the city. It doesn't hurt that he is also Lord Kelvin, the Master of Cold, who wants to get rid of them so they can't disturb his super villainy. One of the aspects that Fox is targeting is Download's Duty: Keep My Friend Monolith Grounded in Humanity. He wants to see Monolith become an inhuman monster without friends so he can destroy The Vigiles. My other villain is Papa Sanglant, a voodoo crime boss based on a favorite villain from Hellblazer. He's noticed a couple of new gods have popped up in New York recently (like a certain Avatar of the Earth), and he wants to enslave them.

My strategy going in was to play up the media scrutiny, a vicious smear campaign run by Fox, and the issue of celebrity, making it difficult for the characters to have normal lives.

This leads me to another interesting find. I think the natural inclination with a game like With Great Power, especially for someone familiar with HeroQuest or The Shadow of Yesterday, is to assume that the Conflict Scenes are the really important ones, and the Enrichment Scenes add color and spice but are simply set up for the Conflict Scenes. In fact, my experience has been that the Stakes in Enrichment Scenes are the Stakes that the players tend to care the MOST about.

The second scene of this story arc had Monolith (Rob) and Lightbringer (Kevin) raiding a Trinitech Lab upstate. Trinitech had been a cover for the Mumbral Hive in our first story arc, and Rob was determined to wipe out the stain. We set the stakes.

Rob decided that if Monolith won, then he would find evidence of future plots of evil things the Mumbral Hive had planned. I played the Scientists working at the lab, and decided that my stakes were that if I won, there was no evidence that this lab had been involved in anything shady and the raid itself was unnecessary. Kevin decided that if Lightbringer won, he would find evidence that OTHER Trinitech labs were involved in nefarious schemes (just not this one, as it was covered by Rob's stakes). I decided that if the Scientists won, there would be no evidence to support any wrongdoing.

I won against Rob, but lost to Kevin. So this particular lab was clean, but there was evidence of wrongdoing elsewhere.

This led directly to my first villain Enrichment Scene, in which Simon Fox tried to denounce the vigilante actions of The Vigiles in a press conference, in which he showed footage their reckless destruction of a scientific laboratory. My stakes were that Simon Fox starts a media frenzy against The Vigiles. If I lost, the talking heads would claim that Fox was on a witch hunt and give no merit to his accusations. I lost that one, and Fox was denounced!

This in turn, led to our first Conflict Scene, in which Fox, as Lord Kelvin, raided the Federal Reserve Bank. In this scene, I managed to win against all the participants. I successfully robbed the bank, humiliated Download on television, and caused massive property damage. Suddenly, the reputation of The Vigiles was in jeopardy.

Now here's where the Enrichment Scenes showed their true colors. Rob decided that Monolith needed to find the stolen gold in order to repair The Vigiles' reputation after its crushing televised defeat. He describes how Monolith uses his connection to the earth to sense the massive quantity of gold. Monolith actually sunk into the ground and extended his consciousness through the earth.

Rob's stakes were that he would sense the location of the gold bars. My stakes were that Monolith would meld a little bit more with the "primal" and lose a bit of his humanity. Tie! Time to raise the stakes. Rob raised the stakes to being able to extend his senses through the gold to perceive the villain. I raised the stakes to Monolith "losing track" of his flesh body, and being unable to revert to it (temporarily of course). Rob was so enamored with this result that he deliberately played low into the conflict in order to lose.

In our most recent session, we revisited that conflict when Rob made returning to his fleshy form the stakes for an Enrichment Scene. My stakes were that not only would he not revert, but he would forget what his human form looked like! Rob actually won that one!

That's not to say you can't have really strong, high stakes in Conflict Scenes too. It's just that Enrichment Scenes tend to be more personal.

My next post  will deal with adding another player to a With Great Power group, which can be a bit difficult unless you do it between story arcs. But I came up with a solution that everyone's been happy with...
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James_Nostack
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Posts: 642


« Reply #1 on: November 22, 2005, 10:33:02 AM »

Dang.  I so want to try this game, but there's just no time in my schedule.  Thor, I thought the play write-ups on nerdnyc were very entertaining, and if that's a typical result with this game (as opposed to great GM'ing and playing!) then I definitely need to give it a look.

That whole Issue business is so sharp.  Looking back on a bunch of other supers games, it seems like that's what's missing--that thematic oomph.  It wouldn't even have to be in the rules; it could be written into the advice section.  But it's a key part of the genre.
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Thor Olavsrud
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« Reply #2 on: November 22, 2005, 10:48:14 AM »

Thanks James! Everyone's been having a blast.

When you say Issues, are you referring to "an issue of a comic," or are you referring to The Struggle (like Personal Needs vs. Responsibility)?

Assuming you meant the former:

The Synopsis Sheets (which I mentioned in the first thread) really focus the Issues like nothing else. My players have taken to rotating who is responsible for filling in the Synopsis Sheets as we play, and then posting them to the boards (as you've read). After using them for a while now, I want to use something similar with every conflict resolution game I play.

The act of verbalizing your Intent/Stakes to the point where someone else can write them down has become hugely important. For one thing, there's no way to enter a conflict without nailing down the stakes. I'm hugely conscious of intent and stakes, but in my Burning Wheel games, I sometimes find that we've embroiled the group in a conflict without nailing down our stakes. Essentially, we get so excited that we just assume that  we all know what the stakes are. And then when the dice have been rolled and we're trying to set the consequences, we realize that we failed to set stakes. That NEVER happens in With Great Power because of the Synopsis Sheet.

It also makes the penciling, inking and coloring aspect of the game much easier, because everyone stays fully conversant with everyone else's stakes.

Finally, it creates a wonderful record of the important stuff that happened in a session. And that's really what helps keep the individual issues distinct, and helps it feel like an issue of a comic.
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rafial
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« Reply #3 on: November 22, 2005, 11:59:35 AM »

Thanks for the update, WGP is definitely on my "must play" list for the new year.  Does anyone have links to the play threads on nerdnyc alluded to above?
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Thor Olavsrud
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« Reply #4 on: November 22, 2005, 12:07:35 PM »

Hi Rafial. You find the thread here. All the synopsis sheets except the last one should be posted there. The thread does tend to ramble a bit though.
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Luke
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« Reply #5 on: November 22, 2005, 12:09:59 PM »

nice. I can't wait 'til you tell 'em about the new player, Thor. Hee!!

Anyway, I only played WGP once, but I must chime in with a vote for its awesomeness.

-L
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CPXB
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Posts: 139


« Reply #6 on: November 22, 2005, 01:40:40 PM »

After reading this thread, I almost went and bought the game, and refrained from doing so because I'm fearful that if I do I'll stop playing the game I am already playing.  But then I realized that the game I am currently playing is, in fact, a superhero game!  So, I guess I'm now morally bound to get it.  ;)
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-- Chris!
Thor Olavsrud
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« Reply #7 on: November 22, 2005, 04:11:49 PM »

Ok, so, newcomer to the game. One of my friends, Tim, is one of the organizers for the Gotham Gaming Guild. It's a lot of work. They select the dates, get the GMs to submit games, get everyone registered for a campaign, rent a space at 440 Studios and generally keep everything running. Well, Tim was so busy organizing that when signup day came, he didn't get into a game! d'oh!

I didn't realize this until we'd already had several sessions. When I did, I invited him to join us. And then I realized that doing so is a tricky proposition in With Great Power once a story is underway. If he creates a new hero, then none of my villains' Plans are taking his Strife Aspect into consideration. Also, he hasn't been Suffering like the rest of the characters. The more I looked at it, the less fair it seemed to the other players to let him join as a hero. So I gave him one of my villains!

Tim started playing RuneQuest way back in the day. Unlike many gamers, his first experience with D&D/AD&D was in college. he still plays D&D regularly with his group, but none of them seem particularly excited by D&D anymore and they may be shopping around for a change. Tim's real love when it comes to RPGs is Cyberpunk 2020, and judging by the responses of people that have played in his Cyberpunk one-shots at our Recess game days, he runs a really mean game. Anyway, while Tim had a blast playing in a Burning Wheel campaign Pete (taepoong) ran earlier this year, he hasn't had a tremendous amount of exposure to indie games.

Tim was excited by my villain Simon Fox (aka Lord Kelvin), so the day of the game, I met him for lunch and showed him a copy of Lord Kelvin's character sheet. I also discussed the plan I had developed for Lord Kelvin (sketchily). Tim was very excited by what he saw.

That night, I took three minutes to explain the intricacies of With Great Power cardplay to Tim. Then we jumped into an Enrichment Scene and then a Conflict Scene. I just handed Tim my hand of cards when Lord Kelvin was about and spent my GMing by helping everyone set stakes and develop color. And I also played my other villain, Papa Sanglant.

Tim took like it to a duck to water. Lord Kelvin quickly became the kind of over-the-top villain I could only dream about (the best way I can describe it is to explain that as soon as Tim took over, US Attorney Simon Fox suddenly had a comb-over). He also whupped  three of the heroes in a Conflict Scene right off the bat.

Anyway, the really exciting thing for me is that even though Tim is not up on RPG theory, doesn't know anything about stances or creative agenda, or whatnot, he understood comic books. And with only the Struggle, a sheet of character aspects, and stakes, he totally grokked the game and how to play it in a narrativist fashion. It was what he'd always wanted from a super hero game.

The scene that made my jaw drop:
The last session had ended with Lord Kelvin blowing through the wall of the Tower of Vigilance, and catching the heroes off guard as they were discussing something around the table. This was the villain catching the heroes unprepared at their base at its best. In the midst of the conflict scene Dina had Download escalate the conflict by calling in the press (her stakes were to become leader of The Vigiles, and I think Rob had stakes that involved making Monolith look good in the court of public opinion.  Tim had set his stakes against Rob as making Monolith look like a monster.).

So Tim, as Lord Kelvin, is facing off against Rob (Monolith) on this particular page. And the press corps has arrived. Without even batting an eye, Tim said, "I kill the media. I freeze them all into statues!" Just like that, they all died. Rob was unable to block Tim's narration, so he escalated and changed suit, smashing Lord Kelvin in the faceplate with his massive stone fist. And Tim played a Wild Card, which gave him the right to block Rob's blow entirely. Instead, he narrated, "Oh I take the blow. But the violence of it shatters the frozen corpses all around us!"

Rob was forced to yield the conflict, and his narration of his loss made it plain that Monolith believes HE killed all the reporters.

It was really exciting to watch. It was really deep communication, facilitated by the  exchange of stakes at the beginning of the conflict as cues, and continued through narration during the conflict.
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Michael S. Miller
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« Reply #8 on: November 23, 2005, 07:13:51 AM »

Thanks for posting this, Thor. I gape, open-mouthed:

So Tim, as Lord Kelvin, is facing off against Rob (Monolith) on this particular page. And the press corps has arrived. Without even batting an eye, Tim said, "I kill the media. I freeze them all into statues!" Just like that, they all died. Rob was unable to block Tim's narration, so he escalated and changed suit, smashing Lord Kelvin in the faceplate with his massive stone fist. And Tim played a Wild Card, which gave him the right to block Rob's blow entirely. Instead, he narrated, "Oh I take the blow. But the violence of it shatters the frozen corpses all around us!"

Rob was forced to yield the conflict, and his narration of his loss made it plain that Monolith believes HE killed all the reporters.

You guys have come up with such great stuff! Monolith's already questioning his own humanity with the power-control issues mentioned before, and now he has to grapple with being a murder! What awesome dramatic irony!

How'd the Letter Column work out for your first Story Arc?
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Thor Olavsrud
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« Reply #9 on: November 25, 2005, 01:48:08 PM »

b
You guys have come up with such great stuff! Monolith's already questioning his own humanity with the power-control issues mentioned before, and now he has to grapple with being a murder! What awesome dramatic irony!

How'd the Letter Column work out for your first Story Arc?

That scene was so much fun. Even better, just before it happened, phredd had his character, Perry Blackwater, demonstrate a new power of his death magic when he shifted into the plane of the dead to escape Lord Kelvin. He was immediately ensnared in a trap laid by the evil bokor, Papa Sanglant. Anyway, phredd's page was next in the sequence after Rob's, so all the dead suddenly appeared around him as he battled with Papa Sanglant.

phredd's stakes for the conflict were that he would find a dead victim of Lord Kelvin's. When phredd won his page of conflict, he managed to recruit all the reporters to the job. We had a follow-up Enrichment Scene in which they wanted to "follow the light" and he convinced them to stay on the earthly plane to help him gather information about the villain.

The Letters Column worked quite well. We used the Pundit's Column, adding up the Suffering of each aspect to determine which side of the Struggle the hero had chosen. It was revealing. Dina's character was the only one that came down on the Independence side of the struggle. The others chose Belonging. That has become an overarching issue for her character, Download, in this story arc. As I've mentioned, the Struggle for this story arc is Personal Needs vs. Responsibility. She's had Download pushing to leave and/or disband The Vigiles as part of the expression of the new Struggle, and it also points back to the resolution of the previous Struggle. That has been very satisfying.
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