So we recently hit 30 sessions of our regular M&M campaign, and to celebrate I started compiling our campaign notes and the details I'd recorded about running M*M. I figured I'd take the opportunity to re-post them here in case they're of interest to anyone - the write-up was originally intended for an audience that may not be familiar with M&M rules, but I've left that stuff in in case it's useful (although, in the early stages at least, it's going to be obvious to anyone familiar with the M&M system).
We kicked off the first session with a short pitch-session - basically, I sat down with the players and we ran through a list of things we'd like to see happening in the campaign and the setting.
A lot of this was fairly meta discussion: Shock & Awesome was a new comic existing in a world where established heroes and villains ran around; it'd take place in a fictional replacement for Canberra, Pacific City, after the Australian capital was wiped out by a super-villain attack; the players definitely wanted to be normal kids with powers, not meta-humans in a school for meta-humans.
We also ran through a couple of touchstones so everyone was on the same page regarding tone and content. What we ended up with were "Stan Lee era Spider-man", "KIRKMAN!", and a touch of Avengers: EMH. Character concepts where pitched, stats were determined, and we found ourselves with:
SHOCK & AWESOME
Shock is a mutant electropath with a full suite of energy control powers. Blast, force-field, energy-field, machine control, she's got 'em all, with a smattering of acrobatics skills and a rank or two in Investigation. She's basically a hero for the adrenalin rush.
Awesome is a teenage Captain America, if Captain America were raised by a crazy secret-society called the Grail who believes it needs to form an army of super-soldiers in order to stop the apocalypse. He's essentially a combat-trained brick with a very one-dimensional fighting style (ie, he's light on Advantages), but he's got a suite of minor powers like mind-reading ("Cause God tells him what people are thinking") that occasionally get used.
ISSUE ONE: New Beginnings
Prelude: The issue opens with a game of cricket being played on the oval. One of the players hits the ball for six and it disappears into the foliage on the edge of the school oval, right at the point where the fence line is attached to the national park beyond. One of kids goes to recover the ball, the plants twitch, and then a pair of baleful eyes stare out of the shadows as a blood trail appears.
Notes: Part foreshadowing and part cheap padding for time on my part, largely 'cause the first four issues were pick-up games when our regular D&D game didn't run. When the D&D game fell apart, we just kind of adopted Shock and Awesome as our weekly game.
Part One: Inferno
The campaign opened with Michael Adams and Kris Ouellette emerging from the English class, locked in an argument about the allegorical implications of the deeper themes in Dante's Inferno.
They’re a mismatched pair. Michael Adams is a kid from the local orphanage, a kid who has spent his entire life looking professionally non-descript, lest someone actually notice that he's one of fifteen genetically-modified teen super-soldiers attending Pacific East High School. He does non-descript well - Michael does everything well - but with fourteen other tall, good-looking Aryan types on his team, all displaying fervent religious beliefs, he kind of becomes an outcast by default.
Not that it matters. Michael doesn't really give much thought to what other people thinks.
Kris Ouellette is your typical French-Canadian punk-rock/rich girl expatriate, the daughter of a wealthy importer/exporter who separated from her mother several years ago. She's spent half her life getting kicked out of exclusive private-schools, largely for reasons she prefers not to talk about in case someone notices those "other reasons" almost always revolve around her affection for other girls.
There are days when Kris Oullette feels like the fact that she's gay is the worst-kept secret in the world. Nonetheless, she's determined to keep it by any means necessary. It's entirely possible that keeping that secret is more important to her than hiding the fact she's a mutant, capable of generating and controlling enormous bolts of electricity and lightning.
They both have strong opinions about the Inferno, although they come at it from different directions. Michael argues that there are no allegorical details, interpreting it quite literally; Kris interprets it through the lens of pro-wrestling. They're still talking about it by the time they reach the steps leading down to the school oval - a favourite gathering place for Michael's fellow orphans at lunch time.
And that's when they notice the velociraptor swarm charging through a hole in the schools fences, taking down the students playing cricket on the oval in a frenzy of sharp teeth and claws.
Notes: This one was all about establishing the major complications for the characters, even if we hadn't quite realized that one of Michael's complications was actually a complication yet. We got halfway through his conversation with Kris and realized he was actually quite…innocent…in some ways.
Such is the way with genetically engineered super-soldiers of god. They can infiltrate a secure terrorist base armed with nothing but their own two fists, tell you when a suspect is lying, and identify twelve types of demon from memory, but they're a little lost when it comes to girls.
Part Two: "They're not dinosaurs, they're genetically engineered creatures"
Two things are realized very quickly.
One - these aren't really velociraptors, they're deinonychus. Jurassic Park has a lot to answer for, and even if Michael doesn't believe in dinosaurs, he figures that if you're going to genetically engineer creatures in order to test the faith of the faithful, you should at least get the name right.
Notes: hero point for awesome being Awesome.
Two - Neither hero actually has a super-heroic identity as yet, but they're also unwilling to reveal their powers to the whole student body. Kris immediately runs, heading for the school theatre, where she improvises a make-shift disguise involving old costumes and a wig.
Notes: Hero Point!
Michael isn't quite so concerned with secrecy. He weighs up protecting his secrete versus the loss of life and makes a decision that is quite against Grail protocol - he wades through the swarm of panicked student body, making a beeline for the cricket pitch and the first of the genetically engineered abominations.
Notes: Hero Point!
He collects the cricket stumps to use as weapons, using them as spears until the 'raptors actually get close. When the raptors get closer he uses the stumps as clubs, only to discover that thin wood and super-strength aren't the most effective combination.
Meanwhile, in the theatre, Kris gets ambushed by a 'raptor that's been hiding in the props cupboard. It leaps on her, a blonde wig askew on its head, and discovers one of Kris' powers - an electro-magic force-field that delivers some hardcore voltage to anything that makes contact with it. The moment its teeth make contact with Kris's shoulder, the dinosaur gets blasted across the room.
Disguise in place, Kris heads back to the oval, ready to be a hero…
…and discovers that Michael is already there, holding his own, although he's covered in scratches where the 'raptors have caught him with their talons. She gets past her surprise fast and wades into the fight, firing off two bolts of electricity that fry the closest dinosaurs.
Notes: These days the players tend to conserve their HP for re-rolls (often non-combat related), but this is still one of the few HP assisted tricks Shock pulls off thirty-sessions later.
From that point on, the 'raptors are not having a good day. They're beaten up, electrocuted, thrown into one-another, and impaled on cricket stumps. None of the poor bastards even get a chance to get away. For two people from very different backgrounds, with very different abilities, Shock and Michael make a really good team.
Notes: Also, the 'raptors were minions.
What could have been a very awkward scene in the aftermath of the attack is cut short by Michael's decision to try and track the 'Raptor's back to their source. Following the trail to fence line is easy; following it in the bush on the far side of the fence is much harder.
GM: Anyone got tracking or super-senses that'll help you track 'em?
There are sirens in the distance, a sure sign that conventional authorities are on their way, so decisions need to be made fast. Shock decides to reveal her secret identity to Michael.
"Listen," she says, "my mother isn't home, and we should probably talk about this."
"About what?" Michael says.
"This," Shock says. "The superhero thing."
Michael is vaguely baffled by this - what superhero thing? - but he realises how badly he's broken protocol by revealing his abilities, regardless of the danger to innocent lives, and heading to Kris's place in order to clean up seems like a much better idea than going back to headquarters.
Notes: A word of warning to anyone whose only ever experienced d20 combat in D&D or Pathfinder - M&M fight scenes are *insanely fast* when compared to the systems forebears. I largely expected this fight-scene to take us through to the end of the evening, even considering the fact the dinosaurs were minions and there were only two players, and we still finished up with some time on the clock.
Part Three: The Superhero Thing
It turns out Kris's house isn't really a house - it's a more a multi-level beachside mansion that Kris lives in with her often-absent mother and a live-in housekeeper-slash-babysitter named Daphne. Of course, Daphne isn't entirely what Michael is expecting when he hears that - she's a goth, she's relatively sardonic, and she doesn't much care what Kris is doing.
Notes: The entire group is largely comprised of huge wrestling nerds. Once Daphne was introduced, it was more-or-less immediately decided that she'd be based on Daphne of WCW/TNA/Shimmer fame. In retrospect, this was the best thing that could have happened to the NPC, as she became far more interesting as a result.
Kris immediately starts selling Michael on becoming a super-hero, proposing the two of them team up to fight crime (or, at least, figure out where the dinosaurs came from). Michael is torn - on one hand, helping people is what he's built for, and he has been better trained for things like this than most people; on the other hand, the Grail won't like it, and for all her powers Kris is kinda...untrained.
Also, she's slightly obsessed with pro-wrestling, as evidenced by the sheer number of posters and DVDs in her palatial bedroom.
The discussion goes back and forth, they both kind of hint at their origins, and Michael agrees - in principle - to a short-term team-up in order to investigate the genetically engineered creature problem. There's no need to involve the Grail in this, after all, since the dinosaurs weren't exactly demons.
Plans are made to meet up before school tomorrow, with Shock coming by Michael's place early so they can scout out the school grounds...
Final Session Notes
- Totally weird to be looking back at this from a distance of…well, over a year. Two, actually. I think I was running this one using a PDF of the DC Heroes book just after it was first released, which pegs it at around August/September 2010.
- 3E's new approach to damage saves took me completely off-guard; it took me three of four sessions to adapt to it, and it wasn't until I got a copy of the GM Shield that I actually picked up the process.
Awesome is the total straight guy for this campaign. No pun intended.
- Lots of brute-force stuff when it came to getting character's together, but in my defense, a lot of that came from Shock's player who kind of seized the ball and ran with it. It's entirely possible there's some judicious retconning going here, albeit unconsciously, 'cause in Shock's mind the initial bonding was done over a shared fandom of wrestling, while Awesome still remains perplexed by her appreciation of "fake fighting" to this day.
- I started out trying to end sessions at a point where the players could give some idea of what was going to happen next - these days we're more likely to end at a dramatically appropriate point or a cliff-hanger. This is the difference between a game you're expecting to play once every blue moon, and a game you're playing every week.