POTUS

This is the place to recount your superheroic deeds for all to gaze upon with astonishment and wonder.
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Clark
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POTUS

Postby Clark » Sat Nov 08, 2008 9:13 am

Last night I wrapped up a two and a half month M&M campaign and I thought I would give a recap for those who might be interested. Together, we might learn something from the experience.

POTUS had a very simple premise: the player characters were the Secret Service detail to the first superhuman candidate for President. The campaign started at the Republican National Convention and ran roughly in real time, with a couple of skipped weeks due to scheduling issues for my relatively small group of four players. We ended this week, with Election Night.

Traditionally, superhero comics have avoided getting into politics. There is, of course, Captain America #250 in which he is offered the nomination of a third party. After consulting with his friends Iron Man, the Beast, and Vision, he refuses the nomination and chooses not to run for President. Later, a memorable What If? issuewould suggest one possible outcome of Captain America's Presidency. Of special note is the fact that Cap's main platform to reduce our dependency on foreign oil -- this was a 1980 story, but in that respect at least it lost none of its relevance. Other modern comics have not been afraid to get more involved with political issues, Ex Machina being perhaps the best known and longest running example.

I chose this subject for the game because I wanted to run a story that interacted with current events, a game that could not be run at any other time in history, a game that could honestly make a claim to some uniqueness and singularity. There have plenty of superhero games that involve the President, plenty that have a superhero President, but not very many which involve this particular Presidential election, at this particular time and place. The game had "the fierce urgency of now." The topic also allowed me to explore the same question which that Cap story dealt with and which has come up in many other comics over the decades: what is the proper role for superheroes in society? Traditionally, super-people have avoided positions of political power, presumably because they feel it is not their place. That is, superheroes are supposed to be servants, not leaders. In that sense, superheroes are like our military -- they are expected to answer to civilian (that is, non-super) authority. I wanted to explore that assumption, and see if there was any foundation to it. What if a superhero did run for President? What would that do? What would it mean?

As I prepared for the campaign, I was soon confronted with a simple choice: which of the two Presidential candidates was I going to replace with a superhero. My first assumption had been that I would simple give Obama super-powers; for a year and a half he has been a "superstar" candidate with incredible popularity and a wide fan-base. He was called a celebrity during the campaign and a lot of RPGs and comics going back for decades have played off the idea of superheroes as celebrities. But as I thought about I realized that of the two candidates, Barack already had a pretty interesting candidacy. He would be the first African-American President, if elected. McCain, on the other hand, had been around for many years and had, in fact, already run for President in 2000. Enthusiasm for his candidacy (this was before the Palin selection) was low. It seemed that, from a story-teller's point of view, I should keep Barack in the race, the more interesting candidate, and replace John McCain with another -- superhuman -- Republican.

So I did. My next challenge was to come up with a Republican candidate who I personally could respect and vote for. I went back to Teddy Roosevelt, and crafted a modern Republican whose philosophy and beliefs really were modeled on Teddy. Sam Shepherd is the former Governor of New Jersey and was once the high-flying superhero known as Vanguard. Now in his early 50s, his powers have faded and he can no longer fly or use his deadly Quantum Vision. But he remains far stronger than ordinary men and far tougher, and his brain works with superhuman speed.

I created a wiki for my players to use for character creation and to present to them the campaign setting. You can find it here.It includes a write-up for Sam Shepherd as a candidate and his powers as of his retirement in the 1980s, when his archenemy Fenris killed Mrs. Shepherd and left Sam a single father of a young daughter.

More on POTUS later.
Author: Escape from Alcatraz! and
Superlink Secret Files: Organized Crime
For M&M Superlink, 2nd Edition
http://doctorcomics.blogspot.com

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Re: POTUS

Postby Michuru81 » Sat Nov 08, 2008 9:36 am

Clark wrote:So I did. My next challenge was to come up with a Republican candidate who I personally could respect and vote for. I went back to Teddy Roosevelt, and crafted a modern Republican whose philosophy and beliefs really were modeled on Teddy.


I, personally, have a soft spot for Chester A. Arthur though were Chester A. Arthur to fight Teddy Roosevelt, Teddy would win hands down. Seriously, have you ever read that man's biography? He scares me...

Interesting world though. I'm anxious to see more.
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POTUS: Characters and Setting

Postby Clark » Sun Nov 09, 2008 11:28 am

I had originally hoped for six players in POTUS, but two of my players work for AEG and they often had late-night projects on Fridays, which was the only night I had available to run the game. It's a pity, as Dan and Jon are both great players and would have brought a lot to the story, but we go to war with the army we have.

I created the wiki for POTUS and used it to store many of my initial notes on the game, including the fairly large supporting cast and some details on Governor Shepherd's political views. I did not know what story function all these supporting cast members would end up serving; I made up a lot of hooks and I had some vague ideas, but left myself plenty of wiggle room. For example, Shepherd ended up with three children by two wives. The first wife was dead, and this seemed to me to be a likely source of tension or conflict. His eldest daughter would be estranged from him while his second wife was probably having an affair. His original sidekick, Kid Vanguard, had dropped out of sight mysteriously and come back in a new identity -- I modeled this a little on Dick Grayson, who went from Robin to Nightwing, but "Street Knight" would be much older than Nightwing thanks to the fact that my game moves in real time, not comic book time. Likewise, I created the two younger children with the idea that one might demonstrate Shepherd's powers while the other did not -- illuminating the adultery issue and the fact that Shepherd might not actually be the father. In fact, this plot thread never got developed very far.

I needed a larger world to set POTUS in. My setting for 1st edition M&M was "Powers That Be," the setting that evolved in Crucible City MUSH, and that's the setting I used for Escape from Alcatraz! But when the 2nd edition of the game came out I wanted to come up with a new setting which was more in line with my evolving priorities as a writer and game designer, and not as much of a group effort as Crucible City had been. I called this new setting "Worlds of Wonder" and had used it successfully in a few different projects. I set POTUS in Worlds of Wonder and this gave the players and I a rich background on which to draw. Various elements from the setting, including things like the Academy of Lynxes, the All-Americans, and Pandaemonium, would end up being significant elements of the campaign, thanks to decisions my players made both before and during play.

Of my four players, only one had ever played M&M before. Graydon had by far the most complicated "build" of all the characters. His hero, Quantum, was a Tony Stark inventor type who had several suits of armor. Through the use of an orbital satellite with teleportation technology, Quantum could teleport his various suits on and off his body as a standard action. Each suit was a different feat:

Quantum Armor X (active container, Feats: Stealth Armor, Riot Armor; Extras: Continuous Duration +1; Flaws: Standard Action -2; Drawbacks: Noticeable -1)

The continuous duration was bought to ensure that the armor did not vanish as soon as Quantum was stunned or knocked out. At first he had three suits, but he bought a fourth "Interceptor Suit" with high ranks of flight and radar about halfway through. Since I don't like to get surprised with new player-character powers the night of a game, I made a deal with Graydon that he had to show me any new suits at least 24 hours before the game session. He obliged.

Jeremiah made Ibis, a black hero who was an anthropologist and student of Egyptian culture who had been chosen by Thoth. Ibis was basically a detective with impressive skills; his only two powers were Power Control (so he could turn other people's powers on and off) and a +12 Toughness save. Over the course of the game he bought up his Regeneration and, far more importantly, put a lot of points into his ability to mentally detect and analyze superhuman powers at range. He eventually got quite good at this, all the way down to Analytical, so that if he was looking at a character with mutation or psychic powers he knew all the character's powers down to the specific feats, extras, ranks and flaws. Other than these powers, however, Ibis was a guy with a gun. He used his Secret Service issue blaster throughout the game as his primary attack.

Shannon was a casual gamer and Jeremiah's girlfriend. She had no gaming experience and relied on Jeremiah for help with all mechanical issues. She had a knife-wielding semi-speedster named Spitfire. Spitfire was an 18 year old Russian and former gymnast whose father had died of alcoholism and bad gambling debts. She had a little Speed, but was, like Ibis, basically a super-agent type of character with very modest powers and some knives which she bought as Devices. Like Ibis, her attack bonus was very high but her base damage very low; she solved this with liberal use of Power Attack and All-Out Attack.

And this left Jess, who loved comics and has an encyclopedic knowledge of the genre but had never played M&M before. He had a hard time coming up with a character concept, but eventually settled on an "ex-con" modeled a little on DC's Major Disaster. The Albatross, as he came to be called, was a minor but long-time supervillain currently doing time. However, he was also the brother of Gov. Shepherd's second wife, and she had arranged for Albatross to be temporarily released from prison to serve on the protection detail. Albatross's powers were based on the latest version of Major Disaster: he could see the consequences of seemingly-trivial actions, so that by performing some simple and innocuous act (like flicking away a cigarette, or calling for pizza delivery), he could set into motion a chain of events which -- chaos effect style -- would result in Albatross's target getting hit by a car, exploded by an underground gas main, blinded by flashing police car lights, etc. This was a very difficult concept to put into practice and it never worked very well in the game for one simple reason: M&M fights are designed to occur quickly and be over in a few rounds. The Albatross's powers were more dangerous the more time he had. By the time Albatross's chaos effect sequence of events paid off, the fight was over. We bought his power this way:

Disaster 7 (damage effect; Subtle 2, Indirect 3, Homing 3; Feats: Dazzle) and Disaster +5 ranks (Flaw: Each additional rank adds only on subsequent Homing efforts).

In other words, let's say Albatross wants to take down Fenris, Shepherd's 1980s era archenemy. On round 1, he can attack Fenris with Blast 7, but if he misses, his Homing allows him to attack again (as a free action) on round 2 with Blast 8, and on round 3 with Blast 9, and so on, all the way through to round 6 with Blast 12. Since Albatross knows that Blast 7 is not going to hurt Fenris, he intentionally misses with that attack and all the subsequent ones, each miss adding +1 to his damage, until finally on round 6 he makes his attack roll for a damage 12 effect. Of course, on all those intervening rounds, Albatross has been setting up additional attacks, all of which are going off on later rounds. Jeremiah was tasked with keeping track of the timing on all of his powers and he often had several working at once, all timed to go off on later rounds. As the game proceeded he bought many more effects for his power, so that he did not have to simply harm his foe. This was good, because simple damage is very ineffective at low levels, while more unusual powers can be extremely effective even at low rank. Albatross ended up with Trip, Confuse, Obscure, Concealment, and Nauseate by the time the game ended, several of which he used to good effect. But Albatross was a character concept who would have worked better in a comic than in a game, where his powers took more time than a typical fight. Fortunately, Jess had plenty of fun with the character's criminal aspects, and that had a very profound effect on the plot of the game, as we will see in later updates.
Author: Escape from Alcatraz! and

Superlink Secret Files: Organized Crime

For M&M Superlink, 2nd Edition

http://doctorcomics.blogspot.com

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Re: POTUS: Characters and Setting

Postby RedBstrd » Thu Mar 12, 2009 11:31 pm

Clark wrote:Jess was tasked with keeping track of the timing on all of his powers and he often had several working at once, all timed to go off on later rounds.


... Just correcting a typo.

The campaign was awesome, btw. I can't wait to play another game with you.


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