It was a normal enough day at Arasaka Base, a hobby and game store located in one of the suburban areas of Halcyon City. Prospective buyers walked the aisles, a few gamers were trying out a new card game, and proprietor Chase was manning the front counter and reading a magazine. A breaking news report on the counter’s television caught his eye, though: the Vespamancer was apparently attacking the Halcyon City Eastern Bank. Somewhat half-heartedly looking around to see if anyone would be able to hear, he reached over and picked up a landline phone: “Hey, guys, think you’ve got some work to do.”
In the real Arasaka Base located beneath the store, a young superhero known as CryptoHertz (Gilbert Phillips) answered, eager for some action. It had been a slow day for the as-yet-unnamed team of heroes who called Arasaka Base their home, but a bank heist being perpetrated by a mad scientist with an alarming obsession with bees of all kinds sounded just like the sort of thing they could handle. As an added bonus it would be a good excuse to get The Hemophiliac (“John Doe”) out for a bit, and might get Spitfire (Sally O’Brian) to let off some steam before she lost it again from ‘having to hide in the nerd basement’. Grabbing the two recluses CryptoHertz rallied the rest of the team: Showtime (Morgan Teller), Sabot (Sabot Arasaka), Calamitas (DeGauss Powers), and the Red Dragon III (Terry Yammamoto).
Sabot powered up what he called the zorb launcher, the delivery system designed by Arasaka Corp that could send the team anywhere in the city. The team launched one by one, arcing up high into the sky, to crash down right outside the bank. As the zorbs dissolved, the young heroes could see that the street was deserted, the doors of the bank open wide, and the sound of several hives worth of bees buzzing away. As everyone psyched up for the fight, Calamitas decided to charge up his powers. That’s when things started to go sideways.
As a Nova, Calamitas was able to charge up quite a bit of power, but by far his power was the hardest to control. The resulting Miss sent his power wild, marking multiple Conditions. His following misfire in an attempt to burst through the doors to attack the Vespamancer instead left a burning hole in the side of the bank. Showtime attempted to comfort Calamitas to calm him down, but he wasn’t able to get through to the Nova. Sabot and the Red Dragon moved into the bank and were immediately set upon by swarms of angry bees. As Red Dragon whipped out a wacky gadget vacuum that began sucking up some of the bees Sabot took a good long look at the Vespamancer, and noticed a device on his waist that was being used to control the bees. Just as he shouted out this information Spitfire charged in and slugged the mad bee scientist across the room, managing to wreck the vault door in the process with a wild follow-up swing.
Calamitas flew through the hole he’d created and began helping Red Dragon with the swarms, but his powers continued to run out of control, and it wasn’t too long before he was out of the fight. As the Hemophiliac and Showtime set upon their foe, terrifying him with blood and illusions, CryptoHertz jumped forward, managing to get his katana in between the control device and the Vespamancer’s belt. With a flick of the blade the device went spinning away, the villain yelling in horror as he lost control of his buzzing minions. Just as he tried to run Spitfire came up behind him and laid him out with one last punch.
As Sabot trussed the Vespamancer up in cables and the others picked Calamitas out of the rubble, however, they heard the howl of sirens and the sound of screeching tires outside. As they filed out of the bank, they were face to face with a tactical response team and what looked like a cyberpunk cowboy (I basically threw a dart at the suggested names list, and I’d been playing a lot of Overwatch at the time, so you know where this is going). AEGIS had arrived to clean up the situation, with The Lawman in the lead.
The Lawman, a Bronze Generation hero who had been something of a delinquent himself before going legit and joining metahuman law enforcement, had been the responding AEGIS agent in charge at the High Impact BioMedical-sponsored orphanage and hidden laboratory that the team had destroyed when they’d first teamed up. As blowing up hidden labs is a violation of the unwritten ‘don’t create supervillain backstory material’ rule the gunslinger agent hadn’t been particularly pleased with them, and he wasn’t any happier now. With one hand on his revolver and a cigar clenched between his teeth The Lawman proceeded to chew the team out for the collateral damage to the bank and the sloppy display of powers, exerting his Influence over them. Most of the team accepted his criticism, or at least tried to resist his Influence and failed, shifting their Danger down and their Savior up. Both Showtime and Red Dragon successfully resisted, however, and got rid of The Lawman’s Influence over them. The Lawman took quiet note of who seemed to be listening and who wasn’t and, with another puff of cigar smoke, took the Vespamancer into custody and told the team to take a hike.
A few days later saw the team hanging out at the gaming store portion of Arasaka Base, ostensibly to socialize as Gil wanted to run a game of Zweihander (we’d played that ourselves earlier in the weekend). Things fell apart relatively quickly, however. Sally was resistant to the idea in the first place, clinging to what remained of her old life as a jock. A call from one Dr. McBride, a HIBM doctor who had helped her escape in the first place, didn’t do her any favors as the call was to remind Sally to keep a low profile to protect her family. Shortly after Sally stormed off Terry got a few calls of his own, both from his little brother (the potential Red Dragon IV) which went relatively well thanks to their good-natured bickering, and from his father the retired Red Dragon II, which didn’t go nearly as well as the old man berated Terry for his performance the other day.
Game day more or less fell apart, and the team went their separate ways. Morgan had been male when they had fought the Vespamancer, but thanks to the quirks of their magic happened to be female today, and decided to pursue some ‘girl time’ with Sally to let the Bull get a little taste of normality. Gil went to do some studying with his best friend Emma from Halcyon City High School #5. Sabot and DeGauss decided to hit the streets and do a little bit of sleuthing concerning HIBM. Terry was picked up by his valet Toru and went back to his mansion, where he and Toru lived mostly alone, to contemplate his father’s words. The Hemophiliac donned the most inconspicuous clothes he had and actually left Arasaka Base to meet with a personal contact.
Here’s the important information on Gil and Emma’s relationship. They had been friends practically forever, and Emma was one of the few people who took Gil’s claims at school about being CryptoHertz as being anything more than a tabletop game character. While she didn’t know the identities of the rest of the team, she did know they worked out of Arasaka Base. What she did know was she’d actually fallen for Gil some time ago; Gil, of course, was oblivious to this change in how Emma looked at him. Emma also knew that Gil thought Morgan was really cool, and did not like her (she had yet to put together that female!Morgan and male!Morgan were the same person). Studying turned to talking about the recent battle at the bank, and then Gil playing video games while Emma rested her head on his shoulder.
Sabot and DeGauss found themselves staking out a different orphanage funded by High Impact BioMedical as part of the corporation’s community building programs; while the number of orphanages might seem frightening, this version of Halcyon City tended a little bit more towards the size of the Sprawl or Mega-City One. Nothing seemed untoward from the outside, so the pair actually snuck onto the grounds. While there they happened to meet a little girl by the name of Emily, who DeGauss in particular struck up a friendship with; it was apparent to the pair of teenaged heroes that Emily was a nascent Nova herself. The pair were then approached by a security guard, who they managed to avoid getting in trouble with while also educating themselves on why an orphanage needed security: orphans make good recruits for superheroes and supervillains alike, and the orphanages prefer to keep that from happening.
As the pair left DeGauss made a call to his host family, in particular Marshall “Collateral Damage Man” McCloud. McCloud had been a particularly destructive member of the Bronze Generation before retiring from superheroics and going into construction and demolition, and DeGauss asked him for some advice. McCloud responded that he could have his employees look into building plans and construction records to see if any more orphanages had hidden labs underneath. Just as he hung up DeGauss and Sabot spotted the Hemophiliac going into an office building nearby.
The Hemophiloac was there to talk with Dr. Slaughter, the man who had performed the procedure that had saved his life but also turned him into the blood monster he now was and wiping most of his memories. With most of “John Doe”‘s records mysteriously dissappearing at about the same time, even Slaughter wasn’t entirely sure who the Hemophiliac had been or what had gone wrong. The young Transformed’s “surrogate father-like figure” had some leads for his “surrogate son-like figure”, though, some files he’d managed to find that could contain some clues. The Hemophiliac gladly took them, and exited Slaughter’s office to find DeGauss and Sabot in the waiting room wilting under the unblinking stare of Slaughter’s creepy secretary. The pair were actually pretty respectful of the Hemophiliac’s privacy, simply checking that he was doing alright before heading back to Arasaka Base together.
Terry began to meditate once arriving back at his manion, seeking to commune with the departed spirit of his grandfather, the original Red Dragon. His honored predecessor responded to his plea for advice, telling Terry that the Red Dragon II had been a poor heir indeed. What Terry needed to do to fully embrace the spirit of the Red Dragon was to find a proper nemesis, like the first Red Dragon had done by defeating a monster attacking his native Japan. When asked about how to find a proper nemesis, Terry’s grandfather advised that the best way was to find something worth protecting; the nemesis would follow naturally enough.
Meanwhile, Morgan the Delinquent was definitely going to get Sally in trouble. She’d taken them to an arcade bar and used illusion magic to fake up IDs to get them in, and was introducing Sally to the joys of underage drinking via Long Island Iced Teas. This was definitely not the best idea Morgan had ever had, as Sally was quickly proven to not have received an improved alcohol tolerance with her abilities. This spiraled quickly and soon led to to Sally crushing a fighting game machine in enthusiastic but poorly controlled button mashing, which attracted the attention of the owner. The resulting attempt to throw Sally and Morgan out only escalated as Sally refused to abandon her misguided efforts to have a good time, and after a second game machine got destroyed AEGIS got called.
Just as a cruiser pulled up out front, Morgan hit on the idea to bait Sally out of the bar to safety, casting illusions of HIBM agents which Sally would chase. Out behind the arcade bar an alley was suddenly full of debris as Sally burst through the wall, wildly swinging at illusions. That’s when this proved to be Morgan’s worst idea, as an illusion popped up in the exact same spot as one of the AEGIS agents as he entered the alley to investigate. One more punch and a shattered jaw later Sally and Morgan were both getting down on the ground, horrified, as the downed agent’s partner screamed for them to stand down with weapon drawn as he hit the alarm on his harness to summon an ambulance.
Gil’s time with Emma was interrupted when his phone rang, and when he fished it out and answered the call without checking who it was he was nearly deafened in one ear as The Lawman yelled about CryptoHertz not keeping an eye on his teammates. Sally and Morgan were both in custody, and The Lawman was demanding Gil come down to the local AEGIS HQ. Gil stuttered out an affirmative before hanging up, only for his night to get even worse as Emma realized that Morgan was on Gil’s team. The chilling dismissal from her and her clipped responses that he should just go were the first thing to finally clue Gil in to how Emma felt; the death glare he got from her father cemented it on the way out. Some anxious compartmentalizing and a quick call to Terry for backup later and Gil hopped into the driver’s seat of his mom’s minivan and headed out.
Meanwhile, Sally found herself in a neck to toes containment unit that kept her from using her strength, although in reality it was hardly necessary. The poor girl was spending her time crying, both distraught over having injured the agent and lamenting the fact that even the smallest attempt to have a normal life had gone awry. She was still doing that when The Lawman walked in and took a seat in front of her. The agent wasn’t shouting this time, quietly assuring Sally that the wounded man was going to make it. When Sally repeated her laments about a normal life, however, he shot back that she wasn’t normal and she’d damn well better get a handle on that before he or someone else had to shoot to kill. The player judged that Sally would try to resist The Lawman’s Influence, but The Lawman was willing to spend that Influence to give a penalty to the roll, getting his point across. Sally’s Mundane dropped and her Freak increased, but the player also gave The Lawman back his Influence over Sally right away; he’d certainly made an impression.
Morgan, at about the same time, was faced with a much more dire situation: her mother. The Lawman, having noted the loss of his Influence over the young Showtime, had called in the big guns. Mrs. Teller had raised Morgan on her own after Morgan’s father, the original and supervillainous Showtime, had been arrested and imprisoned. She was understanding of Morgan’s behavior, but firm in that she had to learn to be more careful. Morgan didn’t argue the point, accepting a drop in Superior and an increase in Savior, but she was still shook up over her failure to give Sally a normal night and her earlier inability to calm DeGauss when he lost control. The ride home after Morgan was released was tense, with Morgan pointedly questioning what made it all worth it for her mother. Mrs. Teller firmly stated that as far as she was concerned she’d come out the winner; she got a child who at least tried out of the deal, while the original Showtime lost everything. Morgan seemed to believe her mother for the most part, but that didn’t stop her from bailing out at one point. Mrs. Teller slammed on the brakes and looked back, but nodded. Morgan vanished into an alley, determined to spend some time alone to figure things out.
Poor Gil and Terry had been forced to endure the glares of AEGIS agents and then a full chewing out from The Lawman after having been marched into his office/saloon. The Lawman made it clear that he expected better going forward, both from Gil as what seemed to be one of the more levelheaded members of the team and Terry because of the Legacy he was trying to uphold. With that he’d released Sally into their custody, and Gil started to drive Sally back to Arasaka Base while Terry headed home.
Gil tried, parked out front of the Base, to comfort Sally and patch up some of the damage done, talking about how he’d clearly missed some things with Emma so he was going to try harder across the board. Sally, however, considered Gil her rival in the superhero business, and the conversation quickly dissolved into an argument. Gil finally snapped and left Sally on the sidewalk, heading home himself. Sally rushed into the base to her room, slamming and locking the door behind her to the befuddlement of DeGauss, Sabot, and the Hemophiliac.
Sabot had gotten the rough briefing from Gil and Terry, though, and had been working on something that might help. Using his security clearance he overrode the lock on Sally’s door and found her curled up in her bed. Ignoring her demands for him to leave Sabot tossed a pair of gauntlets on the bed next to her. Limiters, he said, that would mean she could trade blows with normal people safely when she wanted to. He’d see her at dawn, every day going forward, and together they’d continue to get her used to her new life. The team needed their Spitfire, after all.
The job of a GM, MC, or whatever the game wants to call them is obviously a multi-faceted one, regardless of system. You need to be a storyteller, an actor, (sometimes) a tactician, at least a little bit of a game designer, a writer, and a referee. It’s that last role that’s important for the lesson I learned during this extra-long session, particularly a psychological aspect of it: sometimes you’re going to need to break the suspension of disbelief, the flow of the game, etc., in order to pull the players out of the moment.
There are levels of this, and some of them have to do with the metagame. For instance, if player characters arguing with one another starts to get a little heated, and it starts to look more like the actual players getting into a shouting match, it’s the GM’s job to step in and break it up before trying to find a resolution to the conflict. It’s not a pretty part of the ‘job’, and hopefully it doesn’t happen very often if at all in a given campaign, but it’s a possibility that one should be prepared for. What happened here is a little different, and has more to do with when a game crosses into emotional territory as part of the game and the players get caught up in it.
This is related to the X-Card idea, which was also used during the character creation portion of this session. The X-Card is a gaming tool that is sometimes a literal object but often just a narrative device, and it lets anyone at the table who becomes uncomfortable with a particular subject to remove it from the game no questions asked. To use the relevant example, a player was figuring out their character’s backstory, and brought up the idea of the character’s parents being abusive. While we hadn’t formally established the X-Card as being on the table, and I didn’t refer to it as such, I was actually the one to put the kibosh on that. With plenty of other heavy topics already in the works, I wasn’t comfortable with having to roleplay said parents, so I waved that off and the player came up with something else.
What happened towards the end of the session was that emotions were running pretty high, and players were really getting into their characters (which is a good thing, and is part of why we ended up playing the game as a campaign). A lot of characters had gone through the ringer, Morgan, Sally, and Gil in particular. Gil got snappy, Morgan pulled a runner, and Sally was on the shortest of short fuses. So when Sabot went to her room to propose the training regimen, hacking her room’s security to do so . . . well, Sally’s first reaction was to punch him across the room.
And that is when I stepped in. I did it for more than one reason. It had been a long session, and just on time we were pushing the edges of endurance. But the main reason I did it was because emotions had continued to escalate throughout the game (again, a good thing), but starting a brawl between Spitfire and Sabot at that point, no matter how emotionally justified and in-character, would have continued that escalation, possibly to the detriment of the game and more importantly the players. So I cracked open the fourth wall, spoke up, and pulled the players out of the moment. The escalation stopped, we settled on the scene portrayed above, and everyone could start coming down from the ‘high’ of playing such an emotionally and drama-driven game.
So, when you find yourself in a situation when things are getting a little emotionally intense, perhaps even a little bit out of control, don’t be afraid to step in. Masks sometimes refers to the GM or MC as the Editor-in-Chief, and in every game that’s a pretty decent moniker to go by. It’ll keep things from getting to be too much or from boiling over into that player-arguing-with-player scenario, and in the end you’ll probably have a smoother play experience and story.
Next Issue: we catch up with our heroes a few weeks later, as they go head-to-head with a team of teenaged supervillains and add an unexpected member to the lineup. It’s Time to Make an Impact™!
Masks: A New Generation is published by Magpie Games. Any other products used or mentioned within the game remain the property of their respective creators, and player character names and concepts remain the intellectual property of their respective players. If you like what Cannibal Halfling Gaming is doing and want to help, please consider telling your friends about us and/or pledging your support on Patreon!