High above the Earth in a slingshot orbit that was taking him from Tokyo back to Halcyon City, Sabot received a message from CryptoHertz: Spitfire taken by Plague Hack, need to rally the team. Muttering a few curses in Japanese about the repairs that had mandated his absence in the first place, Sabot redlined the thrusters of his newly-acquired ‘kirbycraft’. In a back alley in Halcyon City itself, Morgan was once again cleaning house at an illegal card game, the best way they’d found to support themselves while living on the street. Things might have turned ugly, the thugs around the table glaring at Morgan, but they all scampered when The Lawman sauntered out of the shadows. “Deal me in?”
Morgan, male today, shrugged and started shuffling the cards. While they’d refused to acknowledge any Influence the Lawman might have over them, they didn’t have any reason to actively dislike the man. They played a few hands, Morgan winning most of them, before the Lawman began to inform the Delinquent of recent events. Morgan was flabbergasted to learn that a corporate superhero from High Impact BioMedical had joined the team in their absence, and actually fumbled at slipping a card up their sleeve when the A.E.G.I.S. superhero let drop that Spitfire had been kidnapped and that Calamitas had killed a man, albeit unintentionally. There’d been a private chat between the Lawman and DeGauss about that, he told Morgan, and the young Nova was working through it. But when it came to finding Spitfire, well, A.E.G.I.S. was doing what they could, but the Lawman had given the young heroes of Arasaka Base more or less free rein to find their missing friend. Long and short of it? “Get yer ass back to yer team, kiddo. They need ya.”
Gil had finished messaging everyone he could reach to rally at Arasaka Base to put together a plan to save Spitfire, and was gathering his gear, kicking himself the entire time for having his phone off so he could study when Spitfire had sent out the emergency message. This had been way more important, and he’d blown it. Just as he was heading out the door, however, he nearly tripped over a package on his front steps. Gil might have no powers and not nearly enough training, but the cybernetic implant that let him be CryptoHertz had been mistakenly delivered in the mail one day, and it looked like another such package had arrived. Upon opening it he found what was essentially an add-on to the the implant in his neck, plugging into it and laying flush against his back. Common sense had never really been a part of becoming CryptoHertz in the first place, so one add-on later Gil found himself capable – for a limited time – of pushing his body past the limits of pain and exhaustion that would stop most people cold. Maybe this would be just enough. Still no return address, though.
Once Gil arrived he, John Doe, DeGauss, and Brayden were all doing what they could to pass the time and keep themselves calm in the game-store-section of Arasaka Base (pacing, shuffling cards, gurgling malevolently, painting miniatures, what have you). Sabot landed outside with a street-cracking crash in his fully-deployed kirbycraft, a giant mecha (he certainly has the daddy issues for it), causing Brayden to cuss Sabot out for making him spill his paints. As the mecha folded up into a backpack and Sabot walked inside, Morgan strolled in nonchalantly as if they hadn’t left the team on bad terms.
There were some strong words exchanged and something to the tune of a half-dozen nascent arguments that were thankfully crushed early, as whatever kind of mood the various team members might be in they realized the necessity of finding Plague Hack and Spitfire as fast as possible. Finally getting a chance to sit down and share information DeGauss and Brayden compared the lists of HIBM facilities that they’d each gotten from McCloud and Dr. Siber, and came up with a few hits that were on both lists. With nothing else to do besides go hunting, the team suited up, hopped in Gil’s minivan, and headed out to scope out the locations.
While the team was still gathering together, however, Sally found herself yet again fighting her way back to consciousness. She still didn’t like what she saw after she succeeded: the beaked plague doctor mask of one Plague Hack, standing over her. There’d been very little but pain since the first time she’d woken up, but she couldn’t muster the strength to do anything but try and catch her breath; the restraints keeping her on the slab were as strong as the ones A.E.G.I.S. had used after her little bender with Morgan. Plague Hack tapped away on a tablet, asking her how she felt, and imploring: “Now remember Subject Sigma, this is for science, so be honest.” Sally responded with a torrent of expletives that was more or less in character, quite justified considering her circumstances, and increasingly anatomically improbable. Plague Hack simply sighed, shook his head, and pushed a button. Electricity arced through Sally, and her world went white again.
The team pulled up in the minivan outside of the second orphanage they’d picked to check out to find a curious sight: a High Impact BioMedical bus loading up all of the children and staff. Standing next to the bus, looking at his watch, was none other than Dr. Siber, the retired White Coat III. CryptoHertz tried to drive casual, but Dr. Siber spotted him and locked eyes. The team’s worry that Dr. Siber might have betrayed them somehow was allayed when he looked worried, tapped his watch, and gestured for the young heroes to give him five minutes. Sure enough, five minutes later Dr. Siber and the bus full of civilians cleared out, leaving the orphanage empty. The heroes could do what they had to.
CryptoHertz burst through the front doors of the orphanage, and immediately a security drone deployed from the lobby’s walls, its chainguns already whirring up to firing speed. CryptoHertz didn’t hesitate, immediately triggering his new overclock function and slamming into the drone faster than the eye could follow. Katana right through the drone’s central processor, the force of the impact sent them both through the lobby’s walls, gaining CryptoHertz a quick trip down to the underground levels as he found himself in a hidden elevator shaft. Meanwhile, around back the rest of the rescue team (sans Hemophiliac, manning the getaway minivan) took the alarms to mean it was go-time and entered through the loading dock. Knowing that Sally was the only non-hostile likely to be left in the building (and perhaps thinking more with his heart than usual) Calamitas took a shortcut to the basement as well, using his powers to blast a hole straight down through the floor. Calamitas and Showtime floated down with their powers and magic respectively, while Sabot rigged up a line for himself and White Coat to descend down.
The pain faded out and Sally’s vision faded back in to the sound of Plague Hack speaking to someone or someones she couldn’t see, telling them to ‘deal with the security breach’ while he wrapped up here, and to otherwise prepare to leave; even if the breach was dealt with they would have to move the operation to another facility. Returning to the slab where Sally was strapped down, Plague Hack began asking her questions about her family, her friends, her life before all this, not really covering anything particularly sensitive but as if he was trying to get to know her. Sally wasn’t particularly forthcoming, of course, but she did ask him why he wanted to know this sort of stuff. Plague Hack nodded like a teacher whose student has asked the right question, responding that he needed to know ‘how much of her memories actually survived the process’. “You are the only one to retain those memories, Subject Sigma, so I need to know how much you’ve retained. The how and the why, of course, will take further experimentation.” Sally once again protested the designation he bestowed upon her, twisting in her bindings, yelling that her name was Sally O’Brien.
“You are Subject Sigma. Sally O’Brien died on the operating table many months ago. I can show you the footage, if you like.”
Elsewhere in the basement level the rest of the team had successfully made it to the pile of rubble at the bottom of the hole Calamitas had blasted in the floor, the dark room being sparsely filled with various types of medical equipment covered in sheets. Just as everyone was getting their bearings, however, five figures stepped out of the shadows without a sound. The teenage supervillains they’d first encountered at the Halcyon City MegaMall – Cybernetic Punch, Convict, Sea Tarantula, The Highway Conjurer, and Mr. Eyebeam – waited just a moment as the young heroes took in their appearance before charging forward. Sabot, Calamitas, White Coat, and Showtime leapt into action themselves, but something wasn’t right. None of their strikes seemed to land and words for the Sea Tarantula and Cybernetic Punch, who by all accounts had broken out of the supervillain life thanks to the team’s previous efforts, fell on deaf ears.
On the opposite side of the facility from the raging battle, CryptoHertz stalked down a dim hallway, having extricated himself from the drone’s wreck and pried open the elevator shaft doors. Attempts to communicate with the rest of the team weren’t working, and he had no idea where to go, but he could very faintly hear the sounds of fighting. Knowing this was a rescue mission for Spitfire, he figured heading towards the crashing sounds was probably a safe bet. Sure enough, he turned a corner to find Sally walking towards him, wearing some some sort of medical jumpsuit. CryptoHertz straightened slightly, asking her if she was okay as she approached, but stiffened as he gave her a second look. Sally breaking out on her own wasn’t impossible, but she didn’t seem happy to see him, and she didn’t look like she’d been in a fight, and she usually called him a nerd or something within two seconds of getting him in sight – CryptoHertz’s mind and reflexes worked just fast enough as Subject Rho’s fist missed his ducking head by an inch, smashing through a wall. He whacked her in the temple with the hilt of his blade, more to stagger her than hurt her (not knowing if this was a mind control situation or not), which worked as her foot smashed through the door next to CrptoHertz instead of the young man’s stomach.
Sally was pale and shaking as Plague Hack pulled a viewscreen in front of her, queuing up some footage. Sure enough, there ‘she’ was on the slab, Plague Hack operating on her, but it was clear that something was going wrong as machines beeped loudly and the mad doctor worked frantically. Eventually the only sound from the machines was a steady whine, and on the screen Plague Hack slumped slightly before speaking aloud. “Subject Alpha, name Sally O’Brien, deceased. Subject could not withstand modifications. File cellular breakdown and organ failure, calculate necessary adjustments. A shame to lose the original, but we’ll simply have to begin recreation and reiteration.” In the present Plague Hack pushed the screen away as it faded to black, saying that Subject Sigma had been by far the most successful of the clones he’d created up to this point. The trial runs where ‘Spitfire’ had begun acting as a superhero had been excellent, until ‘that damn Sabot boy’ got involved. That had been a mistake that had cost the doctor much needed observational data and experimentation, but now that Subject Sigma was back where she belonged they could work together to find out what made her special-
The binders on Sally’s arm broke free from the table they had been bolted to, the magnetic seals that had been supposed to keep them locked whining sharply as they were overwhelmed. Plague Hack had enough time to take a step back as her legs broke free as well, not quite understanding yet. This was Subject Sigma’s, Sally O’Brien’s, Spitfire’s Moment of Truth, and she let loose every scrap of strength and rage and horror and joy in her own power with a single purpose: to break whatever stood in her way. Plague Hack understood, seconds too late, that he had pushed her too far as Spitfire’s fist slammed into his mask, shattering the glass eyes.
The larger battle with the teenage supervillains still wasn’t going well; none of the good guys had been hurt very much, but neither had they laid a hand on their opponents, and they were definitely stalled. Curiosity began to peak, however, as first Sabot and then White Coat tried to figure out what was going on. Neither of their scans came back conclusive, but that did point them towards one possible source: “magical shenanigans”, as Showtime put it. As the others kept their attackers away from the magician, Showtime muttered the words to a spell and then sent a burst of their magic forth. Sure enough, all of the figures fuzzed like a bad picture before dissolving away as of they were made of dust. They’d been illusions, and they’d definitely been of the magical variety. There was something about them that bothered Showtime, but their questions had to wait as the team regrouped and moved to finally head deeper into the facility.
Plague Hack came flying through a set of double doors, tumbling end over end before finally skidding to a stop in a hallway that was, frankly, less a hallway and more a line of rubble. The entrance of the now-unconscious supervillain caused both CryptoHertz and Subject Rho to pause; CryptoHertz had been skillfully outmaneuvering the clone’s attacks, and most of the damage to the hallway was from her strikes, but both combatants were starting to tire from the game of cat and mouse. So, when the real Spitfire burst through the double doors looking for her prey, she took one look at ‘herself’ before slugging the clone across the jaw, sending her crumpling to the floor next to her creator. Spitfire reached down and ripped off Plague Hack’s mask, revealing a middle-aged looking man, and CryptoHertz took a picture in the hopes that some of the mystery of the supervillain could be cleared up. Just then Calamitas, White Coat, Showtime, and Sabot arrived on the scene. Spitfire jumped into Calamitas’s arms, and everyone took a moment to come to grips with the fact that they’d succeeded. It wasn’t a moment that lasted long.
“THE SHOW MUST GO ON!” The team whirled to see a figure in a cape that seemed to flutter as if in a dramatic wind, and a very familiar-looking stage magician’s get-up. So familiar, in fact, that aside from being larger it was a complete match for Showtime’s. Sure enough their own father, the original supervillain Showtime who as far as anybody had known was still locked up in the Spike, reached down and laid a hand each on Plague Hack and Subject Rho. With a flash of magic all three figures vanished, teleporting to a place unknown. It seemed the mystery of how Plague Hack had escaped the crashing HIBM helicopter had been solved, at the cost of the mad doctor escaping yet again.
The team was, frankly, in a state of shock. Showtime/Morgan vanished into the shadows of the facility seemingly stunned by their father’s appearance, Spitfire was staggering after the adrenaline rush, and everyone else was on their back foot from having Plague Hack at their feet only to slip away. Still, with A.E.G.I.S. no doubt on the way, everyone resolved to find what they could before making their exit. White Coat managed to find what appeared to be a journal belonging to Plague Hack, but that didn’t hold a candle to what they found next. Spitfire and Calamitas pulled open a door to reveal a room with rows of tanks.
Each and every tank held a body, and each and every one looked exactly like Sally O’Brien . . .
Here’s the most important takeaway from this Issue: Spitfire’s player had no idea that Spitfire was a clone until this session. Heck, neither did I until a few issues ago either. What I get from this is then two-fold, an example for the players and a lesson for the GM.
Players: this is one of the reasons why you don’t hand your GM a novella’s worth of character backstory, covering everything from birth until the start of the campaign. There are plenty of reasons not to the do that, from the danger that the GM just won’t be bothered to read it to other players not being able or willing to match that commitment to disappointment and resentment if a given facet of that rambling backstory doesn’t get used in play, but this reason has to do with stifling creativity and leaving no room for mystery.
If you know every single thing about your character before you begin play, you miss out on discovering things about them, or coming up with ideas yourself over the course of the game (that last one will come up in a later issue, too). On the other side of the die, if the GM is forced to build a comprehensive backstory into the campaign, then they don’t have any room to make things up themselves, no chance to help show you new things about your character or make surprising reveals.
Spitfire’s player had told me that she went with her father for a “Take Your Daughter To Work Day” at High Impact BioMedical, was suddenly missing a bunch of time, woke up far tougher and stronger than before, and vaguely remembers going out superheroing with Sabot before the Protégé figured out something was wrong with her and the team came together. That’s all. Exactly how complicit her father is (still to be revealed), and the contents of her missing time were left to me.
These are what you might call plot hooks, although this particular group refers to them as ‘plot grenades’, remarking that they hand them over to the GM and can never be quite sure when the pin is going to be pulled. Sometimes an entire bandolier of plot grenades gets offered up, and those can be particularly fun if there’s a chain reaction, but the point is to give the GM things that can have consequences and can be fiddled with, not written-in-steel accounts they have to follow.
For the GMs: don’t be afraid to tell your players things about their characters. This is different from telling your players what to do or how their characters feel about a situation; those are still big no-nos. But there’ll almost always be blank spots in a character’s history/past/backstory. Sometimes those blank spots are literal gaps in memory, like with Spitfire, but often they’ll just be unpolished details: family members who they haven’t seen in a while, artifacts whose origin is unclear, a mystery from their backstory that they have yet to solve, the true nature of an ally/friend/patron, that sort of thing.
For a D&D example, I once played a Folk Hero/Trickster Cleric who had been forced to go on the run after harassing the local despotic baron one time too many. When asked if Ross had any family, I responded that he had his parents and two sisters (one older, one younger) who had also been forced to flee their home barony, but that Ross had deliberately put distance between them and didn’t know where they currently were. A good while into the campaign, when Ross hired some mercenaries to harass the baron’s guards (using gold he’d stolen from the baron, no less), I was quite surprised when the GM told me that Ross’s younger sister sent him a letter saying to send more mercs. Apparently she’d snuck back home on her own, and was now leading the resistance in my cleric’s stead. I received a much greater shock some time later when our party found itself signing up to compete in a fighting tournament, and on one of the other teams was Ross’s older sister, now apparently a fey warlock . . .
If your players have followed the advice above, they’ve given you building blocks (instead of a wall you have to climb). Put all those building blocks in front of you, see if any of them from different players can be combined or if they plug into existing parts of the game world, and get to work building!
Next Issue: Our young heroes try to learn what they can from their discoveries in the lab of Plague Hack, and suspicions and a need to unwind come together for a social event: the semi-formal dance at Halcyon City High School #5 . . .
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, joining us, and/or pledging your support on Patreon!