As the doors of Halcyon City High School #5’s auditorium blasted inwards in a ball of fire and debris to interrupt the semi-formal dance, three things happened in rapid succession. First, the majority of the students present began to scream in panic and terror. Second, Gil and the Hemophiliac each separately took one look at the explosion and grabbed their dates, rushing Emma and the Sea Tarantula out a back door to safety. Third, the Lawman stood up from where he’d been knocked to the floor, drawing his revolver. Fanning the hammer he sent a hail of bullets through the smoke and dust . . . but there was an answering chatter of automatic fire. The revolver clattered to the floor as the Lawman went down, lost in the smoke and debris. The only active adult superhero and A.E.G.I.S. agent present was out for the count, maybe even dead. It looked like the younger breed of heroes were going to have to step up.
Last time on Masks: A New Generation: High Impact Heroics: (Prologue) – (1) – (2) – (3) – (4) – (5)
Several figures rushed through the smoke even as Sabot activated his mecha suit, Calamitas powered up, Showtime put on their magician’s hat, Spitfire cracked her knuckles, and the White Coat charged his gear. Kalka the Bloodhewn rushed Spitfire, and the pair began throwing haymakers at one another. The Gearmaster hurled razor sharp gears that skittered off of Sabot’s armor. Siphon skulked around the edges and tried to make his way to the crowd. And by sheer chance Calamitas spotted Carlo the Assassin hiding in the rafters, readying his bow.
Sabot immediately snatched up Siphon before he could get any farther, but the power-drainer reached out with a grin to suck away the Protege’s life force . . . only to grow pale and mutter that there was ‘nothing there’. Drawing him close, Sabot explained that Siphon was going to be leaving now; fully convinced, the young villain hit the ground running and scampered back into the smoke. That, plus the other disparate villains and mercenaries storming the dance, brought Sabot to a conclusion: this was a pick-up team, likely hastily assembled in order to target the heroes of Arasaka Base in a supposed time of vulnerability.
Calamitas, powered up, shot a beam of energy up at Carlo; it was a miss, but a close one, and enough to make the assassin lose is balance. As he tumbled from the rafters, Carlo managed to swing himself in an arc that would bring him to a comparatively soft landing – except for the sedative dart that jabbed into his neck, launched from the wrist of White Coat. Senses almost immediately scrambled, Carlo slammed into the top of the bar and slid along it to slam into a table at the end with all the sound effects of a strike in bowling, but in the process was able to snag and fling a glass, managing to conk White Coat in the forehead even as he crashed.
Carlo picked himself out of the wreckage and leaped to grab a fleeing student as a hostage, but Calamitas had used some of his power to create a construct, and the assassin ended up putting his arm around the neck of a fake person. While that little problem had been dealt with, however, another villain arrived: the Troll, charging towards the rest of the crowd trying to escape. Showtime stepped up, ready to dazzle the monstrous villain with some illusions, taking the perfect opportunity for a catchphrase.
“It’s Showtime!”“It’s Showtime!”
Heads turned in shock and dawning horror as our young heroes realized that there were now two Showtimes, one male and one female. Back at Plague Hack’s lab, Showtime had attempted to puzzle out the spell Showtime Sr. had used to teleport away, but had messed up. Badly. While the others had been busy panicking about Spitfire clones, the split apart Showtimes had snuck away, eventually deciding to keep working together until they could figure out how to reunify. They had immediately hit upon the plan to work together to set up Gil and Emma during the dance, so they were definitely both still Morgan at heart. Their teamwork in combat, however . . . still needed a little work. This was aptly demonstrated as their magic ran wild, definitely falling into the ‘too much’ category.
Everyone in the building, from the students to the heroes to the villains, suddenly looked like Showtime. Carlo became particularly confused, looking down to see himself as Showtime while also holding onto Showtime who was actually a student who was actually an energy construct. Not only that, but completely illusory Showtimes were everywhere, adding to the chaos.
Spitfire started screaming in horror, and sounded like she might never stop.
Trying to suss out exactly what was going on, Calamitas took a powerful blow to the back (he was the only flying Showtime, so he probably made for the easiest target), but was able to shrug it off thanks to his aura. He turned to see that he must have taken a blow from outside of the building, some kind of ranged attack. Sabot quickly did some calculations and realized that it had been a railgun shot from at least two blocks away, pinpointed the likely target building . . . and grabbed the screaming Spitfire and hurled her towards it. Flailing end over end and cursing up a storm Spitfire was only barely able to right herself before landing on the top of the building, looking around for her opponent- only for a railgun round to slam into her side, sending her sprawling.
Back in the auditorium, both sides started to get stuck in to the fight. Sabot threw a mecha punch at who he was pretty sure was Kalka the Bloodhewn, only for his momentum to be used against him as she hurled him across the building into a wall. The Troll flailed at Showtime clones, hurling nastier insults every time he swiped through a fake one, so far being kept away from actual students. White Coat managed to sneak up behind Carlo and nail the assassin with both defibrillator gloves, dropping him. But the Gearmaster managed to wrap a chain of gears around Calamitas’s ankle to hold him in place, and yet another villain flew in through the hole in the wall. Cygnus unleashed a sonic scream upon the Nova, rattling him and the building alike.
Two blocks away Spitfire picked herself up off the roof, lamenting the state of her dress, and began looking for whoever shot her with that railgun. She managed to catch a glimpse of red hair as a figure dropped off the roof into an alley, but before she could pursue she heard a boom from above. Finally the whereabouts of Sonja, former Dread Queen and the dance’s other superpowered chaperone, were confirmed. Unfortunately they were confirmed by Spitfire seeing the older woman plunging out of the sky with a trail of energy, apparently struck down by interstellar anarchist Sablestar. Spitfire had a moment to brace herself before Sablestar turned her attention to the Bull and, with a wave of her hand, crushed the building under the weight of gravity.
White Coat snuck up on the only bus-sized Showtime in the room, and again tried to use his defibrillator gloves . . . only for the Troll to shrug off the blow and snatch the young man up. The superpowered bully began to taunt and squeeze the much younger hero, who was hard pressed to escape as his ego bruised faster than his skin. Calamitas jerked his leg and sent the Gearmaster flying, while the Showtimes addled Cygnus with an array of flashing lights and cutting remarks about her former pop star career. Sabot, meanwhile, was able to turn the tables and fling Kalka against the walls of the auditorium, although it didn’t get quite the reaction he wanted as she began laughing with joy, remarking that finally she’d found a fight worth her time.
Spitfire punched her way out of the smashed building and crouched down, glaring up at Sablestar for a moment before pushing off of the rubble with a mighty leap. Tattered dress flapping in the wind of her passage, the young heroine found a grin crossing her face as she rapidly closed the distance, seeing Sablestar’s eyes start to go wide as she brought a fist back for a devastating punch. Unfortunately, however, Spitfire had forgotten one little detail: that railgun sniper. Another round smashed into the side of her head, and her heroic leap turned into a mad tumble from the sky.
Calamitas blasted Cygnus away with a beam of energy, then took stock, finding Laura embroiled in a fight with another teenager, the thief La Espada. La Espada was using her alien sword to open up portals to try and trick Laura into tumbling through one, but so far the clone was managing to evade the trap while chasing her target around. Not taking any chances, Calamitas directed his energy construct to snatch up the thief, demanding that she stand down or be annihilated. Caught, La Espada claimed that it was only a job to help out her folks; with no reason to doubt her, Calamitas further directed his construct to carry the thief out of the building to safety and a future interrogation. The Showtimes ran to Laura and asked her to come with them, vanishing under an invisibility spell even as the Showtime illusions faded.
On the other side of the auditorium Sabot shrugged off an exploding gear from the Gearmaster and slugged the leaping Kalka across the room again, but perhaps he should have hurled her out of the building altogether. The building shook as she hit the wall, then further when she turned and punched the wall herself. Sabot was distracted for a moment when she pulled an I-beam out of the auditorium’s infrastructure and smashed it into his mecha’s head, but everyone else (thankfully no longer including any civilian students, who had at last trickled out to safety) found themselves looking up as the roof finally gave in and started to collapse.
Calamitas tried to power up again to hold the roof up, but trying to control his spiraling energy levels while dodging debris proved too much, and the young hero was brought down in a shower of rubble. The rest of the auditorium’s occupants were about to suffer the same fate . . . when Sabot triggered the emergency size adjustment protocol of his mech. The machine dropped onto its hands and knees and expanded, taking the brunt of the roof upon its back and shoring up the structure even as it was bashed and battered. Sabot would not pick and choose who to save, not like his mentor. He would save everyone, and show Saburo what he could do! This was his Moment of Truth!
But it wasn’t without a cost.
As the Gearmaster and Cygnus decided discretion was the better part of valor, La Espada fell out of the arms of Calamitas’s fading construct and immediately sliced open a portal to escape. The Troll and White Coat continued to wail on one another, reduced to schoolyard insults, although the Troll was coming out better for it. Sabot himself opened the cockpit of his mecha and tumbled to the ground, suit a disaster, his left arm crushed, and a piece of rebar sticking from his chest . . . with sparks pouring from the wounds. Revealed as an android instead of the biological young man his teammates thought he was, the Protege found himself facing off once again with Kalka . . . who he promptly asked if she’d like to hang out after this. The primordial warrior’s answer was a smile and raised fists, which Sabot answered by raising a fist of his own – the busted left arm, pulled from his torso and wielded like a club.
Spitfire’s vision swam as she found herself half-buried in an alley, a dumpster and no small part of the alley itself cratered beneath her from the impact. Sablestar was floating down in front of her; Spitfire couldn’t quite make out what the otherworldly woman was saying, but caught the drift of destroying the new generation of heroes at the root as glowing power condensed in Sablestar’s hands. That power was raised to aim at Spitfire, and the young heroine struggled in vain to rise – when the lightning-bolt crack of a railgun rang out, and Sablestar collapsed, dead.
Jessica Miles, a.k.a. Carbine, strolled up and squatted down next to Spitfire, remarking that whoever put the hit team together clearly hadn’t done all their homework on the former A.E.G.I.S. agent. Sablestar was way too tempting a target for the super-hunting vigilante. She thanked Spitfire for distracting the target, but as she stood and walked away she gave a warning: “Don’t become more dangerous than the things you fight kid, or you’ll be seeing me again. Or not.” Left with that on her mind, Spitfire gave into unconsciousness.
Back in the auditorium, things were finally wrapping up. Kalka and Sabot’s slugging match had ground to a somewhat flirtatious standstill, while White Coat finally copped to the fact that the Troll gained his power from wi-fi. One EMP grenade later and the giant bully was reduced to an unconscious jerk lying in the rubble. With no other villains standing, Kalka shook Sabot’s remaining hand, thanked him for a good fight, and left him with a wink and a command to call her later. Whether that later would entail a date, another fight, or both was not entirely clear. In any event, nobody was in any condition to after her, or the other attackers who had already slipped away.
As the dust from multiple leveled buildings began to clear and the rubble began to settle, the authorities finally rushed in: HCPD, EMTs, HIBM response units, and A.E.G.I.S. agents alike. Carlo and the Troll were taken into custody by A.E.G.I.S., and Sablestar’s body recovered. White Coat was quickly gathered up and escorted into a HIBM van, which promptly rushed off towards the High Impact arcology. Spitfire and Calamitas were pulled out of their respective piles of debris and brought to the nearest hospital. In a diner relatively nearby Morgan tried to take the opportunity of being unsupervised by the rest of the team to hit on Laura, but Morgan also wanted to hit on Laura, and as a result the Morgans fell into some really weird sibling-like bickering while the clone girl simply looked on, curious.
Sabot, however, found himself sitting on a small pile of rubble, mech suit above him still holding up what was left of the building and his severed arm in his lap. He was just starting to try and figure out how to effect repairs with only one hand when the shift of debris caused him to look up.
Arasaka Sabot and Arasaka Saburo, teenage superhero and Arasaka Corp CEO, Protege and Mentor, locked eyes as one sat and one stood in the ruins of a high school auditorium . . .
There are, broadly speaking, three types of player character secrets in roleplaying games.
First are secrets that everyone at the table knows out-of-character, in which case it’s less about a gut-punch surprise than it is about playing to see how the secret comes out. Your fellow players might know that your edgerunner had to flee his home because of a little tiff with a sibling who worked for the C.I.A., but all your fellow player characters know is that Leobardo showed up in Manila one day and signed as their wheelman and gunslinger.
This is like reading a spoiler but still wanting to know how it happens. Journey before destination. You (as Leo, in this example) get the joy of explaining to your coworkers why what seems like the entire U.S. government is shooting up your laundry service, and who the woman who looks like she could be your little sister with a rocket launcher is. Another bonus of doing things this way is that your entire group can metagame a little (dirty word, I know, but stay with me) to help things along. Everyone at the table knew Spitfire had a thing for Calamitas since session zero; why do you think everyone wanted there to be a school dance so badly?
Second are secrets between a player and the GM that . . . could mean trouble for the party. I don’t mean a rival or a long lost spy sibling, I’m talking the betray the party, serve the dark lord, pickpocket the paladin sort of thing. GMs, be careful about letting this sort of thing go ahead in the first place. Players, consider reasons why your character might want to rethink and remain a (token evil) team player. I’m not saying never do it, just . . . be careful.
Third are secrets between a player and the GM that are personal secrets that might cause complications, sure, but are more about character development than anything else, and we saw two of those fire off in this session: the fact that Morgan had split themselves into he and she and wanted to reverse it, and the fact that Sabot wasn’t entirely human. Both are secrets that affect the plot. Female!Morgan remains a PC but Male!Morgan became an NPC under my control, which already caused a few complications in this session, and as we’ll see the entire experience drives the Morgans to push the magical limits a bit more. Sabot’s reveal, meanwhile, instead addresses the past, informing a little bit more about how he came to be who he is (more literal than usual, granted) and his relationship with Arasaka Saburo. There’s actually more to learn there, but that’s for next time.
I suppose there’s a fourth kind, the character secret only the player knows ahead of time, but . . . don’t do that one. Your GM has enough surprises dealing with players normally, and worse nobody will be able to help you pull off the scenario well.
I’ve seen some discussion around the internetz that secrets between a single player and a GM can do more harm than good, and I understand why that’s the case: Secret Type Two. My point here is that player-GM secrets can be good, because while the journey may sometimes be more important than the destination, denying yourself the chance to make a startling revelation now and again is self-inflicted-robbery. Avoid Type Two unless you’ve really put some consideration into it or it really is what your character would do, but otherwise feel free to hunt after moments like the in-stereo ‘Wait, what!?’ the Showtimes got when they stumbled over one another.
A follow-up point to this: try having a little one-on-one time with your players/GM now and again. My meatspace groups refer to this as ‘office time’ and head into another room for a bit, while my fellow Cannibal Halfings refer to these talks as sidebars and open up another chat window or make a quick call. It’s easier when you’re playing over the internet, and you can even find it easier to wrangle a single or two-player session for some important scenes, but wherever and however you manage it the principle is the same: an out-of-character chat or a quick in-character scene about something that’s going on, an idea that you’ve had, or an event that needs to happen ‘off-screen’ from the main action.
Sabot’s secret was of the chat window variety, as his player hit upon the idea a few sessions in (another vote for not writing out your backstory novella before play). Showtime’s player instead caught wind of a move for dealing with crazy magic that can be found in the Halcyon City Herald Collection, and asked if we could have a little mini-session to take it out for a spin after Showtime Sr. showed up. The result, obviously, was a Miss, and we decided the result was the complication you saw here.
So obviously sidebars are great for things like secrets, but don’t underestimate their use for just darn good roleplaying moments too. The only reason the first Force Sensitive among the Rebel Alliance’s Troubleshooters didn’t go shrieking down the path of selfish dark-side-use was because two players and the GM had a sidebar session where the unit’s commander had a heart-to-heart with the Sensitive, and the pair of characters put their trust in one another.
One-on-one time is important for all sorts of relationships. Why not player character ones?
Next Issue: As the dust settles around the destroyed auditorium the young heroes try to regroup and put themselves back together – in some cases quite literally. There’s no more playing around now, and every hero will have to ask themselves: are they truly ready to step up? Amidst all that an attempt to fix a mistake goes horribly wrong, reveals some secrets, and changes things forever . . .
. . . on a rooftop several blocks away from Halcyon City High School #5, an eerie green portal opened up, and La Espada stumbled through. Breathing heavily, she looked back towards the school, now covered in the flashing lights of emergency vehicles. She couldn’t care less about most of her ‘team’, but she hoped the Gearmaster had gotten out; he was just trying to support his family after all, just like her. She turned away from the calamity, tucking the deactivated alien sword into her belt. “Couldn’t get the girl, so I guess I’m not getting my bonus. Still, I hope that was enough of a demonstration for the base rate.”
Across the rooftop stood the masked form of Plague Hack, flanked by Subject Rho in a black and red armored skinsuit. In the mad doctor’s hand was a tablet, playing footage of the battle gathered by cameras that had been placed beforehand. “More than enough, my dear Ms. Santana. Enough that I’ll still grant you that bonus. You and your compatriots gave me very interesting data on the subjects.” The images on the tablet flickered from one scene to another, heroes and hired villains thrashing one another, before finally stopping on the Arasakas. “Very interesting indeed.”
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Masks: A New Generation is published by Magpie Games. The pick-up team of villains featured in this session are from the Deck of Villainy. 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. Like what Cannibal Halfling Gaming is doing and want to help us bring games and gamers together? Tell you friends about us! Follow one of our fine and elegantly crafted links to DriveThruRPG, where we get Affiliate credit to get more game to review! Finally, you could support Patreon, which lets us pay our writers, cover expenses, and save up for future projects.
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