All things considered, the Night Nurse had been pretty kind. There really shouldn’t be anyone in the waiting room at this hour of the morning, but CryptoHertz – Gil – found himself there, a forgotten cup of coffee on the table next to him, just… staring. For a while he’d been staring at the wall, but at some point he’d noticed that there was still some blood between his fingers. Gil shuddered, trying to shake the memory of how it had felt when Plague Hack had forced him to run Arasaka Saburo through, and in doing so looked up at the television that had been droning on in the background. The twenty-four-hour news channel had a breaking news update:
High Impact BioMedical and Arasaka Corp were signing a new contract agreement to work together.
Arasaka and HIBM suits were posing for a handshake right there on the screen, smiling. Dr. Siber – the retired White Coat III – was also there, looking decidedly less pleased than the others. Of Brayden “White Coat V” Salk III, there was no sign. Texts to Brayden went unanswered, so Gil was forced to sit there and continue to wait. As the Hemophiliac turned up after the events of last night and DeGauss and Sally were released from the hospital’s care the team began to talk about what the announcement could mean. There was no word yet on Saburo’s status, although Sabot was with him. The Morgans checked in as well, having made it back to Arasaka Base with Laura.
While the Morgans’ own collective daddy issues (“Someone got hurt.” “Oh no, who!?” “Sabot’s dad.” “Oh, nobody important then.”) kept them from bothering to come back to the hospital, the others resolved to stick around for Sabot’s sake, until an Arasaka agent in a suit still somehow crisp despite having worn it all night came out to them. He informed them that Saburo was probably going to make it, at least through today – the future was less clear, because the move in tandem with HIBM was not a move that Saburo would have approved of. It seemed clear to Saburo’s inner circle that rivals and malcontents were using the CEO’s current status as a chance to grab at power; Arasaka Corp at large, the agent warned, could no longer be trusted as an ally. The agent and his fellows, along with Sabot, would protect their leader from further attack, hoping that Saburo would awaken to set things right.
Fumbling with what to do next, Sally suggested checking in with Dr. McBride. The HIBM doctor had helped keep Sally under the radar; perhaps she would have more answers to plug into what Gil had learned from Plague Hack’s memories, or a way to get back in touch with Brayden. With the Morgans and Laura sitting on Arasaka Base and Sabot helping guard Saburo, the others agreed to the idea and headed out.
Back in Arasaka Base, the Morgans Teller were scheming, with Subject “Laura” Lambda as an innocent witness. As far as the split Delinquents were concerned, they had two problems. If they’d been told that splitting into separate people was an option before doing so they might have thought it an intriguing option to get rid of magically switching back and forth all the time, but as it turned out being locked into a binary state chafed. Second, their dad was somewhere out there despite reports of being locked up in the Spike, the elder Showtime lending magical power to Plague Hack’s schemes, introducing a new and dangerous element to the supervillain’s pattern. The pair cooked up a plan to deal with both: the original Showtime had bonded with some cosmic power in the form of a cape, so they were going to try to summon a cape of their own, both to get a power boost that they might use to recombine and to do something arcane that Penn Teller would detect and be unable to resist.
A training room was quickly converted to a summoning chamber, and sure enough with much welding of the arcane weave into shapes it really shouldn’t be in (Laura kept knocking on the door and asking if everything was okay) a cosmic cape appeared before the Morgans. Not half a second later there was the whipcrack sound of magic and a booming voice: “AN EXCELLENT SHOW, MY DEAR… CHILDREN!?”
The elder Showtime’s initial attitude was an amount of pride in them that surprised the Morgans, as well as a confused but sincere joy at having another child until the Morgans explained their particular situation. Showtime Sr. was finally able to provide an explanation to the Showtimes Jr. about why they had been split: their father had done the same thing! When his initial stealing spree was winding down via various superheroes and A.E.G.I.S. agents, Showtime had sought a way to avoid capture and created a spell to divide himself. He really was locked up in the Spike, it was just that there were two of him and one had taken the fall while the other escaped notice. When Showtime Jr. had attempted to parse Showtime Sr.’s teleportation spell in Plague Hack’s lab under the orphanage they had accidentally tapped into the arcane residue of the dividing spell instead, and split themselves.
According to the Showtime Sr. in front of them, he was the version of Showtime who embodied showmanship and boisterousness. The one in the Spike “IS AN UTTER CAD, LIKED DARK MAGIC MORE THAN IS PROPER, NO SENSE OF CLASS I TELL YOU, I WOULDN’T RECOMBINE WITH HIM IF YOU PAID ME.” When grilled about why he was working with Plague Hack instead of taking care of his family, Showtime Sr. responded that he “DIDN’T HAVE ANY OTHER IDEAS ABOUT HOW TO MAKE THE CHILD SUPPORT PAYMENTS, I’M NOT A DEADBEAT CUR, I SIMPLY HAVE A CRIMINALLY LIMITED SKILL SET, STAGE MAGIC DOESN’T PAY WHAT IT USED TO YOU KNOW.”
The Morgans hadn’t been ready to do anything but dislike their father, and they didn’t precisely like this version of him, but it was hard to hate him. He was… a kind of magical well-meaning idiot. So, the Morgans immediately began further scheming, this time in concert with their father, in ways to both solve their personal issues and use Showtime Sr.’s position close to Plague Hack to turn the tables on the cybermedical supervillain.
That’s when the alarms began screaming – someone at the front desk of the game store upstairs had hit the panic button.
The moment that Gil, Sally, DeGauss, and the Hemophiliac arrived at Dr. McBride’s office building they knew something was wrong – the front door was blown in like it had been hit like a truck, and the two High Impact BioMedical security officers in the lobby were in about the same state. The panic button message from Arasaka Base chose that exact moment to come through, and the young heroes spent an appropriately panicked second prioritizing. CryptoHertz had the most reliable way to get back the fastest, and so took off with his flight pack to start racing back. Spitfire, Calamitas, and the Hemophiliac would continue upwards to investigate and, if necessary, rescue Dr. McBride. Across the city, the panic message reached another: Terry Yammamoto, the Red Dragon III, had been in seclusion to contemplate his Legacy, but still answered the call. Along the way, driven in the family limousine by Mr. Toru, the Red Dragon made a quick stop by an A.E.G.I.S. branch…
The path to Dr. McBride’s office was one of carnage, both personal and structural. Chunks of the hallways were buckled, and it looked like more than one fully armed and armored HIBM security team had tried to intervene and gotten shellacked for their trouble. When they finally reached the right floor it was a disaster area, with the walls still standing vastly outnumbered by the ones reduced to rubble. Dr. McBride was in what was left of her office… her feet several inches off the floor, her hands clawing at the fingers holding her up by the neck and choking her. The clone of Spitfire known as Subject Rho, in a black and red armored skinsuit, turned to look at the new arrivals and dropped the Doctor to the floor before asking them in a monotone:
“Where is she?”
Dr. McBride’s office quickly started looking even more destroyed as Subject Rho spent quite some time hurling Spitfire through various walls and pieces of furniture. Calamitas finally got a chance to grab and haul Rho off of Spitfire when she’d stopped to ask the same question, “Where is she?”, again. Spitfire leapt back up and landed a haymaker on Rho, who was being grappled by Calamitas, but Rho countered by jumping up and planting both feet in Spitfire’s stomach. “Where is she!?” was outright yelled this time, and the two young heroes began to realize that Rho was nowhere near as mechanical as she’d been back in the lab. In the meantime the Hemophiliac had slipped around to Dr. McBride and was able to heal her, after a fashion, but looked up at the sound of an elevator dinging.
An HIBM strike team with green bandanas on their arms began pouring out, but instead of attacking Subject Rho they began pointing their weapons at the young heroes – railguns frighteningly similar to the one that Carbine had used on Spitfire. With the others too tangled up with Rho to respond, the Hemophiliac unleashed his powers to frighten them off… but succeeded a bit too much. A veritable torrent of blood exploded down the hallway, and sure enough the strike team noped their way back into the elevator and out of the fight as quickly as they arrived.
Spitfire was, once again, screaming in horror.
As CryptoHertz reached the airspace over Arasaka Base he was treated to a street thankfully empty of civilian traffic, because it had turned into a warzone. Drop pods similar in idea to the zorbs of Arasaka Base peppered the area, clearly having delivered the numerous strike teams from both Arasaka Corp and High Impact BioMedical that were assaulting the game store. Luckily, proprietor Chase was an Arasaka Corp employee himself, and was screaming out that he had “taken ranks in Solo” as he laid down suppressing fire with a comically oversized weapon he must’ve had hidden under the Magic cards cabinet. That had kept the building from being breached by the normal attackers, although there were superpowered elements in play.
Both Morgans, the young woman of the ‘twins’ now wearing a billowing cape, were playing a deadly game of dodge with Rampage and Photovore. Red Dragon III was unleashing various gadgets in an effort to keep Seismic Prime from sinking through the ground and attacking the superhero part of Arasake Base, but at least one suspiciously-Red-Dragon-shaped dent in an abandoned car showed it wasn’t going very well. The Lawman was hunkered down behind Red Dragon’s limo and was firing his revolver with pinpoint accuracy at the strike teams, taking the pressure off of Chase… while the Blue Hydra was stalking towards the front entrance, her swarm of hydra heads deflecting Chase’s barrage. CryptoHertz picked his target, dove towards Blue Hydra with one of his katanas thrusting downwards… and was promptly grabbed by a hydra head and slammed into the ground.
In McBride’s office, Calamitas and Spitfire were both spitting out red liquid and trying really hard not to think about what it was, while the Hemophiliac globbed himself back into his usual roughly human shape. Calamitas suddenly went flying as Subject Rho checked him through a wall, but this time as she turned Spitfire beat her to the punch and bodily hurled Rho through an opening in an outer wall. The young heroes rushed to the opening to see Rho picking herself out of a crater in the road outside, preparing to try and jump back up into the building… before freezing and putting a finger to her ear, clearly receiving a message of some kind. For a moment she looked Spitfire-levels of outright furious, before nodding, glaring up at the heroes, and running off. Dr. McBride was joined by another HIBM security officer – wearing a white bandana on her arm – and assured the young heroes that she would be fine. Now they had to follow CryptoHertz to the fight at Arasaka Base; Calamitas powered up, placed a hand on Spitfire and the Hemophiliac’s shoulders, and concentrated…
With a snap of displaced air Calamitas, Spitfire, and the Hemophiliac appeared outside Arasaka Base, the Nova’s teleport ability having brought them all there in an instant, and the trio quickly took in what was going on. With a flourish of her cape Showtime vanished into thin air as Photovore and Rampage slammed together from both trying to grab her; meanwhile Showtime was picking himself out of a shattered Warhammer table inside the shop. Seismic Prime had a grappling line around his arms… and was using it to spin the Red Dragon through the air. CryptoHertz was standing in the road deflecting one hydra head, then another, before a third slammed him across the street. An HIBM strike team had Chase pinned.
Calamitas hit Seismic Prime like an earthquake, and Chase suddenly found the fire hitting the front counter tapering off as Spitfire hit the strike team. The Hemophiliac instead took a really careful look at Photovore, realizing that it was feeding off of natural light. Unleashing his powers, the Hemophiliac turned into a bubble with Photovore trapped inside. As Photovore’s powers flickered, the innocent person that had been turned into the monster struggled to explain how they were fighting to regain control. Once again, the Transformed young hero found comforting his opponent to be the path to victory; even as the battle continued to rage outside, the Hemophiliac brought ‘Irwin Crate’ a measure of peace. Still, the battle did rage outside. Morgan barely kept himself out of Rampage’s grip, the Lawman was up to his eyes in HIBM goons, and Arasaka goons began to move in in Arasaka Base again – including, Spitfire could now see, the Saturday morning Pokemon CCG crowd hiding under their tables. More drop pods landed, a quartet of Assisted Combat Personnel Armors with railgun mounts stepping out and charging up.
That’s when Sabot picked his moment to arrive.
Arasaka Saburo’s Protege slammed into the pavement in his mech suit, brazenly declaring himself as Saburo’s son and heir, demanding the loyalty of the Corporation in all its iterations. The Arasaka Corp strike teams froze, looked at one another… and turned on the HIBM strike teams, rapidly putting them on the back foot. An ACPA finished charging its railgun and aimed at Sabot, only for a sudden crunching noise to sound out as Kalka the Bloodhewn leapt into the fight and landed atop it; getting her contact info at the semi-formal fight had turned out well for Sabot. The other ACPAs turned toward her, and the fight was back on. Sabot told Showtime to clear the way and took over fighting Rampage. The Protege managed to bait Rampage to the side of Arasaka Base and, in a brilliant display, tricked the beast into the zorb launcher. Rampage was flung somewhere out into Halcyon Bay.
Spitfire kicked through the back door of Arasaka Base, yelling for the customers to get to safety, escorting the kids down a back alley as the fighting continued to rage out front. As she followed them, however, a wall of one of the other buildings exploded outward as Subject Rho burst through it, hands extended for Spitfire’s throat. Spitfire screamed for the kids to keep going as Rho bore her to the ground, and tried to land a blow on her clone’s chin, only for it to be blocked and countered. Spitfire saw stars, Rho was on top of her, and the hits just kept coming.
Despite Spitfire’s best efforts, it was less of a fight and more of a beating. Soon the counter attacks stopped coming, and what was left was Rho’s fists descending again and again, punctuated by questions.
“Where is she?”
Where is she!?”
Fists gripping Spitfire’s collar, hauling her up close as Subject Rho screamed in her face.
“Where is my mother, you clone piece of shit!?”
Spitfire’s eyes fluttered open, struggling to see through the blood, as she realized – Rho was exactly like her, even more so than Laura. Directly engaging hadn’t worked… but perhaps a comforting word would work.
“She’s s-safe. I’m… I’m just like you. He did this to… to both of us.”
Spitfire accepting her own nature as a clone and highlighting the sins committed against them both got through to Rho, who slumped off to the side and put her head in her hands. Spitfire, groaning, hauled herself up to sit next to her ‘sister’, just trying to breathe.
Back out front CryptoHertz, screaming, hurled himself towards the Blue Hydra one last desperate time, flight pack thrusters blazing with energy and the sunlight glinting off his blade. The jaws descended, and with a wrench of metal CryptoHertz hit the ground on the other side, ragdolling, thrusters sparking, only a few inches left on his blade as the rest shattered and scattered. One more drop pod slammed into the ground, and the heroes still standing turned to face Plague Hack as he stepped out – the evil grin felt instead of seen as he reached for something on his belt. With their nominal leader down-
No, CryptoHertz might have had no training, he might have gotten his abilities mail order from their worst enemy, he might have made mistakes along the way, but he belonged here. A final flare of dying thrusters gave his bouncing crash a bit more boost, a broken blade flashed… and CryptoHertz flew past Plague Hack and finally came to a stop in a crumpled heap. For a second Plague Hack continued to reach for his own gear, but he suddenly stopped, coughed, and fell to one knee as a line of blood seeped through his outfit. CryptoHertz had his Moment of Truth, and Plague Hack stumbled back into the pod and hit the re-launch sequence as the door slammed shut.
The drop pod took back off, heading back towards the heart of the city. Sabot rushed to CryptoHertz’s fallen form and, swearing to get vengeance for the both of them, pulled the unconscious young man’s second blade out and fired the thrusters on his mecha suit to take off in pursuit. Seismic Prime finally crumbled beneath the attacks of Red Dragon and Calamitas. As Kalka crushed the last ACPA with the second-to-last ACPA and frowned at Sabot leaving, The Lawman and the Arasaka teams drove the last of the HIBM teams into retreat. The Blue Hydra found herself facing down Calamitas, the Hemophiliac, the male Showtime, and Red Dragon III and promptly decided to scarper. In desperate need of a chance to catch their collective breath, the young heroes let her go.
As medical and A.E.G.I.S. personnel arrived to treat the wounded and take Seismic Prime and Irwin Crate into custody, The Lawman and the members of the team still standing took stock. This kind of blatant attack fit a much later stage of Plague Hack’s playbook than anyone had expected; in all likelihood wide-scale attacks or some sort of other disaster would begin shortly to tangle up HCPD, A.E.G.I.S., and superheroic efforts while Plague Hack pursued whatever his primary objective was. Spitfire decided to follow Laura and ‘Rebecca’ into A.E.G.I.S. ‘custody’, which for her meant sticking with The Lawman and helping him deal with said distractions. For some reason, instead of reaching for a flask at the idea of mentoring Spitfire, The Lawman just started smiling. Red Dragon III decided to fall back to his own section of the city, and Kalka wandered off to find another fight. Sabot was already gone after Plague Hack, and female Morgan and Showtime Sr. were nowhere to be seen. Oh, and nobody had heard from White Coat V in all of this.
As CryptoHertz groaned back into consciousness and Calamitas hauled him to his feet, the Beacon knew that this had only been the start. If they didn’t stop Plague Hack now, they could all lose everything…
Bet you never thought you’d see this series again, huh?
One of the reasons it took so long to get this out, and there were many, was that I struggled a bit with what lesson in gaming I could talk about. It seemed, at first, that I was more accurately putting older lessons to work: giving a character leaving the game a good exit (this was Spitfire’s last turn as an on-screen player character), giving a player closure on a storyline while leaving room for more in the future (joining up with The Lawman represented Sally switching to the Soldier playbook), and so on. So HIH Issue 8 was put on the backburner, and then all the other reasons happened, and here we are.
So here’s what I’ve got: make other characters care about the same things as the player characters. Now, ‘care’ could have multiple meanings in this context – the villain could care enough about the loved ones of our heroes to threaten them, or care about destroying their home base, but that’s yet another old lesson we don’t need to retread. I’m talking more about providing your NPCs with a way to connect with the player characters, and the player characters a reason to connect with the NPCs in turn.
You may recall that the many clones of Sally O’Brien were my creation, not the player’s, my chosen method for filling in the gaps in Spitfire’s backstory the player had so graciously left me and using them to tie Sally further into the emerging Plague Hack plot. Laura, Subject Lambda, further sunk the hooks in by being someone the team had to care for and teach, but was enough not!Sally that there wasn’t too much of a connection between the clones. So, how to make Subject Rho matter as more than just a foe, since she seemed to be well and truly under Plague Hack’s control? Well, Mr. O’Brien has lost his Influence over Sally sessions ago, he wouldn’t work, but Mrs. O’Brien had just been glad to see her daughter again, so Spitfire still cared about her. Throughout this session, everyone at the table thought Rho was looking for Laura, and the complication that the two shared both a love for ‘their’ mother and the fact that they were remembering things from the original Sally’s life was a gut punch of investment.
That was the big, dramatic one, but other characters sharing the cares and values of the player characters was actually rife in this session. This version of Showtime Sr. genuinely cared for Morgan’s mother and for Morgan – not exactly husband or father of the year material, true, but the intent went a long way towards turning the Showtimes into partners in… well crime, honestly, but robbing a murderous maniac isn’t that bad, right? The loyalty of Arasaka Saburo’s personal guard gave Sabot and the rest of the team an important warning, and the loyalty of Arasaka’s strike teams allowed Sabot to turn the tide. Chase cared enough about his customers to stand his ground by himself to defend them, giving the heroes the chance to swoop in.
It can be awfully lonely, saving the day/city/world/universe – it’s not so bad if you know some of the rest of the cast have your back.
Next Issue: Monsters and worse are loose in Halcyon City. Police, A.E.G.I.S., and even powerful teams like the Exemplars are pinned down trying to defend the innocent… leaving Plague Hack free to enact his plans! Only our young heroes, some already in hot pursuit, can stop him. Secrets of the White Coat legacy are revealed amid a fight for the soul of High Impact BioMedical, but even if our young heroes can come together, how will they defeat an enemy that can’t be killed? Find out in the thrilling finale of High Impact Heroics!
Masks: A New Generation is published by Magpie Games. The quartet 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 us on Patreon, which lets us pay our writers, cover expenses, and save up for future projects.