Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Necessary Evil: A Retrospective

Necessary Evil was the first Savage Worlds Plot Point Campaign I started...and, eventually, it became the first Plot Point Campaign that I've finished.

Shortly after we decided we liked Savage Worlds enough to make it a regular game, I ordered the Necessary Evil setting book and we got to work. When we started, it was myself and two players: My friends Tommy (no relation) and Kenny. Getting Kenny to play new games is hard. Getting Kenny to play new supers games is harder. His favorite RPG is Marvel SAGA (and with good cause), but we got him to give it a go.

I'm used to groups that are smaller than the assumed party size, and luckily we would discover that Savage Worlds handles NPCs *very* well. Playing the Plot Point straight (in the beginning), our team took shape:

Mindstorm: The alternate reality supervillain version of the first supers character Kenny ever created, for Marvel Classic many years ago, who underwent multiple changes through that campaign's life, and into Marvel SAGA. He did a fairly faithful reconstruction of Mindstorm, even if we found the Savage Worlds supers powers to be a tad more restrictive than what we were used to.

Angel's Bane: Tommy played around with concepts and powers in the book to make a man mutated into a demonic form, believing himself to actually BE a demon. This character only lasted two sessions, which may have saved the campaign...

Belladonna: An NPC with Poison powers, taken from an outline of mine for a superhero comic that'll never see the light of day. The second shortest lived of the founding members of the team. (Though she is presently believed to be alive, just didn't stick around long).

Bully, the Bull That Walks Like A Man: Another NPC taken from the aforementioned outline, a mutated man-bull in the mold of a minotaur.

Kale: A third NPC, taken directly from the Archetypes in the Necessary Evil book. The name came from a Sorcerer villain NPC I created and used one time in a Marvel SAGA adventure.

Angel's Bane died quickly, and I've long suspected it was a bit of player-directed suicide, but Tommy really wasn't happy with his character and how some of the powers work...but his second character proved quite suitable...

Socks: A bloodthirty melee fighter who was part man, part badger. Mutated into that form by V'Sori experiments, Socks was not a good guy, but he had ample reason to hate the aliens. Personality-wise, he was fairly friendly when not in combat mode, as opposed to the diabolical and manipulative Angel's Bane.

With his arrival, the core of the team was set: Mindstorm was the leader, Kale was the Swiss Army Knife, Socks and Bully were the sadistic, happy-go-lucky tag team that inflicted a LOT of damage over the campaign. The fifth slot rotated out throughout the campaign, but for the bulk of it, those four were always there.

Some Big Moments

Some of my favorite campaign highlights are included below:

  • Bully being killed by the Black Ops Squad and paraded around in the streets of Star City, sparking one of the saddest and most emotional responses I have ever seen from a group after an NPC's death.
  • Mindstorm recruiting Vesper instead of killing her as ordered, taking that first, tangible step from villain to hero.
  • Socks standing toe-to-toe with the K'Tharen rebel Sugrot (thanks to an Adventure Card), leading to Sugrot forming an alliance with the team that was paid off again at least twice more in the campaign.
  • The team rallying a Russian village to go to war against an approaching Drone army, ending in Socks stalking down and killing the V'Sori warlord that had crippled Asia.
  • Mindstorm's player spending all of his bennies, at the beginning of combat, to help Kale Soak. He failed. At the end of combat, he uses an Adventure Deck card to utilize his Electrical powers to heal Kale.
  • Socks refusing to let Bully remain a Super Drone, talking him back to his senses.
  • Mindstorm confronting, and killing, his step brother as one of his last acts of war...all without powers.
  • Socks defeating an Atlantean God in hand to hand combat.
  • Mindstorm electrocuting himself to fry the same Atlantean God...and Kale using his newfound powers to resurrect his fallen friend.
  • The custom HeroClix figures that Kenny made of the team.
Again, just some of the big moments I loved.

On Plot Point Campaigns

I loved the basic plot of Necessary Evil, but the campaign began to bog down early on when we were jumping from mission to mission. That's when Plot Point Campaigns really began to "click" to me: It's not a whole campaign that you run straight out of the book, it's a strong skeleton to hang your characters' subplots and hopes and dreams and allies and enemies on. The moment that the campaign really began to sing, I thought, was when I ran the first adventure that was entirely off of my notes: When Belladonna betrayed the team, turning Mindstorm over to his brother. From there, we took all kinds of crazy twists and turns, weaving in and out of the written campaign, including the major trek to Russia, where they learned more of the backstory about the setting (including the ultimate source of superpowers in the NE universe), as well as the above mentioned Mass Combat in which they led Russian villagers against a Drone army.

I transplanted one Savage Tale from Star City and dropped it into London, England, and a tied a major canon NPC death into the same recklessness from Socks that led to Bully dying.

I also learned that, as we reached the end of the campaign, that I could have kept running games in the NE world for years. I would have gladly expanded the war with Leviathan out well past the one session wrap-up we did, but time was not permitting with Mindstorm's player moving to Boston.

Interestingly, a common complaint I've heard about Necessary Evil has to do with its mission based structure...but most supers games tend to wind up with the PCs reacting instead of acting, due to genre conventions.

Going forward, Necessary Evil will be my benchmark for measuring Plot Point Campaigns.

There IS Life After Legendary

By the book, the campaign is supposed to wrap up somewhere in Heroic rank or so. Our campaign reached Legendary, and will continue sporadically as Mindstorm's player is able to visit Oklahoma.

What I learned is that Legendary PCs are tough...but they are still beatable. Not actually knowing if we would continue the campaign sporadically, I gave each PC and NPC a unique Legendary Edge that helped them accentuate their primary schtick in the game...but I made sure that each Edge was something I could live with in an ongoing game.

I hope I get to run another game into Legendary...and beyond. The PCs are more capable and have more options, but are also not indestructible juggernauts, nor does the book keeping change dramatically.

Savage Worlds Is Super...But How Does It Do Supers?

As much fun as I had here, I can't imagine ever doing another supers campaign with Savage Worlds. While Savage Worlds doesn't have the same steep "zero to hero" climb as, say, D&D does...the fact is that it does build from a weaker base into a much stronger one that doesn't really emulate most supers characters. Comic book characters grow and change, but rarely do they do stair step progressions over time, ala Savage Worlds advancements.

Additionally, we found the powers system to ultimately be too rigid for our liking for a full blown supers game. That being said, I would gladly adapt that same powers system to, say, a Savage Buffy the Vampire Slayer game. No Power Stunt option, and a few of the Powers are either too low powered or limited to really work in a supers setting for us, even for a lower powered one.

"Droned: To mistakenly strike your ally..."

While playing Savage Midnight, I was amused when Socks' player referencing being "Droned", in which one character takes out an ally with a mis aimed ranged attack, so named because of my horrible ranged attack rolls with Drones in this game.

Pick A Card

The Adventure Deck can be a tad polarizing at times, but we are all pretty big fans of it, as the Adventure Deck directly led to great moments like Socks shrugging off Sugrot's blows, Mindstorm being able to lead the Russian villagers in combat, Mindstorm being able to heal Kale, Flux gaining an Atlantean Artifact while being caught in a burning building and more. Not saying you should always leave every card in the deck every time, but even in our Midnight game the Adventure Deck is sticking around, given what a staple it became in this campaign.

Final Thoughts

Deadlands hooked us on Savage Worlds, but Necessary Evil made us fall in love with it. This was the most memorable campaign I have ever ran, and I'm both looking forward to, and intimidated by, continuing it sporadically when Mindstorm's player comes and visits.

I've heard that you can't have "meaningful roleplay" in neither Savage Worlds nor supers in general, but I am very glad to say that our experience was the complete opposite. We told an epic tale of redemption as low level criminals and henchmen rose up to become the saviors of the world, with a lot of comedy, drama and tragedy along the way...and, with the exception of the very first mission, the PCs told the story. I may have provided signposts, but they decided where they went and what they did, often sparking the story in unexpected directions (Mindstorm's player became the king of setting up a seemingly innocent action that played into his bigger plans), and I just tried to make sure I had as many of my bases covered as possible.

I've never had a campaign reach any kind of definitive conclusion before, and it's kind of a great feeling. I'm especially glad to share that time with Tommy and Kenny, but also the other players that sat in at points, like Brian, Jack and Ellie. I'm also glad that Clint Black and crew wrote this helped create some of my favorite gaming memories.

Anyway, keep watching the blog. I'm currently hip deep in World of the Dead editing, but we have more Savage Midnight coming, and I promise to try to get back on track with reviews very, very soon.

Keep the dice dizzy!

To read any of the previous Necessary Evil Session Reports, see below: