Sunday, March 31, 2013

Buster Squad 5: A Necessary Evil Actual Play Volume 14

The Omega Contingency

A week late, but better than nuthin’, right?

We left off last week, jumping ahead a year into the future, when Dr. Destruction left the team a prerecorded message, telling them how to find The Overmind, to launch one final assault against him. This led directly into the team reuniting, with Steve the Atlantean in tow, to plan their attack.

Talos got right to work on repairing an Atlantean Teleport Tube to transport them to the V’Sori homeworld, and Bully marched through first, with Mindstorm right behind him. As the team entered one by one, they emerged in the bizarre mediation room of the Overmind, who sneered that he had planned for this eventuality, before unleashing three V’Sori/K’tharen hybrid bodyguards on the team, as well as drawing forth manifestations of the team from their own subconscious minds to torment them.

Socks wasted little time in shredding the demons of his teammates. In fact, the Twisted Talos was the only one who really did much of note, as the team made short work of their duplicates. The bodyguards, on the other hand, inflicted a lot of damage. The Overmind’s force field shorted out quickly (due to an Adventure Deck card), and Steve kept opening fire on him, but couldn’t see for sure that it was having an effect. Bully went into a rage and killed one of the bodyguards, but Kale was badly wounded in the fight. Talos also suffered injuries at the hands of the hybrid bodyguards, but the combined might of the team took the remaining bodyguards down and Bully marched to the Overmind, hurtling him from his stand and splattering him against the wall. The team thought they had won.

The roof tore open and the Omega Contingency revealed itself: A 50’ Drone body with the Overmind’s face on it! The Overmind had been transferring his consciousness into the body and was attacking wildly! Talos tried to hold it in place magnetically and failed, so Mindstorm tried Telekinesis instead!

Socks had Bully throw him at the face of the Overmind, and he began to hack and tear, trying to claw inside of its head! Talos sprang up to join him, but had less success! Talos and Mindstorm also tried to literally disarm the Overmind, but had no luck with that, either, and it repeatedly smashed at Socks with a massive vibrosword. Steve fired multiple deadshots at the Overmind, with minimal effect. Socks burrowed into the head of the Overmind and began looking for something to destroy inside…when a new plan emerged: Kale ran ahead of Bully and began casting a spell…as Bully charged in a rage…and Kale grabbed him, teleporting the two of them eye to eye with the Overmind…sending Bully crashing right through the head of the Overmind, disabling his robot body and destroying his transferred mind!

As V’Sori entered the meditation chamber to see what had happened, the team was surprised at what happened next: The revelation that the V’Sori had been being influenced by the Overmind for untold years…and that many of them were now shaking that influence, though there were plenty of others who bought into the V’Sori way fully and completely. The team saw what was coming…a V’Sori Civil War…and they immediately made a decision: They would stay and help the peaceful and repentant V’Sori fight for their lives and their culture. Talos pointed out that they could lay low and escape back to Earth with the V’Sori neutralized, but Mindstorm and Socks both agreed that this just one more necessary step in finishing the war that they had been fighting…but that they needed to send communications back to Earth to direct their organization regarding what would happen next.

NOTES: I shouldn’t have waited a week to type this up. It was fun, and satisfying, but after the deeply personal moments in the Battle of Star City and the previous conflict against Leviathan, we may have set the bar too high. That said, I was honestly kind of surprised at how willing the team was to help the “good” V’Sori. Heroes indeed.

If real life weren’t ending this group, we could EASILY have continued on from the end of the Plot Point Campaign (for starters, I would have stretched out the Leviathan plot), despite entering Legendary.

I gave each member of the crew a unique Legendary Edge that I wrote up for that character, taking an element of each and amping it up just a bit. I want to do more Legendary.

And lastly…I lied again. The current plan is that when Mindstorm’s player returns to visit (first scheduled visit is in November), we will pick up the campaign in shorter mega-adventures, the first of which will be The V’Sori Civil War.

Best campaign ever indeed.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Buster Squad 5: A Necessary Evil Actual Play Volume 13

In the aftermath of the Omega victory over the V’Sori, the world had been thrown into chaos. Mindstorm, Kale and Talos were working feverishly to utilize Dr. Destruction’s resources to better the world, while Socks, Bully and Steve the Atlantean spearheaded the hunt for the remaining V’Sori around the world.

Cyber-Burglaire decrypted Destruction’s information for Mindstorm, granting him unfettered access to the structure of Omega. Meanwhile, an Atlantean Blood Cult following Leviathan began making a lot more noise.

One evening, while working, Mindstorm stumbled across the file on Talos…and it suddenly clicked: Talos had been in the hands of King Meros, who was posing as Dr. Destruction…and Meros knew nothing about robots…meaning that, all this time, Talos was moving around on this team without the proper programming. He read closer and learned that Talos reactivated himself and Meros went ahead and deployed him to the field, hoping for the best. All this time, Talos was running around, not bound by his programming. As Mindstorm tried to reach out to Kale, Kale told him that the Atlantean Blood Cult was making a move, threatening to blow up an Earth Unity rally! Mindstorm swore under his breath and contacted Steve to pick up him, Kale and Talos, and take the six of them to the rally.

As they closed in on the rally, Mindstorm scanned the crowd to find the rogue Atlanteans and detected a couple in the audience, so he whipped up a VICIOUS storm to try to disperse them. He regretted that moments later when a lightning bolt ripped from his own storm and blasted the ship, injuring Bully. Steve the Atlantean struggled to put the ship down safely, but managed to do so without killing the team, even though the ship was toast. As the team piled out of the ship, a sneering Atlantean stared down at them from a rooftop, sword in hand. As the rally scattered, the Atlanteans among the crowd drew their weapons as well and prepared to fight.

Mindstorm asked Kale if he knew anyone here, to which Kale replied that he knew Samor, the priest that seems to have commanded Mindstorm’s own storm against him. Mindstorm asked him what he knew about Samor, and Kale replied “That he was never this strong. But selling your soul to Leviathan will do that.” Steve sighed as he looked at the Atlantean cultists advancing on them, and said “So now I take up arms against my own people,” before readying his blaster pistol. “Alright, then.” Kale noted that Samor might be their best hope of finding out how to find and stop Leviathan. Talos did a quick count of the Buster Squad and asked “Isn’t six usually a bad omen for you guys?”

Mindstorm instructed Kale to neutralize Samor, the Atlantean Sorcerer teleported to the building Samor was on, grabbing the Priest and attempting to strip him of his abilities…but Samor laughed, swatted his hand away saying “Leviathan loves me best,” and slashed him with his sword.

Talos lunged into the onrushing Atlanteans and asked them if they were ready to die for their God, before crushing one of them and muttering that he really doesn’t understand religion. And then the Atlanteans gangpiled him and did a surprising amount of damage to him. Mindstorm sent an Electrical burst that fried several Atlanteans, while Bully and Socks rushed into combat…but did surprisingly little damage. Steve, on the other hand, was a crack shot picking off cultists left and right.

Mindstorm attempted to Telekinetically bind Samor and failed, but Kale used Samor’s own trick and stole Mindstorm’s summoned storm to blast the Priest with lightning. The cultists were giving Talos, Bully and Socks all they wanted and more, but Steve was still inflicting damage when he commented to Socks that his heart just hadn’t seemed “in it” since the war with the V’Sori ended…which was promptly followed by Socks shredding Atlanteans. Mindstorm finally bound Samor with his TK, and Kale magically paralyzed him.

With the Atlanteans fallen, Kale picked into Samor’s mind for the location of the bomb, which was beneath the city! Socks burrowed down to find it…while Talos followed! Socks and Talos found the bomb and Socks asked Talos if he could disarm it. Talos said “No,” and grabbed it tight, then leapt out high into the air. He yelled at Mindstorm to make a Telekinetic platform and landed on it, then leapt higher…taking the bomb high into the sky, where it exploded in the atmosphere.

The team began questioning Samor for information on where Leviathan was being summoned, but Samor laughed at their threats…until Bully and Socks made a VERY persuasive case of intimidation (the “Spill the Beans” Adventure Card), as Mindstorm flew into the air looking for Talos.

Samor laughed that Leviathan was HERE and Socks, Bully and Steve were struck in their tracks (Shaken)…as Kale disappeared and LEVIATHAN loomed over them! The massive God took the form of a Sea Dragon and sneered at the meager opposition in front of him, swatting Steve with his tail and lashing out at Bully and Socks…but Socks, the little science freak that should not be, blocked his attack!

Socks screamed out to Mindstorm that they needed help NOW and he struck Leviathan, drawing blood on the Atlantean God! Steve lined up what seemed to be the perfect shot to take Leviathan out, but his blast had no effect, and Bully was hammered to the brink of unconsciousness. Socks kept attacking relentlessly as Mindstorm returned to the field of battle…just in time for Leviathan to revert back to Kale!

Kale BEGGED the team to kill him, because he had forced Leviathan back down inside of him…but that he was healing quickly. He told “Mike” (Mindstorm’s real name) that this was their only chance, and that he was sorry for everything. Mindstorm took his hand and said “I won’t leave you. Bring Leviathan back.” Kale said he was sorry once more, and Leviathan returned…holding Mindstorm’s hand.

Mindstorm raised his other hand to the sky and lightning surged down into his body, traveling into the Atlantean God. The eruption of power blew Socks, Bully and Steve away from the field of battle. It blew out every window in Star City. It blew out the power grid in Star City. Mindstorm cooked Leviathan from the inside out, killing himself in the process.

As Socks struggled to recover, his nose and ears led him to the smoking pit that was Leviathan and Mindstorm. When his eyes finally adjusted, he saw the very still body of Mindstorm floating in the air. Then he heard the soft speech in Atlantean and saw Kale standing at his feet, surrounded in mystical energy. The Atlantean speech grew into a crescendo until he finally spoke English: “By the Power of Atlantis, I command you to live! Live, damn you.”

And Mindstorm’s breath broke the silence.

Socks, Bully and Steve walked to the edge of the pit as Kale brought the very damaged, but living, Mindstorm out. As the Buster Squad returned to Dr. Destruction’s base, a back-up of Talos came online. Talos and Kale got back to the business of repurposing Omega while Mindstorm healed and Socks, Steve and Bully traveled the region, putting warlords, V’Sori, rogue Atlanteans and former Omega operatives gone rogue. Talos came to Mindstorm one night and confronted him about Mindstorm knowing Talos hadn’t been reprogrammed. Talos explained that all this time, he’s not been bound to reprogramming by Dr. Destruction, but that he had made a choice…and Mindstorm would have to trust him like he trusts the rest of the team. Mindstorm said that’s why he fought so hard for Talos…Talos said that’s why he blew himself up to save Star City.

As the months drifted on, Mindstorm went back to work. A few more heroes came out of the woodwork, and many of the Omega operatives had come to believe in the cause, truly. Kale made the team nervous at first, because he was now absolutely overflowing with power…but he was no longer drawing it from Leviathan. Mindstorm felt Leviathan die…but that power had to go somewhere, and it seemed as though it stayed in Leviathan’s chosen vessel. The team had to separate, because the world is a lot of ground to cover, and the Buster Squad no longer operated in tandem anymore…until, a year after the fall of Dr. Destruction, their V-MAPs flared to life for the first time in a very long time. It was an automated message from Dr. Destruction, explaining to them that the Earth will never TRULY be safe until the V’Sori Overmind is defeated…and that the Atlantean Teleport Tubes can be calibrated to take the team straight to the Overmind. He explained that they had the ability and resources to resolve this once and for all, but that he was no longer in a position to give orders or command…but that it was up to them to decide: Stay on Earth…or take the fight to the heart of the V’Sori fleet and end this for good.

And so the team prepared for that one final push to ensure that Earth is free from the V’Sori threat forever.

COMMENTS: I lied. This was NOT the final adventure. Next week really will be.

I promoted Steve the Atlantean to Wild Card, and Socks’ player does all the rolling for him and Bully, while Mindstorm’s player handles Kale and Talos.

I wanted the fight with Leviathan to be BIGGER, but we were in kind of a time crunch…but I had the “Kale turns into Leviathan” thing in mind going into it, with three outcomes: a) Leviathan wins, everyone dies…b) Leviathan turns back into Kale, they kill Kale, Leviathan and Kale die…or c) they refuse to kill Kale, Leviathan comes back completely healed, and if they defeat him AGAIN, they get Kale back, with Leviathan’s power but without being bound to him anymore. Of course, I should never underestimate Mindstorm’s player’s absolute refusal to leave anyone behind (especially since he truly began crossing that barrier from villain to hero), and he intentionally held onto Kale’s hand in hopes of him turning back so he could fry Leviathan. He rolled insanely well on damage, and I made it worse by applying the damage to him as well, giving him 7 wounds to soak (which he failed to do). In the aftermath, with Kale back, he got to make Kale’s spellcasting and Healing rolls, and he was literally rolling for his own life…barely rolling well enough to save himself.

Bully and Talos were largely non-factors in this mission, but Steve made for nice ranged support…and Socks got to cap off his career with the ultimate melee performance…he stood toe to toe with an Atlantean God and not only drew first blood, but inflicted three wounds by himself (he took Giant Killer in anticipation of this fight, and utilized No Mercy to make a bad damage roll come out MUCH better).

Ultimately, one more big moment in a campaign that has been full of them…and next week we say goodbye, as Mindstorm’s player is leaving at the beginning of April and the last weekend of March, we are playing in a larger group than usual for International Tabletop Day.

Oh…and now the characters are Legendary.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tommy's Take on Annihilation Essentials Event Book

The best story I've ever read involving Ronan, the Super Skrull OR Annihilus, easy.

The Civil War publishing cycle for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying is done, and now it’s on to Annihilation. Annihilation sparked the new wave of Marvel Cosmic comics, beginning with Nova, and singlehandedly turned Richard Rider into one of my favorite characters in comic books (my #2 hero behind only Captain America). This first volume brings the Event structure to Annihilation, and all that entails.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The book is available in Premium (rules included) and Essentials (requiring the Marvel Heroic core rules) versions. This review covers the Essentials Edition, which is available in PDF right now, with print coming down the pipe later. For those not familiar with Annihilation, it was a big cosmic crossover that took place around the same time as Civil War, involving Fantastic Four villain Annihilus joining forces with Thanos and unleashing the Annihilation Wave across the cosmos, destroying everything in its wake. Ultimately, Kree, Skrulls, humans and more had to join forces in order to stop it…even Galactus got involved, on the side of the angels. It was pretty epic and I recommend the comics heartily.

The authors seem to think the campaign will take about six months to play, and one of the group creation methods encourage the players to form their group by picking characters from different areas of the universe as their “spotlight” characters, and then everyone else making secondary characters related to each spotlight character…until you build the climax of the Event and the spotlight characters join forces. Other options include making a thematic group (all Kree, all Skrull, all Shi’ar, etc), or just a standard “Everyone pick your hero and we’ll work it out” group. A list of Event-ready datafiles are provided, though you can use others (including heroes of your own creation), if you give them ample reason to be in space and involved with the event. I could see, say, Hulk getting involved as he tries to leave Sakaar early or something. Though the Fantastic Four were active in Civil War at the time, they are included in the book as a “What If…?” type option.

The Annihilation Sourcebook provides stats for spaceships as well as rules for Timed Actions (via the Timer complication), and even a new Specialty level (Grandmaster, which is a d12 that can be broken down into 2d10 or 3d8). A slew of new power sets are provided, from Marvel classics like Nova Centurion, the Power Cosmic and the Unipower (Captain Universe!), to more generic cosmic-appropriate power sets like Soldier, Android or Privateer.

As the other Event books have done, Annihilation zeroes in on various groups involved in the event and focuses on how to play from their perspective if you so choose.

The Kree includes a Kree powerset, some generic datafiles, a handful of NPCs (like Captain At-Lass and Dr. Minn-erva), a pair of Milestones (like Genetic Kickstart, which has your Kree obsessed with jumpstarting Kree genetics, a mindset that helped breed the Inhumans), and Unlockables (like Activate Sentry, which gives you a big, giant Kree robot and not the horrible Avengers character).

Skrulls are included, with powers, datafiles (like Infiltrators and Warskrulls), NPCs, Milestones (Hidden Threat focuses on being a Skrull infiltrator, for instance), and Unlockables (need a squad of Warskrulls?).

The Nova Corps comes with a series of generic corpsman datafiles, a basic power set, a Milestone related to their code and reference to an unusual Unlockable that hinges on the Worldmind boosting a Nova, making them go Supernova and possibly out of control.

The Shi’ar includes the Imperial Guard, as well as datafiles like Deathbird, Deathcry and Lilandra.

The Eternals section covers playing Annihilation from the perspective of the Titans, but more importantly, it includes the Thanos villain datafile. An absolutely terrifying and awesome datafile, Thanos has built in plans for most things you can think of…but his Invulnerability has a gaping hole in it that applies only to Drax the Destroyer.

Even residents of the Negative Zone can get in on the act, standing up against Annihilus and the Annihilation Wave, if only for their own reasons. There’s a sidebar included about the Negative Zone prison being used in Civil War, which could cause the two wars to collide.

Annihilus and his minions are included next, seemingly out of place, as there are no Unlockables or Milestones here: Just one scary Negative Zone ruler hell-bent on destroying the universe.

The Galactus section has stats for Galactus (a Cosmic-scale threat…his solo affiliation is FOUR d12), as well as a Power Cosmic power set and unlockables that one can use to gain Galactus’ favor…including being turned into a herald!

The Kyln is a maximum security space prison, and includes datafiles on two ancient gods whose fellows were slain by Galactus, as well as Galactus’ forgotten first herald, now mentally enslaved by Thanos! The Kyln can also be a great starting point for a hero (or heroes), with a pair of Milestones, one of which focuses on clearing your name and escaping the prison and the other focusing on breaking in!

The “rest” of the universe is handled in a handy tour guide, including datafiles for generic Badoon and Dire Wraiths, as well a datafile for Rocket Racoon (sans Milestones, so just use Event milestones if you want to play him). There’s even a Symbiote power set (you did remember that the Carnage and Venom symbiotes were alien in origin, right?)

A full dozen Event Milestones are included above and beyond the group-specific ones (my favorite being “I Hate This Cosmic Stuff”, perfect for Jack Flagg in his time with the Guardians of the Galaxy).

The Event itself is set up into three Acts. Act One has four set-up scenes, one starting at the Kyln (and, like Breakout! in the main book, it provides ample excuse for multiple characters to be involved), one involving the Annihilation Wave attacking the Nova Corp homeworld, one being an attack on a Skrull world and one being set on a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

While the Event largely assumes that the narrative will largely resemble that of the comics, sidebars do allow for variations (like the Nova Corps successfully fighting off the Annihilation Wave and not losing the homeworld). Of course, it also allows for things to get worse: Instead of the Worldmind downloading into Richard Rider (or someone else) and making them Nova Prime, what if Annihilus’ troops are able to take it back to their master? Act one culminates in a battle with Annihilus himself, which the PCs are likely to lose, but again, it’s all up to them. If they DO win…then it may be a bad thing, as Thanos steps in and assumes control of the Annihilation Wave, rather than just acting as an advisor/lieutenant.

Act Two picks up business nicely, with any Cosmically-powered heroes being stalked by Annihilus’ lackey Ravenous, as well as the involvement of Galactus, the battle for the Kree homeworld Hala, and Thanos himself making a play involving one of the heroes. By the end of Act Two, the heroes should be formally forming the United Front, and if you’re using the various groups spread around the galaxy method of running the campaign, this is where they join up. Additionally, there an optional scene provided here for someone to make a trip to Earth…where they may wind up sidelined by the Civil War.

Act Three is pretty much do or die, as the heroes have to stand against the Wave. This involves taking out Annihilus’ lieutenants (which includes friggin’ THANOS), undoing damage likely done during Act Two, throwing down with those two ancient gods and, oh yeah, stopping Annihilus himself. Of course, if the heroes fail, you can always have the Annihilation Wave reach Earth and then hand over a list of the two sides in the Civil War and have one more last ditch throwdown. There was actually a great What If…? story about this, with Nova, Captain America and Iron Man joining forces at the climax of Civil War, sacrificing their lives to stop Annihilus.

Of course, the main hero Datafiles are also present, with the Fantastic Four included as noted above, as well as Nova, Star-Lord, Ronan the Accuser, the Super Skrull, Paibok the Power Skrull, Lyja, Devos the Devastator, Beta Ray Bill, Silver Surfer, Drax, Gamora, Blastaar, Gladiator and many more.

A very nice bibliography of the Marvel Cosmic run from Annihilation through Thanos Imperative is included, for those who want to read these stories for themselves (and I cannot recommend this stuff enough).

WHAT WORKS: This is maybe my favorite release for Marvel Heroic. Period. Soooo many options jammed into the book, capturing the epic scale of the Annihilation Event, and all in one book. As with Civil War, there is a roadmap, but no railroad tracks. You can blaze your own trail through Annihilation if you like. Also, Nova.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK: No Adam Warlock. We get the Fantastic Four, but no Adam Warlock. Sorry, I like Adam Warlock. And yeah, he wasn’t involved in Annihilation, but neither was Reed Richards. Also, we get a great picture of Nova and Annihilus fighting, but there’s an almost iconic Nova-Annihilus scene from the end of the series that wasn’t used. Yes, I’m nitpicking at this point. And yes, I will have a Baron Zemo-like reaction when Warlock shows up in a book.

CONCLUSION: Like I said, this may be my favorite release for Marvel Heroic. Heck, I bet I could buy the Premium version so I have the rules bundled in with this and be happy. If you hate Marvel Heroic, this isn’t going to sway you. If you thought it sounded alright, but wouldn’t touch Civil War with a ten-foot pole, might be time to jump in. If you’re already a fan…then you’ve probably purchased this already. I cannot wait to see the remaining books in the Cosmic line.

DISCLAIMER: I did receive an electronic comp copy of this book via DriveThruRPG's Featured Reviewer program, and my link to the product in question is an affiliate link. I may receive a portion of any purchases made via those links as store credit.

Tommy's Take on Heaven's Shadow

I’ve played the D6 system a fair bit in the past (mostly Star Wars 2nd Edition), but I hadn’t kept up on recent developments in D6 system gaming. I got a review copy of Heaven’s Shadow from the author, John Berry, and did a bit of research on MiniSix, a streamlined (the core rules are under 40 pages) variant. But this isn’t about MiniSix, it’s about Heaven’s Shadow, so let’s jump into that.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Published by Bedroom Wall Press, Heaven’s Shadow is currently free in PDF form, and $10 in print. It runs 84 pages and is powered by MiniSix, as noted above. The premise is that the PCs are Shadows: Assassins who serve God and are powered by their Faith to hunt down demonic beings called Nephilim, who disguise themselves as mortals. Pretty sure I’ve read the author saying it has more than a little influence from the Assassin’s Creed series as well.

The book includes everything you need to play, rules and setting. MiniSix is pretty streamlined, with only four attributes (Might, Agility, Wits and Charm), and around thirty skills governed by those four attributes (not evenly divided), like Martial Arts, Pickpocket, Demonology and Con. You get 12 dice to divide among attributes, with 7 dice to divide among your skills, and you can divide dice into 3 pips (giving +1 or +2 to an attribute or skill; +3 would make it another die larger). Every Shadow also has the Faith attribute (which uses dice from the attributes pool), as well as an Agency attribute that reflects their standing in their organization. Conviction is a pool of points reminiscent of Force Points from the Star Wars RPG, allowing the Shadows to push themselves when needed, shrug off damage, or receive “Divine Inspiration” when they aren’t clear about what to do next. Every Shadow also has to take two Complications, which provide Conviction points when encountered – and overcome – in play. Some Complications include Bounty (as in, there’s one on your head), Touched (by the profane, possibly even having demon’s blood in your veins) or Burned (your previous agency cut you off, full stop). Shadows also have four derived stats (Block, Dodge, Parry and Soak) for combat situations.

The basic rules are simple: Roll the dice pool for the appropriate action and beat a target number. If you double the target number, it’s a Double Success and you succeed spectacularly. In some situations, usually at GM fiat, you get a Stunt Die, which is largely like the Wild Die from previous D6 games, which can explode for extra success or “implode”, taking away dice from the total. Heaven’s Shadow also has a contested system for things like tailing a target, which is a series of rolls back and forth until one side holds the advantage for multiple rolls (or scores a Double Success). Simple, but effective.

The combat rules are a lot like the basic rules, with Agility being used for initiative. If you’ve played RPGs, you’ll recognize a lot of the stuff here, but my favorite part is Opportunity: If you attack and score less than half of what you need, you give the opponent the immediate opportunity for a counterattack (including Disarming them, Disabling them or performing a Takedown). Damage is compared to the opponent’s Soak value, and the remainder compared to the Wound table to determine how wounded the defender is. Successive wounds less than the existing wounds bump up the wound level. This makes “Papercuts of Death” possible, which might annoy some folks. Savage Worlds has potential for the same thing, so I’m clearly not bothered by that.

The chapter on Assassination is the crown jewel of the book. It goes into detail about using stealth for bonuses on taking out the target, as well as using various environmental effects to kill the target without making it look like an assassination (like throwing them from balconies, electrocuting them, poisoning them, drowning them, etc), as well as Planning the Hit, which tries to help justify the idea of a team of assassins, with each member of the group performing a task and every successful completion adding a die to the Plan Pool, which the triggerman can spend when it comes time to take out the target and/or escape.

They say Faith can move mountains, and Shadows can use Faith to do amazing things thanks to the “Supreme Director” (God). They are organized by difficulties: Everyone has Wordless Sight, which allows them to see Nephilim for who they are, and with a little extra effort, reveal that to others. Passing Unseen allows a Shadow to completely vanish into a crowd. Walking on Water functions exactly as it sounds. Covering Darkness plunges a building into complete and absolute darkness. Stone of David allows the assassin to throw a single, unerring stone that strikes almost as a bullet. Resurrection can raise the dead. There are many more Miracles, these are just a sampling.

Several agencies are included, all coming from the same basic source (The Order of Shadows), and all agreeing on the same overall mission (stop the Nephilim), just not agreeing on particulars (tenets of Faith, methods of operation, base of operations, and so on). Sometimes the Agencies do work together for short-term missions, and some (like ICON, which is a former government agency still operating out of Langley, Virginia,) function as unofficial branches of governing bodies in their area.

The Nephilim are demonic souls in human bodies, and each are devoted to a particular sin. Each Nephilim has lived for thousands of years, and has certain abilities ties to their respective sins. Guidelines are included making your own Nephilim, as well as ten sample Nephilim, one for each of the listed sins. They range from destructive and ravenous Big Game Hunters to greedy Corporate Raiders to vile and disgusting Flesh Merchants.

The final chapter guides you, as the GM, through constructing missions for the PCs. Is the Nephilim the Power in the situation, or the Man Behind The Power? The President of the United States might be acting fishy and making destructive decisions, but it could be a Nephilim disguised as an advisor and not the President. There’s also discussion included on the consequences of the assassination. Having to kill a US Senator is likely to have more fallout (at least legally) than killing a Nephilim pornographer will. A few smple NPC statblocks are provided, as well as a series of plot hooks, like a small town falling under the sway of a pair of Nephilim pushing their respective sins on the place, a Nephilim drug dealer using his own blood to lace the drugs and a sadistic Nephilim pornographer operating in an off-shore sea fort.

WHAT WORKS: A fantastic premise, and the streamlined MiniSix seems to fit it like a glove. The Opportunity rules put that extra risk into the combat, and the miracles from the “Supreme Director” are some pretty impressive stuff, as is the Assassination chapter. The PDF is free and the print is only $10.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK: Perhaps too lean and could have used more examples. A random mission generator would have been a nice touch.

CONCLUSION: Well, the PDF is free, so if this sounds remotely interesting, you have no reason not to check it out on your own. The game allows for the cool factor of being ruthless assassins, while setting up a situation that places the assassins as the undeniable good guys, since they are taking on demons. On one hand, I appreciate just how lean it is…on the other hand, it probably could have used some beefing up in some places. There is actually no art at all inside the book, meaning that it is packed with actual game information. Despite the part in the book about the team working together on a mission, it seems like the perfect RPG to run for a solo campaign, and the system is a time-tested one that Heaven’s Shadow doesn’t push past its comfort zone (like high level Jedi or DC Superheroes tended to do). Fun concept, executed well, in a system that has stood the test of time, with a non existent barrier for entry. Definitely worth checking out.

DISCLAIMER: As noted above, I did receive an electronic review copy of Heaven's Shadow from the author, and I have provided an affiliate link to the PDF and print versions of the book at DriveThruRPG. Making a purchase via an affiliate link could provide me with compensation in the form of store credit.

NOTE: I believe the free PDF was a promotional period thing, and the price has now been adjusted up to (a still very reasonable) $5 after the posting of this review.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Tommy's Take on Sentinels of the Multiverse

So, for those who follow me on Facebook and Google+, you know that I have recently become obsessed with Sentinels of the Multiverse. With that said, this review is gonna be a bit fanboyish because, well, the game has turned me into a Fanboy.

The box art to the first edition of the game.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: First off, this review is of the first edition of the game, which is no longer in print and has been replaced with the Enhanced Edition. I picked up the first edition on clearance for $10 at an area game store, and I’m glad I did. But I suppose I should tell you just what Sentinels of the Multiverse IS. Sentinels is a cooperative Superhero card game for 2-5 players (officially…if you are willing to run multiple heroes, you can play solo), designed to emulate a team of heroes battling a villain in a comic book environment. Each hero is represented by a character card that features their hitpoints, base power and card effects if incapacitated (more on that in a bit), as well a deck of cards that represent their tactics and abilities. Each villain is represented by two cards (one showing hit points and one showing any relevant powers, set-up requirements or alternate win conditions) and a deck of cards featuring their minions, powers and tactics. Lastly, each environment has a deck of cards that represents the perils and pitfalls of the environment.

Each game begins by selecting a hero for each player, a villain to face and the environment. For solo games, I use this very handy randomizer (which allows you to filter out cards that you don’t have). Each hero, villain and environment feels very, very different, making each game a unique experience. The base game has ten heroes, four villains and four environments, and expansions are available that include more heroes, villains and environments.

While the game doesn’t include established, licensed characters, the heroes and villains all feel familiar to classic characters, while having some quirks that help them stand alone. Each character comes with a bio in the rulebook, and many of the heroes and villains share symbols on their cards, marking them as archenemies (meaning they do more damage to each other).

Gameplay is simple at its core. All heroes draw four cards, while you set up any relevant set-up requirements for the villains. From there, each round consists of multiple turns, beginning with the Villain Turn. Draw the top card of the Villain Deck, resolve it and move on to the heroes. Each hero can play a card, then use a power, then draw a new card. When every hero has a chance to go, then you play and resolve an Environment card. Play continues until all the heroes are beaten, the villain is reduced to 0 hit points, or any alternate win conditions are met. The list of heroes include:

  • Legacy – A hybrid of Captain America and Superman, Legacy is a heroic leader who is capable of absorbing and inflicting damage, while also inspiring his team to greater feats.
  • The Wraith – A young, female vigilante who uses equipment and martial arts to fight crime, while using stealth to avoid damage.
  • Haka – A savage, tribal warrior. Haka is capable of inflicting great damage.
  • Bunker – A soldier in an armored suit, Bunker can shift between multiple “Modes” that allow him to manipulate his card deck and can command an impressive arsenal.
  • Tachyon – The Quickest Woman on Earth can keep enemies off-balance and inflict crazy damage if she speeds through her card deck.
  • Ra, The Sun God – A damage dealing powerhouse if he gets going, Ra can even boost his teammates’ damage output.
  • Tempest – A weather manipulating alien who can harm as well as heal.
  • Visionary – A psychic who has returned from the future to keep her horrible reality from coming to pass, she can manipulate not only her deck, but other decks in the game, as well as turning minions on their masters!
  • Fanatic – An angel on a righteous crusade. Can sacrifice her health to give the heroes an advantage.
  • Absolute Zero – One of the more complicated heroes in the game to play, Absolute Zero is kinda like a heroic Mr. Freeze, with all the pros and cons you might expect from that.

The four included villains are a motley crew of enemies.

  • Baron Blade hates Legacy with a passion. He’s intent on destroying the Earth by pulling the moon into it, and if enough cards make it into the discard pile, he succeeds.
  • Grand Warlord Voss tried to enslave Tempest, and he brings his army of slaves to Earth to take it over. If he ever gets enough minions into play, Earth is overran.
  • Omnitron is a sentient robot factory who can go on a horrible rampage. Even if you destroy him, he can still live on if you don’t shut down his other devices.
  • Citizen Dawn, leader of RISE, is a superhuman supremacist who will make you battle her followers in addition to her.

The four environments add their own personality to the mix.

  • Megalopolis has derailed monorails, traffic jams, innocent bystanders and more to deal with.
  • Wagner Mars Base can turn its automated defenses on you, and the red dust of Mars can be brutal on those that rely on equipment.
  • The Ruins of Atlantis has leaky rooms (that conduct electricity), fonts of power (that anyone can tap into) and even the every present threat of The Kraken!
  • Insula Primalis is essentially the Savage Land, complete with dinosaur attacks!

One cool and interesting effect is that the Hero character cards get flipped over if the heroes get reduced to 0 hit points…opening up three options that the player can pick from for their fallen hero, typically based off of the Powers and Cards from that hero’s card and deck. This is meant to emulate the idea of the remaining heroes fighting harder after their teammates go down. It’s a thematically awesome mechanic that keeps a player in the game after their hero goes down (albeit in a diminished role).

Many of the card decks can feed off of each other, and some heroes will have an easier time against some villains, while the environments can make all the difference in the world in some games. The game does have more complexity than your average card game, and I’ve taken to tracking hit points with dice, because you can have a lot of them to manage in a given game. The Enhanced Edition includes counters that you can use for that, as well as updated game mechanics meant to balance out some of the cards a bit better.

WHAT WORKS: Well, this is the most fun I’ve ever had with a superhero board or card game. At times, it rivals the fun I’ve had with superhero RPGs. Every card deck stands out, making their mark on a given game. The basic flow of the game is simple to learn, while the strategy of the card decks can take a bit to master.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK: Tracking all of the modifiers, hit points and card-induced conditions can get cumbersome and it can become easy to miss something. Also, the game is becoming a time sink because I’m playing it too much.

CONCLUSION: The proof is in the fun. I picked this up the same day I got Legendary and the DC Deck Building game. I’ve played the latter once and the former a handful of times, while I have latched onto this on and played it like crazy, even ordering the Rook City and Infernal Relics expansion (and just ordering Shattered Timelines, the Unity, Ambuscade, Scholar and Miss Information hero and villain decks and The Final Wasteland and Silver Gulch environment decks). There is a good chunk of strategy to the game (whole guides are available for each character on the internet), as well as a little luck of the draw, which helps boost the replayability, in my opinion.

The Enhanced Edition. Buy this unless you hate fun.
Just a fantastic, well-made game that is not only a fun playthrough, but a love letter to the superhero genre. This has quickly moved into position as my favorite card game, and I recommend it to anyone that loves superheroes and card games, but doesn’t mind a bit of book keeping. If I could do it all over, I would skip the $10 first edition purchase and go straight to the Enhanced Edition.

DISCLAIMER: While this was a purchase freely acquired with my own money, an affiliate link is provided above, which could result in me gaining a portion of any sales made through that link.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The GM's Day Sale Is In Progress!

Sorry for not giving a heads up sooner, but I have been crazy busy with the day job, editing and injuring my wrist.

March 4th was GM's Day, and RPGNow is running a massive GM's Day sale through March 12th, so pop on over there and take advantage of some great deals! There is a TON of fantastic stuff on sale right now, including Top 6 picks like Savage Worlds Deluxe Explorer's Edition, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, Wu Xing and more!

And obviously, I'd appreciate any purchases made using my RPGNow affiliate link, because that gives me store credit at RPGNow, which in turn helps me buy more books to review. Pop on over and take advantage of the sale!