Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The Masks of Silverlode (Recap)

Silverlode, the Metropolis of the Mountain West. Incorporated on the first day of the 20th Century as an iconic western boom town, the Silver City has always embodied the American spirit of the age. And that spirit of heroic optimism is now manifesting in the world's first costumed adventurers. As the city rises up from the depths of the Great Depression and with the world poised on the brink of another Great War, the Masks of Silverlode boldly stand ready to fight for justice and usher in a new Golden Age.

This DC Gameday session was my first chance to really test two things. One: how did Fate feel on this side of the GM Screen? Two: How did the Ryan Danks' approach to Fate Supers work out in practice? Answering these questions was kind of a high prioroty, since my local group is currently entertaining new campaign settings and systems to go with them. We had a successful Fate Core one-shot a few months back but I hadn't run it myself. And Supers... well, I'm really keen to run Supers. But thus far, every Supers RPG that includes a long list of powers has failed to really give me the warm fuzzies.

And that's how I arrived at "Masks of Silverlode". Set in 1938, this campaign scenario is set in the same continuity as my Silverlode 1908 Weird West game and most likely the "City of the Century" campaign if it is selected. The genesis of this particular scenario lay in my Mythic GME ICONS game that I played (and never finished) a few years back. A bunch of the pre-generated characters were direct results of using Icons random superhero character generation system.

Our pregenerated characters:

Bald Eagle: Football hero, test pilot, and Feathered Patriot. (played by Keaton)

Bola Sue: Mistress of the Bolas, celebrity pin-up model, and enlightened emissary of Shangri-La. (played by Bill)

The Castellan: Dilettante, gentleman thief, and Guardian of the Secret Tower. (played by Klint)

Columbia: Plucky secretary who transforms into the Female Personification of America! (played by Dave)

The White Dwarf: Elderly Russian Dwarf Mad Scientist and former military officer. (played by Catherine)

Ironically, we were missing a player and Ebon Knight was not selected.

I chose not to use the full Fate Core character generation system as I wanted to get right into the action. As a result, I left one aspect open on each character sheet, to be filled in by a brief flashback involving another character (for a free invoke, no less!). I also left the bottom row of skills open for customization.


  • City of the Century 
  • A Dark and Snowy Night


  • Situational Aspect: The First Team-Up

The set-up for the game is that masked heroes have only recently appeared on the scene. While various characters had worked together in the preceding weeks, there had not yet been a big team-up. That was about to change!

Bola Sue (always going first due to here peak Notice skill) started things out at a tree lighting ceremony. Appearing in her superhero/emissary identity, the crowd turned to her expectently when the sound of tommy guns could be heard a block away. She danced through the crowd and lept from car to car to arrive on the scene to find the Baxandall Building besieged by an army of gangsters!

In the skies above, Bald Eagle was desperate to seek justice for his slain mentor and recover a batch of life-sustaining Vita-Serum. Approaching Dr. Leonardo's office on the 66th floor of the Baxandall Building, he landed on a terrace only to come face to face with a jetpack-wearing Nazi. Kapow!

Betty Franklin, the mundane alter-ego of Columbia, was at a Christmas party for one of her bosses business associates. Her ulterior motive was to investigate the theft of the plans to an airship that Blue Horizons had been developing. Slipping out of the party, she bumped into a Nazi looking for something, transformed into Columbia and proceeded to beat the stuffing out of him.

Castellan was also looking for something in the Baxandall Building. Before becoming Guardian of the Secret Tower, he was forced to sell one of his father's occult books to support his exorbitant lifestyle. Now his responsibilities required him to retrieve the book again from the mobster who now possessed it. He wrapped up a distracted henchman and learned that the book in questions was in the hands of "Dr. Sacratini" elsewhere in the building.

Finally, White Dwarf was hot on the trail of three communist sabateurs who had infiltrated Fat Tony's criminal gang. They were now besiegeing the Baxandall Building in the hopes of retrieving an Atlantean artifact that slipped out of Bola's Sue's fingers back during her origin story. Arriving on the scene in an autogyro, the White Dwarf employed a variety of gadgets as he joined forces with the mistress of bolas and a suddenly appearing Castellan to subdue the gangsters and the communist spies.

I was going to detail the rest of the adventure but the moment has passed. So I'll, stick to a brief summary:

  1. The party pursued a fleeing mad scientist, Dr. Sacratini, through pre-Columbian tunnels under the city and had an epic battle with a magical guardian beast. (They had a choice of options and I did not expect them to venture beneath the city - oh well, it was still a blast). 
  2. The party deduced the evil of plot of the bad guys. A secret conspiracy had sold out their nazi partners and was using Atlantean artifacts and weird science developed by Docotor Leonardo (Bald Eagle's mentor) to open some kind of dimensional rift. Clearly they had to be stopped!
  3. The group came upon the sealed dimensional rift as the aerial bombardment of a doomstay weapon shook the earth above them. The emerged into a park and engaged the vrill-energy powered airship with all the weapons at their command. Bald Eagle dog-fighted with enemy aircraft, Bola Sue stole a jet pack and boarded the vessel. Columbia lept from the fingers of a huge bronze statue to attack the airship's guns. Castellan worked a massive ritual to allow White Dwarf to possess the same bronze collosus so that he could literally punch out the enemy airship.

All in all, a great time was had by all.

This was my first Fate game as a GM and I was thrilled with how easy it was to construct awesome action scenes on the fly. I got a little crazy with little yellow stickies as aspects were created left and right. But it wasn't too much to keep track of.

So yes, Fate felt great on this side of the GM chair. And Ryan Danks' minimalist approach to Supers worked exactly I had hoped. The beauty of Fate is that you can get so much mileage of of aspects. Since aspects are "always true", they can be used to represent super powers in broad strokes and yet capture unique quirks and limitations. Mechanics benefits are that the character can simply do stuff that they otherwise could not do. Further mechanical oomph can be added with stunts. Look for the pre-gens in a subsequent post to provide an example of this approach.

Monday, October 21, 2013

DC Gameday Recap

Just over a week ago I once again had the pleasure of participating in the bi-annual DC Gameday. Held at the generously provided AFT Building near Union Station, DC Gameday is two full days of gaming with one of the best RPG communities that I know. Many thanks to the organizaers for allowing me the opportunity to catch up with old friends, meet new ones, and play games that I don't normally get to play.

The Nautilus Sanction

First up was some playtesting of Pelgrane's upcoming TimeWatch (written by the super-awesome Kevin Kulp). Jody Kline's Nautilus Sanction scenario had our band of TimeWatch operatives jumping back and forth through time like crazy as we tried to avert the annihilation of a our timeline by Captain Nemo-like terrorist. Yes, there was a hijacked nuclear submarine. Yes, we blew up the Liberty Bell. And yes, we pushed Jules Verne into the ocean and left him for dead (well... we knew he'd survive).

This was my first Gumshoe game that I've ever played. I own and am much impressed by Night's Black Agents but I'd never completely warmed to the Gumshoe system. This scenario erased any lingering doubts. The system is perfectly suitable for these types of games. And this particular variant did a great job of capturing the headache-inducing madness of a game where individual player characters have the power to time travel at will. Madness! All my previous time travel games (and I've played many) have usually been of the "jump in and jump out" variety. Not this game. We practically needed a four dimensional timeline diagram to avoid erasing our own existance. That was the best part.

Aeon Wave

On Saturday afternoon, it was time for Mike Shea's Aeon Wave, A Fate Core scenario that is currently being KickStarted. Fate is my current RPG crush but having never run it before, I was hoping to get one more game under my belt before my Sunday morning session. The system once again met or exceeded my expectations and I expect we'll be using for my own's group's upcoming game (to be determined).

But the scenario itself... Mike really nailed the William Gibson/Bladerunner atmospherics of this cyberpunk scenario. I knew I had an itch for some old school cyberpunk but wow, I hadn't realized how bad I needed it. I was able to play a stim- addicted net-runner and I had a blast hitting all the requsiste cliches. I just hope I didn't dominate play too much.

The Masks of Silverlode

My first Fate Core game went extraordinarily well. Always a good sign when you're the loudest table in the room. But I'm going to circle back around and write the game summary in a forthcoming post.

Know When To Hold 'Em

I concluded Gameday by sitting down for game of Firefly RPG with its author, Dave Chalker. I didn't know anyone at the table and coming off my racaus Fate game, it felt very mellow at the start. But Dave is a fantastic GM with a wicked sense of humor and it was fitting end to an excellent con.

This was my thrid experience with a Cortex game and it finally came through for me. I know, I know. People that I respect kept telling me to keep at it. And I'm glad I did. Unlike previous attempts, this time it didn't feel "too gamey". It felt much more like Fate feels to me now. The dice pool wasn't too hard to manage and resource creation started to resemble the way situation aspects and boosts feel in Fate. I was also pleased to see the Marvel Heroic initiative system, which was always my favorite rule from that Cortex iteration.

I played a Farmer from a backwater world who was looking to bring his wayword son home from a poker tournement in the core before he blew the family savings. So I was completely lacking in traditional sci-fi abilities. But I was still able to contribute meaningfully as we faced what we thought were kidnappers of the first ever poker-playing dolphin. I won't give away the end for those of you who might play the scenario again, but it resembles something very much like this:

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Wardens of the Endless Tower

And here is our sixth and final proposal for our Big Next Game. This one comes courtesy of Joe N., our newest player. It has a distinct Encounter Critical vibe...

The Third Human Galactic Empire chose the planet Aussie as their prison planet due to the violent electromagnetic storms that prevents any direct landing of starships. They instead dropped a space elevator to the surface and used it to populate the planet with the Empire ‘s prisoners for centuries. Each term was for life, and eventually specialized camps were set up at various locations by type of prisoner (POW, political prisoners, organized crime, drug offenses, violent crime, confidence games and fraud, the criminally insane, etc.).

The Empire fell into anarchy and eventually shipments of supply and personel to the prison ceased. The staff abandoned the satellite at the top of the space elevator and retreated to the surface. Centuries passed and memories of the Empire and its technology faded. Eventualy each camp formed its own nation reflecting the personality of the original prisoners. Loose planet-wide control is enforced by a mystical sect called the Wardens who operate from their headquarters, the Endless Tower. One of the goals of the Wardens is to encourage the technological devolution of the nation-camps in order to maintain control.

The players characters are members of a competing secret organization, known as the Trustees, who have tried through myth and legend to keep the memory of the Empire by encouraging the spread of outlaw technology. Recently they believe that they have discovered signs in the stars and from the holy records that a great burning is coming (i.e. the star going super nova at some point soon, say 10 years). The characters have been recruited into the Trustees (from the different nation-camps? fallen wardens? alien natives?) to find away to seize the Endless Tower from the Wardens and lead an exodus from the planet before it is destroyed. Possible missions include reclaiming ancient technology or forming alliances against the Wardens. The tech level starts out low and then increases slowly as the characters re-discover more of the original tech. Home base could be the monestary of the Trustees hidden deep in one of the mountain ranges on the planet. Kind of like Thundarr the Barbarian meets Chronicles of Riddick via David Weber.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

DC Gameday XIII: The Masks of Silverlode

Registration for DC Gameday is open. I'm running "The Masks of Silverlode", a Golden Age supers game on Sunday morning, October 13th. [UPDATE: And we're full].

Silverlode, the Metropolis of the Mountain West. Incorporated on the first day of the 20th Century as an iconic western boom town, the Silver City has always embodied the American spirit of the age. And that spirit of heroic optimism is now manifesting in the world's first costumed adventurers. As the city rises up from the depths of the Great Depression and with the world poised on the brink of another Great War, the Masks of Silverlode boldly stand ready to fight for justice and usher in a new Golden Age. 

Join me for a Fate Core superhero game inspired by Astro City, Watchmen, and the classics of the Golden Age of comics. Characters will be provided, and no prior knowledge of the system is necessary.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Prison Planet

As we've already had a round of voting, here is the fifth of our six proposals for the next big game. This one comes courtesy of Chris at Boring, Absurd, and Contemptible.

Dunas is a penal colony of the Galactic Empire. All sorts of criminals from all ends of the galaxy get sent there: from cold-blooded killers to political opposition to lousy poets to tenant farmers who fell in to debt. It's a great place for a penal colony since it can support agriculture and also has a wealth of minerals to ship off. Also, its highly charged ionosphere makes it impossible to get on or off except via the space elevator that connects to a single space port. While there is a contingent of government officials, the planet is run by the prisoners. A small garrison only has to protect the space port, and the number of prisoners on planet at any given time is tightly regulated.


Firefly, Star Wars, any dystopian Australia's criminal history, this Venezuelan prison:


Anyone of any species that is condemned to live on this rock.

What's interesting

A contained setting with several different zones: spaceport, cities, towns, wilderness, and underground. There could be ruins of a previous civilization and interesting local fauna that eats you. Lots of bad guys, but lots of misfits basically running themselves.

How it ends

Not sure yet, but there are lots of ways to wrap up a campaign - from escape to independence to an impending supernova. We could figure something out...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Space Elevator

The fourth of the six settings that we are considering for our next game is the one that spawned our space elevator fixation…

The early 21st century is the era of billionaire vanity projects to change the world -- Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic, Elon Musk and Tesla, Larry Page and Sergey Brin and the self-driving car.  And Corey Makarev and the Space Elevator.


The elevator is being built just off the coast of a small Pacific island nation which has either contracted Makarev to construct and ambitious megaproject to make them relevant in the global economy or has been completely suborned by his money into doing his bidding, depending on who you ask.  Plot hooks can involve technical problems, rival megacorps, annoyed superpowers, locals who don't like their government being in bed with a megacorp, terrorists, environmental activists, shady contractors, labor disputes, unruly tourists, obnoxious VIP visitors, and the ever-popular budget crises.

I see Season 1 as completing the elevator, with subsequent seasons involving keeping the whole thing from falling apart.


Babylon 5, with some cyberpunk and a dash of superspies thrown in. Although the elevator is the focus, there is a lot of potential for Earthbound action, as well, allowing us to mix in genres other than pure SF.


The PCs are Makarev's personal fixers, assigned to do whatever it takes to get -- and keep -- things running smoothly.

What It's Interesting About The Setting 

It's an elevator. Into space.

How Does It End? 

  • Well: It worked! Makarev became even more ridiculously wealthy than he already was an easy access to space has opened up the solar system to humanity. Now it's time to repeat the feat... on Mars! 
  • Not-So-Well: It worked... a little too well.  Hostile takeover? Corporate politics?  Shakeup in the local government?  Superpower invasion?  However it happened, it got too big and Makarev (and, by extension the PCs) got forced out.  The space elevator will go on... with out them. 
  • Badly: Because, really, what could possibly be a cooler SFX sequence than a falling space elevator? 
  • Poignantly: The space elevator was the biggest, grandest, most expensive project in human history. A monument to one man's vanity. And, within a couple years of it's creation, the invention of anti- gravity, providing easy, cheap access to space from anywhere on Earth, rendered it completely useless. It was the greatest folly in human history. But in it's brief hayday... it was magnificent!

Sunday, September 08, 2013

City of the Century

The third of the six settings that we are considering for our next game is one that I have been thinking about for a very long time…

Officially incorporated on the first day of the 20th Century, the city of Silverlode has always embodied the American spirit of the age. From an iconic frontier town in the last days of the mythic American West it roared into a metropolis during the Twenties as a center of the aviation industry. As it suffered the effects of the Great Depression, Silverlode's spirit of adventure (and justice) was renewed with the first appearance of costumed heroes. The city then flexed its industrial muscle during World War II and was a major player in the Cold War vs. the Red Menace. And when that wall came down half-way around the world, Silverlode affirmed its position as the City of Tomorrow, a shining model for the coming century.

But in the last days of the Millennium, there is a palpable sense that something is coming. People talk about the Big Event - Y-2K, the Singularity, the Rapture, the Age of Aquarius, hell, even the Zombie Apocalypse. Something is coming. And while Silverlode was born with the century, it just might die with it as well.

Extraordinary characters, heirs to legacies that were forged in Silverlode's brilliant century, are perhaps the only ones who can ensure that the city survives into the Twenty-first.

In this campaign we'll play out these final action-packed moments of the Millennium. But we'll also flashback to earlier decades to explore the characters' progenitors as they interact with and possibly set in motion the events that will eventually lead to the End.


  • Watchmen & Promethea: The main influences that pretty much nail what I'm going for here,  though each has a very different take on the Apocalypse. 
  • Astro City: For the City as character in a superhero setting spanning decades. 
  • Young Justice 


Players will create modern heroes that will be placed into the thick of the action at century's end. More than that, each player creates the Legacy to which the character belongs and by extension the potential characters that represent that Legacy in earlier eras.

How It Ends

The Apocalypse occurs or it is averted in a dramatic fashion.