I don't get sick often, but when I do it hits me like the Juggernaut running full speed at Colossus. It sucks frankly, and this time it put me out of commission for a good week.
I am finally getting around to my Campaigns I Have Known series, and the first one I'd like to tell you all about is a game I ran back in 1984-85. I would've been 15 or 16 years old. It features a RPG you've not heard me talk about much here on the blog - the TSR produced, Marvel Super Heroes RPG by the legendary Jeff Grubb.
Over at his blog, Zak Smith recently mentioned he is running a MSH game online, in an alternate Marvel Universe where everything is awful, sad, and one of the PCs is a Nazi. At least I think so. I got confused to be honest.
It's called Everything is Terrible, and while not my flavor of ice cream, it's definitely worth a look. If not for ideas for an alternate Marvel Earth, than for Zak's great writing. Zak is certainly a fan of FASERIP, the Marvel Super Heroes system, and if you check into his blog's archives I'm sure you'll find a mess of useful, and interesting stuff.
I am not a fan of the Marvel Super Heroes RPG. Never was.
Marvel Super Heroes came out at the wrong time for me. As I was looking for what I felt were more in-depth games, MSH seemed almost kiddie. As I moved towards games that let you really customize your character just the way you wanted, FASERIP was a largely random roll focused game.
I was always more of a DC Comics fan than a Marvel one, and I'm sure that biased tainted my view of the game as well. Still, and all I ran one long-ish campaign of it, and I have to say, it was pretty great. My players, and I had a blast.
Oh, and the campaign's origin story is kind of interesting too...
One day my friends, and I from Summer Camp were at this pool, and as we were getting ready to leave, we overhead some guys from another Camp talking about RPGs. Curious, we gave a listen, and overhead them talking about their campaign. It was a Marvel Super Heroes campaign that they had started recently, and we couldn't believe what we were hearing. It sounded like they were playing the X-Men.
Not new, original characters who had joined the X-Men, not an alternate Earth group of X-Men, but Cyclops, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Storm, and Kitty Pryde. The goddamn X-Men.
I think that may well have been my first experience with Nerd Rage.
My buddies, and I came up to the group, apologized for ease-dropping, and immediately asked them, you know, "What The Hell, man?! Why not create original characters? Why not create alternate takes on the familiar ones? Why be so lame?!"
We were 15 remember. Ahem.
A...er...heated discussion ensued as I recall, arguing the virtues of not only playing established characters, about the X-Men themselves, Marvel vs DC, styles of game play in general, and questions as to the integrity of ones character.
Finally, someone (I can not confirm, nor deny that it may have been me) said, "I bet we could randomly roll a bunch of characters, and beat you guys as the X-Men in no time."
We met them the next day, and rolled up characters right then and there to teach those guys what real teamwork, and creativity could do. We came up with a quick backstory about being a team of Superheroes from an alternate Marvel Earth where the X-Men are villains. We were accidentally transported to the classic Marvel Earth (Earth-616 nowadays), and heard the X-Men were loose so we have vowed to bring them to justice.
We flipped a coin for starting location, they won, and decided to begin the game on their own home turf, Xavier's Mansion in North Salem, New York. Home court advantage? Good choice on their part.
I don't remember all the ins, and outs of the battle, but I can tell you our team decimated theirs in the first hour or so with the exception of Storm (who is really quite powerful), and Cyclops (whose player was just so damn smart). I took down Colossus in no time, then helped one of my pals with Wolverine. Nightcrawler was taken down easily by our Precognitive Martial Artist, who then aided another in taking out Kitty Pryde.
All in all the hardest opponent was Cyclops. The guy playing him was clever, knew the X-Mansion, used it against us, pulled some really cool Power Stunts with his Optic Blasts, and gave our team a real run for our money. In the end though, it was five of us (I got taken out taking out Storm - suicide play) against him, so Cyclops surrendered. We had won.
We parted, not friends perhaps, but with a grudging respect for the other team.
As my pals, and I got on the bus to head home, one of them turned to me and said, "Ya'know something? I really liked me character."
"Me too", said another guy. "When can we play these guys again?"
And so a few days later, I made this campaign...
Campaigns I Have Known
MARVEL SUPER HEROES -
Title: Marvel Super Heroes - The Sentinels
From Left to Right...
In the air: The Guardsman, and Black Widow
On the ground: Foresight, The Weaponeer, Lionheart, The Patriot, The Prowler
Ultron, and The Druid
System: Marvel Super Heroes (TSR), 1st Edition. (Likely modified. It was seriously limited in its initial release).
Circa: 1984-85 to end of 1985 or so. There were only about a dozen or so sessions, if I recall correctly. Possibly as many as fifteen.
Player Base: We started with six male players, 15-16 years of age. By the end of the campaign we had added two more male players, and one female player in the same age range.
Characters: The characters were randomly rolled using the FASERIP rules, then customized a bit in a jam session with all the players (the original six), and the GM (me) present. The only rule I gave them was no Mutants. You can have any other character type, or origin. Alternate versions of existing Marvel characters are cool, but straight up playing the traditional version in the game was not allowed (we all agreed on that).
We ended up with...
Black Widow (played by Rachel ?)
Russian Spy Natasha Romanov, but a Natasha Romanov who's more like Jessica Drew, aka Spiderwoman on Earth-616. Here she gained her powers in a different, and very strange way. She was poisoned by a Hydra head-honcho with the venom of a rare arachnid. A SHIELD Agent-Scientist managed to save her life with an experimental serum, resulting in her being reborn with superhuman abilities.
Powers include Flight, Super-Strength, Venom Blasts, Wall-crawling and Spider-Sense.
Black Widow only appeared in the last three sessions.
The Druid (played by Ben O.)
(Original Character - Not affiliated with any existing Marvel Character) A mysterious man from the highlands of Scotland who claims to be over 2000 years of age. After traveling the world for several centuries, he came into conflict with the psychic entity known as The Phoenix, and proceeded to track it in its various incarnations from then on. When he discovered it had possessed the M-Men's Marvel Girl, The Druid contacted SHIELD, and asked for their assistance in defeating their combined enemy. SHIELD said yes, and offered The Druid a spot on The Sentinels, which he accepted.
The Druid is perhaps the second most powerful member of the Sentinels team, capable of various mystic abilities, including Magic Spells, and the ability to shape shift into different animals. He can communicate with animals, and seems to have a sixth sense of impending danger.
The Druid is also well versed in the history, traditions, and folklore of various cultures from all across the world. He is good friends with all of the members of the team except Ultron, who he finds a bit off putting, and later Lionheart, though it is unclear why.
The Druid appeared in every session, including the One-Shot Challenge.
Foresight (played by Martin L.)
(Original Character - Not affiliated with any existing Marvel Character) A blind martial artist whose other senses are heightened to near superhuman levels. His primary power, attained from study at a hidden Taoist temple in Tibet, is the ability to see into the future. He can anticipate an enemies actions before they even decide to make them. As a matter of fact, his predications become less accurate the further into the future he attempts to 'see'.
Precognitive abilities, with martial arts mastery in several forms of Kung-Fu. He is armed with tonfas, a bo staff, or escrima sticks.
Foresight appeared in every session, including the One-Shot Challenge.
The Guardsman (originally played by me, taken over by David S.)
The head of Stark Industries R&D division, Kevin O'Brian, was contacted by SHIELD to assist them in an unusual technological mystery. Over the years, SHIELD had discovered evidence of an extremely advanced species of tiny beings, perhaps four or five inches tall. Their origin was unknown, although Prof. Reed Richards - while consulting on the situation - believed they originated in a sub-atomic universe he dubbed 'The Microverse'. While it is possible SHIELD was indeed looking at several species, they uniformly dubbed all the specimens they had found, 'Micronauts'.
With the help of Dr. Henry Pym, O'Brian was able to reverse-engineer some of the Micronaut technology to develop a techno-organic battle suit. SHIELD assigned O'Brian's younger brother Michael to test pilot it. The test run was interrupted by an attack by the Brotherhood of M, and Kevin was badly wounded, although he survived. Michael was able to defeat and capture three members of the Mutant terrorist group, and drive off the rest.
Colonel Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD, asked Michael O'Brian to join The Sentinels, SHIELD's elite team of anti-Mutant heroes. He accepted, taking the name Guardsman.
In addition to providing considerable protection from harm, the Guardsman Armor gives the wearer Super-Strength, the ability to project Energy Blasts from his chest, and great Leaping ability. The suit has two add-ons components: A Flight Pack that enables Guardsman to fly and shoot additional Energy Blasts, and an Energy Sheathed Sword that can slice through virtually anything.
Guardsman appeared in every session, including the One-Shot Challenge.
I played him in the One-Shot Challenge, my friend David S. played him when I become GM for the campaign.
Lionheart (played by David P., taken over by Michael W.)
Serving with the British division of SHIELD were three superheroes - Union Jack (Brian Falsworth), Captain Britain (Brian Braddock), and The Black Knight (Dane Whitman). During a battle with the Mutant terrorist organization known as the Brotherhood of M, Brotherhood members in search of the bone of an ancient Mutant ended up killing The Black Knight, and Captain Britain.
Distraught, and angry over the death of his friends, Brian Falsworth has a terrible nightmare in which the Earth lies in ruin. In his dream, just before waking, a mysterious, ghostly figure tells him to take the Black Knight's Ebony Blade, and Captain Britain's Scepter of Right to Merlin's Hill, near Carmarthen, in Wales. Upon waking Falsworth takes a short leave of absence from his SHIELD duties, and travels to Merlin's Hill, where the ghost reappears and identifies itself as the spirit of Merlin himself. Merlin's ghost then transforms the Ebon Blade and the Scepter of Might into lightning, which he then directs towards Falsworth in a massive blast.
Falsworth emerges from the incident with newfound powers, and swears vengeance against the Brotherhood of M. Renaming himself Lionheart, he tracks the Mutant terrorists to America, joining forces with The Sentinels for a final showdown against his enemies.
Lionheart is incredibly strong and fast, possessing Super-Strength and Super-Speed. In addition, a Magical Force Field enables him to ignore mundane defenses (only Magical Defenses can block Lionheart's attacks).
Lionheart only appears in the last five sessions. For two of them he replaces an injured Patriot. When Patriot comes back, another player who wanted to join in took over the character.
The Patriot (played by David P.)
In a world where Captain America died at the end of World War II, several other heroes have since taken up the mantle of the star-spangled super-soldier. Most notable of these is The Patriot, beginning with Jeffery Mace, a reporter inspired to heroism by Captain America during the war. Our Patriot is Mace's grandson Mathew, a third generation legacy hero. Mathew is the recipient of a Super-Soldier Serum variant that gives him slightly different abilities than those of Steve Rogers.
The variant Super-Soldier Serum gives The Patriot Heightened Strength, Heightened Endurance, incredibly resilient Armored Skin and a powerful Healing Factor. Patriot is also a skilled hand-to-hand combatant, a skilled marksman, and the best driver, and pilot on the team.
The Patriot appeared in every session, including the One-Shot Challenge.
The Prowler (played by Dan G.)
Former engineering student, and blue collar worker Hobart 'Hobbie' Brown is a genius inventor who developed his crimefighting gear to take down the notorious menace known as The Spider-Man. Following his successful capture of the web-slinging menace, The Prowler continued his crusade against crime, eventually gaining the attention of Patriot, and SHIELD. When The Sentinels were formed, Patriot contacted Prowler personally to ask him to join.
Prowler is a brilliant engineer, and inventor whose abilities all stem from his equipment. His suit, mask, and cloak provide Armored Protection, his clawed Gauntlets enable him to Scale Walls, and lenses in his mask give him Night Vision, and Infra-Red Vision.
In addition, bracelets connected to the Gauntlets can fire a variety of weaponry such as Tranquilizer Darts, Gas/Smoke Pellets (Tears, Knock Out, Obscuring), a Grappling Cable, and a Fire Extinguisher.
The Prowler appeared in every session, except the One-Shot Challenge.
Ultron (played by Richard K.)
After becoming good friends while working on the Guardsman Armor project, Henry Pym contacted Kevin O'Brian at Stark Industries with a pet project of his own. The idea was to create an artificially intelligent robot focused on protecting humanity, and defeating the Mutant threat.
Bringing in a number of additional geniuses in the field of Robotics, including Dr. Bolivar Trask, the team developed the prototype Ultron unit, completing it just in time to test it in an emergency situation. The Brotherhood of M, and their elite operatives The M-Men, had attacked Senator Robert Kelly as he prepared a press conference to announce Project: Wide-Awake.
Ultron proved successful, and got along surprisingly well with the rest of the team. Unfortunately, mass production of the Ultron was deemed cost prohibitive. Nonetheless, Patriot and Guardsman both recommended Ultron be assigned to the Sentinels team as a full member.
Ultron is perhaps the most powerful member of The Sentinels, with Armored Skin, Super-Strength, Energy Blasts, a Force Field, and a variety of other lesser abilities. Henry Pym, Kevin O'Brian, Trask and their team are constantly modifying, and updating Ultron.
He is a skill engineer and scientist in his own right, with an acute fascination regarding the Human condition.
Ultron appeared in every session, including the One-Shot Challenge.
The Weaponeer (originally played by Dan G., taken over by Neil W.)
(Original Character - Not affiliated with any existing Marvel Character) The Weaponeer claims to be a time traveler, originally from the mid-to-late 1800s. He possess a device, somehow linked to his right forearm (it can not be removed) that enables him to go through time. Not some much a hero as a honorable brigand, Weaponeer goes through time challenging people with unique, and unusual weaponry with the intent on besting them, and obtaining the weapon. He will not steal, and will only take the weapon by winning it in a fair wager, or by combat.
Because he is at heart an honorable person, he has fought on the sides of history's heroes more often than not, sometimes taking the weapon of a fellow combatant who fallen during the conflict. I mean, c'mon, the fella is dead. He ain't using it.
During the campaign he was equipped with Captain America's Shield (claimed to have found it floating in the ocean just after World War II), a set of Trick Arrows, and a Bow, a Katana, an Energy Pistol, and a specially designed Rifle with Trick Bullets (The Rifle was destroyed in the One-Shot Challenge by Wolverine).
Weaponeer is a master at the use of numerous weapons, and an expert marksman. In addition, he is a decent hand-to-hand combatant, a excellent horse-rider, and skilled at stealth.
The Weaponeer appeared in the One-Shot Challenge, and then returned only in the last three sessions. We decided he'd been leaping through time, and only got back for the grand finale. Heheh.
The Weaponeer is a creation of mine that first appeared in a Villains & Vigilantes campaign in 1982. He has since appeared in numerous Superhero campaigns of mine, and those of some of my friends who are familiar with the character, and like him. He is sometimes called 'The Weaponaire'. He predates many of the characters he physically resembles.
Synopsis: Some 30 years or so prior to the beginning of the campaign, noted scientist, archeologist, anthropologist, and peace advocate Charles Xavier is killed under mysterious circumstances on an expedition in the Himalayas.
A long time friend, fellow adventurer, and activist calling himself 'Magnus' claimed Xavier's death was part of a secret, government cover-up. Xavier, like Magnus, was a Mutant - a rare subspecies of Humanity with a genetic anomaly that enabled them to manifest superhuman powers. Well aware of the Human capacity to lie, cheat, oppress, and be cruel to their fellow man due to experience surviving the Nazi Holocaust, Magnus believed he, and his fellow Mutants were the next target of fear, and ire. Charles Xavier was but the first victim a new war on the horizon.
Assembling a variety of Mutants agents, and operatives around the globe, Magnus, dubbing himself 'Magneto', created a terrorist organization called 'The Brotherhood of M'. The Brotherhood's primary purpose was to disable the ability of established governments to threaten Mutantkind. It's secondary goal was to subjugate baseline Humanity before it could subjugate them.
By the time the campaign starts (circa 1985), Magneto, his Brotherhood of M, and his elite soldiers 'The M-Men' have delivered staggering blows to the peace, and security of the free world. In response, the Supreme Headquarters of International Extra-normal Law and Defense have a put together a team of specialists to battle the Mutant mayhem, and protect the innocent - The Sentinels!
The villainous Cyclops (Scott Summers), and Wolverine (Logan)
Two of the notorious M-Men.
Art by the uncanny Thomas N. Perkins
Over the course of the campaign, the Sentinels did battle with the M-Men, the Brotherhood, and eventually Magneto himself. Adventures included an attempt by the Brotherhood to set off a 'M-Bomb' designed to activate the latent Mutant genes lying dormant in all Humans. Unfortunately, their scientific research as flawed. For the vast majority of people whose M-genes are extremely weak, the bomb would cause slow, agonizing death from a bio-chemical agent. Thankfully, The Sentinels were able to destroy the bomb, although the Patriot was badly injured during the conflict.
In the final three sessions, The Sentinels, with the assistance of international agents Black Widow (from the Soviet Union), and Lionheart (from Great Britian), as well as the return of the time-traveling Weaponeer, managed to thwart Magneto and the Brotherhood of M as they attempted to channel of the power of the entity known as The Phoenix.
In the end, Ultron was destroyed, and The Druid, Lionheart, and The Prowler were badly injured. A small price to pay for saving the world. Magneto was dead, and with him, the evil of the Mutant menace, once and for all.
Appendix N: The Uncanny X-Men (from Giant Size X-Men #1 to Uncanny X-Men #143), The Avengers (Late 70s to Avengers Annual #10 in 1981), What If? (Volume 1, 1977-1984).
Bonus Features: Instead of viewing Mutants from the stand point of an oppressed people, and depicting their story as an allegory to the Civil Right movement, I created a world where Magneto is an elitist who believes his people are genetically superior. Mutants view themselves as an Aryan race, and are hated, and fear by the people of the Marvel Universe because they are actually evil, terrible individuals.
Part of our reason for making the world this way, and creating this campaign was that my friends and I, once big X-Men fans, got sick and tired of everyone thinking they were the end all, be all. We decided, inspired by our One-Shot Challenge, to create a world where they were truly the villains.
Were there any good Mutants? Yes! A brief encounter with Henry 'Hank' McCoy (aka The Beast in Marvel Comics) indicating an underground Mutant Counter-Movement. Patriot becomes briefly romantically linked with Moira McTaggert, a normal Human assisting the Pro-Peace Mutant underground.
Other Marvel Universe divergences:
Spider-Man is Eugene 'Flash' Thompson, who starts out as a 'hero' in hopes of gaining fame, and fortune, but is really just a greedy bully. He figures into the background, and origin of Dan's character The Prowler.
The Fantastic Four exist, but are somewhat different. SHIELD funded their experimental rocket in an attempt to discover whether or not Cosmic Rays were the origin of the M-gene. They are connected, but not the origin per se. The FF consists of Prof. Reed Richards (who can turn Invisible and project Force Fields), Susan Storm-Richards (who can control Fire, and Ice), SHIELD Agent, and Pilot Benjamin Grim (Who can turn into The Thing, but can also change back to normal), and SHIELD Physicist, and Radiation Expert Otto Octavius (who gained the ability to shape change, and stretch - somewhat like Marvel's Mister Fantastic, but more like DC's Plastic Man).
One of the other heroes of the world, although not affiliated with SHIELD, is Cain Marko, half brother of Charles Xavier, and known as The Juggernaut. Juggernaut is killed in a major battle with the M-Men early in the campaign that also sees the death of Mutant villains Banshee, and Iceman.
We learn Robert Bruce Banner was killed in the test detonation of his own Gamma Bomb while protecting a youth named Rick Jones. Jones was somehow transformed into a massive, green, Gamma-powered monster, but as yet SHIELD has been unable to stabilize his condition.
Tony Stark was killed when shrapnel from a booby trap in Vietnam pierces his heart. Stark Industries is now lead by a board of directors, with Pepper Potts functioning as CEO. Kevin O'Brian runs the companies R&D Department. Jim Rhodes is Chief of Security.
Captain America died at the end of World War II disabling an experimental Axis drone plane that exploded over the North Atlantic Ocean. James 'Bucky' Barnes was the survivor in this reality, and served as Captain America in the late forties through the 1950s until he retired due to injuries.
OMG! The 'G' by the way stands for Galactus.
This post took over a week to complete due to my illness, and a host of other things I've had to due. My birthday this past Friday also had me distracted.
I hope you enjoyed this story, and as always I welcome questions, and comments on it. It was really fun to remember, and I can't wait to post tales of other games, including a DC Heroes one, a couple Giant Robot campaigns, and a few that might just surprise long-time readers.
Happy Valentines Day as well!