Shadowrun 5E “The Bodyguards” Session 1 Report

A new adventure kicks off as our runners are tasked with working security at a rock concert.

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Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.

A new adventure begins! One of the aspects I like to incorporate into my game writing and structure are my players’ back stories. In our previous adventure I teased Mauta’s back story, eventually causing her to reveal her darker past to her fellow runners in a fun, tense moment, and giving her a crisis of conscious with a choice at the end.

For our new adventure I used an NPC from our troll shaman Ursev – his estranged brother Benton. I got with the player and had him detail a bunch of information so I could role-play the character effectively. The idea was to have the brother track down the runners after their recent exploits and offer them their next job – joining his private security team in protecting a famous singer during her show at a concert hall.

BentonThere was a lot of role-playing and dialogue during these set-up prologue events. I feel like it went over smoother than previous set-ups as it was more back and forth rather than having me just dump a bunch of information at the players’ feet. The players asked questions and I answered, and it all felt much more natural and interactive.

The players were also given time to shop around for any new equipment they wanted, as well as explain any character advancement thanks to the rather substantial karma and nuyen rewards they received at the end of the previous adventure.

As a GM I’m not too terribly concerned with role-playing and nit-picking the downtime stuff. I use some slightly modified house rules for buying equipment that seems to work for us, and everyone pretty much relies on the team’s Face/Adept for his superior Negotiation skills.

The bulk of this first session was actually just the prologue – buying equipment, gathering information, and talking with the quest-giver. In a twist from previous adventures, I offered the runners a chance to visit the venue they’d be guarding.

Benton escorted them through the building which gave me a chance to give detailed descriptions without the added chaos of the upcoming event. It also gave the players a chance to explore the building and plan on how they wanted to handle their protective duties.

For once there was actually no combat in the whole session. The players had a ton of prep time to get the proper equipment, learn about the mission, and even scout the venue they would be pulling guard duty at.

The Bodyguards Scene 1

I’m excited about this mission as it was the initial story idea I had when I first got into Shadowrun role-playing. I’m hoping I didn’t overextend myself too much with events surrounding a full-fledged rock concert, and it should provide a ton of opportunities for multiple exciting events and incidents.

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.

Shadowrun 5E “Road Rage” Epilogue & Recap

We break down our second Shadowrun mission, “Road Rage,” in our Epilogue & Recap episode.

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.

Read “Road Rage” Session 1 Report
Read “Road Rage” Session 2 Report
Read “Road Rage” Session 3 Report
Read “Road Rage” Session 4 Report
Read “Road Rage” Session 5 Report

For every mission we run in my Shadowrun role-playing group, I like to end with an Epilogue & Recap session. This gives us a chance to go over the events of the mission and pull back the curtain a bit on how I run the adventure. I welcome and encourage any and all feedback and criticism to the adventure itself (written completely by me) as well as how I run everything. It also gives me a chance to talk directly to the players about how they approached certain situations, and perhaps point out alternate paths or answer questions about other methods that were available to them.

It went over really well. We’re all old friends and family so everyone is comfortable talking frankly about what all worked and what didn’t. In general everyone was super positive over the “Road Rage” adventure, enjoying it more than the first mission. We all agreed it was a very combat heavy mission, but all the battles and scenarios were different and varied enough that they all remained fun and unique.

“Road Rage” was composed of five total scenes, using four custom built tactical maps in Roll20. It took us five total 2-3 hour sessions, not including this final recap session, making it much longer than our previous three-session adventure. I wrote it as a direct follow-up to the events of our inaugural adventure, “Not With a Whimper.” The players were contacted by their new fixer and contact, gang leader Jeremiah Redd, to escort an armored truck full of goods to an Ares MegaCorp buyer at the downtown Seattle docks.

The shipment came from Jay-T’s Automotive, the location of the final scene in the previous adventure. Reusing a previously built map was a huge time-saver for me, and I used the opportunity to create an entirely different scenario than the drone infiltration of the the last adventure. The players stumbled upon a hostage situation, and opted to go in guns-blazing, violently but effectively ending the hostilities with the gangers [Read Session 1 Report].

Shadowrun Road Rage Lapis LuzilThey also met their new NPC allies I saddled them with: freelance runner and sword-wielding Adept Lapis Luzil, and ex-ganger professional driver Crank. Crank was a fun callback to the last adventure as a previous minor adversary that the players specifically captured alive (as the driver of the DocWagon Ambulance) and turned over to Redd. I had him flip sides and embrace Redd’s gang. The players gathered the rest of the shipment into the truck, decided on how to split the party and what vehicles to take, and got started on their highway to hell, err Seattle [Read Session 2 Report].

What followed was a series of two unavoidable combat encounters. My initial plan was to offer a branching path depending on how the players handled the first encounter with the troll biker gang. After I started writing and building the tunnel map, however, I decided to simply force the issue so as to give the players another path and different encounter. It did feel a bit ‘railroad-y,’ a problem that crops up when using pre-defined visual aids like Roll20 in for a role-playing game, but ultimately all the players said they were fun and enjoyable encounters.

The highway chase scene with the troll bikers was a lengthy combat encounter, and our first use of vehicles in combat. Since starting Shadowrun I definitely wanted to jump into vehicular usage as it’s not exactly something that comes up during fantasy RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons. The players took right to it, using a few special chase combat attacks like Cutting Off and Ramming, as well as unleashing spells and guns at the trolls.

My trolls got some good hits in on the truck as well, including setting off a demolitions charge, adding a dire sense of urgency to the situation. Ultimately the players were able to defeat most of the trolls, but more appeared on the horizon, prompting Crank to suggest the tunnels as an alternate route [Read Session 3 Report].

While the highway was a typical action movie set-piece, the tunnels were dripping with horror and the unknown. I used Roll20’s fog of war system to limit the players’ vision, and once they were forced to move an obstacle I unleashed my ghouls upon them. We’d never fought feral, monster-type creatures before (most Shadowrun opponents are fellow metahumans) and I was unsure how many the players could take.

Turns out I had my worst rolls ever that night, as my ghouls continually tied on their attacks (which is basically a miss) while the runners wiped the floor with them. Ghouls have little defense so their danger comes in their numbers and their relatively high attack, which didn’t end up amounting to much. Still my players said they enjoyed the encounter, and the dread of not knowing how many of them were out there.road rage scene 2 highway

The last 20-30 minutes of our fourth session was the highlight of the adventure for me, as our players reached the guarded entrance to the docks and began panicking over how to approach it. Mauta began confessing her previous relationship to the buyer which might cause interesting problems, while Saran simply leapt over the barbed wire fence using the nearby shipping containers I’d placed. It was a fun and zany moment of player drama that as GM I can’t write for, but always hope for [Read Session 4 Report].

The players made it inside using Ursev’s powerful Jedi Mind Trick, err, Control Thoughts spell. The actual exchange and deal went off relatively problem free, with Falkirk the charismatic leader using a point of Edge to extract an impressive additional payout from the buyer (I totally didn’t consider Edge when writing my Net Hits to Money ratio on that Negotiation test).

At the end, right before being paid, the players were suddenly attacked by an unseen mage via a two-pronged attack – casting Mob Control on everyone in the immediate vicinity of the exchange site, and summoning a water spirit to attack everyone else. To make things even more climactic, the water spirit summoned a powerful thunderstorm localized right over the docks.

My players completely panicked and it was glorious. I only ensnared one of them in the mind spell (Falkirk) as Ursev was adamant about staying the truck the whole time, and I definitely wanted to follow the line of sight rules for the spell. Saran had to deal with the surprise attack of the water spirit, while Muata had a good elevated position to discover the spell’s source – a mysterious figure on a boat in the harbor. The players were burning Edge points left and right to both avoid attacks and disable the spell on Falkirk.

shadowrun

I was pretty lenient and merciful with the players at the end, mostly in the interest of time and not to completely screw them over with this unavoidable surprise attack (had they killed the buyer, they wouldn’t get paid). When Mauta took a shot at the boat, I had them immediately drive off, dissipating the spell. I originally planned on having the water spirit stick around as a pseudo final boss fight, but the climactic relief from the players after the mind control wore off motivated me to actually just have the water spirit retreat. The players got thanks from the buyer (they kept both his guard alive, though they were heavily injured), and received their substantial monetary award [Read Session 5 Report].

The players received a bunch of karma and money from the mission, quite a bit more than the first adventure, and everyone gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up. The finale was their first real look at the overarching villain of this campaign. The players have had a few opportunities to discover their identity but so far have come up short, leading to more mystery and questions. Will we find out more of the overall plot beginning in next week’s session? Well we dive into some of our runners’ backstories? Will Saran continue to act like a hilarious psychopath? Stay tuned to Sunday evenings for more of our Shadowrun live-streaming adventures!

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.

Dinosaurs Are Awesome: My Thoughts on Jurassic World

Jurassic Park is one of my all-time favorite films. Here are my thoughts and reactions to Jurassic World.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This post is full of MASSIVE SPOILERS for Jurassic World. Do not read until you’ve watched it!

jurassic park finale

Jurassic Park means a lot to me. Like many young boys I was crazy into dinosaurs. I worshiped a silly 80’s cartoon/extended toy commercial called Dino-Riders. I owned all the Transformers Dinobots. I had buckets of little plastic dinosaurs, and giant rubber behemoths that I stomped around in the backyard. I had entire bookshelves dedicated to dinosaur biology and research.

It was a love and infatuation that naturally subsided a bit as I aged, but never disappeared entirely. I remember passionately reading through Michael Crichton’s The Lost World sequel before being disappointed by the film in ’97 (my first ever instance of crying “the book was better!”). Jurassic Park 3 remains one of the few films I’ve ever seen in theatres three or more times (not including actually working at a movie theatre, as I did for years).

To say my expectations were high for Jurassic World would not be entirely accurate. After all, both sequels have declined as the years gone by. The majesty and wonder of seeing the ancient lords of Earth rendered with computer graphics imaging suddenly isn’t all that special two decades later when we’ve seen superheroes battle aliens and robots.

Dino-Riders. Yeah, my mind was blown too.
Dino-Riders. Yeah, my mind was blown too.

Yet there’s just something about dinosaurs that remains fascinating. These astonishing creatures actually roamed the Earth for far longer than we have. Seeing them behave like animals, and not just monsters, is something the Jurassic series has struggled with. Jurassic World actually handles this quite well (for the most part), as well as finally showing us a fully functional dinosaur park for the first time ever. In many ways this is a film we can only get now that our technology (and budgets) have grown sufficiently to do the series justice. Here are my knee-jerk thoughts and reactions to the film.

Okay seriously, spoilers will follow!

 

The Highs

Seeing John Hammond’s dream of a functioning dinosaur theme park is so much fun, and I absolutely loved that we got to view it through the lens of ecstatic young boy Gray, played by Ty Simpkins (Iron Man 3). I felt his unbridled joy and dorky enthusiasm as he raced along to each exhibit and attraction, with his appropriately I’m Too Cool and Hormonal for This older teenage brother Zach (Nick Robinson).

jurassic-world_0

With the boys’ relationship woes I was fully expecting a rehash of the first film (and of most Spielburg films in general) of all our leads coming together to form a family. Thankfully this cliché is avoided, and instead the focus is of the two brothers’ relationship with each other. The older brother quickly loses his teenage attitude once the shit hits the fan, and he and his ridiculously sweet brother build a nice bond that leads to enough character growth without detracting from the main event.

Our leads are perfectly cast, with Bryce Dallas Howard going through a fun transformation from cold-hearted CEO to ass-kicking, heels-running, T-Rex summoning badass. Chris Pratt’s Owen essentially plays a singular badass character that pulls elements from all of the franchise’s previous leading men – he’s got Alan Grant’s dinosaur knowledge and respect, Ian Malcolm’s smarmy charm and wit, and even Robert Muldoon’s (“Clever Girl”) swagger and confidence.

Of the two I actually enjoyed Claire far more (and I love Chris Pratt). Instead of simply running and screaming she channels her inner Dr. Ellie Sattler and takes charge of the situation, directly saving all of them on multiple occasions. She receives the strongest character growth and arc throughout the film, and it’s a big bummer that she’s almost completely absent from all the marketing and advertising.

Jurassic World should also be recognized for having the most diverse cast of the franchise. The leads are still all good-looking white people (baby steps, I guess), but Henry Wu returns as the sole character tie-in to the original, with an expanded role that paints his character in some interestingly murky areas. Omar Sy essentially gets the buddy role to Owen, but again his role is much bigger than I would have anticipated – and he survives! My favorite was Irrfan Khan playing eccentric billionaire and park owner Simon Masrani, a fun role that he injects a lot of personality and heart into.

jurassic world herd

Our entrance to the island is dripping with nostalgia as composer Michael Giacchino lovingly caresses you with the John Williams’ iconic theme, building to an epic crescendo as we move through the classic giant wooden gates and see the park in all its glory. Callbacks to the first film are balanced so as not to consume the new story and park, but instead drop hints, teases, and occasional lines of dialogue that directly address it – like when an employee wears an old Jurassic Park t-shirt.

In an age of frequent reboots where the original films are completely discarded or ignored, it was fun seeing not only a direct acknowledgement of the first film, but to see it treated with an almost holy reverence, as when our characters stumble upon the ruins of the original Visitor’s Center and old jeeps. I felt goosebumps when they run their hands over a shadowy raptor on the wall, step over the bones of the fallen skeleton, and pick up the night vision goggles.

The main plot of an intelligent, killer dino on the loose is much better than I would have expected. I was worried we would really veer off into some ridiculous territory, especially when I’d heard troublesome whispers leading up to the film that this Indominus Rex could command and control other dinosaurs.

In reality her new ‘powers,’ like hiding from thermographic sensors and camouflage, are explained through gene-splicing. I accepted this the way I accept comic book reasoning – even if it’s all silly and ridiculous, if you can explain it within the fiction of your world, I can accept it. Her one bit of dino control comes from her being part-Raptor, which leads to a fun battle of wills between Raptor Trainer Owen and Alpha Predator Indominus.

Owen and company are eventually forced by In-Gen into using the trained raptors on a field test against Indominus Rex, and of course things go terribly wrong. I did like that Treverrow borrowed from Aliens in these scenes, complete with headcams on the raptors and troops and ominous life monitors on the screens. It was a fun excuse to finally see military equipment and personnel face off against dinosaurs. The whole plan and concept is quickly abandoned when things go to hell, and we’re almost back where we started with our heroes merely running for their lives and the raptors seemingly turned native – but there’s a few more tricks the film has up it’s sleeve in the incredible finale.

jurassic world sea

The finale gives us the rock ’em sock ’em dino combat that we all want, and is proof that Universal Pictures and director Colin Treverrow know exactly why people enjoy these films – to see awesome dinosaurs, and remind us that we are just puny humans with too much hubris. A lot of silly conceits have to be made for the climactic dino-battle at the end to work (which I’ll address below) but the CGI-fest remains fun as hell. When Claire says “We need more teeth” and runs off with determination, I was already cheering. The unmistakable hero of the first film – Tyrannosaurus Rex steps onto the stage with all the pageantry and fist-pumping of a WWE super star. The film had already transported me back to a childhood of dinosaur-laden joy, and the finale fully delivered on my child-like astonishment of seeing these titans battle it out.

 

The Lows

Jurassic World was far from perfect. Despite my previous adulation I definitely had my share of issues. The biggest is the awkward attempt at shoe-horning in two mostly separate plots – the escape of Indominus Rex, and the hostile takeover by In-Gen. The Indominus plot works well enough – here’s a single dinosaur that’s powerful and intelligent enough (basically a terrifying combination of T-Rex and Velociraptor) to raise havoc on the island.

Meanwhile, however, Vincent D’Onofrio’s over-the-top villainous asshole military guy is trying to convince everyone else that weaponized dinosaurs are the future of modern warfare. That…seems a bit silly, even by this franchise’s standards. Still, we definitely dodged a bullet compared to the early script drafts that included splicing human and dinosaur DNA together to create super-soldiers – ugh.

jurassic world raptros

Once Indominus Rex (god I hate that name, at least Chris Pratt, as the Voice of the Audience, calls out how dumb it is when he first hears it) accidentally breaches the aviary, all the pteranadons and dimorphodons immediately fly out. The weird bit is, they act like a horde of mindless, people-killing monsters as they go toward the park and attack everything in sight, often disregarding their own safety. For a film that’s generally done a solid job propping up the dinosaurs as actual animals and real creatures (part of Owen’s cornerstone for being a Raptor trainer and Claire’s growth as a person) it’s a really weird, jarring scene. Also includes a rather unnecessary and oddly exploitative death in Claire’s rather useless assistant, as she’s battled over by various fliers before being devoured by the film’s Chekov’s Gun – the truly monstrous mosasaurus.

The finale is all kinds of awesome, but as I mentioned, requires a few mental hurdles and hand-waving to make any sense. First comes the rather surprising information that the T-Rex paddock is extremely close to the main thoroughfare of the park, where the climactic battle takes place. We are to believe that Claire runs over there in a few minutes at most. Second she stands in front of the gate as it’s raised, lights the flare (okay, that callback was completely awesomesauce and clever), then runs like hell from a T-Rex that’s RIGHT THERE, all the way back to the battle. It felt a little weird but the film goes through the motions so quickly you can barely have a chance to dissect it before the beasts go at it. That and I honestly didn’t care that much as I was cheering the second T-Rex showed up to battle this genetic freak.

The film dips into some real ridiculousness when Raptor and T-Rex work together to take down Indominus. I’m pretty sure at one point the raptor (Blue, I think, the last survivor of the original four) was riding T-Rex as they battled. Silly, ridiculous, but still utterly amazing. I honestly half-expected the Raptor and T-Rex to high-five each other after the mosasaur deals the finishing blow, instead they do a funny nod to each other and run off. Dinosaurs, man.

 

The Verdict

Jurassic_World_posterDespite the weird plotting, mediocre dialogue, and occasional goofy plothole, I loved the hell out of Jurassic World. Trevorrow does a great job showing off the park and dinosaurs as the real stars, right down the last scene when T-Rex climbs on top of the helipad and asserts her awesomeness with that iconic roar.

The characters and writing weren’t nearly as good as the original film, but overall I enjoyed it more than the second and third films. There’s a nice blend of light-hearted humor with the ongoing action and peril (something Marvel excels at as well), and the film actually shies away from any overly tense or horrific scenes – knowing full well that dinosaurs, even genetically enhanced ones, don’t quite terrify us like they used to. But they can still impress the hell out of us.

 

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – X-Men: Emperor Vulcan

The explosive and fun mini-sequel to Uncanny X-Men: Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire sees our cosmic heroes and villains joining together to combat a new alien threat.

With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

x-men emperor vulcan coverWriter: Christopher Yost

Artist: Paco Diaz

Issues: X-Men: Emperor Vulcan #1-5

 

With relief from my recent 12+ issues, mammoth volumes of comics comes this nice little mini-series. In Uncanny X-Men: Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire we saw the deadly rise of long-lost Summers brother Vulcan (first introduced in X-Men: Deadly Genesis) take out his revenge on the entire alien empire, establishing himself as supreme ruler, and kicking most of the X-Men back to Earth.

A few stayed behind – Havok, Polaris, and Marvel Girl (Rachel Grey), who join the leader-less Starjammers and vow to never stop hunting Vulcan. Emperor Vulcan presents a fun interstellar war that effectively focuses on its few important characters, and acts as both a sequel to Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire as well as setting up events for the next great Marvel cosmic clash, War of Kings.

The story begins as the new Starjammers have joined forces with the Shi’ar resistance in fight back against the usurper Vulcan. Just as the spaceship armadas clash together, a new faction suddenly emerges, crying “Death to the Shi’ar.” They launch a powerful weapon at a nearby Shi’ar colonized planet, a beacon that summons a star through a warpgate, slamming into the planet and destroying its several billion population.

x-men emperor vulcan #2

When this new race, looking a bit like humanoid Predators, destroys Vulcan’s ship and breaks Gladiator’s hand, they have no choice but to ally themselves with the Starjammers and the resistance to battle them. It turns out that thousands of years ago the Shi’ar came through and destroyed the M’Kraan people and took their crystal, and now the rest of them are out for revenge using their planet-destroying technology.

It’s basically the plot of the rebooted Star Trek film from 2009 and leads to a lot of really spiffy visuals and bright explosions by Paco Diaz’s wonderfully action-packed art. I especially loved the way he drew Marvel Girl’s blue phoenix manifestations, and even making Havok’s normally dorky looking circle powers crackle with energy and power – props to colorist Brian Reber as well!

With only five issues things move fairly swiftly as our two hated forces come together under necessity to battle the M’Kraan. They divide their forces and you can guess that Havok and Vulcan end up together to fight the big bad Eldest, leader of the M’Kraan. After defeating him they quickly turn on each other, giving us the knock down, drag out super-powered fight we’ve been waiting for.

x-men emperor vulcan #1It’s actually quite satisfying, and fun to see the normally lame Havok (with his boring self-doubting personality) really let loose after Vulcan throws him into a star. Havok absorbs the power and fires it right back. Just when he’s ready to deal with the deathblow, Vulcan’s Imperial Guard shows up with the rest of the Starjammers in chains, and Havok is forced to surrender.

Thus the series ends with Vulcan actually winning. The M’Kraan invaders are destroyed but Vulcan has cemented his rule amongst his people, proving he was willing to do whatever it took to protect the Shi’ar. This also ends their civil war, as Lilandra’s Uncle (and General) decides to join forces with Vulcan, allowing her to flee.

I’m sure once I dive into future cosmic events, Emperor Vulcan will look like a weird, random stop-over story with a somewhat silly alien race popping up and needing to be dealt with. Chris Yost’s writing style remains fun and fresh, with a TV-like quality that helps make you care about the cast he’s working with. I particularly like that he spends some time on the relationships between characters, both romantic and friendly. And it helps that the art is solid, with the explosive interstellar action definitely playing to Diaz’s strengths. If you’d have been keeping up with the X-Men’s intergalactic exploits at the time, it’s a fun and quick read.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – X-Force: The Complete Collection Vol. 1

X-Force expertly layers in several explosive, fun story beats and far-reaching plot threads while the accompanying water-color art relishes in its violently bloody melee combat.

With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

x-force complete collection vol 1 coverWriters: Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost

Artists: Clayton Crain (#1-6, #12-13), Mike Choi (#7-10), Alina Urusov (#11)

Issues: X-Force (2008) #1-13, X-Force Special: Ain’t No Dog #1, X-Force Annual #1

 

First there was House of M, in which the Scarlet Witch reduced the mutant population of the world from millions to several hundred with three little words. Several years later the epic X-Men crossover event Messiah Complex gave us the first mutant birth since that day, and everyone wanted to get their hands on this miracle child.

Knowing the depths of which evil, bigoted humans (and evil mutants) would go, and seeing their backs firmly up against the wall, Cyclops finally becomes the leader we were all waiting for. The results are actually kind of terrifying as he’s become a hard-nosed militaristic leader, and reinstates the X-Force as his own secretive and deadly black-ops team.

X-Force, a new series that launched in the wake of Messiah Complex in 2008, brings together X-23, Warpath, and Wolfsbane under Wolverine’s leadership. Cyclops gives Wolverine the missions and he keeps the rest of the X-Men completely in the dark – even to the point of using the Cuckoos (telepathic triplets) to block Emma Frost from probing his mind about it.

Their first task is to deal with the immediate threat of the Purifiers, one of the X-Men’s biggest enemies that sprung from the pages of New X-Men. Under the creative writing team of Craig Kyle and Chris Yost (who also crafted New X-Men from issue #20 on), X-Force expertly layers in several explosive, fun story beats, while the accompanying water-color style art by Clayton Crain relishes in the bloody melee combat of having so many rough and tumble fighters together on one team.

x-force #13

With former leader William Stryker dead at the end of the Purifier assault on the X-Mansion in New X-Men Volume 2, his right-hand Mathew Risman has become the de facto leader. Risman works to create a new powerful threat to the X-Men by further modifying the body of Nimrod, the mutant-hunting sentinel from the future, and forming Bastion, a humanoid robotic warrior hellbent on the X-Men’s demise.

Kyle and Yost spend quite a bit of time on the Purifiers and their own cultish motivations and inner drama. Bastion’s methods soon sour Risman and others as he’s more than willing to kill humans as long as the ends (death of all mutants) justify the means. Risman has his own plan – letting a captured and programmed Wolfsbane be rescued by X-Force only to horrifically attack Angel and rip his wings off when they’re alone.

x-force #6She takes the wings back to the Purifiers. Using the special Apocalypse-granted bio-technology they’re able to graft steel wings onto the backs of their most devout followers and create a winged army. Instead of attacking the X-Men, however, Risman seizes his chance to swiftly attack Bastion and the other Purifiers! Meanwhile it’s all Warpath, X-23 and Wolverine can do to try and follow Angel who violently ‘hulks out’ into Archangel – the embodiment of Death that Apocalypse had transformed him into years ago.

Angel had become a super boring character for years, and X-Men writers rarely even included him in most adventures. Let’s face it, being able to fly is quickly eclipsed by just about every other combat-savvy power that the X-Men possess. Credit to X-Force then for making Angel not only a badass as the steel razor-sharp winged Archangel, but a complicated character who has to battle his inner rage of having the Death persona take control of his thoughts and actions.

That whole first arc ends in a fantastically bloody and crazy battle between Purifiers and X-Force. The plot thickens for future events when we find out that Bastion has used a sleeping Technarch force (an alien bio-organic creature) to resurrect and enslave all of the X-Men’s old political foes. In this modern era you don’t defeat the heroes by summoning a giant creature to kill them – you raise up some savvy politicians and leaders to denounce them and turn the tide of public opinion.

x-force #3

It’s an interesting commentary on this post-Civil War Marvel world and works quite well. Of course we also get some just plain awesome fight scenes between Bastion and Wolverine, and Archangel kills dozens of Purifiers in a fit of rage. X-Force is easily the most bloody and violent Marvel comic I’ve ever read, and the painting-quality art style really gives it a mature and artistic angle rather than pure exploitative and gratuitous.

In the second half of this massive collected Volume the revelation of all the old X-Men foes returning further galvanizes Cyclops’ brutal and cold decision-making (and causes Wolverine and Cyke to have some deliciously heated arguments). X-Force is sent to retrieve a deadly sample of the Legacy Virus, recently stolen by a teleporting mutant called Vanisher. The virus is a famous plot device from years ago that only targets and kills mutants.

The team soon runs into Domino, a former X-Force member, lover of Cable, and all around snarky and awesome Deadpool-esque fighter. Domino adds some much needed levity and one-liners to this normally dour and serious group. Taking on Vanisher becomes darkly humorous as the teams splits up to cover all his safe houses. He teleports to each one, getting sliced, shot, and attacked at each one before Elixir touches him mumbling an apology.

x-force #8Josh Foley, AKA Elixir is another former New X-Men. He has the power to manipulate the inner workings of the human body, mostly to heal people but can also cause great harm (he single-handedly killed Stryker). In this case, he gives Vanisher a brain tumor with the little X logo on it. Vanisher freaks out and reminds me of that classic whiny sidekick villain from a kids movie, but here done in a legitimately funny and enjoyable way. Him and Domino both are fantastic additions to the team, while Exliir is really only used as the situation dictates.

Meanwhile both Warpath and Wolfsbane are given rather strange side quests which have little to do with the main plot. Warpath decides to go visit his dead brother’s grave to collect himself, but he’s attacked by a giant demon spirit bear thing. Then Ghost Rider shows up to help him fight it. It’s seemingly random but when Warpath returns to the group he does set up the stage for upcoming X-Force crossover event X-Necrosha, regarding a new villain named Eli Bard, returning evil witch Selene, and the possibility of an army of undead.

Wolfsbane is given such horrible treatment that I was constantly annoyed with her arc throughout. Here is a character that was specifically ripped from her role in X-Factor only to be captured off screen in the first issue of X-Force, used as a pawn by the bad guys, then rendered untrustworthy by the good guys. In the second arc she’s simply left at home after they fail at deprogramming her (she still wants to kill Angel). She goes off on her own and eventually runs into some wolf-man dude from Thor’s neck of the woods, and the two share some romantic scenes. Being totally unaware of her character pre-X-Factor it did nothing for me, nor had anything to do with anything else. I love you X-Force but your treatment of Rahne Sinclair is just really crappy.

It all comes down to an exciting final few issues as X-Force tracks down the Leper Queen, one of the Bastion-resurrected and controlled foes who’s injecting mutants with the Legacy Virus and using them as human bombs. At the same time Beast has crafted special time-travel discs that can send a squad into the future to help Cable and baby Hope survive Bishop’s relentless pursuit, setting up X-Force’s immediate crossover story Messiah War.

x-force #12

So, that’s the seeds of X-Necrosha, Messiah War, and X-Force’s own main plot all interweaving together, and it’s damn impressive. Our heroes get teleported away to the future just as they reach the Leper Queen, and she just straight-up murders her most recent victim, the mutant Boom-Boom. Introducing a D-list character at the climax just to kill them off is old hat, dumb, and unnecessary, and it’s a shame that it’s the last panel of the book.

Despite some glaring mistreatment of certain characters and a lot of stories going on, I really did enjoy X-Force. It didn’t quite grab me at first and I found the art style quite jarring, but as I read I appreciated the carefully layered in plotting and pacing, and Crain’s art really grew on me. Even when the comic briefly switches artists to the slightly brighter work of Mike Choi it still meshed very well. It’s also very fun seeing several of my favorite New X-Men (which ended at Messiah Complex) used in various roles, even if they’re just captives waiting to be rescued (sorry Surge and Hellion).

Reading Messiah Complex and a good chunk of New X-Men is recommended to get the full breadth of these characters and situations, making X-Force a tricky jumping-on point for new converts. Even if you just come to see Wolverine stab dudes in the face, it’s pretty damn entertaining. Highly recommended for crafting a fun team of violent mutants and setting up some really fun plot threads for years to come.

x-force #9

New Article – 5 Great Wii U Games for Toddlers

A list of fun, downloadable Nintendo eShop games for the Wii U that can be enjoyed by younger children and toddlers.

Read the full list on Pixelkin.org

games for toddlers

There comes a time in every gaming parent’s life when your young child is no longer content to sit there with an unplugged (or unconnected) controller, happily mashing buttons along with parents or older siblings. They know the controller is supposed to light up. They know the on-screen characters should respond to their inputs. 

When your young child begins to express an interest in games, there are sadly too few console games for toddlers they can explore. While the mobile market and tablets in particular have made leaps and bounds toward kid-friendly gaming, the big consoles still lag behind.

Nintendo is a bastion of family-friendly gaming. But for decades they’ve had a limited selection of games that very young children can operate and enjoy. I probed the depths of the Nintendo eShop and found several fun games for toddlers and younger children for the Wii U—all kid-approved by my own 3-year-old daughter….

Read the full list on Pixelkin.org

Shadowrun 5E “Road Rage” Session 5 Report

The runners finally make it to the exchange at the docks where they contend with a magical onslaught of thunderstorms and mind control that threatens to tear it all down.

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.

Read “Road Rage” Session 1 Report
Read “Road Rage” Session 2 Report
Read “Road Rage” Session 3 Report
Read “Road Rage” Session 4 Report

I was super excited going into our fifth and final session of this adventure. The last twenty or so minutes from last week’s session gave us a lot of delicious inter-team drama and deliberation – the kind I can’t plan or produce but can only hope evolves naturally (and enjoyably) during the adventure.

Last night’s session picked up just as a tense plan was coming together. Our runners needed to get inside the docks to complete their exchange of the goods they’d worked so hard to escort and protect. I was expecting some fun social tests to crop up; instead Ursev the troll shaman cast his ‘Jedi Mind Trick’ Control Thoughts spell (a malicious but effective form of temporary mind control) and basically forced the guard to wave them through.

Most of them clamored into the truck but Saran the decker and Mauta the weapons specialist both opted to leap across the chain link fence and sneak around the shipping containers. Mauta stuck to the high ground while Saran sneaked around the side. This was our first real use of a giant map and set piece in Roll20, and I was pleased that my players were impressed, and somewhat apprehensive with it. There was a funny bit where Saran wasn’t sure how to sneak around a simple dock worker taking a cigarette break. He was seriously thinking of killing the poor guy just because he was in his way, which the other players immediately balked at.

Things seemed to go pretty smoothly at the actual exchange. Mauta and Saran took up defensive overwatch positions while Falkirk, Ursev, and their NPC buddies Lapis and Crank showed up with the truck and the goods.

I made the buyer, Ares mid-level manager Ricardo Martin, an affable and outgoing guy. Falkirk made the surprisingly but brilliant call to use Edge on the Negotiation roll to try and squeeze more money out of the deal, pushing his total hits to 6 (and net hits over Ricardo’s roll to 3). From my notes that equaled another $6,000 nuyen in reward money per player, on top of the original $2,000 they were getting. Working for mega crops does have its advantages!

srr_concept_docks

Of course I wasn’t about to let things go down that easy. I unleashed my secret weapon – a two-step mage attack from an unseen enemy. The skies darkened and a massive rainstorm erupted on the shipyards. At the same time a large group of people where suddenly mind controlled, and told to ‘Kill The Others.’ Ricardo and his Knight Errant guards pulled weapons and began engaging the runners. Falkirk was the only player in the area that was also mind controlled, and he was forced to attack (though I let the player decide whom he would attack and with what weapon).

Finally I added a Water Spirit into the mix as the storm-summoning culprit. This was an interesting combat scenario as our players didn’t want to actually kill their opponents, but instead attempt to subdue them, knock them unconscious, or disrupt or dispel the spell. Poor Falkirk didn’t have enough Logic and Willpower to be able to resist the spell on his own, but Ursev used all of his turns and Edge points to dispel the enchantment on his friend.

Speaking of natural spell resistance, that’s definitely the one bit of book keeping I totally dropped the ball on. I remembered it for Lapis and Crank but almost not at all for the Ares people until right at the end. Granted they only had 2 dice to roll and needed 4 hits (taking a minimum 2 turns if they rolled fantastically) but still, oops! As a GM there’s often a lot going on, especially in combat, so it’s very helpful when players and/or twitch chat can point out the things I forget.

Road Rage Scene 5 docks

There were two major ways the players could get themselves out of this situation without having to murder or knock out their opponents: block the Line of Sight to the harbor (either physically blocking it or moving the affected people out of the way) or attacking the source of the magical attacks. Mauta had the best vision and position, and a Perception test revealed one of the boats in the harbor and a figure with a magical aura around them, transfixed on the docks using mounted telescope-type device.

Mauta’s first turn was to unsuccessfully shoot at the water spirit. For her second she fired at the boat. In this case I wasn’t even interested in normal attack/defense tests as the boat was protected by a mana barrier. The impact on the barrier was enough to disrupt the spellcaster, and the Mob Mind spell was shattered. I’d originally planned on having the water spirit fight to the death but the mood of the players was of relief and ready for the epilogue at this point (we were also right up against our usual stopping time) so instead I had the creature slink back into the water. The storm subsided, Ricardo was greatful no one was killed (save a single dock worker but pffttt) and everyone went their separate ways. Mission completed!

For their troubles (and their great Negotiation rolls) the players received a total of $10,000 nueyn for the mission, as well as 10 Karma points. They also got Ricardo and Lapis as Contacts they can call upon. Campaign-wise the plot certainly thickened with the attack during the finale with this obviously powerful and magically-gifted assailant. My goal with the overall campaign is to loosely stitch together a bunch of missions with an overarching villain and frequent appearances by familiar NPCs, both good and bad. Basically creating my own comic book style story arc.

I was satisfied with the end result, though hopefully it didn’t feel too rushed or anti-climatic. I was definitely hoping we’d finish the adventure this week and be able to do the full recap and epilogue episode next week, and frankly the adventure was already very combat-heavy without having me draw out this final battle. Look for that recap and feedback session next week as we cap off this second adventure of our Shadowrun campaign!

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.