Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Dungeon Master Disasters - Hail To The King, Criminal Scum

It's been a while since we've had any roleplaying stories on the blog and - given the Codex: Eldar review needs to be delayed a little longer - now seems the best time to break out a classic.

Those reading past stories might notice that i'm often a player in these games rather than the DM/GM at any point, and there's a good reason for that. I'm bloody terrible at it. Oh I can run the odd fun game once in a while, but that's usually involving me inventing things as I go along in an insane rush of Whisky Tango Foxtrot. Case and point being a Dark Heresy event which led to Inquisitorial Acolytes boarding a seemingly dead Tyranid Hive Ship and finding pre-Heresy Luna Wolves in its innards. Dumb, yeah, but it was at least a ludicrously fun kind of dumb. When it comes to planning and actually working on long term stuff, either I start missing points or eventually stop pulling my punches. This is a case where that didn't quite happen. No, instead everything else went wrong.

During the last year of university, some time after the serial rapist elf story, I joined up with another band of RPG fanatics for a short while. Enough time had apparently passed to seriously think about giving things another shot, and this group had made it clear they wanted to try anything besides D&D - Particularly the world of superheroes. Well, after a few too many games involving astartes, eldar and warforged, it certainly seemed like a fun change of scenery. A little talking revealed they were interested in the DC universe, and we rolled on from there, coming up with the idea of roleplaying as a group of superheroes loosely connected to the Justice League. They were street level, focused largely upon common criminals with some occasional occult or science fiction leanings, but hardly the sort focused upon world ending threats. So, with that solid direction in mind I left to plan out the campaign.

Now, let's just be clear, this direction was discussed and agreed upon by everyone. They stated they wanted to play heroes, stated they wanted it to be traditionally heroic as a setting, and to have plenty of opportunities to fight common criminals in the streets an the like. Well, either this was a lie or something changed while I wasn't looking. You'll quickly see where it all goes wrong.

So, sitting down a quiet desk a few days later, everyone produced their sheets and I brought out the copy of Mutants and Masterminds I had managed to barter off of someone. Running late as we were, I just opened with a few basic outlines of the era, the world and then cut to a cold open with a bank robbery. Hey, they had wanted something traditional, and it was the kind of fight which could quickly get everyone up to speed on the rules. So, faced with cliche-spewing 1920s style gangsters armed with laser tommy guns and trained flying apes, the group made their grand entrance. Bastion - their common or garden invulnerability/super strength tank - made himself known by turning their getaway car into a makeshift club and hurling it through the bank's back door. Charging through hails of gunfire and the odd grenade, he started dismantling their rearguard, fighting his way through them and drawing their full attention even as they were flanked. Lance and Slipstream - a telekinetic soldier and speedster respectively - promptly used the opportunity to disarm most of them while they were distracted.

Overall the fight was pretty much done in the opening minutes. The whole engagement was just planned to see how well these players could work together as a general unit, and adapt to situations tactically on a basic level. So, obviously outgunned, the gangsters then surrendered. The group's response was to start punching them into submission. While a little brutal I could definitely still understand why they might want to get used to their new powers, so what the hell, I just rolled with it for the moment. However, I started to raise my eyebrows for a bit once we got to the next phase of their plan. With the vault still open and the others distracting the bankers, Slipstream raced inside, stole a bunch of jewels and left a rather large sack in its place. 

The group exited, smiling grinning and seemingly happy, just as Lance hit a detonator in his pocket. The sack, containing enough home-made semtex to blow up a small city block promptly went off as they drove off into the distance, still laughing, as much at my stunned expression as the fact they had gotten away with it. Apparently "traditional" to these guys translated to "Sin City with superpowers". Their plan, their new plan they had only just decided to clue me in on, was to act as villains with good publicity. They would seem like heroes, use their loose link to the Justice League to deflect most investigations and try to get away with criminal acts, leaving no real evidence behind them, As you can imagine this led to a few last minute re-writes as I tried to redo the entire campaign on the spot, just to keep track of this intended change. Call me a fool not for leaving then, but after D&D ended in necrophilia I really wanted this to work.

So, as we had jumped from 1966 Batman to Shadowrun with capes, the planned return to the group's secret headquarters was diverted to the city's criminal underbelly. In this case, it was how to sell off the jewels and set up a fence to work with. As such I introduced Vladimir Lestrade, aging Mafia don extraordinaire, and now someone associated with the group so they could make cash off of their ill gotten gains. He didn't even get to the negotiating table. Despite setting up this idea, despite making it clear that they could use him for their own ends, Bastion kicked in the door, and the group went in firing. Twenty minutes later and the small bar the Mafia had been using for his headquarters looked like downtown Detroit on a bad day, and Lestrade himself had been nailed to the wall, with info and cash tortured out of him. Having gotten all they needed, the group turned and left. Then the streets started to flow with blood.

This trio's idea of "criminals" suddenly turned from the previously explained planned hits and disguised killings into the Jason Voorhees gang. Anyone they ran into was violently butchered on sight. Why? Not a clue, they just kept laughing at my every last damn question or deflecting it however they could. If they found someone they would murder them, take anything of value they had and move on. This included three planned GMPCs or plot hooks I had set up, ranging from a down-on-his-luck retired crime fighter (who died from being impaled upon Lance's fist) to a corrupt police commissioner (who was throttled to death by Slipstream, after jamming his own gun down his throat). As the hours wore on without any change, the descriptions grew progressively gorier and more macabre. Oh, it wasn't just stabbings, punchings and killings anymore, no. There were people being hung up by their own guts, people being drained of their blood at super speed, and innocent bystanders being telekinetically torn apart and put back together (still alive) as a dismembered sculpture. No. these weren't the villains who would burn down orphanages any more, these were the ones who would hunt down every child, rip out their eyes, and shove it up their sphincters purely because they could.

Sadly, that last bit isn't some exaggeration. That was a genuine statement of intent at the time I finally got an answer for what in the holy hell they thought they were doing:

"We're villains! Don't get mad because you didn't plan for this!"

Suffice to say, I had heard enough. It was at this point I decided this whole thing had been a bad joke at best and a horrific, rather disgusting, waste of time at worst. I had been lied to, conned into setting up this game, and stuck with a group of people who treated roleplaying as Grand Theft Auto tied with Saw. Perhaps I should have just walked away. Perhaps I should have just opted to lose graciously, but given how I had been toyed with for a good three hours by that point, my patience was up. I promptly smashed the metaphorical "break here in case of jackassery" case and went for one very particular stats sheet I had prepared back when this was supposed to be a game about heroes. Why just one guy? Because, after all they had done, I wanted them to willingly sprint right into the hangman's noose they were soon to be dancing from.

You see, the group had revealed one thing earlier when I was talking about dealing with the Justice League or who they might want to communicate with: They barely knew anyone. Besides some familiarity with Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, Flash and Green Lantern, that was about it. Mentions of Hawkman, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow just drew blank expressions, as did mention of big villains like Imperiex. So, as far as the group were concerned, if it wasn't in widespread popular culture it didn't exist to them. As they listened in on a stolen squad car radio, trying to find a new target, I listed off a few general stories before mentioning a target they simply couldn't resist. A gold-shirt clad superhero was at an amusement park, trying to clear up the damage from a battle, while alone and unaided. Upon realising who it was, they leaped into the car and made a bee line for his position, determined to end their spree in glory.

Blood-crazed and itching for a fight, Bastion, Lance and Slipstream raced right into the theme park, hunting for their new prey. This guy wasn't just another possible victim for them by this point, this was practically a God given mission, and they wanted to slaughter him no matter what. So, scattering crowds of terrified bystanders in their wake and ignoring the massive pools of water left by the battle, they finally tracked him down talking with the owner of the park. He wasn't exactly hard to miss with the distinctive scale mail and trident, and the bombardment of Super Friends related jokes which followed confirmed this was the right way to close this out. Practically ejecting themselves from the car, the group raced right for the golden haired sea king to try and hit him all at once. There was just one problem: 

Who they thought they were fighting was this:

Who they found was this:

It goes without saying that the group was rather shocked when Aquaman, the guy they had mistaken for an easy kill, promptly no-sell'd Bastion's building-toppling punches. He then turned around, took one look at the bloodstained maniacs bearing down on him, and cracked his knuckles. 

The fight, if it could be called that, was over more or less as soon as it started. Oh it lasted long enough to realise how badly they had screwed the pooch on this one, but only barely. Aquaman's first blow took Bastion out of the fight, and almost put him into orbit. Uppercutting him with his full strength, the superhuman was given just enough time to feel his jaw cracking open via shoryuken before he entered the upper stratosphere. Then as Slipstream closed in, I took a leaf out of Grant Morrison's book and the speedster stumbled over, falling into an epileptic fit from a telepathic attack by the Atlantian King.

In response to the impending TPK they had walked into, the group was repeating a few variations of two very particular terms over and over again: "This is bullshit!" and "He can only talk to fish!"
This was, obviously, a sign that they had done no prior research or even stopped to seriously consider their actions. Oh, the fact that one was going to pass the International Space Station in a few seconds and the other had devolved into a high speed gibbering mass of spasming limbs was proof enough of that. The kicker though? None of them had stopped to actually question which "theme park" they had just tried to ice him in. Answer: The Keystone City Aquarium. The last thing Lance saw was an orca launching itself at him from nearby water tank with the force of a speeding semi-truck.

The group was still screaming "bullshit!" at me as I bowed out, wrapping things up with the villains being transported into the Phantom Zone and departing for good. If there's a moral to this story, it's probably "don't be an arsehole and jerk around the GM by actively changing the story you agreed upon at the last second." Personally though, I would simply say it was this: Do your research, quit while you're ahead, and never, ever, try to challenge Aquaman to a rumble in Seaworld.

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