"When we left our story last time, things were in _terrible_ shape! Some of the nations smartest geniuses were being turned into _complete_ idiots! It was all the result of a mean little man from a mean little country--"
Back to our show: What does a Champions campaign look like?
First: Yes. I have been starting Champions games with that old Bullwinkle quote for thirty years now. There's more to it, but generally the group comes to order before I get all the way through it, so, it's all good.
"Session Zero" or as I call it "the character party" had come and gone, and we were all stoked for the game itself, which was to commence the next Sunday. When Sunday arrived, I sat patiently, working on my still not-quite-finished plans, seeing what could slot in or out as needed, and adjusting things for the characters we ended up with.
Not that it mattered, because four out of seven players didn't show up.
That pretty much tanked what I had right there. Still, the three in front of me were excited, and wanted to play. I hid my disappointment and we chatted and goofed around with the characters for a few minutes in the hopes that the rest would show up. We talked-- _lightly_ -- about rules, actions, the Speed Chart, "just how fast am I?" and "am I really invincible to guns?" You know: try to keep that enthusiasm up! The back of my mind reeled and whirled. These kids wanted to play, and I wanted them to play. What I had lined up would crush three heroes. Granted, I could tweak it on the fly, but what if everyone else showed up next time? How to re-inflate it in a way that made some sort of sense?
Finally I chucked it completely, opting to run something more simple from memory. I ran them through an old standby for new players we call "the Boneyard Scenario." It's a total schlep, hitting _all_ the cliches, but it's got a lot going for it when it comes to new players. I won't bore you with the details, but I would like to explain why it's great for new players (particularly those with no sort of tactical gaming experience. I don't run tactics-heavy game for _any_ age group (they aren't the most fun thing in the world for me), but I _do_ use a map, particularly when there is either a large group or a McGuffin at a particular location. I had several sheets of hex paper and tape for "emergencies," so I pulled it out, taped together a field, and rough sketched the playground onto that. I then had the players select the little miniatures they liked best, and I placed them pretty much where I wanted them on the map (this is the easiest way to avoid that "how did you get together / why are you here / howcum all you kids are in this here tavern?!" problem).
The Boneyard scenario is a bank robbery (again: it touches all the cliches ). One or two players are in line at the bank in their secret ID (try to pick characters who have Instant Change, if possible. It's just easier). The guy a couple of people ahead of them seems nervous. He will look all around, exhibit signs of stress and worry, toss glances everywhere, and generally try to hide his face. His behavior is making one of the guards nervous, who signals to a second guard, and the two open their holsters (but do not draw their weapons!) and take strategic positions to flank him and an unobtrusive distance.
Seeing this go down, as the person at the front of the line leaves and the nervous guy moves up to the counter, a scuzzy-looking guy from the back of the line races toward the guard nearest him (doing a move-by), snatches his weapon, and fires at the other guard, hitting him in the thigh and effectively removing him from play. He is bleeding profusely, and needs first aid immediately. The nervous guy begins to "Hulk out," making terrifying roaring noises, increasing in mass, and shredding his clothes as spikes, claws, and armored plating of high-density bone begin to erupt from his flesh; the man with the gun screams "nobody move!" while his buddy (no buddy if think it's too much for your new players) kicks the unarmed guard and moves to get the weapon of the downed guard. Both these men are normal thugs from a local street gang. Both silent and audible alarms are triggered. The hero(es) patrolling nearby should now be aware there is a situation.
This is really more an exercise than an actual scenario. However, it lets you, the GM, get a real good feel for who your players are and how they see their characters. Let them handle the situation any way they see fit. Seriously. See if anyone moves to offer first aid (any successful attempt will stabilize the guard, but he will still be "out."
Two armed normals and a super.
Two casualties, one serious.
A small number of hostages (you decide)
What the GM knows, but should not let the players know immediately:
The nervous guy has nothing to do with the bank robbery, other than raising the hackles of an over-zealous, under-cautious guard who let himself and his partner get caught up short.
The two gang bangers simply took advantage of the bad placement of the guards and the distraction at the bank counter (which they will not appreciate for a few phases yet; they are focused on other things). They grabbed the weapons, toppled the guards, and expect to clean out a till or two-- or possibly just grab some wallets-- and run like Hell. If they make it to the street, down the block, and into an alley, the will have effectively escaped. (they will enter through a broken fire escape door on the ground level of a tenement; from there they can access a number of exits or hiding places. They are _gone_)
Seriously: it doesn't really matter how the resolve this, as it doesn't have to go anywhere else. It's just a chance for new players to do a bit of Heroing, and maybe get into the papers or onto the news.
Here's what the players will have to decide:
How to handle the thugs. How to protect the hostages and assist the wounded guard. What to do about the super who _appears_ to be part of the robbery. Don't push them in any particular direction (but be clear about the situation and answer all questions as honestly as possible. For this scenario, don't rush them. You are in Bullet Time, and a Phase can take as long as it needs to take. Remember, they are learning how to play. The only thing you want to really caution them on is to remind them that they are the good guys (once; maybe twice. Don't push it)
Why I like this sad, uninspired cliche:
It's got everything a new superhero would expect: obvious crime, guns, hostages, and a super-powered someone else.
It's got _borders_. That is to say, safety margins: Back in the late 80s, with the increase in super-crimes, the Campaign City Council instituted a municipal law that banks, liquor stores, and other cash-heavy institutions be built such that, at a minimum, their exterior walls be completely bullet-proof, and preferable proof against up to whatever weapon you might want to create that can deliver up to 20 points of BODY. If that institution was not free-standing (this one is in a strip mall), then the shared walls are considered to be exterior walls. Insurance companies and construction companies cheered while bank presidents screamed "no fair!" and people working in the stores next to the banks felt a lot better about catching a stray bullet or optic beam simply by being too close to the wrong place. For what it's worth, doors and windows are exempted, simply because there may arise an emergency requiring the people inside the building to break out of it.
Anyway, no matter how badly the players do here, they don't have to juggle the current interior situation _and_ the possibility of making things worse by breaking (or shooting through) a wall and hitting something / someone completely outside of the situation.
You have a test of how the players prioritize: who wants to aid and protect before tackling the bad guys?
Who wants to tackle the bad guys immediately? Which ones? How do(es) (t)he(y) propose to do it, and what regard does there plan make for the hostages?
How do they handle the terrifying super grabbing the counter and roaring incoherently at the tellers?
As I said: let it play out. It's just practice for them, but it's also giving you some insight into these new players that may lead to you tweaking your planned adventures to make them more palatable for them, you, or something in between. Besides, it's nice to find out early if you are dealing with sociopathic murder hobos.
At any rate, when the heroes have wrapped things up, they step into the streets to be mobbed by grateful bystanders and a half-dozen reporters, anxious to get interviews with these new heroes, push them for a team name, and all those other cliches. Ham it up, and make them feel like they really were there.
Here's a thing:
The super at the front of the line is Herman Sellers. He is a twenty-eight year old construction worker, currently working a job in demolitions, brining down an old tenement block, and he is here to deposit a bonus check. This is the very first manifestation of his powers, and he is absolutely terrified. The roaring is primarily from pain, as his skeleton is literally changing shape and structure inside him, and he can feel the spikes, claws, and plates rip through his flesh. He is frightened, confused, and pretty certain he is going to die. Currently, large tusks are deforming his jaw and mouth box, making speech almost impossible, even if he could focus long enough form a coherent thought. He will not institute an attack (though his actions might be construed as threatening, given his appearance), but if attacked, he will fight back, using his now-increased strength and long, sharp sword-like claws growing from his knees and forearms (think "Guyver" and not "Wolverine." They're long and heavy and dangerous). He won't fight like a pro villain, but he does have some boxing skills, as it's his sport of choice for staying in shape. Stat him out appropriate to your new players: I recommend noticeably less powerful, but definitely threatening-- go somewhere between "agent" and "intro level PC."
If approached carefully and calmly, , he will not attack. If the PCs make overt gestures of aid, he will _gratefully_ accept, immediately. At any rate, by the time the heroes have calmed him (if this is the approach they choose), he will have finished his metamorphosis and be able to speak, spilling his story and begging for help. Further resolution is up to the GM and the players, and will largely be decided by what is or is not possible or available in your campaign world.
One way or another, the next time Herman pops up, he will have developed a small reputation as "Boneyard," a play on both his powers / appearance combo and his day job. If the PCs handled him as a victim and rendered assistance to him, he will pop up from time to time as a street informant: he was so impressed with how the heroes protected the hostages, stopped the bad guys, and still found a way to help him through the scariest thing in his life that he took inspiration from them and decided to become a small-time hero on his own, primarily at the street level (remember he's far less powerful than the heroes are, but he can still help people).
If the PCs simply lumped him in with the bad guys and went after him with Fists of Pounding, not caring (or perhaps not noticing) that he wasn't _actually_ doing anything dangerous-- just scary--- then the next time they see him, he will be the night-stalking super villain Boneyard, bent on revenge against the high-and-mighty self-righteous bastards who decided to wreck the heist he had been planning since his powers first appeared last summer _and_ caused him to get a criminal record. (This version of Boneyard should also be at least as powerful as any one of the PCs; powerful enough to easily take out any two PCs, if the group is large).
you will _never_ tell this to the PCs. Never. _NEVER_! Do you hear me? Never!
Well because they were _right_. No matter which way they play it out, they were _right_; do you understand? It was their very first adventure with a brand new game-- perhaps a brand new experience for those who have never role-played before-- and you will NOT dick up their satisfaction and their pump at the success of their very first outing by going "oh, if only you had paid more attention" or "but you never realized...." You will _not_ come back at them ten session later with something that effectively says "Well, you totally screwed _that_ up!" Remember the happy people in the street? Remember the reporters? Remember how much they appreciated the gratitude of the rescued hostages inside the bank? Do NOT take that away from them, _ever_!
You can do it all you want when they get some experience under their belt, but you're not going to kick them in their fond-memory gonads with this: if they treated him as part of the robbery, then he was indeed the mastermind behind the robbery. If they treated him as a victim of circumstance, then he was indeed a victim of circumstance! Always!
At any rate, I opted to run them through this scenario as an opener.
It went _wonderfully_, and played out pretty much as I expected, since they were a younger group. I have noticed something over the years with the Boneyard Scenario:
younger players will _always_ notice that something isn't right and assist poor Herman.
Older players will _almost always_ start punching him in the head, even before dealing with the armed thugs. Not every time, but damned near.
The three kids who ran through this scenario (including Neil, who you may have "met" earlier this evening ) came through it with flying colors: the high-defense sport brick stayed between the thugs and the and the crowd, urging them to huddle tightly behind him, all the while dancing and dodging to stay in the line of fire. The Speedster (who is an MD in her secret id) swept up first the injured guard and placed him behind the crowd and began to shout orders for helping him, then drew fire until she could move the thugs away from the other guard while the sport brick used his laser vision to blast the vestibule open and began urging everyone through to the outside, cautioning them to not run straight away from the building. In the meantime, the magic-wielding wild card showed up in time to place a force wall between the thugs and everyone else and used his hypnosis to put Boneyard into a calming trance.
Seriously: it went _beautifully! If I have to be completely honest, it went easily three times as smoothly as it has _ever_ gone before, even with HERO veterans running through it.
I wasn't really sure where to go from there-- as I said, I had _nothing_ prepared for over half the characters not showing up, but it worked out well, because the players were so tickled with the media circus that we hammed that up for nearly an hour, and I decided to break off on a high note, go home, and figure out how to roll this in front of the adventure I had planned....