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Freaks in Lycra

We playtested Neither Super nor Heroic last night. The tagline for our game might also have been "Freaks in Lycra." Neither Super Nor Heroic is a hack-in-development for Goblin Quest, a silly-fun casual RPG by Grant Howitt.

I’ve found in running Goblin Quest that pre-planning the scenes and risks takes a lot of the spontaneity out of the game, so one of the things I do is plan the starting scene, write down the target numbers for each scene thereafter, and proceed from there. Really, with 4 players, the numerical goal is "roll a 5-6 at least 36 times." Which means a lot of dice rolling (dice hit the table about 108 times).

This hack may have a mechanical flaw, though it hasn’t really come up in my playtesting yet. In Goblin Quest, you might roll up to 3 or 4 dice in one action. In Neither Super, it’s not explicitly stated in the rules what might give you an extra d6, and we ruled only your power gave the extra die. There were cases where description or equipment could have given a boost– one of the characters wanted his IT Guy to both turn into liquid *and* wield a Cat-5 lasso. I probably should have given extra dice for those, but by that point, I’d already needed to change rules (see below).

I started out by mis-remembering the rules, and instead of giving them +1 die for using their powers, I gave them a +1 on their die roll. Which slows down action, but does reduce the amount of injury they took. They still had bad dice luck, so halfway through scene 1 when I was trying to remember how a character gets both an injury and a victory, I remembered and explained the rule change. Because we were playtesting, the players were all cool with it– the extra die mechanic was easier to remember than "do I get a +1 or not."

When it came to "Dying," I decided it’s a superhero game. I told the players up front that nobody stays dead in superhero land– they were just KO’ed, arrested, or "temporary dead." They embraced that, and I think if I were going to play, I would probably create 3 supers on my team, and then bring back a dead hero for #4.

There’s a new mechanic in Neither Super, called Setbacks, which are triggered by your die roll, depending on your character. For me as a GM, setbacks were hard to adjudicate. What’s the difference between a setback and a Something Bad? At one point, a player rolled a result that gave 2 setbacks. I had alien abductors show up. Because why not? The plot train was already careening off course– I decided to embrace it at that point. And keep in mind, I don’t plan the next scene ahead of time anyway.

The Teams

The players were initially stymied by the blank character sheet, and couldn’t decide on what their teams and description should be. Eventually, they grabbed for vague ideas and threw them onto the page.

The Juniors: A group of "little people" with weird hands. J.R. had heavy hands. J.R. version Jr had big humongous hands (like foam finger size). J Rex had tiny, indestructible adamantium hands on the ends of short little T-Rex style arms. [Played by a 15 year old young man, so my apologies for the use of the term "midget" in later parts of this story.]

The Auditors: Accountants by Day, Crime fighters by night. Bob from Accounting sharpens pencils with blades taped to his fingertips. Greg from IT turns into a puddle of mercury at will, but can’t do anything when in puddle form except pool downhill. Pam from HR can eat anything and survive it (that one’s from Archer; we rolled with it). [Played by the Juniors player’s dad, who is also one of my long-time GMs.]

The Lolligaggers: Heroes who try but never get anywhere fast. We only had 1 hero on this team: Snail Man, whose power is "Crunchy Outer Shell." For whatever reason, Snail Man survived the whole session. [Played by a well-rounded gamer]

PHBNon-Offensive Compliance, Inc.: Leading the Market in Mediocre Leadership. The Pointy Hair Boss could pick up signals in the EMF. His successor was the Visionary, who can sell ice to eskimos, but is unable to sell them anything they actually need, like a central heating unit. He was created but not played because PHB was KO’ed (actually arrested) shortly before I ended the session. [Played by one of the more obstructive/disruptive players at my table– often uses those chaotic powers for good.]

I had initially jotted down 7/7/9/10 for the number of successes in the 4 scenes I felt we should have. I know this is a little low for Goblin Quest, but we only have a couple of hours on Wednesday nights to play (we played during our FLGS’s Encounters game). As it was, we skipped the fourth scene entirely.

SCENE ONE (opening): Giant bronzed baby shoes are rampaging downtown! What do you do?

"Eh. I order another round. Captain Stupendous can handle it, and besides, downtown is, like, 15 minutes away." That was from my player who is normally very disruptive to plot. I was unsurprised, let them order more drinks, had them roll to see if they got what they ordered (they didn’t– Snail Man’s margarita had salt on the rim!), and carried on. It’s Goblin Quest. Ordering a drink could be worth your life!

Snail Man agreed that this was too much for them– any danger involving large shoes stomping on people is not appealing to his sense of self-preservation. However, after another round of liquid courage… They did eventually get spurred to help out downtown. Disruptive player jumped on the plot bus after his pointy hair (he was Pointy Haired Boss from Dilbert) intercepted a phone call from his ex girlfriend ("she left me for a sidekick! A sidekick!") and her grandma ("I’m the first one she actually liked….") and he still likes the grandma, so, eh. Let’s go help.

Problem/risk: They’re all drunk. They have a car, which belongs to J.R.’s mom. It’s a Volvo station wagon. J.R. hops in the driver’s seat and uses his heavy hands (which are too heavy for him to lift himself) to press the gas pedal.

They get pulled over by a cop because they’re a car full of "freaks in lycra" with a drunk teenager behind the wheel. They eventually distract the cop long enough to drive away ("we’re going too fast!" yells Snail Man), and speed towards downtown.

There, they find a pair of enormous baby shoes, bronzed, kicking at the apartment building where Granny lives. An entire exterior wall cracks outward, revealing several apartments, including one with Granny standing in her house dress, on the phone with her grand-daughter. "Eugene? Is that you?" Pointy Hair Boss didn’t know his name was Eugene, but rolls with it.

The party tries to tackle the baby shoes. J.R. (heavy hands) leaps on top of the shoes hoping to weigh them down, but the shoes just stomp away, carrying him with them! The remaining heroes are perplexed and hop in the car to give chase.

At this point, the party has accumulated 8 victories out of the 7 I pre-planned for this scene. I reduced the "threat level" (number of successes) required for scene 3 by 1.

The rest of the team needs to chase down Baby Shoes. Snail Man takes the wheel, but Greg from IT (Bob from Accounting died horribly when Baby Shoes kidnapped J.R.) hacks an XBox controller into the car. He does this poorly, but with a success.

SCENE TWO: J.R. was kidnapped!

The party is now in a chase sequence, following the path of destruction that Baby Shoes has left in its wake. They end up in the gutted ghetto of town, with decimated buildings everywhere. Pointy Hair Boss tries to pick up a GPS signal from J.R. and instead rolls two Setbacks in one roll, and contacts the alien flying saucer.

This is the worst game of Whose Line is It Anyway!

Originally, there wasn’t going to be a UFO in this story. But while we were thought-noodling at the beginning, one of the players said "tornado" and another said "alien abduction" and I jotted these down as ideas. My initial idea for a villain was Captain Crankypants, a gigantic baby, who is cranky and needs a nap and is destroying The City because, well, he’s cranky.

The flying saucer tries to tractor-beam the Volvo, but Greg from IT does some fancy driving and they avoid the shoes. Meanwhile, they see Baby Shoes being elevated via tractor beam, with J.R. hanging onto the laces. Greg leans out of the car and yells "Just jump!" J.R. jumps… to his death (or KO). In terror, Greg turns into his puddle and, following the laws of fluid dynamics, flows into a storm drain, where he gets stuck.

Now, the flying saucer’s tractor beam had to be on full blast to lift the Baby Shoes, so those go flying, and after a half-hearted attempt, so does the UFO.

I’m not going to lie to you. This is where the session gets really weird. At this point, they have about 3 successes for the scene, so it’s not over, right?

An eerie clapping can be heard all over the ghetto– rhythmic, clapping.

Greg from IT needs to get out of the storm drain.

Snail Man and Pointy Hair Boss ("Eugene") decide to go to a nearby bar and borrow a siphon. Or hose. Or beer tap. PHB gets there first (Snail Man is always last), and discovers that the dive bar is so-so, but they have karaoke (and everyone is clapping along)! He requests a few punk rock songs, and finds that they only have nursery rhymes. Using his Mediocre Leadership (here’s where an extra die for team description would have been handy?) he starts Row Row Row Your Boat, in a round.

A little person with huge hands is clapping along (Jr version J.R.), and joins the team. PHB asks at the bar for a siphon, and the bartender looks at him like he’s insane. Snail Man gets a bunch of thin cocktail straws and tapes them together, meticulously, then puts this 6-foot long thin straw in the back of the Volvo before driving down the street back to Greg from IT.

PHB stays at the dive bar and asks for a six pack to go. Well, this isn’t South Carolina– you don’t get "to go" boxes from the bar. He rolls to convince them, has an injury and setback, and has to drink all 6 beers before he leaves (that’s the injury). He stumbles out and down the street, back to Greg, arriving just as Snail Man pulls up. Yes, Snail Man left the bar before PHB ordered the 6-pack.

PHB takes the straw and throws it into the storm drain, belligerently, and Greg sighs, climbs up, and tries to slowly transform while someone on the other side sucks on the straw. Jr version J.R. does the sucking, but fails, and swallows some of Greg’s mercury form. Yuck. Also, Greg from IT is now missing a few fingertips.

I think Jr. Version J.R. got Ko’ed at this point, but can’t remember how. Do you blame me for having lost track by now? OK, then. Coming in at the Olive Garden is J-Rex, who also seems to love to clap (mostly, Nick was having fun annoying his dad).

At this point, the very drunk Pointy Hair Boss finds the best Olive Garden in town, which happens to be in the Ghetto. They stop there for unlimited pasta and bread sticks, and Snail Man successfully orders and gets a margarita with no salt!

I close the scene at the Olive Garden.

SCENE THREE: Oh, please don’t let me barf….

The team members wake up in various locations around the City. J Rex is in the car with Snail Man, who fell asleep while trying to pull out of the Olive Garden parking lot. In fact, it was when J Rex’s clapping stopped that Snail Man woke up and noticed it was dawn and the Volvo is dangerously low on fuel.

Greg from IT, who is nearing KO status, wakes up in his apartment, which is on the other side of the building from Granny. He shares his apartment with Pam from HR (we all knew Greg wasn’t going to make it out of the apartment alive…)

Meanwhile, Granny has given couch space to a very drunk Eugene, who is also worse for the wear.

They conference call on Eugene’s hair and decide to all meet at the Olive Garden. When Greg doesn’t make it past the breadsticks, Pam taps in, loaded up with shrimp and ready for bear!

This entire scene takes place at the Olive Garden, where they eat brunch and drink some more. After  6 successes, it’s after 8 PM and I need to call it (we usually wrap by 8:30). This scene is labeled "Not Barfing" for its risk/theme. Captain Crankypants never made another appearance, and we went completely off whatever plot we might have been trying to accomplish.

PLAYER FEEDBACK:

  • Setbacks were hard to adjudicate.
  • We didn’t stay on the plot bus. We split the party regularly and couldn’t keep focus.
  • A d6 as the die of choice made it simple and good and fun.
  • The rules were easy, not too hard to understand.
  • It was hard to come up with powers and team themes and to ad-lib.
  • They loved the superhero silhouette (I put one on the character sheets; I stole it from the internet, almost certainly not free to use for this game, but it was good in a pinch).
  • One player suggested having 4 hp would have helped, but another player said that dying easily was kind of the point of the game.
  • They would like to see lists for randomly suggesting some themes, powers, creative scene starters, etc. Not to lock people into them, but to give them a starting point.
  • They felt if they played with a group they knew well, they’d be able to riff more often off each other.
  • Also, although the 15 year old couldn’t agree on this one, the adults in the group all suggested that alcohol (real, not just in-game) would make this game more fun. I mentioned to them that that was pretty much a prerequisite. We discussed drinking game rules for Goblin Quest.

GM FEEDBACK:

While I feel tables/random generators would be helpful (like Lasers and Feelings), I really liked leaving the scenes undefined until we got to them. It meant I could raise or lower the stakes however I wanted to, to the point of making the third scene anticlimactic and yet still hilarious (if "not barfing" is your risk, then every time you roll, an injury leaves a sour taste in your mouth…)

I was really glad I took the time to make character sheets for the players. I think they would have had a very hard time if I’d handed them blank paper or index cards to write on. They already had "blank sheet of paper" syndrome when deciding on team names and descriptions.

Everyone was really on board with this, especially when I eased off the plot and let them come to it. The "obstructionist player" ended up being the strongest driving force in the game, once I made it clear that opting out of the adventure merely meant the story would stay wherever they went, and that the victory results really didn’t need to successfully resolve any of the problems facing the City. It takes a particularly story-facing GM to make that happen, and players who accept failure and bad stuff happening with extreme grace.

In all, it was a very silly and fun game night at the shop.

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