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Binary Shell Game

This is a dramatic retelling of the events of our first ever game of Twilight Imperium. I hope you all enjoy it it, and please check out Twilight Imperium if you get the chance.

Left unchecked the L1Z1X Mindnet launched a steady campaign against the systems bordering their own. Their dreadnaughts drew ever closer to the center of the unprotected center of the galaxy, as one world after another fell silent in the wake of their fleets. Far from Null the Federation of Sol launched a series of assaults on neighboring systems. As the ranks of their armies began to swell the race that had precipitated the Twilight Wars dreamt of expanding the borders of their new empire. Caught between two rapidly growing military powers the Universities of Jol-Nar turned towards science, placing all of their faith in technology, as they had in the past. They ventured out of the systems they’d already occupied cautiously as the improved their ships armaments, shields, and engines.  The Emirates of Hacan sought to secure new alliances through commerce, and as a result their ships were a welcome sight as they carried more trade goods than soldiers. Far from the resources and influence of the rest of the galaxy the Mentak Coaltion and the Xxcha Kingdom pressed inwards from the edge of space establishing new colonies along the way.

 

The Xxcha claimed a newly discovered wormhole while attempting to establish peaceful relations with the neighboring L1Z1X Mindnet. At the same time the Mentak Coalition entered a profitable alliance with the Emirates of Hacan. The two races established mutually beneficial trade contacts after assurances were made that the pirates would not harass the Hacan’s ships.

 

In a daring move the L1Z1X Mindnet laid claim Mecatol Rex by surrounding the planet with a sizable fleet. Cybernetically enhanced soldiers established a garrison within the last habitable city on the planet’s surface. A token force of occupation, as the Winarran who’d acted as stewards for centuries had no will to fight, and Mecatol Rex fell without resistance. Next the L1Z1X turned their fleet’s attention towards the Xxcha. Caught unprepared by the violent assault the diplomats took up their defense with far more fervor than their gentle natures suggested they could possess. An experimental space station orbiting the Xxcha’s home system destroyed many of the L1Z1X’s ships as the rest of their fleet struggled to push back the invaders. After a long and bloody conflict the Xxcha had been driven out of their home system, the survivors escaping aboard the handful of ships still at their disposal, cut off and trapped behind enemy lines.

 

The Galactic Council rang with cries of outrage at these unprovoked acts of aggression even as the L1Z1X Mindnet continued to occupy Mecatol Rex. A fleet of pirate vessels under the command of the Mentak Coalition broke through the blockade destroying the L1Z1X’s fleet around Mecatol Rex in a decisive battle. Inexperienced in ground warfare the pirates were reluctant to leave their ships and were content to form a blockade of their own for a time before claiming the planet. Resistance fighters from Xxcha, and further raiding by the Mentak Coalition shattered the lines of the L1Z1X fleet leaving them scattered and severely weakened.

 

Pressuring the Galactic Council the Xxcha also maneuvered other species and utilized their remaining influence to disrupt trade throughout the galaxy. In the midst of hurried negotiations new battle lines were drawn. The L1Z1X Mindnet retreated to Null unable to maintain their hold over the worlds they’d taken from the Xxcha.

 

The Federation of Sol and the Universities of Jol-Nar had steadily increased the sizes of the fleets and armies, drawing steadily closer to one another’s borders as they expanded. Inevitably this resulted in a massive buildup of ships along their borders. As the galaxy watched anticipating further violence the Federation of Sol launched a surprise maneuver diverting a large number of their ships through a wormhole. The anomaly brought them out on the opposite side of the Jol-Nar’s territory and alongside of the remaining Lazix. A clear flanking maneuver in place the Federation seemed poised to launch a massive assault on the Universities of Jol-Nar, but they’d failed to anticipate the actions of the L1Z1X. Desperate, driven to the edge of extinction, and with a sizable fleet still at their command the forces of the L1Z1X Mindnet launched a surprise attack on the Federations ships. As battle was joined the Universities of Jol-Nar unveiled their newly completed war sun and drove it to the borders of their space.

 

After the clash of the Federation of the Mindnet’s fleets the space around Null was adrift with the wreckage of ships from both sides of the conflict. Although the odds had favored the Federation in the initial conflict their victory had been a costly one, and they turned their efforts towards crushing what remained of the Mindnet’s fleet. Their war was a brief but dire conflict that left the L1Z1X with virtually no defense, and the Federation’s invasion force in ruins.

 

It was at this most opportune of moments that the Universities of Jol-Nar set their war sun to work along with a sizable portion of their fleet. They set to pushing their borders outward, expanding into Federation space steadily. Seeing the attack fleet they’d already set to work, and the line of ships occupying other outlying systems the Mentak Coalition struck at the Jol-Nar’s rear cutting them off from reinforcements. The pirates sowed chaos throughout the space under the control of the Universities of Jol-Nar before their assault ships were destroyed.

 

Meanwhile on Null the Emirates of Hacan utilized a wormhole to facilitate and invasion of their own. They carried out numerous invasion attempts and orbital bombardments hoping to exterminate the remaining members of the Mindnet, but yielding little result. Although they commanded a sizable fleet, the largest and most intact in the galaxy at that time, their ships were better suited for trade than war.

 

Trapped on the surface of Null, and with no hope of rescue the L1Z1X Mindnet chose to reveal their final ploy before the Galactic Council. It seemed their soldiers on Mecatol Rex had not been idle during their time there. They’d used the opportunity to implant a computer virus that by now had spread throughout the galaxy. Threatening to use the virus to disrupt economies, warfare, and other vital systems they held the governments of the other great races hostage. Faced with a threat similar to the one they suffered during the Dark Years their leaders knew they might not survive a second period of such chaos.

 

Convinced that they could undo the machinations of the L1Z1X Mindnet the Universities of Jol-Nar petitioned the Mentak Coalition to allow their ships to land in force on Mactol Rex. Fearing they would exploit the same trick the L1Z1X had in order to seize power the pirates refused and opened fire on the advancing ships. Faced with a war sun the fleet that had once liberated Mecatol Rex from the L1Z1X was destroyed by the Universities of Jol-Nar.

 

Ultimately the Galactic Council voted to grant the L1Z1X Mindnet rule over the galaxy so long as they did not leave their home system in force, or raise any great fleets as they had in the past. Now the Mindnet finds itself in much the same position as their predecessors. Trapped on a devastated world with a tenuous grip on power, and surrounded by enemies. As stability settles over the galaxy once more the question of how long the L1Z1X Mindnet can remain in power is unanswered.

D&D After School

As some of our readers know I’ve been running a free monthly Dungeons and Dragons program for teens at my local library for the past couple of years. When we started playing I decided to go with 4th Edition because I think it does a great job giving players the feeling of being better able to survive in combat, and I think some players enjoy having powers when they choose certain classes rather than repetitively smacking ogres with swords, clubs, and javelins.

Each of the sessions runs for about two hours, and I usually have between seven and nine players in a group. At the moment our party consists of an elf druid, a dragonborn warlord, a drow ranger, two halfling rangers, and a human fighter. All but one of the current players have been showing up for years with all the enthusiasm one could hope for, and I’ve continued to be astonished by how much they love the game. I started out running the program because I felt like I needed to give something back to tabletop gaming. It’s helped me out in so many ways, and I want to see it continue to be something younger players will take an interest in. In my experience I’ve found that it can be hard for teens and younger kids to find a place at tables in friendly local game stores in RPG campaigns, and that is nothing against those establishments. Parents are sometimes understandably nervous about the idea of their kids hanging around with a bunch of adults playing what amounts to a game of pretend. Some GMs simply don’t have the patience to work with them either. Plus a ton teens and kids are less inclined to have fun when they’re not playing with a group of friends closer to their own age. I want the teens in my program to walk away with fond memories of gaming, a few new friends, and the confidence that comes from entering a dungeon and emerging victorious. I think everyone deserves that and I truly believe the program has been a success.

I’ve been told more than once that the program I run is one of the most popular programs at the library, and one of the most well attended. There have been a couple of other programs that have been started up by others but none of them lasted for very long. Those were all being run by teens who were on the waiting list to get into our group though, and a more successful program has been running for a little while now. I’m thinking of running a Game Master workshop to help them out a bit. People have also encourage me to try and start up some sort of a business running similar programs at schools, summer camps, parties, and even as team building exercises. I’ve always resisted that idea because I don’t think it’s something that I could actually make a living doing, but I’m warming up to the idea more as time goes on.

There aren’t many things that I’d classify myself as an expert in, but running this program is one of them. So from now on I’m going to be posting little tips that helped me shape and improve it over the years int he hopes that others might start up similar programs at their local libraries, community centers, or schools as well.

Secret Identity Crisis Part 1

Secret identities have always been a fascinating aspect of superheroes, and they’re also one of the elements of those character’s stories that I find the most compelling. However it’s also one of the ones that I find far more interesting when brought into play in a superhero themed RPG such as Mutants and Masterminds, DC Adventures, or the Marvel Heroic RPG. Heroes who can pick up a fire truck and toss it through a supervillain’s laboratory, yet still struggle with maintaining a day job and a normal life are fraught with complications. GMs and players alike can work to play off of those complications and make them part of the game or ignore them as they wish, but I really think they’re worth exploring. I decided to provided some examples of heroes from the Marvel and DC universe and how they’ve handled their secret identities during their careers, we’ll start with Marvel heroes just because.

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Spider-Man

There were a lot of reasons that Peter Parker chose to maintain his secret identity, but one has always stood out as the most prominent one, at least to me. He wanted to make sure that his aunt May would be safe, and ensure that she wouldn’t sit up worrying about him battling with the likes of Doctor Octopus and the Vulture. Spider-Man’s mask has always served as a way to help him protect his family from his enemies, and whenever that identity was revealed it often had major consequences for him. Venom, the Green Goblin, and Doctor Octopus all managed to uncover the wallcrawler’s true identity through various means over the years. They would each use this information to threaten his family, except for Doctor Octopus who assumed that Peter couldn’t possibly be Spider-Man.

When Peter chose to reveal his true identity during the Civil War event it resulted in several major events. His aunt was shot and his wife was nearly killed by an assassin who’d been hired by the Kingpin. J. Jonah Jameson fired Peter from his on again off again position at the Daily Bugle, ruined his reputation as a photographer, and even sued him for fraud for selling him photos of himself for years. He was forced to resign from his position as a teacher, although he eventually decided to stay on at the school using a disguise. Deborah Whitman wrote a book lambasting him and blaming Spider-Man for everything that’d gone wrong in her life during the time that they’d known one another. His enemies used the information to launch a range of deadly attacks against his friends and loved ones. Eventually the decision was undone when he made a Faustian bargain to erase the knowledge from everyone’s mind when Peter determined that he couldn’t live with what’d he’d done any longer.

Spider-Man is a prime example of a character who will go to great lengths to maintain their secret identity, despite the personal, financial, and emotional consequences. In other universes where Peter’s identity was revealed his life was made better in many ways. In the House of M universe he was one of the most popular celebrities on the planet, he had a family, and he’d achieved a level of success as a scientist that allowed him to purchase Oscorp out from under Norman Osborn. The conflict that maintaining his secret creates often leads to interesting complications in his life, which makes him more fun to read about as far as I’m concerned. That would also make for an interesting complication for someone playing a similar character in a superhero RPG.

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Iron Man

There was a time when Tony Stark maintained the pretense that he was not in fact Iron Man, but instead that the man piloting the suit was an employee/bodyguard. However he eventually abandoned that ruse and allowed his identity to become public knowledge, in the Marvel Cinematic universe he didn’t even bother to lie in the first place. He became a major force behind the Superhuman Registration Act which served as the major point of contention in the Marvel Civil War. As one of the wealthiest most recognizable people on the planet Tony has always enjoyed a celebrity lifestyle that most superheroes do not. Public scrutiny was nothing new to him, nor were threats on his life. His few friends were also well protected thanks to the degree of security his wealth allowed him to maintain. There’s something really compelling about a character who will step out onto a stage and tell the world “I am Iron Man.”

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Daredevil

Matt Murdock maintained his secret identity for most of his career, but when it was eventually revealed he suffered greatly. A federal task force was assembled to try and bring him to justice, and Matt argued that the reason for this was that the prosecutor who convicted him would receive a federal judgeship. The revelation of his identity served to keep him from joining the New Avengers because he didn’t want to drag the other members into the nightmare that his life had become. Matt Murdock’s feud with the Kingpin of crime served as the primary motivator for his secret identity, and when Wilson Fisk uncovered it he used the knowledge to strike at him in every way possible. His activities as Daredevil also resulted in a great deal of tension between him and his longtime friend and partner Foggy Nelson. Daredevil is another great example of a character’s whose secret identity can drive a story.

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The Fantastic Four

After being bombarded with cosmic radiation the Fantastic Four began their new lives as some of the most recognizable superheroes on the planet. None of their members ever made any attempts at maintaining secret identities or living double lives. One could argue that Johnny Storm would be the last person on Earth to pass up a chance at being famous, and that having anything like a normal life would have been all but impossible for the inhuman looking Thing. The Fantastic Four are a great example of a team of superhumans who’ve all decided to work in the spotlight without the benefit of secret identities. It adds an interesting element to their stories because it is extremely unique. It’s also interesting because they’re forced to deal with mundane threats even as they face down the likes of Mole Man and Dr. Doom. One of the most common obstacles in recent years has been dealing with various government agencies threatening to take away Reed and Susan’s kids citing that their home is an unsafe environment.

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Marvel’s Civil War

I’ve already touched on this a couple of times, but it is still worth mentioning on its own because the Civil War had such a major impact on the Marvel Universe. After a group of superheroes engage in a fight that results in the destruction of a town and hundreds of deaths the United States government enacts the Superhuman Registration Act forcing all masked heroes and villains to reveal their identities and enter into government service or face criminal charges. Captain America refused and led a team of other heroes who also felt that working outside of government control and maintaining their secret identities allowed them to better serve those that they were trying to protect. Iron Man and his pro-registration heroes worked against them and did everything in their power to bring the anti-registration heroes into custody. The war eventually ended with lives lost and Captain America surrendering to Iron Man even as some heroes continued to refuse to accept the loss. Whether or not you enjoyed the Civil War it does make for an interesting idea of how the government might impact a superhero campaign. A single law split the Marvel universe’s heroes against one another and resulted in a pitched battle that went on far longer than anyone could imagine. Iron Man built a prison in the Negative Zone. Due to their divided loyalties the Fantastic Four broke up for a period of time. Captain America was assassinated while in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody. The events of the Civil War had a major impact on seemingly every hero, and their relationships with one another for years to come.

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