Saturday, March 26, 2016

Shadow of the Century - Part 1. The Pitch Session

In 2006, Evil Hat published Spirit of the Century, a pulp role-playing game set in the 1920's and using the Fate system. Its premise is that, at the stroke of midnight, at the beginning of the century, extraordinary people—Spirit Centurions—are born with an innate urge to fight evil, right wrongs, shine light in the shadows, and generally make the world a better place.

Recently, Evil hat released Young Centurions to Fate Core and Fate More Kickstarter backers. Young Centurions uses the Fate Accelerated rules and posits, "what were the Centurions like as teenagers?"

Fast forward along that timeline to the 80's. Roles have flipped—the bad guys, specifically Shadow Centurions, are taking positions of power in megacorporations and political offices, and the good guys, the Spirit Centurions, are now relegated to the shadows and hiding their identities. However, they are still trying to do good and make change through their proxies: New-Wave Heroes. This is where the players come in.

The brilliance of Shadow of the Century is that it totally embraces the tropes of the 80's. Take several of the movies and TV shows of the 80's: The A-Team, Airwolf, Big Trouble in Little China, Charlie's Angels, The Dukes of Hazzard, The Goonies, Knight Rider, Magnum P.I... and you can imagine the old Spirit Centurions directing the young heroes to go out and make a difference!
(Hannibal, Archangel, Egg, Charlie, Uncle Jesse, Chester Copperpot(?), Devon, Higgins respectively.)

Recently, Evil Hat announced a Shadow of the Century beta playtest. Our regular play group was fortunate enough to get in on it. I've spent the last five days devouring the playtest document. Shadow of the Century uses the Fate Core system, but includes a simplified system of roles for character generation, simplified rules for generating NPCs, and lays out steps for having a Montage! The background text really captures the feel of the 80's—the energy, the excesses, the emerging technology we now take for granted. This Friday, we sat down to do the "Pitch Session".

The Pitch Session is where you set the tone, basic plot, and characters of your game's story. We repeatedly commented on how it felt very much like we were a bunch of writers trying to come up with a new TV show or movie to pitch to some media bigwigs.

Phase One: Format
First, you decide if you will be playing as if you are shooting a movie or a TV series. A movie has big, fast action and a shorter overall story arc. A TV series has a much longer major story arc and several smaller "season" story arcs that can be wrapped up quickly. Since our group suffers from what we call "Gamer ADD" and the fact that we want to get four or five sessions in before the playtest ends, we decided we were going to treat our game as a movie.

Phase Two: Gonzometer
The Gonzometer gives you guidelines for how crazy and wacky you want your game to be—from your basic competent action heroes, all the way to alien invasions and robots from the future. We set it at level 2 (out of 4)—just slightly supernatural.

Phase Three: Issues
It took us a while to figure out in what direction we wanted to take the game. The first thought was to concentrate on the Cold War, but decided that, in nuclear war, nobody wins. Eventually, we worked our way towards a group similar to the crew from the movie Sneakers. Even though that movie was from 1992, we liked the idea of outlaws with special skill sets trying to make up for their previous transgressions—possibly with supernatural abilities.

After some further discussion, it was decided a Centurion runs the group and he’s trying to rescue other Centurions. Since we needed to focus on just one rescue, one player suggested a very old Centurion. Since Young Centurions mentioned the Grey Ghost was from the 1800's, he was our man.

Big Issue: We have to rescue the Grey Ghost.
Subplot Issue: Criminals are using Grey-Ghost-like abilities to commit crimes - this needs to be stopped.

Phase Four and Seven: Heroes
Keith decided he wanted to play the ladies man who's secretly a huge computer nerd.
Mike Smith - Face/Hacker/Thief
High concept: Undercover Nerd
Trouble: Nerdgasm
Call to Action: Repenting former thief

Ken wanted to play the bookworm who's been following the exploits of the Century Club for as long as he can remember. In almost a stalker-like fashion, he wants to be one.
Raymond James - Brain/Detective/Warrior
High concept: Centurion Historian
Trouble: “Actually…..”
Call to Action: Following in the footsteps of the Spirits

And Michael decided he wanted to play a hippie pharmacologist who's stickin' it to the man!
Sunshine - Alchemist (Gonzo)/Detective/Saboteur
High concept: Tactical Alchemist
Trouble: Bad trips
Call to Action: Fighting the Man

Phase Five and Six: Cast and Villains
These phases are kind of a neat twist on Fate world building. In this case, all the players quickly generate three NPCs each by writing down names on three note cards and passing them to the left. Then everybody adds a quick note to each name and passes them on for another round of quick notes.
We changed it up slightly in that we did them as a "card draft": Write down names on three note cards, pass them to the left. Pick one card, pass the remaining two to the left. Pick one card, pass the remaining to the left. Everybody will end up with three cards from different people. Add a note to each one and repeat the process.

We had the most fun with these phases.

Here's what we ended up with. NPCs chosen as "villains" are marked with an *:
Alexa Park - Heiress to a Hotel Magnate, Big into biker culture
Big Pete - Bouncer at TechNoir, Trained in martial arts
Dr. Raymond Cunningham - Has a PhD in Philosophy, Always wears a surgical mask
Lenny the Snitch - Key witness to an ongoing investigation, Has no middle fingers
Mr. Zero - Buys and sells “questionable” electronics, Always wears a Captain Planet Inspector Gadget t-shirt
*Officer Joey Biggins - Detective, Takes payoffs from gangs
Sally Maxwell - Wealthy daughter of the Maxwells of the Maxwell Museum, Never seen without a “boy toy” on her arm
Samantha Patel - Girlfriend of drug kingpin __________, Does his books and is secretly siphoning off funds
*Slick Steve - User car salesman, Makes under-the-table deals with corporate types
*Tryn Velcog - Standoffish Greek hacker, Stands 5’8”, but 6’ with hair
*Vieger AKA “Switch” - Norwegian hacker–Tryn’s nemesis, Split personality disorder
Zed Kalista - Owns a pawn shop, Obsessed with Ninjas

Finally, a suggestion was made for another “Bad Guy”. Here's the notes we took: Technophobe, Can render tech dead with  an EMP-like touch. 

Now I just have to figure out who has the Grey Ghost and why for next week!