Friday, April 8, 2016

Shadow of the Century - Part 2: Smash and Grab

Last week, we sat down to run our first play session of the Shadow of the Century beta playtest!

The Pharmacy Scene from La Femme Nikita - Yeah, it was released in 1990—but FILMED in 1989!
We ran with three players again, but only one of three had attended the Pitch Session. Fortunately, one of the new players asked me to work up Hackerman from Kung Fury as a character ahead of time. The other new player decided to go with the pregenerated "Loose Cannon" character form the sample characters provided—we modified the aspect Mason's Gunning for Me to reflect one of the NPCs from the Pitch Session, so it became Biggins' Gunning for Me.

So, our characters for the night are:
Raymond James - Brain/Detective/Warrior
High Concept: Centurion Historian
Trouble: “Actually…..”
Call to Action: Following in the footsteps of the Spirits

Hackerman - Brain/Hacker/Inventor
High Concept: Hacker at Large
Trouble: Inappropriate Innuendo
Call to Action: With Great Processing Power Comes Great Responsibility

Officer Riza Colak - Cop/Loose Cannon(Gonzo)/Wheelman
High Concept: Cop on the Edge
Trouble: Biggins' Gunning for Me
Call to Action: None yet


In order to introduce the characters, I decided to do a series of scenes where each player describes their character doing their thing, getting caught, and making a hasty escape—to be scooped up by their mysterious benefactor. Ya know, the ol' "Everyone Meets Everyone" trope.

Ken described a giant Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark warehouse, but stacked with rows and rows of cardboard file boxes. Raymond James has pulled several off the shelves and is rifling through them. A security guard shows up and asks him who he is and why he's here. Raymond starts, "Well, sir, I'm from the University of..." and pretends to pat himself down for ID. The guard doesn't buy it and radios in to the front desk. Raymond scatters the contents of a box in the air to conceal his escape and ducks out a side door. Waiting for him is a white and gold custom conversion van. An elderly gentleman opens the passenger door and beckons him to jump inside. Once in, the old man jams a cane on the gas pedal and they're off.

Josh explains that Hackerman is convinced that Tastee-Freez is tied up in some big government conspiracy. He's broken into the back room of a local Tastee-Freez and is in the process of dialing in to their corporate records using a Tandy 1000 and a giant modem, when the assistant manager walks in. Hackerman explains that the sequencing board doesn't match the left-handed thrommel-meister, followed by more technobabble. The assistant manager goes to grab the manager, at which point Hackerman bolts, dropping the chunky modem in the process. Waiting for him is a white and gold custom conversion van. An elderly gentleman in a wheelchair slides open the side door and beckons him to jump inside. Once in, a bookish fellow stomps on the gas pedal and they're off.

Sarah sets the scene as a stakeout at a "typical 80's warehouse by the docks". (Josh starts playing "Crockett's Theme".) Officer Riza Colak is there with a fat cassette recorder. She's trying to get evidence that dirty cops from her precinct are getting paid by local drug dealers to look the other way. Just as it gets to the juicy bit, a rat knocks over some bottles, drawing their attention to her. Riza runs for it, bullets whizzing past, and ducks into a nearby parking structure. Waiting for her is a white and gold custom conversion van. A nerd with giant glasses and a mullet slides open the side door. An elderly gentleman in a wheelchair beckons her to jump inside. Once in, a bookish fellow stomps on the gas pedal and they're off.

The elderly gentleman introduces himself as Angus MacGregor. He explains that he's been gathering individuals with particular skillsets to, "help make the world a better place." Riza's not buying it. Raymond steps in to explain that Angus is the Spirit of Longing and a former member of the now defunct Century Club—an organization made up of exceptional individuals who, at one time, kept the forces of evil in check. Angus wants to reconnect old Centurion friends and try to make a difference again. Riza's still not buying it, saying she's got her own corruption to weed out. Angus finally convinces her by pointing out she could be more effective by going bigger: "try to cut them off at the head rather than try to whittle them down at their feet."

Angus directs Raymond to take them to their base of operations—an abandoned police station in the middle of an unpopulated and forgotten chunk of Miami. They park next to Riza's new "squad car"—a shiny new Mustang. Once inside, they have free reign and access to all the resources they could ever need. Hackerman is in heaven!

The Scene of the Crime

After getting settled, Angus calls the three of them into a meeting room. He presents them with a seemingly innocuous newspaper article—a drug store robbery where the crooks got away even though the place was surrounded by police. Something about it seems familiar to Raymond, but he can't put his finger on it. They go to check it out.

The drug store is a mom-n-pop shop currently surrounded by crime scene tape. The front window is smashed in and shelves are overturned.

Raymond heads to the pharmacy counter directly and finds paperwork spilled everywhere. None of the paperwork is newer than three months ago. Drug bottles not on the shelves have been lined up on the counter as if to be counted.

Hackerman makes a beeline to the office and discovers mom and pop have a brand new computer and security camera system. He begins downloading the contents of the computer to floppy disks. He also checks for the video tape of the moment of the break in. Not surprisingly, it's been taken as evidence.

Riza goes to the police station that handled the case to get a copy of the police report. As she's waiting for copies to be made, she notices an officer suspiciously pick up the phone and place a call. She can barely make out him saying, "you told me to call if she shows up. Well, she's here," before he quickly hangs up. With the copy of the report in hand, she stops by the tattletale's desk and makes her presence known before returning to the crime scene.

When Raymond is done examining the drug counter, he heads upstairs to where mom and pop live and questions them. They confirm that multiple people broke in, smashed the place, and took very little – just some loose cash and a couple of bottles of pills. The police arrived quickly, surrounded the place, and the noise from the store below just kind of stopped. The officers were unable to find anybody.

Hackerman starts to unpack all of his gear and starts building a "Magnetic Resonance Convergence Processor" using his Weird Science stunt. He succeeds, and gives it the stunt "When using the Magnetic Resonance Convergence Processor to process electro-magnetic signals, you get a +2 to Hacking to reconstruct those signals". Hackerman starts it running as it reads the magnetic residue image on the head of the video recorder and samples the camera cells and wiring to try to recreate the missing footage of the break in.

Riza compares the police report to evidence on scene. It also confirms that some small bills and a few handfuls of drugs were taken.

The Magnetic Resonance Convergence Processor finishes and ejects a newly minted video cassette. They all decide to pack up and head back to base.

Shortly after leaving the scene, Riza sees flashing lights in her rearview mirror. She diligently pulls over and Officer Joey Biggins steps out and over and leans on her car door. For all his bravado, Riza simply defects everything. Seeing as he's not going to get anything out of her, he smashes the Mustang's taillights for his trouble and moves along. During the rest of the ride back, Hackerman expounds the various ways he's going to make life difficult for Officer Biggins. When it's suggested he sign Biggins up for the Columbia Record & Tape Club, Hackerman states that's over the line as it's equivalent to being punished for war crimes.

Home Base Sweet Home Base

Back at base, Hackerman makes a big production of wheeling out the front-projection TV and gathering everybody around to check it out. Everybody gets a good chuckle when Raymond suggests this is an awful lot of effort just to show off his porn collection.

Hackerman ignores the comment and loads up his video reconstruction. A fuzzy black and white image appears on the screen...

Interior of the drug store.
A brick enters the frame, shards of glass following.
Three individuals enter, two bulky men and a woman with large hair.
One man enters the pharmacy and starts going through stacks of paperwork, throwing them on the floor as he goes.
The woman disappears into the office.
The other man starts pushing over shelves and smashing things.
After a minute or two, the woman returns with a scroll of dot-matrix printout.
Flashing lights begin to reflect off the walls.
The man in the pharmacy stuffs some pill bottles into his jacket pockets, smashes the register on the floor, pockets some cash, and throws the cash drawer at the ceiling light, plunging him into darkness.
The woman returns to the office and flips off the lights.
The remaining man makes a few false starts in various directions before deciding on a darkened corner.
Police officers enter the building from various directions, their flashlights reveal empty spaces where people were just moments before.

Riza loses it. She can't believe people just disappeared into the walls. Angus MacGregor asks her, "now do you see what we are dealing with?" Riza storms off for a stiff drink.

It finally clicks in Raymond's head: That's where he knows that ability From! The Grey Ghost used to able to do that! Angus confirms Ray's discovery and surmises that somebody has the Grey Ghost captive and is somehow extracting his powers.

Hackerman starts reconstructing the contents of mom and pop's computer from floppy disks...

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Shadow of the Century - Character Workup: Hackerman

When we sat down to do the Pitch Session for Shadow of the Century, a few of our regular players weren't able to make it, because Life™. One player, Josh, sent the following consolation note:

"Make me this guy as a character:"

That's Hackerman, from the crowdfunded short film, Kung Fury. Which, itself, is a love letter to the 80's. I need to sit down and watch the completed film, but what I've seen is FANTASTIC!

So, just before the first play session, I worked up Hackerman based on just the above video (really, I should watch the whole thing). Here's the result:

The above is all "Beta" – the final version may be different.
I decided to give him a gonzo stunt to see how the "take two stunts, mash them together, and give it some wacky flavor" works out in play.

I did want to give him a stunt that allows him to hack anything as long as he could conceivable connect a computer to it. However, I decided to stick with the spirit of the playtest and use only stunts as written.

Josh was pleased.

P.S. I watched Kung Fury in its entirety. It IS FANTASTIC! Doesn't add much to the character of Hackerman—the above video does a better job characterizing him.