(Smallville) Uncanny is underway!

edited August 2011 in Actual Play
So the Smallville campaign you all helped me name is underway! My X-Community College game has begun, we've had three sessions and it's going great. This new thread is because the old one is getting full and unwieldy. Here's what you need to know.

The old thread. I didn't know what to name a game so that I could have super-fast-talking introductions like Glee, and still have it be hilarious like Glee's. We came up with Uncanny.

There are six people playing. Pathways took FOR FRICKIN EVER as a result. Everything had to be connected to everything else. Also it's easier to build a cul-de-sac in a six-person Pathways game, which is not a good setup. But whatever, we got it done, it can get smoothed out in game. It's way too complicated to replicate or post. But the premise of the game is that the characters are the college-aged members of a West Coast X-men team in an approximation of the movie-verse (so that I can incorporate all kinds of nonsensical shit from the comics but I can put a new spin on it if I want, and I'm not married to continuity.)

I wrote a new ending step for Pathways because the characters aren't quite established heroes yet, but it reflects what brought them to Vistamar College, the "integrated" mutant-human experience that Xavier's Academy doesn't have. Situation. Everyone more or less picked the College or Slacking Off situation.

We did a flashback to Afghanistan, 3 Years Ago to help explain the background of one of the characters (a Feature who was kicked out of the Army on a thinly veiled Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell analogue), and introduce the game. Feel free to use the characters and new Distinctions in your own game. And there's a 8tracks soundtrack for it too.

I created an Adventure Generator on Abulafia. It hasn't gotten a ton of use yet, because I haven't quite formed up the team yet. And also I'd like for people to add in more entries, so come and help!

The theme song of the game is Born with Wood, a mashup that combines the inclusiveness and pop-insanity of Lady Gaga with the classic sounds of the 60s-70s X-Men.

We spent some time in the last thread going over Features and helping me come up with those, that was really helpful. We'll do that here too as I come up with people. Actually a really Feature-heavy game helps with continuity. This is not an episodic Smallville game, so I did some rules tinkering to help with Plot Point distribution and so on.

And now...drumroll please...the campaign website is up!


Here are some of my favorite entries:

Deceased Persons of Absolutely No Note - a player had never seen X3, and didn't know what Morlocks referred to in the X-Universe, so she needed to be brought up to speed on how the leadership of the Omegas/Morlocks in the X3 universe had all been killed when they joined up with Magneto. I started writing it in a character voice, and...turns out I really like the voice. So I made him into a guy with bad clarivoyance problems.

One of the characters has a band, Faux Pas. I had a good time finding pictures of the other people in the band for the band entry page, but then I issued a challenge on Twitter to come up with new, rival fictional bands, and the response was so great, I did an in-world music blog post and I'm definitely using that blogger as a Feature at some future point.

Questions, thoughts and ideas are welcome!


  • In another thread...
    Posted By: Cneph(As an aside, I am impressed with your Uncanny campaign website and multimedia. looks like you produce a lot of supporting material for your campaigns- does this come out of your initial burst of enthusiasm for the campaign idea? How do you feel about maintaining this sort of effort for years?)
    First, thanks!!

    Second, Smallville makes a lot of this really easy because of the lifepath character generation. I knew from the beginning that there would be a Morlock who falls in love with the physics girl, and she has an evil precognitive grandmother, and so on.

    There are lots of online tools to make setting up a site like this easy. The reason I used tumblr rather than a blog or a wiki is: 1, I know I will be the only one (along with Addie's player) adding anything significant to the site so a wiki would be a waste of effort, and I wanted it to be more interrelated/connected than a more "linear" blog. Tumblr has a lot of "grid layout" stuff.

    So here's what I did:

    I went to flickr to get the NPC pictures. (If you use Chrome, the DownFlickr add-on is vitally important.) I spent an afternoon or so just grabbing interesting-looking people of various ages. Then I used the Aviary image editor free online program to put the lettering on.

    Now, once I started doing this, I remembered something that helped a lot in my last game. I had index cards with the names of NPCs, and we'd put them in the middle of the table. This meant people would say the name of NPCs, and refer to them properly, instead of "the sheriff" or "the guy who gave us the clue". I hoped this would be less prevalent in a more relationship-based game anyway, but what the hell, the banner ad at the top of this website I was at said Shutterfly would print out pictures for me for free. So I used it.

    Oh my god, when I got out the glossy photograph of Carol Cooper in her military uniform, the place went nuts. They love them.

    So now, pretty much for the price of shipping, I have free photographs of all the NPCs, immediate visual aids, and everyone gets to remember the names.

    All right, so that's why this is not as hard as it looks. (Also note that I haven't filled in the stats for many of the NPCs, heh.)

    And the nice thing is that with a 3-4 hour session every week, I'm only going to be introducing a few NPCs, locations or situations each week. So what I have to do is pretty minimal.

    I hope that I can keep it up, that's an issue, yeah.
  • edited August 2011
    Posted By: JDCorley
    Oh my god, when I got out the glossyphotographof Carol Cooper in her military uniform, the place went nuts. They love them.
    That is bringing the awesome to the tabletop before the game even starts. Nice GM move.

    Edit: Your Situation pathways step link doesn't work for me.
  • Posted By: CnephEdit: Your Situation pathways step link doesn't work for me.
    Give it another try? Seems to work for me.

    URL is: http://cobweb.scarymonsters.net/~corleyj/gaming/cheatsheets/pwayssit1.pdf
  • No luck, just a timeout. My internet connection is running very slowly though, so that may well be the problem. No biggie.
  • edited August 2011
    Okay, so I wanted to talk about how the Smallville system and the Marvel Movieverse seem to work together very synergistically. I think I figured it out. It's because the adaptation of existing characters into Smallville and the adaptation of existing comic book characters into a movie proceed (when done best) along parallel tracks.

    First, you identify the core of the character. Just the basic concept. Comic book characters are GREAT at this. They are iconic, broadly drawn. The whole idea is that many writers and many creators over a long period of time will see these characters in different ways, but Superman is always Superman.

    Example for this game: Marie-Ange Colbert, "Tarot", a tarot-card-focused mutant exchange student, a minor-at-best character who existed doing very little for several years (1990s X-comics, yeah!) before being killed for no real reason.

    In the actual comics, she had a jumble of powers relating to psionic constructs made from the Major Arcana. But to me the core of her character was: She was French, she used Tarot cards to focus her powers, she did not make it onto an X-Team and ended up being eternally the softest-hearted one on a villainous team.

    Second, you take that core character and you now apply it to the relationships and issues developed by the main characters. (The movies, WHEN THEY WORK, do this with its dynamic or point-of-view characters, normally Wolverine and Rogue, but sometimes others.)

    Example: So one of the player characters in Uncanny, Adelaide was raised by her precognitive grandmother and believes her plans to be evil. She has a huge hangup about precognitives and free will and the future. So naturally I focused Marie-Ange's powers on her precognition and brought the grandmother in to teach her how to use them.

    Third, now that you have situated the character within the relationships and issues developed in the game, you extrapolate from that position backwards to what they believe and how they got there.

    Example: So why is she so focused on Tarot cards? In the X-Universe, limitations on powers are always related to personal hangups, so I decided that Marie-Ange's precognition had uncontrollably manifested, putting her in dangerous situations and threatening her, until she connected with an older tradition that allowed her to focus. Grateful to this tradition, she is somewhat conservative in outlook, believing that "old ways" are going to contain the answers to the problems of her life. She's also interested in the occult and somewhat goth-y. This is good because it will cause her conflict with the more traditional traditionalists?

    The great thing about this third step is that Smallville requires you to do it. You have to be able to write six things that every character believes.

    For NPCs, you don't necessarily have to do this before you start, but you won't find them changing until you understand why they are the way they are.

    Result: Tarot, and her confrontation with Addie in last week's game that had everyone staring at the Addie as she lost her shit at a party. "Was eet zomething I said?" I said, in my very best high school French accent.
  • New Twitter brainstorm/contest underway here.

    In my #SmallvilleRPG game, an anti-mutant pop/rock band has several songs: "Only Human", "Unevolved & Proud"...they need some more. GO!
  • The best source for this stuff is real life, as Mutants are a thin analogy of racism. After a little bit of soul-crushing google-fu, here are just a few results, changing a few slurs to target mutants. Fun PS - The Internet has some truly dark corners.

    Send ’Em All Back to Genosha
    Ship those Muties Back
    Some Muties Never Die
    Keep your X-ray eyes off my Sister
    Mutants Hatin' Me
    Who Likes A Mutant
    Move Them Mutants North
    Mutant Town
    Mutant Shootin Boogie
    Starve A Mutant, Feed an American
    All Those Freaks Look The Same To Me
    Today Belongs to Us
    Vandalize And Victimize
    This Planet Is Ours
    Mutants Won't Do
    Never Date a Mutant
    Posted By: JDCorleyNew Twitter brainstorm/contest underwayhere.

    In my #SmallvilleRPG game, an anti-mutant pop/rock band has several songs: "Only Human", "Unevolved & Proud"...they need some more. GO!
  • Posted By: JDCorleyThere are six people playing. Pathways took FOR FRICKIN EVER as a result. Everything had to be connected to everything else.
    I'm curious how long this took compared to fewer players.

    Also, tips on how you avoided the cul-de-sac problem.
  • You can get through a four-player Pathways in probably 2-3 hours or so. It also helps if you don't have perfectionists who think "absolutely everything must be absolutely perfect".

    The cul-de-sac issue became pretty extreme in a couple of cases. With a smaller Pathways, the step that requires you to connect two things on the map OTHER than player characters tends to draw things in closely enough. With 6 people it's possible (and it actually happened) that one or two characters that seemed pretty interesting turned out only to be connected to one player and thus things that happen with them are only really going to directly impact that character.

    I didn't do anything in Pathways to fix this, instead what I did was I had those cul-de-sac characters take action/head in the direction that would bring them into other characters' bailiwicks.

    For example, a PC's father is a bit of a conservative guy, and doesn't know his kid is a mutant. So I'm going to have him join up with a "neighborhood mutant watch" group more or less of scared people, who are being misused by the Friends of Humanity to help pick their targets, which will bring him directly into conflict with the rest of the player characters. That way connections can be drawn in play even if it wasn't a really great setup.

    Jon, I love your suggestions (and you can see why I turned to Twitter instead of to Google, god bless you for delving into that cesspit for my silly game), but the Friends of Humanity take at least some pains to make themselves seem normal/palatable/not psychos, so some of those wouldn't work. But "Stronger" and "Mutant Town" are really good, and I can use the rest for the more extremist groups.
  • And I've just had a character in the game world live-tweet a Mutant Brotherhood attack.


    And of course, the "straight" news story.
  • edited October 2011
    Someone in the group wanted to learn Gumshoe, so I created a Mutant City Blues scenario in the same universe. I haven't finished up the sheets yet, but here are the characters:

    LAPD Robbery-Homicide - Unusual Crimes Section

    Stole the name from the short-lived and underrated cop show The Unusuals.

    Stealing the intro from the underrated Dragnet remake.

    Stealing plots from the same show.

    "It was Monday; overcast in Los Angeles. My partner and I were working the day shift out of Robbery/Homicide Unusual Crimes Section. The Captain was Ruth Anderson. The call came in at 8:30. Caucasian male dumped off Mulholland. Evidence of energy blasts in the area. I love L.A. Starting another day at the top of the world. My name's Godfrey. I'm a cop."
  • edited October 2011
    I've now (almost completely) gone through the tumblr and gotten some tags done, so people can sort the (now over 100!) entries by various tags:

    Some interesting ones: Omegas, Music (which includes in- and out-of-character music!), and, naturellement, What You Missed On Uncanny.

    It's not completely done (notably, the Leads pages aren't all done), but it should give you another way to navigate around if you haven't checked it out in a while.
  • edited December 2011
    Well, we're just about to the real-world's winter break, and halfway through the X-Men's first semester at Vistamar. They've battled terrorists, criminals and tried to stop an anti-mutant riot. Great stuff.

    I'm getting a lot of help from people on gtalk - if you want to become one of my brainstormers, whisper your gmail/talk address to me in this thread and I'll add you into the brainstorming.

    We should probably do a G+ hangout at some point too, we do get pretty rowdy with our ideas.

    We are now passing the 6 month mark on the game! Getting good.

    I also added a Tag Cloud to the tumblr, and an Ask section, so if you want to ask the players of the game any questions, it's there for ya.
  • Well, Uncanny drew to a close last week. It's too soon for a formal debrief, but once I discovered that 2 out of 5 players reeeeeealllllly disliked the system I knew I was going to have to put a bullet in it. I was ready to keep going, so I consider the experiment of "see if JDC can run a game forever" to be a success. The last updates to the tumblr have gone out. Questions and comments still welcome. Thanks for listening!
  • When you are ready to post the debrief, I would be curious to know what was disliked about the system and what about the system you enjoyed.

  • edited July 2012
    I kind of forgot I promised that....so thanks for the reminder. :)

    First of all, the two players that really disliked the system disliked what the system did. Smallville is a game where your capabilities are not defined in the sense of "how much can Superman lift". Instead your capabilities are defined as "what can you accomplish when you're fighting for this, under these pressures". They simply didn't like a system that gave equal weight to being a great planner and being a blabbermouth, but because both of those are traits that can be rolled in various situations, they felt that the system was not rewarding them for "skilled play". In other words, they weren't feeling rewarded for outwitting the opposition because they might have just blundered through it with (hand on heart) the power of ~Friendship~. And even if they did as much as they could to stack the systemic deck in their direction, in the end it would always be about what they felt instead of what they knew.

    I adored, absolutely adored, the system exactly for this reason, because it really reflected what I was after in the X-canon. What are X-comics about? Why is their history so convoluted? Well, because people in these comics, in their bigger-than-life ways, are tormented by their beliefs. They switch sides because they've come to see their values in a different way. And when the chips are down, it really is the power of friendship (or love, or brotherhood, or loyalty) that wins the day. I could throw them against a powerful mutant superterrorist without pulling any punches, because the conflict system was all about what the terrorist wanted, and what they wanted, and who was going to get what they wanted, not who had the best plan to nail the other side. Nothing in X-comics makes any sense at all except the emotions.

    There were some other weird things - people didn't like doing "their own thing", which the advancement system required. They felt it was artificial and stupid. (Again, I didn't, I loved it.) But the dynamic of the group was such that people felt resentment and nervousness when people had the spotlight and used it in ways they didn't see as productive. There is a lot of that in a system where relationships are a major part of what's on your character sheet.

    I feel Smallville helped me write better NPCs. You literally must write six things each important NPC believes about the key values in your game. This is so, so perfect.

    In the end, on my end of the table it was a great success. 2 other players agreed with me, they loved it. 2 more hated it. Another was meh. So that's 3 out of 6 that weren't psyched about it after 6 months of play. I let them rescue the anti-mutant politicians from the Mutant Brotherhood on national TV and called it a night. I'm still up for other questions!
  • I'm trying to get a Smallville game up and running, and I'd be interested to know how, if at all, you streamline making Features. I'm fine with Values and Relationships -- it's all the other fiddly bits that have me pulling at my hair.
  • I have liked the values used for characters in Smallville, and what I've read about Uncanny makes me like how it defines characters even more.
    I've actually been tinkering around with 'porting the values into Marvel Heroic to run an Avengers Academy campaign in a month or so (inspired by what I've seen here), as a replacement for Milestones, because I think they would work really well as motivations and complications, and would give me a great way to develop NPCs to make them feel more three-dimensional.
  • Thanks for the write up. I've been wanting to play Smallville since I heard about it, but haven't been able to find a group interested in it yet. I think some players are not interested in the setting, to which I reply we can use whatever setting we want -- if not supers then True Blood, etc.

    Knowing what you do now, what might you do differently if you were to run another game of Smallville?
  • I've heard a lot of people love or hate the Milestones part of the Marvel game. Also, that it doesn't handle non-combat or transitional scenes as well as people were expecting. I can see the Values porting over to any number of games.
  • I'm trying to get a Smallville game up and running, and I'd be interested to know how, if at all, you streamline making Features. I'm fine with Values and Relationships -- it's all the other fiddly bits that have me pulling at my hair.
    There's some good stuff about this in the Watchtower Guide, he said, pimping the book he wrote something for. But here's how I did it for Features:

    I picked a d8 or a d10 trait based on what they were most effective at.

    I picked a d4 trait based on something that was part of their situation that tended to cause problems for them.

    I picked a d6 trait that covered something I thought of that didn't fit.

    Sometimes I picked a fourth trait if I had one that was really dynamite.

    (I didn't use most Triggers for most Features - all the stuff you do with Triggers as a player like giving yourself extra dice or re-rolls, you can easily do with Trouble as the GM.)

    I picked one or two Resources if they were important, but normally I tended to just wing those.
  • Knowing what you do now, what might you do differently if you were to run another game of Smallville?
    The one piece of advice I had out of a giant 6 person Pathways session that I should have emphasized and written in huge letters: Don't put shit in the Pathways that you don't care about. If I threaten something connected to you, you better WANT to do something about it, otherwise you wrote something you don't care about and your character won't move.

    I think I might have done another interconnectedness step with such a huge group at the start, too.
  • edited July 2012
    I almost forgot, I didn't link this. I did a Dirty Secrets scenario for another spinoff game. This one never happened, but I've saved it in case I want to do it again someday. Movieverse luv:

    The Dirty Secrets of the Friends of Humanity

    "On October 29, Abigail Wilson, secretly a member of the mutant adventurers known as the X-Men, asked Eric Kilkenny to look into the Friendly Towns, human-only rural communities operated by the Friends of Humanity, a religious anti-mutant group.

    On November 4, Eric turned in his homework and quizzes for the next week and requested a leave of absence from the Dean of students, Emma Frost. She granted it.

    On November 9, a message on Geraldine “Jer” Parchman’s answering machine at the Santa Monica Pier from Eric indicated that he was looking into events in Wheeler Springs, a Friendly Town approximately two hours northeast of Los Angeles. These events were connected to the apparently accidental death of Lori E. Phillips, a church official, which had taken place earlier that year.

    On November 10, Jer tried to call him back. Eric’s cellphone was listed as no longer in service.

    On November 14, Jer arrived in Wheeler Springs to investigate Eric’s disappearance."
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