The Redeemers is a first edition Mutants & Masterminds campaign I ran. I enjoyed it and there were interesting pieces to it, but sad to say, it didn’t go over well and we terminated the campaign after seven sessions. It turned out that the group had agreed to play a Bronze Age four-color supers type game, but there was some confusion over what that meant, and once we got into it many of the players didn’t like a lot of the four-color conventions. But, we had some good sessions that are exciting to read at least!
The campaign was based in Freedom City, Green Ronin’s premier M&M campaign setting. The core conceit of the campaign was that an angel was cast down to earth to learn humility by helping humanity. He was told to go to St. George’s Cathedral every Sunday to receive guidance in the form of Scripture readings. The other characters were all drawn to him and their group, The Redeemers, fought evil in Freedom City. They started at a very high street level, PL8, with the goal of becoming “full-fledged supers” (PL 10+).
To kick off each session, I gave them a handout with the week’s Scripture readings and some news headlines of interest.
The initial characters were:
Archangel, the angel noted above, who has a flaming sword and can fly and is Godawful tough.
Darren Stone, who can control earth and stone. He covers himself with a big sheath of stone/dirt/street/whatnot when in action and he doesn’t really have a super-hero name. He hits hard and chunks boulders and generally controls earth.
Stingray, a banker by day who got embedded with strange Aztec power shards in an accident and now has electrical and storm powers.
Sylvan Sentinel, a recently reawakened nature spirit from back “in the day.” He can teleport through plants, do vine type things, and has other planty powers.
The Redeemers, Issue #1 [Warring session summaries: 1 2 3]
This was a bit of a warm-up, with the goal of the PCs meeting each other. Archangel fell to earth in Liberty Park, awakening the nature spirit Sylvan Sentinel and attracting the attention of Stingray and Darren Stone. This just happened to coincide with the Jackal attacking the Memorial Day parkgoers and Megastar and Johnny Rocket (two prominent Freedom City heroes) showing up to stop the bad guys. The result was a classic “everyone fighting everyone because no one’s sure who’s a villain” melee. It worked out nicely, and in the end our heroes trounced the Jackal. Even this early we had a little problem – one of the players whose character got beaten on during the PC on PC violence had bad feelings about it afterward. I tried to explain that it’s genre appropriate, and it’s not like he died or got fewer XP than anyone else. He was mildly mollified, but as we’ll see later, more issues arose around genre tropes.
The Redeemers, Issue #2 [Session Summary]
This issue kicks off with the characters attending the funeral of one of Darren Stone’s friends, allowing me to introduce several people. First, the character of Wilson Jeffers, an African-American youth worker and retired super-hero, a notable Freedom City NPC. Darren is black and from the ‘hood, so Jeffers is a potential mentor and info-source for him. Second, Jimmy Stone, Darren’s younger brother and prospective gangbanger for the Southside C’s. Gang activity, drug use, and racism are some of the intial themes/opposing forces of the story, and Jimmy was an avenue to make that personal. Third, Jesse Sangaree, aka The Scarecrow, a fifth player character, works at the funeral home. He has all kinds of mystic and shadow powers, and hooks up with the PCs by offering his occult knowledge.
In the second scene, the party goes to get more info from Ezekiel, a local occult store owner, and they witness and thwart an attempted biker gang hit on Lady Tarot, another notable Freedom City NPC aligned with the Italian mob. This allows them to make Lady Tarot as a contact and introduce the neo-Nazi biker gangs as an opponent.
In the final scene, they go and hunt down a Southside C’s drug deal, where they are buying some new drug from a neo-Nazi biker! (hint, hint.) They get to whale on some mooks, which makes everyone feel good (especially Scarecrow, as his ability to generate darkness and see in the dark let him take out a bunch). Then, the head biker shoots up with the super-drug they’ve been developing and goes toe to toe with Archangel. When defeated, he has a massive heart attack from the drug’s side effects.
This issue went just fine, and I thought we were on track…
The Redeemers, Issue #3 – Special double issue!
Because the previous issue started with a funeral and roleplaying, I kicked this one off immediately with a fight against some Southside C miscreants. Then, after regifting a plasma TV the Mob gave them as thanks for helping Lady Tarot to Wilson Jeffers’ community center, they went looking for a local kid who went missing. I took the missing-kid plot directly from an old Dark Champions supplement, which has apparently been reprinted as “The Thing in Radley Manor” for d20/Action!. The initial part of this has the heroes trying to get information out of a bunch of nine to eleven year old kids on a playground. This did not go well; the players came on like a combination of narcs and child molesters. Each decided that asking one question and being rebuffed counted as failure, and just wanted to ‘roll something and get on with it.’ Accordingly, they got to Radley Manor and hit it hard, fighting their way through a bunch of bikers and getting in a running battle with the bosses, where we stopped due to time.
This session ended with both me and some of the players grumpy. They didn’t like the “talk to the kids” scene, and I had a bit of a bad attitude about their objections. “Oh no, not roleplaying!!! I’d hate for you to have to do that.”
I decided to start this session with a ‘scene cut.’ The previous issue had ended in the middle of a fight in Radley Manor. This one started with the biker bosses and other remnants of the Wolfpack gang roaring off on their Harleys and the heroes in pursuit. This immediately generated controversy; the group is definitely a gamist/simulationist group and the scene cut concept put them off their feed.
And it went downhill from there. Despite my clear guidance prior to starting the campaign that people should probably invest in some movement powers or at least vehicles in the house rules, no one really did, so they jumped on Harleys themselves, hindered slightly by a total lack of driving skills. So the fight with the biker bosses took most of the session, which frustrated them more, and then ended with them meeting the supervillain Spasm and getting their asses kicked.
Now, this is genre appropriate. The first time you meet a supervillain, he always gets his licks in and escapes. But the group was very dispirited by all this, both by their discomfort with dramatist approach and the pent up frustration from the bikers and the kids.
We started to try to figure out what was “wrong” and make adjustments. But in the end, I think that basically a four-color supers with a bit of a dramatist approach was just not something the group was down with. Many had comics experience but it was more 1990s+ comics, and mine was mostly ’70s-’80s. In other genres this group doesn’t feel like they have to be the total billy bad-asses of the world but it seems that the superheroes genre triggered a lot more resistance to losing/not being the best.
The Redeemers, Issue #4 [Session Summary]
To change things up, I did a one-off this session. After a bit of investigation into Spasm and making contact with Lady Tarot, the heroes heard about a potential problem happening at a local mall. This was another adventure from an old Dark Champions supplement, retasked to Gepetto and Toyboy from various M&M books. Basically two toy-themed villains decide to mix it up over a toy store opening. Even more than most, this session summary makes me laugh and laugh.
The fight went OK, but another genre trope tripped us up. The point of this fight was that there were a lot of innocent targets around that needed saving from various threats. But our heroes were not highly interested in that and wanted to go after the supervillain instead. They got into it but grudgingly. They won and got good press, but the funk from the previous sessions wasn’t lifted.
The Redeemers – Issue #5 [Session Summary]
In this issue, the heroes got back into the main plot, with white supremacist fringe Christian groups, a goth punk eco-band kidnapping a racist band and putting them into gorilla suits to frame them with disrupting a revival… Eh, just read the session summary, it’s complicated. I took the preacher saying “You ain’t never gonna get nowhere smoking that pipe!” etc. from a Memphis church commercial I saw all the time when I lived there.
Then it got more complicated. I had introduced Molly Duncan (aka Choke Chain) and her band to provoke some more interesting moral decisionmaking in the heroes. She’s a “criminal” but that crime is mainly mischief to a liberal but good if misguided end, and the “good guys” are somewhat tainted by racism and ties to drug biker gangs. But it all went bad when Scarecrow, trying to confront slash hit on her, grabbed her to drag her out of Eclipse and she unloaded her powers on him. Being trained from many other RPGs that combat is when roleplaying stops and the struggle for survival begins, it degenerated into a fight. Scarecrow’s player quit the game at this, with the “rejection feelings” bleeding over into RL too much.
The Redeemers – Issue #6 [Session Summary]
Sylvan Sentinel’s character likes switching characters a lot. Thus this session, Sylvan Sentinel went missing and in this session the new PC, Zom, appears as a witness and ex-skinhead biker. The group decides to go to a skinhead biker rally in the woods, liberally adapted from the hilarious P.A.G.A.N. rally in Dragnet: The Movie, with Sylvan Sentinel being the main victim of honor. Then an awesome battle with the heroes, AEGIS troopers, skinheads, Spasm, and White Knight (like the superhero mascot of the KKK) proceeded.
Zom had his powers revealed to him and became the Shaper – think Firestorm: The Nuclear Man but as a drugged out biker.
This session went well, but we decided to wrap the campaign up soon.
The Redeemers – Issue #7 [Part I Missing; Session Summary for Part II]
It’s the heroes versus a crazy ex-Nam vet chemist guy out to kill everyone at the Fourth of July festivities in this two-session issue. I got this plot from those old Dark Champions supplements too. More Wilson Jeffers and Amy Feng as recurring characters. The heroes save the day.
This was going to be a lead-in to a plotline with the bad guys (corporations) testing super-drugs on people in a supermax prison. But, it was not to be.
I hadn’t had a campaign just fail/fall apart before in my many years of gaming and it was confusing. We discussed it several times in the group, but a bunch of random rulesy things were mainly what were brought up as issues by the players – the use of Villain Points, the non-hitpoint system, etc. In retrospect, though, even though we had an explicit discussion before hand about the four-color supers genre, people were just not into it, and not into a game that explicitly uses dramatic genre tropes. They wanted more direct wish fulfillment and every setback made them unhappy with the game. The game system nits were more just looking around for something to blame the sadness on. Later, the group played a Champions game that went OK, but really that campaign avoided a lot of the superhero genre tropes for straightforward action and empire-building like most of our other campaigns.
On the plus side, the characters were good and interesting, everyone liked the Freedom City setting, I liked the Mutants & Masterminds rules, and the religious tone of the game excited no objection even in a significantly mixed-faith group.
The problem of ‘we agreed to play game X in style Y but…’ issue you describe here is what has been an ongoing feature in my own group over the last few years.
Sometimes people agree to things or make concessions just to keep the game going or the keep the group together but when the game actually gets going… just don’t know how to follow through or simply do not enjoy the experience.
We ran into this issue while running Adventure! in a true pulp style, had it slip up behind us in Palladium Fantasy where social class was an issue, had it knock us around in M&M where four colours seemed to be three too many with none of them grey enough, uncovered it again in Mage run with real attention being paid to paradigm, and have seen it come out of the sun suddenly in our current Trinity game where action not angst was to be the star.
We all get along well as people, and we do not have sessions like you describe here where things get personal or ending the game gets discussed. We do have sessions, though where the players are playing, and roleplaying, but not in the game or in the mood/style/mode the GM has been trying to present.
Your example of the heroes ignoring the hapless by-standers in favour of pursuing the villain despite the clear delineation of what sort of genre was being run is a perfect one for what I mean. In my current Trinity game, the premise was to run an action-oriented game primarily based around fighters, blasters, explosions, near-death escapes, and saving the world from the evil encroachment of the aberrants… what we got was a whole world away from that.
Yeah, with us I think it was people in a rut – this group tends to expect certain things out of a campaign and when it’s different conceptually it’s a hard thing; they’re more body-looting empire-builders.
Discussing ending the campaign isn’t bad, though, if people aren’t enjoying it – we’ve also had some campaigns where we gritted our teeth and sat through an extra couple months of a game even though we hated it, and that’s not good for anyone.