Run by the convention organizer, this Champions RPG was set in the Marvel Universe, featuring X-Men tangling with Brotherhood mutants. The GM, a great big guy with sleepy eyes, split the eight participants into two groups (good and evil), then took each group aside and assigned the actual characters. Given the size of our group, he had wisely enlisted an associate GM who managed end-of-the-table questions and tracked various die rolls.
The title of the game was, “For the Brotherhood!” If you know the X-Men from Marvel Comics, you’ll recognize these characters. If you don’t know the X-Men, you should really consider broadening your reading.
Our group, Cyclops, Ice-man, Wolverine, and me, Colossus, got telepathic word from Professor X that the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants were on the move, this time ransacking the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We flew to Central Park in our SR-71 Blackbird just as the brotherhood (Pyro, Avalanche, Blob, and Sabretooth) exited the museum.
This was another game I had never played before, and I enjoyed it quite a lot. I remember exactly nothing about the rules now, except that the game ran very quickly and was a lot of fun. If I had it to do over again (PC antagonists and playing with friends), I’d encourage my friends to take the other side, forcing me to form alliances with strangers. I guess what I’m saying is: play new games, play with new people.
Pyro immediately spread his arms when he saw us, igniting a 10′ high wall of fire between our groups. Cyclops took charge, skating up into the air with Ice-man on his bridge while commanding me to “fastball special” Wolverine at Pyro.
“What about Sabretooth?” I shouted back, seeing him cradling something in his claws and disappearing away from the park and into the city.
“Don’t worry about him!” Cyclops said. “He won’t get away.” And with that, he and Ice-man blew Avalanche off his feet with a combination eye-blast and ice-spear. Avalanche went down, driven deep into the dirt.
The excellent and terrible thing about convention games is the interaction with strangers. When you play with friends, you have a pretty good idea about the alpha personalities, who’s going to lead, who should probably follow, who’s tactically brilliant, who only thinks he is, and so on. In this game, the player running Cyclops had decided 1) he was in charge, and 2) Sabretooth splitting with some secret item didn’t matter. Cyclops was wrong on both counts.
With some ease, I scooped up Wolverine and hurled him across the park, but Pyro was ready, dodging right, deflecting the slashing claws with a fire shield. I charged immediately after, and saw the Blob lumbering to meet me. This was going to be a fight.
Wolverine had managed to scramble back to his feet, but even as he was turning to finish Pyro off, Cyclops accidentally blasted him, hammering him to the ground. With a gesture, Pyro turned his fire wall into a fireball, exploding straight up at Cyclops and Ice-man on the bridge, forcing them to dive for cover. Then Pyro turned his fire onto Wolverine, burning him alive where he lay.
It was my friend Dave playing Wolverine, and up to this point, he was disappointed with his choice. He had turned into smashface ragdoll, and the PC running Pyro had elected to use deadly force to actually KILL Wolverine… which he came very close to accomplishing.
Ice-man recovered from the fire attack and threw an ice cage around the advancing Blob, who easily pounded his way through it. I reached the fat man at this point, throwing my arms around his and crushing, getting a roar of pain and anger. We struggled like that for a while, with the Blob trying to break out of my hold while I crushed him. I could feel him weakening, especially after Ice-man froze the air around his head and inside his lungs, but then he managed a reverse on me, wrapping his great arms around mine.
“Let’s see how you like it, metal boy,” he growled, but I pulled the same maneuver, breaking free entirely and stepping backward.
This was a great example of really clicking with a stranger at a convention table. Being the biggest tough guys at the table, we had decided to lay into each other, and it played out just like that, as we bashed and smashed and crashed and crushed each other in turn. It was a very effective, very believable comic book scene, and I feel like I can credit both the game rules AND the GM, who ran it effortlessly.
Cyclops had fired a few more eye-blasts at Pyro, but couldn’t punch through the shield, and Pyro continued to pour his hellish attack on Wolverine’s still body, clearly intending on killing him.
Sabretooth reappeared, racing in from the side and clawing out great big chunks from Ice-man’s bridge, which wavered but didn’t collapse. Ice-man slipped though, and fell hard to the ground, where Sabretooth began tearing great big chunks out of him. Sabretooth, it appeared, had gone a little crazy.
For those of you thinking this was strictly a good guys versus bad guys game, a big twist is about to occur. To the GM’s credit, it wasn’t such a massive, major twist that would have thrown the game into excessive, grindy disarray, and it was timed exactly right. The X-Men and the Brotherhood had gone just far enough to really establish a red hot battle, and then…
It was then that the two Sentinels appeared.
Twenty feet tall, thick armor, flight, and hand blasters, the Sentinels were created for one job only: destroy all mutants. The battle shifted at this point, as enemy became ally to defeat the new threat. Well, at least, most enemies became allies. Sabretooth was lost in bloodlust, and continued tearing bits and pieces out of Ice-man, at least until the first Sentinel blast hit him.
As an adventure designer, it never would have occurred to me to shift the battle so dramatically, forcing us adversaries to join forces to defeat an overwhelming opponent. Keep in mind we PCs had been whomping away at each other up to this point, so we were hardly at our best when the real enemies appeared.
The Sentinels were tough, ignoring all but the most brutal attacks. Wolverine managed to claw a good bit out of one, until it pounded him away and started hovering outside of his reach, blasting downward at him and Sabretooth. The Blob roared “Truce” at me, and then we cooperated on the second one, the big man flinging me in a revised “fastball special,” allowing me to bury my fist deep into its chest. I held on up there, hammering away at it, and then it batted me off and flew up in the air, thinking it was safe from me.
But I can jump. I sprang up again and managed to get another hold on its leg, crushing the armor. It kicked me off, hovered higher, and blasted downward, making all kinds of craters but failing to hit me. Blob and I started digging boulders from the ground and flinging them, causing minor damage. Avalanche (finally back on his feet) started sending great waves of earth at the Sentinel, smashing it hard and actually getting through the armor.
The other one was set upon by Sabretooth and Wolverine, leaping from a tree and tearing their way up its legs in a race for the head. Cyclops fired away with his optic blasts and Pyro with his fire attacks, and shortly, Ice-man tried to freeze the boot jets on the thing.
It was clear that the GM had not planned on any of our tactics, and was simply rolling with our moves, allowing each of us to shine in our own special way. Before the Rule of Yes had come into vogue, this GM was being awful liberal with his Yes answers, much to his credit. We were still challenged–the Sentinels using their flight to get away from us–but the GM never played it unfair.
The situation became desperate for the first Sentinel, so it resorted to desperate measures. It flew in a huge arc, scraping Wolverine and Sabretooth off on trees, then it dropped close to the ground, stretched out its arms, and jetted straight into Cyclops and Pyro.
It burst through walls of ice from Ice-man and walls of stony earth from Avalanche, and hit like a runaway train. Cyclops was crushed, Pyro was flung, and it looked as though the tide would turn again. Until, that is, Pyro focused on the fire coming out of the Sentinel’s boot jets, reversing the flames, sending them up the robot’s legs. The explosion was enormous, rocking nearly everyone off their feet.
I doubt there were any rules in place for this kind of cataclysmic event, the GM just went with Pyro’s move, allowing the Sentinel’s destruction but not dismissing the cost of such a move. This is one of those rare tabletop gaming moments when I remember the event as though it actually happened, instead of merely remembering sitting at the table and throwing funny-shaped dice.
The remaining Sentinel, damaged but not down from the Blob and me, dropped horizontal and blew through our group, wrapping one huge hand around Ice-man and then disappearing into the sky, ignoring our trailing attacks, escaping with our friend. The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants escaped as well, scampering away as we plotted our pursuit of the Sentinel, leaving the remaining X-Men alone in Central Park.
All right, so we heroes weren’t exactly given a happy ending, but I can guarantee that every player around that table had a freaky good time. We each got our special moments, the kind of scenes where we tug on the sleeves of friends and say, “Hey, let me tell you about this one Champions game I played in.” Plus, it does feel faithful to the source material, since comic books never really end, do they?