Friday, August 15, 2014

Attempted Wolfnapping

Beaten, battered, bruised, and bloodied, our heroes weren’t in the best of shape when a horde of gun-toting men in red sweatshirts came charging into the warehouse-come-arena. Papana wasted no time and charged headfirst into the attackers, closely followed by Shiver, Eric, and his former opponents in the tournament.

Before we got into the actual combat, I awarded the group the experience points I’d forgotten to give them the last two sessions. Both Shiver and Papana used the points to purchase new Techniques to cover their weaknesses. In Papana’s case, he had nothing that would Victoriously Defeat rushes and grapples, putting him at a weakness against them, since the chance for Clashing brings the chance for being defeated.

About two dozen men in red sweatshirts unloaded gunfire at a group of maybe eight martial artists—the remaining tournament participants had either fled or had been taken out by gunfire. Recognizing the authentic level of threat, Shiver transformed into his half-man, half-wolf spirit form—essentially a werewolf. This was a good call, as the group was in for a surprisingly difficult fight.

For this fight, each player was facing six opponents, but they would attack only three at a time while the rest waited and observed. We only had two players this week, as Jaime was at SpoCon (not a work meeting as I mistakenly said last time). Even so, I only had five Technique cards to distribute among six combatants (three for Papana and three for Shiver). I realize now that I could have used a card or two from the Boxing set of mortal techniques (something to keep in mind for next time, I guess). Here’s our setup:

The two dice on the left are the gangsters fighting Shiver exclusively, while the two red dice on the right are fighting Papana. The blue die in the middle represents two combatants who happen to be using the same technique, but with different targets. In this particular round, both Papana and Shiver are targeting both combatants using the same technique. You may also notice some vis-a-vis markers in the back. Blake had the excellent idea of putting the character sheets in plastic covers and then using the markers to mark off all of our changing tracks, especially Overdrive and Health Points/Stocks. Saves us from having to erase a lot of graphite and damaging the character sheets.

The mass combat rules for Burn Legend are surprisingly simple. You use your technique as both attack and defense, but you can only target one enemy at a time (most of the time. There are techniques that allow to hit all close opponents). What really sped the fight along, however, was Papana’s extraordinarily good luck. He picked up a refinement to a technique that allowed him to gain extra Overdrive. He managed to activate his only a few rounds in. To make Overdrives particularly effective against extras, we houseruled that it targeted all extras currently engaged with the combatant. Papana’s Overdrive defeats both rushes and grapples, and two of his three assailants were using a rush and a grapple, meaning he automatically defeated and killed them, as they had no extra health stocks. The third one managed to hide behind his friends as Papana’s burning golden fist detonated the other two.

Shiver had a harder time, however. Despite having an extra dot in Dexterity, thanks to his spirit form, he just could not defeat his opponents when Clashing, and pulled off maybe one Victorious technique. By the end of the fight, he had maybe three points of Overdrive. Luckily, the gangsters did not hit hard, but the damage added up. After Papana took out all six of his opponents, he began helping Shiver. Even so, Shiver went down when he lost his third health stock. The remaining two (out of twelve) then turned on Papana, who suddenly inherited Shiver’s bad luck. Tired beyond what even Mugen are capable of, Papana channeled the last of his strength into just surviving this encounter. He defeated his final opponent with only two health points left (out of 35). Considering that damaging techniques deal one point of damage automatically, plus whatever successes are rolled on the actual damage roll, Papana barely survived. Shiver reverted to his wolf form and curled up in a little ball to lick at his wounds.

The tournament fighters and the gangsters pulled apart as a happenstance standoff appeared. Three new figures entered the warehouse: A man in a red sweatshirt with green circles on the arms, a shabby old man in a tattered trenchcoat and poor hygiene, and a guy who looked like a professional wrestler covered in brass piercings.

“I hear one of you has been trailing one of my men.” the man in the red sweatshirt snarled. “I’ll give you this one chance. Fess up, or I’ll kill every single one of you in cold blood.”

“Why would you do that?” Papana quipped. “I basically killed a dozen of your men myself. If you want to sacrifice them, that’s your call.”

The leader was about to issue the order to kill, when one of the rank-and-file members backpedaled and whispered something to him. “That’s very interesting. Knuckles!” the professional wrestler surged forward, barreling down on Papana, who managed to blast him with solar energy. Knuckles took the hit, then reached down and tossed Shiver’s limp form to the man in the red sweatshirt. Papana and Eric both charged forward. “Knuckles! Georgie! Stop them!” the leader yelled as he threw Shiver over his shoulder and dashed out of the warehouse. Georgie dissolved into oily black smoke and caught Eric, dragging him back into the warehouse. Papana ran straight for Knuckles, leaping up as if he was performing Falling Meteor Atemi. He changed partway through, instead planting a foot in Knuckles’ face, leaping off, then exiting the warehouse.

As he left, he saw the man in the red sweatshirt take off on a red motorcycle, Shiver strapped on securely. Knowing how much of arrogant ass Eric is, Papana sprinted to Eric’s sporty car and turned it on—after all, no one would have the audacity to take the keys out of the ignition on car with the license plate of “E-MAN,” right? Peeling out, Papana took off after Shiver’s wolfnapper. The two of them weaved in and out of freeway traffic, having a kung-fu fight while on vehicles. Rushes became revving the engine to speed ahead, grapples were ramming maneuvers, while aerial attacks required a pretty ridiculous stunt. At one point, Papana used an actual exit ramp to surge into the air, hoping to catch the guy with his signature aerial technique. The man responded by hurling orbs of green flame at Papana, revving his bike so hard that it shot out twin jets of emerald fire from the exhaust pipes, and melting the pavement into tar. Shiver regained consciousness partway through, realized what was happening, and rocked the motorcycle hard enough to send it straight into a guardrail. Technically, Shiver used a technique that caused the target to become still the next round, meaning it couldn’t move, and we chose to interpret that rather literally. The man went sailing, skidding along the pavement. Papana wasted no time and ran him over. He then stopped, put his hazards on, and ran over him again in reverse. He unbound Shiver, put both him and the motorcycle into the backseat, and drove off.

He then received a call from his sensei, asking him to prove his, the sensei’s, effectiveness at teaching the martial arts, since Papana was his greatest pupil. They arrived there after a couple of hours, picking up Eric first. The dojo itself has two doors: the central one with ornate carvings reserved for high-ranking students and masters, and a plain one for initiates. Papana, despite his prestige as a Mugen, always uses the more humble door, and even installed a doggy door for Shiver. Half of the dojo is used for training and sparring, accommodating twelve comfortably. The other half is for meditation and spiritual exercises, including a zen garden, koi pond, and incense chamber. The sensei himself used to be a big-name action star when martial arts films used to be all the rage, rivaling Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. He had a change of heart, however, and dropped out of the industry to become a teacher of the martial arts, and so pursued a new, higher purpose with the establishment of the Dojo of Falling Stars.

Sensei is pleased to see them, but the three prospective pupils are less than impressed. “This is the famous Mugen you’re so proud of?” one of them said, gesturing to Papana’s Hawaiian floral print shirt and sandals. “He doesn’t look tough at all. I could take him.”

“Let me have a chance to prove myself.” Papana said. When the other man agreed, Papana promptly kicked him in the crotch. Tired, hurt, and still annoyed that someone had tried to steal his dog, he really wasn’t in the mood for fair fighting. “That was a cheap shot!” the man’s friend argued. “Sometimes a cheap shot is the only one you can afford.” Sensei countered with a smile. The friend tried to punch Papana, but he ducked, grabbed the sobbing friend off the floor by the ankles, and swung him into the other one. Shiver transformed into his spirit, werewolf form, and the two bolted out. The third handed his wallet to Sensei, asking him when he could start.

The session concluded with Shiver going to his little bed in a corner to curl up and lick at his wounds. Papana, a little more beaten up, went to the incense room to meditate and use his ki to heal himself.

What we liked
·         Quick combat. It’s something we’ve liked since Session 1, but it’s still something we really enjoy about the system in general. Take Exalted core for example: We would often be waiting for 5-10 minutes just for our turn to come around. In Burn Legend, we wait perhaps 2-3 minutes for everyone to go. It also helps that everyone goes at the same time. In our first fight against the mob of gangsters, even with 8 combatants (2 PCs plus 6 extras), we still had the rounds go very quickly (it also helped that I wasn’t really strategizing. Trying to plan tactics for 6 extras at a time just seemed...slow).
·         Mass combat. Speaking of that fight, we liked the mass combat rules. It just made sense. Your technique is used as both your attack and defense, but you can only hit one target at a time. Simple as that.
·         Overdrives kicking much ass. Also speaking of that fight, Blake really liked that Overdrive techniques target all the extras currently engaged with you. It was really cool and satisfying to pull off an Overdrive technique and automatically drop two of them without even trying.
·         The threat of defeat. Four of these points relate to the fight with gangsters, so something must’ve gone right! Shiver and Papana started off with four and two health stocks, respectively. Shiver lost two over the course of the fight and was knocked out. Papana lost one and over half of his last one. Even against a mob of extras, they still faced the threat of defeat. Throughout my Exalted games, only once did a player come close to dying, saved by only sheer luck. And that was in a fight against several Dragon-Blooded. Here, the heroes were nearly defeated by mortal extras. I like that because 1) Everyone is a potential threat, and 2) It keeps things humble. In Exalted, it’s easy for mortals to become sword fodder and really more of a speed bump than an actual obstacle. In Burn Legend, even a fighter with no formal training can defeat with a heaping helping of beginner’s luck.
·         Choosing battles. When Knuckles tried to hold back Papana when he tried to rescue Shiver, I did not force Blake to fight him. Papana leaping over Knuckles was purely narrative. I don’t know if I could come up with mechanics for avoiding fights, but I would imagine it would be a contested roll, Papana using Dexterity to evade and Knuckles using Strength or Stamina to restrain him, perhaps.

What we didn’t like
·         Being wolfnapped. Poor, unconscious Shiver.
·         Poor recovery. Even in Exalted, rapid healing is very expensive, if it happens at all. This transitioned into Burn Legend, where health stocks regenerate only after 12 hours of rest. Granted, your health points within your current health stock restore at the end of the fight, but that’s not much of a help when you’re already two or three health stocks down. Unfortunately, the point of the system is to be fast and brutal, especially with the increased lethality we’ve given it through highly damaging Victorious Techniques and increased frequency of Overdrives. The best bet is to use a recovering block technique when low on health points.
·         Not rolling all the dice. Part of Shiver’s trouble this session, aside from plain bad luck, was that Wade forgot to add in the dots in the technique itself to his Clash rolls. On the technique cards, this component of the calculation is not written, as every other card has it and is structured as assumed.

What we learned
·         Werewolves can be shot. Actual wolves are still under research.
·         Dots in techniques add to Clash rolls.
·         Mugens hit really hard, fight dirty, and are very lucky.
·         On a more serious note, it’s agreed on that our group functions best, no matter what system, when they have a clear objective. How that objective is achieved should be left open, so long as the objective itself is very clear. Truly open sandboxes won’t work for us.

What we’re going to try next time
·         Module environments and using Backgrounds. Yep. Still haven’t tried them.
·         Final Clash values. To prevent ourselves from forgetting to add dice from our techniques into the Clash dice pool, we’re going to write down the values on the cards themselves. This will also speed things up a little, as we won’t have to reference our attributes and techniques quite as often.

Closing Thoughts
Despite a late start and missing one player, we had a blast! We all agreed that the fight with the gangsters was pleasantly challenging and threatening. Blake also remarked that he intentionally didn’t check if the man in the red sweatshirt was dead. In fact, he hoped he was alive, if only to give him a proper beatdown for stealing his dog. We hit what felt like a natural stopping point in the narrative, so I awarded some delicious end-of-story XP. The group will learn of interesting world events in the next session...

Also, if this were an animated show, I would like to have this as the song for the opening title sequence, complete with over-the-top action. I think it fits nicely, given the upbeat yet brutal mentality of our heroes. Enjoy! "Get Ready to Die" by Andrew WK

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