Friday, October 19, 2012

In Which The Warlock Illumines the Shadows--The Journeyman GM's Perspective!

As mentioned last entry, this is part of my October cross-blog shenanigans with Will Herrmann, better known as the Journeyman GM.  Here's his perspective on our "Shadows of the Cold War" game!  Enjoy, and have a great weekend!

Shadows of the Cold War was my second campaign ever. I was in the middle of a Dungeons & Dragons 4e campaign and, as a new and eager roleplaying gamer, was interested in trying out a new roleplaying game system. Heroes Unlimited was definitely an interesting one to have chosen (like all games from Palladium, it's riddled with typos, very messy character creation, and internally inconsistent mechanics), but fortunately, Andy had houseruled the egregious problems and we spent far more more of our time talking things out than we did worrying about the game mechanics.

"Aren't the stars and stripes a little...
Having always been a Captain America fan, I decided to create a super soldier. In his backstory, I decided that him and his twin brother were experimented upon (experimentation on twins was pretty common in Nazi Germany and I figured the Soviet Union might have done something similar with a super soldier program). Using the random character generation in Heroes Unlimited, Ulrich Hartmann wound up with speed, strength, endurance, and fighting prowess that far exceeded that of a normal human. He knew a variety of fighting styles and could pilot just about any vehicle with ease. And at night, he became even more deadly, perhaps out of a realization that the darkness would hide his brutality. Despite this, Ulrich definitely had the Captain America attitude of using his power to protect those who were weaker than him. Ulrich's full character sheet can be found here.

The thing that meant the most to me was Ulrich's hindrances. In Dungeons & Dragons, characters are generally flawless. Sure, they may not be proficient in certain skills or they many be deficient in some attribute, but they don't really have any character flaws. Ulrich on the other hand received constant headaches and had a metabolism four times that of a normal human (this led to a lot of fun situations and his nightly ritual of going to the Happy Panda all you can eat Chinese buffet). In addition, he had escaped from the Soviet Union and was being hunted down by his twin brother, Jakob Hartmann, who had the same powers, but a much more brutal and self-serving outlook on how they should be used. And perhaps the most defining thing for the campaign was that he literally started by walking off of a bus. With no money, no job, no place to stay, and a poor understanding of the English language, the early sessions were largely focused on Ulrich trying to find a place to live and a job to support himself. These hindrances to Ulrich's character wound up defining him just as much as his superhuman abilities and I think because of that, I wound up gravitating toward systems with hindrances later in my gaming career.

Ulrich followed the meaning,
not necessarily the movement.
Being on the run from the Soviets, Ulrich naturally needed a superhero identity. Having always admired the words of Karl Marx (but not how the Soviets had "corrupted" them), Ulrich decided to take on the name "Manifesto" and made it his goal to right the injustices he saw. And what better place to do it than in America? Hub City itself had recently constructed skyscrapers for the rich to work in, but had the poor living on the streets next to it.

Eventually, Manifesto teamed up with several other superheroes and started tracking down an individual who had kidnapped a young girl…and it was clear that he was too powerful for the police to take down. Admittedly, this nature of this villain made me a bit uncomfortable (see Andy's description) but it definitely made our final fight of retribution against him ore meaningful.

Unfortunately, Ulrich met his match not from some violent super-powered killer, but from a car crash. How that happened is a fun story in and of itself, but ultimately it meant that Manifesto's crime-fighting streak came to a premature end. I'm told that future plots would have had him meet his evil twin brother again and have his past catch up to him again!

This was my first exposure to Andy's GMing style. He's big on creating overwhelming challenges and creating very personal stories. Although I'm not as crazy about Watchmen-style superheroes as Andy, I found the game overall to be really enjoyable and the first real exposure to having characters that seemed "real".

All in all, Shadows of the Cold War is one of the most memorable games I've played in. It was the first that really let me play a character that was human and had his share of flaws and, much to my surprise, it was fun having to deal with the challenges of daily life. Manifesto is one of my favorite characters and a Savage Worlds version of him will be included as a pregen for Wild Card Creator.

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