Preparing for the Apocalypse

Preparations have begun to plan my Age of Apocalypse Marvel Heroic Roleplaying event. They system is new and this is a very different style of role-playing game, so I thought that chronicling my prep here might be a benefit to someone other to myself.

I have not played or run a super-hero RPG before, though it has always been a goal of mine. That ads to the challenge, I think, but we’ll see. The expectations are different and I think it requires a looser GMing style than I am usually comfortable with. That should make it a good exercise all-round.

Age of Apocalypse was an X-Men comic book event published in the spring of 1995. Every X-title was interrupted for 4-months, including two issues of the quarterly X-Men Unlimited. The event was book-ended by three titles—Alpha, Omega, and Prime. A two-issue series was also released to mention how other Marvel characters fared in this apocalyptic vision of the Marvel Universe.

AoA was set up by events in the regular titles. Professor Xavier’s mutant son, David Haller (aka Legion) woke up from a coma determined to kill Erik Lensherr before he became Magneto. David traveled to the past and accidentally killed his own father instead. The result was an alternate timeline where Magneto was the founder of the X-Men and did his best to uphold his old friend’s ideals.

In this scenario, one of the X-men’s most dangerous foes, Apocalypse, manages to take over the North American continent. He begins to systematically wipe out all non-mutants and prepares for world-war that threatens mutual annihilation for humans and mutants alike.

Event Creation

I sat down to re-read the sample adventure included with Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, Breakout. Milestones are what drives the plot of a Marvel game. Transitions and Action scenes are where I, as The Watcher, must provide opportunities for players to achieve their Milestones.

Following the examples in Breakout, scenes are ridiculously easy to lay out. All I need is a sufficient description of the environment and a few datafiles.

Milestones, however, will probably take the most work. AoA is self-contained and many of the characters that get a lot of ‘screen time’ in the comics aren’t well-developed.

Breaking Down AoA

AoA was written during the Dark Age of comic books. The setting is relentlessly bleak and hopeless. Marvel went pretty over the top in trying to express that and they repeatedly drove that point home. I want to keep the dark tone and to make the goals very difficult and dangerous to attain. Permanent death is not just an option in this setting, it is a feature! And self-sacrifice doesn’t always pay off.

I took a couple of hours to flip through the 7-8 inch-high stack of comic books and make lists. I catalogued every major location, every character with significant ‘screen time’, and every plot point. The result is quite a mess! What looks like a great event in summary is hopelessly muddled in comics. The writing on this was pretty awful.

What it comes down to is that the Marvel editors gave everyone something to do in their own titles, regardless of how diluted the story became. In RPG terms, there are simultaneous solo, buddy, and team adventures and the key goals are split between them. A few characters appear in more than one title and events are re-hashed or the character moves from one story to another. For a brief time, I imagined a crew of Watchers running a sprawling event at several tables in a literal recreation of the comic’s events. Epic, but it ain’t gonna happen. Something has got to go.

Cherry-Picking & Compromise

There are three major forces at work in AoA.

Apocalyse has plans for world war. These designs are faithfully carried out by most of his henchmen and everyone else tends to react to his machinations. Exceptions are Sinister, who senses that his opportunity has come and rebels, and Magneto, who sees another path to victory without direct confrontation with Apocalypses forces.

The Human High Council (or the Eurasian High Council), has negotiated a temporary peace with Apocalypse, but no-one is buying it. They plot to evacuate as much as the North American human population as possible before launching their own attack.

Magnetos X-Men stand in the middle. As both sides of the conflict trend toward Armageddon, they attempt to build good will with the humans while resisting Apocalypse on his home turf. The ultimate goal is peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants but the rhetoric, fear, and hatred of each other has reached such a feverish pitch that this dream has become impossible. Once the nature of their alternate timeline was revealed, Magneto chooses prevent Apocalypse’s reign rather than to end it. The X-Men set forth to gather the resources they need to travel back in time and prevent Xavier’s death at the hands of his own son.

In the comics, there are major events running concurrently. In RPG terms, that would be 3-5 separate scenes running at once, each with a different roster of characters. A more traditional RPG design would be to have one team attempt all the goals, allowing for roster changes during the transition scenes if the players desire a change (or a replacement for a deceased hero).

CUT

  • Nightcrawler’s solo mission to Avalon becomes a team mission to retrieve Destiny. This will become a team mission.
  • Also out is the entire plot thread regarding Sinister’s betrayal of Apocalypse. That removes Nate Grey’s solo adventure, and pretty much everything from Weapon X and Factor X. (Nate will become an unlockable for the end of the game).
  • Magneto’s capture—Probably out. It is Bishop’s capture that tips Apocalypse to the X-Men’s new goal and that also provides an opportunity to fight the Madri in Canada. Magneto’s capture really doesn’t do more than provide the big A someone to monologue with.

KEEP

  • I’m keeping the Apocalypse’s Cullings of the Human population and the Eurasion Council’s Great evacuation for the main game. In the books, the X-Men find it difficult to ignore what goes on around them, even as they race to prevent those very atrocities by retroactively preventing Aocalypse’s rise. This conflict of goals plays out on a personal level between Rogue and Magneto who realize that their son will cease to exist if they succeed.
  • Recovering a fragment of the M’Kraan Crystal is tricky–I feel that it should be played out, but following the comic adds a lot of overhead that I’m not comfortable with. I may want to re-write how the off-world mission plays out.
  • Rescuing Illyna from The Core was probably my favorite tale from AoA. The entire Generation Next team dies but it was the best played out death in the whole event.

There are so many characters available to act as X-Men. I am going to restrict myself to those characters to whom I can create good Milestones. afterwards, I can open up the roster a bit, but Milestones really drive this game and I have to concentrate on that.

Next up? Milestones & Distinctions

I’m actually kinda dreading this part. It’s gonna take a while.

I want to have something presentable in time for June’s Albany Game Day, as a backup to the D&D event I already committed to.

Also, I am told that Margaret Weis productions will release an Age of Apocalypse event of their own later this year. I know that they are working on (polishing up?) Civil War right now, so I have no clue how far ahead of me they are. It doesn’t matter because we have different goals (and I can’t afford supplements anyway). MWP will be creating a much more comprehensive resource and may support running a game much more “by the [comic] book” in terms of plot. I just need to get through an afternoon, probably running for people who haven’t played before!

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~ by Hunter Rose on April 20, 2012.

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