Evil? Moi? How could you think such a thing?
In retrospect, dressing in all black and hiding your face under an unnerving masquerade-style mask rarely screams “do good-er”, even when you’re not over six foot tall, and bloody huge. Which I am. Oh well.
The Big City
On Saturday 12th September, I made my way once again to the world of a Megagame; a combination of board game and roleplaying, involving around one hundred people. It was never going to be a calm event.
This particular megagame was City Of Shadows (CoS), a lurid imagining of big city life in the 30s, complete with gangsters, corrupt cops and the ever snooping press. Not only that, but CoS added the additional spices of masked Vigilantes (Bam! Pow!) and mad, mad scientists (sorry, ‘misunderstood’). Pulp fiction at its finest.
If it wasn’t already apparent, I was striding in as a masked Vigilante – one of seven rogue agents who would be another dollop of chaos on an already crowded plate.
Who Is That Masked Man?
My position – much like the scientists – was an odd one. We were in the city, but not necessarily of the city. Where gangs might be focused on a particular section of territory, jockeying for prestige, or the Mayor might be trying to keep a lid on, well, everything, the Vigilantes could spring up anywhere, our motives could be anything.
My particular alter ego was Captain Freedom, armed with grappling boots and gloves, and a whole host of non-lethal equipment – from itching powder, to rubberized bullets – I was never going to be a mass murderer. However, aside from these mechanical flavourings, the only indication of what I should do was given by my backstory – which, it has to be said, was particularly cool.
Alan Arcane (Captain Freedom’s civilian name) had been an up and coming man in the Feds, until a raid went badly wrong. It emerged that the city police had known it was a trap, but had led the feds in – only for Mr. Arcane’s entire team to be gunned down. Barely escaping with his life and believed dead, Alan spent a decade in solid training, before returning to the city to mete out his own brand of justice – with a deep distrust of the police.
This was interesting, because in-game there were plenty of police, but there were also two solitary federal agents. For city hall – and all of the police – Feds Were Bad. If the Feds swooped in, they had the power to completely take over areas of the city and its operations, ousting the established police and even calling in the military. From city hall’s point of view, if the feds were called in, it meant you’d screwed up bad.
From my point of view, I wanted the feds to get involved as much as I could, and several times throughout the day I made the particular point of speaking to a federal agent, asking if there was anything I could do. The feds being the feds however, well they were hamstrung by red tape – and were often unable to do anything, simply because a minor rule or subclause held them back. And aside from ‘you distrust the police’, I had no clear game-defined aims. This being the case, I decided that Captain Freedom was a conflicted man; still holding the moral desire to do good, but with a twisted hunger to get things done, no matter the methods.
Lets Get To It
So turn one – what did I do? Actively went around and threatened multiple gangs. Extorted might be a better word. My logic was to deny resources to the criminals by directly taking it from them. It also meant I got to be a bit of a bastard, which I was absolutely aiming for. In practice, the gangs were too small to have any real dosh at the game start, but Freedom didn’t care about that. A short temper and a direct approach meant that I’d annoyed or scared at least three gangs within the first ten minutes. It also marked the beginning of what would turn out to be an ongoing feud. I laid the vigilante-smackdown on the horrifyingly difficult to pronounce Griežti Vaikinai – a gang of Lithuanians, who weren’t about to be put down by a twit in a cape. After a self-righteous confrontation with their Strong Arm (the gang member most likely to hit you with an iron bar), I ended up demanding $15 from the Vaikinai (which I suspected they couldn’t pay) and threatening to smash their operations unless they did. They declined. Perfect.
Some quick and furious talking with two other Vigilantes led to a three-man attack. Myself, together with Hero By Night and the Fighting Fool flew in to crush the Lithuanians newly expanding operations. In the ever changing dynamics of the city, Hero By Night switched targets – deciding the Japanese gang were a bigger threat. Meanwhile, while I didn’t manage to crush the Vaikinai’s operations, Fighting Fool did – leading to the start of his own problems, as he (allegedly) massacred several people with his distinctly not-non-lethal sword.
Around this time, the actual boss of the Lithuanian gang showed up, leading to a second confrontation. She was outraged that I would target an innocent group of hard working immigrants. I was outraged that her people lied to me (which they had). She protested that I hadn’t spoken to her, so she hadn’t lied. I (knowing I was being a bastard) told her that if she’s the boss, that means she takes responsibility. Finally, she told me that what I was doing was extortion, and she would take it to the police. At this point I was singing inside, I so hoped she’d say that. Leaning in close, and putting on the most shit-eating grin I could, I replied “Come on then. You’re the criminal here.”
A Good Cause
Disappearing into the night – as only a masked crusader can – I left the Lithuanians and went to liaise with the Sicilian Mafia. I’d previously threatened the Sicilians already, but when I went back to collect they did something no other gang had done yet: they were direct. Without protesting that they were innocent civilians or anything of the sort, very soon I found that I was arranging, possibly, a mutual exchange of services for mutual benefit. Or to put it another way, instead of extorting money from them, I agreed to jointly rob a bank.
At this point, Captain Freedom may have lost his moral way. I knew the most effective way to do good was probably going to involve money. As a Vigilante, my personal income was also very low. Extorting gangs hadn’t raised much in the way of fiscal help, and these Sicilians were – in a city of double talk and lies – refreshingly honest. And, well, the banks were insured – so everyone would get their money back – it was win win, right? I’m still good…right?
I think this was one of Captain Freedom’s crowning moments of – let’s just say it – villainy. Flying in with an entire squad of mob goons, we broke open the bank flawlessly. Even as the police showed up, I dropped an Itch Bomb – which meant I could claim the police were confused, and that maybe they never even saw Captain Freedom at all…The look on the police Captain’s face was priceless as I – out of nowhere – dropped in, robbed a bank literally right in front of him, and then brazenly claimed that he couldn’t prove it was me at all. A handshake with the Sicilians, and I walked away with more money than any other Vigilante in the game. A good start.
…Good Men Do Nothing
Meanwhile, my bank heist shenanigans were raising some eyebrows with the top brass. Being present when Fighting Fool went kill-crazy probably didn’t help either. Here, human indecision was my most powerful ally. The higher ups of police command didn’t know what to make of me. On the one hand, they’re hearing reports of robberies and extortion. On the other hand, I’m clearly doing good deeds – beating up baddies, working with the Mayor. And after all, there are other Vigilantes far worse than me. Eventually a member of police high command comes to talk to me personally. I talk fast, spinning an impassioned mix of truth and lies – of course I never robbed a bank, just ask the other Vigilantes! Where are these accusations coming from? Ah, well, incidentally did he know the Lithuanians were bribing officials? He walks away less sure than when he came. Next time I pass the Griežti Vaikinai, I make sure I give them a big ol’ grin.
Here the day really begins to spin – everyone is in full flow. Gangs are expanding and simply squashing an operation won’t slow them down. Some of the police are disgustingly corrupt, and I’m starting to have serious worries about the police at City Hall. I’ve gone full mercenary, chasing that money with the unshakable feeling that it’s going to be needed to help the city – although how, I don’t know. Working with two other gangs, I rob another two banks. I rob one of them riding on a tank. I’ve got the money, but the things that are scaring me I can’t spend away. The Vigilantes, once fairly united, are splintering. The Fury is waging a one man psychotic war on the Sicilians, and I can’t stop him without openly declaring gang ties. No one knows what the Fighting Fool is doing, but he appears to be living up to both parts of his name. Time and time again, I find that I’m trying to get the Vigilantes to target the Lithuanians – not because I’m petty, but because I’m genuinely scared of how much influence they appear to have at city hall.
A World Gone Mad
The Scientists, who I’ve had some mild contact with, appear to have gone nova. One scientist has planted a deadly virus-spreading bomb in the city. I burn half of my money trying to source it out, to no avail. A bad tip has no fewer than four vigilantes working together, furiously tearing apart City Hall – where we’ve heard the bomb is. Too late, we find out we were misled. The north precinct of the city erupts with the walking dead.
Apparently mass murder is the scientist’s equivalent of throwing down the gauntlet. Next, we learn that a ‘tidal stimulator’ has been planted, threatening to flood the city. Next, an earthquake stimulator. It’s too much for one vigilante to deal with – without the ability to find the scientists themselves, we’re only putting out fires and leaving the pyromaniacs free.
Big City Politics
Against the backdrop of A World Gone Mad, the elections and city corruption are still very much in play. I’m trying to help Mayor Firefly as much as I can (because he seems uncorrupt by comparison) but my tools are more suited to chasing goons than doing what he needs. As I flounder a little (still helping gangs out on the side), City Redeemer tells me she’s made a radical move: she’s standing as mayoral candidate. Pretty boy supreme, Captain Union is on board as well. I’m intrigued. It just so happens that I happen to have a lot of spare money that I’ve been saving. But is it enough to bankroll a political campaign? I’m unsure. I hedge my bets, but agree that if I do bankroll the election, then I get a high-end position in the new order.
The next few turns are intense – I’m torn between throwing in behind City Redeemer, or sticking to the streets. If I pledge to the campaign and we lose, then I’m throwing away my entire payload on nothing. I circle the city, getting ears out and trying to gauge the situation. It’s impossible to get a true idea of course, but maybe I can get something, a hint, an indicator. As the polls emerge, it seems things are close – far closer than I was expecting. Perhaps more of the city is behind Redeemer than I thought. Perhaps more of the city is sick of corruption than we believed. Things crank up another notch as the Mayor’s car is blown up in a bombing – with the Mayor inside. He survives, but no one knows if he’ll pull through. Screw this. I go all in. Striding into city hall, I slap down my entire fortune. Three bank robberies and a fair dose of back alley money, all funneling into politics. The look on everyone’s face is almost worth it, even if we don’t win.
Tension is so high it’s ready to snap. The next mayor is…
High fives and congratulations all around. It seems like my sudden cash-drop was enough to swing the votes in our favour. Once again, the way to win an election is apparently just by throwing money at it. I’m sure there’s a political satire in there somewhere.
Following the win, I took to following City Redeemer around, eager to begin my life as a certified do-gooder (or at least, as a city official). As I did so, in a shocking twist – during an interview with the eager press, City Redeemer was seemingly targeted by a hitman, as the journalist’s pipe had been booby trapped, and rigged to explode. With lightning reflexes, City Redeemer escaped unscathed. Still, life in politics was apparently just as dangerous as the street.
Nothing can stop the free press of course, and journalists were even more keen to get another interview with City Redeemer. But in another shocking twist, mere moments after the first explosion, a second attempt was made on City Redeemer’s life – and with no seeming way out, the blast consumed the fiery Vigilante, her own iconic weapon adding to the deadly inferno.
Mere seconds before the game ended, with her last dying breath, City Redeemer passed Mayoral duties to me – who just happened to be nearest. With the offer of real power, it was decided that Captain Freedom would step back from the streets, trading bank robberies and (dubious) heroics for political sway and life behind a desk. Now, now, I could really clean up the streets.
The (Post)Final Showdown
There you have it. CoS was a vibrant thrashing beast of a game, giving much more leeway for blatant egotism than many other megagames – and in the setting, doing much better for it. For the Vigilantes, I feel that they needed either some stronger ties to parts of the city, or more defined aims, or both. It was fairly easy to become unfocused, and not really know what you should do – or why. Of course, people found ways round and through these things – because megagames are all about that kind of creativity. But the game would probably still be better for some tinkering. While some of the rules systems seemed like they need a little more polish, I don’t feel there was much there that broke the game for anyone.
CoS was the third megagame I’ve played, and my favourite so far. Part of this was the theme. Slick suits, femme fatales and corruption are themes that resonate with a lot of folk. The addition of superheroes and mad scientists was a splash of sauce into the game, but the game was already good. Which is great! Given the theme and style of the game, it also meant that people could spread their egotistical wings, perhaps in a way they wouldn’t in other megagames. Given the theme of this game, this was bang on the money. Many of the mechanics fed into this as well, almost encouraging various people to puff themselves up – meaning that it was just that much more likely that people would butt heads.
I think the other part of my enjoyment was the scale. While 300 person megagames are awesome (in the true sense of the word), and all megagames are about you not being the star but being a small part of a whole, in a 100 person megagame the sense of scale is both large and small enough that you, personally, will always feel some measure of connection to what others are doing. In 300 person megagames not only will you not know what players on the other side of the room are doing, but you won’t care, and their actions/stories are so far removed from you, that it can feel like it doesn’t even relate to the game you are playing. In a 100 person megagame, there is still a monstrous amount going on that you don’t know about and/or can’t interact with, but the game is scaled to a size that means you will at least understand it; it still feels like it was happening in your game world.
There’s nothing wrong with either scale of megagame, but I personally preferred the 100 person scaling. It struck the right chords of chaos and drama, hidden information and different systems, and relative power (i.e. you are not the star of the show, but you are a tangible part of it, and the game would be different if you weren’t there.)
So all in all, it was pretty gosh darned enjoyable.
What happens next? Is Captain Freedom REALLY hanging up the mask? WHO bombed Mayor Firefly’s car? Is City Redeemer REALLY dead?
Well, in true pulp style, you’d have to tune in to the next City Of Shadows to find out.
Something I should really get better about is including links to other related articles. Let’s start now:
Read All About It – wily reporter shows the inner workings of the press
Incorruptible – in-character diary of a cop on the beat
The Misadventures Of Edwin R. Scott – mad scientist explains why he’s not mad
Professor Emilia Gargunza – mad scientist explains why she’s not mad either
The Red Skull Rises – account of fall and rise of a gang leader turned supervillain
A Henchman’s Tale – gang member explains why your boss turning into a supervillain makes things tricky