Flashback! This was originally posted to RPG.net in March of 2006, recounting my experiences running an Adventure! one-shot as part of a series of “RPG try-out” games at the local game store, Quarterstaff Games. Once a month for three or four months running, one member of the group would run a one-shot of a game they wanted to teach and other people in the group wanted to learn.
All told, we played five sessions before mud season / spring arrived and everyone realized, “Hey, we can do stuff outside in the evening now!” We began with a two part Iron Heroes session — two parts because it ran way over-long and everyone liked how the system worked enough to keep going — Shadowrun 4th Edition, a homebrewed fairy tale game and, to close it out, Adventure!
This was, for me, a very singular moment in my experience as a GM. Everybody was on and, after a little encouragement, got into the feeling of a pulpy, Indiana Jones-style adventure. It helped me realize that yes, I could run games and yes, people did enjoy them. This was a huge boost to my ego after spending time on various convention scenarios that wound up attracting no players whatsoever.
Since November or so, once a month at the FLGS, myself and some others get together to try out a new RPG. Some of you may remember the Iron Heroes thread I started recounting our experiences with that game. Tonight was my turn to run something, and I proposed Adventure!
I have to admit, I was nervous about the game going in because the idea of a pulp genre game got a very lukewarm reception. Two players had other commitments, a third I never heard from and a fourth was 50/50. As it turned out, none of them came, but there were still three players, and we had a blast.
I did my best to go all-out for this, because I really wanted to impress everyone with Adventure! I got the Raiders of the Lost Ark soundtrack to play during the game, used the PDF off Drive-Thru RPG to put the knack write-ups on the back of character sheets, made hand-outs explaining how to use Inspiration and dramatic editing, stuff like that.
I also worked to make it as pulpy as possible, so I knew from the start I would set it in the Hollow Earth. The question was how to get them there with all speed, because it’s hard enough to keep a roleplaying game on a specific track when you’ve got all the time in the world, let alone just four hours. So the first thing I did was get Steve Long’s Inner-Earth PDF from Hero Games, which is fantastic. That took care of the details very nicely. Then I struggled for a couple weeks about what to use. For a long time, I kept trying to force in Nazis and a lost temple that contained an entrance to the Hollow Earth. As you will see, that didn’t work out.
As it happened, we had a mysterious mystic heiress named Gabriella Destine with several psychic knacks, including the mighty Cloak of Dread and Mindhammer; Race, an idle rich dilettante Sex Symbol with Cool Hands who was also a Man for All Seasons; and Max (no relation!), a general two-fisted male chauvinist with a Piledrivin’ punch and a Body of Bronze.
We started off in Race’s villa in Macapa, Brazil. I said they’d just returned from escaping Baron von Zorbo’s flying fortress in the Caribbean, expecting to meet up with their fellow Aeon Society member, Professor Dixon. Instead, they found a (several months old) note saying he’d gone on a telluric crystal hunting expedition and they should follow along. Now, they threw me almost immediately by declaring they would use the autogyro they had captured from von Zorbo’s air fortress, rather than chartering a boat or anything like that. It was such a great idea, how could I say no? They were ready to do it as dramatic editing, but I figured whatever. Sounds like fun.
I was amazed by the detail they put into the autogyro. It started off as a da Vinci-esque machine, and just blossomed from there. Wrought iron skids, balsa frame and paper screws, all that. One of the players even started sketching it out very capably.
So they took somewhat shakily in an autogyro, intending to cut out all that tedious mucking about with going up and down the Amazon and its tributaries. After a day of travel, they landed and started looking for a village to spend the night in. As it turned out, the villagers turned out to be cannibals, so they left right quick when they picked up on the fact there was to be a second “feast” after the one they were eating.
Then, as they were escaping in the autogyro, Gabriella’s player came out of nowhere with an alligator that latched on to a landing skid! I love it when other people in the game do stuff like that. I never would have thought of anything like that. So that led to our first initiative-ordered conflict, in which Race quickly dispatched the alligator while Gabriella maneuvered the autogyro to catch Max, who had launched himself from the village using a bent-over tree and his grappling gun. I used the opportunity to place a cliffhanger as they were about to crash into an enormous banyan-like tree, so the players could take a stretch break and all that. After recoving control of the craft, they hid themselves for the night in the jungle canopy further along the river, using vines and the grappling gun — named Winona — to secure the autogyro.
Next day, they get to the spot Dixon indicated on his map. It’s a cave entrance with a river flowing in. There’s also a caern marked with an Aeon Society pennant, where Dixon stashed supplies, as well as a note, also weeks old, saying he’s gone to map the cave system and should be back shortly. Gabriella used Marked Man and one of Dixon’s research notebooks to ensorcell a shrunken head to point to him, so they knew he had gone into the cave and not come out.
Now, I mentioned there was a collapsible canoe in the supply cache, as I figured the group would need something to navigate the underground river, but can you guess what they did?
Go on, think about it for a minute.
They edited their captured autogyro to convert into a boat, that’s what they did! I was amazed and somewhat stunned. When I got my thoughts together, I called that a four point edit. They split it amongst themselves, and then I gave a point of Inspiration to Race’s player, who thought of it in the first place. So they jam on down the underground river and get sucked into Inner-Earth, flying out into the air over an enormous lake. Rather than abandon their craft and have to swim for the shore, Gabriella Mindhammered it back into autogyro mode, and they drunkenly lurched to the beach.
In the midst of the group salvaging the wreckage to build a raft, a tyrannosaurus rex burst into sight, having scented lunch. Gabriella hexed it and knocked it off its feet, Race plugged it with his pistol, and Max adminstered the coup de gras: a thunderous punch that shattered the poor abused dinosaur’s jaw. Then an Aztec hunting party emerges from the brush and hails the adventurers as emissaries from Chalchiuhtlicue, goddess of the waters, since they just shot out of a waterfall and all. They’re conveyed down the river to Acatlacuan, the city of the chief of chiefs of Aztlan, where Netzahualtloctollin receives them.
They learn Professor Dixon was here as well, received as the herald of Chalchiuhtlicue — I forgot to give them the note he left, but it wasn’t that important — and had moved on to the Isles of the Serpent Men to bring the glory of the goddess to the godless barbarians. The rationale being the Ssujala were more technologically advanced than the Aztecs, and might have supplies Dixon could use to find his way out of Inner-Earth, or at least explore it more easily.
So Netzahualtloctollin was pretty well set on the adventurers staying, permanently ensconced in the city as representatives of the goddess. But Gabriella and Race did a little fast-talking — while Max made eyes at the chief’s daughter — and they were seen off on their way to the Isles of the Serpent Men.
(At this point in the game, we had reached 10:00 PM or so, and I was trying to hurry things along to a conclusion, as we typically have a post-mortem discussion of the system and I wanted to be the first in the group to bring their adventure to a conclusion.)
So they land on an island, sighting a tower in the distance. Along the way, they encountered two Ssujala sentries whom they pretty easily intimidate and beat up. But it did alert the island to their presence, so they rush along to the tower. There, they realized the pennant at the top of the tower is a pair of old gray longjohns, clearly a sign from Dixon! So they grapple gunned to the top of the tower while Ssujala guards raced towards them, where they found the elusive Professor Dixon, armed against intruders with a vase.
As it turns out, Dixon was more a guest of the Ssujala than their prisoner. He’d been using the tower as a workshop, trying to chart Inner-Earth, as well as find a way out. Fortunately, he had just finished work on a hot air balloon, of all things. While Ssujala hammer on the door to Dixon’s workshop, the Aeon Society members pile into the gondola and take off with seconds to spare.
Using the winds and Max’s grappling gun to maneuver the balloon, the group makes their way to a sort of chimney in the ceiling of Inner-Earth. All the way up, they’re roughly buffeted by chilling winds. Emerging into the dazzling sunlight, they discover they’re in the midst of ice fields as far as the eye can see. How do they find their way home? Tune in next time…!
Systemwise, we only had a few issues. While everyone agreed the default combat set-up — initiative, declare actions lowest to highest, then resolve highest to lowest — made sense in terms of letting the fast react to the slow, and having to decide how to split dice pools without too much foreknowledge, it was also somewhat cumbersome.
Also, both I and another player started talking about attacks doing automatic damage, as well as rolling some. Like a firearm would do its damage rating automatically, while you’d roll a number of dice equal to the to-hit roll’s excess successes. I think that would make guns even more deadly than they already are, which I’m not too big a fan of in WW games in general. Maybe next time, I’ll use the lethal soak option.
So yeah. It was an absolute blast. Everyone really enjoyed themselves. We laughed, we cracked jokes, we were silly, we were in genre, all that. I converted the lukewarm player to enthusiastic and the other two were just as excited about it. One player even remarked, “I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much in a roleplaying game.” That was a point of pride for me.