Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 Review

It took us a billion years about a year and a half but my group finally finished Season 1 of Pandemic Legacy. We started off bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the halcyon days of January. By March, we were plague-hardened. By December, half the planet seemed like it was rioting and Chicago had burned to the ground.

Real World Time, that means we were playing from December 2015 to April 2016. So our game did an adequate job of paralleling a pretty awful year!

2016
We joked that Trump got elected in November, courtesy of an October Surprise. Guess when our win streak ended.

I played Hiro Watanabe McCain Mercer Piper Mercer, the dispatcher who ended up with a Shady Background and a terminal grudge against the Powers That Be, along with at east four sketchy marriages including two to the same person. One of our players went through three (technically two) characters, including one that went Paranoid from the early game twist and was lost to us with the late game twist. She recycled the identity of her first one (Catherine Mercer) for her third.

Our Researcher, known only as Señorita Blanco, ran on the power of Bullshit.

Our Medic, Randy, was better known as Jesus.

IMG_20170416_142351
Does this look like the poorly photographed face of mercy to you?

Things were a little rocky early on. We lost the first halves of January and February, then had a win streak from March to the first half of October. Since this was a Legacy version of a game, our successes and failures both haunted us.

North America and Europe became disaster zones following the first twist in the game and stayed that way until our second try at November. That win streak cost us any Funded Events – re: lucky breaks – for seven games straight. We won by the skin of our teeth and lost cities to rioting that we didn’t need to lose at all. Chicago in particular became a dumpster fire. I’m still boggling that Atlanta didn’t turn into a similar disaster area since Washington also popped multiple times, going all the way to a level 3 riot by the time we got North America under control.

atlanta-highway-fire
Give it time.

All in all, it was a fun game. I’d recommend playing it.

Looking through the cards again, I’m pleased at how diverse the game’s cast is just at a glance – obviously you can name them anything and their histories are an irrelevant blank slate, but there’s a lot of women and minority representation in the artwork for this game. It also strays clear of the usual stereotypes by virtue of everyone being some kind of STEM professional. In a hobby range that desperately needs more people who don’t look like me, that’s pretty damn cool.

This game, along with its non-legacy counterpart, is also good for its representation of the CDC – they’re not just faceless healbots, they’re actual heroes ensconced in battles for lives, with resources diminishing every time they actually do their jobs. A lot of agencies, including the real world CDC and my favorite, the Coast Guard, get hit with that stick. The only way that could be more realistic at this point is if the resources diminished regardless of the outcome.

Donald Trump
Obligatory.

Minor spoiler here but I was also pleasantly surprised to see a 90s/early 00s throwback in the game: The military as an obstacle for the civilian good guys.

It doesn’t pop up as often now, after sixteen years of the Pentagon funding blockbuster movie hits and politicians demanding that war critics separate soldiers from the conflicts assigned them, but the military used to be one of the go-to groups for Bad Guys With Power. Combat PTSD was, and often still is, the easiest (and most inaccurate) way to have someone Go Mad From The Revelation.

Ever watch the X-Files? There are whole episodes dedicated to showing how much of an asshole a senior officer could be or how barbaric the system is to the men and women serving in it, and they’re some of that series’ best. The Hunted is all about a civilian contractor having to fix a military screw-up. The Abyss famously includes a Navy SEAL going insane and trying to kill everyone. Dr. Strangelove was one long absurdist condemnation of the whole military-industrial complex. In the original Half-Life, the military shot you and every other civilian on sight just for being in Black Mesa.

And hey, sit down and watch The Siege sometime.

Point is: We don’t get the Military Is Evil trope all that often in American entertainment nowadays. It’s kind of refreshing anytime it pops up at all. Not because the military actually is evil – that’s a whole ‘nother chain of philosophic discussion – but because it’s variety and nuance. I’m a sucker for variety and nuance.

I’m also a sucker for Chicago not burning to the ground.

chicagofirepanorama.jpg
You can’t always get what you want.
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ShushCon 2017 Post-Mortem, Part 3: Agents of Light and Darkness

                The Nightside is the sick, secret, magical heart of London, where gods and monsters go to make the deals and seek the pleasures they won’t find anywhere else.
                – Simon R. Green, Agents of Light and Darkness

I ran my scenario twice, once for a test about a week before ShushCon and then during the convention itself. There were some pretty big differences and some pretty fun moments in each.

To give you a quick, semi-spoiler free rundown of the book this was all adapted from: Agents opens in an ancient church with the main character delivering a teddy bear to an eldritch abomination. After that he gets a job to find the Unholy Grail, the cup that Judas drank at the last supper. He hooks up with his prospective love interest, whose nickname is literally Oh God It’s Her Run, and together they go on an off-and-on rampage through the Nightside, digging for clues and wrecking people’s day. In the background, from start to finish, angels tear the Nightside down to the ground, warring with the natives and each other over possession of the grail.

Rule #1 of this book: You don’t mess with angels. Rule #1 of the scenario: You don’t mess with angels.

What do my players do?

welp

In both runs, players made a go of it versus the divine. In the first one, Julien Advent’s character challenged one to fisticuffs and scared it off – a social victory over something I literally gave an infinite social stat to. Later on, Suzie Shooter and John Taylor dragged another angel down and Suzie strangled the damn thing with plot device-tier piano wire.

In the second run, the players had a healthy fear of them but that didn’t stop Dead Boy’s car from flat-out eating an angel. It was set up that the car could eat things. The intro vignette had it snacking on a hobo when Dead Boy looked away. But when the crew visited a former Nazi holdout, the car bowled over an angel three times, harpooned it, and ate the damn thing. It ran over three others, courtesy of the player burning up most of his fate points, keelhauling one of them through the Nightside before breaking it in half on a street lamp.

Tommy Oblivion’s character, who isn’t actually in the book the scenario is based on, stood out in both games. His whole schtick is convincing reality to be something that it isn’t. In the first run, the Existential Detective talked the crew’s bartered van out of a high-speed collision, talked it out of being half-destroyed by an angel, and talked Suzie and John out of being blown to smithereens after the fact. They reappeared, healthy and hale, in his closet during the epilogue, the result of Tommy pioneering a whole new branch of necromancy. I’m pretty sure their former corpses, the result of a Spirited Disagreement™, were still lying on the road when they were resurrected.

In the second run, Tommy proceeded to fall in love with the eldritch abomination from the prologue, used a silver-plated mace to slowly, methodically chip his way through a concrete wall less than six feet from an open door, asked questions so bafflingly stupid that they stunned multiple opponents and set that angel up to get eaten by Dead Boy’s car, and ultimately defeated the Collector by taking control of gravity and destroying the inside of his moon base warehouse. The scenario ended with Tommy going full meta, complete with the player looking at me like he wanted to smack me as I described him sitting there at a gaming convention in South Carolina (running joke, long story).

500
It has nothing to do with this guy.

One of the biggest differences was how each scenario ended. Last post I mentioned the need to improvise on the fly? I had to do that here. Spoilers below.

In the book, John and Suzie ultimately find the Unholy Grail in the possession of a character called the Collector. It’s in his moon base. Because of course it is. They then bring the grail back to John’s client, who turns out to be none other than Judas Iscariot looking to destroy the grail’s power as part of his eternal atonement.

In the first run, the Collector was more of a background menace; he sent lackeys to interfere with the party and they raided one of his warehouses (and burned it to the ground), but he never showed up on screen. Instead they found the grail in the hands of Nasty Jack Starlight. He’s a bit character in the book; a schlub who entertains the undead with a one-man theater act. An angel kills the bajesus out of him after John and Suzie wreck one of his performances. In the test run, he appeared as a psychotic drag racer fueling his car with the Unholy Grail. The crew took him out, stole the grail, and booked it to the church from the prologue. They handed it over, got the Big Shocking Twist, cue epilogue vignettes.

In the second run, Shotgun Suzie wasn’t present and Dead Boy neatly skipped the scene where the Collector’s lackeys try to attack the group; he had almost no presence at all until the group broke into his moon base. He tried to attack them for that but Tommy had some fate points he was looking to get rid of. He talked his way into controlling local gravity and then crushed everything in the base. The loss of so much of his namesake collection broke the Collector completely; he was a sobbing, hysterical mess who surrendered the grail without a fight. The gang teleported back to the Nightside, ran over a couple more angels, and delivered the grail to their client at Strange Fellows.

In both cases, neither group actually predicted the Judas twist until it happened. The best part, for me, was John’s second player unintentionally re-enacting a scene straight out of the book: he greets Judas in his cover identity with Hey, Jude. The player did that without ever having read the book or hearing of the series. The second best part also came from that run: Judas needed to drink something out of the cup but the group had all pissed off Alex, Strange Fellows’ owner and bar tender, and all they had to drink was Angel’s Urine.

It is exactly what you think it is.

Judas commented that it tasted a bit salty, then gave it over to Tommy to finish. Tommy slowly, disgustedly poured it out over his shoulder.

One thing I think I could’ve done better in the second session was Julien Advent.

In the test run he was plucky comedy relief who had The Best Moment when he challenged an angel to fisticuffs. In the second run, his player kept hitting brick walls after the introductory vignette – which actually ended up being stronger than the first player’s vignette. Julien’s second vignette was so strong, in fact, that it had everyone primed for vampires instead of angels. I should’ve done more with that, possibly had a couple vampires lurking around as peripheral threats, or had them as flat-out rivals to the angels.

One huge difference from the book and both sessions was the presence of a character named Squid. No rundown of this scenario is complete without Squid.

Mark Hennion, who played Suzie Shooter as Bull Thompson, a crazy-ass demon-seducing grenade-lobbing violence addict with a shotgun slug for every occasion, outlined Squid a couple times in his intro and during the scene where the gang was trying to pin down Lead #1. Other players, including Donald Dennis and Stephanie Frey, pitched in, more or less describing him as a creepy dude with a beard selling guns and info out the back of a van.

By session two, Squid had developed into a full-blown Character. His was the sole black vehicle in a lot brimming with windowless white vans that had things like FREE CANDY, INQUIRE WITHIN painted on the sides. Its interior was as big as a Walmart, complete with deadbeat customers crucified along walls full of every kind of gun or bullet you could imagine. The man himself had morphed from being a merely pathetic arms dealer to a white powder snorting lunatic; Cheech and Chong distilled into an occult arm dealer with a TARDIS. He had more beard than face and the beard was mostly made out of grease. His jacket was held together with biker patches and stolen boy scout honors.

He would’ve been right at home in the books.

Squid actually ended up being a better lead for the players than the Demon Lordz from the original book. He’s also easier to adapt than the Lordz could ever be – they’re grotesquely sexualized monsters running a bondage dungeon without any concept of safe words. He’s comedy relief with an edge to it.

Sufficed to say, I’m keeping Squid on for any future Nightside games. The guy’s just too fun to let go.

I’ll probably adapt the scenario away from the Dresden Files RPG and more to Fate itself. I’m pretty sure one of the Supplements has a smattering of extra stats and if not, I could always just crib the Cheat Sheet off of Dresden and re-tool the rest of it accordingly.

Overall though, I’m happy with how both sessions went.

Fate Collection
Something something crit yay.