Sunday, October 15, 2017

Adventure #1: San Francisco Knights (spoilers)

Art by Bob Eggleton

Many campaigns begin with the expediency of murderhoboes meeting at a tavern.  Some campaigns – like the default Year of the Phoenix setting – require that an intricate backstory be presented before player characters actually have any agency.  The campaign presented in the first published adventure for CYBORG COMMANDO™ is among the latter type.

San Francisco Knights, released the same year as the CYBORG COMMANDO™ boxed set, is credited to Penny Petticord.  Known for being administrator for the RPGA network as well as editor for POLYHEDRON, Petticord has no other non-periodical credits in gaming.  The adventure was edited by Pamela O'Neill, co-author of the CYBORG COMMANDO™ tie-in novels.

The text begins with:  “This adventure is a work of fiction.”  Whew, what a relief!  I was concerned that details about cyborgs fighting extra-terrestrials in the year 2035 might somehow reflect reality.  Actually, there's some boxed text that dutifully lists the “names and locations [that] are real.”  (Just so you know, the Golden Gate Bridge is totally real.)

The GM's Adventure Notes from the boxed set suggests that starting adventures should feature the home town of the players.  “For impact and realism,” it reads, “bring the early action from the starting base into your home town.”  Also, “To practice the details of the game, run a few simple fights with aliens in your home town.”  San Francisco Knights, however, takes a different approach.

The adventure assumes that up to three of the player characters are assigned to the San Francisco CCF base.  The Campaign Book specifies that precisely three Cyborg Commandos are assigned to the base, so I guess it wouldn't be realistic to have a couple of additional player characters present.  (There is also a non-player, older model cyborg at the base.)  Six pre-generated characters are provided with the adventure, three of which represent the titular Knights. 

The GM is directed to read aloud the Players' Introduction – an entire page consisting of three columns of text.  This introduction begins:
          It all started three days ago, on January 11, 2035.  The sun rose over the famous San Francisco skyline as usual, bathing the still sleeping city in various shades of gold.
When your exposition explains that the “sun rose...as usual,” you may want to consider editing for brevity.  Anyway, the text accompanying the pre-gens states that January 11, 2035, was “two days ago” – not three.  Regardless, the player characters are briefed for a Priority One mission.  Specifically, the PCs are directed to go to Antarctica to investigate “a massive nuclear explosion,” possibly caused by a meteor.  (Antarctica is not listed among the “real” locations, so I suppose this must be a fictional Antarctica.)  We are told:
          The destruction of this Antarctica station has precipitated devastating weather patterns all over the globe as millions of tons of water vaporized by the explosion move with the air currents.  We expect the seas to rise, and tidal waves to hit all coastlines...
Inclement weather causes the player characters' jet to crash land somewhere in South America.  “By the next morning,” the players learn, “your underwater propulsion legs...brought you to the icy waters of the Antarctic.”  It is at this point where the San Francisco cyborgs team up with other player characters (if any).  The cyborgs recover videotapes from a Trans-American Union station that show “not a meteor, but rather a device of unfamiliar manufacture, hurtling though the atmosphere...”  The player characters then defeat “a huge, misshapen version of an insect,” bristling with weapons.  The cyborgs make their way toward the U.S., discovering that CCF bases on the way have been destroyed.  Eventually, they find an operational base “at Mazatlan, Mexico on the morning of January 17.”  Wait.  Wasn't January 11 just three (or two) days ago?  CYBORG COMMANDO™ doesn't seem to track the passage of time very well.

All of the preceding, from January 11 to January 17 (I guess), was backstory.  The players had no opportunity to engage with these events; they couldn't ask questions during the mission briefing, they couldn't fight the monster – nothing.  Why?  What's the point of this elaborate info dump?

Well, kids, it's like this.  The whole alien invasion scenario is the sine qua non of CYBORG COMMANDO™.  The player characters can't affect that.  However, instead of sending the PCs on an excursion to Antarctica without an iota of agency, I would have handled things differently.  Let's say the player characters are involved in excavating a CCF security bunker in the side of a mountain.  The Xenoborg attack causes a cave-in.  As the PCs extricate themselves, they find they are in a cat-and-mouse game of survival against the aliens in an underground network of tunnels.  In this way, the player characters are out of the big picture, but at least they get to do something of their own volition – namely, “a few simple fights with aliens” as recommended by the GM's Adventure Notes.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Inspiration: Strikeforce Morituri

Art by Brent Anderson

The premise of CYB✪RG C✪MMAND✪™ – heroic individuals undergoing a dangerous, experimental process in order to fight invading aliens – is good enough.  Unfortunately, the game does not implement this premise in an especially engaging way.  A better implementation of this premise can be found in the Strikeforce Morituri series published by Marvel Comics.

Created by Peter B. Gillis and Brent Anderson, Strikeforce Morituri began publication in 1986, the year prior to the release of CYBORG COMMANDO.  The story begins in 2072, four years after an extraterrestrial race, the “Horde,” began their depredations upon the Earth.  Human technology is no match for Horde technology.  Thus the Horde launch pillaging raids from their orbital base and several land bases without fear of reprisal.  The Horde have no interest in exterminating humanity or conquering the world, they just loot whatever civilizations they encounter.  Still, they have more personality than CYBORG COMMANDO's Xenoborgs.  The Horde use psychology against humans and Gillis does a good job of demonstrating their cruelty.

The Morituri represent the only hope humanity has against the Horde.  Only a select few are accepted to take the Morituri Process, which has two phases.  Phase one enhances the subject's physiology and grants increased strength so as to withstand the stress of the next phase.  Phase two imparts a super-power to a subject, the exact nature of which is impossible to predict.  Eventually, every Morituri subject will reject the enhancements with fatal results.  Hence the name “Morituri,” which comes from the Latin phrase nos morituri te salutamus (“we who are about to die salute you”); a phrase attributed to gladiators.  Whether or not any gladiator actually made that remark is immaterial to its relevance to our protagonists.  Ideal Morituri candidates are expected to live up to a year before the process kills them.  The “up to a year” lifespan is taken for granted, even though this assumption is made before any Morituri subject has survived for nearly that long.  It seems to be wishful thinking or perhaps we as readers are supposed to suspend disbelief in this regard.

The Morituri enjoy a celebrity status, which is as important (if not more so) than their actual military accomplishments.  In testament to this, the commander of the Morituri squad is not a Morituri herself, but had experience in the entertainment industry prior to the invasion.  This is the type of dramatic element of which CYBORG COMMANDO does not take advantage.

A game based on Strikeforce Morituri would seem to offer a richer experience than CYBORG COMMANDO's “setting.”  This is especially true in that there is little to distinguish CYBORG COMMANDO characters for one another while each Morituri subject has a different power.