Monday, December 7, 2009

Giant Eagles (Improv Roleplaying 101)

Tonight's Mutant Future session went off in a totally unexpected direction.  I ended up having to improvise the entire time, and the players loved it.  I would not be surprised if it was one of their favorite sessions to date.  Last session, Bark, the smaller of the two shapeshifting plants, had managed to swipe an "iron man" suit (as they call the light powered armor suits used by the special operatives of the Knights of Genetic Purity) from under the noses of the knights in very dramatic fashion.

Near death by the time he had the suit, he hurriedly got inside it and had Dataan the robot walk him through the start up procedure (Dataan had been studying a mangled suit that the party took from Richard Tater in an earlier adventure, and had a pretty good idea of how they worked).  Bark took off and managed to fly for about a mile over the wooded south hills before losing control of the suit and spiraling into the ground for a high speed crash landing.  The rest of the party managed to get to him and salvage the suit before the knights caught up, and after replacing a few damaged components from the junked suit they already had, they ended up with a fully functioning suit.

This session, after a bunch of tech rolls to finish repairing the suit and to fully understand how it worked (aided by the fact that Irons, a synthetic robot party member, had downloaded the entire operating system of the suit into his hard drive and had been conducting flight simulations in his positronic brain), the party was looking for a good place to test drive the suit.  They asked Dae Brak,the wise Badder shaman, if there was someplace relatively flat, free of obstacles and safe nearby.  Drivers, start your improv engines!

He directed them to a series of open, grassy meadows in a valley just to the south in the hills overlooking the swamp (thanks, Google terrain maps!).  He said that while large predators avoided the meadows, he warned the party that this was because giant eagles often circled overhead looking for prey; lacking a better alternative, the party decided it was worth the risk.  Most of the group accompanied Bozko in the hovercraft to the meadows, while the deaf giant Kunta Kinte, Natas the goatman and Monkey Boy stayed with Dae Brak and learned more about the herbal healing arts that Dae Brak had used to treat some of Bark's serious injuries.

Bozko had designated himself as the suit operator and Natas had used his Density Alteration, Other mutation to shrink Bozko enough to fit in the powered armor before they left.  Irons had by this time fully assimilated the entirety of the suit's capabilities due to the extensive simulations he ran after downloading the suit's operating system, and directed Bozko through the basics of flight (Irons has four arms so he could not simply fly the suit himself).  After some trial and error, Bozko got the hang of it and started experimenting with the suit's offensive abilities.  Not wanting to waste any of its mini-missiles, he started with the repulsor beams that provided both propulsion and offense.  He was soon shooting rocks out of the air that his comrades were throwing up for him, and eventually he was dodging rocks hurled directly at him.  Finally, he worked up the courage to push the limits of the suit.  He flew about a mile away from the meadow, turned, and accelerated to top speed as he flew back.  He broke the sound barrier almost immediately and a massive sonic boom rolled behind him, frightening the party members on the ground.  This noise also apparently got the attention of the giant eagles, because Beyonce's robotic dragonfly (circling high above the meadow on lookout patrol) soon spotted two shapes soaring from the ridge to the southeast.  While the rest of the party all piled in the hovercraft and retreated into the heavily wooded slopes of the hills, Bozko flew up over the meadow and eagerly awaited the arrival of the eagles.  He wanted to test the suit in a real combat situation, despite the protests of Beyonce that he might lose the party's new toy.

The giant eagles turned out to be truly gigantic.  70 foot wingspan gigantic.  As one soared in the thermal rising up from the sunny meadow, the second broke into a dive straight at Bozko.  At the last second, Bozko raked it with his repulsors - simultaneously, the eagle shrieked, a shrill, fierce cry that nearly stunned Bozko (he made his save, lucky for him and the powered suit).  The two solid hits with the repulsor beams knocked the eagle backwards in air and necessitated an ungainly struggle to regain its equilibrium.  While it was flapping and tumbling down, Bozko decided to try out the on-board targeting and locked on with a mini-missile.  He scored a direct hit, and the eagle tumbled awkwardly to the meadow, taking more damage as it crashed to the grass.  Despite all that, the eagle seemed to be by and large okay, physically, but it was quite shaken.  The second eagle was diving at Bozko from behind, but he had been warned of this by the party as they monitored the feed from the spiderbot attached to his back.  For some reason he decided to wait as if he hadn't seen it, planning to rocket straight up at the last second to let it harmlessly screech past below him.  As he was waiting for the last second and the eagle had a relatively large reach with its talons, I had Bozko roll a dexterity check to pull this maneuver off.  He failed miserably, and was raked by a large and razor sharp talon which easily pierced the suits force field and damaged Bozko as it indented a section of the chest as easily as you can squeeze an aluminum can.  Again, he got lucky as the eagle failed to hit with both talons which would have locked the suit into its iron grasp and almost certainly would have spelled doom for the plant shapeshifter.  Bozko flew up as fast as he could, again leaving a sonic boom behind him which stunned the eagle.  Thoroughly confused and angered, the two eagles beat a hasty retreat from the meadow and flew back towards the ridge from whence they came.

This is when the session really took a twist.  Beyonce announced to the group at large that she was following the eagles with the hovercraft.  Everyone else was horrified at this suggestion, but Beyonce had made up her mind that she wanted to find a giant eagle egg.  As soon as everyone heard this idea, the whole group was excitedly talking about raising and riding giant eagles.  Bark suggested that Beyonce simply follow the eagles with her dragonfly, and she realized this was a better idea than risking the hovercraft and the lives of the party.  Her robotic spy had no trouble tracking the eagles to their nest in a section of mutated Douglas Firs that dwarfed the redwoods of today and towered nearly 1000' feet into the sky.  The eagles paid no more mind to the dragonfly than they would any other minuscule insect, and Beyonce piloted it inside the nest (itself 100' tall, the product of generation after generation of eagles adding on layer after layer).  To her great disappointment, she found no eggs.  Two young fledglings squawked in the bottom of the nest, but she knew birds of that age would have already imprinted on their parents and it would be of no use to try to abduct them.

Searching the towering trees for other nests, she soon located two more.  In the interest of a good dramatic moment, I gave her a 25% chance that she would find eggs in the nest... and she used her once a session roll on the d30 instead of the percentile dice - success!  She found two eggs.  I decided that there was only a 10% chance that the third nest would contain eggs, and rolled myself - 8%, two more eggs!

Now the group started talking strategy in earnest, plotting the best method to rob eggs out from underneath the massive momma bird that was dutifully sitting on them.  Many ideas were tossed back and forth, but they all seemed fraught with peril.  Those birds could kill any member of the party in a single round, and they knew it.  And that is when Monkey Boy chimed in.  Monkey Boy is a mutant spider monkey, already only a foot and a half tall to start with, who has the Density Alteration, Self mutation that allows him to shrink to a further 1/8th his starting size.  He can fly and possesses the Possession mutation - after three rounds of physical contact with another being, he can take control over their body for as long as he remains in contact with them.  His proposal was simple - shrink down to his smallest size, fly straight up to one of the nesting eagles, burrow up under her feathers until he reached her skin, wait three rounds and seize control of her.  Then he could simply grab the eggs and fly away with them!  He executed this plan without a hitch, twice, and the party soon had four giant eagle eggs in the hovercraft.  Monkey Boy decided that he was just going to stay attached to the giant eagle for the foreseeable future, essentially getting to play as a creature with 257 HP and two talon attacks that do 5d20 damage.  Goddamn.  I did not see that coming when I jotted down a few quick stats for the eagles on the fly as they descended on Bozko in the meadow!

The party has now completely abandoned the other things they were trying to accomplish and are scouring the swamp for a safe place to hole up while they incubate the eggs, raise the hatchlings and teach them to fly with a rider.  It is truly interesting to see how one bit of improvised detail (the meadows in the valley and the giant eagles) has suddenly taken the entire campaign in a radically new direction.  I do not know if I have seen the players so excited as when they finally got the eggs into the hovercraft - it was a very rewarding moment, and the kind of thing that makes roleplaying games unique.  The ability of a human game master to roll with the punches and improvise will never be matched by a video game.  What I am most happy about is that my girlfriend, who plays Beyonce Chai, is now 100% invested in the game.  I think she has had fun (at least she claims so) in previous sessions, but I definitely got the feeling that she was mostly playing just because she wanted to be involved with something that I spent so much time on, and not because she was genuinely interested in the game itself.  But now that she has a giant eagle egg to mother, she could not be more excited.  During the car ride home she threatened me with real life harm if I killed her egg in game!  I should mention that my girlfriend volunteers at the Cascades Raptor Center here in Eugene and loves birds.  I could not have planned a better plot hook to immerse her in the game if I tried!

Sometimes running a roleplaying game is a truly magical thing.

(bird rider sketch lifted from this thread at enworld, artwork used without permission)


  1. Wow, sorry I missed this one! I hope that, in their excitement over raising giant eagles, my comrades haven't forgotten about those crack commandos who recently arrived at the Knights of Genetic Purity settlement in Spanky Butt! I am certain that those commandos are up to no good, and certainly aren't waiting around for us to intervene and stop them. . .

  2. Yes, Carter, you have hit the nail on the head. They did indeed forget all about the crack commandos, and those self-same soldiers are certainly not waiting for some action of the party. See what happens when you miss a session?

  3. I didn't forget but I knew that getting my robot suit ready for the fight was job one then me and Lancelot ( John ) were gonna roll on those mutherfuckers, but there was no way to argue their plan now we have a 275 HP 5D20 attacking eagle to ride you in on Dataan as me and Lancelot lay waste to fools with our robot suits, we may be late to the party but man will it be fashionably!

    PS: Was totally ready to liquify within that suit if he grabbed me, you should know you'll have to get trickier than some big eagles to kill old Bozko, that said that is TOTALLY NOT A CHALLENGE!!! :)

  4. @James - you might have been closer to death than you thought. If you failed that save vs. the Eagle's stunning shriek you would have been knocked out for quite a while, certainly plenty of time for the avian monster to wing back to its nest, tear open the tin can and angrily peck at the mass of plant fiber inside where a delicious flesh treat should have been!

    ... and challenge accepted :)

  5. Perhaps But It wouldn't make a whole lot of sense that it would try to eat enough of the Hard wood inside ( not eagles Favorite ) to permanently kill me, Now Giant Woodpeckers that's scary!

  6. ... don't give me ideas...

    Oops, too late! Giant Woodpeckers, attack!!!

  7. Some of my truly greatest sessions in gaming have been where I was forced to totally wing it. My first MF/Met. Alpha game is Wed night, but I'm trying to be as prepared as possible.
    Don't always trust my winging it abilities in new games I'm trying (after 30 years I can phone it in for my ongoing D&D).

    Anyway, conrats on pulling off a wing run.



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