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[personal profile] robotnik2004

Sheesh, this one is looooong. That's a great thing about PTA--a lot can happen in one session. But I need to be less prolix. And to stop using words like "prolix." As we say in academia, "I would have written something shorter, but I didn't have time."

(The Pitch) (Episode 1)

T.H.E.M. Episode 2, “Help Me, My Aquatic Friends!”

We start right where last episode ended: Sidney, in his father’s little house in Henchtown, right after the Miracle Bridge heist. Baron Ether has stolen half of his lab, but left a courteous note. “In lieu of an apology,” Ether writes, “let me offer this unsolicited advice. Do you know what makes a supervillain great? It is not superpowers or brains, but will—the will to do what no one else will dare. You have the skills to be a great villain, my boy, but do you have the will? Time will tell.”

“There’s nothing sadder than an aquatic villain. I mean, we all laugh at Merman—but Merman laughs at you.”

Flashback. We’re looking at an abandoned city street. It takes a second to realize why everything looks empty and weird: the street is underwater. This is Little Lemuria. Blue light shimmers down from above. Shop windows are overgrown with coral. Colored fish dart in and out of abandoned cars. And crouching in a dark underwater alley, we see humanoid shapes. Frogmen! Slimy, web-toed, ribbiting, frogmen! They crouch in the shadows and swivel a cold bulging eye to the world above.

The camera rises towards the surface. When it breaks the surface of Miracle Bay, 1970s soul music booms onto the soundtrack. It’s a hot summer day in the late Silver Age. The pampered and the superpowered are letting it all hang out at Hero Beach. Out on the Bay, a cruddy little boat with an outboard motor putts between the luxury yachts. In the boat is skinny, bespectacled Sidney Simmons, all of nine years old, with his Dad, Sheldon, and his chubby pal Karl. Sheldon lets his son steer the boat while he glugs a beer and holds forth about his exploits: the time he stranded Merman in the Mojave Desert, the time he almost sank Hawaii, the time he stole the Black Trident from the Witch-Kings of Lemuria. Young Sidney soaks it all in and beams with pride.

Over the waves come two young surfer heroes on vibraboards. Both wear egregious 70s Speedos. The blond one with zinc oxide on his nose is Hang Ten, the dark one with crazy chest hair is Moondoggie. The TV audience recognizes them as younger versions of Paladin and Dire Wolf. The heroes start giving Sheldon—Tidal Wave—a hard time. Sheldon says he’s not looking for trouble, not with his kid here, but they don’t believe him, not with the Atlantean Ambassador aboard George Kane’s yacht not a hundred yards away. They just keep needling him, looking for the excuse they need to clobber the old guy. Dire Wolf growls: “We all laugh at Merman—but Merman laughs at you.” Hang Ten says there’s no such thing as a tidal wave.

Sheldon’s just about to snap when little Sidney hurls his Dr. Pepper can into the gyro of Moondoggie’s vibraboard. It’s a killer shot—the board kicks up and both heroes are dumped into the drink. Sheldon guns the engine and gets the hell out of there. But he’s not happy, just humiliated. “You think I needed help from you?” He slaps his son, hard. Sidney is stunned, mortified. Tears well up in his eyes. Sheldon cuffs Sidney again, just getting started. Fade back to Sidney, grown, holding the Black Trident of Lemuria in his hands. His eyes are dark, unreadable.

“If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice...”

Title sequence! Say, the theme song is called “Freewill” and in the show, people are wondering if they have free will. That’s deep, man.

“Anyone can be bought.”

Karl lumbers into Sidney’s lab. He’s hoping Sidney can help him with his whole “transforming into a nine foot tall arthropod” deal, but Sidney is distracted when a message appears on his computer: “I KNOW WHO YOU ARE.” The computer then displays Sidney’s birthdate, bank accounts, ID photos, and his secret identity: the Kraken. The unseen interlocutor wants to meet, says they will make it worth Sidney’s while. “I can’t be threatened and I can’t be bought,” he types. “ANYONE CAN BE BOUGHT.” After some blustering back and forth, Sidney agrees to a meeting, naming an abandoned warehouse in the Sub-Mission district. In the background, Karl is still all, “Maybe you could just take a look at these chitinous spikes erupting out of my spine?” But Sidney gets an urgent call from his Dad’s assisted living facility and has to go.

“Maybe she will be your nemesis.”

Carol and her sister Kelly meet for coffee. Kelly arrives a little late. She’s walking gingerly, banged up from the fight on the bridge but trying to hide it from her sister. Carol asks Kelly if she‘s OK. Kelly insists she is. Almost immediately the two are arguing: Carol’s concerned for her sister, Kelly’s adamant that she is fine. Kelly says everybody already thinks she just got the spot in Generation Z because of who her family is—she has to prove them wrong. Carol says she doesn’t have to prove anything to anybody. Kelly snorts. “Easy for you to say.”

Kelly keeps going over the bridge fight, kicking herself for not doing better. She wishes she had more strength and speed, “like that ‘She Guevera’ character.” Carol splutters. “Who?!?” Turns out that’s what the papers are calling Carol in her beret and mask getup.

“She was really something,” Kelly says. “Maybe she’ll end up being my nemesis.”

“Oh, honey,” Carol says. “I think it’s a little early for you to be looking for a nemesis.”

“But did you notice she wore combat fatigues instead of a bodysuit?” Kelly continues. “She must have chunky thighs.”

“On second thought, maybe she will be your nemesis.”

Conversation deteriorates from there. Kelly admits that Brian got mad at her, blamed her for the fiasco on the bridge. Now it’s Carol’s turn to snort, but that puts Kelly in a huff, because obviously Carol doesn’t like her fiancée. Which is difficult for Carol to deny. Kelly wants to know why Carol can’t just be happy for her. Carol doesn’t think Brian is good enough for her little sister. Kelly says she was about to ask her to be her Maid of Honor, and runs off in tears.

“Just promise me you won’t get into any trouble.”

Sidney arrives at Sunset Vista, his father’s nursing home, in the middle of a fracas. His father is wrestling with the orderlies, kicking his porridge on the ground, refusing to take his pills. “These pills take away my powers!” he screams.

Sidney is intercepted by the annoying officious woman who runs the place. She asks if “another sort of facility” wouldn’t “be more suitable” for Sheldon. (Maybe a maximum security facility like the Block, she thinks but doesn’t say.) Sidney reminds annoying officious woman of the amount of money he’s paying to keep his father here, which shuts her up for now.

Sidney and Nina, Sheldon’s nurse, manage to talk the old man down. The two share a meaningful look as Sheldon goes from angry to cowed. Then Sidney takes his father aside. He tells him about Baron Ether’s escape. Sheldon warns Sidney not to trust the Baron—he may seem old and feeble, but he’ll turn on you the second your back is turned. The look that crosses Sidney’s face tells Sheldon this has already happened. He cackles and mocks his son for his incompetence.

So Sidney shows him the Black Trident of Lemuria. That shuts the old man up alright.

“But I don’t think it works anymore,” Sidney says. “I can’t get it to do anything.”

Sheldon laughs scornfully. “It’s never gonna work for you, sonny boy.”

“Well, it’s yours, Dad. You can have it.” And as Sidney hands over the fell weapon of the deep, forged in the ocean’s coldest depths by the inhuman Witch-Kings of Lemuria, he says, “Just promise me you won’t get into any trouble with it.” (Sometimes players make things incredibly hard, and sometimes they make them very, very easy.)

Sheldon stares into the Trident’s inky blackness, lost to the world. “What? Oh, sure, son, of course I am.”

“The equations are quite simple once you rotate your prefrontal cortex out of M-space.”

In the dingy alleys of City Bottom, the pretty scientist from last week (at least, she would be pretty if she didn’t, you know, wear glasses, or do math - yuck!) tracks down Klaatu Dalek in his vagrant guise. She hasn’t been able to stop thinking about their conversation. She introduces herself as Gladys Fox. He calls himself “Farnsworth.” She asks if she can buy him a hot meal and ask him about Y-theory.

So they go to a diner, where KD orders everything on the menu and drowns it in mustard and chocolate syrup. They talk 25th-dimensional hyperphysics. Mostly, Gladys talks and “Farnsworth” mumbles weird paradigm-shattering suggestions. She’s been struggling with Y-theory for months. She thinks she’s on the verge of a breakthrough, but couldn’t fit the pieces together until her random encounter with him the other day. She shows him sheafs of work, scribbles equations over on paper placemats. KD is smitten. He tells her just enough to put her on the right track.

Gladys says she would love for Farnsworth to meet her lab director. He starts to get cagey, tries to get away. She asks how she can help him. He says he doesn’t need any help. She asks how she can find him again. He says, “I’ll find you.”

“I'm so tired of heroes. What the world needs now are villains.”

Sidney waits in an abandoned warehouse for his meeting. Karl lurks behind a wall of crates, while KD circles almost invisibly, an alien fly on the wall. KD detects a massive transfer of data through the phone lines and cables along the street. What they don’t see is another visitor: Carol, back in costume, has tracked them here and spies through a skylight.

We hear the click of high heels and Olivia Kane strides into the gloom. “I’m very impressed with you, Sid. Can I call you Sid?” she says. She doesn’t care that Sidney and his friends bloodied Generation-Z, but she’s impressed that the fight didn’t play out as US’s “intelligence” had forecast. “That doesn’t happen very often, Sid.” The two trade barbs and sallies. Olivia is sly and flirtatious, Sidney suspicious and defiant.

“I don’t like being set up,” Sidney growls.

“You weren’t set up, Sid,” Olivia says. “The heist was your idea, wasn’t it?” She tells him she knows his whole story, knows all about Tidal Wave, knows a thing or two about Daddy issues herself—her father being US’ 99-year-old founder and CEO, George Algernon Kane. “For years I tried to impress my father,” she says. “Then I tried to embarrass him. I had sex with supervillains, showed up high at board meetings. For twenty-five years he ignored me. Then he sent me to his psycho doctors, put me under the knife.”

Olivia tells Sidney her father’s scientists rewired her brain with crazy alien technology so she can talk to corporations, move through them, feel their triumphs and their pains. This was supposed to make her useful to him. Instead, she’s resolved to destroy him and everything he’s built.

“Wait," Sidney says. "What did you say before, about sex with supervillains?”

Olivia wants Sidney to join him in bringing her father down. Specifically, she wants to know if his apparent ability to foil US’ precognition was a fluke or if he can do it again. She hands him a file on "AeolUS." It’s Miracle City’s state-of-the-art weather control system. Offshore fog harvesters, geothermal climate vents, cloud cannons, giant banks of wind-channeling sousaphones. They’re taking orders now for made-to-order designer weather. “Imagine what a supervillain could do with a system like that, Sid.”

“You don’t get it,” Sidney says. “I’m not one of your pet heroes, but I’m not some funny book villain either. I’m the one thing none of you see coming. Someone who’s going to fight for people, someone who’s going to make the world a better place.”

Olivia laughs at this, but humors him. “Some kind of Robin Hood type? I can work with that too.”

“The enemy of my enemy is pretty hot. And she can fly!”

After Olivia goes, Carol reveals herself to Sidney, Karl, and Klaatu. They remember her from the bridge, of course, but don’t know her game. She declines to tell them her true identity. They decline to tell her theirs. Klaatu wants to drill into her synapses, but she’s not having that. Carol says if they are really trying to take US down, she wants to help them, but she doesn’t trust Olivia Kane for a second. “Well, that’s something we have in common.” A partnership is forged.

“Leave it to us.”

Somewhere in here, Klaatu flits away to spy on Gladys as she heads to work at US Labs. Upon arriving, she heads straight to the office of her boss, Jack Abbott. He’s US’ top scientist, and Carol’s father. Dr. Fox (Gladys) is excited to tell Abbott about her breakthrough. He’s noncommittal, and only asks if she’s talked to anyone else about this. She tells him yes, she had the breakthrough after talking to a strange old homeless man named Farnsworth. She’s trying to bring him in, but he’s skittish. Dr. Abbott throws cool if not cold water on her ideas and sends her home.

Then, with Klaatu still listening in, he picks up the phone and makes a call. “We have a small situation. You asked me to let you know of anybody working on anything related to Y-theory. There's a young scientist in my lab who is making some progress in that regard.”

The whispery voice on the other end of the line is surprised, ominous. “You allowed someone in your own lab to work on Y-theory?” Abbott says he never thought she’d get this close. He says he’s been quietly sabotaging her work for months.

The voice says, “Leave it to us.” Or is that US? “We’ll take care of her.” But there’s something else, Abbott says, and now he sounds angry. He says Fox got some ideas from a crazy old homeless guy. This obviously means something significant to him.

“Kane, you told me Oroboros was dead,” Abbott says, angrily.

“He is, Jack,” says George Kane on the other end of the line. “At least, he was. And he will be. Leave it to us.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t have just given my Dad that ancient evil artifact.”

Sidney’s going over the intel Olivia gave him on AeolUS. It’s more sophisticated than he’d thought, a massive installation controlling the weather for all of Northern California. He pinpoints its weak spots: the offshore climate platforms at the edge of the continental shelf. He’s also interested to see that the AeolUS computer systems are tied in to some deeper system called NostradamUS.

Karl lumbers in again. This time he wants to talk about what’s on the news: they’re saying the hero Paladin died from his injuries after slaying some kind of hideous monster. Karl thinks that monster must have been him. He can’t remember what happened after Syringe injected him with the nanoserum. “I think I may have killed one of Miracle City’s most beloved heroes,” Karl says. But Sidney gets another urgent phone call: his father has escaped from Sunset Vista. He’s taken his nurse Nina hostage, he’s got the Trident of Lemuria, and he’s talking about wreaking a watery revenge on the whole city. Sidney knows just where he’s headed.

“Sidney … I am your father!” “I know, Dad.”

Action sequence! Sidney plows through the deep in his Kraken suit. Carol flies like a rocket, carrying the hulking Karl. Klaatu hitches a ride in his carapace. Twenty miles out to sea, the offshore AeolUS station looks like a giant oil rig, but with huge fog slurping pipes and giant geothermal bellows.

Things are in disarray. Generic supersecurity forces—red-and-white suited USmen—are battling what looks like Sidney’s squiddy robots. Tidal Wave—Sidney’s dad—and Baron Ether have taken over the platform. Tidal Wave is holding off the USmen with his Trident while Ether sabotages the weather. Out to sea, a hurricane is brewing. And speeding in from shore, Generation Z are on their way.

Sidney scales the platform as the Kraken while Carol, Karl, and Klaatu move in from above. They punch their way through the USmen and confront the two elderly villains. At first, Tidal Wave is gleeful to see his son. “Here to see how it’s done, sonny boy? Watch and learn!” But Sidney isn’t here to watch or help. “Give me the Trident, Dad.”

Carol smashes through Baron Ether’s reprogrammed robots and hauls Ether away from the AeolUS controls. Klaatu jacks in to the AeolUS computer system and tries to undo the hurricane Ether has called up. Karl goes to greet Generation Z.

The Baron mistakes Carol for Valkyrie, his secret love. Then he recognizes his mistake. Then he recognizes who she really is. He laughs as he realizes Valkyrie’s granddaughter is no hero. “Chaos finds a way!” he exults, as he presses something into her hand. Then his brain-scrambling chip fires and Carol’s secret identity is safe again.

The Kraken and Tidal Wave struggle for the Trident of Lemuria. Sheldon curses his son for his weakness. Sidney curses his father for his. Sidney gets the Trident from his father and points it at him. He demands to know where Nina is. “Down in the geothermal vents, about to be flash-fried,” Sheldon laughs. “You’ll never save her in time.” It’s true: Sidney can’t save her and stop Ether’s hurricane at the same time. He makes a critical choice, and tells Carol to rescue Nina while he joins Klaatu at the AeolUS controls.

Generation Z roars up on rocket hydrofoils, furious for revenge. Karl dives into the fray. He smashes their pretty boats and is about to crush Aggro when again his eyes lock on Arclight. She stares back at him for just a moment—what is she thinking?—and again Epic slams into Karl, plowing him off the platform, into the ocean and next week.

Sidney and KD do divert the hurricane, but Carol tears around the geothermal vents and can’t find Nina anywhere. Sheldon tells his son, “So. You’re a failure as a hero and a villain.” Then he realizes to his horror that Sidney plans to leave him for the authorities. 

“We’re done, Dad.” Sidney says. “I’m nothing like you. You can rot in the Block for all I care.” He takes the Trident of Lemuria in his robot-reinforced arms and breaks it in two. The black power of the Witch-Kings escapes with a banshee’s wail.

Sidney and KD sabotage the AeolUS computers, destroying US’ control of the weather. Then they and Carol are gone, leaving Sheldon and Baron Ether tied up for the approaching authorities. And Karl, in a lovestruck daze, sinks slowly towards the bottom of the sea, while the frogmen of Little Lemuria gaze up from the deeps.

Producer's Commentary

This was a good one. It's Sidney's spotlight episode, obviously, and Bill (Sidney's player) surprised me a bunch of times with decisions that he thought were obvious: just giving the Trident to his Dad at the beginning (I had expected the whole episode to revolve around Sidney's efforts to use or resist the Trident's power), leaving Sheldon to be arrested by the authorities at the end (we had established at some point that Sheldon is terrified of going back to the Block, where the US scientists "do things" to prisoners), and most of all, not rescuing Nina. That last one will definitely have consequences, although the game is so overstuffed with characters and plots already we may need a second season to play them out.

Before this episode I think Bill and I both expected Sheldon / Tidal Wave to be a continuing presence in the show--sort of a nagging, comic relief relationship, like Sanford & Son. But I guess once I made Sheldon an abusive Dad, he was irredeemable in Sidney's eyes. I don't think I did a good job of bringing it out in this wrap-up, but I do see Sheldon as a tragic figure. The Trident was powered by the bad things he did, so his whole life was a struggle with how bad he was willing to be. But being a workaday villain in Miracle City is a sucker's game. Sheldon spent thirty years scheming, plotting, and failing, and all he accomplished was providing more publicity for the heroes he hated and giving Merman somebody to clobber.

I guess I violated the storytelling principle that if you set a race of sentient underwater frogmen on the mantel in Act I, they have to do something by Act III. But I like a setting that's so lousy with weirdness, the frogmen can just be color.

Next Time: Who's the fly guy from Dimension Y, the mind-controlling roach that don't fly coach? Klaatu Dalek is in the spotlight in episode 3, "Take Us To Your Leader." Will it be "klaatu barada nikto" or "exterminate"? Tune in and see, 3-dimensional meat puppets!

i just know something good is going to happen

Date: 2010-07-30 03:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
cloud cannons, giant banks of wind-channeling sousaphones

I approve. :)
From: [identity profile]
Kate Bush reference!

Ever read BLDGBLOG? I got all my descriptions of the weather control system from the BLDGBLOG book.
From: [identity profile]
Browsing through it, I guess I should be, huh? It always seemed a little... aloof and difficult to me, but hey, even if I just mine it for gaming ideas, boom.

Date: 2010-07-30 04:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
“But did you notice she wore combat fatigues instead of a bodysuit?” Kelly continues. “She must have chunky thighs.”

“On second thought, maybe she will be your nemesis.”

Yeah, I LOLed. :)

Date: 2010-07-30 04:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
[ profile] athenalindia is good. I had a week to come up with Kelly's line about the combat fatigues. She came back with Carol's reply instantaneously.

Date: 2010-07-30 04:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
God, how did I get named She Guevara again?

I blame Bill.

Date: 2010-07-30 04:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That's what you get for playing in a superhero game and not giving yourself a superhero name!

Date: 2010-07-30 05:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Problem was, as soon as Bill said it, it stuck in my head as her name. I couldn't think of anything else properly revolutionary - The Pink Panther was even worse!

Date: 2010-07-30 04:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I, for one, think it is a *phenomenal* name. :)

Date: 2010-07-30 05:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I do actually, secretly like it. But it's such a terrible pun I feel I have to wince publicly.

Date: 2010-07-30 05:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Ah, the pun... a tried and true genre conceit. The wincing tells you that it is working! ;)

Date: 2010-07-30 05:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]



Date: 2010-07-30 06:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]


Date: 2010-07-30 06:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm always incredibly impressed at how tight your meta-plotting is. I think I see what you're doing here, and as always I'm not sure if they players have no choice but to follow your perfectly laid out breadcrumbs or if you are just that good at shifting the map on the fly based on what they do, in such a way that at the end everything looks perfectly pre-planned!

Date: 2010-07-30 06:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Also: really need to get a PTA game running back here...

Date: 2010-07-30 07:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That's nice of you to say. I try not to railroad, but I do set up balls to roll downhill, if that makes any sense. If you give me a specific example I can tell you how much I planned it. When it goes well, it does seem pre-planned after the fact, but I sure couldn't tell you right now how tonight's session is going to end up.


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