I was asked to run some Marvel Super Heroes for Tavis’s son and his friend, who are X-Men fanatics. To resolve some curiosity from my own childhood, I’m breaking out MX1: Nightmares of Futures Past, which as kid utterly baffled me. But from an OSR perspective it seems like what Steve Winter was trying to do was create a sandbox during TSR’s Silver Age (during the “Dark Age” of Marvel Comics).
Nightmares of Futures Past is based on the classic Days of Future Past storyline from Uncanny X-Men and which, of course, inspired the recent film. Nightmares doesn’t give you the time travel aspects to leaven the grimdark horror of living through the mutant holocaust. The module throws you into “the middle of the End” as squads of gigantic, unstoppable killer robots roam the ruins of North America seeking to capture any stray mutant or super hero they can find. The police are searching everywhere for you, and the public at large (say it with me) hates and fears you.
The module itself doesn’t give you anything resembling a plot, or even much of a setting: each “Judge” is supposed to adapt the scenario to her own futuristic, war-ravaged Anytown, USA, in which the players represent the local Resistance. Nightmares gives you six types of Sentinels to fight, along with some law enforcement agents and the occasional mutant; it also describes in some detail a concentration camp for mutants. It also gives you some rules about anti-Sentinel technology (magic items, effectively) designed to keep you hidden. But almost everything else is up to the individual Judge to custom-build: not a bad idea, since the passage of 30 years and widespread destruction permits the Judge to reshape the Marvel Universe according to her own whims.
The main driver of the action here is the Sentinels’ neverending hunt for the players. Players must scrounge for false identification papers so that they can work normal jobs and buy food. Raising money–to pay for bribes, weapons, or fancy inventions–is almost certainly going to involve theft, perhaps even bank robbery (inverting the archetypal “intro to super heroes” session). Day after day, the Sentinels zero in on your location, until you’ve got to abandon HQ and move out–or engage the Sentinels in a horrifically bloody Butch-and-Sundance last stand.
In game mechanics terms, the only way you can survive in this world is through accumulating enormous amounts of Karma, the game’s reward for acting like a super hero. The problem, of course, is that acting like a super hero is going to draw attention. So the more Karma you earn, the more danger you’ll be in.
And “danger” doesn’t really begin to describe it. As presented in the Future in Flames modules, the most common Sentinel robots are terrifying opponents. To get game-mechanical for a moment, a Sentinel shows up with 290 Health points (a standard character has maybe 100), 40 points of body armor (standard characters would be lucky to even scratch them for 10 points of damage, let alone do it 29 times), and can do 50 damage in close combat or at range (a standard character would go down in 2 hits). To make matters worse, if the fight lasts more than 3 rounds, a Sentinel’s adaptive learning program tilts the fight even further in the robot’s favor. In short, one Sentinel is a serious threat to even a group of competent characters . . . and they normally travel in packs of 3.
Even using the weakest model of Sentinel, and a simple hack for minions, a triad absolutely tore through a small cell of mutants I created for playtest purposes.
The moral, maybe, is that Nightmares of Futures Past isn’t so much a framework for a super hero campaign, but rather, a survival horror campaign geared for dudes who shoot lasers out of their faces or women who can walk through walls. (I also wonder whether the module was playtested.)
So: two questions…
- Has anyone run the Future in Flames modules? What were they like? What should we expect?
- The classic Marvel Universe of 1981 has been completely undone and messed up in the hellscape of 2014 America. What’s your suggestion for the fate of your favorite super hero?