As noted in last week's entry, each Hero begins a given session of TToA embarked on his own trademark introductory Adventure, represented by a Hook card. These Adventures are relatively easy, usually taking about 1-3 turns to complete, and give the Heroes a chance to build up a little before they tackle the Adventures constructed by the Arch Villain player.
This week, we'll start following Doktor Radium on his introductory Adventure, which he managed to wrap up on the first turn of the game. My description here is lengthy for the sake of explanation, but the player's turn went by quickly.
It all began with the good Doktor's insatiable curiosity:
Each Adventure card has a set of "links" along its lower right edge, showing what types of cards can follow that card in the Adventure. In this case, The Curious Doktor has only one possible link, a City Clue (the light gray rectangle indicates a card from the City deck, and the magnifying glass indicates a Clue). At this point I should explain Moxie and Menace, and the concept of "having the upper hand" in the game.
Each Hero player has a personal Moxie level and a personal Menace level, each of which can vary according to in-game actions and events, to a minimum of 0 and maximum of 10. Moxie, symbolized by a star icon, is gained by defeating bad guys, completing Adventures successfully, and the like; the Hero can spend it to do things like activate special abilities, buy new Advantages, and add bonus dice to die rolls. Menace, symbolized by a skull and crossbones icon, works the same way, but is spent by the Arch Villain player to enact various nefarious effects. To determine who has the "upper hand" at any given time, the active Hero's Moxie and Menace levels are compared: if he has more Moxie than Menace, he has the upper hand; more Menace than Moxie, and the Arch Villain has the upper hand. Ties on even numbers break in favor of the Hero, while ties on odd numbers break in favor of the Arch Villain. It took me a long time to arrive at the Moxie/Menace mechanic as a balancing device against the more random aspects of the game. Here I owe Thomas Denmark a debt, since the mechanic was directly inspired by the Bane/Boon mechanic in his Dungeoneer game. Having the upper hand can be vital, because all ties in the game break in favor of the player who has the upper hand when the tie occurs.
In addition, if the active Hero player has the upper hand when it comes time to reveal the next card in his Adventure, and if the Adventure is being built on the fly (i.e., it was not custom-built by the Arch Villain player), that Hero gets to choose which linked card to reveal next. In this case, even though Doktor Radium has the upper hand, there is no choice to be made, since there is only one available link. The Doktor Radium player just draws the next City Clue card from the City deck and adds it to his Adventure:
Doktor Radium, hard at work in his Laboratorium in Berlin, has received a Coded Message. How can he resist such a tantalizing challenge to his intellect?
Each time a new Adventure card is revealed, the first thing the active player does is examine the "theme column" under the card's icon in the upper left. From top to bottom, the theme column consists of icons representing TToA's five major themes: Criminal (hand), Military (shield), Science (lightning bolt), Occult (pentagram), and Weird (ringed planet). A theme icon can be grayed out, indicating the card does not possess that theme, or colored red, indicating that it does possess that theme. Coded Message possesses Military and Science. The active player compares these themes to all preceding cards in the Adventure, and if each theme matches the theme of at least one preceding card, the Arch Villain gains a theme token of that type. In this case, we see that The Curious Doktor possesses only one theme -- Science -- so the Arch Villain player gains a Science token. The Arch Villain needs theme tokens to use the more powerful thematic twists at his dosposal, but they are most important as the primary currency for completing his Master Plan, during the game's final act.
Next, Doktor Radium resolves the steps on the card. Coded Message has only 1 step, "Decrypt," which calls for a Wit test. A test roll is made by rolling 1D6, adding the value of the stat being tested and any other modifiers, and comparing it to the test rating. In this case, Doktor Radium has Wit 4, and needs a 7 to succeed at the test. He gets +1 to his roll for being a Scientist, and 4+1=5, so he will only fail if he rolls a 1.
Now, any time a player makes any kind of roll, he may spend Moxie to add bonus dice to that roll. The cost is 1 Moxie per bonus die if a Hero is making the roll, and 2 Moxie per bonus die if an Ally is making the roll. You can add 2 bonus dice at most to any given roll (for a total of 3D6 maximum), and after all dice are rolled, you choose 1 die to use. In other words, the dice are not added together; bonus dice just increase your chances of getting a high roll.
In this case, Doktor Radium is confident of his powers of decryption, and does not elect to buy any bonus dice. He rolls 1 die and passes the test easily, which triggers the "thumbs up" result for that test ("sender identified"): he gains 1 Moxie, and is able to examine the next Villain in the Adventure, but since this Adventure is being built on the fly, there is no Villain to examine.
The body of this card has been resolved, so the Doktor proceeds to the link array along the right edge of the card, to see what card will be revealed next. Links to a wide variety of Locations and Destinations are available. The Doktor still has the upper hand, and it's in his best interests to keep the Adventure local (leaving Berlin would force him to expend valuable actions), so he chooses the topmost link, a City Location. The next City Location in the City deck is drawn and revealed:
The Coded Message leads Doktor Radium and Gunther to the Pawn Shop. No themes are highlighted in this card's the theme column, so the Arch Villain gains no theme tokens. The first entry on this card is a card ability, "Close quarters," which inflicts a Speed penalty on all characters that occupy the Location. The shape of the icon indicates that it applies whether the characters are in a fight or not, and the color of the icon -- split white and black -- indicates that it applies to the Hero (white) as well as the Arch Villain (black).
The second entry is an optional step, since it says that the active player may spend 1 action to attempt the described test. A player only has 2 actions to spend on his turn, and as the game progresses time becomes increasingly valuable, but the Doktor is not feeling any pressure on the first turn of the game, so he decides to spend 1 action to rummage through the shop to see what he can find. He fails the test, but decides to use his German Discipline Advantage (see last week's entry), and pays 1 Moxie to re-roll his test die. The second time he passes the test easily, and chooses to find a Gadget (as per the test's "curious curio" result).
At this point, enjoying the completely optional storytelling aspect of the game, the players decide that the pawn shop is actually the storefront for the Doktor's laboratorium, and that he's rummaging through his own inventory of inventions to find something useful. Doktor Radium's player draws the next Gadget from the Valuable deck:
Obviously one of the Doktor's more useful castoffs. When a player "finds" an Item, as in this case, the Item is not added directly to his Adventure, but may instead be either immediately equipped or discarded. The Doktor chooses to equip the Magnetosphere himself. He could give it to Gunther, but its ability depends on Wit, so Doktor Radium is clearly the more competent operator. Each Hero or Ally may only carry up to 2 Items, and the distribution of Items among party members may be rearranged at any time, except when the party is in a fight.
Doktor Radium's player examines the available links on the Pawn Shop card and daringly chooses the dark gray link with the white compass rose icon, which indicates an Underground Location. After dusting off the magnetosphere, the intrepid scientist and his musclebound sidekick descend into the shop's cellar.
And wow, what a cellar. What is that, an old well? into what dark depths is that coded message leading our hero?
Suddenly, Doktor Radium's player is confronted with a difficult decision. The test required to successfully descend into the pit is of average difficulty, but failure means defeat (i.e., death for an Ally, unconsciousness for a Hero). If he had a rope, the Doktor could avoid the test entirely, but he has no rope. To proceed, Doktor Radium and Gunther will each have to take the test. Doktor Radium is weak (Might 1), but German Discipline will allow him to re-roll his test dice, so his chances are decent. Gunther has Might 3, so he will only fail on a roll of 1, but losing his loyal sidekick on the first turn of the game would not bode well.
A dank wind blows up from the black pit in the middle of the cellar. The Doktor decides to send Gunther down first. The walls of the pit appear to offer little purchase, but Gunther shows no fear. Without hesitation, the faithful bodyguard moves to the edge of the pit and prepares to descend.
Tune in next week for another exciting installment of Thrilling Tales of Adventure!