Spectre of the Mushroom Kingdom!

edited August 2009 in Actual Play
A couple weeks ago I tried out Marshall Burns' play challenge, Rebellion in the Mushroom Kingdom! it's a sort of "political realist" take on the world of Mario, with all these grisly realities underlying the bright colors and whimsical creatures, and driven protagonists clashing in a web of motivations. I love this sort of thing (I've spent hours gazing at a Candyland board silently constructing its politics fer Chrissakes), and couldn't wait to try it. I racked my brain for a good game to try it with--PTA is an obvious choice but I wanted something a bit more layered, Solar System would be nice with appropriate Keys and some nice juicy Mario'd-up Secrets, but takes some work to write up the Crunch and not many (so sad!) of my friends dig Solar System. Best Friends sounded kind of fun with a bit of tweaking, mainly the whole web of Mario hate would be a blast to construct. But I was kinda ambivalent.

Then I hit upon it--my own game, Spectre of the Beast would be perfect! It's about the choice of Means toward your Ends, and pivotal people's pursuit of their Ambitions have repercussions that ripple throughout the surrounding society. Great! My self-serving decision made, I was ready to play!

I played with my friends Nick, Jake and Tyler, at our local Guardian Games. I was Mario, and they were Bowser, Kamek and Peach, respectively. Two were Spectre veterans from my playtests (all but Tyler), and we were all Mario nerds. I think Ty had the most Mario cred. I downloaded a Mario font for the headers and printed out Marshall's Mushroom Kingdom writeup; basically the all the Kingdom denizens are ruled by a divine-right Mushroom Monarch, but the proud warrior Koopa Nation is seceding. The Koopa are ruled by brutal evolution, and Bowser is the strongest, most evolved Koopa yet--therefore they all want him to rule them. Kamek, his advisor, is a secret socialist who is manipulating Bowser to get his political change enacted. Peach was a baby from the human world, Mushroom-raised and royally adopted, but Bowser mistakes her for a highly-evolved Mushroom and thus his only equal, and steals her for his bride. Enter Mario, just a human plumber come up through the pipes, taken in by the heartland peasant Mushrooms and grown giant-sized on their Power Mushrooms--and fed tales of Koopa fanaticism and brutality by Chancellor Toad.

In Spectre you start by broadly detailing cultures for your Champions, and draweing them on the map. In our case the Cultures technically overlap, so we each detailed part of one; I brought a list of Mario locales to draw from (The Super Mario 3 Worlds, having the best names for our purpose), and we ended up with Oceanside (Princess Peach), the Grasslands (Mario), the Pipe Naze (Kamek), and the Dark Land (Bowser). We drew them like so:

image

In SotB every Champion has an Ambition, several means to pursue it, and the choice to add violence or brutality (The Sword) to a roll in any conflict. The Ambitions, riffing off Marshall's basic writeups, were:

Bowser: Secure Koopa Independence

Kamek: Achieve Equality among the Koopa

Peach: Bring Advancement to the Savages

Mario:
Rescue the Princess

We played a game that embraced both the silly and the deadly earnest, equally and fully, not in compromise. Mario a-talked-a-like-a-this-a, but he slaughtered the uprising Goombahs (a slave-labor class of mushroom) and their Koopa backers in a brutal rage when he saw the village b urn and heard the death-crise of the little Mushroom bambinos. Bowser stomped around Peach's quarters acting the tyrannical but cajoling suitor--then ravenously consumed the Koopa-disguised Yoshi spy Peach was trying to smuggle out of the castle to Mario. Kamek was a nasally little poindexter, but cruelly tortured the Princess behind Bowser's back for his own ends, and cowed Bowser's son with a Bullet Bill aimed to his head. The other Mario brother made a brief appearance as an NPC, standing up to Bowser's troops in the heartland while Mario made his way via pipe to the castle, with a bright "Never fear, Luigi is here!"--before being torn limb from limb at Bowser's behest. And after cementing his own Kingdom, Bowser held the Grand Kart Race at his parade ground to celebrate, with Mario entering in disguise--wearing the shell and skin of the hammer brother he'd killed.

The basic structure of Spectre of the Beast is: everyone plays a scene in turn for their Champion, with antagonism provided by the player on your left, Shock:-style. There's a single conflict roll per scene for the Champion's immediate goal, which nets points toward winning the whole Ambition. For a one-shot the target is 4, which has a slim chance of resolving in a single scene. Meanwhile you've got Means dice to roll, and you can add The Sword to them for a big advantage; inciting a riot might be Speech plus Sword, fighting a military battle might be Labor plus Sword, devising a cunning ploy for assassination might be Craft plus Sword. Sword helps a lot, but also adds the chance of rolling atrocities on those dice, causing horrible repercussions from your actions (civilian casualties, mutilations, terrible trauma). there are also positive effects from your non-Sword dice; all these "extra" results ripple out to the world around you, generating points in various cultural pools, including the Spectre of violence. Once all Ambitions are resulved, we figure out from those Pools how the events of play affected the Cultures, and ultimately the World.

So: Bowser achieved his ambition of Koopa independence (Luigi was his last piece of resistance) pretty handily, while Kamek achieved his through consolidation of power behind the Koopa King's back. Jake made a modification to Kamek's Agenda in the final scene: "Equalty = Power for Kamek." The weakest of the Koopa had come into his own. Peach lost her Ambition, and simply gave up on reasoning with these benighted animals. Mario achieved his ambition, killing Bowser and returning the Mushroom heir to her palatial home.

Once we plotted out the cultural ramifications, the results were thus: the Koopa are indeed independent, but lack power as a nation, being mostly forced down into the pipe system to dream of rising up one day and conquering the Mushrooms. Peach starts a massive public works program that pits the whole countryside with pipes, and consolidates social services and health care under a vast nanny state, controlling her subjects lives with a benign, engloved hand. Mario slips into aimless despondency as he sees the Kingdom he fought to save becoming a bland, bureaucratic nightmare. The end.

Comments

  • A bit of post-game analysis:

    It was funny, there was some kind of LARP event going down at Guardian that night, but I think we kinda stole the show a bit--they were mostly just sitting around on their side of the store chatting in their facepaint, while we were on our feat gesticulating wildly and yelling in Mario voices and describing cartoonishly gory combat sequences with our whole bodies. Jake borrowed my glasses to affect his creepily subdued Kamek persona. I actually got applause for my pitch-perfect use of "It's-a me, Mario!" For a Mario mad as hell after the slaughter of the Mushroom villagers AND the death and devouring of his brother, it made a great moment equal parts Robin Hood (he was throwing off his disguise after winning the kart Race) and Inigo Montoya--the line was followed by "I'm-a going to KILL you, you murdering son of a BITCH!"

    All in all it was a great time and a great play idea, Marshall! I'd love to try it again, with a different group and maybe a different system. the one element that I regret was missing in our game was the confrontation over characters' preconceptions. Bowser never suspected Kamek's real agenda, Peach never really had her racism and classism challenged, and Mario remained Koopa=oppressors, Mushroom=victims throughout the story, though I touched on his dissilusionment in the epilogue. I think a slower, several-session game would touch on those issues better; ours was pretty fast and furious. Still, good times!

    Thanks Marshall!

    peace,
    -Joel
  • This is the most inspiring AP report I have read in awhile. I really wanted to play Marshall's game, but couldn't find a system to do it with.

    Also, LOVE the map!
  • SO. MUCH. JOY.
    Thank you so much for doing this. I wish I could have seen it.
    "It's-a me, Mario! I'm-a going to KILL you, you murdering son of a BITCH!"
    I want that on a T-shirt.
    the one element that I regret was missing in our game was the confrontation over characters' preconceptions. Bowser never suspected Kamek's real agenda, Peach never really had her racism and classism challenged, and Mario remained Koopa=oppressors, Mushroom=victims throughout the story, though I touched on his dissilusionment in the epilogue.
    Yeah, those three characters didn't arc much, but Kamek sure did, and that's something to be happy about. I'd be scared to play Kamek myself, personally. He'd take some subtlety (which it looks like Jake provided) to play well.

    Also, while I wouldn't mind hearing some more about the system, it sounds like it was an excellent fit for the material. Even if you weren't the only ones who entered, it'd still be a good contender for winner of the contest.
    Posted By: Charlie GilbThis is the most inspiring AP report I have read in awhile. I really wanted to play Marshall's game, but couldn't find a system to do it with.
    Whaaaaa? Come on! We're practically swimming in systems around here! I can think of plenty that I'd like to see applied to this. Don't make me call you out!

    (Pssst -- deadline's past, yeah, whatever, who cares? You can still play it. I'm not gonna stop you)
  • Charlie: Thanks! It's always great to be inspiring.

    Also: Maps are rad.

    Marshall, so glad you liked it! It was really a joy to play. I left out so much stuff--like Princess Daisy being a sultry spy for Kamek, or Toad's cynical guilting Mario into his mission, or the underground creation of Radio Free Koopa. There wasn't much time to develop these things, like I said I'd love to do a longer-term game.

    It was interesting how we were able to be really faithful to something like a Nintendo game and yet have it be really gripping and serious at the same time. Frex. "Mario hopping on Goombahs" took on a whole new gruesome tone--he dudn't so much "hop" as "plow through them like snowdrifts," with mushroom gore everywhere. I'm reminded of Levi Kornelson's Cog Wars, where he said his goal was the whole Watership Down effect: "Look at the cute widdle bunny--OH MY GOD!!" I think we achieved that.

    If you're keen on learning about SotB, this playtest report breaks down the system pretty well.

    thanks again!

    -Joel
  • That game looked really fun. I got to listen in for a few minutes after our Danger Patrol playtest was over (we were sandwiched between you guys and the raucous Magic players - that was a-crazay!)

    Kudos on the map and on your wack Mario impression which I was witness to. ;)

    I really need to get around to picking up SotB. The only reason I haven't yet is I'm on an rpg "burndown" for the rest of the year: I have to play two new games before I can buy a new one, however inexpensive they are.
  • Posted By: Marshall Burns
    Yeah, those three characters didn't arc much, but Kamek sure did, and that's something to be happy about. I'd be scared to play Kamek myself, personally. He'd take some subtlety (which it looks like Jake provided) to play well.
    I was completely unfamiliar with the character, but the context was all there in the play aids, so it worked out well.
  • This is really great, and therefore I should post this other really great thing:

    "It-a won't be a melee...IT'LL BE A BRAWL."
  • Haha, JD! I watched the first episode of that some time ago, thanks for reminding me of it!
  • By the way, Marshall, I just thought of a question: have you played this scenario with anyone? I'd love to see what you do with the material. . .
  • Posted By: jake richmondI was completely unfamiliar with the character, but the context was all there in the play aids, so it worked out well.
    Wha? Then... how did you know he wore glasses and spoke nasally?
    Apparently, Jake, you have the ability to channel a Nintendo character.

    Posted By: Jopel KuresaareBy the way, Marshall, I just thought of a question: haveyouplayed this scenario with anyone? I'd love to see what you do with the material. . .
    Unfortunately, no. I haven't managed to get enough people together.
  • Posted By: Marshall Burns
    Wha? Then... how did you know he wore glasses and spoke nasally?
    Apparently, Jake, you have the ability to channel a Nintendo character.
    Joel had a picture. The guy looked like he was all nasal.

    Really, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this. I think once we started on the map all our imaginations just took off.
  • Behold the power of play aids!

    image

    It's amazing what a free Mario font and some pics off of Mariowiki can do. I especially like the Mario pic 'cuz, though you can't tell in the photo so much, his expression actually looks a bit edgy and grim.
  • "Let them eat cake
    That I bake
    at Bowser's wake"

    Holy. Shit.
  • Yeah, we kept adding words to the sheets and details to the map throughout play.
  • Yep. I had to cover one of Bowser's word balloons because, well, there are just some things I don't want immortalized in my Photobucket account. :P


    On another note, as I said Tyler was the supreme Mario nerd among us. He made it very clear throughout play that in the event of her rescue, she would indeed be baking Mario a cake (and she did). :)
  • You know, this whole thing has got me thinking... what about a game of My Life With Bowser?
  • Heh. that could be awesome.
  • Posted By: Jopel KuresaareHeh. that would be awesome.
    Fixed.
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