Intro: Sentinels RPG Starter Kit Gamemaster Pro Tip: Using Index Cards!
So you've bought the Sentinel Comics: The Roleplaying Game Starter Kit, and have decided to take on the role of Gamemaster. Congratulations! You're on your way towards making and sharing great comic book adventures with your friends! This Instructable will help you out in running the game found within the Starter Kit.
DISCLAIMER: I am not employed by Greater Than Games or Critical Hits Studios, and this Instructable is intended as advice on how to better run the game. No infringement on any copyrighted material is intended nor implied. Also, this Instructable is intended for GAMEMASTERS ONLY, as it will contain spoilers for the first adventure in the Sentinel Comics RPG Starter Kit. SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS IF YOU ARE A PLAYER AND NOT A GAMEMASTER, YOU SHOULD PROBABLY LEAVE NOW!
I am basing this Instructable on my personal play experience from Gen Con 2017, where I managed to play a demo session of the game.
WHAT YOU NEED:
Sentinel Comics: The Roleplaying Game Starter Kit
A writing implement of some kind, such as a pen, marker, or pencil. I recommend something everyone can see, and to work on your penmanship so that your writing is more legible than mine.
Step 1: Ask Your Players Where They Are
When the first adventure starts out, the heroes are in Megalopolis, assisting with recovery efforts. Describe the scene as it is presented in the adventure, and then go around asking each player where they are in the city and what they are doing there. Some suggestions: Ruined Freedom Tower, Power Plant, Damaged Apartment Building, Subway Tunnels, Sewage Treatment Plant, Chemical Warehouse, etc.
Encourage them to work together in groups of two, but tell them they can also go solo if they want. The city is in dire need of help, and the heroes won't all be gathered in one spot necessarily when the adventure starts. Explain that they have their hero comlinks and can talk to each other just fine, but with so many problems all over the place, it might be good for each hero to play to their strengths here and go where they think their skills would be best suited to help.
As your players describe where they are and what they are doing, take an index card and write their chosen location at the top. Put these more or less in front of each player, but so that everyone can see them. Feel free to let the players make a roll for what they're doing to get them used to making a dice pool and determining min-mid-max values, just so they get used to the mechanic. If they roll poorly, don't punish them too hard for failure. The idea is to give them a shot at doing something heroic. Once everyone has described what they're doing, move on to...
Step 2: Attack!
Now the spider bots come out of the sewers and attack the heroes!
Take another index card and write, "Objective: Defeat the Spider Bots!" at the top, and then draw a check box on the card. Next to the check box, write something inspiring like, "All Bots Destroyed!"
The adventure says 3 per hero, so now you write "d6" or "6d" on the index cards, making sure you have three of them per hero. These represent the spider bot minions.
So, if Absolute Zero and Tachyon are at the Power Plant, you write two columns of three "d6" or "6d" on the card. (I use "d6", since I'm more comfortable with that. You do you, boo!)
Then choose a hero to go first. Let them describe what they want to do, in terms of an action panel or two from a comic book! Let them assemble their dice and make rolls, and follow the rules in the Guidebook as to how to handle the combat. As the heroes destroy or damage the minions, cross out the "d6" entirely, or if they managed to make their save cross out the "d6" and write "d4" to show they've been damaged.
OPTIONAL: Use actual dice!
If you happen to have enough dice, you can instead put out three six-sided dice per player on the card, and swap them out for four-sided dice or remove them entirely as they are damaged and destroyed. Either way works just fine.
Once the last Spider Bot is destroyed, check off the "All Bots Destroyed!" check box, and high five everyone for completing the objective! Woo hoo! Feel free to hand the card to the hero who destroyed the last bot.
(If you want to have it mean something, you totally can as the gamemaster. There is no official mechanic listed in the Starter Kit, but if you think it could be used in the next scene as a +1 bonus for any hero to use, there's nothing stopping you from doing so. Just let the players know, and maybe turn the card over and write "Coupon: +1 bonus when turned in during the next scene!" or something else suitably fun! Hey, you remember the old comic books that would advertise those fruit pies in a one page comic? Where a villain would be stealing all the fruit pies from a bunch of kids and then the hero would come in and save the day but end up sharing the fruit pies with the villain and the kids? These were in like the 1980's comic books mostly. Anyway, it could be "Fruit Pie Bonus +1!", where the hero "eats" a fruit pie during the next scene and the player gets a +1 bonus! Yeah, I'm totally doing that in my game! ...What? Instructable? Oh yeah...)
Now that the bots are all destroyed, ask the heroes if there is anything they want to do with the bots. Guide them toward investigating them a bit, so that they can glean some of that info listed in the adventure. After this, interrupt with the cry for help from Argent Adept. This pushes the heroes towards...
Step 3: Lots O' Objectives!
The heroes show up at the giant Akash'Flora tree, and you get your index cards together. As you write out each card, describe the situation according to its entry in the adventure, unless otherwise noted here:
"Objective: Defeat the Spider Mothership" with its "d10" marked. Describe the Spider Mothership, telling the players how it's laying eggs at a rapid rate, which are turning into harvesters that crawl onto the tree.
"Objective: Stop the Harvesters" with no boxes, and tell the players about the vast horde of bots being squirted out by the Spider Mothership, which then start crawling all over the tree and how there are far too many for them to pick off individually.
"Objective: Rescue the Human Shields" with the -2 penalty written out, and tell the players that they are being used to protect the harvesters, drawing two boxes representing the effort required to rescue some and then all of the civilians;.
"Objective: Defeat the Armored Spider Bot Snipers" with their "d6" numbers, and tell the players how these bots have found strategic places to web up and offer superior tactical fire on those trying to interfere with the harvesters.
"Objective: Defeat the Roaming Spider Bots" with their "d6" numbers, telling the players that there are some wandering bots acting like the soldiers the heroes have already encountered.
"Objective: Rescue Argent Adept" adding a check box and writing "Find Argent Adept" next to it, while saying the heroes know Argent Adept is in trouble but have no idea where he is within the chaos that is happening.
OPTIONAL - "Objective: Find the Signal Source" with no boxes. This one is optional depending on if the heroes discover that the Spider Bots are all controlled by a hive mind radio signal being transmitted somewhere nearby.
So now the players have a ton of objectives in front of them. Great! This is when you show the players the Scene Tracker, explaining how they are limited in time to accomplish all of the objectives laid out in front of them. You could print a copy of the tracker from the adventure, but there are other options available.
- You could use colored paper clips on an index card, removing the clips as the tracker counts down
- You could write out the scene tracker on an index card and cross it out as you go
- You could get a whole bunch of colored index cards and make a stack of them, removing the top card as it counts down
This last suggestion is the one I'm going with since it makes it clear what the current color is for the scene, but don't feel like you have to use any of these suggestions. If you come up with an idea that works for you, great! You do you, boo!
SIDENOTE: EXCLAMATION POINTS ARE FUN!
A note about initiative - As each of the different enemies listed on the card take their turn, turn the card over to show it has already gone that round. Or put a marker on it. Or make a mark on the card. Plenty of options are available to facilitate this. Pick what works for you.
Now that the players see all the things they need to do, pick someone to go first. Run the scene as the adventure and the Guidebook tell you. Just be sure to keep up on the check boxes. For example, let's say the heroes manage to find Argent Adept. Check the box next to "Find Argent Adept!" and then add a check box underneath it, writing "Save him without further injuries" next to that box. When the heroes manage to do so, check that box and add the next box, "Stabilize Him". Each of the objectives listed in the adventure have their own check boxes, so all you really need to do is add them to their respective index card as the players go through the scene. This adds some tension to the game, as the players don't know how many steps are needed to finally complete the objective. Some are obvious, as in the Spider Bots, but stopping the harvesters will require some thought. If one of the players says that the team needs to take out the Mothership before they can stop the harvesters, add that check box to the Stop the Harvesters card. Once the players come up with a strategy, let them feel smart about it by adding the check boxes to the cards. After all, they're solving the problem! Hooray!
Hopefully the heroes save the day before the scene tracker runs out!
Considering that the other adventures past the first in the Starter Kit introduce Environments, all you really need to do going forward is change the scene tracker to Environment, so that the initiative supports the Environment getting a turn, and adjust as you go.
Step 4: Editorial Conclusion: Index Cards Work!
The following is my personal opinion and experience, and should not be taken as any kind of official endorsement or slam on the part of anyone.
Using index cards in the Sentinels RPG serves a vital play experience purpose in focusing the attention of the players on what their objectives are, using language that gives a subtle clue as to what strategy would work best. I feel this element is absolutely necessary to the play experience. It communicates a massive amount of information in a very organized fashion, and facilitates the gameplay by giving the players just enough guidance without feeling like you are railroading the players.
Just adding an index card that says "Objective: Get past the Proletariats!" or "Objective: Find Fanatic" and slowly revealing the new check boxes one by one as in saving Argent Adept in the previous step, is enough to get players into the swing of what they actually need to do. It was this element of the demo at Gen Con 2017 that most reminded me of the card game since it so clearly showed what was going on in the story.
Without explaining this index card element, the Starter Kit fumbles in telling a more crunchy or punchy based game group what they need to do or how to keep track of what's going on. The game can be played without this index card element and the solutions could be happened upon more narratively, but I wouldn't recommend it starting out unless you have a group that can handle that much freedom. For a first time experience of the system, with the Starter Kit as the only exposure to the game and then not having this index card element makes the game more challenging to run and play overall, and can lead to a lot of frustration for the gamemaster as regards "What if my group just wants to fight everything?" With the index card element there with a check box that says, "Talk down Fanatic from her murderous rage" or something similar, the group will start understanding that punching everything isn't the only answer, and that in turn can help inform your choice of words when filling out the index cards in future encounters. You could use "Talk down" or just use exactly what's listed in the adventure--"Get Fanatic to stop fighting long enough to actually listen to you". The wording really only matters in as much as how much of a hint you feel like giving your players.
When I look at the adventures with the index card element in mind, everything falls into place for me. I get what the creators are trying to accomplish and why the adventures are written the way they are. That this element is not discussed or shown in the Gameplay Guide nor in any of the adventures is puzzling to me as it feels so integral to the experience and how to actually run the adventures. It could be one of those "little details" that is so insidious in the design and playtest phase that it was hiding in plain sight so to speak, and it was just taken for granted that it would be understood without needing to explain it. Or maybe that's how they found to best run the game and figured it was just a gamemaster trick to help run it and did not actually consider it a part of the system. I can't really imagine playing the Starter Kit without it, nor could I imagine a gamemaster designing their own scenes without using it.
So yeah. Index cards. Use 'em. The entire kit cleans up a bunch when you do. :)