GenCon 1990

GenCon Champions Tournament

One of the delights of the convention is a Champions tournament that has been on-going for several years now. (Champions is an excellent superhero roleplaying system.) The heroes are the Texas Rangers: Sphinx, the leader and supernatural shapshifter; Monk, the stoic martial artist; Steel, the proverbial “man of steel”; Thunderson, Indian archer and shaman; Claw, almost bestial clawed killing machine; Weatherman, gonzo ex-stuntman and energy projector; White Lightning, high speed flyer with a force-field; and Firestar, a flying energy projector. Through a very complicated series of events several years ago, they wound up being asked to take over the government of the U.S. That led to a number of interesting scenarios in the following years, including the team being turned out of office in 1988, ending last year with the death of Firestar.

This year all of the remaining team members gathered at Firestar’s tomb on the anniversary of his death. There they met a man who strangely did not know about Firestar. As the players followed a series of memories of their dead comrade, they went further back into his past, reliving a series of episodes in the career of the Rangers, until they met Firestar when he had first discovered his powers, which resulted in the death of the stranger, Firestar’s closest friend. (Speaking of strangers, there was an anonymous appearance by the Phantom Stranger to explain things during the scenario.) The final scene of the preliminary round was of the interior of the tomb, where Firestar was bound, crucified, and being tormented, in Hell.

I didn’t advance to the finals; I didn’t do as well as I had in earlier years. I made a couple of bad decisions playing Thunderson, including firing an Explosion attack into an adobe building. (Talk about bringing down the house!) I wanted something that would take out everyone inside the building, as there were several gunmen firing from inside, but instead I brought the roof down, probably killing everyone inside. Not too smart, and maybe just a touch too violent for the character.

Final Round

The final round took place Sunday at noon. The two demonic creatures tormenting the crucified Firestar were difficult to defeat; Rot, a gigantic festering monster that drained characteristics every time he struck someone, and Malice, a tiny, mocking creature with the uncanny ability to sense and place doubts in the minds of anyone. It took several attacks to bring Rot down, the largest being Claw’s massive hand-to-hand attack. (The first attack, with Malice sitting on Claw’s shoulder whispering doubts that Claw was only an animal, was pitiful; the second attack, with Claw screaming “Claw human. Claw human!”, was massive. When it was over, Sphinx approached Claw, who was dripping with gore, and held his jaw and looked him in the eyes and said “Claw is human.”) With Firestar released and the Rangers united again, they started to leave by the doorway into the tomb, which was showing the sun shining on the landscape beyond.

That was when the door slammed shut in their faces.

The power that had lured the team to this place and imprisoned their friend had now trapped them as well, and there was seemingly nothing the characters could do to save themselves. No power they could call upon could help them. Not even their fabled team unity; the power that imprisoned them broke that unity as easily as swatting a fly. Then it made an offer for them to return to the world: return and continue to be heroes, and when they died, they would return to this place and suffer the same torment their friend had been going through for all eternity, or return and retire, and they would pass on to whatever reward they had coming to them. If they made no decision, then they would stay where they were, in a sort of Limbo until they decided.

The characters had only themselves to rely upon, and that was the key to escaping and victory. In a scenario finale several years, each Ranger was offered perfection; in order to defeat their opponent, they had to reject his offer and turn down perfection (in character). It wasn’t easy, but the players (and I was one of them) did so. This year, the only way out was for each character to recognize that all of the powers they had (and any basis for any morality they possessed) came from not outside source, but within themselves, and with that power, they had no limitations (including morals) except what they imposed on themselves.

Once the players made that discovery and accepted that they had no limitations beyond what they themselves believed in, even the limitations of normal society, they were beyond the touch of that power that was holding them, and they could leave. Seven of the players made that decision, leaving the team leader Sphinx (No, they didn’t leave him in Limbo, the other players took him with them as they left.) alone and undecided whether he could accept the realization and make the change or not.

The final was strongly played, but the philosophical argument was a bit above some of the players, and they were a little hesitant on how to approach the situation, until one of them (I think the player who was playing Weatherman) finally stumbled on to the their true situation, which started a chain reaction among the players, as they struggled to accept (albeit somewhat unwillingly in some cases) the idea that there were no limitations upon each of them except for what limitations they placed on themselves. At the end, the Phantom Stranger appeared again to state to the audience

Every year I was impressed as to how the people behind the tournament have exceeded themselves and improved on the tournament every year. Every year I have said to Keith Hannigan, who organizes the tournament, that they’ve outdone themselves again, and that I don’t know how they can top this year’s tournament, but each year they do. However, two years previously I told Keith that he’d done almost everything possible in the past tournaments, and the only thing left for the Texas Rangers to do was either save the world or save one of their own. He said that comment was the basis of the entire event this year, so it was all my fault.)

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