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[Homebrew, NSFData] Marvel's Agents of S.T.R.I.K.E.

jacobkosh

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Freedom Force flies towards the bridge tower, which dwarfs Earth itself in size and has its own gravity well that Corona has to navigate around. The Corona slips into a gateway that moons could fit inside.

Ryann navigates them through tunnelways that are so incomprehensibly big it doesn't feel like they’re inside a ship or space station. The sides aren’t visible except for faded blinking guiding lights in the distance which look, to the passengers on the Corona, like blinking violet stars.

They've been inside a Celestial ship before. This is orders of magnitude larger. This is a ship that eats planets. It kills civilizations.

"We're so close." Elise stares out at the halls. "These are veins. We can destroy this. I... We can do this. We can win."

Julian nods. "You know...in a way, seeing it...it's just something else we can take down, at the end of it. We can do it somehow."

They come upon a planet-wide chamber and a pillar of light as tall as Earth's moon is wide.




Spoiler: Show


The Worldship of Galactus, so vast that planets can orbit it, has long been a feature of the character, and many stories have been set around and inside it.

Such a zany, over the top, quintessentially Jack Kirby idea...but a few scant years before Kirby drew this impossible tangle of geometry, Freeman Dyson had come up with the idea for the Dyson sphere, and Larry Niven was on the verge of writing Ringworld just a few scant years later.


Elise stares in wonder. She reaches out towards the light.

She sees a speck zipping towards the ship. Flying at thousands of kilometers per second.

As it gets closer, she realizes what it is.



"The last Herald!" she cries. "He's here!"

The Silver Surfer flies at the Corona and stops directly in front of it with no inertia. He puts up his hand in front of them as if to say 'stop.'

"What do we do?!" Elise gulps.

"Corona, put us over the loudspeaker," Ryann says. He nods at Miles.

Miles steps forward and speaks. "If you have something to say, we're listening."

There is a beep of acknowledgement. Silver Surfer responds. "I will come aboard."

Miles nods at Julian. Get ready.

Julian nods at Miles. I am.

The Surfer floats right through the front of the ship, and enters the bridge.

Elise jumps. "Jesus Christ!"

He carries his board under his arm, as one would do a surfboard. "Who among you is of this world?"

Elise raises a hand nervously. "Uh, me, I guess?"

"And me," Miles says.

Michael raises his hand. "I am, mostly."

Julian scowls. "I am. What could you possibly have to say to us?"

"There is but one option to save your world," the Surfer says. "Join me, inherit the Power Cosmic, and seek out other worlds for the Devourer."

"Wait," Elise holds up her hands. "We know why Galactus is devouring worlds. And we solved the problem." The Silver Surfer tilts his head at her.

"No more Celestials. The door is locked," she says. "So let's talk. There's no rush, after all."

He is speechless for a moment, and then the Surfer looks at the team skeptically. "I will bring you before the Devourer, and you will plead your case."

Elise swallows hard. "Okay."

He phases through the ship, mounts his board, and beckons for the Corona to follow him. Ryann does so.

"Guys, we gotta make this quick,” Michael rumbles, “our planet's getting munched on as we speak." Elise nods, her hands shaking.

The Surfer leads them into the light, and in the light is the darkness and...Galactus.


 

jacobkosh

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He is thousands of feet tall, and looks down upon the ship. Elise stares at him, and prays she can find some form of weakness before they enter negotiations.

The Corona's VI speaks. "Sir, there is breathable atmosphere in this area, you are able to exit the ship."

Ryann nods. "Alright. Let's go." He leads the way to the airlock. Elise follows, keeping her eyes locked on the being in the pillar. Her senses stretch out...

...but Galactus has no weaknesses. He is the Devourer of Worlds. The only weakness is that she tried to find one. "No," Elise whispers.

She continues to stare at Galactus, white in the face. No weaknesses. Nothing. She's seen Eternity, and even he looked surprised. Her mind races and her knees feel weak. Clay was right. I couldn't have fired.

Beside her, Michael stares up at the face he flipped off so long ago.

Julian can feel the Phoenix clawing in his veins, trying to take control, trying to attack. He fights it. Silently, without moving a muscle, without anyone beside him aware it’s happening, he engages in an epic battle of wills.

The Phoenix is silenced, thrown into the dark corners of Julian's mind, where it will remain.

Miles feels an electronic voice in his mind he has not heard for some time. Vladimir's.

If the time comes, allow me to use the Nullifier. I have used it successfully...many times, unfortunately.

....I understand,
Miles says. But it's our last resort.

"DEVOURER!" Miles calls. "WE DID YOUR JOB FOR YOU!"

Galactus stares down at them all.

Silver Surfer calls up to his master, "Devourer, these creatures believe that you have no need to consume their worlds, and wish to entreat with you."

Galactus' voice shakes those present. It resonates through every molecule, every atom of their being.

"SPEAK."

"The Celestial network has been compromised!” Miles calls. “The Fourth Host will never come!"

"TO THIS WORLD? INSUFFICIENT."

"For this planet or any other!" Ryann adds.

Galactus pauses. Their words have given the Devourer of Worlds, the Destroyer of Civilizations, pause.

"We did your job for you!” Miles presses. “We accomplished with guile what you've failed to accomplish with a billion years of genocide!"

The Devourer’s eyes shift side to side rapidly, as if in thought. An entity trillions of years old is now considering a changing situation.



"THE CELESTIALS WILL NEVER RETURN. THE CELESTIALS WILL INEVITABLY PERISH."

He looks down at them all, with...skepticism.

But then...he smiles.

The most feared and horrifying entity in all of the universe...smiles. They have made him smile.

"THEN ALL...

"...IS FOR ME."
 

jacobkosh

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"I knew this would happen," Ryann sighs.

Michael shakes his head. "It's never easy."

"WRONG ANSWER." Miles pulls the Nullifier from his pocket and, holding it in his hand, extends his arm forward. "All you get - is one chance to walk away."


Spoiler: Show


Galactus stares down at Machine Man at the Nullifier. Silver Surfer looks at Miles, and then Galactus, and then at Miles again, like he's waiting for an order.

"I AM ETERNAL. HERALD, DESTROY THEM."

"STAY AWAY FROM MY FRIENDS!" Elise howls into the uncaring face of a titan.

"Julian, now!" Ryann calls.

Julian stares The Silver Surfer in the eyes. "You thought to offer us a chance to save our world by becoming Heralds? To lead him to other worlds to be devoured?" The Phoenix Rider’s eyes glow.

But before the Penance Stare can take hold, the Silver Surfer blasts Julian in the face, destroying his skull with the Power Cosmic.

"NO!" Elise cries.

"NO!" Michael shouts.

"Fuck!" Ryann spits. He rushes forward, slamming into the Silver Surfer with the Nova Force, knocking him off his board.

Vlad grabs Miles by the wrist. "Now!" Miles gives Vlad the Ultimate Nullifier.

Elise stares at the Surfer, searching for weakness. Where do I shoot, come on…

But there’s nothing. She cannot see any weaknesses on the Surfer at all. He's more powerful than any other opponent she's faced before. More powerful than even Hyperion.

"No, no, no, come the fuck on..." Elise pulls her weapon and fires. Aim for the face. The face usually works. At the same time, Behemoth opens his face plates full bore.

They blast the Silver Surfer, but it's not that effective, as the Surfer shields himself with crossed forearms and pushes forward through the force of their massed assault.

Vladimir holds up the Ultimate Nullifier.

"I am...penitent."

Galactus is gone.

The Worldship is gone.

The team are floating in empty space.

Suddenly, most of the group are in vacuum without spacesuits and Centurion and Behemoth have to act very quickly.
 

jacobkosh

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"Corona, open the cargo bay doors!" Ryann and Michael hustle Miles, Elise, and Julian’s body aboard and Ryann slams the controls that lock the hatch and repressurize the airlock.

Elise gasps and chokes, sputtering. Finally, she speaks, voice hoarse. "Where's...where's Vlad?"

Vlad is gone. Elise can't see him anywhere. "No. No!" She feels for extradimensional traces - a portal. He must have made a portal.

She feels nothing.

Ryann looks at Elise and then at Miles.

"God, no!” she cries. “No, no, Vlad, no, please -"

Miles catches Elise's shoulder. "Elise. Elise, I'm sorry."

"He did it." Michael looks out into the void. "Thank you, Vlad." Miles nods at Michael.

"I didn't know him well. But...but he seemed to love you all. I'm sorry for your loss," Ryann says. "He died a hero."

"The Earth,” Michael says. “How bad is it? We have to help out down there."

Ryann nods at Michael and heads for the controls. "You're right, the job isn't done yet."

Elise falls to her knees and bursts into sobs. "I can't, I can't -"

"Hey. Hey.” Miles picks Elise up. He stands her on her feet and looks her in the eye. "Vlad believed in you, Elise. It's long past time you started believing in yourself." He holds her gaze. "Or his faith will have been for nothing."

Elise takes a few deep breaths and sniffs, wiping her nose on her heavy coat. "O-okay. Okay."

Julian's body twitches and his limbs jerk about as his head reforms, knitting together out of fire. The floor is lightly scorched. "Nnnnyyaaghh! Fuck!"

"Michael, get Julian caught up. I'm setting a course back to the city," Ryann says as he bends over the console, punching in the coordinates.

Michael turns to Julian. "Vlad did it. Nullified Galactus. And himself, it seems like."

Julian takes it in for a moment. He blinks. He pauses for a while, and lets out a long breath. "Wow. So he did it."

Ryann enters the course back to Earth and puts his hands on the flight controls. Then he looks up.



Outside the Corona, sitting on his board, staring into nothingness, is the Silver Surfer.

Ryann looks at him. He looks at the weapons console. "By the Force, damn it," he says under his breath, and turns away from the weapons console.

He heads to the back of the ship. "The Surfer is still out there," he announces. "I'm bringing him in."

Centurion exits the airlock and heads to the front of the ship. "He's gone.” He floats before the Surfer, arms folded. “It's over."

The Silver Surfer looks up at Ryann. "...what now?"

"A question I'm not sure of the answer to yet,” Ryann says thoughtfully. “But it starts with us bringing you in. We have questions and you’re one of the most feared and hated beings in the universe. It's safer for you and the rest of space for you to come with me. I understand why you did what you did, it's why I'm offering this now. I cannot allow you to leave Earth. That is without question.

"So what will it be, Surfer?"

The Surfer looks up at him, and nods somberly. "Very well."

Ryann nods. "Alright, into my ship." The Surfer follows Ryann, compliant.
 

jacobkosh

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Inside, Elise looks bleak and exhausted. "W-what do I do, Chief?"

Miles puts a hand on her shoulder. "Grieve. Remember. Move on. And then love your wife and that baby you've got coming."

Elise nods and brings her hand to her head and activates her comms unit. "C-Clay? Vision?"

There’s static, then Clay’s voice comes in. "Elise...thank the Shaper…

"We had to pull back, the Zephyr has no weapons systems and we had no way to get through the swarm."

"Mission success," Elise says. "He's gone."

"...who pulled the trigger, Elise?"

Elise swallows hard and whispers "Vladimir."

There's silence for a moment. "...okay."

"He...he didn't..." she tries to find the words. "He's gone. They're both gone."

"We'll talk about it when you're home. I'm just glad you're okay."

Elise sniffs. "Julian only died once."

There's a laugh. "Good job."

"I'm putting you on the line with the Chief and Centurion. I'm gonna...sit down." Elise wanders into the Corona’s small lounge and flops down on the seat, staring at the ceiling.

Ryann escorts the Surfer to the Corona's holding cell and then heads back up the rest of the team.

The Corona makes its way to Earth.

"I am receiving reports from Vision," X-51 says over the comm to the team, "Casualties were significantly lower than predicted. As was property damage. In fact...I am running my own calculations and...there are discrepancies."

Miles' blood runs cold. "Discrepancies? It's got to be Doom, or the Council, or..."

"Damage and casualties should be...higher. Unless they have been...undone, in some capacity. But that should be well outside the purview of the Ultimate Nullifier. It removes an entity from reality but that removal is not retroactive to the causal states of that entity's actions."

Elise sits up. "X-51, could the Time Arcana have done that?"

"Based on what I understand of sorcery, which is admittedly limited, not on this scale except by possibly Doctor Strange himself, and even then it would be in violation of his own beliefs on the sanctity of temporal stability and guarding the fabric of reality. Were another sorcerer to do such things using Time magic, Doctor Strange would be aware of it and would, as is his remit, have something of a problem with it even if it is largely to the benefit of Earth, given that it would have far-reaching implications."

"...Maybe it was Vlad? He mastered Time," she says with a flicker of hope. "I don't know. Or it was...the time ship. Whatever. If you ask me, it's all good. Less work for us."

Miles leans against a bulkhead, exhausted. "Yeah. Right now? The sanctity of time can eat my ass. We earned this."

"Sir, do you wish to dock at the Peak, where the Zephyr is located?" Corona's VI says to Centurion.

"Yes, Corona."

Michael powers down and sighs heavily, relieved. Julian lets out a long breath. "I can't believe it's done."

"Oh, God," Elise says. "There's just one thing that's even scarier than Galactus ahead for me."

Julian makes a gesture around his belly.

She nods. "God, yeah. I'm gonna be a mom." She pauses. "Or a dad? Not 100% clear on that."

Julian shrugs. "I'd say look forward to changing diapers, but I guess that's what your royal staff are for."


Spoiler: Show
So...yes.

That happened.

As usual, it all came down to a mix of planning, choices, and some weird dice rolls. We whiffed harder than usual this session. Centurion failed two rolls to reach the Corona and nearly died because of it. Elise critically failed her scans of both Galactus and the Surfer.

Miles failed to intimidate Galactus with the Nullifier, although I didn’t even care, because I got to replicate that beat with Reed Richards stretching his arm forward to wave the Nullifier under Galactus’ nose, something I had been planning on doing for like, a year now.

And lastly, Julian’s Penance Stare failed on the Surfer. Which is unfortunate, because it really should have been a gimme, as bearing the weight of crushing cosmic guilt is the Surfer’s whole thing, but Julian’s player rolled really badly.

We never took advantage of Clay’s SLINGSHOT idea, so I have no idea how it might have worked or might not. Becoming a Herald might have worked too, or might not. We leaned into the Nullifier idea pretty hard and forgot about the alternatives; that’s how it goes sometimes.

Vlad was present because we had turned him around in previous sessions...and his absence will mean he can’t help us against the Parliament down the line. Choices and consequences.

Nonetheless, we maybe scored one of the better possible results.

I spoke to Matt after the session. Galactus’s motives had begun as benign, to save the universe from being torn apart by the Celestials (as benign as any plan that involves killing trillions can be, anyway) but he fell prey to the same thing that got the Aspirants and Builders in his own universe: he became addicted to the Power Cosmic.

So when we told him that the Celestials were gone, instead of seeing his work done at last, he just saw an unoccupied banquet table. If Miles had intimidated him successfully, he would have left Earth alone, but would have just started snacking again elsewhere. Ryann wouldn’t be very happy knowing that Xandar was still on the menu.

Persuading Galactus to go cold turkey and give up consuming the Power Cosmic would have been a way harder task. On balance, I think Vlad nullifying him may have been the best option in the end.
 

jacobkosh

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The Corona docks, and the team meets up with the rest of STRIKE on the Peak. As soon as she sees Elise, Faiza runs over and grabs her in a hug.

Elise hugs her back. "Have you heard from Crys at all?"

Clay answers Elise. "No, she's over at the Alpha Site, we haven't had a chance to communicate with them."

Miles takes Clay and Bob aside, speaking in a low voice. "Both of you deserve know that Vlad went out like a mensch. Whatever else he did, he saved all of us, in the end. I'm willing to call it all square."

Bob nods. "Proper."

Clay grits his teeth. "I can accept that."

Elise glares at Clay from over Faiza's shoulder.

Miles clears his throat nervously and holds out his hand. "So, uh. Do you still have it? And have we heard from Alpha Flight?"

Clay nods solemnly and hands the package over to Miles. "Looks like I never needed it. And you still do. Alpha Flight is returning to dock on the Anabasis."

Miles' weariness melts away and he stands a little straighter. "That's where I should be, then. Unless you need us here....?"

Clay shakes his head. "No, you're good, off you go."

Elise suddenly hears Vision come through on her comm. "Agent Arnell, I have an urgent communication coming through from the Alpha Site."

"Oh my God, Crys! Patch her through."

It's not Crystalia.

"Princess Elise." It's Gorgon. "Your presence at this location is required immediately."

"Yes. Yes, of course,” she says. “Is Crystalia okay?"

"She is in labor. Your daughter is about to be born."



 

jacobkosh

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NEXT SEASON ON:

"I'm going to do whatever it takes to earn this, Ryann. To become a real Nova, like you."


"Your soul will burn with the guilt of your endless sin! Are you penitent?!"


"I am Rom, last of the Space-Knights of Galador, and I am here to save your world."


"Asgard is dying, decaying into nothingness, Destroyer. Join me, and burn away the rot and we will resurrect Asgard to its rightful glory."


"All hail Rabum Alal, the Doom Above All! He's pretty cool, Elise!"


"Dear brother, the invasion is already over. The Earth belongs to me, Z'reg."
 

Mean-Spirited

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So, yeah! That was Agents of STRIKE season 3!

Some thoughts from me, the GM

Season 3 was a big format departure from the previous seasons, with the majority of it taking place in space and the team feeling kind of unmoored from their regular support structure.

My intent with Season 3 was for it to have a sort of "Mass Effect" kind of feeling, with the Anabasis acting as a mobile base and the team flitting about the Galaxy, with Galactus serving as an overall meta-narrative and the players taking the overall mystery at their own pace.

That went off the rails early, around episode 3, due to a pretty major tonal miscommunication in dialogue and storytelling that led to the players seeing the story as far more dire and immediate than I intended, seeing it more as a race against time where they had to act now and had no time for other concerns.

In particular, Ryann's player, Jake (who is also my brother!) kinda didn't click with me on what I was trying to do, and rather than clarify with him out of game (as I would generally do in such instances) I just let him go with it and follow through, thinking I could course correct on the fly.

This spiraled even worse, with an ever-escalating tone, and led to a far longer sequence of Ryann being depowered than I intended and the team being separated from the Anabasis longer than I intended.

So, I simply played speed chess to put things right. You'll notice the Starjammers, a group of NPCs I devoted some time to introducing, just get written out with some dialogue and never come back, in favor of the Kyln convicts that the players recruited like Mantis and Krugarr.

Fun, more light hearted planet-hopping side quests and the like that I had intended to do with the team on the Anabasis got dumped, as did some stuff involving the Kree-Skrull war (which despite being a galactic war, barely gets mentioned in season 3?) because by the time everyone had gotten back from Strontia, I had decided this entire storyline had run out of energy, wasn't working, and it was time to ripcord out.

This is also why the Ragnarok storyline sorta feels like it comes out of nowhere. It's because pacing-wise, it kind of does? It was always a storyline I intended to do but I wasn't even 100% sure it was going to be a Season 3 storyline. It didn't have to be. And because of that, killing Shuma-Gorath ended up feeling like a mini-boss compared to fighting Galactus. I spun it, moved some pieces, and it all ended up working out in the end, but the lesson for GMs out there is never get too attached to your own story structure. Everything needs to be independent, free-floating pieces you can snap together as the story demands it, like Legos.

So, all of that said, what went awry? It can't all just be one set of miscommunication between the GM and players, can it?

I've had some time to think about it, and I think the core premise I had for season 3 had a flaw: I was trying to emulate a very "video gamey" style of storytelling, where the players can flit around and do side quests at their leisure and do the main quest when they get around to it (ala BioWare or Obsidian RPGs), but I forgot that in those video games, the world very much does wait around for you to get to it.

That doesn't make sense in a tabletop RPG, so when the larger meta-narrative is the horrifying planet-eating Galactus, that looming threat never really feels like it's something the players can just relax about and dick around on a casino planet for a session without essentially being grounded there for plot reasons or something. It makes everything feel desperate and suffocating. The timer of doom is ever-present, ticking away. The world doesn't feel like it pauses for you, because you're not playing a video game.

Instead of feeling like a mystery, with a lead being the search for Tanak, it felt like a desperate chase, and that tonal shift undermined what I was trying to do and sorta sucked the wind out of what my players liked about this campaign.

There were also some real-life, personal factors going on in both my life, and the lives of some of the players, that contributes to some things, which since they're personal, I'm not going to get into, but they're absolutely a factor.

All of that said, good GMs recycle, and never throw things in the garbage. Some of the plots that didn't come up in season 3 do come up in season 4 (which we're just wrapping up now), and at various points the team does return to space on the Anabasis. So if those were elements you enjoyed, they do come back!

Stay tuned!

Also: if you're subscribed to this thread, and enjoy AoS, please feel free to leave comments and replies with your thoughts, criticisms, observations, etc. between episodes.
This thread seems to get a fair amount of views when Jacob posts updates but rarely does anyone comment, and I just want to say it's perfectly okay to chime in between episodes. You're not going to break the flow of the AP and both Jacob and I really appreciate the feedback and interaction.
 
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