An integral part of the Commander Overlay added to a Marvel Overpower game, is the hub. As mentioned there, the hub is a team stronghold, a social hub, a place to spend XP, start research, investigate anomalies, find missions, etc. This is exactly how it is in the X-COM games. It’s also similar to The Tower in the video game Destiny, and it’s sequels.
This allows players a space to interact with the game and other players while not actively engaging a specific mission. Not only is this concept thematically rich, it also allows players of different engagement levels to interact with the game at frequencies that fit the individual.
Implementing a Hub
There are countless ways to do this, and will depend entirely on what works best for your players. I’ve found I have the most success when I implement my hub on Discord. Some DMs might prefer to set up a physical Hub using maps, or play tiles, and have interaction done entirely at the gaming table or space. That’s a totally valid approach, but I like Discord because of its persistence and easy access, as well as the use of bots and pinned tweets to establish and maintain rules and guidelines of the hub and the multitude areas.
Setting up a Category in Discord for every hub, then setting up Channels for each room or area of the hub is a quick way to build an interactive map that can host text or chat channels for the players to inhabit and interact with. As the party discovers new artifacts or technology, and completes missions, simply add more rooms to account for those discoveries.
This set up is inspired by “this discord has ghosts in it,” and “Kitchen Knightmare.” Both fantastic indie RPGs that intersect the remote gaming and LARPing spheres extremely successfully. I recommend checking them out, and adding as much or as little of their implementations to your hub.
For context on Hub expectations, let’s use Secret Avengers again as an example like we did for the Commander Overlay.
Every Hub should start with at least two things: one, the social area and two, the starting resource provided by the Commander. For the purpose of this example—as seen above—we’ve used “Barracks” as the social hub, and the starting resource provided by Black Panther is access to Shuri’s Vibranium Lab.
How the Hub develops over time is then ultimately up to the players, the DM and the choices made between them.
Keeping with the example from the Commander Overlay post, the players help rescue Black Widow from an AIM prison, and in doing so, they were allowed the option to build a Black Widow Ops School (or “Red Room”) in Wakanda by spending XP. In response, the DM would add a Red Room channel.
The Red Room not only gives players the opportunity to improve their black ops skills (like enhance their deception skills), but also undergo biochemical regimens to gain unique abilities not part of their normal class/subclass kits. This would all be at the cost of XP set by the DM, but could be purchased (or requested) at any point outside the game when players are at the Hub. As a DM, I like the idea of a nefarious program like the Red Room offering players the ability to undergo the biochemical regimen at no cost, but at the risk of a flaw or side effect. It just feels appropriate to that program, and offers players a chance at gambling with risk versus reward.
The royal library of wakanda
As the campaign unfolds, the party grows more and more accustomed to life in Wakanda, and in acknowledgement of that they are allowed access to the Royal Library. This is where their Queen Mother Ramonda spends most of her time, poring over the near limitless tomes of Wakandan history. In speaking with her, or doing as she does and just reading through various books, the DM can provide additional insights, or terms related to their Hub. Players could also gain access to Wakanda-specific background traits, or feats. Ramonda can also act as an NPC to interact with between sessions as the DM desires. Doing so might even unlock the ability to undergo Wakanda-based missions on her behalf.
The Great Mound
Anyone familiar with Wakanda knows that the source of all their Vibrainum is The Great Mound. As the players buy more Vibranium gear, and sponsor greater research with their Vibranium Lab, Shuri might request that they take on missions or perform tasks to learn about and cultivate more Vibraniuim. This can be done here.
Spending much time at the Royal Library and befriending Ramonda, the party learns of The Necropolis, eventually being allowed to enter. This is a holy site where all the previous Black Panthers are buried. As the king of Necropolis, T’Challa has all the knowledge and power of them all. Here players could commune with the spirits of all the Black Panthers, attuning to their ways and unlocking the secrets of Bast. This would result in an NPC community for the players to interact with, and the ability to take on spiritual (Cleric and Paladin) feats and abilities reserved for followers of the panther deity.
Hubs As an Encounter Space
Ben Robbins, who designed the West Marches approach to campaign structure explains that in a West Marches game, town must be safe ground, and everything that happens in the game space happens “out there,” in the wilds. There’s a whole psychology at play that confirms the necessity of that. Explaining it is well beyond the scope of this blog, however I encourage you to read Ben’s blog posts to get an understanding, but, without doing that, it’s recommended that Hubs not be used as encounter spaces. Meaning, no harm can come to the party when they’re in their Hub. No combat, no conflict.
While this is true of the aforementioned Tower in Destiny, honoring those gameplay needs, it is not true of the bases in X-COM. In those games, the risk of certain actions (or their failure) increase the likelihood of conflict coming to the base. Admittedly, this is a key factor in engaging with the campaign.
Ultimately, choosing to allow encounters in the Hub is up to the players as much as it anyone or anything else. As a DM, if you’d like to consider encounters in the Hub, consult the party. Let them know that it can add unique encounters, but also that it add an extra complexity and tension to the butterfly effect. If you choose to include it, I suggest only doing so in moderation, and at the end of a “countdown” of some kind so that players can see how their riskier actions impact the safety of the Hub, can plan for its occurence, and are not caught off guard.