The idea of a “commander overlay” is inspired by X-COM and games of its nature. It acts as a meta game that gives players something to do in and out of game when they aren’t interacting directly with the campaign. This is a stronghold for the players, a social hub, a place to spend XP toward progression or research, identify threats, and much much more.
Ultimately, the types of activities that are available are the discretion of the DM, but should be influenced by the current team leader or “Commander.”
The team Commander is more than just the team leader. Their influence is felt everywhere. The types of missions the party take, the resources and connections available to the team, even the boons provided to the party. The Commander, however, is not a fixed position. As players interact with the campaign, events might drastically alter the Commander overlay, resulting in another hero (including player heroes) becoming Commander.
To help DMs get a sense of how to approach Commanders, Hubs, and everything in between, we’re going to explore an example using Black Panther.
At the beginning of The Secret Avengers campaign, the party’s commander is T’Challa, Black Panther. He’s assembled a team in Wakanda to engage in surgical covert operations against Zemo’s interests. Accordingly, his goal is to assemble a group of heroes who excel using Subterfuge Tactics.
To emphasize this approach, at the start of the campaign, Black Panther can provide a Commander bonus of +5 to all Stealth rolls if the entire party has Subterfuge Tactics. He also provides access to an Armory that heroes can use XP to buy Vibranium weapons.
T’Challa can use his connections to provide support to the party on missions. Players can choose to spend XP to have heroes assist their mission, or join them on it.
Players can also spend XP to reduce or increase the difficulty of missions based on the assistance of Wakanda’s undercover spy network. For their next mission the party decide to spend their XP in several different ways:
- Moon Knight buys a Vibranium staff
- Winter Soldier specializes in Subterfuge Tactics granting the team T’Challa’s Commander bonus.
- Ant-Man uses XP to have Storm assist the team by providing rainstorm cover when the team infiltrates the location.
- The party pools XP to have Killmonger join them as an NPC.
- The party also spends XP to have the Dora Milaje provide heat scans of the location so the team is able to see every enemy prior to infiltration.
With all of that, the team begins the encounter. Ororo whips up a thunderous storm causing all exterior enemies to have disadvantage on all Perception checks. Combined with the +5 to Stealth from T’Challa, and the Secret Avenger infiltrate the compound with ease. Using the heat scans from the Dora Milaje, the party quickly dispatches the guards using new vibranium weapons, and Killmongers heavy firepower. They also notice that there’s a heat signature remaning after the dispatch all the guards. Making their way through the compound they find a prison cell. Inside is Black Widow. The party is able to disable the high tech security system and free Black Widow, who joins them back to Wakanda after a successful mission after locating AIM schematics on devastating weaponry using Skrull technology.
As a result of that mission, the party unlocked several new options for their Comander Overlay:
- Black Widow can become a Commander contact, or a player character.
- The players can spend XP to undergo Red Room training; specialized and deadly espionage training.
- The party can have Shuri research combining Skrull technology with Vibranium.
- Uncovering a connection between Zemo, AIM and the Skrulls opens new missions which will see the team venture out beyond the stars.
- In order to help guide his espionage-minded team of Secret Avengers, T’Challa reaches out to Captain Marvel to support future missions.
This “butterfly effect” between the Commander Overlay and the campaign is one that DMs should strive to maintain. This baton pass between the two before and after missions helps create an ever evolving and reacting world. It also emphasizes the true-to-material sense that best—and worst—laid hero plans have a massive impact on the world.