In this third part in my series about adapting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) as a roleplaying game, I outline a one-shot adventure and a handful of featured NPCs. (In part 1, I explained why I was using the system from The Three Rocketeers, a World of Aventure for Fate Core. In part 2, I produced character sheets of the four main characters to use in a campaign.)
Although I made a big deal about making the character write-ups flexible enough to apply to multiple versions of the characters, in this post I largely throw that out of the window in pursuit of a different goal: streamlining and simplicity. This involves featuring one main threat (the Shredder), focusing on one main plot hook (Splinter is kidnapped), and cutting out everything that doesn’t support these (sorry, April).
The TMNT setting is a vast, sprawling universe. As well as ninjas and mutant turtles, it’s got mad science, aliens, robots, magic, time travel, ancient civilisations, ghosts, Lovecraftian monsters, parallel dimensions, and straight up superheroes. It’s a kitchen sink world that’s just as multi-faceted as any of the mainstream comic book universes from Marvel or DC. The difference is that the whole universe is seen through the eyes of the turtles themselves.
It’s a perfect setting for a long-running RPG campaign, but for a one-shot we need to narrow down our focus onto a small number of elements that we care about most. Although I love the 2003 4Kids! series for the way it explored the wider universe, for a tighter story I’d look instead to other bits of TMNT media:
- The 1990 film, which still stands today as a surprisingly great movie, is a relatively grounded story about street level gang crime in New York City (plus, you know, ninjas and mutant turtles). Shredder and the Foot Clan are the sole villains, and the force that drives the turtles into their final confrontation with the Shredder is his kidnap of Splinter partway through the movie.
- The old beat-em-up video games such as 1991’s Turtles in Time let in more weirdness but are narratively even simpler. Shredder is the villain, and the turtles must fight their way through a variety of enemies in a variety of locations to thwart his plan, culminating in a fight with Shredder himself.
In short, use the Shredder as your main villain. Most people familiar with TMNT will expect him to show up anyway, so you might as well go with it. Any other enemy NPCs should be clearly and unambiguously subordinate to Shredder (so leave out Krang or Kitsune for a one-shot). To draw the turtles into the plot, have Shredder kidnap the turtles’ Master Splinter early on, forcing the turtles to follow the trail in order to rescue him. Finish with a climactic battle against the Shredder himself.
Anything not directly supporting and facilitating this story should be cut out. This does unfortunately mean that we don’t get some of the key TMNT supporting cast, particularly April O’Neil. I am aware that this basically reduces gender diversity to zero, and I’ll remedy that in Part 4 of my blog series, but I also think it’s better to exclude April than have her be nothing more than a damsel in distress.
For structuring my one-shot, I have used the excellent format from the pre-set adventure in Dave Joria’s Masters of Umdaar. Also, thanks to Kenneth Holpert for his Umdaar write-ups of the villainous NPCs Shredder, Baxter Stockman, and Bebop and Rocksteady. I referred to them regularly while I was writing my own versions.
This short adventure is intended to be played by the four turtles themselves (Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, Michelangelo).
I prepared proto-PCs for those characters in the last blog post, which players could fill in before a game if they have the time to do so. Tying in with the simpler plot hooks discussed above, make sure all of the players know how important Splinter is by giving each turtle an unambiguously positive aspect that relates to him. He’s their teacher, their father, and for a long time he was their only protector. Now it’s time for them to protect him.
However, time is precious when running one-shots and I’d prefer not to make the players spend time to finalise their character sheets. As such, I’ve also drafted some versions of the PCs to use in this one-shot. Check ’em out, then try ’em out in the game!
Scene 1: Sewer Sweet Sewer
The story starts in the turtles’ home, their lair in the sewers beneath New York City. They are relaxing in their various distinctive ways. This is a good chance to get players involved by explaining what the characters are doing. The turtles’ activities should follow from their aspects. Perhaps the players can even roll to create advantages, either on their own character aspects or on new situation aspects.
While this is going on, their Master Splinter, a mutant rat who is both their ninjutsu teacher and their adoptive father, is meditating in his private quarters.
Suddenly, the tranquility of their home is disrupted as an army of Mousers bursts through the walls of Splinter’s room, chewing through the very brickwork and pipes to get to him. Whoever arrives on the scene first witnesses Splinter being swallowed by a single Giant Mouser. While the other Mousers menace the turtles with their snapping jaws, the Giant Mouser attempts to escape with Splinter trapped in its prison-like head cavity. It can no longer burrow through solid stone, so if the turtles wish to catch the Giant Mouser, they’ll need to chase it through the sewers and tunnels.
- The turtles’ objective: Rescue Splinter from the Giant Mouser
- The Mousers’ objective: Deliver the captive Splinter to the Mousers’ operator
- Recommended scene type(s): Contest to reflect the sewer chase, switching to a Conflict if the turtles catch up
- Situation aspects (ask for more): Absurdly Spacious Sewers; We’ve Got To Save Splinter!
- Success: Splinter is saved, but the turtles’ enemies seem to know the location of their lair. Splinter orders the turtles to seek the source of the Mousers to stop further attacks.
- Failure: The Giant Mouser disappears through a mysterious door in the sewers, leading to the next scene.
Scene 2: There is Gloom and Doom While Things Go Boom… in Baxter’s Lab!
The source of the Mousers is an apparently empty warehouse in topside NYC. But of course, it isn’t really empty: it is the secret laboratory of Baxter Stockman, the evil robotics genius who works for the Shredder.
Finding the lab shouldn’t be difficult. If the turtles didn’t follow the Giant Mouser all the way there, they should be able to find it easily by other means, no roll required (e.g. Donnie could identify a homing signal by tinkering with the Mousers’ remains, or TV reporter April O’Neil might contact the turtles with a tip about Mouser sightings in a particular neighbourhood).
Baxter is prepared for the turtles’ arrival, however, and he has converted his lab into a deadly death trap… of doom! He controls everything from an inaccessible control room in the centre of the warehouse, which the turtles will need to reach in order to confront Baxter and move on. The various weaponised machines will try to attack the turtles each turn (with a +2 rating).
Before that, though, Baxter will gleefully monologue about how doomed and inferior the turtles are, and how foolish they are for thinking they could match wits with such an unparalleled genius as he is. Conversation can go two ways, and Baxter can try to inflict mental attacks on the turtles, just as they can inflict mental attacks on him.
Importantly, this is an opportunity for Baxter to reveal the whole plan: he is indeed working with the Shredder, supreme master of the Foot Clan of ninjas. Shredder has a vendetta against Splinter and the turtles, and provided Baxter with a sample of Splinter’s mutated DNA so that his Mouser robots could track Splinter down. Both Splinter (if captured) and Splinter’s DNA sample are being kept in the Foot Clan’s secret headquarters, miles below the city, which is accessible only through an elevator in Baxter’s control room.
- The turtles’ objective: Reach Baxter’s Control Room
- Baxter’s objective: Capture the turtles for Shredder
- Recommended scene type(s): Conflict (physical vs the trap, mental with Baxter)
- Situation aspects (ask for more): Spinning Blades; Laser Turrets; Robotic Grabbing Arms; Inaccessible Control Room
- Success/victory: The turtles break into the control room and come face-to-face with Baxter Stockman
- Failure (optional): The turtles are captured, taken to the Foot Clan headquarters and locked in a cell. Replace scene 3 with an escape from the cell (but scene 3’s conflict can be used largely unchanged).
Scene 3: Like a
Bull Rhino In a China Shop
The turtles break into the lab’s control room, from which Baxter Stockman has been trying to capture the turtles with his robotic equipment. Baxter himself is a weakling and won’t fight in person, and like a coward he’ll tell the turtles whatever he thinks they want to know. If there’s any information he didn’t reveal in the previous scene, he’ll blurt it out here: he’s working for the Shredder to capture Shredder’s hated enemy, Splinter; if Splinter was captured, then he has already been sent down to the Foot Clan headquarters deep beneath the city; if Splinter wasn’t captured, Baxter also reveals that the way they found the turtles’ lair was through a sample of Splinter’s mutated DNA combined with one of Baxter’s ingenious inventions (but the remaining sample of DNA is in the Foot headquarters).
After the key information is out, but before the turtles can interrogate Baxter for too long, they are interrupted by the arrival of Bebop and Rocksteady. The mutant double act has come up on an elevator to check on Stockman’s status. The elevator goes all the way down into the Foot Clan headquarters.
- The turtles’ objective: Access the elevator and get down to the Foot Clan headquarters
- The enemies’ objective: Capture the turtles
- Recommended scene type(s): Conflict
- Situation aspects (ask for more): Delicate Equipment; The Only Way Down
- Success/victory: The turtles incapacitate Bebop and Rocksteady and use the elevator to descend into the Earth’s crust and access the Foot Clan Headquarters
- Failure (optional): The turtles are captured and locked up in a cell in the Foot Clan headquarters, which they’ll need to escape before scene 4.
Scene 4: Foot Stomp
Deep beneath the New York City streets, deeper even than the turtles’ sewer home, is the secret headquarters of the Foot Clan. It is connected to the surface by a series of elevators, one of which connects to Baxter Stockman’s lab. It is a large complex, teeming with Foot Soldiers, and with every kind of amenity they need as a base to infiltrate the world above.
The main area of the headquarters is a large chamber, decorated like a traditional Japanese dojo. At one end, Shredder himself presides over his clan, sitting in full armour on an imposing throne. The turtles’ goal (either the captive Splinter or the sample of Splinter’s DNA) is kept by the side of this throne in plain view, as a sign of Shredder’s absolute power and authority.
When the turtles are discovered, Shredder will at first order his Foot Ninjas to attack them. There are more Foot Ninjas present than the turtles could ever defeat, although doing significant shifts of damage should give some brief respite. While the Foot are keeping the turtles busy, Shredder will use the opportunity to Sneakily attack his enemies while they are defenceless. After one or maybe two exchanges, unless the turtles are dominating the fight, Shredder will order his ninjas to stand down so he can finish the turtles himself.
- The turtles’ objective: Destroy the sample of Splinter’s DNA or Rescue Splinter (depending on the results of earlier scenes)
- Shredder’s objective: Destroy those meddlesome turtles!
- Recommended scene type(s): Conflict
- Situation aspects (ask for more): Deep Underground, Classical Japanese Dojo, The Enemy’s Lair, Shredder’s Throne Room
- Total victory: The turtles take out the Shredder and break his hold on the Foot Clan. They are free to return to the surface with their objective.
- Partial victory (Shredder concedes): The turtles succeed in their objective and escape to the surface
- Partial defeat (turtles concede): The turtles are forced to retreat with the objective unfulfilled. Either Splinter is at Shredder’s mercy, or Shredder has the means to attack them in their home again and again by using Splinter’s DNA as a tracker.
- Complete loss: The turtles are overpowered and at Shredder’s mercy…
There were some scenes that I wanted to include but didn’t have the space for. If players have a longer time slot for this one-shot, they could expand things by making Baxter’s lab in an occupied office, so that the turtles have to infiltrate without alerting the innocent civilians.
I also wanted to include an encounter with Karai, Shredder’s conflicted second-in-command (or daughter or granddaughter). If the turtles fail one of the earlier scenes, perhaps she is the guard of their prison cell when they are captured, or perhaps she merely encounters them in the Foot Headquarters outside the throne room. Karai is willing to talk to the turtles as respected adversaries, and disagrees with Shredder’s obsessive vendetta against Splinter. If the turtles succeed in convincing her, she may even help them (short of going against Shredder herself, that is), and if Shredder is utterly defeated it will be Karai who takes over the Foot Clan and promises the turtles safe passage. (Unlike Shredder, Karai is a ninja who actually has Sneaky as her peak Approach (+4), followed by Careful and Quick. Other than that, though, I’m afraid you’ll need to provide her stats yourself.)
And that’s the adventure. Hope you like it, and as ever I would love to hear if any of these ideas ever get used in a game.
Next time: Longer campaigns and other strangeness!
Images used in this blog post are:
- TMNT by Juan Fernando Garcia, via Black Bat Studios
- I made a funny hahaha by Hans Tolvaly (Elden-rucidor), via DeviantArt
- TMNT – Mouser by Nahlej, via DeviantArt
- Crop of TMNT – Baxter Stockman concept by RayDillon, via DeviantArt
- Rocksteady and Bebop by Joelchan via DeviantArt
- Shredder from TMNT – Mutants in Manhattan
All used without permission.