GM Commentary: ConsOps 2.02

Okay, then. Into unexpected places we go.

Overall, I was relatively happy with the session – most of the characters were frequently engaged (less so Vega, the wheelman, though I’ll get into that later) and the players themselves took some courses of action that legitimately surprised me. We did not get as far as I would have liked – the deviations in the middle took longer than expected, so my pacing obviously needs to be fine-tuned pretty significantly. The PCs also managed to nab a serious source of intel in the form of a NPC who I had not intended (or expected) to be captured here, which had the possibility of putting a serious crimp in my plans. Again, more on that later.

I opened with Mahoney at the soccer field where Egyptian NSA operatives are closing in on HEIMDALL and BALDR – based off commentary during the previous session, I went ahead and identified persons of interest by the codenames I was assigning them with the conceit that Quinn, the former team leader who sent them on the op, is an ascended fanboy and had a big list of names to pull from when a new POI was encountered. BALDR panicked and drew a mini-Uzi which he used against the Egyptian authorities and civilians before using the panicking crowd as cover for his escape; at the same time, HEIMDALL gave him a contemptuous look and went to his knees to allow the authorities to take him into custody. At this, Mahoney decided to pursue BALDR, though he momentarily lost him in the crowd because he failed the Shadowing contest – I allowed him a PER check to relocate BALDR with an unspoken penalty of -4 due to the chaos … and he fricking succeeded! This led to another Shadowing contest that Mahoney failed by more than 5 – I think it was by 7? – so BALDR knew he was being pursued. Cut to both men on stolen scooters in a “Chase.” This … didn’t play out as expected since neither character had the Driving (Motorcycle) skill (not that it really mattered in the Chase) and, while using the awesome enhanced rules from Pyramid 3-112 (“The Thrill of the Chase”), the terrain narrowed to tight, so we determined that BALDR ducked into a souq. As BALDR was still at Medium range and the rules declared that Tight has a maximum of Short, I determined that if Mahoney did not change the range band this round, his quarry would escape. And then, I screwed up by having BALDR opt for Hide which gives a -10 for Chase rolls instead of sticking with Move; had I done the latter, BALDR would have escaped, but instead, he lost the Chase contest and, per Action 2, was abruptly in Close. On the next round, I screwed up again by trying to be sneaky; BALDR opted for a Reverse (so he’d be going the other way) at the same time that Mahoney went for a Ram. This badly damaged both scooters – they were at half-Move by this point … which I only just realized should have affected the next bit. Reverse also gives you a -10 on Chase rolls, so once again, he failed it; however, if I read the RAW correctly, since he failed the Chase roll (by way more than the SR), he went directly to Wipeout. This put the scooter at something like -20 and it failed the HT checks for major wound, in negative HP, and the all-important “is it on fire?” BALDR had 10 hp normally, was down to 9hp due to the Ram, but took another 10 from the crash – 1d+6 with +6 being the speed bonus. As noted above, they were at half-move at this point due to damage, so he should not have taken that much damage which would not have triggered the “I have less than 0 hp” round that he failed & thus passed out. Mahoney ended up absconding with the dude after wrapping him in a carpet.

So … yeah. I screwed that all up. I should have had the Chase officially end once Mahoney did the Ram. BALDR could flee on foot and then get hit by a truck while running. Mahoney could still “loot” him of actionable intel, but I wouldn’t have been dealing with the “Oh, shit. They’ve captured a NPC who has lots of intel in his head! This could ruin everything!” that ended up dominating way too much of my mental bandwidth for the rest of the session (and resulted in some later dumb decisions on my part.)

Jumping over to Vega … and this actually made me feel a little bad because he honestly didn’t actually do much of anything here. He was following the guy (BRAGI) who’d obtained the second laptop and had just entered a store; hearing police sirens, Vega opted to not go into the store … which I think I screwed up here as well as I implied the police were only seconds away. With the shoot-out at the stadium above, all of the local police should have been deviated, and Vega could enter without issue. And then, he could see the shopowner dead of a bullet to the skull, the backdoor open with a jacket or something on the floor … and the revelation that the laptop case is here as well? I’d originally intended for the shop to explode, with BRAGI having left a device, but I opted against that in the middle … and shouldn’t have. This is especially true if Vega was inside – he could see the device and have to go diving out, maybe while tackling some random civilians about to enter the shop. Anyway, the reason BRAGI deviated like this is because he made Vega in the previous session – beat the Shadowing check by more than 5 – and after this deviation, the POI went directly to a nearby mosque which he entered. He swapped out his clothes and, following evening prayers, simply left via a different exit with another group of worshippers. So Vega basically sat there and did nothing for a lot of this.

During this, Mahoney called for extraction, but Baum (the team lead) decided to have Vega continue to follow BRAGI while he and Hurt would pick up Mahoney. He had some valid thinking about why which everyone agreed on, but with me knowing that BRAGI was likely going to escape which meant Vega was going to be sitting on his thumb … yeah.

And then I jumped to Baum & Hurt, who were heading back to their room after having bugged HEIMDALL’s. I screwed up here by not adequately establishing that the bugging had just happened – Baum’s player, I think, believed they were leaving their rooms, having had time to return and change clothes. Anyway, the elevator opened, revealing a bunch of law enforcement officers, including the guy that Hurt had choked out in the previous episode. They advance toward HEIMDALL’s room but the choked out guy hesitates, looks at Hurt in almost recognition. Baum & Hurt enter the elevator, it almost closes but that LEO stops it, intending on demanding Hurt’s papers. Instead, Baum yanked the guy in and they choked him out, then got him in their room – which they were planning on ditching anyway – and bugged out with their gear (after changing clothes.) And as Baum left, he cut the unconscious guy’s femoral so he’d bleed out.

This did not play out like I’d expected. At all. At the same time, Baum is Callous, so everything he did was in character. I’d originally expected this guy to focus entirely on Hurt, then get cold-cocked by Baum from behind and ditched somewhere by these two so he’d be humiliated … again. Then he could come back down the road as a rogue operative, intent on revenge. Instead, he appears to have died anti-climatically, stuck in a closet while tied up. That’s just sad. I’ll need to evaluate that and determine if there’s anything resembling a feasible way for him to have escaped…

So Baum and Hurt escape the hotel and rent a taxi to pick up Mahoney. And here again, I messed up. As stated, my brain was overclocking in an attempt to figure out how to get BALDR away from them, whether that was by death or whatnot, that I had a local police officer poking around and when he tried to stop them, Baum shoved money at the taxi driver and told him to “get rid of the guy.” My screw-up here was manyfold. First, I should have had Baum do a Reaction roll with the taxi driver to determine whether he would help or not with a Neutral result being “I’m just bugging out with the money. Screw these guys.” and stuff below that being “Hey, Mr. Policeman! These guys are criminals … what? No. I’m not holding a thousand Euros! Bye!” Second, I should have done a better job of describing geography of the situation because confusion kept rearing its head. We broke out a quick image, but that shouldn’t have been necessary. And finally, there should have been two police, not one, with them approaching the vehicle from front and rear. I’ll have to make sure that Baum’s player is aware that screwed that up, not him, because bribing the taxi guy to get rid of the cop was actually a smart play that I failed to reward properly.

Anyway, the team escaped, ditched the stolen taxi, reunited with Vega, and went to ground in a storage facility where they could interrogate BALDR. Using the “Making them talk” bit in Action 2, the interrogator (Mahoney) made one roll and BALDR kicked his butt with the contested Will check (margin of success was something like 9.) Having established that this guy has been trained to withstand interrogation and aware that the Egyptian government has locked down the city in an attempt to find the “Zionist perpetrators” of the heinous acts, they punt and reach out to Quinn. This allowed me to get the narrative back on track by having his phone convo cut out in the middle of a sentence, and then the PCs learn via al-Jazeera that the US Embassy in Jerusalem has been bombed.

The players seemed to be entertained by this, but man, I keep focusing on the missteps and screw-ups that I did mostly because too much mental bandwidth was taken up with “What does BALDR know that can ruin the adventure?” There was also some debate among the players regarding their next step; Baum wanted to rush to Jerusalem but Hurt (also correctly) wanted to remain in place and continue digging into the clues they do have. I believe I’ve got a solution for that which I’ll go into detail in the game prep post later this week and, luckily for me, it also lets me resolve the BALDR issue … although I probably will check with the players about what they intend to do with him. I seem to recall at least one vote for “just shoot him in the head because he deserves it for that soccer field mess”, one for “let’s dump him off at the nearest ER with a sign that says ‘you’re welcome'” and one for “let him go and follow him.”

Fricking Spam

I’ve disabled the option for “anyone” to register on the blog because, OMFG, the spambots hit me pretty hard today. I checked my email and had received ninety new Spam users this morning alone. There were over 3000 total in the system … so I’m not sure why I was hammered so hard recently. I’ve since deleted all of the users in system (except mine) and will be looking into how to let real people register … there are several options I’ve seen thus far, but they require me to pay subscriptions and with me still paying off both the gallbladder removal surgery and this whole kidney stone debacle, that ain’t gonna happen soon either.

Sudden and Severe Mood Change

Good Lord. In the last hour, for some utterly unexplained reason, my mood has nosedived. I legitimately can’t recall the last time I was in this foul of a mood and I have absolutely no idea why. Nothing has really changed. Dinner was okay and I’m actually really enjoying the book I’m reading, Carte Blanche. And yet, I don’t want to deal with anyone … on pain of “can I beat them to death with a bat?”

It certainly doesn’t help that tomorrow is my 47th birthday and I’ve got nothing but wasted or missed opportunities to show for it. Single and likely to remain that way, no kids and unlikely to have any, etc. At this age, my dad already had three kids and would have a fourth in a couple of years.

Right. So that’s the mood I’m in. Think I’m done for the night. Certainly not going to accomplish anything useful.

GamePrep: ConsOps, 2.02

With the way the previous session ended, I’ve got the team split up into three groups scattered across Port Said, Egypt. They are:

  • Adam Vega (ASIS Wheelman) in a car outside a storefront that the guy he was Shadowing has entered. He can hear sirens on rapid approach.
  • Naritpal Mahoney (MI5 CBRNE) in one of the soccer stadiums, having used Lip Reading (by default, even!) to eavesdrop on the POI the team is here to recon and a guy that joined him. Armed guys in suits (Egyptian NSA operatives) have broken cover and are converging on the two.
  • Ilan Baum (Mossad Assassin (sniper)) and Raymond Hurt (US Delta Force) are in the POI’s hotel, having just broken into his room and bugged it.

As I stated in my previous post, I missed a golden opportunity to have more Egyptian NSA operatives showing up in the hotel, so I’m going to likely start with that. Baum & Hurt are at the elevator and it opens, revealing cops (Egyptian National Police) and NSA operatives … including the guy that Hurt choked out earlier! At the moment, Baum is wearing nothing but a towel & carrying a bucket of ice, while Hurt is dressed normally; the LEOs push by the PCs brusquely, although the Choked Out guy will do a double-take at Hurt (who has, I’m presuming, changed his appearance somewhat.) This guy will lag behind the others and keep looking at Hurt as he’s trying to determine if this is actually the guy who attacked him & killed his partner. I’m not intending on there being an action scene here, but the PCs may (again) surprise me by attacking instead of retreating into the elevator.

With Vega, he will see the local police arrive and flood into the storefront … which promptly EXPLODES! Yeah. The guy he was Shadowing made him (I rolled really, really good on that contest). Said POI – who we’ve classified as C/S: BRAGI – will have ducked out of the storefront via a side entrance after making a quick change (his Disguise-14 is pretty good) and makes good his escape. Vega could theoretically identify him again in which case he could shadow him again. If that’s the case, we have another Shadowing contest – this is definitely a contest because BRAGI knows that Vega was following him; since he’s on foot, BRAGI will use his Stealth-11 … which is terrible, so he’s likely going to have to find an alternate means of shaking pursuit; conveniently, Port Said has a lot of mosques, so ducking into one of them and pretending to be one of the faithful followed by a suspicious Westerner is a perfect out. If he thinks he’s shaken Vega but hasn’t, he’s going to proceed toward the same stadium that Mahoney is at.

Speaking of Mahoney, unless he intervenes somehow, he’s mostly going to be a bystander as the guys talking to the POI – C/S: BALDR – sees the approaching NSA operatives & overreacts. He pulls a mini-Uzi from a bag, sprays at the NSA guys and bolts … which naturally causes chaos. The route he takes is past from Mahoney, I think, so the PC could theoretically involve himself in some way (like tripping him or something.) If the PC doesn’t involve himself, BALDR will manage to escape, having dropped a smoke grenade to further the confusion. Meanwhile, the POI – C/S: HEIMDALL – will not resist and allow the NSA operatives to take him into custody; if followed, PC may see HEIMDALL put into the back of a non-police car that has the Russian colonel the PCs photographed in Syria (calling him C/S: TYR.) Presuming BALDR escapes, he will be picked up by BRAGI in a different car, who drives to the same hotel that Vega stole his car from.

In the wake of the three big events that have happened within a day – one NSA agent killed, another choked out; shoot-out at the Al Masry Club Stadium with multiple casualties; a bombing that claimed even more lives – Port Said will be locked down for some time. Military forces flood into the city and are stationed at all of the access roads leaving in & out of the city. The Egyptian Coast Guard tries to blockade the coast and use patrol boats to board craft trying to leave. This will last for about 72 hours during which time the PCs really have two options here:

  • Sit it out. As stated, this lockdown lasts about 72 hours, during which time the resort hotels are “shaken down” by police forces in their attempt to find the terrorists. This means the PCs will need to try and dodge this dragnet in some way. The hotel that Baum and Hurt were in will be the center of focus for some investigation due to the Choked Out guy (I need to name him, I think) and his suspicions that he did see his attacker there.
  • Run the blockade. Each road leaving the city has two Hummvees, six soldiers and two guard dogs. I’ve got stats for all of those should the PCs try to force it. I doubt that will happen, though, and expect if they try to get out of Port Said, they’re more likely to try something stealthy – an unguarded strip that lets them sneak out undetected, perhaps, or maybe Baum will remember he’s got Patron (Mossad, 9 or less) and he’ll activate that, in which case the Institute will smuggle them out somehow.

This takes me into “Scene 4,” which is where the plot really starts to kick off.

  • Back in Israel. PCs report their “findings” & Agent Quinn reaches out to them for a debrief, revealing he’s in Jerusalem for an inter-agency conference. He’ll identify C/S: TYR for them (having been digging into that since they first reported it), then react to some of the info gleaned by this op, specifically the use of “Operation Pablo Jimenez” which was used by C/S: BALDR and C/S: HEIMDALL. “Pablo Jimenez” is an old cover identity of Quinn’s. He will also establish that he’s drained HEIMDALL’s accounts and has information in his briefcase that is essential for the guy to regain access to them (think Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and those accounts.)
  • And then, there’s an explosion that kills the connection.
  • At this point, I need to push the PCs toward rushing to Jerusalem for the next plot point. The smart play is probably to have them realize that Quinn was probably the target all along! And that intel in the briefcase is key…
  • They’ll find Jerusalem in the expected chaos in the wake of the new US Embassy having been bombed. Locating Quinn requires appropriate checks/actions and points them to a specific hospital that is now crawling with IDF and US soldiers.
  • Hurt will note/receive info from a former PC who is present to meet discreetly (without the other PCs present)…and then, Reilly (the former PC) will hit Hurt with an animal taser (HT90) which should take him down.
  • Meanwhile, some of the PCs will observe HEIMDALL exiting the hospital with some bodyguard types … and HEIMDALL is carrying Quinn’s briefcase! Depending on how the PCs are arrayed, this could lead to a firefight between them and the bodyguards (made worse by the relatively close presence of many IDF & US Marines who will respond rather quickly); HEIMDALL will flee to a waiting car … which should lead to a Chase (Action 2) which gives Vega (the Australian Wheelman) an opportunity to shine. The bodyguards will use Spetsnaz stats (which is a tie-in to C/S: TYR whom Mahoney may have observed with HEIMDALL earlier.

Spetsnaz

ST 11; DX 12; IQ 12; HT 11.
Damage 1d-1/1d+1; BL 24 lbs; HP 11; Will 12; Per 12; FP 11.
Basic Speed 6.00; Basic Move 6; Dodge 10; Parry 9.
5’11”; 200 lbs

Advantages/Disadvantages: Bloodlust (12); Callous; Combat Reflexes; Duty (Russian Army, 15, Extremely Hazardous); Fit; Military Rank 2; Overconfidence (12); Sense of Duty (Team)

Languages: Russian (Native)

Skills: Administration-12; Armoury (Small Arms)-12; Artillery (Guided Missile)-11; Axe/Mace-12; Boating (Large Powerboat)-11; Boating (Unpowered)-11; Brawling-12; Camouflage-13; Climbing-12; Driving (Automobile)-12; Driving (Heavy Wheeled)-11; Electronics Operations (Communications)-11; Engineer (Combat)-11; Escape-10; Explosives (Demolition)-12; Explosives (EOD)-12; Explosives (Underwater Demolition)-11; First Aid-12; Forward Observer-11; Gunner (Machine Gun)-13; Guns (Grenade Launcher)-13; Guns (Light Anti-Armor Weapon)-13; Guns (LMG)-14; Guns (Pistol)-14; Guns (Rifle)-15; Hiking-11; Intelligence Analysis-11; Interrogation-11; Jumping-12; Knife-12; Leadership-12; Mechanic (Diesel Engine)-12; Navigation (Land)-13; NBC Suit-14; Parachuting-12; Savoir-Faire (Military)-12; Scrounging-12; Scuba-12; Soldier-12; Spear-12; Survival (Desert)-14; Survival (Mountain)-14; Swimming-12; Tactics-12; Traps-14

Equipment: GSh-18 9x19mm pistol; concealable vest

  • Back to Hurt. He’ll wake up, naked & tied to a chair ala Bond in Casino Royale. Reilly is nearby, also sitting on a chair but dozing. When woken, Reilly is visibly confused about what’s going on, but when he starts to help, BALDR (or BRAGI, depending on which is most appropriate here) will enter the scene and then hit Reilly with the Compliance whammy from Agents of SHIELD. I expect Hurt’s player to react to that. Reilly is sent off to “tumble down the walls of Jericho” which is obviously some sort of code that he understands. For Hurt, Escape from his bonds is doable (and frankly a fait accompli), but will happen at the cinematically appropriate moment during the interrogation, which should lead to a fight. There’s no way for BALDR (or BRAGI) survives this fight; even if KO’ed, when he wakes, he will use his Compliance stuff to trigger a stroke that kills him. Because suicide teeth are so passé.
  • And the chase … I want it to end dramatically, which inevitably suggests a failed Stunt that then culminates in HEIMDALL’s car getting hit by a truck (aka the favorite tactic of Reese on Person of Interest.

And that’s sort of what I’m thinking at the moment…

GM Commentary: ConsOps 2.01

Well … that happened.

The session went a little bit longer than I expected and was simultaneously less … actiony than I’d intended but overall, I think I was satisfied. Not perfectly content or anything, but … it was tolerable, I guess. Obviously, this was the first session so there was going to be some missteps by me, plus most of the players hadn’t played these characters in a really long time (one, the former GM from the previous run of this game, had a new PC so he’d never played him at all), so we had to hammer out the rust. And then there was some poor planning on my part that I’ll get to shortly.

Since I’ve split up my adventure notes into “Scenes,” I’m going to use that format for my commentary here.

The first scene was the Syrian bio-tech op and I’d originally intended that to be a James Bond cold opening that may have started out as a stealth op but quickly degenerated into an Action! scene … but that didn’t happen. Instead, it just remained a stealth op where fully half of the PCs didn’t have anything to do. The group (logically) sent the bio-weapon expert into the target area (with the Delta Force operator as backup) while the sniper and wheelman remained in place to monitor & provide overwatch. I’d placed two NPCs in front of the access door to the underground facility with the presumption that the assault team would take them out, but instead, they slipped by them with guile and gained access without being detected; my dice weren’t helping either as those two sentries were consistently rolling 15s and 16s for PER checks … and their PER was only 10. So those PCs went in, saw some chaos, and shot a sort of zombie (Infected with the bio-weapon) … which was another error on my part. I should have had the Infected chick hiding or “asleep” among the bodies, then lurch up and attack the PC(s).

Meanwhile, the overwatch team … did nothing. This was a serious mistake on my part that I realized midway but didn’t know how to correct it straight away. Later, I realized that I should have had someone from the nearby town of Abu Kamal wander into their overwatch position, cause trouble and force those PCs to determine how to respond. Do they kill this “innocent” villager? Or let him flee & report their presence to others?

Regardless, they observed the Syrian reinforcements arrive and then soon after, the Russians (via Hinds). Photos were taken of the two arguing colonels (Russian & Syrian.) Originally, I’d intended that to just be a throwaway, but as I started working on session 2 game notes, the Russian made a possible reappearance (depending on PC action) and I’ve actually sort of fleshed him out somewhat, so we’ll see. Assault team PCs managed to exfiltrate without being detected or killing the two sentries though they were planning on taking those two out as necessary; their plan was to have the door to the bio-weapon facility creak open with the presumption these guys would investigate so they could jump them but I chose a more amusing (I thought) reaction by having the sentries straight up panic and flee when they noted the door had opened. This would later get them killed as they ran toward the patrolling BTR-40 (which had also noted the open door via their spotlight since it was pretty dark); the gunner there freaked out and shot them.

So the PCs bugged out without being detected but also without a lot of the puzzle pieces because the assault team thoroughly botched their search rolls inside the facility. They did obtain some samples from the “its-not-a-zombie” zombie inside, but they have no idea how bad this bio-weapon could theoretically be … which means I’m going to have to later drop them into a situation where a bunch of people are infected so they can see firsthand.

Scene 2 was the debrief scene and, while it was not intended to be very long, I did expect some more questions or discussion. My fault, I suppose. I should have had the debriefer actually ask “Do you have any questions?” during this. Added to that failure was my quickly pushing them into the next scene without first determining their intended loadouts – there really should have been at least a minor discussion on the kind of gear they were taking with them so they could have a Rambo load-up montage.

And then we hit Scene 3 where things went … weird. Pre-game, I’d established that each PC had three free “cover identities” and we’d knocked out some minor specifics about these covers (name, nationality, fake job) as well as establishing that one of these was a strong cover that would stand up versus a lot of scrutiny, one was average, and one was weak that would fall apart under real scrutiny. Each Player selected which cover they were using, then did an appropriate dice check (generally Professional skill (Tradecraft) but one went with Smuggling) to get some gear into country … and one of the PCs (Hurt) critically failed his check with an 18.

My original thinking was that a fail would shift the level of effectivity of the cover by one (so strong becomes average becomes weak becomes burned) but a crit fail on a weak cover caught me by surprise. So the PC in question was definitely noted by Egyptian authorities and was thus being shadowed. He attempted to lose his shadows … and his dice kept screwing him over. Eventually, I decided that the pursuing agents had determined he was acting suspicious so they wanted to arrest him; the PC opted for a Tactics check to figure out a good place to ambush the dudes (and beat my bad guy by 10) … but then crit failed again when he tried to choke hold one of the guys! The player was frustrated beyond belief here and ready to give up, but I’d previously determined that successful Tactics checks could provide rerolls, so he was able to eventually drop the guy. Unfortunately, during this, there were gunshots, which led to the PC having to shoot the other guy. And then afterward, he discovered these guys were Egyptian NSA. PC “robbed” the guys, hoping this would cause at least a little bit of hesitation re: the investigation.

While the dice here turned what was supposed to be routine into something quite different, the primary problem that I observed here is that it boiled down to me working with just one player and the others didn’t have anything to do. It didn’t help that the player’s frustration at the die rolls was feeding on itself to the point that he was ready to just throw in the towel and allow himself to be arrested (which would have definitely thrown a spanner in the works … but would have made for an interesting side-mission.)

The Wheelman PC also stole a car during this which I need to keep in mind for the future.

Anyway, the rest of the op continued. The PCs located the hotel where the target was residing and staked it out from a convenient outdoor cafe. When he exited and hailed a taxi, two PCs followed in the stolen car while the other two intended on some B&E. The two left behind noted that their target had a tail, and let their comrades know; I screwed this up too and had to do a quick in-game retcon so one of the characters noted that the target entered the taxi with a laptop case and exited with a different one. At the taxi destination (soccer field), those two PCs split up with the wheelman following the taxi as a new guy entered it, while the other guy followed the dude into the soccer stadium where he monitored. Eventually, he sees a guy join the target & is able to lipread some info.

The team back at the hotel manage to get inside the target’s room but (as with the bio-weapon facility) botch their search, so they don’t find anything. Meanwhile, the wheelman has followed the taxi to a store on the opposite end of the city and noted the guy getting out, now with the laptop case.

I ended the session with two threatened Action scenes: at the soccer stadium, the PC there observes suited dudes (NSA types, no doubt) converging on the two guys, while the wheelman hears & sees police converging on this storefront. I should have also had the guys in the hotel hear the elevator door ding & open to reveal Egyptian NSA guys … including the guy that Hurt choked out. That’s actually how I’m thinking of opening next week.

Final thoughts: I wasn’t wholly dissatisfied or anything, but neither was I entirely satisfied. There wasn’t enough action in my Action! game, I didn’t do as great a job incorporating all of the PCs into the game as I would have liked, and I just generally needed to spice things up more. Admittedly, this is also an espionage game where Action! isn’t always the way to go, so there’s that. Next week, the conspiracy itself should intensify and kick off the game proper. Ideally, the players have also gotten a better handle on their characters – Hurt’s player has already told me that he realized after the fact that his PC should have attacked the NSA guys much, much sooner because his mindset is “maximum aggression” – and the crappy GM has a better grasp on his job.

I’ll be updating later with game notes for the next session sometime later this week…

GamePrep: ConsOps Season 2, Session 1 This Weekend

So … wheee. Game on this weekend with me as GM. Totally time for me to begin outright panicking.

I’ve covered the basics of my “plan” in previous posts but I’ve made a few minor alterations. Overall, I expect it to play out thus:

  • I’ll probably open with a descriptive scene of four shadowy and armed figures diving out of an airplane at night over Syria.
  • Begin in media res, with the unit (4 personnel, sub-divided into an overwatch team (Blue Team) with a sniper (Baum) and spotter (Vega) covering while the entry team (Red Team) (Mahoney and Hurt) go in on foot.
  • There is a platoon-sized element of Syrian forces present with two BTR-40s, but they are less than professional.
  • Red Team must (easily) evade a patrolling BTR.
  • At this point, I recap the briefing in a “flashback” before resuming.
  • Red Team must get past a pair of guards who are ostensibly watching over the entry to the target facility. They can be as lethal as they would like here.
  • One of Red Team may notice that the facility evidently was not breached forcibly which indicates some things…
  • Once inside facility, their comms go crappy.
    • Inside, the facility, Red Team will find chaos, can locate potential info as well as also having a conflict with a infected hostile.
    • Outside the facility, Blue Team will note approaching headlights that turn into a convoy of military vehicles. This doubles the number of Syrian personnel present; they’re now led by a Syrian Colonel.
    • Soon after, a trio of Russian Hinds arrive, deploy a number of Spetsnaz and a Russian colonel, then orbit the area in patrol.
    • The two colonels argue. Intensely. And will (unless something happens) eventually head toward the facility.
  • At this point, I’m playing it by ear. I don’t know if the PCs will kick up the hornet’s nest and try to cause the Russians and Syrians to start shooting one another (which could totally happen if they play their cards right), or do their level best to avoid detection entirely (which could also happen.)
  • The presence of the Hinds potentially complicates things for the PCs in the event they try to escape via a Chase as those choppers are very well-armed. At the same time, if they manage to cause the Russians and Syrians to start shooting at one another, it’s entirely possible (likely, even) that at least one of the Hinds will be shot down by the Syrians.
  • Ultimately, I’d like to end in a really dramatic manner, though a lot is going to depend on the actions of the PCs. I could easily see them just skulking away without ever letting the bad guys know they were there.
  • Of course, if the PCs do screw up here, it’s going to be pretty spectacular and I’ll be very interested to see how they get out of this mess.

After this stuff, we’ll go into the campaign intro, character commentary and all the rest before moving on to the debrief (back in Israel – how did they get back? The scene changed, man! That’s how!) All in all, that should be more than enough for session 1.

Wherein the Universe kicks me in the Kidney

Had my annual check-up last week, complete with “pee in a cup” and take blood labs. The labs came back with “blood in your urine,” which necessitated a visit to the urologist which took place yesterday. And what did I learn? That I’ve got a fairly large kidney stone that, luckily, doesn’t appear super calcified. Evidently, this stone was identified the previous time I visited the urologist last year, but the ball was dropped on both ends – I missed my follow-up appointment where the doctor intended to tell me, then forgot about it entirely, and they failed to call me.

So … scheduled the procedure to get rid of said kidney stone for Tuesday morning and then this morning, discovered it’s out of network so I’m going to end up having to pay the entire fucking thing. Which is (just for the doctor) $13,000.

Ugh. This sort of shit almost makes me want to go all lefty and demand universal health-care…

“Good” (?) News

I took a look at the landscape for our Friday face-to-face games and realized something – with the loss of one of our players (who had to move out of state for work-related reasons), we no longer have a space-based sci-fi game. Now I’d proposed the Traveller game set in Porozlo a while back, but eventually started leaning more toward resuming Red Sky, my urban fantasy game set in the Dresden Files universe. However, with this lack of a space-based game and at least one player really wanting to play one in mind, I started re-evaluating this decision; also adding to this is the fact another player is going to be running a Night’s Black Agents game in the near future which means it and Red Sky would kind of be pretty close. Thus, I started rethinking about The Verge as an ongoing campaign…

As at least two players had voted against using GURPS – boo! Hiss! – I went ahead and spent the $20 to buy the Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition core rules set and started reading through them. To my surprise, I didn’t hate what I saw so I promptly started leaning toward using that ruleset in lieu of GURPS (although to be fair, I haven’t yet fully grasped the vehicles or space combat rules, both of which will be important down the road), especially when I realized I’d purchase Prison Planet some time back, a Mongoose Traveller 1st edition adventure that is, as the title indicates, set in a prison. And that’s totally how I want to actually start the campaign.

However, I’m not a super big fan of the Traveller campaign setting – there’s a boatload of issues I have with it that I don’t really want to get into here – and at least two of my fellow players (both from the Saturday group) are equally “Meh” about the 3rd Imperium setting, so I wanted to do something else. And then, I recalled something: Steel Ships and Space Marines.

This is a campaign setting that one of my players has created for some games in the past and there are massive swaths that he’s not really touched at all, so at the moment, I’m sort of leaning toward using it … which means, by necessity, there will need to be some adjustments to the standard Traveller rules slightly (e.g. Jump Drives, although that’s turning out to be relatively easy by putting multiplying the Jump rating by 1000 to fit the established route. We (the group) have had several really good runs in that setting and the location I’ve picked – think Space 17th Century England with lots of Russia mixed in there – is perfect.

I’d also like to retrofit as much of Pirates of Drinax into this as I can if possible. Ultimately though, I’m probably going to spin up a proposal thing for the group with a “these are what I’d like to do … which one do you prefer?” with a straight-up Pirates of Drinax in the Traveller-verse as an option. None of this is super urgent, though, since in three to four weeks, I’ll be taking over the Saturday Fantasy Grounds game for a while to run my GURPS: Action! game. So naturally my brain is refusing to disengage from The Verge…

Interesting times.

Terrible, Horrible Mistake

So I made the terrible, horrible, no-good mistake of blasting through the entirety of “The Dragon Prince” on Netflix last night – only about 20 episodes total, each being about 20-25 minutes long – and now, my brain has sort of engaged on “how do I rip this off for gaming?” Because of course it does.

I’ve made no decisions to start planning for something like this, but I would be a liar if I didn’t say that the thought had not actually occurred to me that, right now, I could rip this show off almost entirely wholesale, plop it down in the middle of some random world, and run it in D&D. Honestly, I think I’d even lean toward using D&D 5E just because it seems a whole lot quicker.

The core conceit is thus: on this world, magic is mostly elemental-based and draw upon “primal sources” – the sky, the stars, the ocean, the earth, the sun, the moon – and humans weren’t born with magic, but discovered ‘dark’ magic which requires someone to basically leech energy from magical creatures themselves. This led them to harvest various magical creatures, which horrified elves and dragons who drove the humans out of their lands. Thus, there are basically two major nations, with the ‘dragon king’ protecting the border. Prior to the show starting, the dragon king was murdered by humans who, the story goes, also destroyed his only egg (and heir.)

As the story begins, elf assassins, including Rayla who is one of the Main Characters, have been dispatched to assassinate King Harrow of Katolis. She ends up meeting Callum, who is Harrow’s stepson, and Ezran, Harrow’s heir, and they discover that the Egg wasn’t destroyed, but instead was taken by the king’s high mage and close adviser, Viren, who is a master of dark magic. The three kids end up deciding to try and return the Egg to the dragon queen to avert the coming war. Hijinks ensue. Along the way, Callum ends up becoming a sorcerer himself and, by the end of the second season, has actually become the only human who can naturally cast instead of relying on Dark Magic.

So ultimately, this is actually a normal questline – take this MacGuffin to That Place – but the interesting thing to me is that the MacGuffin is actually alive! In fact, the end of the first season revolves around them trying to keep the critter from dying inside the egg, and culminates in it hatching so it’s a baby dragon.

But yeah. I needed this potential fantasy game to think about like a hole in the head, you know?