Thu. Jul 7th, 2022

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…