More Gaming Absences…

Ugh. One of the Saturday players is definitely out for the next two weeks, another is going to wildly inconsistent until sometime in August. This essentially leaves us with two players for ConsOps which … yeah. That’s problematic to the extreme. So I expect ConsOps will be slipping into a half-hiatus mode.

The worst part is that I can’t really blame anyone for these absences because they’re family or school related. It isn’t the players’ faults that I don’t have familial obligations like that – quite frequently, I’m rather jealous of them for that fact, though I tend to hide that away.

But man … it makes things difficult.

GM Commentary: ConsOps 2.08

Man, that was messy. I knew going in that would be – as stated, the two week hiatus plus my feverish planning for GenCon (not to mention, this fifty-plus hour work week I’ve had) kind of ‘harshed my groove’ so to speak – but I did not anticipate it being quite that sloppy. In retrospect, I realize that what I should have done is basically treat the entire ship scenario as more akin to a dungeon, with each “zone” having a set encounter in it with X number of bad guys and so on. My ignorance of container ships internal structure also reared its head – I should have ensured that I had more screengrabs of the internal area so the players had a better grasp of exactly what they were looking at instead of relying on my sub-standard descriptive capability. Seriously, I’m fine with the written word, but come game-time I have trouble making the words not come out in a horribly jumbled mess.

The use of the “universal reaction roll” to reflect potentially bad things happening as the PCs traversed from zone to zone was ultimately, in my opinion, a wasted opportunity. Two PCs rolled Poor while going from Zone 1 to 2, and all other rolls were Neutral or better; related to that, I did not have anything in mind with regards as to what happened if the characters rolled Very Good on that roll … and one of them did. Something positive should have happened there, like he fortuitously stumbled upon a Clue or something that could be useful for later. Again, I think if I’d planned for the zones to be more akin to rooms in a dungeon and had a better idea of what was there, that sequence would not have felt so blah.

As is usual, we had some rules confusion, this time with regards to a bad guy with combat reflexes being surprised. According to RAW, that is treated as partial surprise, which hints toward their being a roll-off (1d +2 for Combat Reflexes, +1 for higher IQ, +1 for Tactics skill, -2 to leaderless side) with the loser being considered mentally stunned for 1 round, then getting a chance to come out of it in subsequent rounds … but one of the players thinks (and I agree with him in retrospect) that we should skip the roll-off in that case and instead just go straight to the momentary freeze. We also had some of the usual standard game mechanics stuff – a player wanted the +1 to shoot for braced because he was using a sling, but you only get brace (per RAW) if you Aim – but overall, the combat went well. I intentionally avoided tactical combat and used just the Action range band … which worked very nicely in my opinion. I’m currently leaning toward doing that more in the future to try and speed up our combats.

I did get the feeling that one of the players wasn’t really paying a lot of attention to the game based on his actions, although to be fair, that might just be me reading more into it than I should. He had his character basically check out and stay behind to secure the bridge while the rest proceeded deeper … which was going to really cause me a headache when the planned helicopter strike versus the bridge transpired because the chaingun being used inflicts 5dx3 pi++ damage per shot. Luckily, the nominal team leader ended up calling for him to rejoin the team, which gave me the opportunity to blow up the bridge with a strafing run and now kill a PC in what amounts to a cinematic cutscene.

Funny observation: one of the PCs took a blind shot at a bad guy through a wall – he knew he was there but couldn’t see him, so he took the -10 to the shot – and still hit him. Since it was a blind shot, he did random hit location and it came up torso … vitals! Even with the nominal DR of the walls, the damage was more than enough to insta-kill the poor bastard, which was hilarious and mondo-cool all the same.

When the helicopter arrived, all of their comms went out due to jamming, which cut off communication with their ride out of here in the form of their wounded (but recovering) colleague. I’ve already told that player (who is temporarily running a different character) via whisper that the wounded PC was going to be captured by Russian, but the other characters don’t yet know his fate. Further, one of the players may have to miss next week due to school, so if that’s the case, the other PCs will likely presume he was killed by the explosion or (sadly) drowned in ocean. Then, of course, it’ll be revealed that he was captured by any surviving Russians.

A couple of clues have been placed in front of the characters: the pirates were visibly not Somali and were notably in better shape than one would expect of struggling piratical types; the former crew that were machine gunned to death in the ‘safe room’ were killed by different calibers than the pirates were using; that bomb was very well-placed and took the entire ship to the bottom of the ocean; and finally, the soldiers that arrived alongside the helicopter were not taking prisoners. Unfortunately, the PCs still don’t know where their actual target has gone to, which means I’ve got to figure out how to relay that to them and point them in the proper direction.

Next week will begin with the PCs in a tough spot: they’re in the ocean, they’ll have to ditched the majority of their gear (since encumbrance is doubled while Swimming) and there are clearly some fairly hostile types in the region. I’m still rolling around exactly how to move forward – I’m currently leaning toward beginning in media res with them crawling up onto their abandoned fishing boat that the wounded PC should have still been on, thoroughly exhausted, only to discover that the engine has been shot. So they’ve got to MacGyver their way back to land, then figure out the next steps.

GamePrep: ConsOps, 2.08

So … as it turns out, having two weeks off thanks to some player absences, does absolutely nothing positive for my motivation and the narrative flow. My brain has already tried (rather successfully, I must add) to start shifting tracks to the sci-fi game I’ll be running (eventually) in my face-to-face group on Fridays, which means I’m having to seriously struggle to get into the proper headspace once more. Throw in the planning for GenCon – I currently have 47.5 hours worth of scheduled games, including a 10-hour D&D 5E game on Saturday, 8/3 – and … yeah. It’s hard.

What I’ve got at the moment is still relatively loose … which is appropriate, because I don’t see how I could run this whole boarding action otherwise, particularly since it’s really, really hard to get something resembling a legible deckplan. I’ve already declared that we’re only going to be using Range Bands from Action – it’s highly unlikely they’ll ever get beyond Short, which is -3, due to the cramped environment – and I’ve also split up the ship into what amounts to five Zones. There are a total of 18 “pirates” aboard the ship, scattered all over it, but they are better trained than one would expect of Somali pirates … which is appropriate since they’re actually Yemenese mercenaries who have been hired to pull off this job.

Originally, the group was planning on hitting the “mother ship” that was lagging behind the Pegasi … er … the Perseus, but by the time they get everything ready and back into the sea, it’s vanished entirely. This is not part of the pirates’ plan so they are on relatively high alert as a result, which could cause trouble for the PCs. Since the mother ship is gone, we’re just going to start in media res with the active PCs in a black inflatable boat near the bow of the ship – that’s the front – and about to ascend. This will require a handful of checks – Boating (but Vega has a 17 or 18 in the skill), Throwing (Chana has a 15, I think) to get the grapnel in place, then Climbing and Stealth. Sending Baum up first – Climbing-15, Stealth-20 – is probably the best idea here, and he may be able to flat-out neutralize the two mercs in the bow zone before anyone else is even on the ship! These two mercs are notably not black, which hints toward the whole “not Somali” thing, but probably won’t be a terrible surprise or shock or anything.

Zone 2 is cargo and has no Pirates in it. Traversing into a different zone will likely call for Stealth checks and/or our “universe reaction roll” for each PC to see if the Universe decided to shaft that character in some way. For example, if Vega is advancing and rolls Poor on that reaction roll, I may have a pirate step into view or the spotlight on the tower momentarily illuminate Vega, etc. PCs are still able to react against this “bad luck” – so Vega may be able to drop the pirate before he triggers an alarm, or dart to a hiding place before the spotlight came jump back to him, etc. From Zone 2, a PC equipped with a scope on their weapon may be able to make out that there are 3 pirates in the bridge (which is in Zone 4: Tower.)

There is 1 Pirate in Zone 3 who is supposed to be on guard, but is instead taking a smoke break. A successful smell-based PER check will allow a PC to realize he’s here long before this guy comes into view.

As stated above, there are 3 Pirates in the bridge (Zone 4). I expect this to be a short firefight, probably with the PCs approaching from multiple angles. In the event that a PC gets a Poor or worse result in the universe reaction roll, I may have a fourth pirate approach from a completely different angle, then join in … or maybe even sound the alarm. Regardless, the entire Zone 4: Tower is going to be (by necessity) fast and loose. I’ll need to keep track of the numbers of pirates available – starting with 18, minus 2 for the bow, minus 1 for zone 3, minus 3 for the bridge = leaves me 12 (or 11 if someone else joined in for the Tower shoot-out); if necessary, though, I’ll fudge those numbers somewhat so 18 is a rough estimate.

I’ll have to keep in mind what happens if the PCs capture someone and interrogate him. Since the team is actively looking for a dude, that’ll be the logical focus of their questions … but these guys don’t know about him or about the crew. When they boarded, the crew wasn’t here. They’ve been looking but haven’t found them yet … although they did locate the “safe space” place down below where they think the crew is hiding. They just haven’t been able to get in because it’s locked from the inside.

Zone 5 is engineering which is evidently a five-level but still relatively crampe location. I expect that the only reason the PCs will be here is if they’re actively looking for the “safe space” that many such craft possess or have interrogated a dude & learned of where it’s at. Gaining entrance is going to be tough – it’s actually been welded shut from the outside! This is information that a captured/interrogated pirate will neglect to mention. Fortunately, there is some welding equipment nearby that can be used with appropriate skills – I don’t know if anyone actually has those appropriate skills, though … which could lead to interesting alternatives.

Notably, descent into Zone 5 also results in their communications with Mahoney who is lurking relatively nearby in their purchased fishing boat. He is still injured by functional enough to be able to drive the boat to pick them up when they exfiltrate. This communications disruption is expected, however, due to the rather thick metal of the ship. No cell service down here!

Presuming they do manage to penetrate the entrance, though, they’re going to find a bloody mess. The crew is here … but they’ve all been machine-guned to death and quite some time ago. Examination of the bodies may reveal that they were killed by weapons other than the ones that the pirates possess – so, FREX, all wounds are from a 5.56mm round and the pirates are all carrying 7.62mm weapons. PCs might also discover some sort of recording – a cellphone, perhaps? – that indicates their target, CS: LOKI, is responsible for the machine-gunning. Since he’s not present, though, now they have to figure out the next step.

Far more important, however, is the discovery of a rather sizeable explosive device secured in the back of this safe place. It is armed and counting down. There are less than 10 minutes remaining on this countdown and, by the look of things, this explosive will probably do enough damage to scuttle this ship…

Disarming it is going to be tough since Mahoney is unavailable and Lynch’s explosives skill is for Demolition which, admittedly, EOD defaults to at -4 … but that gives him an effective skill of 9 and he can’t take extra time. In fact, should he settle in and start looking at this, the PCs will hear the sound of additional gunfire above them, which is rather distracting. Attempts to contact Mahoney for assistance are difficult before he cuts out entirely … also to the sound of gunfire. In the event Lynch does decide to make the attempt to disarm, I’m going to have him roll it in the box. However, with all of the penalties associated here, it’s logical to presume that Lynch is going to “Nope. Not even going to try.” with this one and order them to bug out.

Depending on how they proceed, they may encounter some unexpected Spetsnaz on the boat. If they just retrace their steps, I sort of envision a scene similar to the first “Expendables” movie when the team opened the door, discovered a buttload of bad-guys, and promptly shut the door. “He said we’re dead with an accent.” That scene. If I can swing that, I’m totally going to do so and then have someone announce over the loudspeaker in Russian-accented English: “Consular Operations team. You are surrounded. Throw down weapons or comrade will be killed.” This will follow with Mahoney announcing that he’s sorry. They caught him by surprise. Russian leader – CS: TYR, who Ilan Baum and Vega saw in Syria – will arrive via helicopter ala Nick Fury near the end of Winter Soldier, complete with Bad Ass Trenchcoat. He identifies Baum as the guy responsible for killing a specific terrorist (who I name-dropped about two or three sessions ago when the PCs were interrogating HEIMDALL); this terrorist downed an Aeroflot flight from Tel Aviv to Moscow and TYR’s son was on that flight. So he (TYR) is grateful that Baum killed an animal who greatly deserved killing and simultaneously pissed off that he was not afforded the opportunity to do it himself. TYR demands to know where Breznikov is – this is LOKI – and does not believe them when they insist he’s not here. Things should look dire for the PCs … but they’re aware that a rather large explosive is about to go off. Ideally, I’d like to let TYR order their deaths – a simple, “Kill them and dump their bodies.” is probably fine – but PCs might surprise me here and talk their way into a joint operation; I need to make sure I’ve got TYR’s headspace completely figured out.

And all of that presumes they actually go up the same way they came in. They might surprise me again by finding an alternate way off the ship. Regardless, the explosive will detonate … which results in the ship going down.

So, as stated, the bomb explodes and the PCs find themselves in the ocean. Swimming checks are obviously required and getting clear of the sinking ship should be their first option … and crap. I literally just realized that the potential presence of that helicopter puts me in a corner. Why couldn’t they just machine-gun the PCs while they’re swimming? Hmm. Need to find a way to neutralize the chopper … maybe the explosion damages it so it is limping away and trailing smoke?

Anyway, in the ocean, PCs are in deep, deep crap here. It is highly unlikely that their inflatable rubber boat is still present, and when or if they locate the fishing boat that Mahoney was in, it’s been shot up as well. Hmm. Damn. In an ideal universe, ending the session with the PCs in the middle of the ocean would be freaking awesome … Yeah. I’m going to have to make sure to vamp up until that point and end that way because it’s too awesome not to end thus…

Falling Behind Again…

We’ve had a couple of unexpected absences for the Saturday game, which has led to me delaying ConsOps while we do some GURPS: Shadowrun oneshots while down a player … I’ve fallen way behind in planning and absolutely need to get off my ass & get back into this. Tonight is the face-to-face game and tomorrow, I’ve got a “most of the day” event that lasts right up until a little before game-time, so I’m going to try and force myself to get with the planning again on Sunday.

I really hate that I’m less enthusiastic about my game now than I should be…

GM Commentary: ConsOps 2.07

Well. That happened. And … yeah. It was every bit as messed up as I feared.

To preface, we had some irritating technical issues at the beginning with the guy hosting the Twitch stream, which delayed us for almost an hour. After that, the team reunited (following Reilly’s betrayal last week), complete with the introduction of the two new (temporary) PCs, and they discussed their next course of action. And that’s where things started going south for me…

See, I’d planned on them going to Kuwait and do some B&E to discover some information on the ship they were tracking … so naturally, the Players came up with some perfectly reasoned explanations for why they weren’t going to go there. There had been some discussion about that happening on our boards that started late on Friday, but as I was still trying to sleep off the cold I’ve been (successfully) fighting off this week and our Friday F2F game had been canceled, I crashed early without really reviewing. On Saturday, I went into work for a few hours and glanced over their thoughts but still failed to really process this … which would come back and bite me.

So … rather than going to Kuwait where I expected them to break and enter, they instead went to Salalah, Oman after calculating where their target ship would likely be at. Two of the active PCs – the Baum siblings – would later stay on land where they sought out and purchased a deep-sea fishing boat, while Vega and Lynch would be in the plane conducting aerial searches.

I’ve sort of been using a revised Heat mechanic from Night’s Black Agents with the notion that it’s an Enemy frequency of appearance (starting at 3 simply because the PCs are PCs). Throwing cash around like they did – not only did they basically outright buy the boat, but they also bribed the boat-owner with the Action 2 +4 bonus (Action2, p15), so that’s bumped their Heat score in Oman to 4. I checked against that but rolled much higher so no Oman military showing up just yet.

And naturally, during this sequence, we had even more technical difficulties, though this time, it was on me. During the Fantasy Grounds games, I use (or rather, used) an X-Box controller for the push-to-talk for TeamSpeak. I fumbled it, dropped it, and did something that screwed it up so it doesn’t function correctly. While remapping in TeamSpeak, I kept remapping incorrectly, then growing progressively more irritated when that didn’t work. Finally got it fixed, after much gnashing of teeth.

Jumping back to the game, Lynch and Vega were patrolling in the plane, while basically checking the various ships in the lanes within the range that they had calculated their target ship to be on. I then rolled what we in this group call the “Universe Reaction Roll” which is just … a reaction roll but is used as a sort of “how lucky are the PCs at this moment.” We use this frequently to determine random crap all the time, so this roll was just to determine when said target ship appeared. And, of course, I rolled a 17, which translates to Very Good. So I decided that the ship was here and threw in some minor dialogue to relay that pirates had likely taken it.

As probably implied by my comments above, I was exceedingly frustrated by this session principally due to my being caught so unprepared by the actions of the PCs. Next week should be better since it’s mostly going to be combat (first, dealing with the pirate “mother ship”, then the taking of the container ship.) Hopefully … it’ll be better.

GamePrep: ConsOps, 2.07

At the moment, I am so very, very far behind. In between fighting off a cold, I’m also dealing with more shrapnel from the kidney stone stuffs. Honestly, I think I’ve spent more time asleep this week than I haven’t and I still feel exhausted. Which means I haven’t done a terribly good job at prepping for the Saturday game.

As it stands, I’m sort of mentally splitting it up into Scenes again. I think I’ve got about 5 in mind, excluding any wild diversions taken by the PCs.

Scene 1

  • VEGA wakes up. He’s been shot and was blasted over the railing of the parking garage by REILLY’s shotgun blast.
  • His injuries are “plot injuries” in that he’s nominally at the 1/2-Move, 1/2-Dodge state, but a successful First Aid check by someone other than him will resolve that.
  • Upon return to his level, he discovers REILLY & BRAGI gone, the tires of his (VEGA’s) car slashed, and the super-phone smashed. Plus there’s the whole matter of two dead guys in the other car. Sirens can be heard in the distance.
  • If he goes ahead and searches them for stuffs as was his original intent, he will find minimal stuffs: sidearms, smokes, a single burner cell with nothing on it save this address via a text message from what will turn out to be another burner.

Scene 2

  • I.BAUM wakes up. He’s in the back of an ambulance with MAHONEY on the other side of him. To I.BAUM’s utter shock, the female EMT working on I.BAUM is none other than CHANA BAUM, his sister!
  • Driving the ambulance is CAMERON LYNCH, who may step in here to advise I.BAUM what happened: he (I.BAUM) was a half step into the warehouse … when it exploded in his face. He’s luckier than most.
  • LYNCH is also going to tell I.BAUM that he’s working a case parallel to the PCs and is an old friend of QUINN.
  • I’m presuming that they’re going to make contact with VEGA & learn that REILLY has betrayed them & they need to ditch their wheels.
  • Currently leaning toward maybe the PCs realizing that they are being Shadowed, which could go into a chase.
    • Who is following them, though?

Scene 3

  • At the safehouse; VEGA has been picked up because the team pre-arranged contact info & rendezvous points.
  • With Reilly reveal, need to ditch existing cell phones to avoid being tracked.
  • Coordinate intel with Lynch
    • LYNCH IDs HOSTILEs as Vympel Spetsnaz under CS: TYR which PCs snapped photos of in Syria. He (TYR) is trying to locate CS: LOKI … and evidently, so is BRAGI
    • LYNCH to urge follow-up on the ship (M/V Pegasi) since that’s what HEIMDALL told MAHONEY they were going to use to transport CS: LOKI
  • PCs have been operating, non-stop, since departing Israel at the beginning of ASGARD YELLOW CHECKMATE. That was on 12 Feb – it is 14 Feb! PCs are exhausted.
    • B426 has the Fatigue stuff.
    • Just looking at it, I think they’re all around -5 FP, at least 2 of which are due to missed sleep.
  • Take the plane to Kuwait. About 5 hour flight time, so guesstimate 7 hours total with pre & post flight (which likely includes them scouring for a bug: ElecOps (Surveillance) vs BRAGI’s Smuggling-13 (with +19 (!) bonus due to size of the device and the size of the plane) (see Smuggling skill for specifics)

Scene 4

  • Arrival time in Kuwait is around 0130, 15 Feb. Recommend PCs get some sleep before dawn (which will (magically) bring them back to full FP.)
  • Dig into the ship info
    • M/V Pegasi – 32,000 DWT German-owned container ship (through Hapag-Lloyd Shipping Company, which recently bought out the United Arab Shipping Company.)
    • M/V Pegasi departed two days ago (13 Feb) but has dropped off the GPS network as of yesterday (14 Feb). (C/S: LOKI was aboard)
      • Unknown to PCs (but probably suspected by), on 12 Feb, the M/V Pegasi was boarded and seized by Somali pirates
      • The CARGO (aka CS: LOKI) arrived in Kuwait the day the Pegasi departed (13 Feb) secretly, then was secreted out
  • I’m sort of leaning toward suggesting they have to do a B&E into the UASC building to obtain the above intel
    • During B&E, after PCs have obtained Intel, REILLY breaks into comms on open channel (aka the Big Bad in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) which alerts security. Pcs must then defeat or evade…