GM Commentary: ConsOps 2.17

And now, my watch is ended.

So, my run of ConsOps is complete. Probably to no one’s surprise, I was only partially satisfied with this final session – it took about an hour and a half longer than it should have because I didn’t do a better job of setting some stuff up and then didn’t do a good enough job of pre-reading the actual adventure part that I was ripping off to realize that a team of four would not dare to assault a ship this size considering the numbers arrayed against them. Lynch’s player made a brief reference/thought about calling in TYR, the Russian FSB Spetsnaz guy they’d encountered, but the conversation moved on and we forgot about it.

We wasted waaaaay too much time trying to figure out gear and then, once the PCs were on the boat, the players realized that they actually didn’t have much of a plan. This was partially my fault – I didn’t realize until late in the process that there were references to un-involved crewmembers on the ship and my off-the-cuff comment that it was an open secret that the ship itself was actually a SVR asset caused the PCs to (logically) presume that all of the crew were well-trained covert bad asses – and partially the PCs in that they did not actually come up with a plan before hitting the ship itself. Most of the players basically shrugged and wanted to just “figure it out as they went” but Lynch’s player sort of vapor-locked at this because he was getting frustrated (I think) at everyone else just wanting to make it up as he went.

Regardless, the team split up to take out the sentries they knew of as well as the guy on the bridge. This forced me to make an immediate shuffle of the bad guys as the adventure I was using had the bad guy “leader” there on the bridge and I didn’t want to have BRAGI die completely like a chump here. So the three bad guys went down pretty easily – stealth attacks are brutal, after all. Interestingly enough, all three went down via a different method – one was garroted, one was choked out, and one had his throat slashed open. At this point, the explosive guy broke away from the rest of the group and headed to the engineering deck so as to locate and (ideally) disarm any explosives.

As it turns out, the three other PCs had determined to rally on the very deck that their actual target was on; this was not intentional on my part, but it worked out fairly well, I suppose since it promptly devolved into a firefight. Unfortunately, Mahoney, the explosives guy, is cut off from everyone else and I didn’t have much for him to do; what I should have done is immediately engage him in a simultaneous firefight in the engineering section while the other PCs are engaged up top. Unfortunately, that didn’t occur to me at the time so the player basically sat on his thumb for too much of the session after making his EOD disarm check.

The PCs were able to take out most of the remaining hostiles easily enough, and then, as is his wont, BRAGI attempted to flee, though he was pursued and shot in the face by Baum (which meant they could not identify who was wearing the mask). I then ended the session with the PCs being aware that a missile was incoming before jumping to a sort of narrative cutscene that revealed the guy who put them on this trail in the first place was also wearing a mask and was a bad guy.

Overall, I was nominally satisfied with this run. It had some high points, some low points and some mediocre points. I don’t think the players were as engaged as I would have liked, which resulted in me not being as excited as I would have liked. I also shifted my narrative a bit about midway through, which didn’t really help that much (though I don’t think it was immediately noticeable.) In retrospect, I really think this would have worked better in a face-to-face group where I could see the faces of the other players and adjust what I was doing along the way.

Live and learn, I suppose…

GamePrep: ConsOps, 2.17

As stated previously, this latter half is heavily influenced by “The White Queen” adventure from Top Secret/NWO and I’m continuing along those lines, although I’ll likely be expanding a bit. The original narrative has the PCs sent to Riga to discuss the abduction of a Russian bioweapon scientist (who had defected to England), the drive-by shootout occurs, the Serbian guy relates his intel, and the PCs move on to the next phase which is assaulting the boat where the defected dude is being held.

I’m going to pick up immediately after we ended, with local authorities arriving after the gunplay. The Serbian is “Robin Hood” in this city and rightly feared, so I’m going to have him cow the cops and the civilians who observed the shooting. Being a relatively intelligent fellow, the Serbian – Andris Millic – is going to want to know what’s going on, especially since he will have recognized several of the other PCs due to their faces having been used in combat actions across the globe. For example, I established during last week’s game that “Baum” attempted to assassinate the prime minister of Japan, so there’s that.

During this scene, I’m also going to try and do what I intended to do last week with regards to who Andris actually met in lieu of BRAGI. His description is going to sound suspiciously like ConsOps DDO Hamilton Riggs but unless a player mentions this, I’m not going to say it out loud.

I’m toying with having another attack take place while at Andris’ safehouse, but ultimately, after he’s been paid and he points the PCs toward the next location his part is done. In the original source material, if PCs continue following him, they will observe him be assassinated later, but I’m going to leave that open.

Regardless, the next location is the Azov, a Russian-owned (FSB, actually, but that’s something of an open secret) Global-class research vessel. It is currently scheduled to depart Riga tomorrow morning. Locating the Azov in the Riga harbor is easy enough, but if approached during the day, it’s very clear that the owners, whoever they actually are, take security pretty seriously. A successful Observation check plus some time might allow a PC to observe “BRAGI” aboard with a pair of bodyguards.

Damn. I need better tactical maps than the ones I actually have. Wonder if I can avoid making this a tactical encounter entirely? I also have a couple of semi-surprises that I would like to stick in here such as the reveal that DDO Riggs has been compromised, what with him telling the PCs that his compliance will be rewarded; or that LOKI has actually been trying to defect to the US (maybe – not sold on that one yet); or that there’s a larger plan in action here that the PCs don’t know about. I especially like the idea of the Bad Guy (whoever it is) laughing as he’s bleeding out that the PCs are too late and there, on television, we see that Berlin has gone mad due to the water being infected. Ultimately, though, I want to really end the session with a bang, like maybe incoming missiles or a massive scuttling charge & the PCs are all presumed KIA …

Jeez. I just realized that this could easily be the final session for my run (which is probably kind of overdue…)

GM Commentary: ConsOps, 2.16

Well, that happened.

This session was problematic from the get-go. We got a really late start due to one of the players not showing up for almost an hour; I think we started at around 35 or 40 minutes in and then my computer seemingly froze up. Later, I would discover that this seems to be the USB hub that my wireless keyboard and mouse were plugged in, but at the time, I thought it was my computer so I had to restart. By the time we got everything functional and moving along, the errant player had joined us.

The “universe reaction roll” for the airstrike thing worked relatively well, though in retrospect, I should have been more clear about what the players could actually do during this strike because I’m fairly certain that most of the players were still confused and just rolled the dice to “get on with it.” Still, it worked fairly well.

Once the team got clear of Ta’iz, there was some discussion about them going to Berlin next … which almost caused me to panic because I was completely geared up for Riga instead. Luckily, one of the characters has Intuition and he made a roll for that, so I was able to steer them in that direction.

In Riga, things played out about as expected, although I must admit that I did not expect the firefight to be over as quickly as it was. I think it ended up being a total of three or maybe four seconds? This was one of those moments where the badassery of the PCs was very, very obvious. I think only one of my bad guys actually got a shot off before they were gunned down like punks.

During the conversation between Grayson and Andris, the Serbian guy, I made a snap decision about something in the identity of a “big bad” but it didn’t actually come up … or rather, I didn’t do a very good job of getting that information across. I’m going to try that again during the next session which involves the identity of the guy who Andris coordinated with.

It is entirely possible that I’ve only got about two sessions left … time will tell, I suppose.

GamePrep: ConsOps, 2.16

I ended 2×15 with the PCs having discovered the masks of ConsOps personnel on the bodies of those they’d taken out as well as a pack containing apparent bio-weapon material. In retrospect, I should have handled the mask discovery better – I’m finding that the phrase, ‘in retrospect, I should have…’ is in my lexicon a lot. Regardless, it’s been discovered … and crap. I just realized I haven’t worked on my recap image. Ugh. Moving on…

So, the masks have been discovered. There were nine of the hostiles, but one of them was blown up by the dropped RPG so identifying his mask is difficult and another was shot in the face by Baum, which leaves seven. I established in-game that at least one of them was wearing Phil Quinn’s face, so the five of the six are going to be Brooks, Hurt, McKay, Reilly and Vega with the last one being one of the guys from Reilly’s team that the PCs met briefly when the extracted from Egypt via the helicopter. Underneath the masks are unfamiliar faces of varying ethnicities.

One of the dead guys – let’s say it was the Vega guy – had a hardened briefcase-type thing handcuffed to his wrist. Breaking into it is going to be difficult as it’s a similar model to the one that Quinn had. It does not have much in it – a single tablet that honestly looks like a menacing red eye – but there is some other stuff that is probably of more interest, specifically a bunch of shredded material and what looks to be a salvaged internal disk drive. This latter stuff will eventually push the PCs to Riga, Latvia.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. As stated in the commentary for 2.15, I mentioned that I forgot to actually use Chana much and I’m going to immediately rectify that by having her alert them that she’s just observed multiple drones conduct a flyby. She’s trying to get a better look at them … and crap. They’re MQ-9 Reapers! Incoming fire! One of the nearby buildings abruptly explodes and the PCs have to flee now!

Cinematically, this has fantastic appeal. The PCs, plunging through the shattered city, smashing through doors or diving into ditches, and all that … it makes for great cinema. But dear God, it’s a nightmare to arbitrate. A Chase seems relatively logical at first, but in this case, they’re trying to get clear of the target site, not pursue somebody or evade someone on their tail … one of the players did something like this in Banestorm with the PCs basically trying to outrun a magical effect (a localized banestorm, in fact) where he had the storm always roll a 12 on the Chase (it always did a Move maneuver) and PCs could not be within Close when the last round ticked over. In this case, that doesn’t actually work properly, so instead, I need to determine an alternate method. Obviously, failure is bad but I need to figure out a way to avoid it just being terminally bad since, per, the AGM-114 Hellfire has 6dx20 (10) cr ex which does, on average, 420 points of damage to something it hits (maximum of 720!); that’ll ruin a person’s day really quickly.

I’ve gone back and forth over a handful of options – just when I thought I had one locked down as the best idea, something would come up to remind why it was a terrible option – and I think I’m going to just stick with something really simple: individual Universe Reaction Rolls modified accordingly. All PCs will have an arbitrary -3 on this roll because the GM is a jerk and wants to blow them up with an AGM-114 Hellfire but also because this city is a shithole and there’s always crap in the way or smoke in the air or crazy lunatics coming out of nowhere. Some other bonuses/penalties that may apply:

  • Diving into an old 1940s fridge: -15. Because that movie was stupid.
  • Dropping gear (rucksack, rifle, etc.) and running, flat-out: +2
  • Going to ground in a nearby ditch: +1
  • Insisting on staying together as a team: -1
  • Opting to not look for additional cover but instead, opening fire at the drone: -5 for you, but +5 for the rest of your team. You drew the fire of the drone operator which could end rather … messily for you.
  • Spending the extra time necessary to get that secured case off the hand of dead guy: -2 (Failing to do this means they don’t get the sample because the explosion causes it to break, but other intel inside it might be salvageable.)
  • Anything above a 13 on the result means no damage was taken by the character in question whatsoever, but the rest is adjusted according: 10-12 puts the character at about 25 yards away from the blast point, 7-9 puts them at 12 yards, 4-6 puts them at 6 yards, 1-3 puts them at 3 yards (which is very likely lethal as that’s on average 47 points of damage (with an armor divisor of 10) and a maximum of 80 points.

Now this is supposed to be happening super quickly, so let’s say … five to ten seconds to react total before the next missile hits the blast zone, so PCs need to haul ass and get out the blast zone.

Presuming no one died, getting clear of Ta’iz probably won’t be a difficult matter. I established in previous sessions that the UN and WHO personnel were already packing up, so when very large explosions occur (due to above-mentioned drone strikes) everyone really panics. Mixing into

As stated above, the material obtained from the rucksack will point the PCs to Latvia – this is probably shredded ID stuff like pictures clearly intended for use in passports, shipping manifests, etc. It’ll take a while for the PCs to reassemble this info (once they get clear of Ta’iz), but once they do, it points them toward Latvia and

RIGA, LATVIA – Meeting with “The Serbian.” 

  • This is The White Queen from Top Secret/NWO. He responds positively to Grayson, suspiciously to everyone else; PCs could get around this by only having Grayson actually meet him while the rest are loitering as backup. 
  • If informed that Vladimir is incapacitated/injured, Andros immediately begins making plans to take over his “old friend’s” organization. He’ll even hint at bringing Grayson on…
  • During this conversation, there is an attempted drive-by on Andros that can be prevented/stopped by PCs.
  • With the information provided by Andros, the PCs will be pointed toward a ship where LOKI is currently located. This requires the PCs to do another boarding action.

GM Commentary: ConsOps, 2.15

Exactly as I expected, this session was dominated by a long tactical firefight. We were down one player due to school, but his character was handled by having to deal with the persistent “don’t call them zombies” zombie attacks. That part had not been my original intent – I’d intended on the Infected to harass all of the PCs, but it just worked out this way which, in retrospect, was a mistake. I should have forced the other characters to deal with them as well, which would have ramped up the tension a bit more than it was.

There were a couple of minor preparation issues on my part where I had not added the proper gear to various hostiles. I also completely forgot to have Chana get involved via the sniping, though to be fair, the players seemed to have forgotten as well and honestly, the firefight was over in a couple of seconds, so it’s entirely possible she simply didn’t have the time to get a shot off. I’ll probably start off next week with her.

The advantage to a really long tactical firefight is that it doesn’t leave me a lot to comment on about what I screwed up since, if I jacked up something in the fight, one of the players would probably identify it. Overall, I was relatively satisfied with the firefight but less happy with the actual end. Interestingly enough, right before the shooting began, I was a little worried that it was too weighted against the PCs, but it seemed that I couldn’t begin to roll lower than a 14 on Dodge checks while the PCs themselves were relatively on fire in that regard – Mahoney especially was a murder machine, dropping five of the hostiles by himself due to good fields of fire and my above-mentioned inability to accomplish much.

This inability to hit and my error with having the Infected focus entirely on Baum sort of made this entire encounter less threatening than it should have been, which is something I need to work on with the coming stuffs. Next week, I’m anticipating that the PCs will need to get clear of Yemen – I have some other ideas for that which I’ll go into later – and then proceed on to Latvia toward the endgame.

GamePrep: ConsOps, 2.15

Planning for 2×15 looks to be relatively easy as it’s likely going to turn into a long tactical firefight. We ended last week immediately following the PCs (Brooks & Baum) defeat of an Infected lunatic local and all of the characters hearing someone exclaim “I’ve found it” from the target building. And, despite expecting Baum’s player to be out last week & him showing up, he’s confirmed that he absolutely will be out this week – naturally, right before a gunfight. That said, he’s said that in the past and still showed up so…

I’m planning on picking up from that point but adjusting it very slightly – one of the defenders is going to appear in visual to investigate the noise last week’s fight caused and then immediately alert everyone else. I’m also currently thinking of having Baum go to high ground – he’s got Climbing-15 and is the best shooter in the group (Guns (Rifle)-18) so having him go in Sniper-mode makes the most sense … unless the player shows up after all.

All of the hostiles are wearing face-concealing shemaghs, which will come into play later for my “twist”, and they’re pretty competent bad guys. That said, if more than 50% of their number go down, they begin a tactical retreat but if that is going to be tough, most of them will “hold the line” while one of their numbers tries to make a run for it with whatever he finds. This will turn out to be some of the bio-weapon but he’ll try to destroy it with an explosive before letting it fall into the hands of the PCs.

More interestingly is the potential presence of the Infected. Now normally, they would just be “background elements” but the PCs have seen firsthand that these dudes are crazy tough, so that’ll change. What I’m currently thinking of doing is simple: I’ll roll a Fate die (a d6 which has 2 +, 2 – and 2 blanks on side; Fantasy Grounds has this die built in.) On a +, an Infected crazy will charge one of the Hostiles, on a – a PC gets charged, and on a blank either nothing happens or an Infected lunatic appears on the tactical map but does not engage either side (which should indicate that not all of them are feral & insane.)

As stated previously, having this turn into a Chase could be very interesting – if I do that, I’m leaning toward it actually start out on foot, then transition into vehicles (ideally, motorcycles or ATVs). I’m not going to force this if the PCs are able to stop the fleeing guy(s) but I’m keeping that in mind as an option.

Regarding the “surprise,” well … underneath those shemaghs, the PCs are going to discover … themselves. (Well, all of them but Lynch because he never worked for ConsOps.) These dudes are a bunch of unaffiliated mercs wearing masks. PCs will discover themselves plus other members of the Team, including those who are dead. I really want a WTF? moment if possible…

Although … crap. The PCs might be able to capture one or two. I could have captured guy suicide in some fashion – grenade pins hit the ground ala Leon in “The Professional”? Or have the captured guy get sniped? Or maybe have a Yemenese attack helicopter (probably actually a Saudi one, but that’s not relevant) come roaring in and unloading all sorts of ordnance that results in a massive explosion. Hmm. I suppose I could also cut to Chana telling someone on a phone or something that “It’s done. There are no survivors.” which could theoretically hint at her being a villain in this mess (then I could roll that back the next session if I wanted to by having her warn the PCs beforehand so they’re out of the line of fire when the choppers actually come in?)

It’s doable.

GM Commentary: ConsOps, 2.14

So … we’re in Ta’iz, Yemen, and moving into the endgame. I’m very pleased that I planned something for Baum – originally, the player said he wasn’t going to be there due to school, but he’s done that to us like three times in the recent past … which admittedly, is better than saying “I’ll be there” then bailing. Anyway…

Lynch’s player threw me for a loop during his conversation with the Russian colonel, codenamed TYR, when he flat out agreed with the man to just kill LOKI instead of questioning him. I mostly blame myself for that as I didn’t really setup correctly that Lynch’s bosses would very much like to have a chat with LOKI … but then, it’s not out of the question, I suppose, that Lynch was lying. Damn. I should have asked him if that was the case. Not bothering to find out who or what LOKI is working for seems ill advised to me, but that’s fine.

Apart from that, none of the pre-city entrance stuff was really that big of a deal. Brooks got his new assignment and has been sort of burned, sort of not, exactly like Lynch; Baum learned that Egyptian forces were on-site … which reminds me that I need to add Officer el-Sisi to the blog; and … damn. I didn’t have enough for Mahoney to do. Need to work on that.

Into the city they went and I used my planned multiple encounters as written in the previous GamePrep post although it quickly became apparent to me I’d messed up slightly with encounter 2. As written, this was intended to be a fight with some infected so the PCs would learn how insane they were, but then during play, I realized it came directly after I’d asked for a Stealth check, which meant I was basically ignoring those rolls. In retrospect, we all forgot to apply Encumbrance modifiers to those rolls – everyone was in at least Light, possibly up to Heavy – but at the time, it felt wrong, so I rolled encounter 2 into encounter 3 as something optional. I also wasn’t expecting the PCs to intentionally go out of their way to avoid getting eyes on the firefights … which actually made sense, but their decision to get the two best climbers up on the roof to look down on the second of the firefights worked. They also didn’t disarm the claymore-like mine discovered in encounter 4, which surprised me, but if they find themselves in a chase, that could come into play.

So the PCs had eyes on the target location and here, everything went sideways. My tokens were out of whack on the map, and then I double-applied them because I was a dummy, but eventually, I got everything squared away. Baum’s player decided he was going to get a sample from one of the Infected bodies nearby and someone – I don’t recall who – joked that they were going to come alive like zombies. I decided that was a great idea (even though they’re not zombies!) and had Baum’s player make a “Universe Reaction roll” … which came up as Poor. So I decided one of the Infected was still alive here and stood up. This led to a much longer fight than expected because the Infected had Hard to Kill 3 … which also reminds me: I failed to post the stats for these guys.

Infected Lunatic

ST 10; DX 11; IQ 8; HT 9.
Damage 2d+2/1d+1; BL 20 lbs; HP 10; Will 8; Per 8; FP 9.
Basic Speed 5.50; Basic Move 5; Dodge 9; Parry 8.

Advantages/Disadvantages: Acute Hearing (2); Hard to Kill (3); Hard to Subdue (3); High Pain Threshold; Indomitable; Striking ST (6); Unfazeable; Bad Smell; Berserk (Battle Rage); Bestial; Cannot Learn; Disturbing Voice; Hidebound; Low Empathy; No Sense of Humor; Terminally Ill (Up to one month); Unnatural Feature (Blood-Drenched Eyes)

Skills: Brawling-11; Climbing-10; Running-8; Wrestling-10

You’ll note that these are “bare minimum” characters and I built them using GURPS: Zombies, so there’s that. The core concept of them and the weaponize encephalitis strike comes from Steven Konkoly’s Black Flagged books which … hmm. I was going to say they’re GURPS: Action taken to the Nth degree, but honestly, I think they’re more Covert Ops bordering on Black Ops from 3E (except without the supernatural angle.) The main characters in those books are not 250-points. They’re definitely closer to 500, IMO.

Anyway, despite having its neck cut three times, the Infected wouldn’t go down for a long time … which actually worked out for me as it means the Infected are no longer a “paper tiger”. So PCs now have firsthand knowledge of how tough and crazy these things are.

We ended with someone exclaiming “I found it” from the target site but, once the game was over, I realized I’d messed up again and am going to have to do a minor retcon at the beginning of next week where a Hostile steps out of concealment to investigate the noise caused by Baums & Brooks’ (still sounds like a Country music band) fight with the Infected.

Overall, I was fairly satisfied with this session, but not entirely. I needed more to do for Mahoney as he’s not done a whole lot in the last couple of sessions. Next week is probably going to end up being a protracted tactical firefight and I have a really great surprise to end on.

GamePrep: ConsOps, 2.14

On to the planning for 2×14. This one looks to be potentially a little weird based on how I want to do it. I’ve basically split this up into three phases that boil down to: The Meeting; The Infiltration; The Discovery.

I also need to have a minor retcon here: the UN is shutting down their operation here, so everyone is basically packing up (which allows PCs to move about relatively unnoticed.) This is why they were able to insert into the region so easily.

The Meeting

With this scene, I want to try and emulate the DeNiro / Pacino diner scene from “Heat” but with Lynch and TYR, the Russian Spetsnaz colonel.

To properly accomplish this, I need to find a way to split the group up for a span of time. Mahoney is already taken care of since he’s off enjoying some … private time with Chana, but breaking Grayson and Ilan off is slightly more difficult. Having Grayson see another SIS agent embedded within the UN personnel could work … but what exactly does that accomplish in this apart from a reminder that he’s been burned? Hmm … actually … what if the agent-in-question is here, knowing that Grayson was heading in this direction and is thus giving him a new assignment? I’ll have to develop that a bit more in a moment as Baum (Ilan, not Chana) is the next thing to really consider as I don’t have anything for him either. Fortunately (I suppose), the player has already indicated that there is a good chance he’ll be out due to school so if that’s the case, I don’t need to worry about it; that said, this has burned me in the past when he said there was a high likelihood of his absence so I planned for that and then he showed up. I suppose they may need to obtain some additional supplies & Ilan, being Mr. I have a 20 in Stealth could be the guy to sneak in and get them.

Okay. So presuming I can get the team split up briefly, Lynch will interact with TYR. Ideally, I’ll have Lynch and Colonel Sudokov see one another at the same time, while they’re in a crowded area full of civilians (so both are encouraged to not open fire and begin a shoot-out.) If it comes to stats, I’m just going to use Lynch’s with the conceit that these two men are basically the same. Ultimately, they want the same thing: LOKI dead. The big difference is that Lynch wants to ask the man some questions first and TYR cannot allow that because it’ll negatively impact his country in some capacity. This also gives me a chance to recycle an old idea I had that was originally going to be used for Baum back in 2×08 or so. TYR reveals that he knows “Lynch” – Lynch captured and killed the men responsible for downing an Aeroflot plane because it had three American citizens on it, one of which was a CIA officer. TYR’s son was also on that plane as the pilot and he would like to know how those men died. So Lynch has his thanks but if they meet again, TYR will very much try to kill him. (This will also alert Lynch that Spetsnaz personnel are likely in the city.)

Moving on to Grayson and adding more to my above thinky-thoughts. I believe (will have to verify with the recording) that the player said Brooks was going to check-in to let SIS know what he was planning via dead drop of some sort, in which case they could have someone actually waiting to relay info. It could even be a cut-out of some sort, maybe a UN or WHO operative who isn’t an active field agent, just someone who relays intel somehow. So, with that in mind, he’ll see someone wearing the WHO vest, but they have specifically colored laces in their boots that are tied in a certain manner alerting him to the fact that they have new intelligence standing by. This is specific to his operation – it’s how his handler(s) go in touch with him. When he makes contact & the two exchange their challenge-response dance, the doctor passes off … hmm … what? A SIM card could work that he could slot into his phone, then plugin in a password. Let’s go with that. On this SIM card is a MP4 from his handler relating: his current mission has been suspended – other assets have retrieved Vladimir from the Dubai hospital and are relocating him somewhere safe until he’s recovered; “evidence” has been seeded (for Vlad, should he regain consciousness before this op is complete) that indicate that Brooks’ Russian identity was taken into custody but escaped & is currently on the run. In the interim, Brooks is to continue on his task. SIS had been discreetly investigating his previous reports – the player and I established that, while Grayson was undercover on his last assignment, he discovered some oddities regarding ConsOps & reported it up the chain, then had to deal with an assassination attempt by a former ConsOps team member! – but now, with the US government quietly but officially disavowing the private intelligence agency, they’re taking it more seriously. SIS wants to know everything he uncovers, but warns Grayson that there are multiple other agencies doing the same thing, particularly their Cousins at Langley. He is explicitly ordered not to tell anyone else that he’s actively digging into this for SIS; as far as the rest of the world is concerned, he’s been disavowed and a burn notice for one of his cover identities will be disseminated as appropriate. Finally, he’s provided a contact number for emergency support but it is made clear that this needs to be an absolute emergency as pulling the trigger on that will blow multiple operations out of the water and likely compromise his own Vladimir op.

As stated above, this leaves Baum with nothing to do. I’ll have to ensure there’s some make-work for him should the player actually be able to show up, but that’s pretty easy.

For Mahoney, I’d also like to do something other than relate that he had some sexy-good times with Chana, but I’m not entirely sure what. Maybe have her relate to him (following the above-mentioned sexy good times) that she’s getting tired of this life and just wants to be an actual doctor? Looking at her stats, I note that she “Enjoys danger” as a quirk and has SoD to Israel, but she’s also got a CoH (Soldier) … so that might not actually work here. Maybe instead she relates to him that, during her brief return to Israel, she learned that a few of the friends she grew up with were recently killed in the continuing escalation of violence in Israel following the bombing of the American embassy earlier in my run. So she feels … frustrated that Mossad has her way the hell out here when she could be doing more back home. Plus, her mom is harassing her about kids and wants her to marry a good Jewish boy. And “Paul” is not a good Jewish boy.

Last week, I also established that Chana wants either a sample of the (expected) bioweapon or someone who is infected that they can extract back to Israel to dig into, so she’ll give Ilan some contact information that she expects him to give to Ilan that will allow the latter to contact a Metsada team that is operating in the region should the latter option present itself. She strongly recommends using this only if they have someone valuable because, since Ilan has essentially been burned, the Metsada team might just opt to shoot them all and burn the bodies. And she’d hate to lose a perfectly good booty call in the form of Mahoney. Also, she’d hate to lose her brother. Their mom would never let her live it down.

The Infiltration

Following all of this mess – which should not take up a lot of gametime – the team gets to sneak into the city. As I stated during the previous session, the “quarantine” is geared more for preventing people from coming out than people going in. Still, as the PCs are likely going in heavily armed, they’re going to want to avoid notice which calls for Stealth checks. Mahoney is the lowest guy here with his 12; everyone else has a 14 or higher. Which begs the question: what happens if they’re detected? Firefight with the UN?

It also occurs to me here that, if Ilan’s player is absent, then Lynch could deploy him as sniper overwatch. I’ll probably put that into play here should it come up with the conceit that the PCs can call in a sniper shot every other round should a fight break out. Hmm. Even if he’s actually available, I could have Chana do that anyway which I rather like.

Three of the PCs (including Grayson) have Navigation (Land) so that part’s relatively easy. Using GPS coordinates grants a bonus to this check, but the state of the city itself adds a penalty, so it comes out even. Grayson may get an additional bonus due to familiarity … although I’m leaning toward no because he hasn’t actually been here.

As I’m presuming the PCs are going in at night, they’re likely going to expect the city to be relatively inactive. What they’ll discover, however, is that people are scuttling back-and-forth all over the place. And potentially even worse is the presence of multiple spec ops teams prowling the streets. They’re all obviously looking for something. If Baum is on sniper overwatch, he’s ideal to relate this factoid (which PCs probably should expect following Lynch’s interaction with TYR.)

Something I’m currently thinking about doing is using the city grid cards from Zombies but laying them out during time of play really isn’t going to work. What I need to do instead is pre-generate various “city blocks” and then either scan them in for the game beforehand or just use them without ever telling the players. What I’m concerned about if I use them, though, is that it could unnecessarily slow down the flow. Ideally, this scene moves relatively fast. I want the PCs to hear the constant chatter of distant gunfire – since AKs are all over the place in this region – and probably see some people scurrying around in the dark. I would also really like to have the PCs actually see some of the crazier locals swarm someone or something. And I absolutely need the PCs to find some corpses and identify them as spec ops of some nation or another.

So let’s have three to four “mini-encounters” along the way. That should let me relate this information to everyone. And I can break up the monotonous “I need another Stealth roll” with some descriptions and intel gathering.

Encounter 1: Just after entering the city, sniper overwatch (Ilan if he’s unavailable, Chana if he’s not) warns them that there is some intense activity just ahead. At the same time, PCs can hear the distinct sound of suppressed firearms followed by some shouts and screams. Advancing forward allows PCs to catch the tail end of a zerg rush of Infected locals upon a team of some sort. The casualty count of the attacking locals was immense – to take out three men, probably twenty Infected locals died. The locals are armed with a wide variety of ‘whatever the hell they can pick up’ so clubs, baseball bats, kitchen knives, etc. There are only about two of the feral locals still upright, though many others are still alive; they’re just physically incapable of walking around due to a leg being crippled. Further investigation will allow PCs to (theoretically) identify these guys as Saudi troopers. Oh, and by the way? Per sniper overwatch, there are more Infected locals advancing in this direction. Stealth check required.

Encounter 2: Out of seeming nowhere, an Infected local rushes out, holding up a large kitchen knife. He targets a random PC. Treat this as partial surprise, although all PCs have Combat Reflexes so they’re not going to be caught unprepared at all. At the first sound of gunfire (suppressed or not; after all, suppressed firearms still make noise, after all), several additional Infected locals rush the PCs. This is not intended to be a drawn out pitched firefight, but rather more of a “Crap! They are insane!” Run this quickly for three rounds or so with a d6 Infected arriving per round. The Infected do nothing but All Out Attacks or Move and Attack, but have no armor and limited defenses; their strength lies in numbers and general insanity. I suppose I should post the stats I have for them … might put that on the bottom. Again, remember sniper overwatch – 1 shot every other round – and once the last of them are down, sniper overwatch tells them to get moving now because there’s another bunch of these Infected lunatics en route. Stealth check required.

Encounter 3: An abrupt explosion shatters the ominous silence and it is rapidly followed by a crapton of automatic gunfire that isn’t suppressed. Naturally, it is coming from the direction that the PCs need to go in; as they approach (or flank around or whatever), the gunfire gradually dwindles. Sniper overwatch does not have a good LOS (line of sight) for whatever is going on. Should PCs investigate, much depends on how quickly they go there – if immediately, they will discover a quartet or quintet of soldiers from different organizations fighting back-to-back against a flood of insane Infected locals. Simply based on the immediate terrain, it appears that the shooters were (initially) fighting one another but ended up back-to-back as they were eventually overwhelmed by sheer numbers. If they wait out the shooting, when they get there, they discover a mound of corpses surrounding the quartet or quintet of shooters who have all been bludgeoned or stabbed to death. There are still a bunch of Infected loitering in the immediate area, but they can be evaded with a Stealth check. If the dead shooters are investigated, they have equipment indicating that they are Saudi, Yemenese and American!

Encounter 4: PCs are on final approach to the “warehouse when sniper overwatch informs them that they (Ilan or Chana) have to relocate; not only do they not have a clear LOS on PCs location, but the Yemenese military (or Saudi – it isn’t clear) appears to be moving into his/her location. At this point, I’m going to roll a secret Vision-based Traps check for the active characters – of the four PCs, only Baum doesn’t have the Traps skill, and all of them have it at 13 or greater, so I expect this will be fine. Success reveals some camouflaged MON-50 mines (which are basically just Russian Claymores) that are clearly newly installed. Mahoney is the EOD expert and he has a 20 in it, so that’s probably not going to be an issue. The fact that they’re here, though, definitely indicates that the Russians are here as well. Moving forward without detection requires another Stealth check.

The Discovery

The warehouse in question has obviously been heavily damaged by the fighting, but more importantly, it appears to be surrounded by a team of Russians (or more accurately, they’re all inside it and using it as cover). How do they know they’re Russian? Mahoney recognizes one of them as the guy he choked out at the Embassy in Muscat, Oman! Successful Tactics check reveals that the Russians have setup in four different fireteams of two men with overlapping fields of fire (total number of eight Spetsnaz guys). Sneaking by these dudes is going to be tough … but not impossible. If the PCs don’t have any issues with getting in a pitched firefight (which hopefully, by now, I’ve shown is a very bad idea), then they can go that route. Getting past these guys is going to depend entirely on the actions of the players so I can’t really plan much for that, apart from setting up the encounter location. So … there are eight troopers outside keeping watch, while another quartet are inside the warehouse … or rather, under the warehouse. Why under it? Because that’s where the actual storage vault is located at.

I’ll have to handle this by ear according to player actions – it’s possible they’ll manage to take out the Russians without firing a shot or this might devolve into a run-and-gun slugfest. In the event that the Russians are overwhelmed, whether by a gunfight or a tsunami of Infected lunatics lured into the kill-zone, at least one of them will attempt to escape via an underground tunnel – this could theoretically lead to a foot Chase through the city if they pursue. The important thing for this guy is that he’s got a biohazard transport container. I’ll need to push toward that if I want it to happen, probably with one of the PCs seeing the guy (same dude Mahoney choked out?) ducking out of sight with the biohazard thing.

Hmm. Actually … having multiple Russians all begin withdrawing into a Chase could be interesting as well. I’d need to adjust the Chase Circumstances table to take into account the Infected swarm and potential attack by other troops in the region. I think that, if the PCs manage to halve the numbers of the Russians, they’re all going to retreat into the Chase.

Successfully recovering the biohazard container reveals that it has two odd-looking tablets inside. Mission accomplished.

And then, the Yemenese government (such as it is) begins attacking the city with attack helicopters…

So I think I’m good to go.

GM Commentary: ConsOps, 2.13

Huzzah! I finally got the car chase I’ve been wanting to do for like six weeks or so. Naturally, it ended up taking more of the session than I’d expected it to. Because of course it did. Initially, I was worried because Baum straight up ditched his pursuers due to an obstacle (that resulted in the pursuing vehicle crashing and taking out all of the guys inside), but he circled around and got back into the chase by approaching the dudes already chasing Lynch and Mahoney. This was also definitely a case where we saw how much better behind the wheel Vega was as the actual chase itself dragged out for many, many rounds because the vehicles were basically identical and the skill levels involved were all very close, so it all depended on actual die rolls.

We’ve been using the Chase Circumstances table from Pyramid 3/112 for chases and while I like it, I think that I need to tweak how it’s used somehow. One of the players introduced having some of the regular people from our Twitch stream make the checks for that and, while that worked, I don’t think that’s a good solution for the long-term because it requires the audience members to be available at all times. For example, one of the people watching went AFK briefly and he was the guy making some rolls. I wonder if maybe there is some sort of dice functionality that could be added to Twitch? Or maybe and external link to a die roller app or something? Also, I think I need to adjust the phrasing in the table to make sure it’s clear when it’s an obstacle and when it’s a stunt opportunity. We got a little confused at least once in that regard.

Looking at the Chase rules from Action 2, I also noted that the Ram maneuver is a little too streamlined – if you hit, you figure out the damage and both vehicles/inhabitants take it. However, it seems to me that if you intentionally T-bone someone – John Reese’s favorite car maneuver in “Person of Interest” – the target vehicle should probably take more damage than the rammer simply because of placement. I should look in 3E Vehicles & see if they mention that. The players kept using Force unsuccessfully & then one of them had a chance to do a Ram but opted for Force (unsuccessfully again) instead to avoid taking crippling vehicle damage (and potentially personal damage as well) which was wholly understandable since the vehicle stats were identical (so no advantage for having the “stronger” ride.) Something for me to consider.

There was a bit more debate about what to do with the incapacitated Reilly than I expected, some of it bordering on heated. Luckily, I didn’t have to step in and suggest a course of action – they opted to get the CIA doctor (who I retroactively based on Devon Woodcomb from “Chuck” – aka “Awesome!”) to a hotel/motel where he could call in CIA assets. No one really considered whether this would mean the Company might just send in cleaners. We’ve joked in the past that I’m going to do a hospital scene where Hurt wakes up and has to fend off some evil assassins, and now, there are three potential PCs for such a scene (Hurt, Reilly and the Doc) so … I may actually consider that. Could be a one-off maybe or something else entirely. Time will tell.

During the chase, Baum’s player opted to shift to Move for several rounds, which surprised me as it resulted in Brooks not being able to participate by shooting. I was already feeling a little irritated because Mahoney was basically just sitting there for the entire chase, so now there was another player just twiddling his thumbs. In retrospect, I should have had him making the attack decisions and rolls of the shooters in the trail car. At least then he would have been participating. In the course of the chase, Baum got nailed in the arm which was temporarily crippled; I (and the player as well, I think) completely forgot about this later, when the chase ended and he took a rifle shot to neutralize the fleeing driver. Ah, well.

I declared that an “unspecified amount of time” elapsed as they made their way to Yemen. At the moment, I have that down as 4 days, but I actually think it might need to be a few more than that to ensure that Baum’s arm completely heals up – reviewing the chatlog, this is HP/2 + 1 damage so 6 points for Ilan as he normally has 11hp. The doc rolled a crappy 1 for first aid recovery, so that leaves 5; they’ll need five days, not four, but this works as it puts them on 1 Mar. Regardless, they’ve arrived at Ta’iz, which (based on my research) is a nightmare of a city at the moment. The decision to have Chana Baum present was mostly for info-dump purposes – she’s essentially the “quest-giver” in this scenario. And I was mildly entertained by the back-and-forth between Ilan and Mahoney’s players regarding the latter’s relationship with the former’s sister.

So we’re finally in Ta’iz. Next week, I have some minor roleplaying in mind for the beginning of the session, then the PCs will be stealthing into the city to discover that it’s worse than they thought, especially when they discover that there are multiple kill teams on site, all after the same time thing. But that’s for the game prep post. I’m hoping Ta’iz will take a session and a half, maybe two tops, then we move on to Riga for another session and a half or two, then on to the climax…

GamePrep: ConsOps, 2.13

With the firefight from last week having taken much longer than expected, much of the stuff from the previous gameprep post stands, but as I stated in the recap for 2.12, I’m currently leaning toward starting the session with a Chase. Logically, it needs to begin with the PCs fleeing from the safehouse, but being observed by UAE/Dubai LEOs and then pursued … so, easy enough. The problem, I think, is that a regular car Chase is just kind of boring. That means I need to find a way to spice it up.

Splitting the PCs up is probably a decent way to do that, like the vehicles they have access to aren’t big enough for the entire party, so they have to split up. Looking at the stats, seems that Baum is the best Automobile driver in the group now that Vega is dead – he’s got a 15, everyone else has a 12, though Lynch also has Motorcycle at 12 – so splitting them up is viable since my pursuers aren’t going to have higher than -12 in their Driving (Automobile) either. So … three Jeeps available outside the safehouse and with four PCs + 2 NPCs (one of which is critically injured) + 1 corpse … yeah. They’d have to split up … unless they decide “Doc, you take the dead gal and the injured dead while we run that way” … in which case, the doc will be caught by the Dubai cops. And Reilly will die because he won’t get any medical attention during the time that the Doc is driving.

Regardless, a Chase happens. Cops will be in regular cars and/or motorcycles. I need to find a way to make it more than just a chase … maybe turn it into a three-way chase with the PCs, the Dubai cops, and unknown mercenaries? That seems a little out of nowhere … or does it really? If the dead CIA officer received a phone call from BRAGI or one of his operatives to ‘activate’ her, then it stands to reason that they could also dispatch other assets to ensure the job was done. Yeah. So not only is it a three-way chase with the PCs being pursued by both the local cops and unknown bad guys, but the PCs are theoretically split up into multiple vehicles … this chase could be a mess. Maybe I need to just ditch the splitting up? Or drop the cops …

Okay. Thoughts now: PCs exit from building and immediately come under fire from some mercenary-looking dudes who are just arriving in SUVs. Bad guys shots are crap at the moment, but just a look at them can tell that these dudes are not UAE personnel; they look too European (not Slavic, but European). There are two SUVs with four to six personnel in each one. And the sounds of aproaching sirens can still be heard, so having a shoot-out here is probably a bad idea. If PCs seem like they’re leaning toward that, I’ll have one of them note that a helicopter with police markings appears to be en route as well.

Who are these guys? Just mercs. They’ve been paid a crapton of money to take out these dudes. Enough money that they could risk Dubai LEOs. So … Chase happens.

And then, once they manage to escape, the PCs can do whatever it is they’re going to do that lets them head toward Yemen and Ta’iz. I covered a lot this in the previous GamePrep for 2.12.