Definitely time for the panic to start setting in, I guess?
Continuing my thoughts regarding this still mostly theoretical Banestorm run.
As stated way back when, my next Saturday Fantasy Grounds game is going to be the third “chapter” of our ongoing GURPS Banestorm game, “Embers of Defiance” once the current campaign, Earthfall, comes to a pause which will be, at the most, in 10 sessions from now so … late October. If last year is any indication, we’ll probably end up needing to take a hiatus due to half of the group disappearing for holiday reasons, though that might not actually be the case this year. Time will tell.
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…
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…)
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.
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 RPG.net, 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.
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.
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?)
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.
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.