Monday, November 8, 2010

Planet Matisse

This is a summary of my second session of 3:16 Carnage Amongst The Stars, which I ran just over a week ago. I would have written this sooner, but I've been really sick.
  • Planet Name: Matisse
  • Planet Description: Mountainous Terrain
  • Basic Creature Form: I think they were supposed to be "Mineral-based forms" but somehow I made them humanoids with weird ears. It made sense at the time, but I can't put my finger on the logic just now. Not sure which I should cross off the list.
  • Alien Special Ability: Swarm (After each alien attack, the range is set to Close)

The PC's platoon set down in a hot LZ on an agricultural terrace just outside a fairly primitive alien mining city. The aliens tech was mostly about WWII level, except that had various digging and tunneling machines that greatly exceeded that - though with sort a pulp idiom, big screws and drills. The aliens they were fighting weren't an organized force, but rather more militia-like with very irregular armament.

There were tunnels, so I figured I'd hit the Viet Nam trope of the by-the-books Lt who insists all tunnels must be searched. I got clever with this, splitting the party into 3 sections, and running a simultaneous battle amongst them all with three piles of 2 Alien Tokens each. It was a nice idea, and allowed me to split the party without making anyone sit out for long. Given the free and abstract mechanics of the game,  though, I'm not convinced 3 piles of tokens was actually a better choice than just 1 pile of 6 tokens. It worked well, but I think I could have accomplished the same thing via narration without the mechanical twist. That's an important lesson for next time the party splits up.

After that diversion, the PCs were supposed to fight there way into town and meet up with Bravo Company, which had been deployed by drop-ships into the heart of the town to capture the hospital. An ambush stalled out the platoons advance, so an NPC runner (Trooper Watkins, who'd been clowning around and served as comic relief on the previous planet) was sent to communicate with Bravo and tell them of the delay.

Watkins comes back with several dozen alien children - whom he'd said Bravo company had been killing for fun at the Children's Hospital. I was trying to create an opportunity for a moral quagmire, something akin to the burned village that defines the characters and allegiances in the movie Platoon. Instead, my players found it really easy to kill children as long as doing so seemed to be in line with their orders. Not nearly so much pathos and agony as I'd been hoping for.

In the midst of it all, Watkins goes AWOL, and the incompetent Lt gets shot up pretty bad by another alien ambush. The PCs give chase to Watkins, who leads them into the bowels of the planet. As the session progressed, it was revealed that the surface culture was actually the alien's slums, that the wealthy lived below the surface, and may have more or better tech than was encountered up topside. They found some "F"s shaped out of tape on tunnel walls. The PCs are in Foxtrot company, and there was a scene earlier were Watkins was taping a weapon to his armor - so they concluded that this meant Watkins wanted them to follow him. This was an attempt to riff on "Going After Cacciato", where the platoon's goof-of leads the main characters on a chase that takes them away from the war.

Just as I was starting to explore that, though, I realized I had less than 45 minutes left to the session, and was on my last pile of Tokens for the Aliens. I didn't know how to really wrap up the conquest of the planet in that time, but I didn't want to stop to think. The point of an improvised game like this is to keep the plot movie. If you start to stall out, start the shooting instead. It is a War game, after all. So I threw the final battle at them... without really thinking that this made the F's now seem like the bait of a trap, like Watkins had turned traitor. So much for Cacciato...

It was all just happening too fast, the need to wrap up a planet per session seems to conflict with the otherwise totally loose and improvisational nature of the game. I think it's intended to be a framework to hang your improvisations off of, the type of limitation that breeds creativity. For me, though, it's actually the biggest sticking point with 3:16. The system plays very fluid and intuitive, and the action is certainly rapid-fire enough, but trying to cram an entire alien world into just 4 hours and 25 tokens is really hard. The final battle resolved, which meant the last PC to take out a Token gets a medal, and the planet is supposed to be pacified. Narratively speaking, though, we weren't really at a point where the enemies surrender would make any sense.

So I blew up the planet.

I sounded a retreat, and reported that High Command was going to use a star killer missile. Due to the PCs driving so deep into the undercity, they'd uncovered that the enemies were more technologically advanced than initial reports had indicated. Those above them decided that exploring the subterranean expanses of the planet would produce unacceptable casualties, and long-term occupation was unfeasible. Imploding the enemy star was the best option. Or at least the best way, off the top of my head, to end that adventure right there.

I really like 3:16, but it's gonna take some getting used to this whole "each session is a new planet" concept. The mechanics of the game are really built around it, so I don't want to just toss the idea, I'd like to figure out how to get the most out of it as a GM. I'm choosing to step up to this challenge. I'll let you know how it goes.

No comments: