Sunday, November 21, 2010

Planet Warhol

I'm very pleased with tonight's session of "3:16 Carnage Amongst The Stars", and I should be because I provoked my players into fragging a superior officer. You know you're doing something right as GM when your players decide to take a dangerous and unnecessary action with possible consequences, just because the NPC was so vile.

In the first couple sessions, I saddled them with an incompetent but well-intentioned rookie Lt (Lt Courson) in charge of their platoon. They handled him pretty well, with the PC NCO's pretty much calling the shots and placating him as needed. They did eventually get him shot up a bit, but it was by accident. 

While that soft and incompetent officer was off recovering aboard the Hospital Frigate, I decided to give them a taste of a hardnose bastard commanding officer. Lt Tertius was a fun little role-playing challenge, as he insulted, badgered, overworked, threatened, and endangered the men and women under his command.  It only took about three hours of harsh taskmaster (with a side of reckless kill-stealing psychopath) to push them past insubordination and on to murder. Three of the five PCs worked together to smuggle a bomb into his kit bag, and the other two probably would have contributed to the cause if the opportunity had provided itself. So long Lt Tertius.

The officer-icide (and the events leading up to it) was the biggest portion of the night. There were aliens, too, of course, because it's 3:16. Planetside stats were:
  • Planet Name: Warhol (Badly mispronounced as always, in this case it was War-Hole)
  • Planet Type: Desert 
  • Alien Concept: Ooze (Black oily goo with eyeballs. In small clusters it could fly.)
  • Alien Ability: Highest PC FA-1 (which put them in at a "6")
  • Alien Special Power: Lasting Wounds
"Lasting Wounds" means that PCs don't get opportunities to heal between battles. Per the rules, the GM is free to narrate whatever he or she feels is an appropriate explanation for why they can't heal: Could be poison, acid, or flesh-eating infection, or it could be the aliens cut your supply lines and leave you stranded without medical support. I decided to think outside the box. Since the new Lt was so dreadful, I figured some conflict between him and High Command could result in the Platoon not having the proper supplies. So, technically, the alien's special attack was actually Lt Tertius' special attack.  I don't think that was actually a factor in them killing him, though, they just really didn't like him.
An aside about the evil Lt:
Tertius was inspired mostly by Lt Spiers of Band of Brothers, with the arrogance of Capt Sobel (from the same show).  The former made the men fear him, the later just made them hate him. Combining those two characters gave me some real easy handles on how to play the Lt when in tough situations, which the platoon was in plenty of before they decided to frag him. I was able to riff and improv pretty well, including an awesomely explosive dressing down aimed at Trooper Hur (Laura's PC) for not yet starting on the task that the other NCO PCs had failed to order her to do. I was very proud of the sheer in-character unfairness of that situation, and my ability to seize the opportunity and unload on her. My goal with this game is to keep my GM prep down to next to nothing and improvise wildly (which is the conceptual opposite of my ongoing Continuum game), so it's not like I had a clue before that scene that the "eyeball argument" was going to happen.

I'm a little sad to Lt Tertius go, since he was fun to play and quite a good antagonist. If those players hadn't worked together like that, I probably could have justified keeping him around for a while, but when 3 PCs make multiple rolls each to betray an NPC, they should be rewarded for taking such a strong stance and a big risk. If just one of those rolls had failed... they'd have been in for the fight of their lives. The Lt had some pretty ridiculous armament and medals (he'd been demoted for insubordination himself, because he fired a Starkiller in the previous system against orders), and had nearly killed one of the PC sergeants before.
The final conflict with the aliens went down in less than 1 round. I put my last 10 tokens on the table for a big confrontation, and while most of the players were still declaring "FA" or "NFA" one of them blew a Strength to end the fight before it could start. That was certainly a sensible decision (that PC was Crippled and had burned his Armor defense) at the time, but it was a little surprising. Previously, flashbacks haven't been brought in to play until fights were almost over, as everyone wants to avoid using them if they don't have to. If not for the Lt murder yet-to-come, this one-flashback-takes-all preemptive strike would have been anticlimactic. Let that serve as a warning to other 3:16 GMs, if you put all your eggs in one basket, the players will upend and smash it. There's a reason why they strongly suggest never putting more chips into a single fight than 2x the # of PCs.

In other noteworthy scenes, there was a possible minor contact with Pvt Watkins (an NPC who went AWOL on the last planet and was presumed dead) flying an alien shuttlecraft from the previous planet  - at least one PC thought that's what happened, and took measures to leave a message for him. More on that down the road... and there might also be some fall-out on killing an officer.

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