Yesterday's session of 3:16 Carnage Amongst The Stars was the biggest challenge the PCs have faced yet. They actually had to rely on orbital bombardment, whereas on all previous planets, mere Strengths and Weaknesses were enough to get out of the trouble.
Now, before we could get to the planet in question, there were some amusing hijinks involving ol' Sarge Harrington (a PC) and the captured alien stealth ship. This was the ship that the deserter Watkins (an NPC) had been using to shadow the fleet. In the final scenes of the last session, two of the PCs had captured Watkins and his alien vessel. But no one could figure out how to turn off the ship's stealth tech. It was invisible, and cloaked, even from the inside, and self-cleaning. Poor sarge was sent aboard it to try to figure out how it worked, and had a heck of a time trying to get back out of it again. He was actually listed as MIA, and rescue teams sent back to his last known coordinates, a few lightyears behind the fleet. Very amusing, since he was never more than 20 feet from where they'd last seen him. Got him so nervous about that, though, he did a lot of damage to the interior and hatches of the stealth ship trying to get out of it.
After much hilarity, I eventually moved the plot along to the Company being deployed planet-side.
Since Captain DeMolay (a PC) had last session been promoted to Major, I now had more Threat Tokens in play, and fluff-wise the PCs were sent on a more important mission. Their troop ship would approach the next system powered-down, and well in advance of the rest of the fleet. Their objective was to capture the alien tower complex that was believed to be the control site for the planetary defenses.
Planet Name: Rubens
Planet Description: Pleasure Planet
Alien Description: Advanced Humanoids
Alien Power: Ambush
I went with the old Star Trek trope of the super-advanced race or planet that looks primitive, and remains peaceful unless really provoked. The system was defended by kill-satellites that implied a powerful culture once resided here. However, aside from three very tall (I compared them to the Tower of Babel, but in triplicate) high-tech towers in a tight cluster at one location, there were no signs of industry or technology on the planet itself. Medieval agricultural communities, populated by peaceful and primitive people. The aliens stood 7 to 8 feet tall, but weighed only 90 to 120 lbs. Graceful, elfin, feminine, and dressed in quaint pre-industrial clothing.
The PCs arrive by drop ship, and just slaughter the alien village near the tower complex. No resistance, just chaos and xenocide. A few aliens flee inside the towers, and once the players figured out how to use the local door tech, they pursued them. But again, the "second wave" of aliens inside were likewise slaughtered without raising arms. The only weapons the PCs had seen was one farmer with a pitchfork, and he died before he could even threaten with it.
The Company starts moving up the tower. As they progress further, they see more and more signs that the towers just aren't used. Other than the bottom floor, the rooms are mostly empty, and most of the work stations and computers are covered with dust. The locals are just poor dumb peasant folk. The players all start talking about how it feels bad to slaughter aliens that have no defenses, even if it's exactly what their characters would do.
And do so they did. An alien appears in the room with the bulk of the PCs unit. Arms out, he tries to talk to them in a musical voice, and they blow him apart with a Machine Gun at point-blank. Down at ground level, more aliens arrive on pack animals and with wagons. They too try to talk to the Troopers, and are mowed down.
The terrain around the towers changes color a few times. I was going for the "mood planet" approach to pleasure planet. I also threw in a couple subtle references to that episode of Star Trek where the planet manufactures everything you imagine. There was a rabbit (with a stop watch) sighting that hinted at it, and reinforced the surrealist elements I've been bringing into the campaign. It worked reasonably well, though I don't think any of my players caught the references overtly (other than to Alice in Wonderland, which was only one level of it). Real combat was about to break out, and when it did, all curiosity about the properties of the planet became secondary to just surviving.
Again, aliens appear in the room. They just "sparkle in" to the midst of the unit, touch one NPC, and "sparkle out" taking the unprepared Trooper with them.
I gave the PCs a few moments to worry about it, and then came the next wave. I activated the Ambush power, and aliens teleported in. They're still dressed as peasants, but clearly possess powerful transporter tech, and a few of them have some sort of energy weapon seemingly built-in to the fingers. Just point and burn. The Ambush does 1 "kill" to each PC, and messes up the NPCs in the unit pretty good. Like aliens teleporting away with people's limbs. The PCs counter-attack in the second round wipes them out without further harm, but it was clearly unnerving.
No way to track where the aliens teleported from, so there was little choice but to continue searching the towers. Room by room, level by level.
After several more floors of emptiness and dust, suddenly the first NPC trooper I'd abducted is returned via teleport. Except there's some sort of tattoo or tracery on his face now, like celtic knotwork in blue and green all over his skin.
He speaks: "People of Earth. Your aggression will not be tolerated. You do not wish to awaken a slumbering giant. You have four hours to vacate our planet peacefully, or your species will be eradicated from the galaxy." Immediate attempts a further parlay when south, and ended with most of the party being damaged by the grenade that killed the brainwashed/tattooed NPC trooper.
Clearly, medieval farmers these guys are not.
So now the PCs are nervous, and start debating whether or not to call in an orbital bombardment and bug out off-world. They're almost out of Strengths, and I've still got a ton of Threat Tokens, enough to pull about 4 more ambushes easily. So, the last-ditch bombardment starts looking pretty good.
Problem is, orbital bombardment does 1 damage to each PC, and armor is useless against it. So if they call down the nastiness, a couple of them will have to either use Weaknesses or die. They call the ship, and tell it to risk coming closer to the kill-satellites so that it can bombard and/or extract, as needed. They bring in the Platoon Medic (Doc Bubba, an NPC that has been in every session thus far), and line up for healing. I choose to hit them with the next ambush in the middle of it.
Given their wound status, and the recent out-of-character discussion about how armor can't stop an Orbital Bombardment, they all choose to take the Ambush wounds on their armor, and leave their health-boxes for the bombarment. So, aliens teleport in, touch people, and span off with large portions of their Mandelbrite Power Armor. Half the platoon is now half-naked.
Doc Bubba, sadly enough, loses not just her gloves and sleeves, but both hands and forearms. The PC she was treating grabs the stumps and tries to save her with an NFA roll (he had an 80% chance of success) but fails.
The Company returns fire, and gets a lot of successes, so the PCs narrate that they're figuring out how to predict the teleport targets by the shimmering just before the aliens arrive. The Major intends to call down the bombardment in the midst of this, but his player forgets its an NFA roll instead of FA, and declares the wrong skill at the start of the round. Too busy shooting, and dodging, he can't call in his coordinates. That leaves the aliens fighting long enough for one of the PCs to get hit for his last health box, and has to invoke a Weakness to live. Old Sarge Harrington has a weak ticker, and collapses from a heart attack. He survives, but is left for dead.
The next round, the Major gets the right skill selected, and rains down holy hell on the tower complex. This eliminates all the remaining threat tokens from the planet, and scores him d1000 kills. He rolls the d10s in sequence: 0, 1, and 3. So, massive destruction and terrain devastation, but only 13 enemies killed!
The teleporting aliens vanish. The kill-satellites all power down. Long range scanners reveal no life signs on the planet save what's left of the PCs company, most of who are buried under the collapsed towers. No clue where the enemy went.
In 3:16, if you use any of the really big weapons, such as the Orbital Bombardment or the Star-Killers, you have to make an NFA roll after the session to avoid being demoted. Early in the campaign, I made a point of this by giving them an NPC commander who was busted down from Colonel to Lieutenant for blowing up yet another habitable world.
DeMolay has NFA of 9 this late in the campaign. Even better odds for his NFA roll than Sarge had when he was trying to save Bubba. So, of course, DeMolay's die comes up a "10". The brass busts him down from Major to Captain for what they see as cowardice and a gross misappropriation of resources, as giving a plasma-bath to an entire continent only resulted in 13 confirmed kills. Them's the breaks.