Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Planet Caravaggio

Quick summaries of a recent (not the most recent) session of my 3:16 Carnage Amongst The Stars campaign.

Planet Name: Caravaggio
Planet Type: Gas Giant
Alien Type: Mineral-Based Forms (Silicon Centipedes)
Alien Special Ability: Exploding Bodies

Caravaggio was our first session with Captain DeMolay, a PC, leading the entire Company. So, things were very different. Instead of the usual piss-poor briefing by a distant commanding officer, I gave the ranking PC a full-page write up on the planet, the aliens, and a list of possible targets within the area his Company was being detailed to. I let him choose the targets and their priority/order, assign the platoons as appropriate, etc. Overall, I was very pleased with the way that worked out, and the impact it had on the feel of the game. It more than doubled my prep time for the session, but seemed well worth it (and that still meant that it took about 30 minutes GM prep time total, so it's still the easiest campaign I've ever had as a GM).

The inter-personal conflict rose to it's highest levels in this session, both within and without the party.  The new Captain made a few enemies. He got yelled at by an NPC Major for questioning orders, and an NPC officer below him accused him of racism. He side-stepped the senior NPC NCO for promotion to Company Sergeant, giving that post to PC instead (which was great). Later, he demoted that PC from the post, and gave it to another PC. Enemies everywhere. They even discovered that there was a very good chance that their former CO (the Major that chewed out the PC Captain) had been kidnapped and replaced by shape-shifting aliens from a few sessions back. The plot was on overdrive this session.

The aliens were silicon centipedes, crawling around on floating cities hovering within a gas-giant. They had exploding bodies, which was foreshadowed by these sacs on their backs expanding. All together, it made for a wealth of striking imagery. I was quite pleased with that.

I must say the Exploding Bodies power is huge. Most of the Alien Special Abilities have struck me as anemic or under-powered. This one, however, coupled really well with a low AA rating. I twice threatened a TPK, both times immediately following rounds where the PCs just chewed the monsters up. Players had to invoke Strengths to avoid me wiping out the entire party. I suspect that this is one of the best Special Abilities in the game.

On a related note, there is a question of timing. Can exploding bodies be invoked at any point during the combat round? Just on the alien's action? As a response to a successful attack by the players? At the end of the round? If you can activate it more than once per round (like each time the PCs kill an alien) that'd be a sure-fire TPK and a guaranteed failed planet. I didn't abuse it that way, but in retrospect, in the late campaign such abuse might be necessary to make the PCs ever choose to use a Starkiller or Orbital bombardment. The most broken interpretation of the power might not actually be broken, but since the rules were vague and didn't weigh in on the topic, I made a point of not testing it at my PCs expense. I wish the rules had covered it.

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