Summary of my most recent session of 3:16 Carnage Amongst The Stars...
Planet Name: Holbein
Planet Description: High Humidity
Alien Description: Rays, Sharks, or Fish
Alien Special Ability: Reduced Visibility
We started the session thinking we were going to be down a player. Mark, who plays Captain DeMolay, had a prior engagement in the real world at his Mason's Lodge - or as close to the real world as one can consider a Mason's Lodge to be. :) Anyhow, he wasn't going to be at the game, so I didn't need to come up with a detailed dossier of the planet. He was off taking an officer's training course (since he started the campaign as a Corporal)... and Major Schwimmer at the Battalion HQ had ordered the troops onto the planet. With Mark at the game, as a Captain, it's all about the whole Company. But with him absent, and the next highest-ranked PC merely a Sergeant, we were back on a Platoon-level dynamic.
They were deployed with Lt. Courson, a timid, largely incompetent junior officer who seemed much less interested in fighting the enemy than in illuminating the platoon with art-history factoids about Hans Holbein the Younger. (My wife and I had recently watched the Tudors, which had jogged my memory of Hans "Photographer of Henry VIII" Holbein from art school all those years ago, so this was a decidely simple and wicked improvisation on my part.)
We were just finishing up the first fight when there was a knock at the door. Mark's Lodge event ended early. So, a drop-pod lands as the fight is petering out, and the Captain and his APC roll out of it.
Suddenly I'm looking at having to morph back to the Company level, but I've got nothing prepped about what the other Platoons are doing. Keeping in Trope, I described it as your typical military SNAFU. Their sticks were scattered, and High Command hadn't given anyone the whole picture of what was going on. Boy was the Captain pissed. The plot just created itself, I barely needed to do a thing.
The aliens were big three-tailed flying manta rays with tubular mouths that could swallow a man's head. Their tails had electrical / plasma discharge capabilities.
There were also tall alien plants that grew in triple-clusters and had similar fronds to the tail-ends of the mantas. I intentionally used similar terminology in describing the plants and the mantas. I was prepping to reveal that the plants were actually super-large mantas half-submerged and hibernating. As is the nature of improvised games, however, sometimes you don't get to follow up on the trails you blaze. My bread-crumbs turned out to be red herrings, largely by virtue of the fact the PCs never followed up on the hints.
Players did ask about what the mantas ate when they weren't trying to suck the helmets off of Troopers in the 3:16th. So, I improvised some large three-legged gilled bunny rabbits. Gills (and mantas) because the atmosphere here was thick and watery. So thick and watery, you couldn't hit a target at far range.
The Special Ability of "Reduced Visibility" was next-to-worthless. It's not like PCs ever want to be at Far Range anyhow. It's total affect was to deprive one PC of one possible roll from her Rocket Pod once. Lame. Only one PC ever took any serious injuries, and I handed out fewer purple hearts than ever before.
Planet-side, the aliens went down super-fast. That did leave us with time to work out some plot elements back on the ship, though.
In previous sessions, the PCs had been almost haunted by a fellow Trooper named Watkins. Watkins was an NPC goof-off in the first session, who went AWOL in the second and had tried to lead the PCs away from their platoon a la //Going After Cacciato//. It didn't really work, and the PCs ended up leaving him to his fate. There'd been sightings of him ever since. He stole an alien ship with cloaking technology, and tries contacting his old unit from time to time. When the PCs struggled against shape-shifting aliens ("Sirens" with "Induce Weakness" from "Planet Klimt"), Watkins ended up falling in with the shape-shifting survivor(s). And recently, on planet Caravaggio, he'd sent them a message indicating that these shape-shifters had replaced Major Schwimmer (their own former Company Commander, who'd given the orders this session that scattered the Company and pissed off PC Captain DeMolay). If this was true, then the real Major Schwimmer would be hidden, starving, in the air ducts or engineering bowels of their own troop ship.
So they get back to the ship, and DeMolay orders a couple of his closest Non-Coms into the air ducts to hunt for the real Schwimmer. An amusing set of failed NFA rolls followed, and I eventually narrated that 24 hours had passed since the NCOs had been sent on their task, and they still hadn't checked back in. So MPs were sent into the ducts to find them, but they didn't immediately succeed, either. Must be a real maze in the old girl. Eventually, the PCs find Schwimmer, and the MPs find the PCs and Schwimmer. They all get back out with only a little bit of engine radiation poisoning, and only a few instances of having to defecate inside a jeffries tube. Guess you had to be there.
They've tested his DNA and are certain that this Schwimmer is the genuine article. So, I expect my next session will start a little differently than normal. It'll play out like a "Caper" film, with the PCs kidnapping and executing the shape-shifter so the real Schwimmer can take his rightful place. It'll take some stealth and cleverness to set things right without exposing the fact that they've all been playing kinda loose with that whole "no fraternizing with the enemy" rule. Should be fun.