Monday, January 3, 2011

Planets Picass0 and Cezanne

It was pointed out to me at this week's 3:16 Carnage Amongst The Stars game that I didn't blog about last week's 3:16 game. So, here's two birds with one wordy stone...

Last week, the platoon was sent to help the 3:15 out of a bind. Captain Schwimmer told them that their real goal should be to make the 15th look bad. "They need rescuing, and we don't want them to ever forget who had to haul their butts out of the fire."

Planet Name: Picass0
Planet Decription: Asteroid Belt
Basic Creature Form: Artificial Lifeforms
Alien Special Ability: Isolate

The asteroid belt was designated Picass0. The planets of the same system were Picass1 to Picass7. Perhaps I'm taking the mispronounciation bit a bridge too far. The Picass system was inhabited by Robots, who'd apparently detonated their own homeworld for better mining access. They had gravity-weapons, robo-factories, 7 different chassis types, and a cultural fetish for self-modification. Some of the encounter took place at the robot equivalent of tattoo parlors. At one point Lt. Demolay got pierced with a glowing neon bit... as long as it was stuck into his armor, his com channels were overloaded with a constant stream of "1100101001000111001010001001001011111010011010111...." which I shouted at a volume and rate that probably annoyed my neighbors. Because shouting a faux military briefing with a bad southern accent about a place called Pick Ass Zero wasn't annoying enough, apparently. Not sure what I was thinking...

In fact, I was in improvisational overdrive that session, managing to somehow merge every previous improvised plotpoint together as though it almost was an intentional plot. Except, had any of it been planned, it wouldn't have been quite so ridiculous. So AWOL Trooper Watkins really was hidden amongst the 3:16 fleet, in a cloaked alien vessel hanging off the side of one of the Troop Carriers, with his shape-changing alien girlfriend. Maybe when Trooper Pudaguluk saw Watkins riding on a dinosaur a few planets back that wasn't just space-madness. Maybe. Or, perhaps the one and only PC that had this talk with Watkins aboard the invisible spaceship was herself suffering from space-madness.

I thought I'd just leave it there, to be mysterious, but of course no battle plan survives contact with the PCs. At the start of this session, they insisted on searching the ducts and crawlspaces of the ship, trying to track down whether or not Watkins and his alien sweetie were actually on board.  If my players wanted to pretend this was some sort of investigative game, and not just a campaign about firing overpowered weaponry at helpless hordes of aliens, who am I to disillusion them? So today I threw them a bone. There was a traumatized MP bound and gagged and tucked away inside the duct work. This satisfied their investigative streak enough. They raised the alarm, and then passed the mystery ball across the court to other NPC MPs to run it to the endzone.

Time for the action to go planetside again.

Planet Name: Cezanne
Planet Description: Temperate World
Basic Creature Form: Furred
Alien Special Ability: Unused

3:16 takes about 10, maybe 15 minutes of prep-work on the GM's part per session. Which is especially great for the month that includes X-mas, New Years, my wife's birthday and our wedding anniversary. However, that busy schedule lead to me being quite lazy and establish some bad GMing habits. I've been starting my prep work closer and closer to the actual session every week. Today, due to a bus scheduling snafu, one of my players ended up arriving over half and hour early to the session... and I hadn't yet done any prep. My bad.

As a result, the planetary portion of the adventure was largely incoherent, and largely a pastiche of Warner Brothers cartoons. I have no one to blame but myself. I went to describe the aliens. Since I hadn't done any prep, I just rolled with the sample in the rulebook for "Furred Creatures", being large fuzzy humanoids with ammo bandoliers and shotguns. Someone said "we're fighting wookies?" and I countered with "more like that big red furry monster that sometimes chased Bugs Bunny". It was downhill from there.

They were packing shotguns. As a long-time fan of Cyberpunk 2020, Logan's Run, and any setting or system with oddball alternative weapon load-outs, I mentioned in the first round of fighting that the aliens were using these large drum-fed shotguns with each shell being a different type. One guy got hit with flechettes, the next with a slug, then a proximity-detonating explosive round, then a compressed monowire round that ripped a man apart from inside (40k fans will recognize this as a variation off the "Harlequin's Kiss"). And then I foolishly said to the PCs that I'd let them narrate what sort of round hit them any time they took damage. They nobly started with taser rounds, but the ACME catalog kicked into high gear before the second turn of the fight was over. There were micro-drills and rocket nets, chemical tracer rounds that dyed your skin, shells that unpacked into tiny robots that sat on your head and hit you in the face with a hammer, and other patently absurd ideas. Again, it was all my fault. If I'd just done my homework before the game, instead of pushing it off to the last possible minute...

I think it was still enjoyed by everyone, but there wasn't the slightest pretense of suspension of disbelief this week.

Enemy Artillery and other Big Guns
In both of these last two sessions,  I made the mistake of narrating enemy artillery. It was just for color, but both times it lead to the PCs capturing the enemies big guns, and attempting to turn it on the aliens. Good for them, but bad for the mechanics.

The first time I tried to make it hard on them, requiring several NFA rolls to load, aim and fire. As it played out, I realized this just further emphasized the existing problem that NFA is so much better than FA. So on the second planet, I just hand-waved it, and let a normal FA roll cover it. Less realistic, perhaps, but given that it was ACME artillery, I clearly wasn't letting realism get in our way.

For kills from the Artillery: on Picass0 they did 3d20. On Cezanne they did d100. I wasn't completely happy with either. Was I rewarding the players for thinking outside the box, or just reducing the earned bonuses of those who'd already invested in their own heavy weaponry? Here I am grousing one week that the d100 E-Cannon is too good, and the following weeks giving all the PCs special opportunities to roll something equivalent. Again, I blame my procrastination, if I'd put a little forethought into it, I could have at least avoided the problem in the second week (ie: today).

E-Cannon House-Rule, a related aside: For the E-Cannon and Rocket Pod we've settled on using the modified "low roll" d100. You roll two d10s and read them like percentile dice, but with the lower roll always being the 10s place. So a "7" and "1" is always "17" and never "71". 88, 89, 99, and 100 are still possible critical successes, but more reasonable rolls are going to come up more often. It's fast and easy, has memorable big power swings that encourage good stories, and yet mostly keeps these guns from completely dominating every firefight. We've used it in two sessions, and everyone loved the change.

So, of course, the PC who first got a d100 weapon again makes his Promotion roll, and becomes a Captain. Promotion to Captain rank includes the acquisition of the coveted "TPK Bomb" a nuclear hand grenade that could well do 5d100 kills in a single action. Apparently, the E-Cannon wasn't busted enough...

3:16 is a deeply unfair, highly competitive game. I must admit, that's part of the charm.

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