Monday, March 21, 2011

Planet Pollock

Yesterday's session of 3:16 Carnage Amongst The Stars went rather well, despite some big interruptions (relatives calling in the middle of the game), and a patently absurd Alien Power.

Planet Name: Pollock
Planet Description: Forest
Alien Description: Sentient Planet
Alien Power: Stop Technology

Some tough choices on the planet description, based on what little is left to me on the charts. Pretty much all that's left are the things I'd intentionally put off.

Sentient Planet was avoided until now because it didn't particularly mesh well with the kills system, and what they represent in game. Since PCs gain medals and level-ups based on number of kills, exactly what counts as an "alien" and what counts as a "kill" is important. If literally the whole planet is out to get you, then every tree, blade of grass, or songbird could be a kill. That was a can of worms I didn't want to mess with when the campaign was just getting going. At this stage in the game, though, we have no illusions about the mechanics. They don't particularly represent any sort of reality you can apply logic too, and we all know it. As a result, I didn't have to worry much. Everybody took it in stride that they were getting the normal kill counts despite such a target-rich environment. Man, this game is weird.

Stop Technology is an alien special ability that I specifically held off using till late in the campaign. I figured the ability to shut-down TPK Bombs, Kinetic Energy Fields and Drop Ships used by high-rank late-game PCs was a lot better than just knocking out the meager arms of early-campaign Troopers. In retrospect, I'm not sure that was the right decision. For one thing, the point of going up in rank is that it unlocks all these cool "toys", so taking them away (even for a session) is more frustrating than fun. Plus, it wasn't as effective as I'd imagined it to be. This deep into the campaign, the PCs have really high FA and NFA stats. So, taking their guns away didn't do much. The PCs won the dominance rolls, and would set the fights at Close where they could use Hand-To-Hand. They then succeeded with nearly every attack roll, so the fights were short and favored the PCs just as much as normal.  Had I sprung "Stop Technology" back when the PCs stats were lower, they would have had to retreat or expend a lot of flashbacks. Using it late in the campaign, the only real impact was on the kill-count.

 Like "Sentient Planet", "Stop Technology" also reminds us clearly how the game rules don't represent reality well. There's dozens of questions that one needs the answers to in regards to this ability, but the game doesn't offer any answers. If my power-armor is shut down, am I immobilized? If a drop ship is "stopped", does it crash and kill everyone?  If our technology is stopped, can we still call an Evac or Orbital Bombardment? It gets even weirder when you try to apply logic to how or what is stopping the tech. EMP effects seem likely to shut down computers and vehicles, but probably wouldn't stop a slug-rifle (we decided it must have an electrochemical solenoid trigger). Some sort of air pollution or environmental effect shouldn't stop air-tight items that worked just fine on atmosphere-less asteroid belt or beneath the surface of the water planet a few sessions back. There's a lot of hand-waving in your typical 3:16 session, and this power just amplifies that. Suspension of disbelief takes some effort.

Which is why I've been putting in sub-threads and hints (sometimes really overt hints) that the PCs are actually insane. This session was tied for the most overt and unsubtle I've ever been. The PCs now have reason to believe they might actually be in an mental institution. Various "PTSD hallucinations" they've been having suggest they are actually being interrogated by FBI and DHS heavies. I gave them the Jack Bauer treatment, as a gaggle of officials at the insane asylum tried electroshock therapy, drugs, and torture to get the PCs to reveal where they put the dirty bomb that endangers 10 million residents of LA. At this point, I slide back and forth between these two realities, with the PCs either fighting aliens on a distant planet, or being interrogated in the looney bin. The clock is ticking in both realities. At the institution, the Homeland Security guys worry that the bomb will irradiate the city if they can't get some useful info out of these insane terrorists. Out in space, two PCs are now Colonels, and have access to Starkillers.

For example, while fighting the wildlife of the Sentient Planet, one of the PCs climbed out of his disabled power-armor, and went hand-to-hand with a flock of birds. Meanwhile, another PC was talking to the Brigadier. But then the brigadier was replaced by an FBI special agent, who grilled her about the bomb. An orderly entered the room (wasn't this a forest a moment ago?) and interrupted the interrogation with the news that one of the other inmates was naked in the courtyard attacking the pigeons again.

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