Friday, February 20, 2009

Going After Caravaggio

Last night we played 3:16 Carnage Amongst The Stars. It's a rules-light RPG in the vein of military sci-fi most closely resembling Starship Troopers. To say it's rules-lite is an understatement. Starting characters are defined by 4 traits: 2 attributes named "Fighting Ability" and "Non-Fighting Ability", Rank (Private to Sergeant), and Primary Weapon (one of two choices per rank). Character gen was darned simple, taking 5 minutes the first time, and if I'd had to do it over again it'd take about 20 seconds.

I played "Trooper Novokov", whom I modeled as sort of a drugged-out parody of Paul Berlin, the main character in Tim O'Brien's Viet Nam War novel Going After Cacciato. All the planets in the game are named after artists, and we were invading Planet Caravaggio, which sounds kinda like Cacciato, which is what I think triggered the character concept. That novel is one of my faves, though, so I may well have gone the way of O'Brien even without that opening briefing.

Trooper Novokov was a daydreamer, a flaky artiste, and kinda inattentive. He was working on a novelization of his experiences in the 3:16th Infantry, and was focused on the what could happen if the war were a novel instead of reality. (I know, how post-modern of me.) So, all of Paul Berlin's negative traits, without their more positive upsides. I'd stop to contemplate my novel mid-battle, and during mission briefings I was busy sketching out what I'd paint on the side of the APC after this mission, thus missing crucial briefing intel. Head in the clouds despite boots on the ground. Sarge called me "Trooper Novacaine" cause I was always kinda sedated.

The 3:16 RPG is pretty straight-forward. GM establishes a planet with aliens, the PCs rocket down in a Drop Ship and pacify said planet. Players have a lot of narrative control. Combat is very abstract, and yet it works really well even given how combat-heavy the game is. Our GM last night introduced some extra plot complexity, but I think it would have run just fine without it. Each session a new planet with a new alien menace, and the PCs slowly promoted up the chain of command getting bigger and better weapons and more control over mission objectives. In he words of Robin D. Laws, 3:16 "Out-Verhoeven's Verhoeven."

It's a very competitive RPG, keeping track of kills is a vital component of the game, and in a long-running campaign I think PCs will frequently do things that endanger others to edge out a couple of extra kills, with kill-stealing and showboating being part of the fun. Clearly, where the game shines is Campaign play - as a one-shot it was a little unbalanced. The post-session rewards of rank and medals were less important when you won't see that character again, so there was little motivation for glory hogging in a one-shot. At the same time, you have character resources that can only be expended X number of times over the entire campaign, but if playing for a single session there's no drawback to everyone using all their available flashbacks. As a one-shot those didn't ring as true (though the GMs houserules kept the game from breaking under it), though it is hard to say whether the game was richer or poorer for it. The experience definitely left me wanting to play the game some more, to see how it develops over time.

As they say in Starship Troopers: Want to learn more? Here's a pretty nice review of 3:16 that explains what it's all about, and a shorter review that's not as detailed but well written and still useful.

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