Sunday, August 21, 2016

Nu World Session 8

My goal for this session was to a have solid, engaging, scavenger experience with a little role-playing and possibly some combat. It didn't exactly work out the way I planned, but everyone seemed to enjoy it and that's the most important part. This was the eight session in my Nu World After the End game.

Cast of Characters

Nate wasn't able to make the game, so I ruled that Rabbit had got sick eating some of Wash's radioactive ratdog jerky and was lying ill in the back of the truck.

Looting an Abandoned Compound

I started the session by telling everyone that Redfrost knew about an eccentric gearhead who had lived in a fortified compound outside of the ruins of Boston. He'd died in the last set of raider attacks, and his compound was available for looting. Redfrost didn't have the skills to loot the place by herself (for one, she's a city gal and wouldn't be able to get there safely) but with the help of the group, she thought it was a good place to find the electronics they needed to trade to the computer at Uxbridge Farms to get information on where to revive the astronaut in hibernation.

The PCs started in the woods on the north side of the compound, looking at a 8' tall wall of junk-reinforced wood topped by razor wire coils. Beyond it, there was a large house with a bunker on the roof. Closer inspection revealed there was an electrified line running through the razor wire, and a keypad by the front gate.
The compound, showing the outer and inner fence, the minefields,
the fields of fire for the crossbow turrets, and the house itself.

What I didn't tell them, but kept notes on, was that there were also 60 or so mutant raccoons in the woods around the house who'd been prevented from overruning the house by the various automatic defenses. Loud noises and other breaks to stealth by the PCs would attract the raccoons' attention, and a scouting group would arrive and summon more and more reinforcements. I didn't really have a great plan for this, but I figured I could run some kind of siege or something.

"I blame the Rev for this!"

Redfrost hotwired the keypad at the front gate, though not very well, and didn't realize that there were two separate security systems that could be deactivated. As it was, she turned off the minefield. Then she picked the lock and opened the gate.

Wash blew a bunch of Perception rolls at this point, and failed to notice the mine field or any of the other defenses. Ben'n did slightly better, and at least noticed a set of trail markers that indicated the safe path through the minefield. Feeling confident, he stepped through the gate and heard a clicking noise from the bunker on top of the house. A second later, he was diving for cover as a crossbow bolt came flying out, narrowly missing him. As soon as he was beyond the gate, the automated system stopped firing.

There was a quick consultation, and then Wash charged down the safe path. Two automated crossbolt turrets began firing at him, and I quickly discovered that they sucked. I was using by the book standard designs, which have crossbow-12, and even with aiming, they had almost no chance to hit a target 40 yards away. They only had a 50% chance of hitting a target within 15 yards! So what was supposed to be a deadly automated defense that would easily prevent anyone from traversing the yard turned out to be a joke, and I complained bitterly and then increased the weapon skill slightly but it really wasn't a big deal. In another bit of comedy, Wash's Danger Sense failed to detect that he was in a minefield, so he ran down the path without worry.

Wash had dropped at the interior fence that indicated the end of the mine field, and there was some shouting back at forth. He got up and ran for the garage, and Edwin and Redfrost followed. Ben'n almost did too, but all the excitement had summoned the raccoon mutant scouting party, and Ben'n didn't see them but heard them moving around in the woods so he stayed with the truck, planning to drive it into the compound after the crossbows had been eliminated.

Edwin and Wash had made it down the path safely, but Redfrost took a bolt to the gut and dropped. Edwin then jumped on the roof, ran up to the bunker, and started destroying sensors and machinery. Redfrost was just barely alive, but she held on until Edwin finished and then Wash and Ben'n rescued her and performed first aid.

"That's Not What I Intended, But We Can Do That Too"

The PCs then easily broke into the house. I mean, they had to check for traps and pick locks, but all the defenses were on the other side of the fence and they got in safely. Inside, they found a huge house, full of junk and loot: several workshops for inventing, various junk, and a couple of bedrooms. After some brief discussion, they settled down to loot.

Redfrost took the lead as the scavenger, and found several major finds, an amazing find, and a stash. I took suggestions for what they found in the stash. Eilmyn proposed someone in suspended animation, but everyone else nixed that idea on the grounds that they already had one. In the end, it turned out to be an ammo cache that included a TOW missile. I suspect I will regret giving the PCs access to an anti-tank missile, but I guess it lets them solve one big problem if they decide to use. I did point out to them that although it was theoretically worth a fortune, it wasn't really tradable in their usual haunts and the places that could afford to trade for it would probably steal it. So it's more of a one-shot plot device than an instance of fabulous wealth.

After poking around the place a little more, people began to talk about settling down, turning the compound into the start of a player base or maybe a trade center. Kevin asked me if that's what I intended when I set it up, and I honestly hadn't. I had intented that they would loot the place of valuables and move on, but the fact that they weren't doing what I expected didn't mean what they wanted to do was wrong. It was just different than what I had planned.

I did have to tap down on their enthusiasm a bit: a fortified compound in the woods wasn't nearly as good as they expected. It provided a lot of supplies for a small group, but there wasn't enough food or water to really convince a bunch of other people to move out of some place safe like Diamond City. But they could work to change that, I guess, and that'd be an interesting set of adventures. It would mean giving up on the astronaut storyline, but doing that would change the focus of the game, not end it.

Meanwhile, Outside the Gates

Although I thought the PCs had mostly forgotten about the noises in the woods, they hadn't. After looting the place, Wash had Ben'n turn off the electric fence and headed out to scout. His first attempt to scale the fence ended in a noisy failure amid the razor wire, and he took out his multitool and cleared out a path. Sadly, the fall was just noisy enough to attract the attention of the mutant racooons, and they took positions and prepared for someone to come out.

Wash eventually got a good look over the fence, and saw a horde of raccoon mutants. He turned around and fled back to the house, shouting for Ben'n to turn on the fence again. Ben'n got caught up in the junk in the garage, and one of the raccoons made it up onto the fence before Ben'n turned it on. Wash and Edwin shot that one, and the raccoons reconsidered the assault.

The PCs prepared to receive an attack, and the raccoons began shouting at each other over what a bad idea it was to attack the fortified compound. Finally, one of their leaders began negotiations: the raccoon mutants claimed the previous owner had promised them a lot of loot, and the PCs counter-claimed that debts expired with death. It went back and forth, with the PCs pointing out that the raccoons couldn't assault the compound, and the raccoons pointing out they could certainly ambush the PCs when they left the compound. Ben'n tried Diplomacy and Redfrost did some Fast-Talking, and the raccoon mutants eventually settled on demanding some shiny loot and they'd call it a done deal. The PCs promised to provide them hot lead.

That's where we left the game, with a plan to have a discussion over email.

Take It To Email

Over email, the PCs have apparently agreed that they want to create a settlement or a trading post at least. They're still debating what to do about the mutant raccoons, but they're moving more towards "pay the buggers off" rather than "commit genocide." Though that may change. They're also planning to stay at the post for a week at least, while Redfrost heals and Rabbit pimps up the Power Wagon to have some gun mounts and hidden compartments.

Evaluation of Play

This session didn't go at all how I expected, but everyone enjoyed it and that's the important part. The useless automated turrets were very frustrating to me, as they made the main focus of the defense into a farce. I'd planned for the PCs to have to experiment and struggle to find a way past them safely, but apparently running very fast and minimzing their exposure was sufficient. Still, everyone enjoyed the game and everyone liked the idea of setting up a base, so I'm satisfied.

What Next?

One problem with this session is that I inadvertently wrote myself into a corner. It's not obvious to me what the PCs are going to do next: focus on forting up the compound? Grab some electronics and head to Uxbridge Farms? Some other random thing? As Uhuk pointed out, they all have severe cases of gamer attention deficit disorder, and there's a bunch of good things they could do. I had a good session here. I might not have a good session next time.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Nu World Session 7

I'm continuing to run my GURPS After the End game. This sessions was a bit haphazard and improvised. On the plus side, we added a new player to the group this week: Eilmyn. Shes' very new to role-playing, but she liked the game enough to come back so I must be doing something right.

Cast of Characters

A New Person, Making Plans

The sixth session with the PCs recovering a pristine but heavily modified Dodge Power Wagon and ending up deeply in debt to the contact who'd provided the information pointing them to the truck. At the start of this session, I introduced Eilmyn's character as an agent of that contact, someone who would be sent along with them in order to make sure they were working to pay back the debt.

The introduction turned into a bit of unfortunate comedy: I asked Eilmyn to describe Redfrost, and since Eilmyn was is pretty new to role-playing, she was completely unprepared. I fell back to introducing the other characters, and we prompted Eilmyn enough to get a physical description, but it wasn't the best gaming experience.

The next stumbling block was that the PCs hard no real plans. They had a vague goal: revive the astronaut in order to find the lost FEMA cache and become rich beyond the dreams of avarice, but no real idea of how to achieve that. They were supposed to have figured that out over email the week before, but the discussion had been inconclusive. I prompted them with a couple of ideas and they eventually decided to head toward Uxbridge Farms where a pre-Fall supercomputer might be able to tell the location of pre-Fall medical locations that might be able to revive the astronaut.

The next problem was that they were a bunch of traders without any real trade goods. After a little more prompting, they decided to scavenge the ruins of Boston on the way out, looking for high-tech goods that could make a good profit in Uxbridge Farms.

There was also an inconclusive bit where they realized they needed to modify the Power Wagon's engine to use ethanol or biodiesel, and no one could decide which option to use. This wasn't helped by the fact that Nate was running late due to a schedule change and everyone was deferring to the techie. Since the costs for both systems are the same, we went through the gadgeteering rolls and agreed that Nate would decide what Rabbit had installed at some future date.

Improvised Scavenging

Obviously, I wasn't really prepared for whatever they were doing, so this was a pretty improvised session. Fortunately, After the End has plenty of support for scavenging and it doesn't require a lot of prep. The Pcs rolled some Perception checks to find some good stuff and went into the buildings, which were basically falling apart. Wisely, they decided to leave Edwin on guard, since his huge size and massive weight are definitely disadvantages when exploring rotting buildings. As it was, in the first building, despite the difficulty, everyone rolled near critical successes and got the loot out without problem.

That luck continued in a mostly intact grocery, and failed badly in a ruined research lab. Ben'n collapsed part of a wall on him and Wash, and while neither of them were injured, the noise alerted the local greenskin mutants.

Improvised Fighting

I quickly drew up a map of the building and stationed the PCs in and around it, and then placed nine greenskin mutants outside. I'd prefer to have been more prepared, but this didn't take too long and I don't think it's any worse than drawing maps during play at a tabletop game.

The greenskins charged in, dividing into groups to attack the widely separated PCs. Redfrost pulled out a 9mm semi-automatic pistol and backpedaled, firing high-damage shots into the greenskins as they approached her and dodging their attacks.

Edwin charged in to support her, slamming his clawed feet into another greenskin that was charging him. At a combined impact of about 50 miles per hour, he smashed through the greenskin's excessive DR and also took enough damage to almost break his own feet. He also smashed a support beam in the ceiling, dropping acoustic tile and miscellaneous gunk in a three yard radius and almost taking out Redfrost. Two more greenskins threw spears at him, but failed to penetrate his armor and thick feathers. He then jump another greenskin that was menacing Redfrost and clobbered him from the flank with one of his yield sign axes.

Wash hid from the greenskins and was nearly overrun but managed to loose an arrow into his attacker's eye at the last moment. That was his only kill, at the same time that Redfrost had dropped two greenskins and severely wounded another. As Kevin noted, "This is why Black Widow is better that Hawkeye." Ben'n was standing near Wash but has been surprised by the attack and barely got his rifle to shoulder before the fighting was over.

Two of the greenskins ran around for the truck, defended by Rabbit. Rabbit fired his shotgun at one of them, but even a slug barely penetrated their thick skin. Luckily for Rabbit, but the time the greenskins reached him, the rest of their allies were mostly dying and dead and the survivors panicked and ran off.

We ended the session at that point.

Evaluation of Play

I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that this group just doesn't do open-ended sandbox games very well. They can handle small, linear dungeons and obvious set pieces, but give them a dozen options and they dither with option paralysis. I need to accept that and give them better guidelines. I don't want to railroad them, but putting them on rails would probably help.

Other than that, this session went okay for a small piece of improvised filler. The greenskins continue to not be a threat - I need to give them better weapons than spears, obviously - and the scavenging is too much die rolling with too little decision making, I think.

What Next?

I'm going to prep a better bit of scavenging for the next session, and make it into a set piece and see how that goes. I suspect it will go fairly well if I can come up with something good.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Nu World Session 6

This is the last session of Nu World I ran before the cancer surgery, and it also neatly tied up the "rescue the Power Wagon" plot, so it was a good and fortunate stopping place.

Cast of Characters

Time to Leave

At the end of the previous session, the PCs had forced the pirates of the house containing the Power Wagon truck, and now just needed to figure out a way to move the truck across seventy or eighty yards of deep water. And they needed to figure that out in a hurry, because the pirates were going to come back soon.

Privately, I'd decided that the pirates were either going to take about 60 hours to regroup, or they were going to come back as soon as the PCs were ready to move the Power Wagon. Either the PCs would be forced to abandon the damn thing, or there would be a (hopefully) exciting chase scene. It didn't quite work out that way.

Rabbit stuck with his plan to use the astronaut's parachute as the basis of an inflatable raft. We looked up the numbers, did some math, and he spent about twelve hours in game furiously gadgeteering. Then he burnt his luck, made some rolls, and got the raft together. He also disarmed the shell in front of the garage, so that the PCs could easily move the truck out without having to destroy the back wall.

Trouble Coming

The PCs had finally learned and posted Wash as a scout, so as Rabbit was finishing up the raft, Wash could see several rowboat's worth of pirates approaching from the southwest. He relayed word to Rabbit and took some potshots at the pirates, but the range was pretty far even for him and he didn't want to waste too many arrows. Rabbit was forced to wait while the raft finished inflating.

Finally, the raft was ready. Ben'n drove the truck onto the raft, and then Edwin started poling the raft to the east. Meanwhile, the pirate boats swung around in a big loop and came in from the north east.

Action! Chase

I pulled out the chase rules from Action: Exploits. I had in mind an exciting chase, where the pirates would pull up to the raft, exchanging gunfire with the PCs, and then a few pirates would jump into the wagon bed and there'd be a melee. As it turned out, not so much.

Everyone involved had about the same skills, the same speed, and the same luck. No one managed to gain or loose any ground, so the PCs stayed at long range and no one tried shooting anyone else. At one point, one of the PCs use Serendipity to have a tree trunk fall across the canals, blocking the pirates (which counted as a Mobility Escape for the PCs). The pirates tried to portable past the blockage, and one boat succeeded while another got high-centered, but it gave the PCs a chance to escape. And then they were on dry land, and I'd already ruled that once the truck was on the dry road again, they could make a mobility escape because at even 30 mph, there was no way the PCs couldn't just drive the truck away faster than the pirates could pursue in boats or on foot.

So overall, what I hoped would be a tense, fun, exciting chase turned into a fairly pedestrian exercise in number crunching and reading charts. I was pretty disappointed. Next time, I'm just going to fiat that some of the pursuers get close enough that they can jump on the truck, and I think everyone will be okay with that, because it'll be more exciting and interesting.

Back to Diamond City

The PCs drove the truck back to Diamond City, where they ran into their next problem: they'd promised their sponsor, Ben'n's contact, that they'd give him 10% of the value of whatever they found in the unlooted house. Given that the truck had an approximate value of $200,000, and no one in Diamond City is readily reach enough to afford that, they couldn't easily sell the truck either and they couldn't exactly cut off a chunk and give it to him.

Finally, the contact took pity on them. Ben'n has a reputation for trustworthiness, so the contact offered to loan them the $20,000 if they promised to pay it back within a year at 50% interest. The PCs said "sure, sign us up!", much to my surprise. I'd expected a negotiating session and getting talked down to 25% or less - Ben'n surely has the skills to do it. But they didn't, and the contact was happy. Speaking of which, the contact needs a name but I'm hoping +Eric Schmidt will come up with one. It's his character's contact, after all.

Return of the Plot

One last detail was Rabbit finally had some time to spend to really concentrate on cracking the password of the laptop they'd looted from the house. He used his luck again and rolled well, making the machine usable again. I decided that the laptop had non-volatile memory (which is pretty reasonable, I think) and by some cosmic coincidence, had last been used to browse the biography of the astronaut the PCs recovered in session 1. I'd say "what are the odds" but three of the PCs have Serendipity and this kind of crazy chance is exactly what the advantage is for. At any rate, her bio revealed she was married to the administrator of the FEMA emergency cache, a long rumored store of wealth that had been lost during the apocalypse that created the Nu World.

The PCs quickly figured out what this meant: if they could awaken the astronaut, they could ask her the location of the FEMA cache and get stupid rich. They made some vague plans to head down to Uxbridge Farms, in hopes that the pre-Fall supercomputer there would know the location of a medical facility capable of reversing nanostasis. And with that, the game was back on my vague plot after the long, large detour to recover the Power Wagon.

Evaluation of Play

Like I said above, the chase sequence was a big disappointment that I'll handle differently in the future. The rest of the session went well, though I wish the players made more use of the campaign wiki to keep up on things like rumors and possible trade routes. Ohl well.

What Next

Obviously, the game was on hiatus through most of July thanks to my cancer surgery. We're going to start playing again tomorrow. Hopefully we'll have a fifth player. Her character will be an agent of Ben'n's unnamed contact, sent to keep watch on his investment and make sure the PCs don't do anything stupid and generally work toward paying that debt back. I'm pretty excited to have a new player but we'll see how it goes.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

And now for something completely different: Thyroid Surgery Preparation

Yes, I paid someone a lot of money to
cut my own throat, thank you very much.
I haven't been posting much recently for a variety of reasons, but the big one is that I was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer in late June and had my thyroid removed on July 8th. The surgery took 12 hours and my energy levels dropped like a rock post-surgery, which means I haven't been awake enough to play any RPGs since then.

Anyway, I'm fine now, or at least, as fine as I can be without my thyroid. But I'm hijacking my own blog because I want to make some notes on a patient's experience with a total thyroidectomy and I found the existing material to be rather sparse.

Preparing for a Total Thyroidectomy

  1. Get some bloodwork done. Ideally, you should have bloodwork going back a couple of years with your TSH, free T3, and free T4 levels, but even a bloodwork taken the moment you got the ultrasound of a suspicious tumor in your neck is going to be useful. Basically, after a total thyroidectomy, you and your endocrinologist are going to be experimenting with synthetic T4 and synthetic T3 tablets to determine how much you need to feel healthy and well and not be hypothyroid or hyperthyroid. If you have some numbers personal to yourself to aim for, that's going to be better than just aiming for "within the normal range" which is apparently pretty broad and doesn't suit a lot of people.
  2. Find out if you're going to have drains. Drains are flexible plastic tubes that pierce your skin and then hang outside your body and feed into little plastic collection bottles and let various gross fluids drain from the inside of your neck into the bottles. Drains are also a huge pain in the ass. The piercings are painful in and of themselves and the bottles have to be carried around, and you have to sleep with your head elevated as long as the drains are in. If you're going to have drains, bring a fanny pack to the hospital so you can carry the drains hands-free and get a wedge pillow or two so it's easy to sleep with your head elevated when you get home.
  3. Do all the prep work recommended by your hospital. You'll be under general anesthesia so go in with an empty stomach and don't drink any fluids for at least 8 hours before the surgery, etc. The hospital will give you a list of things to do. Read it, do it.
  4. Bring a pair of shorts to the hospital. After the surgery, you'll be in a stupid hospital gown but you'll be expected to get up and walk around some. Wear some shorts under the gown so you can walk around without having to worry about flashing everyone. I didn't remember to bring a fanny pack but I did bring shorts and it simplified walking around so much.
  5. Bring comfortable blankets and pillows from home. Hospital blankets are awful and hospital pillows aren't much better. Bring a comfortable blanket from home to minimize discomfort. If you've spent any time optimizing your pillows at home, bring them too so you benefit from that optimization.
  6. Bring reading material. You will be bored at some points, so have books or a tablet/smartphone with the Kindle reader on it, whatever you prefer. A laptop is probably overkill and hospitals don't make it easy to plug them in.
  7. Contact friends and family and invite them to visit you in the hospital. Human contact will cheer you up.

The experience of a total thyroidectomy

My experience went something like this:
  1. Home: Got up stupid early, even for me, and showered and went to the hospital.
  2. Hospital Reception: Paperwork and waiting.
  3. Surgery prep: changed into a hospital gown, got an IV tube in my arm, met some nurses.
  4. Surgery room: Got transferred to the OR. Anesthesiologist gave me some anesthesia. Went to sleep.
  5. Recovery room: Woke up 14 hours later after an abnormally and stupidly long surgery. Got told everything was fine. Didn't feel any pain because of morphine.
  6. Hospital Room: Went back to a sleep for two hours before the morphine wore off. Started feeling a lot of pain. More morphine. I couldn't sit up because trying made my neck hurt too much. Eventually I discovered that if I forced my way past the pain, could sit up normally or at angle without pain. Adjusted hospital bed so I could sit up properly. Recovery begins.
A lot of people with a diagnosis of thyroid cancer have a lot of anxiety about the surgery, but in practice, it's fairly boring until the doctors put you under, and then you're asleep and don't notice anything. There's really not much to be anxious about. There's stuff to prepare, but the actual procedure, from a patient's point of view, is over pretty quickly.

Next Posting

I'll write up the most recent session of After the End soon, and then this blog will probably alternate gaming stuff and thyroid cancer posts for a bit.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Nu World, Sessions 3, 4, and 5

I've been running sessions of Nu World, my After the End game, off and on for the past few weeks. I haven't written them up for various reasons, most of them bad, but I'm just going to pull through and do a big summary of the past three sessions.

Cast of Characters

We Forgot to Leave a Guard

At the start of the session, I established three things: the PCs didn't have any portable light sources, they had no way of telling the exact time, and they hadn't left a guard out while they scavenged the house with the Power Wagon in it. The first one we hand-waved, since Rabbit has two Gizmos per session and is a Gadgeteer, and therefore can just fiat that he made any one invention that cost $200 or less once per session. Since he hadn't used his gizmos last session, I retroactively ruled that he'd invented a flashlight and we moved one.

The second two issues were more of a problem. The PCs didn't really know how long they'd been scavenging, beyond the general idea they were getting hungry. And I think Wash began to hear some noises from outside. Everyone quickly grabbed weapons.

A couple of pirates ran into the row house, to be greeted by gunfire and general violence. As these were low level pirates with mediocre combat skills, Wash, Ben'n, and Rabbit were just barely capable of beating them. Sadly, they were just the advance party of a large group of pirate reinforcements sent to deal with the guys who had beaten off their patrol earlier that morning.

Edwin charged out of the house to deal with reinforcements, and immediately got shot by a sniper concealed on a rooftop at the end of the street. He took some damage, but kept fighting, and managed to wound a pirate leader pretty badly. Unfortunately, there was an entire second squad of pirates on another nearby rooftop, and they aimed and volley fired at Edwin, hitting him a couple of times and wounding him. He managed to take cover from the sniper behind a tree, but he was pretty badly wounded and things were going poorly for him. He tried to jump up onto a tree limb to avoid getting captured, but failed the landing, fell off, and tore up his legs pretty bad. At that point, Uhuk realized that while Edwin was impulsive, he wasn't her usual suicidal berserker and could just surrender when he was outmatched. Which he did, curling up in a ball and not fighting any longer.

The other three in the house had defeated the two pirates who had gotten through the door before Edwin charged out, but now they had a different problem. Three against thirteen were not favorable odds for the PCs, especially since all of the opposition had guns and no one knew exactly where the sniper was. The pirates had also brought a skilled scout of their own, so Wash's plan of "sneak out and murder people with stealth" was likely to be difficult. Plus, the pirates had Edwin as a potential hostage.

Wash snuck out of a second story window on the south side of the building, away from pirates, anyway and tried to get into a good position for some bow sniping but he didn't like the odds. The pirates began calling out to the PCs, threatening to kill Edwin unless they surrendered. Ben'n stalled for time while Rabbit whipped together some molotov cocktails, but the situation looked pretty bleak and eventually the PCs did surrender on terms.

The pirates wanted everything of value inside the building, their two pirates back, and for the PCs to leave the area and never return. In exchange, the PCs got Edwin and their lives and could leave with their personal possessions. Ben'n stalled some more while he and Rabbit shoved the shotgun ammo they'd found and the new laptop into their gear, so they could claim it was their personal possessions, and then walked out. Ben'n flim-flamed the pirates about the ammo and all of the PCs walked out. After a couple of blocks, they patched up Edwin (with 20 HP and Very Rapid Healing, Edwin heals pretty fast).

Gadgeteering in Diamond City

Rabbit still wanted to recover the Power Wagon, but it was clear that they were going to need to think about their options for quite a bit. They returned to Diamond City and spent a day healing wounds while Rabbit schemed.

This was our first attempt to use the new gadgeteering rules for something big, and we found them pretty complicated. There's a lot of ways to optimize for time versus materials versus skills, and it caused a lot of decision paralysis and frustration. We finally decided that Rabbit was going to use the escape pod's parachute to make a big inflatable raft that they could use to get the PowerWagon past the low lying water. He had about half the material he needed, so he took extra time and used his Luck and still failed. That was when we ended a session that had been a bit of a downer over all.

Evaluation of Play

This was a weird session: I haven't had the PCs lose like that in a long, long time. It was also interesting, and while I wouldn't want to repeat it every session, I think everyone appreciated it. Uhuk was certainly pleased to be able to surrender, and everyone has happy that surrendering was a useful option.

After the End isn't Dungeon Fantasy, and doesn't share that genre's inherent loot and kill mentality. It's perfectly possible to let opponents escape or surrender and not everyone has to die in a combat for it to be a win. Certainly, there are consequences for letting people escape but there wasn't really much the PCs could do about the pirate patrol. Even if they had wiped out the entire patrol, which would have been really hard, the pirates would have still responded in great force to find out what had wiped out the entire patrol. Posting guards would have helped, and Kevin said that from now on, Wash needed to be guarding the group instead of assisting with the scavenging.

Session 4 - Greenskins

The PCs started this session by reflected what they knew about the pirates. They were technically the South Boston Pirates or the Cannons, based out of Boston Harbor, and believed to be about 50-60 active combatants. The two squads that had defeated the PCs were about as much force as the Cannons could project casually, but they could put out about 40 or 50 guys for a major raid. They didn't have a Gadgeteer like Rabbit, but they could probably brute force a recover of the Power Wagon if they were given enough time.

Taking all that in, the PCs decided to head back to Roxbury and see what was going on. I think there was some vague plan to either pick off isolated pirates, or let the pirates do the hard work in getting the PowerWagon to dry land and then hijack it. Either way, they needed more information, and since most of the PCs saw well in the dark, they decided to do as much of the scout as possible in darkness. Which meant that they headed to Roxbury in late afternoon, and got to the old fortified building they were using as a base a little before dark.

"It's at the Edge of Pirate and Greenskin Territory"

My notes had the pirates patrolling the west portion of the map in the morning, and the Greenskins patrolling the eastern half in the evening. The Greenskins saw the PCs before the PCs spotted them, and moved to ambush them. Wash's danger sense triggered and a fight broke out.

The PCs were in the courtyard when they heard a howling. Rabbit and Wash took cover by the building walls while Ben'n moved south through the building in an attempt to flank. Then the PCs heard thumps on the rooftop as some Greenskin mutants with the Fast Leg mutation (double ground speed and Super Jump) jumped on the building in an attempt to vertically envelop the PCs, and Edwin jumped up (using his own Fast Legs) in response. A group of mutant ratdogs with razor spikes ran down the alley into Rabbit and Wash's fire.

This was an amazingly fast combat, with guns and arrows going off and a swirling melee on the rooftop. Several of the ratdogs died to Wash's arrows and Rabbit managed to wound one of the greenskins in the alley. Edwin took down another on the roof and the greenskins fled. Meanwhile Ben'n was scouting in exactly the wrong direction and missed all of the excitement despite Rabbit's urgent cries for help and support.

Everyone Takes Prisoners

One of the greenskins had been knocked unconscious, so Rabbit bandaged him up and Edwin and Ben'n played bad cop, good cop to interrogate him. I had to look up the interrogation rules from Action because After the End doesn't have any. I wasn't really happy with the Action rules, so I ended up winging it a bit and expanding the applicable skills to include Intimidation and not just Psychology, so that Edwin could actually usefully play bad cop.

The greenskin didn't have much useful to say: the greenskins patrolled this area, hadn't seen any pirates, and wasn't particularly interested in trade goods, though Ben'n did contemplate trying to trade with the mutant cannibals. The PCs decided to release him, though Wash killed and skinned the ratdogs: apparently Wash has enough radiation resistance to safely eat a couple of radiation tainted meals a day, and figured "meat is meat".

Scouting with Fire

It was after dark at this point, so Wash set out alone to see what the pirates were doing. Based on the greenskin's answers, he suspected "not much" and there was an outside hope that they'd just abandoned the Power Wagon - or more fearfully, had scavenged it for parts and left a ruined hulk.

As it turned out, they'd left a squad at the house: Wash spotted their boat beached outside. He lit up a molotov and was immediately fired at by a pair of riflemen hiding behind the shutters on the house's second floor. They didn't hit him, but he tossed the molotov at the boat and broke contact, then snuck back around to see what happened.

A half dozen pirates poured out the building and doused the boat. From that, Wash reasoned there were 8-9 pirates and they were just securing the site against further attacks while the pirates at their main base made whatever preparations they had for further attacks.

Uhuk had to quit early this night, so we ended it here.

Evaluation of Play

The PCs didn't accomplish much this session, but it was again interesting to see the difference in their attitude toward negotiating and taking prisoners. In my old Dungeon Fantasy games, the assumptions was that monsters got killed. In Castle of Horrors, "monsters" got killed but they were sometimes willing to negotiate with things that weren't monsters. In this game, there's no impetus to fight to death, no real tendency to finish off the wounded, and nearly every fight ends as soon as one side realizes it can't win and needs to surrender or flee. I'm really quite enjoying the vibe.

Session 5 - Return to the Power Wagon

Nate couldn't make it this session, due to prior commitments, so I kind of ran his character until events would have put him at the center stage and then we quit. It was another short session.

"We're Not Pirate Hunters"

The session started out with the PCs brainstorming ways to take the Power Wagon house back from the pirates. As Kevin repeatedly noted, they're merchants and scavengers, not pirate-hunters. Half the party is fairly ineffective in combat, Edwin's primary value is mostly being a bullet sponge, and only Wash is stealthy. It's actually pretty hard for them for them to reliably take on twice their numbers armed with decent rifles.

Eventually, they realized that if they could just cross some 30' gaps between the buildings, it'd be possible to sneak up on the pirates without giving them many opportunities to observe the PCs: Edwin could almost literally be on top of them before any of the pirates noticed. Rabbit gizmo'd and gadgeteered up an invention as a portable extension bridge, and they set off.
The proposed route over the rooftops.
Edwin can drop down on the pirates from above if things go according to plan.

Things Go Wrong From the Start

The PCs made it to the rowhouse nearly without incident, but predictably Edwin failed the stealth check when trying to move off the bridge and on to the rowhouse roof. That alerted the pirates, and they sent someone out with a flashlight while the sentries covered her.

Seeing as how their cover was blown, Edwin charged over the rooftops and dropped in front of the door the pirates were using, while Wash took aim at the pirate with the flashlight. Ben'n ran after Wash, forgetting or not realizing that Edwin's movements had separated the bridge from the rowhouses and forcing the wily merchant to have to make a dramatic jump to get to the roof. Rabbit ran north to support Wash.

About this point, the sneaky pirate scout that Wash had not previously spotted showed by shooting an arrow at Ben'n, who luckily dodged. The scout took cover in the valley between the peaked roofs, but Ben'n climbed up after her and hit her with a 5.56mm bullet, taking her out of the fight. Wash kept launching arrows at the pirates, but after hitting the one with the flashlight in the face and taking her out of the fight, he was short on exposed targets and I don't think he hit anyone else.

"He's Immune to Bullets!"

Meanwhile, Edwin and the pirates had a very strange fight at the doorway. Edwin started by chopping off the arm of one of the sentries on the second floor, at which point the other one shot him in the head at point blank range with a .44-40 rifle. As it happened, the damage from the rifle was a bit low, and Edwin's armor was sufficient enough that he wasn't hurt. The sentry cried out, "the mutie's immune to bullets!" and that set the tone for the rest of fight.
Edwin stays near the door as the pirates reload,
Ben'n fights the scout on the rooftops,
and Wash snipes from across the street.

A half squad of pirates gathered inside the door, loading their weapons and preparing to charge out. Edwin grabbed up the wounded pirate and tossed her into the door, causing several of them to fire their weapons (they were covering the door) at her ally. Then they charged out. Their leader critically hit Edwin in the vitals with his own .44-40 rifle, and although that penetrated armor and dropped Edwin into negative HP, it didn't actually stop him. The pirates were a bit freaked out by this point, and things were not helped by Edwin absorbing another rifle shot to the top of the skull without even noticing. He proceeded to clobber one or two of the pirates who started to flee. Edwin then managed a credible Intimidation roll (helped a great deal by being large and enormously violent and dangerous) and the pirates surrendered on terms.


Rabbit and Ben'n graciously patched up the wounded pirates, though most of them were in pretty bad shape: missing arms, multiple bullet wounds, that kind of thing. Then Wash confiscated their firearms and sent them away on their boat. The PCs had recovered the Power Wagon house.

The next obvious step was to get the Power Wagon out of the building and back to dry land. That would require Rabbit to disarm the unexploded artillery shell, and Rabbit to invent a way to ford the Power Wagon through the deeps, and Rabbit to gadgeteer up some fuel. Basically, Nate's character was going to be front and center for the next bit, so I decided to end the game early.

Evaluation of Play

This was a fairly straightforward fight, though somewhat annoying to run. MapTools doesn't really have good support for 3D fights, especially the sort of thing that we had here: multiple levels with people stacked on top of each other in the same XY space, and vision blocking going away and coming back depending on which level someone was on and what level they were looking at. I improvised around it, and it mostly worked, but it would be great if MapTools had better native support for this kind of thing.

The repeated fights over the Power Wagon house are beginning to remind me of the North Africa campaigns of WWII: either side can take the house, but in doing so they become overextended, and immediately lose the house when the other side regroups and counterattacks. This is going to be a problem for the PCs, because the pirates can throw more bodies at the problem than they can, and they probably won't be allowed to surrender next time. So basically, they have to get the Power Wagon out before the pirates regroup and counterattack, or they're going to have to give up on recovering the Power Wagon.

What Next?

Well, clearly the pirates are going to regroup and counterattack: they've got another 30-40 bodies to throw at the problem, and the truck is worth $100,000 or more so it's clearly worth it. The PCs are going to have to hurry to figure out a way to get the truck out of that area. It should be interesting.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Nu World Session 2

I ran the second session of the Nu World, my After the End game, three weeks ago. I haven't written about it because I've been playing Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead, the open-source roguelike that Fallout 4 wants to be when FO4 grows up. But that's no real excuse.

Cast of Characters

Getting the Preliminaries Out of the Way

At the end of the first session, the PCs were in possession of a spaceship escape pod, a female astronaut in nanostasis, and some random junk, as well as the anger of the Redeemers gang. They didn't really have a plan, but they wanted to head to Diamond City in the ruins of Boston, make some trades, and do some scavenging in the city.

I wanted to focus on the scavenging, so we handwaved the trip back to Diamond City other than a quick experiment with the new hunting rules introduce in ATE2: the New World. That was enough to satisfy me that Wash could keep the group fed in the wilderness nearly indefinitely with minimal effort and we didn't need to do the rolls every time. I do want to say that the hunting rules worked fine, but they do have a lot of rolls.

At Diamond City, the group quickly sold the escape pod for scrap value and argued about how to split the proceeds. They finally decided to buy a small house in Diamond City so they'd have a permanent base and then bought some group equipment (like extra toolkits for Rabbit) and gave everyone $1000 in trade goods to buy specific stuff.

At the same time, I baited my hook. One of Ben'n's contacts was a retired scavenger who told them a long story that worked out to "there's a house in Roxbury that looks like it hasn't been scavenged since the bombs dropped. It's right at the edge of Pirate and Greenskin territory so it's dangerous but it could be profitable." The PCs agreed to pay the scavenger 10% of the loot they recovered and he gave them directions to the house. They made plans to set out the next day.

Meet the Neighbors

So I created this map of the neighborhood in the Roxbury suburbs:
I think it's a pretty decent map. The color of the building walls indicated whether they're brick and cover against bullets or just sheetrock and only concealment. The whites and grays indicate elevation levels of the ground and the blues indicate the depth of the water. It covers several blocks and has a hundred or more potential scavenge sites.

At any rate, the PCs set out around mid-morning and arrive in the northeast corner of the map a few hours later. One thing they immediately noticed was the brick building to the east had been fortified. Further investigation revealed there was a mine by the door. Rabbit was delegated to disarm the mine and everyone else drew back to watch.

Nate was working through the math of maximizing his chances of disarming the mine when someone took a shot at him! A bunch of pirates standing on the west side were shooting at him and not hitting (cheap black powder weapons just aren't that accurate out at 200 yards). Rabbit carefully took cover away from the mine, Ben'n dodged south, Edwin charged west through the drink, and Wash started loosing arrows. As it turns out, Wash is an improbably good shot, and managed to penetrate the pirates' cheap armor at a distance. After one of the pirates got badly wounded and it was obvious that the others weren't going to hit the PCs faster than the PCs were going to hurt more pirates, the pirates broke contact and withdrew to the south. The PCs declined to pursue.

In the process, though, Ben'n discovered that he was now within 15 yards of a spore bomber: a mutant tree that senses vibrations in the air and releases floating sacs of acidic mucus. The PCs might have known this if any of them had Expert Skill (Mutants), but despite my handy cheat sheet, none of them did at non-laughable levels. Ben'n ran for cover, and aggravated the spore bomber further, sending more mucus sacs after him. Eventually someone realized that moving slowly was safer than running, and Ben'n escaped.

Rabbit finished disarming the mine and then Wash lobbed it at the spore bomber, destroying it utterly. That problem taken care of, the PCs did their first scavenge of an abandoned encampment. I don't remember what they found - some food or something non-descript - and they decided to stash their wagon and pack animals there and proceed toward their target over the rooftops, rather than wading through the water.

Over and Through the Rooftops!

ATE2: The New World has extensive rules for moving through ruins, and this was a great chance to use them. I pretty much used them as written, only increasing the penalty for Edwin's rolls slightly since he's big. The PCs spent the next several minutes making Perception rolls to avoid stepping on rotten roof timbers, and since Uhuk rolled pretty poorly, also making DX rolls to avoid being injured when Edwin's feet inevitably went through roof. Edwin wasn't hurt too bad - he never went all the way through a roof - but he did strain his ankle at some points.

I was pretty pleased with this part of the session: it played quickly but with some tension. As Uhuk noted, "I want to do something during each session - falling through roofs because I'm big is something."

The Next Problems

Soon the PCs were on a building to the east of their target, looking down at the street and alley. They immediately noticed two problems: first, there was another spore bomber in the alley immediately behind the house. Second, and more distressingly, there was an unexploded 75mm artillery shell just in front of the house. None of the PCs were surprised when I told them that Diamond City cooks up some pretty unstable high explosives, and that an old dud shell like that could possibly blow up if anyone too close or made too much noise near it.

The PCs decided to try the back entrance, at least to start, and came up with a brilliant ploy to deal with the spore bomber: kill it with fire! Rabbit whipped up some molotov cocktails and Wash through them at the spore bomber until it was burnt down. This wasn't particularly difficult for the PCs and we moved on.

We Like Loot!

The target house had locked metal shutters over all the windows and doors. Sadly for the PCs, someone had picked one of the locks before them, so the loot wasn't as good as they'd hoped. Rabbit picked the lock and they made their way inside.

They quickly found a garage with a large vehicle under a tarp. They removed the tarp and found a 1970s style Dodge Power Wagon with a crew cab, custom six wheels, and a supercharged engine protruding from the hood. It had obviously been lovingly restored before the bombs fell, and was still in good shape aside from missing its tires. The PCs definitely wanted it, but getting it out wasn't going to be trivial: they needed to get it past the artillery shell and then past the water before they could get it to dry enough land to drive unaware. And of course, it was out of gas.

The PCs decided to not worry about those problems and instead focus on looting the rest of the house. Since they considered this to be a mother lode, they focused on searching it. Upstairs, they found two tons of junk (literally - they found $400 of random junk, and random junk weighs 10 lbs per $1 of value). Much to my surprise, they decided to search the upstairs again. Another hour of searching and a lot of everyone's Luck revealed some baton rounds for a 12g shotgun (at Kevin's suggested when they found some generic ammo). A third search found a stash: "something that’s been intentionally hidden... A stash should always be something interesting, not just another bit of gear" (ATE2: The New World p. 38). I took this opportunity to get my slightly derailed plot slightly more back on track, by saying they'd found a pre-War laptop. The PCs prompted derailed the plot again by failing to hack the laptop, but I handwaved that as Rabbit being unable to crack it in his first two or three attempts and everyone else telling him to try experimenting with the passwords again.

The PCs then trooped downstairs and started searching the garage level. It turns out this was somewhat sub-optimal behavior: they'd burnt all their Luck rerolls on the residential area, which is easy to search and only produces junk, instead of the garage/transport area which is harder to search but produces valuable fuel and mechanical parts. As it turns out, they found some spoiled gasoline that Rabbit could easily filter and some more shotgun ammo.

By this point, it was getting pretty late. I had some ideas for what would happen next, and I wanted to give the PCs some time to think about how they intended to get the Dodge Wagon out so I ended the session. As it turns out, the players didn't think about that very much and I couldn't run last week because of prior commitments.

Evaluation of Play

This session was pretty much an experiment with the various new rules from After the End: the New World. We did a little trading, some hunting, a lot of scrounging, and a bit of traversal of ruined buildings. The only big thing we didn't try were the expanded gadgeteering and inventing rules.

Everything worked out pretty well. The hunting rules have too many rolls in them for regular use, but they're an acceptable simulation of hunting when people really want that detail. The scrounging and scavenging rules worked well. Much to my surprise, my players didn't need my house rules for scouting potential scavenge sites: they were pretty focused on just a couple of sites and didn't entertain the idea of searching elsewhere.

They were also so focused that I think they lost track of the fact that they were in a dangerous area and that all this scrounging took a lot of time. That turned out to bite them in the ass.

What Next?

The PCs chased off a pirate patrol, and then left a bunch of markers in smoke and fire as to where they were. They didn't seem to think much of that, but the pirates had more resources. The next session started with the pirate ambush and went down from there.

Interested in playing? We've still got space available! Email me! We play on Wednesday nights, 5:30 pm CDT until 9:30 or so.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

After the End: Scouting the Scavenge Sites

I'm preparing for the second session of my Nu World After the End game, which is going to focus on the PCs scavenging in the ruins of Boston. As part of my preparation, I drew a map of the area they'll be exploring:
Sunken Ruins in Boston
I may have over prepared a bit: that map is about 250 by 160 hexes and contains around 70 or 80 potential scavenging locations. I'd rather be overprepared than underprepared, so I'm not regretting the work, but it did raise a concern that isn't, as far as I know, address in the ATE2 scavenging rules.

The ATE2 rules seem to assume that scavengers know where they want to scavenge. There are respectable rules for determining how many scavengers get hurt, based on the structural integrity of the building, and there are decent rules for determining what the scavengers find, based on what type of building they're scavenging and how many groups have scavenged that site before. That all works fine, I suspect, and I'll find out for sure tomorrow. But there aren't any rules for scavengers to scout or survey a bunch of potential sites, to determine which sites are the least dangerous and which sites have the best or most desirable loot.

I'm going to use the following house rules to address those issues:

  • Danger Survey: takes an hour per six areas (ATE2 p 35). GM secretly rolls against the surveyor's Architecture, with a +2 bonus for every 3 points of positive or negative structural integrity modifier (SIM) of the area: it's easy to spot a solidly built or nearly destroyed building. On success, the GM reveals each area's approximate SIM, or exact SIM on a critical success. Failure means no information and on critical failure the GM lies. 
  • Scrounging Survey: takes an hour per six areas. GM secretly rolls against the surveyor's Scrounging and provides each area's scavenging type (as per the table on ATE2 p 37, including both location type and looting level) on success; critical success gives a +1 on subsequent tests to scavenge any of those areas. On failure, the surveyor learns nothing and on a critical failure, the GM lies about the areas and there is a -1 on subsequent tests to scavenge any of those areas.
I already proposed these on the SJ Games forums, but the thread was ignored in favor of arguments about how realistic the current GURPS rules for crossbows and muskets are.