Thursday, November 13, 2014

Mecha Assault on the Giants: Session 1

I ran the first session of Mecha Against the Giants last night. It went about as well as I expected, with a couple of minor issues but generally positive.

Technical Problems

The biggest problem with online gaming are the technical issues. For once, MapTools connectivity issues didn't dominate the evening. Instead, one of the players had difficulty with Skype. He managed to troubleshoot it himself, and we got started only 30 minutes late. With only a four hour time slot, that's a little annoying, but it wasn't too bad.

Of course, at the end of the evening, the connectivity problems returned with a vengeance, taking two players out of the game entirely. We'd been making pretty good progress up to that point, getting through about seven or eight turns of whirling combat, when they dropped out three hours into the game. They never managed to get their connections stable after that, and since we were at the top of a round, I decided to call it at that point.


Creating a good map for an online game isn't tricky, but I have a tendency to make them too big. The main guns of the mecha have ranges around 2000 yards, so I want to give them plenty of space to be used. On the other hand, the mecha only move at 30-60 yards/second, so even covering 300 yards in a combat is unlikely. And since the giants are primarily melee types, if I make the engagement range too large, either the PCs pick off the enemy effortless at range (boring) or we spend hours and hours just moving (even more boring).

I ended up with a map that covered roughly 1000 yards by 1000 yards and using a much narrower band within it, which was fine. The PCs started the engagement about 500 yards away from the giants, but we fast forwarded through five seconds of movement on both sides and started at a more reasonable 150-250 yards.

In addition to creating large maps, I used to create very pretty maps with excellent use of textures and objects. I've stopped doing that, and now my maps are very plain and functional: shades of olive/tan to indicate rising hills, blue for water, darkening shades of gray for depressions, and a green textured pattern for trees. Originally, I did a simple green for trees, but one of the players is slightly colorblind and he couldn't tell the difference between forest and hills.
A simple map?
I ended up setting the map scale to 5 yards/hex, which is something MapTools supports. There was a little trouble at first, but everyone eventually understood that they didn't have to count hexes and multiple: the tool would just tell them the range in yards.

The Good

The overall concept was pretty workable. I set the PCs against about twenty giants, mostly weak and typical types, armed with a variety of weapons. The PCs proceeded to chop, punch, and shoot them to bits. There wasn't a lot of danger, but one of the PCs ended up driving through the main force of giants and took a blow to the back that penetrated armor, knocked him off the road, and caused him to briefly lose control of his vehicle. Good times.

There were some teething problems, and some tactical mistakes (such as driving through a mass of giants at top speed while trying to aim at their far away leader), but everyone was in pretty good spirits about it.

There were a couple of especially funny bits:
  • At the very start, after I explained the premise of the game, Jeremy asked if the giants talked. Thinking that he might want to negotiate with them a bit, I allowed that the giants were intelligible. Jeremy then proposed going straight to the giants and offering the PCs' services in exchange for the giants sending them home. We weren't even 10 minutes into the game and he was trying to subvert the entire campaign concept! I was impressed.
  • +Douglas Cole was ordered to the shoot the giants' leader, 200+ yards on a hill. He drove toward the guy (and incidentally, most of the lesser giants) while aiming. The lesser giants started attacking him, so he'd defend himself and lose his aim, or get hit and lose his aim, or have too much cover between himself and the target and have to hold his fire. He kept re-aiming and speeding along, getting most of the team's Tactics rerolls as +Nathan Joy tried to keep Doug alive. Finally, Doug ended up 5 yards away from the lead giant and just shot him in the face. Nate's final comment was, "And I've learned that Doug requires especially close supervision."
  • Nate is a former marine, and made his character into an unusually lucky officer based on Nate's experiences with types. As such, he's the worst shot and pilot in the group. Nevertheless, he accounted for about a third of the group's kills, by spraying fire into masses of giants and getting lucky hits with missed shots.
Comment from Nate: "Barely competent officers who assume they can get through life on luck and charm are a hilarious thing when you're not really having to rely on their actions not actually ending up with you dead.

"Note to self: take Incompetence(Navigation)

"Mandatory joke: What's the difference between a PFC and a 2nd LT? The PFC has been promoted once."
  • At +Kevin Smyth's request, we were using the shield damage rules. Jeremy punched a giant, who blocked with a shield. Jeremy's damage was sufficient to destroy the shield, break the giant's arm, and knock him to the ground. The next round, another larger giant shield rushed Doug at better than 80 mph. Doug's armor absorbed the damage (though he did have to make a control roll) while the giant's shield and arm were once again broken, leaving the giant collapsed on the field of battle. Ritters: 2; Rugby playing giants: 0.
The pilots blaze a trail of destruction through the giants

The Inevitable Argument

I've been approaching the design of this game in a light-hearted gamist mode: since mecha make no sense as war machines (and giant humans make no sense biologically), there's no point in trying to justify stuff against realism and I should make design decisions based on achieving the level of challenge I want. And the challenge I want is for the PCs to mostly be easily triumphant and victorious, but to be forced to fight the giants in melee range where the giants can potentially harm them. Even then, they should have their guns as trumps, so if the giants start to overwhelm them, they can start firing, the giants all fall down, and a sticky situation is averted. As such, the ammunition for their guns is very limited, unrealistically so.

The players, on the other hand, want to be able to shoot every giant in the face and have realistic rates of fire for their weapons and realistic ammo loads. Specifically, they think the autocannons (that fire either at RoF 5! or RoF 10!, that is to say, either 5 rounds or 10 rounds at a time) should be able to dial a burst at any rate between 1 and 10 rounds. They might also think that they should have more than 250 rounds per gun, but we didn't get into it last night.

My logic is that if the autocannons can fire at RoF 1, then their 50 effective bursts become 250 available shots, and that's too many shots. So I'll be forced to say they used up more of their ammo before the game began, and have even less available now, such that they only have around 30 available shots again.

This argument was not greeted with shouts of overwhelming joy, but I'm sticking to it. They can deal with the lesser giants using punches, grapples, and melee weapons, and reserve the rockets, cannon, and mortar rounds for the big guys. Deciding when to break out the rare ammo is part of the challenge, and using it all up on the small fry is suboptimal.

My other point was that even with my stealing about a lot of their nomimal maximum ammo before the game even started, they still had still had over 500 rounds or 100 bursts of 20mm autocannon ammunition available, and that's a lot of dead giants. Not to mention the 25mm heavy rifle ammo. Sure, there are hundreds and hundreds of giants, but they do have enough ammo available if they're careful.

Next Steps

There were a lot of quick rules made last night, and I need to document them. Things like moving and attack in a mech, penalties for control rolls based on speed, and the like were quickly decided in play but they need to be written down.

Going over my notes, I also think I missed a couple of things: Doug blew the starting ammo check, and was supposed to have 30% of his full ammo load, but I think that got mistranslated into 20 rounds. That's a significant difference that I didn't catch in the confusion.

I'm also hoping that the PCs will step up and describe the culture that shanghaied them into fighting the giants. I've been referencing them as "Those Poor People" and have my own ideas about what they're like, but this is something I'd prefer that the players define.

There's no huge hurry, though, since this game is supposed to be an alternate emergency game from our regular online game. I'm looking to get back to that.

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