Blackman, Z+14: Some Days You Get The Bear…

"The avalanche has already begun. It is too late for the pebbles to vote." – Babylon 5

Mike has left Jenny and James at home and is out picking up some shopping – it’s daytime on January 4th, Z+14. His objectives are to cross the board from section 9 to section 1, and pick up at least one Food Unit or Item on the way. He has his trusty crowbar with him. Clearly, I have been playing too much Half-Life.

SETUP

I roll for PEFs, and get a Rep 4 (PEF4a) in section 5, and a Rep 5 (PEF5) and a Rep 4 (PEF4b) in section 6. No initial zeds at this stage; they start appearing next week.

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TURN 1

Activation: Mike 5, PEFs 1. All the PEFs pass 1d6 and move 12" away through cover, or in this case, without entering Mike’s line of sight. Mike doesn’t activate.

TURN 2

Activation: Mike 3, PEFs 2. Mike enters the building in section 9 and rolls for a Defining Moment – this is just like resolving a PEF. He rolls 2d6 vs area Encounter Rating (5): 2, 3 = pass 2d6, so he has contact with something. I’m now on the Contact Table for Days 11-20, and roll 1d6, -1 for it being daytime. The 4 thus becomes a 3, which is National Guard (or, on this side of the Pond, the Territorial Army); there isn’t an entry for these guys on the How Many Table, instead it says to roll twice on the Citizen column. I roll 4, 3, adding +1 to both rolls as I am in an urban area, and get 5, 4 – that gives me a total of 3+2=5 squaddies, and rolling 2d6 for each on the National Guard table I see they are numbers 7, 8, 8, 11 and 4. These are all Rep 4, nice and simple; four troopers with assault rifles and one with a SAW. Time to Meet & Greet… I guess the Free Spirit is in charge because he will have the best Pep score.

Each leader now rolls Rep d6; the NG team leader has Rep 4 so rolls 4d6 and gets 2, 1, 1, 5, which gives him 3 successes. Mike rolls 2d6 – 3d6 for his Rep, less 1d6 because he is outnumbered 2:1 or more. He rolls 6, 2 and gets one success. Mike scores fewer successes, so the troops search him for weapons – I decide the crowbar doesn’t count, so they let him keep it. They tell him he can’t pass them, and send him on his way – if they see him again they will treat him as an Enemy – since this means they will open fire on him, Mike decides to keep a low profile. But, he still has to get home.

I decide to interpret "pass the National Guard" as "move any further up the map towards sections 1-3", and use a die to face them randomly in various directions so they have lines of sight for me to check.

Meanwhile, the PEFs again all pass 1d6 and move away through cover. At least they’re consistent. However, as they have been resolved, the troops roll on the NPC Movement table; they get 1, 3 vs Rep 4, and pass 2d6. As they have already interacted with Mike, this is dropped to pass 1d6, and as they are neutral they will stay inside the building. As they will always either get this result or simply not move, I won’t bother about them in future turns, but I leave them on the board in case anything else tries to mix it up with them.

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TURNS 3-14

Turn 3 Activation: Double 3 – random event, a 5. I see from the description that this can’t happen, so roll again – 9. That also can’t happen; nor can 8; 11 can though, and Mike twists his ankle on the building’s doorstep, meaning his move is reduced 2" and he can’t pass more than 1d6 for fast moving.

Turn 4 Activation: Mike 5, PEFs 1. See, this is why you don’t want to be Rep 3. PEF5 passes 0d6 and stays where it is, PEF4a and PEF4b both pass 2d6 and moves 12" closer to Mike through cover.

Turn 5 Activation: Mike 3, PEFs 2. Mike leaves the building. All the PEFs pass 2d6 and move up 12" out of his line of sight.

Turn 6 Activation: Mike 1, PEFs 4. The PEFs go first. PEF5 sneaks closer, PEF4a and PEF4b both move off again. As I’ve said before, they do this a lot, and it made no sense to me until I realised that before it is resolved, a PEF represents where the Star thinks there might be trouble, and so it moving backwards and forwards is really Mike thinking to himself "It could be there… or maybe over there…" Anyway, Mike moves to cross the road, at his reduced move of 6", and unable to fast move without the police being called to arrest him, which is bad news actually, as zeds move 6". This brings him to the corner of the building and he can now see PEF5, so I roll to resolve it and discover it is more National Guard; another six of the blighters, in fact, specifically numbers 10, 7, 5, 7, 7, 7. Good grief, four Greedy troopers with SAWs? Let’s be nice, shall we? Another Meet & Greet, with Mike rolling 2 successes and the TA leader also rolling 2. We exchange pleasantries, and the troops suggest that Mike goes home and stays indoors. "My very plan," agrees Mike. Again I randomise which way they are looking.

Turn 7 Activation: Mike 2, PEF/NG 5. This is why I was keen to resolve PEF5; it increases the chances that Mike is the only one to activate. He continues to hobble across the road.

Turn 8 Activation: Mike 4, PEF/NG 2. Mike pauses, let’s assume waiting for a gap in the traffic, while all the PEFs and troops activate. The new troops pass 2d6, which is reduced to 1d6 as they have already interacted, and since there is a building nearby, they all go inside – no doubt their mates have a brew going. PEF4a continues to flee and ducks into the building in section 1; PEF4b rolls better and closes up. This actually makes it harder for it to get Mike, as it is now in the corner of a building in section 6.

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Turns 9, 10 Activation: Nobody activates. Imagine tumbleweeds blowing past. Turns like this aren’t wasted in ATZ, as police can get closer, zeds can continue feasting, and so on – the world keeps turning, and timers for other actions keep counting down.

Turn 11 Activation: Double 2 – random event. 10 can’t happen, but 12 can; it’s the ATZ dog, which I have decided to name “Fenton”. It shows up 12" away, starting at Mike’s 2 o’clock and rotating clockwise until it can fit on the board. To my dismay I see there are 6 zombies following, 12" behind it.

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Turn 12 Activation: Mike 5, Opposing Forces 4. Zeds are normally Rep 3, but if they can see a person, they activate as if Rep 4. I decide Fenton the dog can activate as well and move as if he were an NPC; he passes 1d6 and sensibly heads for the nearest building – but is stymied by the doorknob, and stands outside scratching at it. PEF4a and the zeds close on Mike as fast as they can, while PEF4b moves as far away as it can.

Turn 13 Activation: Mike 3, OpFor 5 – thank goodness for that. Mike needs to break line of sight with the zeds, but without drawing attention of those troops who will see him as an Enemy, so moves back towards the building in section 9, intending to circle around it and throw them off.

Turn 14 Activation: Mike 3, OpFor 4. The zeds shamble closer, Fenton gives up on the door and moves farther away, and the emboldened PEFs move in. Meanwhile, the TA are hunkered down in their building, ignoring it all. Mike limps further around the building.

TURN 15

Activation: Mike 3, OpFor 2. Mike goes first and heads around the corner. I decide relying on random facing is too much like hard work and declare a Challenge for Mike: Sneaking past the guards. I decide that passing 2d6 means he passes them unseen, passing 1d6 means they see someone dart past the door but don’t know who it is, and passing 0d6 means the see him, recognise him from their previous interaction, and since he is an Enemy go to In Sight and open up. Mike rolls 5, 5 and passes 0d6 – oh dear. However, as per p. 17, Mike may move an additional 2", and only then does anyone who can still see him get to roll In Sight. Assuming they all turn to face Mike, nobody can still seem him through the door, and there are no windows on that wall (this is why you need them marked), so nobody moves – yet.

Now the other side moves. The zeds beetle off towards where they saw Mike last (the corner of the building). Fenton and the PEFs all move away 12" through cover. Then, the fun part; all the soldiery. The first group (NG1-5) rolls 2d6 vs leader’s Rep (4); they get 5, 5 = pass 0d6 and even though their Enemy is outside, they do not move. The second group is still Neutral, strictly speaking, so can only stay in the building whatever they roll. And there was me, expecting a firefight.

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TURN 16

Activation: Mike 2, OpFor 1. Mike’s on a roll now, you should pardon the pun. He ducks around the corner and moves off cautiously down the alleyway.

NG1-5 pass 2d6 this time, and split up; NG1-3 move to the window attempting to gain cover on Mike’s flank and shoot at him; previously I’ve allowed tokens to count "out of sight" as "in cover", but as those guys reach the doors and windows they can see the zeds, so it seems reasonable that they stay indoors. This means they can’t see Mike. NG4-5 should "seek cover and shoot", so by the same argument they move up to the building corner – NG has line of sight and considers Mike an Enemy, so we now go to In Sight. Mike rolls Rep d6 and gets 1, 1, 2 = 3 successes; he is subject to the Citizen Brown Pants rule and rolls 1d6 vs Rep – he gets another 1, so can act when it’s his turn. NG4 rolls 3d6 (Rep 4, -1d6 for being the active figure at this point) and gets 1, 2, 4 = 2 successes. NG5 doesn’t have line of sight yet, so doesn’t roll.

Given that NG4 has an assault rifle and Mike has a crowbar, Mike uses his Star ability of choosing what to do to Charge into Melee. He and NG4 now both roll 2d6 vs Rep; Mike’s +1d6 for Rage cancels out his -1d6 for being a Citizen. Mike rolls 4, 5 and passes 0d6, while his opponent rolls 3, 1 and passes 2d6; since the bloke with the gun got more successes, he fires shots up to the target rate of the weapon (3), then Mike charges home. Rolls of 2, 6, 4 turn into results of 6, 10, 8 – the 6 misses (7 or less always does), the 10 hits, and the 8 misses because Mike is charging.

I immediately roll for new zeds, 1d6 per shot – 6, 1, 6. Each roll of 4+ is a new zombie, and they appear at the firer’s 2 o’clock and 12 o’clock, 12" away. Mike’s foe now rolls 1d6 vs weapon impact (3) for the shot that hit; he gets a 4, and since this is higher than the impact rating, Mike is Knocked Down and immediately takes the Recover From Knock Down test – 2d6 vs Rep. 3, 1 = pass 2d6, so Mike is stunned ("miss a full turn"). However, Mike has Star Power! As per p. 5, he rolls 3d6, looking for successes – 1, 4, 3 is 2 successes, each of which reduces his wound level – so he Carries On, and clobbers the trooper with his crowbar.

Mike rolls 4d6 – Rep 3, +1d6 for Rage. 5, 1, 6, 3 = 2 successes. His enemy rolls 4d6 (Rep 4) and gets 4, 1, 3, 5 = 2 successes; evenly matched. Both of them lose 1d6 from their totals for the next turn.

The existing zeds shake out into a conga line along the building, and the first two see NG5 as they pass the corner, turning to face him. Since zeds don’t trigger In Sight tests, NG5 does nothing. PEF4a moves farther away, PEF4b stays put, and Fenton turns around and comes back towards the shooting.

Shots have been fired, so the police will be called and arrive in 1d3+1d6 (2+2 = 4) turns, on turn 21.

TURNS 17-20

Turn 17 Activation: Double 5 – random event 11; twist an ankle. Oh come on! BOTH ankles? Oh well. Mike’s movement is now 4" and he can’t do better than pass 1d6 when fast moving.

Turn 18 Activation: Mike 6, OpFor 5 – nobody moves, but the police get one turn closer.

Turn 19 Activation: Mike 6, OpFor 5 – same again.

Turn 20 Activation: Mike 4, OpFor 1. The police arrive; two of them in a cruiser, wearing body armour, with BA Pistols and Shotguns. Mike decides to go quietly, considering that the alternative is running away very slowly, and being shot by multiple hostiles, then being eaten by zombies. Plus, I’m out of time for this game and need to go do something else. It doesn’t matter who he surrenders to; the National Guard turn you over to the police at this stage of the outbreak.

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AFTERMATH

I have to say, a classic zombie movie outcome; zeds everywhere, and the survivors fighting among themselves for no good reason. Mike failed this encounter, so gets no rolls for advancement; however, as per p. 72, he rolls 1d6 to see if his Rep decreases – he rolls a 2, and since he only loses Rep on a 1, all is well.

The police put Mike in jail for a week, and ask him to pay 1d3 (2) items or resources to get out. I’ll dock Mike one food unit and his luxury item for that. He misses up to Z+21, January 11th, when he is given back his crowbar and backpack, released, and told to go and sin no more.

Mike smiles all the same. It’s Z+21 now, and he is a Survivor – Stars automatically upgrade to that during week 3. His next encounter will be on Z+28, January 18th.

REFLECTIONS

You know, it’s surprisingly liberating not to have to haul out the figures, battlemats, etc. whenever I want a quick game. Unless I get a gaming room and can leave things permanently set up (unlikely, as my wife has other plans for the spare room), Hex Map Pro is likely to replace my tabletop for solo games. It may also mean I don’t need any more figures – no, surely not, let’s not be silly…

Savage, Z+7: You’ll Never Take Me Alive, Copper!

"I’m quite all right Barbara, I ran it under a cold tap. We had our jabs when we went to the Isle of Wight. It’s a lot of overblown nonsense, a lot of drug nuts running wild."
- Shaun of the Dead

Here’s the Savage Worlds version of All Things Zombie encounter one. As this session report has a number of things going on, I’ve adopted a key; normal text is me explaining what’s going on with reference to SW, and italics are how I am using the ATZ rules as a GM emulator.

SETUP

It’s midday on December 28th, Z+7, and Don Savage is out shopping. He has just bought himself a crowbar, and is carrying his backpack, but has left the shotgun and body armour at home today. After all, those stories about the living dead are just stories, right? To recap, Don looks like this:

Don Savage *

  • Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d4, Vigour d6.
  • Skills: Driving d4, Fighting d6, Healing d4, Intimidation d6, Knowledge (Battle) d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d6, Shooting d6, Stealth d4.
  • Charisma: –; Pace: 6; Parry: 5; Toughness: 5.
  • Edges: Command, Natural Leader
  • Hindrances: Code of Honour, Loyal, Vengeful.
  • Gear: Kevlar vest, shotgun, crowbar, backpack. $40 in cash.

Don’s objective is…. shopping! He gets one experience point for surviving (i.e., getting off the board without being Wounded by a zombie), one if he picks up at least one Item or Food unit, and one if he kills at least one zombie – these are adapted from the standard ATZ victory conditions. The map was created in Hexographer and is displayed in Hex Map Pro; one hex is one inch.

Bizarrely, the PEFs all appear in section 3 of the board; they have Reps of 2, 2 and 4, so I’ll call them 2a, 2b and 4.

In Savage Worlds, each friendly Wild Card has three bennies, and the Opposing Forces have two bennies per enemy Wild Card and one per PC. So, Don has 3 bennies and the other side has one. I move Don his Pace onto the board along the pavement in section 8, and the fun begins.

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TURNS 1-5

Turn 1: I’m using Savage Worlds card draws for initiative, with random events happening on a joker. Don draws a Jack of Diamonds, the Opposing Forces draw a 6 of Clubs. Don moves into the nearest building. I’m handwaving the cash situation by saying he is using a credit card, confident that next month’s wages will clear the bill. The bad news is, he’s wrong; the good news is, it won’t matter.

I use the ATZ Defining Moment rules to see what he finds in the building – in an urban area, the ER starts at 5. It’s a single neutral citizen, who exchanges pleasantries with Don. I use the PEF movement rules to see what the PEFs do – 2b freezes in place, 2a and 4 move 12" away through cover. I did wonder initially whether to adjust PEF movement, but since it represents where the PC thinks the opposition might be, and because experience in test games played off-camera suggests it doesn’t matter, I didn’t bother. It’s easier to remember the same rule in both sets of adventures.

Turn 2: Don draws Heart 3, the PEFs Club 2.

Don uses his turn to search for Items, i.e. shop. Using the ATZ search rules, he finds one Item. At this stage of the outbreak I want it to be something legal so I pick Medical Supplies – enough for one use of Healing. Meanwhile, PEF4 moves as far away as it can, into the opposite corner of the board, and PEFs 2a and 2b stay put.

Turn 3: Don Diamond Queen, PEFs Club King.

The PEFs go first, but thanks to their poor Reps, one freezes in place and the other two flee into the corner of the board. This is unusual, as normally my PEFs have Reps of 5 or 6 and are all over me like white on rice.

Don, thinking the chances of shopping or looting won’t be this good again for a while, runs out of the shop and across the road towards the building opposite. I roll 1d6 as a running die, and add the result to his usual Pace of 6; rolling a 2 means he moves 8" this turn.

Turn 4: Don Club 7, PEFs Club 5. Don continues to run across the road, again rolling a 2 so moving 8". PEFs 4 and 2a continue to bump into the corner – they can’t do anything else without moving closer. However, PEF 2b is made of sterner stuff and moves 12" closer through cover.

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Turn 5: Don Club Ace, PEFs Spade 4. Don moves into the building in section 9. I resolve its contents as nothing. PEF4 moves closer, PEF2b moves away.

TURN 6

Initiative: Don Spade Ace, PEFs Spade 8.

If Don runs out the back door, he can get line of sight on PEF4 and resolve it; so he does. He rolls a 4 and moves 10" (by the way, I’m counting doors as difficult ground, so they cost an extra inch of movement to go through). I notice Don can now see all three PEFs, so resolve them; PEF4 is a lone zombie, PEF2a is a group of three citizens, and PEF2b is a pair of citizens. As per my house rules for days 1-20, I reroll to see what the zed was before it turned; in days 1-10 it must have been a citizen, and I determine it was Citizen 8 on the 1-3 table, and thus has a Big Ass Pistol. I also dice for the other citizens as I need to know the leader’s Rep for each group; the group of three is citizen 4 on the 4-6 table, plus citizens 5 and 7 on the 1-3 table, so the leader has Rep 4; the pair is citizens 11 and 6 on the 1-3 table, so their leader also has Rep 4. I probably won’t need their other stats in this game, but I save them as pre-loaded PEFs for later games.

Now the zombie and citizens move. The zombie runs right at Don; it rolls 6 for its running die – fortunately this is not a trait roll and so cannot ace. The zed’s basic Pace is 4, so it runs 10", bringing Don within 6" so I rule he must make a Fear check in lieu of the ATZ Zed Or No Zed test. To do this, he rolls his Spirit d8 and a Wild Die d6. He gets 4 on the Wild Die and 2 on the Spirit die, but can choose which result he wants; I select the 4 as that will pass the Fear check without triggering penalties (the usual target number for die rolls in SW is 4). Meanwhile, the zed is firing at him; it opts for a wild attack (seems reasonable for a rager zombie) and the double tap option. It rolls Shooting d6 (2), + 2 for the wild attack, +1 for double tap, -2 for multiple actions because it’s running, and no range modifiers as it’s within 12" of the target; it gets a total of 3 – since the basic target number in SW is 4, it has missed. Just as well.

Off screen, the citizens (now using the NPC movement table) react; Citizens 1-3 stay put, wondering what to do next, while Citizens 4-5 run towards Don to see if they can help; as per SWD p. 65, I roll 1d6 for the group as a whole, and get a 5, so they move 11" towards the fight. Gunfire attracts zeds, so I roll to see if each shot generates a new zombie – neither one does. Finally, the police are invoked by the gunfire and will arrive in 1d3 (1) turns – obviously one of the local beat officers was nearby and heard the shots.

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TURN 7

Initiative: Don Heart Jack, OpFor Spade 3.

Staying outside in the open with some nutter shooting a Desert Eagle at you is tactically unsound, so Don steps back into the building and flattens himself against the wall next to the door, readying his crowbar. The zombie can’t see him any more, so it moves at a normal pace to where it last saw him. Citizens 4 and 5 try to get closer to Don to interact with him – the closest route is past the zombie, but since it’s blasting away with a pistol I think the citizens should go around the building in section 6 the other way; this early in the outbreak it seems unlikely they would open fire. Citizens 1-3 try to move away but are already in the corner.

Meanwhile, three squad cars pull up outside the building and six coppers pile out, armed with Big Ass Pistols, and reacting as per their Reps, which I won’t list. They run around and through the building to deal with the situation. This brings Don face to face with police officer 4, so we go to Meet & Greet – under SW I run this as an opposed Persuasion roll, and officer 4 has Pep 2 or Pep d4 when converted. Don rolls Persuasion d6 (1) and Wild d6 (1); I’m not having snake eyes so I spend a benny to reroll, and get 5 and 2 respectively – I use the higher of the two scores as my roll. Officer 4 meanwhile rolls 1d4 and gets 3; neither side gets a raise, so I count that as "same number of successes"; officer 4 asks how he is, and warns him that this area is dangerous (no kidding!), reducing the ER by 1 to 4.

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Citizens 4 and 5 decide now is a good time to enter the nearest building, while citizens 1-3 are still frozen in place, shocked by the outburst.

TURN 8

Initiative: Don Spade 3, OpFor Spade 9. There are a lot of people going simultaneously on that 9 of Spades, which can happen in SW.

Don thinks it’s time to go and starts moving out of the shop and off the board. The police move up on the location of the gunshots, staying in cover. Citizens 4 and 5 stay in their building, while citizens 1-3 continue trying to move away. The zed walks into the wall and turns left, then shambles on, which brings it adjacent to police officer 6, so it makes a wild double-tap attack with its Desert Eagle. It rolls Shooting d6 (6, which is an ace, so it keeps the 6, rolls again – 1 – and adds the scores for a 7), +2 for wild attack, +1 for double tap = 10; even if I count this as using a pistol in melee, when the target number becomes the victim’s Parry rather than 4, that’s a success with a raise, which increases damage by 1d6. The zed rolls 2d8 (for the pistol) and 1d6 (for the raise on the attack roll), getting a total of 17; officer 6 is appropriately number 6 on the police table, so has Rep 4 and thus Vigour d8; ATZ shows he should have body armour, so his effective Toughness is 10 – half his Vigour die type, plus 2, plus 4 for a kevlar vest vs bullets; 17 is 7 greater than 10, so the zed has a success and a raise for damage, Shaking and Wounding the officer – and since he is an Extra, with only one Wound, he is at once Incapacitated.

Officer 5 isn’t standing for that, so fires at the zombie. He is number 7 on the police table, so by my conversion guidelines he has Shooting d10. He double taps, rolls a 3 and adds +1 for the double tap, and hits, inflicting 2d8 damage – a 7, which exactly matches the zombie’s Toughness. This Shakes the zed.

Four shots have now been fired so I roll to see if that draws more zeds; two more appear, one crawling out of a squad car – have the police been arresting zeds? – and another one emerges from the trash pile behind the building in section 6. There’s no movement from any of the Citizens this turn.

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TURN 9

Initiative: Don Heart 7, OpFor Heart Queen. This suits me very well as I want the zed outside the building to go past before Don emerges and legs it off the board. It’s a busy turn, so I’ll focus on outcomes rather than the details of every die roll.

In no particular order, as everyone except Don goes simultaneously… the zed emerging from the squad car (formerly Citizen 11 on the 1-3 table) runs towards police officer 5, making a wild attack with its shotgun. It rolls Shooting d6 (1), +2 for wild attack, +2 for using a shotgun, and gets a total of 5; this is a hit, and it rolls the usual 3d6 for damage required for a shotgun at this range, getting 11 – the officer concerned (number 3 on the police table) has Rep 6, thus Vigour d6, and is wearing a kevlar vest, so the damage exceeds his effective Toughness of 9, but not by enough to get a raise; he is Shaken. No new zombies are generated by this.

The zed in section 6 (formerly Citizen 11 on the 4-6 table, and thus armed with a shotgun) makes a ranged wild attack at police officer 2, hitting but not quite doing enough damage to Shake the officer, before charging into melee. However, as it’s running in, police officers 1 and 2 (numbers 4 and 8 on the police table) both fire double taps, but not wild attacks (they reduce your Parry, and the officers will likely be in melee next turn); unbelievably, they both miss, and the shots draw three more zombies.

Officers 3 and 4 (numbers 4 and 7 on the police table) burst out of the building in section 9 and try to grapple the zombie. Officer 4 manages, thanks to his FIghting d10, the gang-up bonus and the fact that the zed fails to recover from Shaken.

Don runs an extra 4", which takes him off the board – the final picture shows the position just before he exits.

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AFTERMATH

Don survived unwounded, and picked up an Item, so he gains two experience points and a unit of Medical supplies.

REFLECTIONS

As SW characters are more complex than ATZ ones, it’s more important to "load" PEFs by working them out in advance; but since solo games proceed at whatever pace I want, I can do that as I go, and recycle them later on.

My intent was to name each NPC as they appeared, but given how many of them there were, and that Don is likely to leave the area soon and deal with a completely different set, I didn’t bother during the game.

As is often the case, however simple the initial scenario, the ATZ rules sent the situation spiralling out of control. However, the guidelines for using ATZ as a GM emulator are now working pretty well, and I’m happy with them.

I’m going to need some way of working out what happens first when there are multiple OpFor NPCs acting on the same card draw; the simplest approach is to say that they act in increasing order of distance from the PC, since I don’t have to look anything up that way. I could draw different initiative cards for each tactical group, but I know from previous experiments in the Arioniad that this slows gameplay down dramatically.

Zombies that can run don’t seem to be much more dangerous than shamblers; but zombies that can shoot are more dangerous than I expected, because I hadn’t considered that their gunfire would draw more zombies. Never mind, it only lasts a few encounters.

Blackman, Z+7: It’s Clobberin’ Time

“Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping.” – Bo Derek

Today I’m playing through the first encounter from ATZ, which is a training mission and essentially familiarises you with movement and Possible Enemy Forces; more complex rules appear in later scenarios. I’m not starting with the free web supplement of the Day One encounter, because I can’t really do that one without spoilers. (Also, I’ve played it several times now and want to move on.)

Here’s a map I knocked up quickly in Hexographer, to play the game in Hex Map Pro on iPad. The grey area with buildings is the “board”, and the yellowish bit off to one side is where I park tokens between games. The scale is one inch to the hex, which makes the board a bit small at roughly 33″ x 24″, but it’s really hard to break the rules, and a slightly small playing area definitely won’t do it. If anything, it speeds the game up.

2012111701

It’s a daytime encounter during days 1-10 of the outbreak; specifically Z+7, 28th December. I’m not tracking resources for the initial urban area, because I plan to leave before they become a constraint. Since the encounter is in a city, the Encounter Rating begins at 5. The Lack of Sleep rule is always in force, so Mike rolls 2d6 and adds the scores to see how many hours’ sleep he got last night; the total is a 9, and since this is 8 or more he has no penalties to his Rep.

SETUP

Mike is alone for this initial encounter, and I start by moving him 8″ (a full normal move) onto the board, entering along the roadside in section 8. I decide that he is carrying his backpack and a crowbar – things aren’t so obviously bad yet that carrying the shotgun seems appropriate.

As usual, I generate three PEFs, rolling 1d6 for the location of each and 2d6 for its Rep, taking the higher of the two dice. This gives me a Rep 4 PEF in section 3 of the board, a Rep 3 one in section 5, and a Rep 5 one in section 6. I place them as per the rules, those in sections 4 and 6 inside buildings, and the one in section 5 in the middle of the road.

That means Mike can see it, so I resolve that PEF right away; I roll 2d6 vs ER (5) and get 4, 1; a real contact, so I now roll 1d6 on the contact table for days 1-10, and get a 6.  I deduct 1 for it being daytime, and read off the result for 5 – zombies, roll on the How Many table at -1. Another d6 is a 1, less 1 is 0 – it’s a lone zed, now 7″ away from Mike – too far to trigger the Zed Or No Zed test.

2012111702

TURN 1

Activation: Mike 5, Opposing Forces 3. Mike fails to activate this turn, as his roll of 5 is higher than his Rep of 3, but everything else moves. (Plus the zed counts as Rep 4 for activation because it can see him.)

The Rep 5 PEF goes first, because it has the highest Rep of those who passed their activation. I roll 2d6 vs Rep (5) on the PEF movement table; 1, 3 is pass 2d6 so it moves 12″ towards Mike through cover.

One of my house rules is that given a choice between moving closer and breaking cover, a PEF will always choose to stay in cover. So PEF5 gets as close as it can without coming into plain sight.

The Rep 4 PEF goes next, and using the same rules, it tries to close in 12″ on Mike as well.

Finally for this turn, the zed moves. I turn to page 48 in ATZ: FFO and see that it will move 6″ directly towards Mike – zombies ignore PEFs. That puts it not quite close enough to attack in melee, but unless Mike goes first next turn, it will swipe at him.

This is the first time Mike has been within 6″ of a zombie, so he now rolls the Zed Or No Zed test – 2d6 vs Rep (3). He rolls 44, passes 0d6, and doesn’t recognise his attacker as a zombie until it is too late. The zed has used its movement without quite getting into melee range, though.

2012111703

TURN 2

Activation: Mike 5, OpFor 3. Again!

PEF5 rolls 16 vs Rep 5, passes 1d6 and so moves 12″ away through cover. I interpret this to mean that it can leave its building so long as Mike can’t see it, so it does. (Notice the little arrows on the tokens, by the way; they show which way it’s facing, which is important in ATZ.) I imagine it fleeing the violence across the street.

PEF4 again passes 2d6 but can’t get any closer without being seen. I imagine it peering through the shop window at the fight outside.

The zed now declares a charge into melee with Mike. To do this, we take the Charge Into Melee test (pp. 29-30). Zombies always pass 1d6 on this test, so there is no need to roll for the zed. Mike rolls 2d6 vs Rep (3), scores 2, 6 and so passes 1d6. (Mike’s modifiers of -1d6 for being a Citizen and +1d6 for Rage cancel out.) As both sides passed 1d6, the target (Mike) is allowed to fire one shot – but he has no gun, so we’ll ignore that. Then, the charger moves into melee without any further reaction tests. Mike is also subject to the Citizens Brown Pants Rule Part 2 (p. 30) and must roll 1d6 vs Rep to defend himself; fortunately he rolls a 3 and is able to act.

The zed is now in melee with Mike. Each now rolls Rep d6, looking for successes, i.e. rolls of 1-3. Mike rolls 4d6; 3 for his Rep, an extra one because he has Rage (this is why I chose it, as well as it helping counteract the problems from the Poser attribute assigned to him by the dice during character creation), and neither gains nor loses dice for his weapon. He rolls 5366 and gets one success, but this is increased to two successes because he is fighting a zombie.

Meanwhile, the zombie rolls 3d6 and scores 214; also two successes. They are evenly matched.

TURNS 3-4

Turn 3 Activation: Mike 4, OpFor 6. Nobody moves.

Turn 4 Activation: Mike 6, OpFor 2. Frustrating. PEF5 turns around and comes back (they do that a lot, but remember that while it’s still a PEF, it’s your Star thinking about where something might be, rather than where something actually is). PEF4 runs off into the shrubbery behind its building.

Mike and the zed are still bashing away at each other, and because they both previously scored an Evenly Matched result and are still in melee, they each roll one extra die. Mike rolls 5d6, 52431 = 3 successes, plus one for fighting a zed is 4 successes. The zed rolls 4222 = 3 successes. Since Mike scored more successes, the zed is Knocked Down and Mike rolls 1d6 vs the number of successes more than the enemy (1); he rolls a 5, so the zed is neither Obviously Dead nor Out Of the Fight, but must roll on a Recover From Knocked Down test. As per p. 49, this means it spends its entire next activation getting up.

Update: Ed Teixeira, the author, points out I did this wrong – the extra die for being Evenly Matched applies to a third party attacking one of the two evenly matched guys, not those guys themselves. Thanks Ed! As usual, I shall let it stand for this session and do things right next time. Unless I forget…

2012111704

Notice that Hex Map Pro tokens can be flipped over to show another side. In this case I have turned the zombie grey and marked it “KD” to show its status.

TURN 5

Activation: Mike 1, OpFor 5. This time only Mike and PEF5 move.

Since PEF5 had the highest score which is its Rep or less, it goes first. It would like to get closer, but it can’t without breaking cover, so it stays put.

Checking the rules, since no guns have been fired, the police are not summoned. Clearly, nobody was watching who wants to get involved. And Mike has the Rage attribute, so from a role-playing perspective he should finish the zombie off.

Stunned figures can’t do anything, the zed is prone until it next activates, and Mike gets an extra 2d6 because his opponent is prone. I decide the extra d6 for having been evenly matched before shouldn’t apply, although I could argue that either way, and roll 6d6 – three for Rep, one for Rage, two for a prone target. 412542 gives Mike three successes, plus one for the zed being a zed is five. He rolls 1d6 vs number of successes more than his opponent and gets a 5; pass 1d6 but not a natural 1, so his opponent is Out Of the Fight. As per p. 49, against a zombie this escalates to Obviously Dead, so I remove the token from play and note that Mike has killed a zombie.

TURN 6

Activation: Mike 2, PEFs 5.

PEF5 tries to close up but is already as close as it can get. I decide to force the issue and roll to fast move across the street towards it; Mike rolls 2d6 vs Rep (3), gets 32 and passes 2d6, so moves 16″ (base 8″, +50% per die passed).

That takes him across the street, into the building, and around behind the PEF, which I now resolve. It’s another zombie, so since Mike is already in the mood for some clobberin’, he declares a charge as soon as he can see it. First, he must again pass 1d6 vs Rep as per the Citizens Brown Pants rule (it sucks being a Citizen in this game); again luck is with him, he rolls a 2, and is able to proceed to the Charge Into Melee test. As before, the zed passes 1d6. Mike’s score of 21 = pass 2d6, more than the zed, so he moves into melee with no reaction tests taken on either side, and the zed counts as unarmed in the first turn of melee, which means it rolls 1d6 less than normal.

Mike rolls to brain the zed with his crowbar. Mike rolls 4d6 and gets 3434, which given the zed-bashing bonus gives him 3 successes. The zed rolls 31 and gets 2 successes; Mike rolls 1d6 vs his margin of success and gets a 2, knocking it down.

This seems as good a moment as any to roll for the Defining Moment; essentially, whenever you enter a building, you roll to resolve an extra PEF. I roll 3, 6 vs ER (5) and pass 1d6; this increases the ER by 1, which is a double-edged sword; it means I will always find someone inside a building, but also means I will always get the best loot possible.

2012111705

TURNS 7-11

Turn 7 Activation: Mike 1, OpFor 6. Only Mike can do anything this turn, so he opts for beating the zed to a pulp. He rolls 6d6 in melee, scores 3 successes, and knocks it down again.

Turn 8 Activation: Mike 3, OpFor 5. Again Mike is the only one to activate, and he uses this and his crowbar to set the zed’s status to Obviously Dead.

Turn 9 Activation: Mike 2, OpFor 1. Mike loots the building – errm, sorry, buys some supplies. Normally he would roll 2d6 vs ER (now 6) to see what he finds, but as he will now always pass 2d6, he automatically gets one Item. More on Items later. Meanwhile, PEF4 moves up to the door of the building opposite.

Turn 10 Activation: Mike 6, OpFor 2. Mike can’t move, and the only thing left on the board is PEF4, which passes 1d6 and moves away.

Turn 11 Activation: Mike 1, OpFor 5. Mike has now fulfilled the victory conditions for the scenario, and I don’t feel like mixing it up with whatever PEF4 is or whatever else is in the shops, not as a Rep 3 Citizen. So, Mike rolls to fast move off the board; scores of 46 vs Rep 3 mean he passes 0d6 so only moves his normal 8″, although he counts as fast moving if shot at. Deducting 2″ for going through a door, he makes it back to the pavement.

TURNS 12-15

Turn 12 Activation: Mike 5, OpFor 6.

Turn 13 Activation: Mike 3, OpFor 3 – doubles, so neither side moves, and the double is less than or equal to the original ER, so I roll 3d6 for a random event; 13, cell phone ringing 1d6″ from a random character – and only Mike is available, so it must be him. I roll 1d6 for distance (5″) and 1d6 for direction (4) as if placing a zed, so I double the number and count it as a clockface direction – Mike’s 8 o’clock. I now roll 3d6 to generate more zeds; as it’s an urban area, each die coming up 4-6 creates a zed. I roll 413 and get one new zed, which is always 12″ from the cellphone in a direction chosen the same way as before – I roll 6, so it is at the phone’s 12 o’clock, and decide the phone is “facing” Mike for this purpose, putting the zed 7″ from him.

2012111707

Turn 14 Activation: Mike 2, OpFor 5. Mike’s chance to escape; he rolls 2d6 vs Rep to fast move, and again passes 0d6, which takes him right to the edge of the board.

Turn 15 Activation: Mike 3, OpFor 1. Mike goes first and steps off the board, ending the game.

AFTERMATH

Mike killed at least one zombie, achieved his objective (pick up at least one Item), and did not score a Runaway or Out Of the Fight result; he has passed all four criteria for a potential Rep increase, so rolls 1d6. He gets a 3, but since this is not more than his current Rep, it doesn’t go up.

I decide the Item is a unit of luxury goods. Mike definitely needs a drink.

Current Status

  • Mike Blackman*: Rep 3 MM Citizen, Pep 2, Sav 1, Poser, Rage. Shotgun, crowbar, knife, sedan, backpack, 2 food, 1 luxury.
  • Jenny Blackman (C11B): Rep 3 FM Citizen, Pep 1, Sav 2, Initiative. Pistol, 1 food.
  • James Blackman (C12A): Rep 3 MY Citizen, Pep 1, Sav 2, Agile. Shotgun, 1 food.

REFLECTIONS

Note that the Zed Or No Zed test is only taken once in a character’s career, the first time it sees a zed within 6″.

Notice also that since zeds always pass 1d6 on the Charge Into Melee table, it does you no good to melee them from behind.

Down Among the Dead Men

I’m taking a break from Beasts & Barbarians and the Arioniad, and returning for a while to All Things Zombie – the first THW game I bought, and in many ways still my favourite. However, I want to stay current with Savage Worlds as well, so I’m running both a Star under ATZ and a PC under Savage Worlds in parallel. The SW PC will use ATZ as a GM emulator.

ATZ: MIKE BLACKMAN

Creating an ATZ avatar is very straightforward; you choose the Rep, decide whether he’s better with people (Pep) or things (Sav), roll dice to determine one attribute (in my case Poser), and select another (in this case, Rage).

My ATZ Star is called Mike Blackman, because when ATZ: FFO was the guest game we used the pawns from the Zombies!!! boardgame as our figures, and I had the black one. He’s a Rep 3 Citizen, with Pep 2, Sav 1, Poser (diced at random), Rage (chosen by player).

My experience to date suggests the optimum tactical group size for ATZ is three people, so I now recruit two grunts. As per p. 20, I can only recruit Rep 3 Citizens at this point, and rolling on the Citizen tables on p. 74 I get Citizen 12 on the 1-3 table, and Citizen 8 on the 4-6 table. They make most sense to me as Mike’s son (whom I shall call James) and wife (Jenny) respectively, so Mike is in the Mature age bracket himself.

As well as the shotgun (at least, I assume SP is a typo for SG) and pistol that the Grunts have, Mike has 7 items (2 x Rep +1 per Grunt not recruited); I select a shotgun, a crowbar, a knife, a backpack, a sedan and 2 food units.

SW: DON SAVAGE

Don Savage is the SW PC; he begins as the Leader Archetype from SWD p. 18, and I select Code of Honour, Loyalty and Vengeful as his Hindrances – the first two to fit the character concept, and the last to generate interesting scenarios later. I use the three spare skill points to give him d4 in Driving, Healing and Stealth; the first one because it’s hard to imagine a modern Western adult without it, and the others because I think they will be useful. As for gear, he starts with $500 which I use to buy a kevlar vest, a shotgun, a crowbar, and a backpack; with Str d4, that’s as much as he can carry without penalties, so he has $40 left over which won’t be much use. The skills and edges suggest to me that Don is a military man, and the low Str suggests he is recovering from wounds.

ATZ AS A GM EMULATOR

After some experimentation and thought, I now have a set of rulings that will let me use All Things Zombie as a GM emulator for Savage Worlds; rather than list them all in this post I’ll point them out as I go along in encounter reports, which I think will be both clearer and more interesting. However, a few highlights:

SW zombies can run, and shoot. If they can see a human target, they will run towards it, and make a wild attack in melee if they can; and during days 1-20 I’ll roll to see what they were before they turned – if their former incarnation was armed, they can shoot, relying on muscle memory; after that they run out of ammo and drop their weapons. Anyone who ends a combat round Wounded by a zombie counts as Incapacitated and Bleeding Out; if Bleeding Out results in death, on the following turn the character rises as a zombie.

Update : Playtests "off camera" have shown this version of the zed virus is too harsh, so I’m now using the Infection monstrous ability – anyone Shaken or Wounded by a zombie must make a Vigour roll to avoid infection, failure means they turn into a zombie after 1d6 turns.

For unopposed trait rolls (like healing someone or picking a lock), failure counts as pass 0d6, success as pass 1d6, and a raise as pass 2d6. For opposed trait rolls (which replace things like Meet & Greet rolls), failure counts as pass fewer d6, success as pass the same number of d6, and a raise as pass more d6.

Review: Rippers

"Rippers are a secret cabal of scholars, warriors, sages, and heroes who battle legendary horrors around the globe. But willpower, science, technology, and steel are not their only weapons. Abraham Van Helsing and “Dr. Jack” have shown the Rippers how to extract the essences or natural tools of the creatures they battle — and implant it in themselves." – from Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition

This was an unexpected present, turning up as one of the Halloween freebies on RPGNow. As is my wont, I grabbed it while the grabbing was good, and am only now getting around to reading it.

Summary: Savage Worlds monster-hunting plot point campaign set in the Victorian Era. 146-page  PDF file.

CONTENT

Before the book proper begins, there are a couple of pages of mock letters and newspaper cuttings explaining the setting concepts "in character". In essence, you and your fellow Rippers have discovered that the creatures of myth and superstition are real, and prey upon mankind; and you have decided to have a word with them about that.

Becoming a Ripper (8 pages)

This starts with a dozen or so character concepts, from Acrobat to Vigilante, each with a paragraph of flavour text. There are no archetypes or templates; each Ripper is unique, and the concepts are intended to stimulate the player’s imagination.

Character creation follows normal SW rules, expect for the addition of two new secondary stats: Status, needed to reflect the stratified nature of Victorian society, and Reason, which is essentially how much horror you can stand before you go mad. There are also five new Hindrances, two major and three minor, and 17 new Edges.

A sidebar in this section also explains the six main factions of Rippers at large in the world, and where there might be found. Each offers its members one of the new Edges, although these count against the normal limits.

Possessions (6 pages)

Currency first. The standard unit of currency is the Pound Sterling (Huzzah!) which is worth $100 contemporary dollars. Although the subunits (£1 = 20s = 240d) are mentioned, all prices are in shillings, to simplify tracking finances. There is a discussion of the various British coins in circulation at the time, many of which were still in circulation up to the 1970s, with their names, values, and the social classes who might be expected to use them.

Then we have the usual setting-appropriate armour and weapons, a mixture of real life and steampunk, and mundane items such as pharmaceuticals, food and lodging, and the magnificently named Ruhmkorff’s Apparatus, a backpack-mounted electric torch.

Setting Rules (6 pages)

There are a few minor tweaks – such as temporarily gaining the Outsider Hindrance when away from your homeland – but most of the chapter focusses on insanity, including an expanded Fright Table, your character’s Status in society, and Lodges.

The team’s base is called a Lodge, and to an extent is another character in its own right, with statistics reflecting its Influence on the rest of the organisation (which is a constraint on the team’s advancement), its Membership (which defines available NPC backup), its Renown (which modifies Charisma), its Resources (which pay the team’s wages and fund their research), and its Facilities (what rooms and workshops it has, each of which has a benefit for the team). Lodges also have Edges, which affect various aspects of the team’s support and assignments.

Note the implicit assumption that the whole team works for the same faction. Initially they use a Lodge assigned them by their faction, but once everyone is Seasoned they may create their own, which they may then upgrade over time as finances permit.

Rippertech (7 pages)

This is the part of Rippers which I consider unique; the monster-hunters can extract organs and tissue from their quarry and implant it in themselves, levelling the playing field between the sides by gaining some monstrous abilities themselves.

In effect, these are the setting’s equivalent of the cybertech in SF game worlds.

The chapter discusses obtaining these materials, processing them, implanting them or turning them into potions, and the potentially dire effects on the recipient’s physical and mental health. It lists a baker’s dozen of standard implants and extracts, known to anyone with the new Knowledge (Rippertech) skill.

Dr Jack’s Lab (3 pages)

Players can read up to the end of the Rippertech chapter, but from now on we’re in GM territory. We begin by reviewing the origins of each order of Rippers, and the main source of dispute between them – how much use to make of Rippertech. This fuels a cold war between the factions.

The Rippers World (17 pages)

The Rippers are expected to travel worldwide to hunt down their foes, and thus a gazetteer of locations is needed.

Areas range from the Atlantic Ocean to Tibet, and split by continent; each has a capsule description, example encounters or hazards, sites of interest (including mythical lost cities), and pointers to the relevant Savage Tales in that chapter.

Running Rippers (9 pages)

This is advice for the GM; how to evoke the setting and the mood, how to handle travel and the things that might go wrong en route to the next mission.

As usual in SW, there are no random encounter tables, and encounters are not scaled to the party’s "level"; you meet what you meet, and you’re expected to know when to fight, when to talk, and when to run. The GM is encouraged to enhance the horror aspect of the game by using disproportionately nasty foes from time to time.

There’s a list of 20-odd less well-known Rippertech items which the PCs might research or find, and rules for handling the inevitable PC custom-built Rippertech. There’s another list of relics, powerful religious or magical artifacts; players can’t make these, but could get hold of them. There’s a list of Bloodlines, which are the Bad Guys’ equivalent of Rippertech, ’nuff said.

Adventures (14 pages)

This has the obligatory random adventure generator found in almost all SW settings, although driven by die rolls rather than card draws. The intent is that this is used to generate day-to-day missions, with the Savage Tales being more important set-pieces.

The generator covers each of the basic activities of Rippers; hunting monsters, investigating mysteries, recruiting supporters, researching Rippertech and socialising to gain influence. That tells you the kind of thing player characters will get up to.

There is a shorter, parallel section on distractions – events that happen in the wider world, like border skirmishes, which may help or hinder the group.

Finally, there is a section on running the cold war between the Rippers and their organised opposition, the Cabal, in an abstract way. This has the effect of constraining the Lodge’s activities; you need a certain number of Rippers looking after the Lodge, and others dedicated to containing the Cabal threat using these rules – only those who are doing neither are available for more traditional adventures.

I like this section; it goes beyond the plain vanilla adventure generator into creating a partial sandbox environment, in which enemies and random events appear and must be dealt with.

Savage Tales (41 pages)

The meat of Rippers is in the 39 adventures in this section. The first ten are the plot points, which when played in sequence define the default campaign; the rest are meant to be run between them, in no particular order, other than each has a "trigger" such as some piece of information – "Feast of Blood", for example, can only happen when the heroes conduct a research or investigation adventure after finding something on a specific volcano.

Suffice to say that over the course of the campaign, the players will meet most of the gothic horror classics and hopefully deal with them.

Encounters (25 pages)

This would be a bestiary in most setting books. It lists stats and background information for 10 famous NPC Rippers, 7 friendly but generic NPCs, and several dozen new or variant monsters, including evil wild card NPCs.

The game closes with a character sheet, Lodge and ally sheets, and an index.

FORMAT

This is one of the earlier SW setting books (2005), and the download includes both a full-colour and a printer-friendly version of the book.

The layout and typeface are clear, especially in the printer-friendly version, and there are quarter-page colour illustrations every few pages.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

Layered PDF file please. Even in the printer-friendly file, the character sheet has a colour background, which kills printers and makes it harder for me to read. I also find it helpful to suppress everything except the illustrations, print the monster of the week’s picture, and scale it over the table to the players, saying "You see… this!"

CONCLUSIONS

One thing I’ve noticed about Savage Worlds over the years is the bias towards Victoriana and gothic horror in its products. I have a limited tolerance for either, so I am unlikely to run Rippers. I can see that it is a really well-done treatise on the topic, and if the genre were my cup of tea I’d jump at it; but is isn’t, so I won’t. Don’t take that as a criticism of the product, though; it’s just how I roll.

I like the idea of Lodges, which are in some ways similar to the team bases in supers games or Suzerain. I could see myself adopting something like that, especially for The Warforged’s proposed wizard’s tower in Gis.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5. I dithered over whether to give it a 3 (fine, but not what I’m after), but since I’m likely to use bits of it, I decided on 4 (some bits usable for my main campaigns).

Shadows of Keron Episode 22: Vengeance of the Branded Devils, Part 3

I didn’t want to leave this one hanging any longer, so we pressed on even without Athienne and Garstrewt.

To recap, the players were tracking a group of bandits away from a village. Since Athienne is the only one who can actually track, the party were forced to improvise, and this really started to diverge from the script when their overnight camp was attacked by a Lizard Of Unusual Size – about as big as a rhino. The Warforged decided to grapple it, intending to add it to his menagerie (currently one giant fighting bird, one warhorse, and two desert scorpions).

After watching it drag him about the camp, yelling and flailing, for some minutes, the group decided to use a combination of Beast Friend and Puppet powers to gain control of it, which worked.

Under party control, the dominated beast tracked the bandits to their lair, whereupon The Warforged used "OMG It’s A Giant Fire-Breathing Lizard Attack" as a trapping on his Fear power to scare two of the guards into the open, Puppet to get another one to reinforce the trapping with shouted warnings, and Bolt to set fire to the nearby bushes. (I allow people to change trappings pretty freely, especially for powers like Fear and Puppet, which I imagine work using illusions).

All this flushed the enemy out into the open, whereupon Gutz took them out with archery and thrown axes. I have never seen blow-through with a thrown axe before, but now that he has Dead Shot he got up to 38 damage, and considering he had enfilade fire on them, his Quick Edge had seen him draw both jokers, and they were right next to each other, I did allow him to get two with one axe.

The 20-odd other bandits, still thinking they faced a giant lizard because of the warnings from the Puppet-controlled guard, formed a phalanx across the mouth of their cave lair, and were obliterated by a Blast spell, leaving the group with possession of the field. Throughout, Nessime had supported the others with Boost/Lower Trait and Beast Friend to control the LOUS.

Astonishingly, prisoners were taken this week – the first time ever, I think – and some NPCs and beasts were allowed to escape with their lives. They’re going soft, I tell you.

No spoilers on the Big Secret of the scenario, but The Warforged got a benny for working out what was going on just from the description of the cave. The party left with a prisoner of considerable interest to the Sister Queens of Ascaia, and the intent to share the Big Secret with the Temple of Hulian, who are well-placed to make use of it, but not with the Alchemists of Gis, whom they believe will misuse its power. Meh, they could be right on that one.

We leave them heading back towards Gis, although their actual destinations are undecided. Dramatically, it makes most sense if The Warforged goes to Gis, Athienne and Garstrewt return to Ascaia, and the rest of the party head for Jalizar; but we can sort it out later.

And with that, Season 1 of Shadows of Keron draws to a close. As a group, we’re taking a break from that for a while now, with the intent to play some Shadowrun and All Things Zombie. I already have enough material for another season, so I expect us to return to the Dread Sea Dominions sometime in 2013.

The Arioniad: The Story So Far…

I’m losing track of the Arioniad, so this is for me more than you, dear readers, though I still hope you might find it interesting. I deliberately did this from memory, except for the episode numbers, reasoning that anything which didn’t stick in my mind is not worth keeping in the setting, whatever it winds up looking like.

SEASON 1: SCHRODINGER’S CAT

Episodes: 1-24.

Rules: Savage Worlds, Mythic, Larger Than Life.

Storyline: Arion meets Dmitri on Tainaron, and helps him escape from Schrodinger (a rogue psion) and his Gimirri clansmen. Following Schrodinger to a backwater planet, they find a hyperspace portal to Coriander’s homeworld, where they meet her and her people, who are psions in exile. They try to foil Schrodinger’s plot to acquire a dinobastis, a giant feline creature with mystical significance to the Gimirri, and thus gain a seat on the Gimirri clan council; however, he succeeds, and Arion is nearly killed. Coriander and Dmitri decide to stay with him aboard his scoutship, the Dolphin.

Setting Notes: I’ve never really mentioned it, but in my mind Coriander’s homeworld is called Zener. Dmitri is from Corinth, and Arion is from Makaria, which is a client state of Corinth. Corinth, Delphi, Tainaron and Makaria are all part of the Attica Cluster, a Balkanised group of worlds with a shared culture; Zener is nearby, but there is no hyperspace route to it, and it can only be reached by a “stargate” whose existence is known only to a few, including Coriander’s people, Schrodinger and Arion. Gimirr is somewhere close by as well.

SEASON 2: IMAGOES

Episodes: 25-31 (067-3011 to 176-3011)

Rules: Savage Worlds, Classic Traveller.

Storyline: Arion, Coriander and Dmitri misjump into a new subsector and meander around it, trading and looking for clues to the way home. They learn of the threat posed by the Imagoes, non-sentient yet starfaring insectoids; however, since these prefer a dense, corrosive atmosphere, there is no immediate conflict for living space.

Setting Notes: This season really didn’t work for me, and I probably won’t keep anything from it except the Imagoes as a vague background threat. Maybe not even them.

SEASON 3: HEART OF THE SCORPION

Episodes: 32-33 (No Estimated Time of Return to Faction Turn 1)

Rules: Savage Worlds, Stars Without Number.

Storyline: Arion, Coriander and Dmitri are reactivated by the Corinthian Scout Service and sent to establish a cell on Halfway Station, as Corinth wishes to learn more about the Celestial Empire and its plans for Galactic domination. They succeed, but the season is cancelled after shiny new things distract my attention, namely Beasts & Barbarians and 5150. I still love Stars Without Number, though, and you might reasonably expect to see it return at some point.

Setting Notes: The concepts of the Celestial Empire (capital: Zhongguo) and Halfway Station still interest me, but I’ll probably drop everything else. Halfway is a deep space station midway between the Attica Cluster and the Celestial Empire, on the only known hyperspace route between the two.

SEASON 4: NEW BEGINNINGS

Episodes: 34-46 (Novawatch and After to When the Ship Lifts). Season 4 isn’t finished yet; think of the current situation as the mid-season break which has become mandatory for TV shows in recent years.

Rules: 5150: New Beginnings, Chain Reaction Final Version, Savage Worlds.

Storyline: Arion, Coriander and Dmitri are transferred to New Hope, with orders to establish a reputation as mercenary troubleshooters and await further orders. They undertake a variety of missions both legal and otherwise for assorted patrons, and rescue Dmitri’s old flame Berenike from a civil war on Tainaron.

At the start of episode 47, Arion and company will be back in New Hope City, and looking for work. At some point they will start working for an Embassy, at which point I’ll rule they have been reactivated by the CSS and start doing spy stuff. Of all the rules combinations I’ve tried so far, plain vanilla 5150 seems to be the closest match to what I’m trying to do here; but The Arioniad is explicitly declared as a rules testbed, so who knows what will happen next? Certainly not me!

Review: Battlefield Evolution Figures

As you may have guessed, what non-gamers refer to as "real life" has interrupted my gaming recently. I’ve been observing this "real life" for some years now, and it appears to involve a lot of (a) going into a big room with a blue and/or grey ceiling, and (b) getting up early, to do things you don’t want to do, for people you don’t like. But I digress.

I can still snatch the odd moment to surf the web, and what should I discover but an end-of-line sale on Mongoose Battlefield Evolution figures. I’ve been curious about these for a while, and on learning they were on sale at £5 a box, I took the plunge. Why not before? Well, I’d heard that the poses and the paint jobs were not that good; and I was suspicious that they might be too big, or too small, to go with my normal toy soldiers. (My players don’t care about this, but I do.)

Given my gaming proclivities, I ignored the tanks and PLA jeep-borne command unit, and went for the infantry squads. For some reason, only SAS patrols and British Army sections were available; that’s fine, as those would have been my preference anyway, although perhaps a few US Marines for Stargate games would be handy. I can pit them against each other, as they can be differentiated by their hats (some sort of bush hat thing for the SAS, more normal helmets for the regulars).

WHAT’S IN THE BOXES?

Each box contains 8 or 10 hard plastic infantry figures, prepainted, on a base intended to represent sandy soil; the default setting for Battlefield Evolution is a fictional Middle Eastern or Central Asian state being contested by the USA, UK, PRC, and locals, so this makes sense. There is also a unit card listing the game statistics for the unit and its weapons, and a rules summary sheet which unfolds to four sides of A4.

The British infantry section has eight figures in four poses; two corporals with L85, 6 riflemen with L85 (one kneeling, one standing) and two gunners with Minimi Para LMG. The SAS patrol has ten figures; one sergeant, one corporal (kneeling), and four riflemen with M416/M203, two gunners with Minimi Para LMG, and two spare figures with M109 sniper rifles – the unit card tells me I can swap a gunner for a sniper at no extra points cost. Many of the figures have eyepieces of some sort over their left eyes, although these are almost invisible unless you hold them close and squint.

Unwittingly, I have bought enough troops for a basic two-person force; the infantry sections are worth 160 points each and the SAS patrol 225, with the minimum force per side in Battlefield Evolution being 250 points. The rules sheet in each box, together with the unit cards, seem to be sufficient to play a basic game, with the hardback rules spoken of as "advanced rules". i can’t see myself playing Battlefield Evolution for a while, so these go into a drawer.

The poses are reasonable, although as usual for plastic prepainted figures, some of them are leaning over at angles unlikely for a human being (3 out of 26 in my selection), and more realistically proportioned than the fat so-and-so’s with banana fingers and giant weapons which Games Workshop models feature. They are also a bit fragile, with two of them breaking off their bases and two others losing the little stickers on the base bottoms as I was extracting them from the packaging. Hopefully, nothing a little superglue won’t fix, but I’m not sure they will take being rattled around loose in a box like the softer Reaper or Pathfinder plastics.

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Size comparison on 5mm grid: L-R Mongoose SAS, Mongoose British Infantry, Copplestone Future Wars trooper, eM4 trooper.

As you can see above, the Mongoose Battlefield Evolutions figures are almost exactly 25mm to eye level, so theoretically should match the other ranges; but as usual, the metal figures are chunkier and more "heroic" – i.e., fat so-and-so’s with banana fingers. The BE figures look fine next to each other, but a bit thin and weedy next to the Copplestone and eM4 ones.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

I wonder if casting the figures as one piece including base would stop them breaking off so much?

This is probably not a common wargaming requirement, but the games I play require female figures, and these are difficult to find prepainted, so a few of those in the next line would be welcome. However, having observed actual troops, it’s hard to tell the ladies from their male colleagues at 70 metres or so, which is roughly equivalent to a 28mm figure at arm’s length on the tabletop, as the fatigues and body armour conceal their figures; the only visible differences are that they’re a little bit shorter on average and tend to wear their hair in a bun at the back. So maybe I’m just being fussy.

I could see uses for a box of mixed-gender civilians though – hostages, gangs/insurgents, "terrain hazards" for patrol missions, and so on. Oh, and some zombies please, while I’m wishing for the improbable.

CONCLUSIONS

I like the fact that they are prepainted; I keep meaning to paint my remaining bare metal figures, but there’s that "real life" thing again. I also like their equipment, which is near-future enough to make them credible SF units. I don’t like the fragility. The paint job isn’t brilliant, but it’s at least as good as I could manage myself, so I’m not complaining there.

At roughly 50p per figure (probably about 70c US), these were a reasonable buy for the masses of opposition needed in THW games; if you roll really badly, the total opposition could be as many as 9 times the size of your force; my Stars’ tactical groups tend to be about 3-4 people, so worst case I would need 35-40 opponents.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5. They won’t get to be the stars of the tabletop, just the faceless extras, but a movie needs extras too. I shall watch for the replacement ranges promised by Mongoose with interest.

Games People Play

This one is for Charles F Blakely (Hi Charles!), who wanted a summary of what I’m playing and using…

GAMES I GM

These are the games I’m currently gamemastering.

Savage Worlds: Far and away my favourite. You can do anything with this, really. At the moment what I’m doing with it is Beasts & Barbarians, the Conanesque setting from GRAmel.

Labyrinth Lord: I’m intermittently using this one; several of my players are diehard Original D&D players and would rather play something more like that. Of the available retroclones, I think LL is most suited to how I play. However, my original intent of recapturing the feel of late 1970s gaming didn’t last long; I’ve already done the 1970s once, and although I remember those games fondly, they aren’t quite what I want to play any more.

GAMES I’D LIKE TO GM

Frankly, I can’t see anything shifting me from Savage Worlds and THW; I expect to drop LL at some point. I could see myself using SW in a range of different settings, and playing THW games in their built-in settings, easily enough; but changing game system again? It would have to be a dramatic leap forward in playability, and I don’t see how that would be possible.

Next up is running ATZ: FFO as a GM. I know how well THW games work solo, and I want to see how they work for a group. However, initially I will be the GM rather than another player, as I need to interpret and explain the rules to the others.

Every so often I have nostalgic thoughts about OD&D, Classic Traveller, and 2300AD; and then I read the rules again, and remember that my tastes have changed over the last 35 years of gaming.

Other games that have tempted me, at least momentarily:

  • Empire of the Petal Throne: The 1975 original. The rules are a bit clunky by modern standards, but they’re easy to learn and use, and they work. The setting is perhaps the best ever done for an RPG. There is, however, a distinct lack of robots, Vikings and thieves, which my players would immediately want to introduce.
  • Stars Without Number: Everything you could want from a space opera RPG, in one book. And it’s free.
  • Warhammer Fantasy Role Playing 2nd Edition: Two things stand out here; the use of careers for character advancement, and the way wizards blow themselves up every so often. Both highly entertaining in their own way.

Other things I’d like to run under Savage Worlds:

  • Empire of the Petal Throne. See above.
  • The Games Workshop dungeon crawl games: Heroquest, Advanced Heroquest, Warhammer Quest. The last of these would probably be easiest.

GAMES I PLAY

For the kind of solo gaming I enjoy, there is nothing to beat Two Hour Wargames. I’d especially single out 5150: New Beginnings and All Things Zombie: Final Fade Out. Of the two, I suspect 5150 NB will have more staying power; I can see myself exhausting the possibilities of ATZ more quickly. I’m also waiting for the new edition of Warrior Heroes.

As a player in other RPG groups, I’m currently playing Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying 3rd Edition, Shadowrun, and Original Dungeons & Dragons. WFRP3 is too complex for my taste, and has far too many fiddly components; but the GM is extremely good and as long as I don’t have to run it, I can cope. Shadowrun is surprisingly straightforward and simple in play, despite the level of crunch in the rules. The OD&D game again has a very good GM, and that more than makes up for any shortcomings in the game itself.

I could see myself running a game in any of those settings, but I’d use Savage Worlds to do it.

GAMES I’D LIKE TO PLAY

Mouse Guard, out of pure curiousity to see (a) how the game itself works (b) what the potential GM (Nessime’s player) would do with it.

GAMES/SUPPLEMENTS I BORROW BITS FROM

  • Maps and battlemats. I think the best source of these is boardgames from the 1970s and 1980s. I regularly use the maps from Cry Havoc! and its supplements, and from SPI games like Sniper! and Demons. Among more recent products, I most often use cityscapes and ship deck plans by Wydraz.
  • Figures. Not strictly games or supplements as such, but I regularly use figures from eM4, the Wizkids Pathfinder range, and Reaper’s Legendary Adventures. If I can ever motivate myself to finish painting them, I have quite a few Copplestone Castings figures as well – to my mind they are the best SF figures currently available in 28mm.
  • Mythic. Sometimes I use this as a GM emulator; it works pretty well for that. You only need the charts for success and random events, really.
  • Anything from Sine Nomine Publications is a good source of materials. I have most often used Stars Without Number, Red Tide and An Echo Resounding, but there’s something usable in anything Kevin Crawford writes. Any future sandbox game I run will draw heavily on his work.
  • Anything in the Beasts & Barbarians line is not only usable, but renews my enthusiasm for the hobby. An enthusiastic GM means a better game, yes?
  • Vornheim: The Complete City Kit. This has a lot of ideas for running a city crawl, some of them good rules additions, some of them absolutely barking setting ideas that are so elegantly disturbing you just have to have them in your game.

So there you have it. Subject to change without warning as shiny things attract my attention!

Review: Mercenary Breed

Intrigued by Mystical Throne Entertainment’s Faith & Demons: The Rising, which I liked, I acquired another of their products; Mercenary Breed, a space opera mini-setting – in a galaxy far, far away, corporations hire mercenaries to do their dirty work. (That’s you, that is.) It’s intended to tie in with content provided via the pay-for-view version of Savage Insider magazine. The expanded edition, which is what I got, is a 138 page PDF file.

CONTENTS

Introduction (5 pages)

This covers what a mini-setting is (basically, a bare-bones, thumbnail sketch of a setting rather than the full Monty); the setting itself; mercenary forces; and space travel. Things you need to know about the setting: The Gemini are the local version of humans; there is an Alliance which governs much of the galaxy; being a mercenary is a respected career, which young sophonts aspire to; planets are 4-8 weeks travel time apart.

The vague ambiguity of the setting is deliberate; the designer’s intent is that each group should design its own worlds, races, corporations and what-have-you as a joint creative exercise. The author encourages an approach I’ve only recently come to accept; let the players have whatever characters they want, and build the rest of the game around that. This is all laudable, but I fear it takes more time and energy than I and my group have. (And if we do, we’ll likely wind up with a party of robot Viking thieves.) The only suggested limitation is that all races should be sufficiently humanoid to use human tools, weapons etc., to avoid investing effort in creating rules for the stranger races.

Character Creation (5 pages)

This is a short section, partly because it follows the standard Savage Worlds core rules, and partly because races are pulled out into a separate section, of which more anon. The main difference from vanilla SW is that mercenaries requisition their equipment from their corporation, and so don’t need to spend their starting cash on it.

Two new skills are introduced; Hacking covers advanced computer use (basic queries are subsumed in Investigation), and Navigating covers finding your way in unfamiliar territory, whether dirtside or in space. There are nine new archetypes for use as "instant" characters; I’m pleased to see this, as I think it’s a good way of achieving several ends – giving new players a fast-play yet balanced character, giving the GM a source of stock Wild Card NPCs, and showing both what kind of characters and adventures the setting is geared towards.

Equipment (9 pages)

Here we start to diverge from plain vanilla SW. Before each mission, the mercs visit the armoury and tool up. The basic load is three weapons, two explosive devices, one set of armour, 4 reloads of ammo, and whatever mundane devices are needed.

So why do you need money? Illegal and exotic items can’t be seen to be owned by the corporation, so you have to buy those yourself. Also, if your employer doesn’t have a facility on the planet they send you to, you have to pay for your own upkeep and claim expenses later.

What kind of weapons etc. can you have? Well, your character has an extra attribute called Renown. The higher that is, the more exciting the stuff the armourer will let you have, and the better the quarters and rations you get. You gain Renown by succeeding at missions; the tougher they are, the more Renown you get for completing them.

My first niggle with the book comes here; standard of living (based on Renown) will be introduced in later releases (presumably, of Savage Insider). There are quite a few plugs for Savage Insider, and by the end of the book I felt it had been over-advertised. (Apparently the expanded edition is better than the original in this regard, and also has maps for the included adventures.)

The chapter concludes with several pages of equipment lists, as you might expect in an equipment section. However, you just get the stats – I might or might not know what an electrothermal rifle is, but the setting won’t tell me.

Races (24 pages)

This has a rules for random race creation based on drawing three cards from a standard deck, and four ready-made races.

In the card draw method, the suit of each card gives a general tag for the race ("Reptile", perhaps) while the card value gives a racial edge or hindrance. Once the draw is complete, you need to balance the race if necessary. (Or not; it’s your race, after all.)

Of the four premade races, Gemini are the human analogues, and the baseline against which other races are measured; then there are the high-tech, fragile, pacifist Festoon; the L’Nel, aggressive, ophidian space nomads; and Primas, essentially anthropoid apes.

Each of the four races is described in some detail, with sections on their history, government, military, attitudes to space travel and other races, current affairs, and (except for Gemini) a racial template.

Home Worlds (11 pages)

This presents a card-draw method of creating planets; it’s intended to create homeworlds for PCs if the player lacks inspiration, but could easily work for any other planet required.

Two worlds are then detailed; Coursian, the Gemini homeworld, and Lak’husa, the Festoon homeworld. Each has sections on its environment, population, and culture.

Corporations (11 pages)

Here’s another card-draw random generator, this time for corporations; and two example megacorps: Genesis Holdings (specialising in jewelry) and Militant Marines (armour and weapons manufacturing). There’s a page or so of description on each.

Adversaries (17 pages)

The bestiary and NPCs. We have several stock opponents for each of four races; Gemini (humans), Krixtu (your basic primitive, hostile aliens), P’Tarian (violent bug swarms), and Reldon (steampunk constructs).

This is followed by a card-draw random creature generator.

I didn’t notice any stock NPCs for Festoon, L’Nel or Primas, which was a bit surprising. Maybe I just missed them.

Mission Generator (3 pages)

As you might expect by now, this is done by drawing four cards – to be fair, that is common SW practice.

Savage Tales (40 pages)

There are three savage tales in this section: Infestation, Mining Rights, and Stolen Jewels.

The book closes with an index and a couple of pages of adverts.

FORMAT

This is clearly designed to be an ebook, which is fine by me as I mostly read things on some kind of electronic device rather than in hard copy these days; and as a side effect, it’s printer-friendly as well. There are few illustrations, and most of those black and white rather than colour.

CONCLUSIONS

For a while now, I’ve been looking for a Savage Worlds science fiction setting that enthuses me the way that the Beasts & Barbarians fantasy setting does. Sadly, this is not it, at least not for me. I didn’t feel I got enough advice, guidance or usable content for the money, which surprised me given my experience with Faith & Demons. YMMV

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5.