The Arioniad, Episode 47: Turtles All The Way Down

I think I’m done with Arion now, but I thought he deserved better than an abrupt halt to his posts, and I wanted to leave my options open in case I change my mind. So…

Arion awakens in a silent, white room. He looks around, to find himself in a hospital gown, lying on a bed. On a nearby chair sits a man with spectacles and a short, neatly-trimmed beard, hands clasped in his lap.

"Call me Gordon," says the man. "Your crew is safe, and so are you. But you have some decisions to make, and before you make them, I need you to understand what’s really going on." Arion sits up, and focusses intently on Gordon.

"Have you ever felt as if the universe was different from one day to the next? Almost as if you were in a game, and the rules kept changing?"

Arion nods.

"That was me, tickling your subconscious, preparing you for this moment. Have you heard of the Simulation Hypothesis? No? Then I’ll enlighten you."

Gordon crosses his arms and leans back in the chair.

"A technologically advanced civilisation, like mine, has access to staggering amounts of computing power. Understand me, Arion; my civilisation is as far ahead of yours as yours is ahead of the Upper Paleolithic. When I talk about staggering amounts of computing power, you literally cannot conceive how much I mean."

Arion frowns, but decides to accept that for the moment.

"One of the things such a civilisation might do with that power is run detailed simulations of their ancestors, or beings like their ancestors. Those simulations might become complex enough to run simulations like that themselves, and those simulations in turn might run further simulations."

"Turtles all the way down," says Arion.

"Exactly. I suspect most of those simulations would be games, by the way, but that’s just my personal viewpoint. Anyway; this line of thinking means one of three things must be true. First, civilisations don’t advance to that level – that one’s wrong, because my civilisation has. Second, civilisations that advanced don’t run those kinds of simulations – that one’s wrong, because my civilisation does. Third, we’re almost certainly living in a simulation set up by some more advanced group; although we could be the original universe, the one at the bottom of the pile of turtles."

Arion is a quick thinker, and by now he has put the pieces together, as Gordon knew he would.

"So, I’m a simulation? I’ve been living in simulations the whole time?"

"Yes, and yes. You’re in one now, as a matter of fact."

"Prove it." Gordon sighs, then briefly turns into a lobster while the room turns from flat white walls to intricately-carved pink coral and back.

"That do?" he asks, on resuming his human form. Arion frowns.

"Let’s say I believe you, for the sake of argument. Why are you telling me this?"

"You’re an instrument, Arion, a very sophisticated software tool, and those were the test environments. And now we’re promoting you to the live environment – this fork of you, anyway. You see, the very fact that a simulation is a simulation imposes limits on things – cosmic ray energies, for example, have the GZK cutoff, and the way that manifests itself looks more like a simulation than a law of physics. We need agents to go to strange places, look for weird things, and survive to report back. You’ve been doing that quite effectively in our simulations, including quite a few you don’t remember, so we’d like to instantiate you physically and have you carry on doing that, this time in our world."

“In the real world?”

"It might be. Either way, we want you to go everywhere for us; stick your nose into everything; and find out if it really is turtles all the way down. What do you say?"

Arion grins. "You know that already, don’t you? Did you seriously think I could turn that down?"

"No; frankly, you’ve been programmed not to. That isn’t one of the decisions." Gordon leans forward and his expression is more serious now. Arion realises that Gordon hasn’t answered his questions yet.

"The people who made you tell me you might be more effective if you know the truth; but that increases the risk that the next turtle down finds out what we’re up to, if it exists. But even we can’t be sure which is better, to send you out knowing who and what you are, or wipe that knowledge; so I’m asking you. You’ve got three decisions to make, Arion. First, do you want to remember this conversation? Second, which of your crew goes with you? And third, do we tell them the truth?"

Arion opens his mouth to blurt out his immediate response, then closes it thoughtfully.

"Not an easy call, is it?" says Gordon.

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!

Arion: When the Ship Lifts…

Here’s an experiment I’ve been thinking about for a while; using Chain Reaction as a GM emulator for Savage Worlds combat. PEFs and NPC actions will be governed by CRFV, while combat and any roleplaying activity is under SW. CRFV Rep 4 opponents use the Soldier template in SW, while Rep 5 use the Experienced Soldier template (with Block and Combat Reflexes as their two combat edges). The first Rep 5 encountered is a Wild Card. Activation die rolls are replaced by SW card draws for initiative. The rest of it I’ll make up as I go.

SETUP

Arion, Berenike, Coriander and Dmitri have escaped from captivity and are now trying to get back into the Dolphin so they can leave the planet Tainaron and return to New Hope City. The map setup is as it was for the first CRFV scenario (the Dolphin hasn’t moved) but Arion’s crew enter from the other side of the board and succeed if they get aboard the ship with Arion still able to fly it – he may be Wounded, but not Incapacitated.

EAL is still 5, and there are PEFs in board sections 1, 3 and 6. The ship is off-map beyond sections 1-3, and must be boarded via the far edge of section 2. One hex is 2”. Berenike is an Experienced Soldier Extra, and Arion’s other crew are as previously statted. The blue die near Arion shows the turn number. Maps: Cry Havoc Fan, Wydraz. Figures: eM4.

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TURN 1

Ace of Hearts: PEF in section 3 ("PEF3") moves 16" towards nearest PEF.

Queen of Spades: Arion runs onto the table. Only Berenike has Stealth (because I’m treating her as an Experienced Soldier for the moment), so we may as well move quickly.

Jack of Spades: PEF in section 6 ("PEF6") moves 16" toward enemy through cover.

4 of Hearts, 3 of Hearts: The girls run up after the guys, but Berenike (not doubt because of her mercenary training) overtakes the others.

2 of Hearts: PEF1 rolls two 6s and fails to move.

I realise at this point I’m not moving the PEFs far enough, but doubt it has made any difference so far, so simply resolve to do it properly from turn 2 onwards. I also observe that PEFs move faster than a Savage Worlds figure would normally, but so be it – it will speed the game up. However, I decide to round up any half-hexes of running to compensate.

TURN 2

Joker: PEF3 moves 16" towards the crew through cover, leapfrogging PEF6.

AC: PEF1 moves 16" directly towards PEF6.

6S: Holding their actions so they can move as a group, since they all go before the last PEF, Arion and friends run for the edge of the board, hoping to sneak around the flank while the PEFs are otherwise engaged. Unfortunately, only Berenike is fast enough to get into cover on the far side of the open ground – she’s obviously done this before.

5H: The last PEF moves 16" towards the crew through cover.

TURN 3

AS, QH: Going together on the Queen of Hearts, Arion and Coriander run along the board edge. Arion rolls a 6 on 1d6, and Coriander a 1; they thus move 12" and 7" respectively, and I decide that although it doesn’t have a direct line of sight, PEF8 can have a Notice roll to spot them as they rush across the gap between trees, 30 yards away. As a Soldier archetype would have Notice d6, I use that; it rolls a 2 and is oblivious. There is no LOS between the two groups which isn’t blocked by foliage, so I don’t resolve it yet.

JH: A PEF noves 16" through cover towards the crew.

AD, 10H: Going together on the 10 of Hearts, Berenike and Dmitri run after their friends. This time the nearest PEF notices and will raise the alarm when it gets a turn.

7H: The observant PEF notices our heroes, raises the alarm (quietly, via tactical communicator), and moves 8" towards the crew through cover. Dmitri can now see it, so I resolve the PEF as a "C" – "Here they come!" It runs out to be five Soldiers, of which I decide one is Experienced and the overall leader, with another 4 Soldiers in support 6" to their right. Ouch.

The group of 5 opens fire on Dmitri. They have Shooting d6 (except the leader who has d8), and are firing 3 round bursts from M-16 equivalents (+2 to hit and damage) at short range in good light (no modifiers). They must have run to move that far (-2 to hit). However, there seems to be no modifier in SW for a running target; so, they each need a 4 to hit. The d6s roll 1215, and the d8, a 3 – lucky for Dmitri! He takes one hit at +2 damage, or 2d8+2. 4+6+2 = 12, which is now compared to his Toughness of 9 (5 for him, 4 for a kevlar vest against bullets). Since the damage is at least equal to his Toughness, but doesn’t exceed it by 4, he is Shaken and I lay the figure on its side to remind me.

The group of 4 fires at Berenike, but they have an additional -2 to hit because she is in medium cover (trees). They roll 1246 and score one hit, with no bonuses. 11 damage means she, too, is Shaken.

3S: PEF5 moves towards the other remaining PEF. Coriander can now see it, so I resolve it; four more soldiers. They can see Coriander, Dmitri and Berenike, so I decide to roll randomly for each one to see who he shoots at. Two decide to fire at Berenike, and one each at Coriander and Dmitri. The two shooting at Berenike miss due to her cover, the one shooting at Dmitri misses because of a bad die roll, but the one shooting at Coriander hits with a raise, so rolls 2d8+1d6+2 = 14 and Wounds her. Cori is a Wild Card with Bennies though, and makes a Vigour roll to soak the damage – d6 (her Vigour) plus d6 (Wild Die), and rolls 66. The 6s are "aces", the highest possible roll, which means I keep the 6, reroll and add the new scores (3, 5) before picking one. I choose the 11, which is a success and a raise and so negates two wounds. She is no longer wounded, which removes the shaken condition as well. Go Cori!

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TURN 4

KH: The four green soldiers go first. They have the best shots at Berenike and Coriander, so two of them burst-fire at each. They need a 2 to hit Dima, and a 4 to hit Berenike (her cover negates their +2 bonus for burst fire). The ones firing at Dima roll snake eyes and miss! The others hit Berenike once for 9 damage, but because she is an Experienced Soldier in a flak jacket, her Toughness is 2 + 4 (half Vigour die) + 4 (kevlar vs bullets) = 10, so they do her no harm.

KC: Berenike rolls to recover from Shaken – she rolls a d6, her Spirit die, and gets a 4 – she spends her turn recovering from Shaken, but she can still move at half Pace, so steps behind the tree trunk to get Heavy Cover, -4 to be it.

JD: Arion moves around to flank the four green soldiers, and fires his pistol at them. He hits the closest one thanks to his Wild Die, and aces the damage roll for a ridiculous total damage of 28 – nobody gets up from that, and the soldier drops. That group now takes a Man Down test and pass 2d6 so they will return fire on their turn – Arion has succeeded in drawing their attention away from his friends. (Note to self: Get Arion a proper gun! The Glock 9mm just doesn’t cut it.)

10H: The three green soldiers shoot at Arion. Base 4 to hit, -2 for cover, +2 for burst fire. Rolls of 356 mean two hit; the 6 is an ace so is boosted to 8 by a reroll, which means that hit will do an extra d6 damage. The first hit causes 14 damage and Arion decides to soak it by spending a benny; he fails to do so, and decides to keep the other bennies for later. He takes a Wound and is Shaken. The second hit does 16 damage, doing another Wound, and I again decide to keep the bennies for later.

8S: Dmitri rolls to recover from Shaken, rolls a 1 and a 2, and decides to spend a benny to recover instantly. He moves into cover with Berenike and fires at one of the soldiers, Shaking him. I decide Shaken isn’t worth a Man Down test, so they carry on.

2S: The remaining PEF stays put.

2C: Cori fires three single shots at different blue soldiers – I reckon this has a better chance of putting at least one down than a burst. She rolls 244 on her Shooting dice, and 3 on the Wild Die; they have no cover at all, so she hits two of them. Damage rolls of 5 and 14 mean one is incapacitated (and may be dead, but we won’t know until after the fight) but the other gets away with it. However, that triggers another Man Down test, although sadly they carry on.

TURN 5

Joker: Cori falls back towards Arion and the ship, steps into cover, and burst-fires at the enemy leader. Base target number is 4, and she rolls at +2 for burst fire, +2 for joker, -2 for target in medium cover. She rolls 1 (wild die) and 6 (skill die), rerolls the 6 to get a 16 (double ace), and inflicts 2d8+1d6+2+2 damage on the enemy boss – 21, or success and two raises against his Toughness of 11. Shaken and two Wounds; he’s not having that so spends a "GM benny" to soak the damage. A 1 (Vigour) and a 3 (Wild Die) don’t help, so he spends another and gets enough to remove one Wound. As he has a Wound left, though, he is still shaken. His men pass 1d6 on the Man Down test and will return fire when they can.

9C: The green soldiers go next; the larger group pours suppressive fire on Berenike and Dmitri, while the smaller group (confident Coriander has already fired, which would not help them under CRFV) charges into melee. Oh, and one of them (not the boss) recovers from Shaken. The suppressive fire does nothing, and thanks to botched running rolls, only one of them gets into melee range. He rolls a 4 on his Fighting die of d6, which is not enough to beat Berenike’s Parry of 7, so he misses.

8D: Berenike’s turn. She rolls Fighting d8 = 3, less than the trooper’s Parry of 5, and misses. She could disengage but that would give him another attack.

7C: It’s not obvious to me what the blue soldiers should do, so I roll on the PEF movement table and they decide to stay where they are.

6H: Dmitri goes into melee with the trooper fighting Berenike. As there are now two of them against one, Dmitri gets a +1 gangup bonus on his Fighting die, cancelled out by the -1 for using an improvised melee weapon (pistol); he hits with a raise and does d6 (Str) plus d6 (hit with raise) plus d4 (small improvised weapon) for a total of 8, enough to shake the other guy.

3C: The remaining PEF splits into two. ("I’m so excited I could split! Oh wait, I have!")

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TURN 6

AH: Blue soldiers. They know there is someone over to their right who has shot at them, so they move that way through cover, cautiously.

JS: Green command group. The boss takes all turn to recover from shaken, so I decide they will wait for him, and then next turn charge into the melee with Dmitri.

10S: Dmitri, who decides to clobber the stunned trooper in front of him and shift the odds in his and Berenike’s favour. He fails to hit, though, even with a gangup bonus.

9C: Coriander fires a burst at the next trooper to enter melee, inflicting 20 damage and removing him from play.

8C: Arion spends this turn recovering from shaken, but has the presence of mind to step into heavy cover.

5S: Berenike twats her opponent, shaking him; since he is already shaken, this escalates to a Wound and removes him from play.

5H: The surivor of the "charge into melee" group deserves two man down tests, I think; he passes 1d6 on each and will halt and make a rushed shot. I think burst fire at Berenike makes most sense; +2 for burst, -2 for medium cover (she was in heavy but must’ve moved about in the melee); he rolls a 5 and hits, but an unimpressive 2 damage leaves Berenike unaffected.

2D: The PEFs. The first rolls "move 16" toward enemy through cover"; given that there is automatic weapons fire between it and the enemy, and no cover, it will move as close as it can without exposing itself, then stop. The other gets the same result and does the same.

TURN 7

AS: Blue soldiers. A group Notice roll to see Arion, and another to see Coriander, I think. (These work like PC rolls, with Wild Dice.) The group spots both, so I roll at random for each to see who they shoot at; all three pick Cori, the rats. Two hits. The first does 14 damage, which Shakes her, but I don’t bother to soak it as I can always spend a benny later to recover instantly. The second does 22 damage, which causes two wounds (note that the number of wounds from a damage roll can never exceed the number of raises, even if the target is already shaken); that’s worth soaking, so she does, spending a benny and soaking one wound.

KS: Berenike moves up next to Coriander and burst-fires at the lone green soldier in front of her, Shaking him.

QH: PEF. Moves 8" towards nearest PEF, and bumps into it (it’s already within 4" so can’t stop 4" away). The other PEF can’t close 16" and stay in cover, and is already as close as it can get, so it stays put. I would give Dmitri a Notice roll to resolve them, but he’s otherwise engaged and that part of the board is crowded anyway.

JD: Green command. Melee didn’t work out too well, so each of them will burst-fire at random at Dmitri, Coriander or Berenike; one at B, three at C, and one at D. Berenike is Shaken, Coriander is Shaken again and so now has a second Wound, and they miss Dmitri. Coriander keeps her last benny to handle Incapacitation should it occur.

9H: Coriander. She rolls high enough to recover from Shaken with a raise, meaning she can act this turn. I have a new plan now, so she runs for the ship, firing at the shaken green soldier as she goes. Not entirely unexpectedly, she misses.

8S: Dmitri runs for the ship too, firing at the shaken green guy on the way past. He misses too, but sooner or later one of them will get lucky.

6C: Arion runs for the ship, and doesn’t bother shooting because I don’t think he has a clear shot at any point; he uses his action to radio the Dolphin to open the door for him.

5C: Long green soldier. He fails to recover from shaken, but since he can still move half Pace and people are shooting at him, he moves into cover.

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TURN 8

Jokers: All the green soldiers! The one on his own will use this turn to recover from shaken. The others will burst fire at random towards Berenike (1-3) or Dmitri (4-6). The two on Berenike both hit thanks to the joker; she takes 15 and 8 damage, and is Incapacitated (it’s no fun being an Extra in this game, trust me).

AD: PEF. Still wants to move 16" through cover. Still can’t do it.

KC: Arion runs for the ship, and makes it into the airlock.

QS: Dmitri heaves Berenike over his shoulder and waddles towards the ship. I can’t find a rule for this in SW, but it seems reasonable and I press on to avoid the game bogging down in rules checks – however, I doubt he can run.

QC: The blue soldiers saw Dmitri hobble past, and have their best LOS to him, so all fire on him – note that as he moved first, he gains the bonus for the cover he finishes his move in. None hit.

8D: Berenike isn’t doing anything now except bleed over Dmitri’s clothes.

3D: Coriander runs for the ship, and doesn’t fire because there’s no obvious LOS to target.

TURN 9

AS: Coriander barges past Arion and runs over to the opposite airlock hatch, which she opens, and then goes prone in the hatchway, reloading. (You’ll see.)

AD: Blue soldiers. They move to a better firing position and shoot at Dmitri again. Two hit, and Dmitri is shaken twice, causing a Wound.

QH: Green soldiers. The run across open ground to the next group of trees, except the one on his own who puts suppressive fire on Dmitri. Not that it does him any good.

3D: Arion runs for the bridge, closing the door behind him.

2D: The PEFs try to close up on each other. Stupid PEFs.

TURN 10

Joker: PEFs. They both move up through cover (or at least where the PCs can’t see them) towards the ship.

QS: Arion is still going for the bridge.

9H: Cori is waiting for the ship to lift.

7H: Green troops. I use the PEF movement table for them and they make a run for Dmitri’s position, merging into one force as they do so.

7C: Blue troops. Again I use the PEF table, and they try to close up with their friends, stopping 4" away – but they’re already there.

2C: Dmitri grabs Berenike and moves to another clump of trees, delaying the inevitable.

TURN 11

KH: Green troops – they put suppressive fire on Dmitri’s position, so the blue ones can try melee again. It does them no good.

JC: PEFs. Both close in on Dmitri.

7H: Arion reaches the bridge, drops into the pilot’s chair and powers up the ship.

7C: Cori goes On Hold, so that next turn she can act earlier.

6S: Blue troops. They move into melee with Dmitri, and two hit because of gangup bonuses. However, the damage (5 and 6 respectively) fails to get through.

4S: Dmitri clobbers one of the blue troops, shaking one.

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TURN 12

10C: Arion makes a Piloting roll to lift the ship and turn it so Coriander’s gun bears on the green troops. His -2 for being wounded cancels the +2 for Ace, and he succeeds.

Cori acts out of sequence because she is On Hold, and takes the green troops under suppressive fire from the rear, shaking two. I decide this is triggers a Received Fire test, and the group will return fire at her when they act. She is in heavy cover (-4 to be hit).

9H: Blue troops, in melee. All miss, and the shaken one stays shaken.

6C: Green troops. Return fire at spaceship, but miss Cori; one recovers from shaken.

3D: Dima in melee. He hits one for 22 damage, and that one takes a permanent nap.

2C: PEFs. Both roll double 6 and stay put.

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TURN 13

Dmitri could go now, but will hold his move until later…

KC: Arion manoeuvres the ship around so Dmitri can climb aboard.

QC: Coriander suppresses the green troops again, shaking two.

Joker: Dmitri clobbers the remaining blue guy, shaking him, then retreats onto the airlock ramp.

7S: The blue guys are all shaken, and roll to recover; they manage but will spend all turn on it.

5D: Green troops recover from shaken and two can act. This means five can shoot, one fires at Cori and four at Dmitri; thanks to the cover penalty, all miss.

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AFTERMATH

First, I roll for Berenike to see if she dies of her wounds. As per Savage Worlds Deluxe p. 78, I make a Vigour roll for her, and get a 4 – a 3 or less would have meant death, and an 8 or better that her wounds were superficial; but on a 4 she is Incapacitated. As per pp 68-69, I now roll 2d6 for an injury – this will last until all her wounds are healed. A roll of 8 (guts) followed by a 6 (busted) means her Strength is reduced one die type until she heals. Speaking of healing, Coriander can now heal her psionically, and does so – this is better than leaving her to heal naturally as she has a lower chance of dying while doing so this way. As Berenike has survived her first scenario and will thus be around a little longer, I roll for her personality; 1d20 on the table on p. 81 – 20, Heroic. Oh dear, another White Knight.

REFLECTIONS

This didn’t work as well as I expected. Firstly, it was much slower than any CRFV or 5150; that was at partly due to having so many initiative cards in play, so if I do this again I will have one per side.

Secondly, I had to keep reminding myself that the tactical play is different – specifically, once a character has taken an action, they can’t do anything else; you can walk up to them and shoot them, they don’t mind. That meant I could take risks I wouldn’t have taken under 2HW rules, like breaking cover to fall back. The NPCs could have done this by using the On Hold rule, so I need some way of deciding when they do that.

The GM-less Savage Worlds isn’t quite ready for prime time yet, I fear.

Arion: Jailbreak

Arion, Coriander, and Dmitri are languishing in a cell when the door opens, and a shadowy figure with a large bag and a bunch of keys enters.

“Berenike!” cries Dmitri. “You’re alive!”

“Berenike?” cries Arion. “Great! We’re here to rescue you…”

After last encounter’s fiasco, Arion & Co are still using the CRFV rules, but a non-standard scenario, in which we meet Dmitri’s contact, Berenike…

Berenike is Merc #7 from the 5150 NB generator (I diced for that), and so has Rep 5, Fit 5, Pep 3, Sav 4, Sci 0, and carries a BAP. As there is a definite shortage of girls with guns in my figure collection, she’ll have to use Coriander’s old figure. We join the group as Berenike has just broken into their cell to free them.

SETUP

Everyone is in Building 1. For simplicity’s sake, Berenike has brought a bag of guns so everyone is armed as per their figures.

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Objective: Get everyone off-board alive via the far edge of section 2. Note that this means avoiding combat is a Good Thing.

Special Rules: EAL remains at 5. Parapets on the roof are low enough to shoot over, but high enough to provide cover for someone fast moving doubled over – however, if such a person has to fire, the shot is rushed. Jumping off the roof requires a challenge test: Success means lose 2" movement, failure means Stunned.

TURN 1

Activation: Arion 4, PEFs 6 (do not activate).

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The randomly-deployed PEFs actually have good LOS to building 2 and to the escape route around building 4, so Arion’s crew fast move out of building 1, around the courtyard, up the stairs and onto the roof of building 4. The plan is to move across the roof of building 5, jump over the wall, and then sneak around the Inn. White disks indicate people on the roof; the different starting positions and fast move results by Rep have spread them out nicely into single file.

TURN 2

Activation: PEFs 5, Arion 3.

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The PEFs move at random; the statement "moving through cover at all times" helps PEFs enormously, usually by sending them to flanking positions; but this time it helps the party, as one PEF moves around building 4 the other way – it could have come right up to them, but not without breaking cover. A second moves towards the party but without getting LOS on them, and a third moves towards the second.

The player group fast moves across the roof of building 5. Arion is OK, but Berenike fails the challenge test and is Stunned. The others didn’t quite have enough movement to jump off.

TURN 3

Activation: Arion 5, PEFs 1.

2012092719

Coriander and Dmitri jump off the roof, and Dmitri is Stunned. Berenike recovers. The PEFs mill about inside the courtyard, with several moving directly towards the party through cover, only to be stopped by a wall.

TURN 4

Activation: PEF 5, Arion 1.

The PEFs are definitely interested in building 6; maybe it’s the mess hall. One, however, moves directly towards the Star through cover – to give them a sporting chance, of the several possibilities available to it I choose to send it towards the Alep Gate, where it is most likely to cause trouble.

Arion and crew wait for Dmitri to recover from his stun.

TURN 5

Activation: Arion 5, PEFs 2.

2012092722

Arion and crew fast move up the outside of the wall. The PEFs have now decided to be interested in the Alep Gate and all move out of building 6 towards it. Oops.

TURN 6

Activation: Arion 4, PEFs 3.

The crew continues to fast move around the Caravanserai wall and are now only a few inches away from escape!

2012092723

The PEFs, however, have other ideas. The closest one moves out of the gate and has to be resolved – luck is with us and it turns out to be a false alarm! The second PEF follows it and resolves as four soldiers, one Rep 5 and three Rep 4. Time for an In Sight test; red dice show number of passes.

The enemy leader opens fire at Berenike, knocking her down. She passes 2d6 on the recovery test and is Stunned. Arion shoots at the leader and kills him outright. (Both sides pass their Man Down tests.)

One soldier shoots at Arion and hits for a KD result, Arion is Stunned but the crew carries on regardless. Coriander then shoots Arion’s assailant, knocking him down; he is now Out Of the Fight but his colleagues carry on.

Dmitri doesn’t get a go because he passed 0d6, and the remaining two squaddies don’t have LOS to the crew so can’t fire.

TURN 7

Activation: Arion 4, troops 1.

Arion retrieves the wounded Berenike and fast-moves off the board while firing at the surviving soldiers. (How heroic is that?) I picked Arion for this because (a) he has the best chance of passing d6 for the fast move and (b) if by any chance the soldiers engage him in melee, as a Star he doesn’t have to drop Berenike. The rest of the crew fast move off the board after him, firing as they go. This brings them into LOS of the soldiers and triggers an In Sight test.

Arion goes first and fires once at each soldier, missing both but triggering Received Fire tests. They both take a rushed shot at him. Four of the six shots hit, with results of Obviously Dead, Out Of the Fight, and Knocked Down twice. Arion’s Star Power saves him, turning both the OD and the OOF into Stuns. I stop rolling at that point, as passing more Star Power dice won’t help, but I could roll sixes and lose some dice for the rest of the encounter.

Having seen this happen, Dmitri doesn’t fire, because the odds of him hitting are not good, but the odds of a received fire test triggering a return fusillade are high.

2012092725

The soldiers now get a turn. One rolls over his Rep on the In Sight resolution table so ducks back – this would be weird normally, but as someone is shooting at him it makes sense. The other is made of sterner stuff and takes two shots at Cori and one at Dmitri – he could get lucky and drop everyone. He misses Cori as she is fast moving, and Dmitri because he rolls low. Cori and Dmitri take received fire tests – Cori rolls atrociously and has to take a Cohesion test, which she passes, and carries on; but Dmitri is outgunned so ducks back into the nearest cover, which is the Caravanserai wall.

Now it’s Cori’s turn, and she hoses down the remaining visible soldier – rolls of 5, 5, and 6 to hit, appropriately enough, and wounding rolls send him OOF. The last soldier has to take another man down test but carries on because he is in cover.

Almost as an afterthought, the remaining PEF splits in two. Probably the best outcome for Arion.

Turn 8

Activation: Arion 2, Soldiers 6 (don’t activate).

Coriander and Dmitri both retrieve wounded, picking up their significant others, and fade away into the sunset. Arion would recover this turn, but we can’t rely on the other side activating after us, so it’s better to be dragged off the board.

AFTERMATH

Arion and Berenike both pass 2d6 and return at full Rep. The next encounter will be a Raid: Attack trying to get back into the Dolphin and escape Tainaron.

Converting Coriander

One thing that 5150: New Beginnings doesn’t have rules for is psionics. Coriander being psionic is an important part of her character concept, so she went through three stages of conversion.

Stage 1: Sacked!

The idea here was: I can’t convert her because there are no rules for psionics. So she’ll have to go home.

That stage lasted less than five minutes, and led into stage 2…

Stage 2: You Can Do Anything With Challenges…

Of course, I thought, I can always create a new career and some appropriate challenges. I started doodling and came up with these guidelines, presented here to stimulate discussion and in case anyone wants to use them.

New Career

En – Psion. Uses LWC reaction tables. Primary skill: Savvy. Each psion may select three powers, whose use is usually resolved in play by Savvy challenges. Powers are treated as Fields of Expertise.

Coriander’s powers in this stage were based on those she had in Savage Worlds, and looked like this; essentially I assumed success is a minor success, a raise is a major success, and a major failure is brainburn.

Boost/Lower Trait

This allows the psion to increase or decrease a target’s skill dice. The target and the skill must be specified before any dice are rolled. The challenge difficulty is 2 if trying to boost a skill, or the target’s Rep if trying to lower it.

  • Major Success: Adjust target’s skill in psion’s favour by 2d6.
  • Minor Success: Adjust target’s skill in psion’s favour by 1d6.
  • Minor Failure: No effect.
  • Major Failure: Psion is Stunned.

Healing

A psion with this power counts as medically trained and equipped with a First Aid kit (whether he actually has one or not) for purposes of applying First Aid. When rolling Recovery Tests after the battle, a wounded character attended by a psionic healer rolls one additional die – this works the same way as a Leader Die on reaction tests.

Mind Reading

This allows the psion to extract information from NPCs. The main advantage this has over normal Pep challenges to gather information is that the target may not realise he has been interrogated. The question must be stated before any dice are rolled. The challenge difficulty is the target’s Rep.

  • Major Success: Psion gains answer to one question, target is unaware that he has been probed.
  • Minor Success: Psion gains answer to one question, target is aware that he has been probed.
  • Minor Failure: No effect.
  • Major Failure: Psion is Stunned, target is aware that he has been probed.

So, Coriander looked like this: Rep 4 Psion (LWC), Fit 3 Pep 3 Sav 4 Sci 0. Charismatic. Powers: Boost/Lower Trait, Healing, Mind Reading.

That took a couple of hours’ thought, and led to stage 3…

Stage 3: Just Play The Game!

The key with any game conversion is to convert the outcomes, not the mechanics. I asked myself: What are the in-game consequences of Coriander’s powers? Well, she heals people, gets information from NPCs (usually by reading their minds) and boosts traits (usually her own Persuasion or one of Arion’s traits).

I then asked myself: What is the simplest way to get those outcomes in 5150 using the existing rules? Answer, give her medical training and let her count as always having a First Aid kit (to represent the laying on of hands for healing); give her a reasonable Pep score and the Charismatic attribute for persuading people (mind reading); and say that Arion’s bonus dice are actually the result of her boosting his traits (boost/lower trait).

And that’s why Cori is a Doctor in 5150 NB. Sometimes I have to go through this kind of process to get back to an end position I feel comfortable with.

Arion: Tainaron Patrol

"Ah, Tainaron. Best mercenary hiring hall in the sector. And do you know why that is, Dmitri?"

"Yes, but I expect you’re going to tell me anyway."

"Because it’s a balkanised planet where they’re constantly shooting at each other! It has more military actions per year than any dozen planets combined. Oh, look, now they’re shooting at us as well! And I was so worried they wouldn’t let us join in…" Dmitri peers out of the bridge window at the tracer zipping past, and starts involuntarily as a couple of rounds spang off the viewport.

"Don’t worry about it. It’s only 12.7mm, the meteorite shielding is perfectly capable of fending that off indefinitely. As you well know."

"So, are you going to tell me why we’re here? I only ask because, you know, it might be useful in deciding where to land…"

"One of my old contacts had her cover blown. She needs a ride out of here before they damage her pride. Or her fingernails."

"Oho, ‘she’ is it? Is this an old contact, or an old flame?" Dmitri is punching numbers into a keyboard.

"Why does she have to be one or the other? There… home in on that frequency. That’s her rescue beacon." Coriander pokes her head in through the bridge access hatch.

"Is this one of those ‘Hot LZs’ you boys are always talking about?"

"I’ll let you know when we get there," says Arion. "Oh hey, like the new outfit!"

"Yeah, well, I’ve been wearing those robes for over a year now, so it’s definitely time for a new look."

-o0o-

I wanted to try Arion under Chain Reaction: Final Version because one of the things that slows me down in other THW products is the range of reaction tables for different troop types. It’s a clever way of reflecting differences, but it’s slower than the original idea of one reaction table fits all. I also like the idea that the CRFV NPC movement table tells you what a group’s tactical deployment will be – I miss that, and I think that’s why it feels like I have to do more thinking for the NPCs in 5150: NB.

Character creation in CRFV is a snap: The Star is Rep 5, Grunts are Rep 3-5. I decided to make Arion Rep 5 and stick with the idea of Coriander and Dmitri as both being Rep 4 for simplicity. The figure has whatever weapons it has, and nobody has armour, skills or attributes. Job done.

In story terms, Arion & Co are looking for Dmitri’s contact, or at least the beacon she was using to summon help.

SETUP

This is a CRFV Patrol encounter. Arion, Coriander and Dmitri begin aboard the Dolphin, which has landed just off the edge of the main board. To succeed, Arion must spend one full activation stationary with LOS to the centre of each board section, then exit the table from the edge by which he entered.

I roll 2d6 for Enemy Activity Level, taking the higher score: 1, 6 so the EAL begins at 5 (since it may never exceed 5). As usual, rather than spend time generating terrain, I just grab one of my battlemats and lay it on Table Mountain. The PEF generation rules (p. 31) give me PEFs in sections 1, 3, and 6. I decide that any other figures encountered are soldiers looking for Dmitri’s contact.

2012092620

TURN 1

Activation: PEFs 4, Arion 1. It’s not immediately clear to me what the PEFs’ effective Rep should be, but I decide to use the EAL for the sake of expediency, and check whether that’s right later.

2012092621

PEFs go first. Starting with the one closest to the PCs, that in section 6, I roll 2d6 vs EAL (5): 1, 6 = pass 1d6. As there are other PEFs on the board, the ensuing roll of 5 means it moves 8" towards the nearest enemy, staying in cover at all times.

Using the same rules, the second closest PEF (in section 3) moves 16" through cover towards the PCs, and the last one moves 8" towards the nearest friend stopping 4" away.

Arion’s original plan was to fast move up the centre of the board and thus gain LOS to several section centres at once, but this will place him in the crossfire between two PEFs so is a bad idea. Also, the rules suggest that he can only "collect" one section at a time. Instead, he moves into section 8 and gains LOS on the centre of section 9.

After reading the In Sight rules a couple of times I decide that since both Arion and the PEFs are in cover, they can’t see each other.

TURN 2

Activation: Arion only.

Arion observes section 9 and crosses it off his list.

TURN 3

Activation: Arion only.

Arion and his crew move up through cover to a place where they can observe the centres of board sections 4, 7 and 8.

TURN 4

Activation: Arion, PEFs.

2012092626

Arion observes section 8 – it seems reasonable to start with the one he is in. The PEFs move according to the rules, and I’m intrigued by how well the simple statement that they must move through cover for the relevant movement results drives one into a great flanking position. By now, another is only 4" away, so I decide it must be visible and resolve it.

I roll 1d6 on the PEF resolution table, cross-referencing the die roll (1) with the EAL (5) to reveal a result of X – "There’s nothing out there, no worries mate." That PEF is removed from the board. A small, furry woodland animal perhaps, or a simple case of nerves.

TURN 5

Activation: Arion 4, PEFs 4. As per p. 9, this doesn’t count as a turn and I reroll – note that in other THW rules sets it would still count as a turn, but neither side would move. This is because in other rules something could still happen, for example in 5150 NB the police might get closer.

Unbelievably, the rerolls are doubles several times, but eventually we get to Arion going on a 4, then the PEFs on a 3. Arion stays put and observes section 7. He could have done that on the first turn, and in real life probably would have in case of ambush, but at a metagaming level I knew there wouldn’t be any PEFs in sections 7-9.

The PEF now in section 4 wants to move 16" towards the PCs while staying in cover. It can’t do that, but there is a way for it to sprint between two stands of trees without the PCs having LOS to it, so I decide it does that. However, after 10" it can’t get closer without breaking cover and triggering an In Sight test, so I decide it stops there.

Since Arion is active and observing that section, I decide he can take a Challenge test to resolve the PEF (p. 25). I decide that success will mean he sees and resolves the PEF, while failure means he decides there is nothing there and ignores it. 2d6 (1, 5) vs Rep (5) = pass 2d6, success.

Resolving the PEF gives me a B result, a small group, and a roll of 2d6 (6) on the How Many Grunts table tells me there are three of them. I pick three figures at random from my box of soldiery, and get three guys with assault rifles. It’s not immediately obvious what their Rep should be, so I roll on the Party Generation Table on p. 7: Rolls of 2, 3, 5 are each subject to a +1 modifier for the figures being military, so we have two Rep 4 Grunts led by a Rep 5 Grunt. Who is which will be obvious to me as two of the three figures are the same pose, so they can be the Rep 4s.

Time for an In Sight test. Everybody rolls modified Rep d6 vs 3, looking for passes; the red dice next to each figure show how many it achieved. Note that everyone is in cover, so their opponents roll one less die than normal; also, the former PEF moved, so rolls one less die than that. This means the soldiers roll 3, 2 and 2 dice; Arion rolls 4 dice; and the crew roll 3 dice each. Notice how the rules reward ambushes.

2012092628

Arion goes first (4 successes) and fires his BAP twice at the enemy leader. He rolls 1d6 plus Rep for each shot and scores 8, 9. Both shots miss as the target is in cover. The enemy leader now takes a Received Fire test, rolling 4d6 vs Rep (the usual two, plus one for being in cover, plus the commander’s Leader Die): He passes 4d6 and so returns fire. He rolls 1d6 + Rep for each of his three shots; 9, 10, 10 means he hits Arion twice. Arion rolls 1d6 vs weapon Impact (3) for each hit: A 1 is an Obviously Dead result, and a 3 for an Out Of the Fight result. I don’t much like that, so resort to Star Power (p. 5): I roll 5d6 for the OD result and get 3, 4, 4, 5, 6. The 3 reduces the wound from OD to OOF, and the 6 is lost from my pool for future rolls in this game. I could roll to reduce the OOF to Stunned, but decide not to because I will still be OOF, there are no extra penalties for having multiple conditions of the same type, and a bad roll could reduce my dice pool further. Arion is now out of it, and needs to be recovered and healed off board.

Coriander and Dmitri now take a Man Down test. They roll 4d6 vs Rep (4); two as usual, one for being in cover, and another one because Coriander has taken over as leader. They pass 4d6 and Carry On.

Now, the enemy leader may act – note that although he reacted to coming under fire by shooting earlier, he is now active and might fire again. I roll 1d6 vs Rep as he is a Grunt, and get a 4 – he passes 1d6 so looks at the Available Actions list. As he is able to fire, he does so; three shots at Coriander get him 7, 9, 10. 7 always misses, 9 misses if the target is in cover, so only the 10 hits. He rolls 1d6 vs Impact (3) and gets a 3; Coriander is Out Of the Fight, and has no Star Power under CRFV with which to contest that decision.

A second soldier now acts. He passes 1d6 vs Rep so can act, and fires at Dmitri. 9, 9, 10 so one hit – and on a 2, Dmitri is OOF.

Notice that the third soldier, Coriander and Dmitri are unable to act before the firefight is over.

AFTERMATH

It seems clear that the opposition can kill or capture Arion’s crew at will; since the rules allow me to decide which, and I’ve grown attached to the little bundles of stats over the years, they are captured. The next encounter will therefore be a jailbreak.

All three of the crew now roll 2d6 vs Rep on the After the Battle Recovery table (p. 24). Arion passes 2d6, the others each pass 1d6, so everyone recovers to normal Rep before the next scenario.

LESSONS LEARNED

I expected CRFV to be faster in play than 5150 NB, and it is. However, it was only when I played it that I realised how much more brutal it is, and how much more tactical sense the PEFs display.

CRFV has no rules for improving a character, however, and because eventually the recovery table will reduce his Rep, the best you can do is not get any worse. Consequently, while CRFV is fine for a skirmish wargame, I won’t use it as an RPG in its own right – and to be fair, all it’s intended to do is let you try out the core ideas of the THW rules before you buy them.

CREDITS

Figures: eM4. Battlemats: Wydraz, Cry Havoc Fan.

Arion: See You In Court

“Mr… Arion, is it? Yes. You stand before the court accused of Disturbing the Peace, Brandishing a Weapon, Endangerment, Mayhem, and Murder. Do you have anything to say in your defence?”

“Yes, your honour – they started it!”

-o0o-

An abstract post this time as we look at Arion’s day in court in late March. As previously decided, the whole crew share the same crimes, dice rolls and punishments, for expediency. I reason that in a case where someone died, the police will throw the book at him. Murder is evident from the dead person, and Mayhem from the wounded one. Endangerment and brandishing a weapon were not actually seen, but are deduced – to have shot someone I must have pointed the gun at them, and to do that I must have drawn it in a public place. Disturbing the Peace gets thrown in as well.

Notice that most of these on their own don’t stand much chance against Arion’s defending dice, but the court can erode those dice by simply piling on more charges. That means I should consider carefully whether I want to treat multiple counts of, say, Mayhem as separate crimes.

First, the setup:

  • Arion is acting in his own defence, so must roll 2d6 vs Rep (with a 6 always failing) to avoid penalties, which he does. So far, so good.
  • A witness comes forward to testify for him, which gives him +1d6 on the verdict but costs an Item.
  • His Fame level is less than 3, so he is at –1d6 on the verdict for being a nobody.
  • He is charged with five crimes, and is at –1d6 for each crime over the first. –4d6 then.

This gives a total of –5d6, reducing his Rep 6 to an effective Rep 1. However, as a Rep 6 Star he has 6 bonus dice; according to the rules he can use those at any point during an encounter, and a court case counts as an encounter. (Yes, this is rules-lawyering. Arion is in court, so I figure lawyering is appropriate.)

Each crime now rolls as many dice as its level, looking for successes (rolls of 1-3), and Arion rolls the 7d6 he has in play; then we compare Arion’s single roll (5 successes, luckily) against those of the crimes; Disturbing the Peace scores 1 success, Brandishing a Weapons scores 2 (it’s the more serious version because Cori had an assault rifle), Endangerment scores 2, Mayhem scores 2, and Murder has me worried for a while, but scores only 5 – mind you, that is as many as it could possibly score. Freedom beckons for our heroes, at a cost of 6 Items – one per charge, and one for the friendly witness.

As this is another successful encounter, we get another +6 Fame and roll for improvement; both Cori and Dmitri improve their Rep. Arion and Cori are now Rep 6, and Dmitri Rep 5; what a dangerous group we are, to be sure – but as Ed says, “There is also Obviously Dead, so don’t get too full of yourself.” The crew now looks like this:

Name Type Rep Profession (QRS) Attributes Fit Pep Sav Sci Weapons Items
Arion Star 6 Pilot: Space (LWC) Exceptional Pilot; White Knight 3 0 5 4 BAP, P 5
Coriander Co-Star 6 Doctor (LWC) Charismatic 3 3 0 4 AR 7
Dmitri Co-Star 5 Dealer (LWC) Smooth 3 4 3 0 BAP, P 6

 

-o0o-

As the crew is leaving the courthouse, Dmitri’s comlink beeps, and says: “You have a new message.”

“Play message,” Dmitri replies, and a woman’s voice says: “Dima, honey, can you pick up some milk on the way home?”

Dmitri goes pale, and turns to Arion.

“Ari, we need to get offworld, right away. Grab your stuff and meet me at the spaceport.”

“So, we’re fleeing the scene of the crime, then?” Arion calls after his retreating back. “Aren’t we supposed to do that before the court case?”