Arion: Novawatch and After

Posted: 2 September 2012 in Arioniad

No face to face gaming sessions for a couple of weeks due to my players and I having other commitments, so I have a chance to do some solo play again. I reckon the best way to learn an “immersion game” is to immerse yourself in it, so I shall play as much 5150: NB as I can fit in during this quiet period, the better to learn the rules.

Arion’s Log, 10 February 3200. Antares System

It turns out that joining the Combine means you have to spend some time doing scutwork for it, as a kind of initiation rite. In our case, that means novawatch.

Antares could go nova at any time; maybe not for a million years, maybe tomorrow lunchtime. So, Halfway Station pays to keep a ship on watch in the outer regions of the Antares system. The idea is that if the star decides to blow up, that ship drops into FTL and spreads the alarm. That gives Halfway a few years to evacuate before the radiation hits it. The pay isn’t much, but once you’ve set the automatics to wake you up if the sun starts misbehaving, your major problem is boredom.


Day 12 on novawatch. Having exhausted the possibilities of watching the maintenance swarm clean things that are already clean, but somewhat pleased at getting a new high score on Space Commander (installed on the bridge console for just this kind of situation), Arion decides to turn in.

He is somewhat surprised to find Coriander already in his cabin. He opens his mouth, possibly to speak, possibly just in surprise, but she forestalls him with a finger on his lips.

"I can read your mind, remember. I’m still here – that should tell you I don’t mind what you’re thinking. But since you won’t do anything about it, I will! Now, c’mere."

"You’re not going to kill me with your brain, are you?"

"Don’t be silly. I can’t fly the ship. Dolphin: Internal surveillance off until further notice."

Well, under LTL she was the Love Interest; but owing to that last order, we have no more access to the log footage.


It’s the end of April before the Dolphin returns Arion and Coriander to Halfway. Dmitri is waiting for them at the docks; as a spy, he is nothing if not a student of body language, and theirs speaks volumes, notably the arms around each other.

"Like that, is it?" he says. "Took you long enough."

Arion shrugs; Coriander melts to him; both grin sheepishly at Dmitri.

"Don’t bother to unpack," he says. "Orders; we’re off to New Hope."

"What? We only just got here!"

"Yes, well, while you’ve been… enjoying each other’s company, I’ve set up our branch here, and we’re moving on."

Yes, this probably means I’m changing the map again, and maybe the setting too. I do that every year or so; bear in mind that this campaign is a testbed for new rules and ideas that I might inflict on my players later, as well as being fun for me.

Arion’s Log, 31 August 3200. New Hope City.

After a long journey, including a stopover on Corinth where the Dolphin’s AI core and ourselves were swapped back into the original hull, we’ve reached New Hope.

This is a border world, mostly desert. There are a couple of hundred thousand people, mostly human, mostly in the capital city, which is also the starport. The city is surprisingly wealthy for a backwater planet with no regular starship traffic, a lot of imports, and no visible exports. Maybe we were sent here to find out why.

Our mission for the time being is to establish our cover and find out what’s going on. Judging by what’s on the news, that probably means doing some illegal things and making some money out of them. That’s Dmitri’s territory; I just drive the ship.


I want to get straight to the action, so I bypass a lot of Ed’s tables and extra rules (I’ll try them out later) and decide that the first encounter will be a voluntary one, in the spaceport district, in the early evening. I’ll ignore weather and vehicles. The team’s objectives are to traverse the board from left to right, recruit a new Grunt as a local guide, and get away intact. This means I start with 4 PEFs (Possible Enemy Forces) in play. I’m struggling to get access to Table Mountain this week, but I did promise you some shots of Hex Mapper Pro in action; the map is The Village from Cry Havoc!, a perennial favourite, not least because it shows up well in photos. One hex = 2".

To recap, the characters enter the encounter looking like this:

  • Arion: Rep 5, Pilot (LWC), Exceptional Pilot, White Knight, Fit-3, Pep-0, Sav-5, Sci-4. BAP, pistol, LR Comlink, Armoured Jacket, UVB.
  • Coriander: Rep 4, Doctor (LWC), Charismatic, Fit-3, Pep-2, Sav-0, Sci-4. BAP, pistol, LR Comlink, Armoured Jacket, UVB.
  • Dmitri: Rep 4, Dealer (LWC), Smooth, Fit-3, Pep-4, Sav-2, Sci-0. Assault rifle, LR Comlink, Armoured Jacket, UVB.
  • Group items: Spaceship, aircar, 12 spiderbots, starport godown, 3 x Local Comlink, 10 items in bank.


Start of Turn 1: Initial Setup

Here we see a group of shops, which judging by the lack of right angles are not in the most salubrious part of the spaceport district. Arion & Co want to walk along The Street and exit between Buildings 1 and 2, perhaps talking to the locals along the way. How hard can it be? let’s see, shall we?

Turn 1

Activation: Arion 5, PEFs 1, 1, 2, 6.  Arion goes first, then PEF 3, then PEFs 1 and 2 simultaneously. PEF 4 does not activate this turn. As I have rolled doubles for activation I need to check if a new PEF appears (p. 114); as the doubles result (1) is less than or equal to the starport evening law level (4), there is no new PEF.

Dmitri leads the way into one of the shantytowns near the starport, while Arion and Coriander saunter along behind, hand in hand.

With Dmitri on point, the group ambles 8" onto the board, aiming for The Street; as Arion is the Tactical Group Leader, the whole group activates when he does. I roll 2d6 for each activating PEF vs their Rep of 4 and consult the table on p. 116. PEF 3 rolls 3, 3 vs 4 and passes 2d6, which means it exits the building. Arion & Co can all see it, so now I must resolve the PEF, by rolling 1d6 and adding the local law level (4) and a modifier for the time of day (1). I roll a 5 and get a score of 10; we have encountered a Criminal Element (table, p. 117). What are they? 1d6 + law level, or in this case 9, meaning they are Basics – ordinary humans (table p. 118). A 2d6 roll and another table on p. 118 show me that there are three of them. I replace the PEF marker with new tokens: CE1, CE2, CE3. (I was expecting to go to the In Sight test at this point, but there’s more to do.)

I roll 1d6 on the Basic Professions Table (p.121) to see who they are. It’s not immediately obvious whether they will each have a different profession, or all have the same one; I go with the latter to reduce dice rolling. A roll of 2 followed by a 1 tells me I have met 3 thieves, probably robbing the building. I can’t see a Criminal or Thief Generator Table, so I use the Ganger Table and roll 2d6 three times to generate the opposition; rolls of 6, 7, and 8 (weird, huh?) give me one Rep 5 thief with a Big Ass Pistol, and two Rep 4 ones with Machine Pistols. We may have to go loud. To determine that, I move to the Contact Resolution Table on p. 125, and roll 1d6 + 4 (law level) = 10, which translates as "B" – the crooks try to shake us down, and we go to a People Challenge. Coriander gets +2d6 on these for being Charismatic, and Dmitri gets +1d6 for being smooth. As opposition Grunts, the crooks have no attributes. I now roll Rep d6 for each participant, counting successes.

Arion rolls 5d6 vs 3: 2, 4, 4, 5, 6 and one success. Ouch. I decide to use 2 of his 5 bonus dice and get 5, 5 – no help. (I’ve decided that bonus dice represent Coriander using whatever the THW equivalent of Boost/Lower Trait is to increase her boyfriend’s chances, by the way.)

Three humans emerge from the first shop, carrying suspicious amounts of goods, and moving a little more quickly than most people. Seeing Dmitri, they pause, and the groups eye each other up.

“You’re not from round here, are you?” says the leader, pulling his jacket slightly aside to reveal the butt of a large pistol. “Comms. Wallets. Jewellery. Now.”

Our heroes look at each other, then pull their own jackets aside to reveal equally large pistol butts. Except Coriander, who opens her long coat a little to reveal an assault rifle with a folding stock slung under one arm.

“You don’t want to do this,” says Dmitri. “Trust me on this one.” It is his tone of utter boredom which convinces them, more than the weapons themselves.

Coriander gets 2 successes, Dmitri 1, Rep 5 Ganger 4, and the Rep 4s, 2 and 0 respectively. I don’t see how there can be different outcomes between different pairs of people, which is what I infer from reading the rules, so I decide that each group counts its highest score – Coriander’s 2 vs the Rep 5’s 4. Since the Rep 5 Ganger beats Coriander by two, we get a Minor Failure (table p. 81) and can either give him one item as a bribe to leave us alone, or retake the test with failure leading to fisticuffs. I decide to retake the test, with Arion scoring 2 successes, Coriander 2, Dmitri 3, Rep 5 2, and the two Rep 4s both getting 1. Crappy dice rolling all round, but it changes the result to a Minor Success, meaning we talk our way out of it and the thieves leave the encounter. I’ll move them off-board at 8" per turn from now on.

We’re not done yet though, there are two more PEFs to activate.

PEFs 1 and 2 go together; a couple of dice rolls and the PEF Movement table on p. 116 tells me that PEF 1 will move towards the closest building – the two closest buildings are equidistant, so I move it the usual 8" towards the closest door, deciding that movement costs up the slope are doubled. Meanwhile, PEF 2 gets the same outcome and does the same. Neither are visible to Arion yet.


End of Turn 1: “Call that a gun? Now THIS is a gun!”

The first turn has taken nearly an hour, but that is mostly because I’m having to flip back and forth a lot – not only do I not know the rules, but I don’t know where they are in the book yet. Familiarity will change that in time.

Turn 2

Activation: Arion – 6, PEF1 – 5, PEF2 – 2, PEFs 3 and 4 – 1. Doubles, but again less than the law level, so no new PEF. Sequence of activation is: PEF1, PEF 2, PEF 3 and 4. Arion doesn’t activate this turn. Note that PEF4 now has Rep 5 (that of its leader).

PEF1 passes 2d6 for movement and rolls a 3, so it moves towards the closest player group. However, this doesn’t bring it into view. I guess they heard the ruckus and are coming to check it out. PEF 2 does the same. PEF 3 moves into a random new section of the building it is in. The former PEF 4 moves past Arion & Co while they keep a close eye on it.


End of Turn 2: “Yeah, that’s right. Keep on movin’, and don’t try nothin’.”

Turn 3

Activation: Arion 2, PEF1 – 4, PEF2 & 3 – 3, PEF4 – 1. Everyone goes, no new PEFs. Sequence is PEF1, PEF 2 & 3, Arion, PEF4.

PEF1 continues to move towards Arion & Co, and comes into view, so I must now resolve it. By the same process as before, I see that PEF1 is a group of three police, consisting of (2d6 rolls of 8, 5 and 7) one Rep 5 with BAP, one Rep 4 with MP, and one Rep 4 with a small pistol. They score an A on contact resolution; nothing will happen with these guys unless we start it. I replace it with three new counters, marked P.

PEF2 stays where it is but splits into two PEFs, 2A and 2B. PEF 3 exits the building and comes into view, so it must be resolved. More criminals; three Basics, Dealers in fact. I recycle the earlier CE markers to represent them. According to p. 126, these attempt to provide us with their services at a cost of 1 item. Dmitri tries to recruit them instead; this is a People Challenge using the rules on p. 60-63. I reason this should happen next turn, as shouting "I say! Do you want to buy some illegal stuff?" when there are police right behind you isn’t a good idea.

The erstwhile PEF4 continues to move off-board – it shouldn’t get there until next turn, but I bring this forward a bit so I can reuse the counters. I have decided not to bother with PEFs resolving each other; the rules don’t mention it, and frankly life’s too short.


End of Turn 3: “Psst! Hey buddy, you wanna buy a hoofed mammal?”

Turn 4

Activation: Arion – 4, PEF1 – 6, PEF 2A – 5, PEF 2B – 2, PEF3 – 6. Sequence: Arion, PEF 2B; others don’t activate. (Since I have no reason to determine the combat stats for PEF 3, I continue to use Rep 4 for it.)

Arion & Co continue to move along the street, bumping into the former PEF3 and commencing negotiations. As I have no stats for PEF3, I decide to use the Dealer career for them and give them Rep-1 skill level in its primary skill, which is People; that’ll be skill level 3 then. I need to decide the outcomes for major and minor successes and failures, and figure that a Major Success means they are recruited and cost 1 item, Minor Success is recruited costing 1 item each, Minor Failure means they call the cops for help, and Major Failure means they draw and we go to In Sight tests.

Arion passes 0d6; Dmitri 1, Coriander 4, and the Dealers 2, 0 and 2 respectively. That gives us a Minor Success, and three new contacts in the underworld for the price of 3 items. I decide that as with hated enemies, a roll of 1 on 1d6 when meeting dealers in future means it’s these guys. For now, we exchange comm codes and go our separate ways.

Dmitri exchanges nods with the next group of locals, and one approaches him furtively, looking around to check where the cops are.

“Hey. You wanna buy some of the good stuff?”

“We’re more on the supply side. New in town, looking to make some connections, get some work,” says Dmitri. “My friend here has a starship, and we all have very big guns. We’d appreciate it if you’d spread the word. Here’s something for you trouble; we can get this for you wholesale if you’re interested.” He hands over three packages.

“Okay then,” says the lead dealer, grinning. “We’ll ask around.” They exchange comm codes with Dmitri and leave.

“What was in those packages?” asks Arion.

“You don’t want to know,” says Dmitri.

“Cori? What was it?” Coriander compresses her lips and frowns.

“No,” she says, “He’s right. You really don’t want to know. And you don’t want to know where it came from, either.”

They move on still arguing in low voices.

Meanwhile, PEF 2B moves into the closest building, or rather the one with the closest door.

Turn 5

Activation: Arion 1, Police – 4, PEF 2A -1, PEF 2B – 3, Dealers – 1. Everyone activates, doubles but no new PEF. Sequence: Police, PEF2B, and then Arion, PEF 2A and the dealers all at once.

Resolved PEFs continue to use the PEF movement table (p. 116, 117) but use their leader’s Rep if known. The police move into a building (quite possibly a doughnut shop); PEF2B exits the building it was in, and comes into view; it’s a group of Dropouts, Basics, two in number. A 4 and a 7 on the Dropout table in the QRS give me their stats; one Rep 3, unarmed, and one Rep 5 with a BAP. (I could have been rolling for the gender of resolved PEFs as well, but it hasn’t seemed important so far so I have skipped it.) There should be a contact resolution here, but it seems more likely to occur when they are in base to base contact, so I leave it for next turn.

PEF 2A and the dealers stay where they are. Arion and his friends move along the street towards their exit point.


Turn 6

Activation: Arion 2, police 5, everyone else 3. No new PEFs thanks to law level. All activate. Sequence: Police, everyone else, Arion.

The police come back out of the doughnut shop, but see no need to take action. The dealers move into a building, or as close as they can get – I decide on the one across the road, since they haven’t been in it yet. PEF 2A moves into the building with the nearest door, which brings them into sight, and they now have to be resolved; they are a criminal element, Basics, two of them, Transporters. As they are neither gangers nor thieves, they will try to sell us their services. as before, Dmitri will try to recruit them; but again, that is for when we get closer, which we do when Arion moves. I won’t bore you with their stats.

People Challenge results: Arion – 2, Coriander – 2, Dmitri – 2; Transporter 1 – 2, Transporter 2 – 1. Nothing doing here, so I leave them be as I’m starting to run out of time, noting that the results table suggests only one character per side should roll?

The dropouts split up. There are only two of them, so this is easy.


Turn 7

Sequence: Arion (4), Transporters (3), Dropout 1 (2). Dropout 2 (5), Dealers (5) and Police (6) don’t move.

The crew moves up to the Dropouts. As they are separate tactical groups now, we trigger separate contact resolutions.

D1 (Rep 5): 3 successes vs Arion (4), Coriander (3) and Dmitri (1). D2 (Rep 3): 3 successes vs Arion (3), Coriander (3), and Dmitri (4). In both cases, a Minor Success, so we exchange minor pleasantries and move on. Hardly seems worth any in-character dialogue.

The Transporters split up.

Turn 8

Activation: Dropout 2 (5), Transporter 2 (4), Dropout 1 (2), Transporter 1 (2), Dealers (1), Arion (1). Police (6) don’t move.

Dropout 2 leaves his building; Transporter 2 tries to split into two PEFs, finds that it hurts, and decides to stay put instead; Dropout 1 leaves his building; Transporter 1 moves closer to the player group, while the player group continues to move off-board.


Turn 9

At this point I call the game. Nobody is going to start a fight, and there is nothing to stop Our Heroes leaving the map, having achieved all their objectives.


Well, this may have been an easy encounter, but we did achieve all objectives, and no-one got hurt, so I think it counts as a success. I think we will all roll to increase our Rep, as it seems the most useful all-round stat. Each rolls 1d6, and needs to beat their current Rep to improve. Arion rolls a 3 and fails; Coriander rolls a 5 and succeeds; Dmitri rolls a 4 and fails. The group now looks like this, with changes this month in bold:

  • Arion: Rep 5, Pilot (LWC), Exceptional Pilot, White Knight, Fit-3, Pep-0, Sav-5, Sci-4. BAP, pistol, LR Comlink, Armoured Jacket, UVB.
  • Coriander: Rep 5, Doctor (LWC), Charismatic, Fit-3, Pep-2, Sav-0, Sci-4. BAP, pistol, LR Comlink, Armoured Jacket, UVB.
  • Dmitri: Rep 4, Dealer (LWC), Smooth, Fit-3, Pep-4, Sav-2, Sci-0. Assault rifle, LR Comlink, Armoured Jacket, UVB.
  • Group items: Spaceship, aircar, 12 spiderbots, starport godown, 3 x Local Comlink, 8 items in bank (10, -3 for recruiting, +1 for it being a new month).
  • Contacts: Three dealers (stats as for numbers 11, 4, 5 on the LWC table).

The whole thing took a little under three hours, but started to speed up dramatically after the first hour as I got to grips with the rulebook layout and the PEF rules.

Lessons Learned

Generate some PEFs ahead of time, on index cards maybe, and draw a card to select each group. Much easier and faster; most of my time this game was spent resolving PEFs.

Generate some People Challenges ahead of time so I don’t need to work them out on the fly.

It seems possible for NPCs to move in and out of the same building repeatedly, like a yo-yo.

Things to Check

How many of the group should roll a Pep check for recruiting attempts?

  1. Steve Boulter says:

    Interesting write-up Andy, cheers. It would seem that the PEF rules are a bit cumbersome? (I understand that unfamiliarity with the rules has a bearing on this.) However, I’m wondering whether the ‘latest’ mechanisms Ed has introduced have detracted from the THW games? I used the ‘basic’ ATZ a lot and loved it (similarlry SGS BOG, RSBS) when ATZ BDTZ came out I found the game more cumbersome to play, so I;m wondering if the ATZ v3.0 (ATZ FFO) is going to be worth getting (as it has the latest mechanics similar to 5150). We’ll have to see….

    • andyslack says:

      They seemed very slow and clunky in the first game, but I found the PEF rules went a LOT more quickly and smoothly the second time around – that post should be up tomorrow, IT permitting. Major contributors to that are that the generators for each type of PEF are now on the QRS sheets in a single table, and that all PEFs now have the same Rep (4).

  2. Ed the Two Hour Wargames Guy says:

    Just like anything, once you get used to the rules they go much faster. As for mechanics similarities between ATZ and NB, NB PEF tables are different to reflect a huge mega-city where all the people are crammed together. In ATZ and ATH this doesn’t occur. Here’s the ATH table reflecting less wall to wall people

    (Taken versus PEF Rep)

    If inside a building -1 to Rep
    If shooting has occurred this Encounter +1 to Rep

    2 PEF moves 1 section directly towards
    nearest enemy through cover at all times.

    1 PEF moves 1 section away from the
    enemy through cover at all times.

    0 PEF doesn’t move.

    There’s a tendency to think that one set of mechanics will apply to every rules set but many are tweaked differently to reflect the period/situation.

    So in a nutshell neither ATZ or ATH call for splitting PEFs. In ATZ there are no generating additional PEFs.

    And yes, we recommend loading PEFs, or making some up ahead of time.

    • andyslack says:

      Hi Ed! Yes, it certainly went a lot faster the second time around, and I expect the same will be true for anything else that feels slow initially. It helps me a lot to play a number of games close together – makes it harder to forget rules in between sessions; the first and second games were 24 hours apart, and I felt a lot more comfortable with PEFs in game 2.

    • andyslack says:

      Also, I forgot to mention in the post or other comments, but it for me it went without saying that PEFs in a bustling, live city would be more common than in the semi-deserted milieu of ATZ. It also seems completely reasonable that they are not all trying to kill you in NHC. =]

  3. Ed the Two Hour Wargames Guy says:

    As for Pep Challenges – If combat situation roll for the leaders. If not then yo can do it by characters.
    Example – You meet a group of gangers and there could be combat. You roll and score a result of Minor Success. This means you talk your way out of trouble and they leave. But maybe you decide to buy them a round of drinks . Then it would be individual character as some may stay and some may refuse and leave.
    Consider THW rules as a tool box and use them and tweak or even pull them form other sets as desired.

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