There was only an hour or so to knock it out, but the group had all read the rules beforehand and had a good idea of what playbooks they wanted, so setup was lightning quick.
They named their new mercenary company the Hammer of the Gods, and since nobody picked up the Commander playbook, they wound up with a Favored but Vengeful NPC commander, 'Thor'. His connections with the Darnan Republic (their first deployment) meant he could pull strings when the company is in trouble, but tends to pursue revenge side objectives.
The whole crew chose Dendrite-native sim-babies as heritages (pilots whose experience is primary in simulations), and decided to be triplets. They had a Lieutenant (Mike), a Rigger (Tim) and a weirdo Prodigy (Stephen), but with a Veteran (Sean) as their connection to actual battlefield experience.
Holy crap did I put a lot of shit in this game. It's a weird experience when writing outpaces the play by so far. Playbooks means the players can actually take a lot of responsibility for bringing it in, which is fantastic, but the surprises kept coming.
Stephen: Okay, turns out I did my stats wrong. The Prodigy's stats are randomly assigned during play, as I use them.
Me: Wtf?! I wrote that?
Mike: I love that!
Things like that kept happening. It was pretty delightful, actually.
We chose to play the branching campaign, the Darnan Offensive. The players didn't like the sound of being shot to pieces by Exo in City 31, so they chose mission 'B', "Last Train from RHF".
Normally I'm pretty good at providing a sense of place with lots of ad libbed details, but I was a little overwhelmed by first playtest syndrome to be my creative best while getting my head around an unfamiliar set of basic moves - the net effect was that the scenario was a little too simple.
Part of that was just the nature of the time we had. The players had rolled a starting "SNAFU" of 2, which gave me plenty of opportunity to bring in enemy reinforcements or other fuckery, but I chose not to for time. As a result, the mission was basically a one-location mission, which is too simple for an abstract, theatre-of-the-mind battlefield.
Despite that, the mechanics worked basically as expected. (That's not too surprising, as the basic core is pretty familiar from our games of The Regiment.)
Turns out that four York 6A tanks are a speed bump against TL IV mechs. :)
Some lessons and likely changes.
The crew managed to roll a Dropship For Sale as their post-mission opportunity, which immediately kicked off a frenzied shell game of trying to figure out what they could sell in order to make it work. They had a fat-bellied Regent dropship as their starting gear, but they cashed it all in for a zeroed-out Troll, which has enough capacity that they won't have to depend on Republic VTOLs.
This was pretty fun - watching the players toss everything aside to try to take up a rare opportunity was golden, and very much in-genre.
On the other hand, I'm wary of shell games, as they can lead to a lot of fiddling and possibly analysis paralysis. I think a much clearer downtime procedure would be helpful, something like:
- Make the opportunity roll to see what's up
- Apply theater employment terms, in order
- Repair should come before purchase - there's no time to broker a deal for a new dropship, obtain it and use the base techs to patch it up before next mission. The suspense is probably more fun that way.
- Rearming should probably be last, because you might have changed mechs.
Technology Level Set
One of the problems that both magic and sci-fi technology suffer from in rules light systems is that there are no real-world expectations to calibrate against. I know roughly what a guy with a sword can accomplish, not so someone with 'shadow magic'. Do mech optics see heat signatures through buildings? Can an Iguana's railgun shoot straight through the skeleton of a nuked office tower? How big are mechs, anyways?
Not enough ways to spend SNAFU
I'm not 100% sure about this one, since there was only the one engagement, but the Veteran was complaining that there wasn't really a great way for him to apply his special xp move, burning two SNAFU on a roll.
Maybe this isn't necessary when we're doing something other than toy missions: in a two- or three-encounter mission, there are at least four SNAFU opportunities (five if there's a briefing roll too).
Since RPGs are very low bandwidth, one of the challenging situations is when players stumble on a huge vista - you now have to convey quite a lot of information all at once. One idea that seems very promising is a set of briefing tables, to do a few useful things:
- Give another opportunity to spend SNAFU - cash one in to get a really shite briefing
- Give the GM and players some shared opportunity to add texture to the battlefield. Okay, we know there's AA, or we don't, but know we're all at least thinking about AA as something to consider when deciding where we're
- Give a few named places on the battlefield - a candidate LZ, an easy to reach spot, a tactically useful spot, a likely location for enemy reinforcements, a place with lots of cover, etc.
I think it's useful to bring the time complication up to the 7-9 option.
What makes way more sense than an NPC commander is an NPC patron for the deployment theater. I think that would provide a much more economical way to expose players to the fuckery of the Darnan Republic, and keeps the NPC commander from being an intermediary that shields players from that.
I think pilots should wear out. Getting hurt should be scarier. Health shouldn't feel like hit points that recover easily after each mission, but jarring concussions that stop you sleeping and eventually give you really bad stuff like Parkinson's.
Complicated weapon is complicated
The Hellhound's 2x 1d Twin 15mm AC is unnecessarily fiddly. Just making it 2d is fine.
Armor and Criticals
The rules as written don't quite work - you roll dice all at once, not one at a time, so there needs to be a clearer procedure on how you determine whether your 1-armor blocks the D or C damage. One idea thrown out was that 1-armor might actually convert C to D. That does mean that under some circumstances armor doesn't do anything (when all your D boxes are ticked, converting C to D doesn't help). Not sure if the complexity pays for itself over just letting players choose which hit to absorb.
Somehow at the table we misinterpreted 'disabled' (the new dropship purchase) as just having the last damage box ticked.. but of course it means the whole damage track is ticked.
I miss the 'turn sequence is clockwise but there's a rule for interrupting' from my fantasy heartbreaker. I think that's extremely functional for sharing out spotlight. Not sure how to squeeze that in, as the economies are totally different.
I'm thinking the starting mechs might be a little too versatile, and might have too much potential. Tim rolled well on his chargen roll, and got a Weiler to start with.
I don't have a vast tech readout of mechs to choose from, but it feels to me that the starting mechs should be:
- Useful but fairly simple
- Have a few upgrade options, but nothing so exciting that it's the mech you want to end the game with
- Have critical options that aren't awesome. A few bad hits and you're looking at pilot-lethal damage, so you start to really want to upgrade, swap out for a backup mech (even exo), or pray for an overhaul opportunity
- Leave you lots of room to drool when you see something better on the battlefield
On the other hand, it's early days. It could be that upgrade opportunities are rare enough that it's not a problem.
Anyways.. it was a lot of fun, and it feels like a promising start.