Monday 1 April 2024

Improvised Awful Lights Missions

Asking about The Awful Lights, a commenter asks: 

I'd love to hear about how this is run - with the Handler determining mission location and objectives during the session, is the GM left improvising? Are you meant to pre-build all the possible Sites, and then hammer a Handler-chosen objective into them?

Yes, I just improvised; in that sense it works very much like Blades in the Dark when the GM works out a score. What I've found in play so far is that the obvious thing works just fine. If you get 'Bridge' and 'Environmental Records', which may not sound like it makes sense immediately, the records are probably in the trunk of a car, or perhaps there's a little building at the far side of the bridge. Or perhaps it's a dead drop and the records are literally in a plastic case on the underside of one of the bridge supports.

It's not particularly clever or unique scenario design, but add to that one of the Threats, plus a few bumps and scrapes getting there in the first place and it seems to be enough.

At Breakout Con, I ran two groups through three missions:

Group One, Mission 1

ENA Mission: Environmental Records, Firth Post Office, Law Scouts, 3-Supply of Survival Gear

The first group did one mission, which was getting Environmental Records from the Firth Post Office; I decided that the store had been looted, but the records were an envelope in the post office boxes, and the payoff was three large parcels of preserved food for a nearby scout camp.

Poking into abandoned buildings seemed to genuinely unnerve the PCs, which was great. Other than bad vibes it was smooth sailing.. until a player invoked their Pessimist move. (We're all still amazed at this, it was awesome but very against the chances of mission success!) The arrival of three infected turned the slow looting into a mad scramble, dropping unspent gear points ("Can I do that?") to lighten the load to haul ass as quickly as possible.

The Threat they had actually chosen was Law Scouts, so I decided a sniper was on overwatch over the area. I'd rolled randomly for his alertness (a trio of people walking into a sleepy village in the predawn light on a random day can be easily missed), but after the kerfuffle with the dead he was alert and managed to snipe one of them on the way out. Another player sacrificed their character to allow the others to escape; it was perfectly dramatic.

Group Two, Mission 1

ENA Mission: Clear the LZ, Outlook Bluffs, No Threats, Fresh Clothing

The second group tried a low-threat mission to start, a zero-threat mission to clear a landing zone at the Outlook Bluffs. I had recently been to several provincial parks along the Niagara escarpment, so that was my mental picture: winding gravel trails along the top of a clifftop forest, little tourist maps, a couple of parking lots and picnic tables.

This mission was interesting because half the work was actually getting there. Based on the map the Watch player had drawn, it seemed likely to me that the players were at the bottom of the escarpment and would have to find a way up.

The group had a survivor with Vitamin A, so that led to some confusion trying to navigate at night with a follow-the-leader procession moving blindly. Confronting the escarpment, the players briefly flirted with the idea of climbing it, but then sensibly decided to take the long way around. At the top they found the LZ easily enough at the labelled 'outlook'. They got to work sawing down saplings to turn the picnic area into a helicopter landing spot.

I decided the noise they were making would attract a lone, wandering infected. This led to a confusing and desperate fight in the dark. The team worked well together to overcome it, but a few picked up some Exposure from using knives and hatches, and another some Harm while trying to run to help in the scuffle.

All in all it was a satisfying, low-threat foray that did seem to hit the goal of making them feel vulnerable while it was happening, and accomplished afterwards.

Group Two, Mission 2

ENA Mission: Repair the ENA Radio, Box Car 8883, Dead Herd + Dead Follower, Battered Reservist APC

That group immediately pulled down a harder mission, repairing an ENA radio repeater in Box Car 8883. I figured the train was holed up in a rail yard along with a few other train cars, and the group had picked a herd of dead as the Threat. The rail yard was super simple, just a dual track that fans out into a fenced-in area with five or so tracks, a handful of train cars, and a nearby industrial building. They'd also picked a Follower, which I decided picked up their tail in some light industrial built-up map square on the way.

They noticed it when they stopped to rest in a lumber yard, which created some tense decision-making as it tried (and failed) to pick up their scent in the lumber yard, doubled back, then doubled back again, then eventually disappeared from view to return again in who knows how long.

At the rail yard, I decided the herd was clustered right around the box car they wanted access to (perhaps drawn by the EM from the radio?). The group asked if there was some generator or other noisemaker, and I decided there was a yellow railroad speeder for track maintenance off to one side. The group split up to distract the herd; their plan worked but at the cost of the group being scattered and having to find their separate ways home.

* * *

In conclusion, improvising these missions isn't nearly as complicated as trying to make an interesting dungeon up on the fly. Simple ingredients used in fairly obvious ways do seem to have the desired effect when they all stack together.