I Love the Corps goes to Fan Expo Toronto

Greetings marines!

I am sending this communications package all the way from Canada! (It’s Labour Day, a public holiday, and  I am staying with friends, so catching up on a bit of business stuff whilst they are still asleep.)

So on Friday to Saturday, I was doing ILTC promo at Fan Expo (my second overseas con). Whereas GenCon is ALL about tabletop gaming, Fan Expo is more for all kinds of nerddom. There is a Gaming part of it, but it is mostly videogames. There was a board game room, and two (albeit, quite large) role play rooms. I will admit, I wasn’t feeling overwhelmingly confident about it beforehand: I only received confirmation of my games a week before flying (I am used to knowing this months in advance), it was a sign-up sheet based system like with small British gaming cons (and I was up against many established systems, and I know how that usually goes for the New Guy… usually with having to miss a game slot or two, and I had paid a lot of money to get there), my sign-up sheet was blank when I arrived and my games were not even listed as I Love the Corps in the brochure (instead they were listed by the scenario name, meaning the few who might have heard of it would not know to find me unless they came to the table).

FORTUNATELY, my expectations were smashed pretty quickly…

For this weekend, I was running my Pandora’s Box scenario… many, many times.

Friday 

Game 1 (2-6)

So, I registered my worries that I had no players an hour before my game. Then, twenty minutes before… still no players. So, Kate, the organiser of the RPGs, got me to give her a game spiel, and she managed to get me two players very quickly.  I assured them I could run a good game even with two, and it could involve the entire squad, as Friendlies only have predetermined static ability totals and never roll dice.  They were intrigued by this, and deliberately picked the two ranking NCOs, Mag-Train and Laser. They not only RPed giving orders to the rest of the squad to make use of them, they even used ability totals to give them situational bonuses and increased their competence.

They were doing fantastically well, and I said so. And then ten minutes later, they got three of their four Friendlies killed in one single beat. Oops. Still, the game went down very well, despite a highly involved action scene (they player actions were really quick, but they had four Friendlies to coordinate, and I had a variety of Hostiles, so I was worried about the time it seemed to be taking). My worries were for nought, as the 4 hour game only took 3 hours, and I got to do the kind of action scene I have never done before, which felt more than a little X-Com. The two players were highly enthusiastic, and the guy said he’d send a friend who was coming on Saturday to play.

The early finish gave me a bit more time to chat with people before the next game, and I had quite a few people came over who seemed interested in the game after seeing me GM.

Game 2 (7-11)

The Game Room was RAMMED. I had a full group of six. I even had Kate come in to check that I could take six players (I always do, but their sign-up sheets only had 5 slots) and was aware of this way beforehand.

It was a pretty great game. It did took a little while for the some of the players to warm-up, but once they did, it was delightful chaos. They were very complimentary about the scenes and beats system.  I had another GM play who seemed to be really into it. Things were going terrifyingly enough that he spent a Glory Point to dramatically edit the action scene so they could escape… meaning he ended the scene compromised and dying, and I still had an hour to go. It was the first time I got to use a contingency plan forever in place and never used in about the eight times I have run this game… as Missile got replaced… by the ‘other’ Missile…

Cue a fabulous ending where the marines escape onto an unknown planet, two of them died horribly, one turned on the others, one runs away and THEN dies and the other ends the game alone and totally lost…

Saturday

Game 3  (11-1)

I was a bit concerned initially about being able to do a decent, satisfying run of Pandora’s Box in two hours. But then, I did a 3 hour game with 2 players and I had 3 players for the 2 hour slot… I warned the group at the start that the story might not finish, and to consider it a demo, which they were fine with. And managed to finish the story neatly in two hours after all.

The game was mostly narrative scene, and the players focused on learning as much of the story as they can, and the action scenes were brief blips of awesome in-between the beats of the narrative scene. There was another satisfied group and the resident lady was particularly interested and wanting to GM it for her gaming group. WOO!

Gaming by Storm (2-6)

Originally, I had 5 hours until my next game. I was saying to one of the volunteers about how the day time seemed quieter, presumably due to most people going to the exhibitions in the day and gaming in the evening. And then he said ‘oh, that’s why we have Gaming by Storm’….

So here’s how Gaming by Storm works. Four 1 hour game slots. A room swarming with GMs and empty tables. On the hour, the door opens and geeks swarm in. Like a carnival hawker, you see who you can entice to your table. Then, you run a game. On the hour, the bell rings. The gamers in the room either swap tables, or they leave. And then the doors open and more nerds flood in. Rinse and repeat till the four hours are over (you can GM only some of the slots, but I decided to do the whole hog, for more outreach).

I decided to just run my normal four hour version of Pandora’s Box, split into four segments. I think the other games had it easier. I had to explain an entirely new setting, ruleset AND ongoing storyline, with only an hour to do this and run a decent demo, losing a few minutes for player gathering time. I apologised for zooming through the explanations, but a lot of people told me I did it well.

I had 3 three player groups and 1 two player group. Realising I wasn’t going to need all six marines, the ones that were Friendlies got slowly bumped off over the games, leaving three of the six standing by the time the last three sat down. It was a particularly destructive run.

I was thanked multiple times for jumping in last minute. Apparently, they would have been turning people away without me. It was definitely a GMing challenge, but it was fun, and showed me how versatile ILTC is.

I don’t think it was everyone’s cup of tea (hard to tell in an hour), but a lot of business cards went out, so  I consider that a success for the majority. One of the players even came back in the evening to play the full game…

Game 4 (7-11)

I had five players for this, including another GM, 3 people who had all been to GenCon (but hadn’t played the game then, but seemed to be really looking forward to it), the return player from earlier (who loved and chose the same character) and a guy actually in the military who (somewhat appropriately) took on the squad leader, Mag-Train Maddocks…

This game was just freakin’ epic. These guys did not mess around. They started an action scene whilst not in armour and took down three armoured enemies with their own weapons. The main action scene (when they had full Load-Outs) got a lot more brutal though, and even though they took down more of their enemy, there was a lot of injuries, and they ended Glory Pointing their way out, once they knew who they were up against…

It looked like an ending when all the players were going to survive. But then, the marine with the Merciful Defining Trait and Weakness decided it would be better for everyone to die…

In the final scene, we had one grunt Freaking Out, THREE Losing It (all of three who died, one from suicide and one killing the other), the Freaking Out marine murder the surviving Losing It marine for their own murder… and the Sergeant getting his arms blown off (neutralised and resistant, so surviving) to stop the suicide being mass euthanasia… a swift and brutal ending that ended with two survivors and an amazing line…

Suffice to say, it went well. Well enough that Kate had to split us up from our post-game enthusiastic ranting, cos she wanted to go home.

Overview

A stonking success.  I had 27 players. That’s four MORE than Gen-Con. 18 hours of GMing, same as Gen-Con. Gave out 26 business cards… that wasn’t to every player (gave out some to interested people I ended up talking to them), but it was most of them. At Gen Con, I had only 2 female players across six games. At Fan Expo, with my four main games, I had 1-2 female players a game and I had at least one during Gaming by Storm. The organisers must have been pleased with me, since they seemed surprised that I wasn’t coming back on Sunday (admittedly they hadn’t given me any game slots. But then, they’d given me the four slots volunteers usually get… if I can go again, I will see if I can push to get more, since I am promoting.) They were even trying to persuade me to come to their dedicated gaming con in March.

Despite my worry at the sign-up sheet system, it was much better organised than my usual experience of it, and they really put in the effort to get me players. There was also an hour gap in between games, like at the UK Games Expo, and unlike Gen-Con, and so I found it to be much better organised. Gen-Con was still ace and that is my priority to get back to, but this trip was at least as successful, if not more, and didn’t bring me any of the initial stress Gen-Con did. Hopefully I will be able to do both next year. Soon we will see how things go when the books release.

My next cons will be on the smaller side.. CONCRETE COW, in Milton Keynes, in September, Spaghetti ConJunction (Birmingham) in October and to finish, Dragonmeet (London) cin December.

Commander Chris, signing off.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

I Love the Corps goes to GenCon 50!

GREETINGS MARINES!

Finally got internet back at home yesterday, and haven’t gotten other stuff out of the way, I can finally recap my first overseas promo trip!

This will cover the good and bad both of my ILTC experience and GenCon itself (bit of a ropey start, but it improves, massively). I was running a compressed version of my Cold Frontier campaign: 7 days (instead of 21) to survive, till the cruiser arrives: don’t let the razor ants eat you. 6 marines, 56 colonists: HOW MANY LIVE!?? (Spoiler: not many.)

Before GenCon

Got to my accommodation last Thursday at about 10pm, chatted to the landlady and crashed soon after. Alas, I didn’t sleep particularly well (had a very stressful lead-up to GenCon) and before I ended up at GenCon, ended up in a FedEx, getting some extra copies of my character packs. The big sell to get people to play ILTC was that all of my games would follow a connective story. If you got someone killed in one game, they wouldn’t be available the next day. This gave me a slight statistical problem; I had 27 different characters (6 marines, 21 colonists) and had a copy of each, but it was hard to know how many copies I would need if someone wanted to take their character sheet. In the end, I did four of each marine, which was enough (had a few spare) and one of each colonist, which I knew would be more than I needed… but I felt better to be over-prepared.

Despite being in a fluster, the FedEx was the first sign that it would be a good weekend. I had an awesome guy called Matt helping me with my copying (he was copying whilst I got all the plastic wallet sorted). Not only did he help me get ready on time, but was impressed that I had been working on my first RPG full time for two years, was telling the other gamers in the shop, and I ended up giving out about five business cards! Even saw a lady there who I met again briefly at the airport, and have since got an e-mail from who she was promoting (I assume anyway, awaiting further reply). Either way, CONTACTS!

Friday- at GenCon

Got more than a bit lost when I got there… it’s so big! Plus, I was exhausted, stressed and at my most dyspraxic. There was a definitive lack of signs to places and though there were brochures with maps, I didn’t find one when I walked in… so many people, so many different entrances to the Convention Centre. I did the sensible thing and asked volunteers where to go… and got misdirected. Twice. I ended up stood at the wrong stand (it was for entrants) for about ten minutes! (They assumed I was a player, took my ID without letting me explain, and thus I stood there till another guy was sent to me and I explained who I was, and was sent elsewhere. Correctly.) In a fluster, I ended up at GM HQ, and the very nice lady at the desk busted out a map and managed to correctly show me where to go, including giving me a decent shortcut. Got to my game ten minutes early. Phew! Not as early as I like to be, but better than nothing.

Game 1 (Friday 1-4)

It was definitely a slow burn game. The problem with essentially running a campaign across 7 games is you have to start somewhere. But, the players seemed to be very much getting into the intro and learning everything they could about Frost colony and it’s people, so I went with it. There was a lot of role play from some of the characters, but not much need for abilities, so the narrative scene trucked along a bit slowly. Also had two younger players. The teen seemed to be choosing to do nothing in an in-character fashion, whilst the younger kid (about 7) was just way too young to get what was going on. Eventually, the LT’s player embraced this and left the kid to his own devices- since he was playing the Lone Wolf, this actually worked pretty well. The game was definitely shaping up. Unfortunately, we got to 3.30 and the family (half the group) said they needed to finish at 3.45, when my game was due to finish at 4, and had it done so, would have likely ended perfectly. I wanted to give them action before they finished, but instead I had to rush it and set up the action scene for the next group (not my optimal choice).

I think it went well enough, but I think the nature of GenCon’s timetabling, something new to me, harmed it. I didn’t know you could just book a game that ends at 4 and start another one at 4. Some rooms are at least 20 minutes apart! Dumb system, left me feeling a bit annoyed. Also, after my copying nightmare, only one player took a sheet, so it left me feeling like it didn’t go well…

Before Game 2

So game 2 didn’t actually happen (should have been 5-8). This was a hard but necessary way for me to learn that prebookings mean far less than they do, say at the UK Games Expo. You expect to lose a player or two there… but 5 out of 6? Well, that sucked the remaining confidence out of me. Fortunately, a guy with a Generic ticket who really wanted to play wandered over, and though my one player had been waiting long enough and went off elsewhere, I made a friend, had a good rant, and played a fun card game. I then went for a bit of a wander to get the lay of the land and just work out where stuff was, mainly, so I could explore properly during my Saturday break. But I was tired, stressed and it was all a bit overwhelming, so grabbed some (very cheap, especially for con food!) fast food, and headed back about an hour before my next game slot to set up.

There was a group who had no GM turn up (!) so I ended up chatting to them. This was a good experience, as I learned that players overbooking and not turning up and GMs disappearing was a common thing, so I felt better and met some more friendly people. I also encountered some people who were interested in the game, and said they’d play the next slot if people didn’t turn up. Hope!

Game 2 (Friday 9-12)

Three of the six turned up on time. Seeing I looked sceptical (most likely) the guy who organised it assured me the other three were on their way. To further make me feel better he roughly said…

“Just to let you know how much I have been looking forward to this game, I cancelled going to a party with sexy ladies to come play this.” THE PRESSURE WAS ON!

I gave them the choice of if they wanted to start with an action scene or not, as it’s not how I’d usually do things with a one-shot (but the plot was pointed in that direction). But they were excited to try the game out, largely, and I think the unusual appeared. It was a bit of a slow start, mainly cos everyone was TIRED (always a con issue when teaching new rules), but momentum picked up, and when one marine leapt out of the jeep that had been fleeing bugs to butcher one of them… well everyone started leaping out one by one. Badass.

And then they got to the colony and we went from badass to pure psychological horror. The aerial scouts, the screamers, were coming, and they decided everyone needed to STAY QUIET. Which was the purpose of the following narrative scene. The tension was utterly palpable. I had players wincing, grimacing and gasping.

It was an utterly fantastic game, and gave me hope for the rest of the weekend. This was the first time I was asked to come back next year, including the promise of bringing me more players (and the guy bought 5 other people already).

I felt like me again. Hope was rekindled. I then met a Canadian player on my way out, who played in Game 1, and he gave me a lot of praise, and made me feel much better about how it went from my perspective.

Saturday

Game 3 (10-1)

So, after Friday night, I still didn’t sleep great, but adrenaline kept me going, and my mood was much better. My mood accelerated further, as each player turned up yelling ‘I LOVE THE CORPS!’ or ‘OOHRAH!’ 4 out of 6; more than enough to have a good time.

“You are the right players for this game”, I said. I was not wrong.

Game 1 was an investigation with a horror/action build-up, game 2 an action intro with some psychological horror. Episode 3 was the all-out balls to the wall action episode, as the players took events OFF PLANET and ended up finishing the game with a brutal battle in a cargo hold fighting against decompression and were close to all getting sucked out into space. It was utterly epic. Not what they were expecting, but they loved it. “We thought we were going to fight bugs… but this was great.”

I have since been emailed by one of the players asking how he can buy it (soon, sooooon) and spoke to two of the others twice more over the weekend. They came back to the start of the next game to watch and laugh as I explained how the marines had left in a dropship and abandoned them to die (not entirely accurately, but it was how it appeared). We chatted again on Sunday, and it was clear how much they enjoyed it. They not only asked if I was coming back, but also suggested that Cold Frontier could be made into a campaign book. I don’t disagree…

Break

I decided to explore again. But I needed some proper food. But I knew a restaurant would chew out exploration time… so I settled for a food van. If not proper food, then I would settle for a giant pulled pork hot dog… it was gorgeous. But, due to the walk to it and queuing time… I didn’t dent much of the exhibition hall before I needed to return to set up the next game…

Game 4 (4-7)

I only had two players. I didn’t worry. They were a husband and wife, and they clearly were massive Aliens (and Starship Troopers) fans, which is why they signed on. They didn’t seem too worried about having no other players either. Since the last game ended with the marines flying a shuttle out of an exploding ship with no pilot… in the next game, only one marine (who stayed behind) was available. Time to bust out the survivor packs!

Between them, the married couple played two different survivors each (after the death of the first), brought along two more for help, and only one survived. They found the crashed pieces of dropship, but no sign of the marines. As they got surrounded by bugs and fled back to Frost, they got picked off. Two survived, and another died. The game ended with Wagner, a massive explosion and a lot of dead bugs.

Game 5 (8-11)

This time, there were no playable marines. The players were instantly worried, and intrigued. This left the leaders as the (ex-marine) sheriff and deputy, with also the notable leading presence of all around smart guy and the Last but One Ice Miner, Demidov. The sheriff and deputy’s son was played as well, and the three (all male players) players did a beautiful job, whilst we also had ‘every man for himself’ classic coward (and secret telekinetic) to round up the group.

This game was a classic survival horror. Whilst Starship Troopers was (correctly) cited for the style of the last game, this one was compared to The Thing, and they weren’t wrong either. The players decided it was time to get everyone out of Frost.

They had a decent plan, but due to knowing next to zero about the razor ants… well nearly everyone died. Three player characters did survive the ending, but all the other colonists died horribly, and the survivors were more or less screwed in anything but the short term.

A fair few of the players stayed to enthusiastically discuss the game, and two of them even game back to enthuse some more.

Damn good ending to a damn good day.

Sunday

Game 6, 10-1, The End

So three players turned up. Fine for what I had planned… there was a small matter of the surviving four marines to deal with. Unfortunately, two of the players weren’t my players and got the wrong table! Fortunately, the other GM/game designer (who only had one player, being one of the people mistakenly at my table) had already been talking to me about my game, and was genuinely interested. He came to play, so his player stuck around. He ended up saying: “Whoa, this is way more brutal than D&D!” And he meant that very positively.

Two marines were played, and an inedible Dupe colonist (one of four surviving colonists… of 56). We had the finest boss battles and plenty of narrative scene too, though I was worried about the size of action scene (I know combat is not everyone’s thing). However, they all clearly enjoyed it. I even got bought a (the last!) cider during the game by the other designer, Tom.

The guy who booked in was very happy indeed and seemed eager to buy it on release. The accidental player said “next year, I’m going to play in the first group, and screw the other players over.” So I guess he liked it.

Tom asked if I wanted to grab some drink… finishing with a massive blow-out meal and some drinks was my plan anyway! He said that he was surprised that I was not already a published designer already, because I came across as immensely professional. He also revealed that he doesn’t usually enjoy long combats, but thought I handled it beautifully, as there was a distinct story running through the action scene!

SUCCESS!

I had two vodkas and lemonades, a GIGANTIC plate of nachoes and a sizeable amount of chips (fries) and a reuben, a rammed, and possibly tastiest sandwich ever. And you know what? Tom paid for it all… which was not the plan. So yeah, guess I made a good impression!

I did manage to dash into the exhibition hall (in the last 15 minutes, hilariously) and made a last minute impulse buy… ROTTED CAPES (zombie survival horror meets super heroes)! I then had a weird moment of buying my first RPG since doing graphic design and the last stages of polishing the rules, and have really ripped it to shreds… but in a way, that’s good. If another Kickstarter launched project can be advertised on a stall spanning two aisles, despite a LOT of mistakes, it gives me more hope for what may happen when people get their mitts on my books.

I then took the book, sat in a brewery and had some TASTY US ciders, before getting too tired, and collapsing back at the accommodation, painfully early. And finally, I slept. Oh, how I slept. I have even slept well the entire week. So I must have done something right.

Overview

Despite losing a lot of expected players, the majority certainly enjoyed themselves, and a lot of people said they’d be happy to buy it (and I believed them).

More importantly though, was this. If I chat to random people at the Expo, unless it’s in a RP room, 50% might be role players. Of them, 50% will say ‘I only play fantasy.’ Not so in the US. Pretty much all the people I spoke to about the game seemed really interested in it both conceptually and mechanically. I even got some extra players through word of mouth, including some who sadly turned up when I had full players. But it gives me hope that this thing can spread quite easily in the US when I release. I even had three very interested people just from chatting to one person on the airport shuttle bus.  It wasn’t hard to make friends, contacts, meet designers of acquire potential future fans. So, more than worth it.

If I can afford it, I plan to be back next year.

OOHRAH!

UK Games Expo 2017: Overview

Expo blog number two! Whilst last year I ran a stall, and got in three demos on the last day. This year, I just went as a GM and booked in for all eight four-hour game slots (which seemed to be rather hardcore by most standards), and had enough pre-bookings to run each and every one.

This is about my experience at the Expo overall, both as a convention and promotion opportunity,  and what I learned from it. I’ll do another blog for specific in-game highlights, though I will mention games in a more general sense here from the promotional/GM angle. I’m going to start with the downsides and finish with the upsides. Nowadays, I prefer to always end with positives.

Downsides

  • The Hilton, where all the RPGs were going on, was a little cut-off from the NEC halls where the main Expo was occurring.
  • I only had an hour in-between games (out of choice, bear in mind), and it was even tighter than I thought. An hour is not a lot of time to pack up a game, chill out, go to the loo, have food, check in the next game and then have the next game ready for the next group of players, I discovered. It doesn’t mean I won’t do it again though. I was just very flustered in-between games on Friday as a result. I had a much better chill-out/prep process on Saturday and Sunday, once I had gotten used to what it was like.
  • I knew I got food vouchers as a GM. My mistake was not researching this. The voucher was £5 off a meal from certain locations, which wasn’t enough for a full meal, as the NEC food is so expensive. (£5 for a very basic, if tasty, hot dog, for example.) I was on a very low budget, so had brought sandwiches and fruit with me to eat for one meal, thinking the voucher would do for the other. This meant I didn’t have a properly filling meal all weekend until I turned up at my parents late Sunday eve on the way home. Lesson learned, although I am not sure how I would have got better food anyway without a bigger spending budget. Though I did spend under the budget, so I really only have myself to blame on that front.
  • I got there nice and early on Friday, but there was a large queue for GM packs, as the electronic system was somewhat inundated. I am very patient, so this in itself was not a problem for me. However, it meant I got to my table later than planned. I was still twenty minutes early, but my player group were already there and waiting. This made me *feel* late even though I wasn’t, so got me in a bit of a fluster to start with (which is not a criticism of anyone, just how my brain works). I got into my swing as soon as the GMing began, but I was a bit all over the place in-between games as a result.
  • I did have three younger players across different games who I didn’t really think were that into the game. These games were appropriate for them, but I just felt like they would have been happier elsewhere. (And I have run it happily with kids and teens before, and some are even return players.) The adults were enjoying it, so I don’t think it was the scenario. (I could be wrong though. I sometimes translate quiet and shy incorrectly as ‘not enjoying’ which is not usually the case.) However, with the younger kids, the parents did fabulously in involving them and helping explains rules as necessary, so this is not that much of a downside.
  • I also did have a player who insisted on dicing for everything as a first choice (even basic stuff which passive totals are there for) and was getting other players to agree that dice rolls were ‘best’. Fair enough, if that’s what you think, but if you have sat down for a minimal and single die system, you have to accept how it works and make your criticisms when appropriate (in my opinion) at the end and at least try and go with the flow. The problem was that it wasn’t causing a problem for me, but simply limiting the success of this player’s character, and making the game less fun for the player (not having a dice roll for the *actually* risky stuff). They role played well and hilariously, there was just initial refusal to accept that dice systems can have a structure where you don’t dice roll for every action. However, they did seem to turn around and were eventually using passive totals for things, but they left very quickly, so I’m not convinced they’ll be ever playing again. Really, this is also an upside, because it’s handy to get used to this reaction, as it will always be the case with some people. You can’t please everyone, and I have to be ready for that.
  • Though I survived 32 hours of GMing in three days, it did lead to some extreme exhaustion which led to a slower start of my Saturday evening/night game (also got one players’s sheets confused, which didn’t help) in the pre-game rules/setting/character explanation bit, I had some spatial awareness issues in describing in ridiculous distances (I am quite, quite dyspraxic, exhaustion tends to make it more noticeable) and I did get somewhat tongue-tied at the start of my very last game. This was to be expected, however, and all the players seemed very accommodating in these instances.
  • The players of my second Saturday game seemed largely shattered, which is unavoidable but did affect play quite a bit. Fortunately, a player asked for a coffee break, which helped refresh everybody and the game had a decent finish.
  • There were far too many people playing in one room for most of the weekend. This meant the noise was immense; it was hard to hear the quieter players and really bust my throat, having to project a lot more than I already do (and I am not quiet). Then again, my throat gets bust once I GM more than 6 hours anyway, so I guess this is an accepted hazard and rather unavoidable with the amount of guests the Expo now has.

Upsides

  • Despite the initial queuing as we waited for the electronic system to get up and running (which was not a great surprise), I found (at least what I saw of) the Expo to be very well organised. The volunteers were very friendly, helpful and communicative.
  • Though the food was expensive enough that £5 off wasn’t as great as it sounded, it was still a positive surprise for me to be given ANY food vouchers (as I was self-promoting) and that was highly welcome. Free food is still free food, however you look at it.
  • I was put in the same room all weekend, which meant I got to camp at a table all weekend, which was incredibly helpful.
  • The NEC is a handy location. Despite not getting a free hotel room like most GMs, I stayed at my parents, only ten minutes away on the bus. This was particularly handy as the X1 bus runs very late indeed, allowing me to GM till midnight without forking out for a taxi.
  • Between bus travel, getting some food supplies from my parents, getting cheap packs of water bottles for hydration and food vouchers, I kept way below my already low budget and only spent £15.
  • Four of my eight games were fully prebooked (with six players) before I arrived at the Expo. I then also had a four, five and three player game, more than enough to run with. Only two bookings didn’t turn up, and I also gained three extra players across the weekend.
  • I had 40 players in total; 36 were completely unknown to me, and 38 had never played the game. This is a phenomenal amount of outreach for me.
  • Out of the 40 players, I’d say maybe only about 5 players (from what I could tell) were not really into it in a noticeable manner (generally through just being very quiet and doing very little despite constant encouragement), which is a decent success rate.
  • I have had some nightmares before (when running games for new players), not necessarily with misunderstanding the rules, but more in the use of the sheets. I have not only separate columns for passive ability totals to be written on so players don’t have to work them out, but it also says in brackets how those scores are created (adding the score to either 3 or 1, dependant on the scene type, which is noted as well in separate columns). Now, this means the Score is added only to active abilities (dice rolls), as the Score is factored into a Passive already.  I only had two players who were noticeably and continually getting confused on how passive and actives worked (though there were perhaps a few more examples, but helpful players were just quietly pointing it out in the case of some of my younger players). I did have another player who said at the end of a game that she didn’t really get scenes and beats, but she still enjoyed it, and said it was likely due to how obviously tired she was. She also didn’t have a problem giving me the totals, it was more just a case of understanding the point of them, I think. Either way, this is likely the best success rate I have had for understanding the rules/sheets. People largely just needed one rules explanation and were satisfied.
  • I had a lot of players stop after the game to give praise and generally chat excitedly about it. Quite a few people in particular showed interest in the beats and scene system and really liked it. I also had some specific praise of Thresholds (such as Compromised) and Glory Points. I didn’t get a huge amount of rules feedback (not surprising, people only played the game for 4 hours and often had to rush off), but most players stuck by at least a little to show their enjoyment of the game, which is the most important thing.
  • A majority of people unknown to me took business cards, and a fair amount took character sheets too. Always a good sign of making a good impression.
  • I did have a two player Friday game (one player dropped out), but I was exhausted, it was a comedy horror, and the two players were friends of mine. It was also the comedy horror game, 28 Trains Later, so this allowed use to be incredibly silly. It’s the most sandbox game, so a LOT happened with just the two, so it was actually a really decent, relaxed way to finish the first game.
  • After the first game, one of the players said something approximating ‘you are the most enthusiastic GM I have ever had.’
  • A few players did say they’d be buying the player book. A lot of players had only just sat down and were telling other players about the books being ready to buy in October (hopefully), so it was clear that a few had done their research before sitting to play. Others were simply intrigued by the game write-up, or had come to play/test out a new system, so this was all good for me. I did also have three of my backers come to play, and a few who had been encouraged to play by backers.
  • At the end of my Saturday game (despite the slow start), three of the players (who came in a group) and asked for a sequel (and I think 2 of the other 3 who were still there were not opposed to that). I then mentioned this to the players in the morning, who also seem intrigued by the idea; considering how differently the games ended, I am now thinking of doing just that, and having several alternate sequels.
  • At the end of my first game, the player who organised the slot took his character sheet and said ‘We’ll see you at Gen-Con.’
  • I didn’t leave the room I was GMing in very much at all, but, in-between games, quite a few of the GMs and other players in the room came over to talk to me and the atmosphere was generally very welcoming. If they hadn’t heard of the game, it seemed they were interested in ILTC after me giving a spiel. However, most of the people I spoke to either remembered me from last year or had seen the game on the RP game bookings lists and were intrigued. It seemed that there were a lot more people who wanted to play but were not able to book in for a slot where they were free. I have quite a few takers in particular for more 28 Trains Later next year.
  • Spoke to a lovely fellow GM who hadn’t heard of the game, but because I was so well booked with players all weekend, said he was surprised to know that I wasn’t already a published game designer.
  • Though I didn’t really see the rest of the Expo, I did manage to escape to the trade hall for about half an hour on the Saturday. This gave me a chance to go and see James Hayball, my cover artist, and Paul ‘Wiggy’ Williams (of Triple Ace Games, and backer) for the first time. They were both lovely gents and it was great chatting to them, and hearing them both tell me how they had been talking about the game and I before I came to find them myself.
  • James was also there as an Expo guest, doing seminars as well as being on a stall all weekend: that moment when you realise that the guy doing your covers, the first thing someone will see of the game when the books are out, is a bigger industry name than you realised. That was very cool indeed.
  • Despite a slightly slower start on the Saturday game to the others, I actually got to the end point far quicker than other games and basically riffed the game for another hour (so clearly made up for my earlier flibble).
  • Otherwise, each of the games had a decent and similar pacing, and all ended about ten to fifteen minutes before the slot was due to end, so it was less of a rush for everyone. I didn’t have to rush any of the games to achieve this either; I feel they all ended at the ‘right’ juncture.
  • Pandora’s Box was my psychological thriller scenario and the most twisty. I am glad to say that nobody in any of the groups saw the twist coming, from what I was told (whereas some players had an inkling, in playtests). These were very high drama games with some impressive and brutal combat in them, as intended. And all ended COMPLETELY differently.
  • 28 Trains Later was intended as a comedy horror, and fortunately, each player group really dove into that. We pretty much covered every trope across the weekend and there was equal amounts of laughter and disgust. And there was a lot of love for the ‘Thomas the Tank Engine meets 28 Trains Later’ setting I created especially for it.
  • Navigation was not so much about horror, it was a flight based space mystery. Again, this worked really well, as I had two children and a teenager, and the adults playing had a really good time dissecting certain parts of the plot and very much getting into the aerospace flight and combat strategies.

Most importantly, every game was a blast, and though doing multiple runs of each scenario, they all went in different yet appropriate directions that made each distinct and memorable. A majority of people seemed to have great fun, and that is more important than anything else. I also made a few new friends and acquaintances outside of the games and did manage to chill out and socialise in between the role-play.

Already looking forward to next year.

 

ILTC 2016-2017: The Experience So Far

So, last night I got back from my second time bringing I Love the Corps to the UK Games Expo. It was overwhelmingly positive and leaves me with great hope for both I Love the Corps’s future and my own.

Before I talk about this year’s Expo directly (in another blog), I wanted to reflect on how much has changed for the positive in the last year, to show how far I, and I Love the Corps, have come in so little time and how that clearly had a big effect on my 2017 Expo experience. But, before the positive, I think its interesting to think of all the negatives I saw last year (that have almost entirely turned around into positives, bear in mind).

Reflecting on the Last Year; The Seemingly Negative Side (on the promotional front)

Last year I ran a stall at the UK Game Expo. The intention was to canvas, create awareness of the game, and run some demos if I could. It was very hard to get RPers that actually had the time to play the demos, as you can’t just do it in five minutes like some card and board games (and there are lots of official RPG slots people have booked in to play.) It was great to reach a lot of people though, and to see how easy it was to find people that were interested by the game’s concept. Many seemed interested, but because there was nothing to buy, it was difficult to gauge the success of the venture, though I did get at least 2 backer pledges for the Kickstarter that were clearly from people who had played the game at the Expo in one case, and an old Nationals player who I spoke to in the other. Still, I was unsure if the money I had paid for the stall had been worth spending at the time. I didn’t exactly get much in the way of e-mails, Facebook likes or anything to really tell me I had expanded the fanbase.

My other 2016 cons didn’t exactly go in the most positive direction either (again, strictly in the promotional sense), though I made the best of them. Had 2 decent ConPulsion games, but I was supposed to have 4. This left me with a lot of time with little to do, feeling quite alone. Strategy was largely a bust; though I did at least get some great ILTC players and some stall interest, the money didn’t seem to be worth it. (At the time.)

This year was a difficult start too, convention-wise which didn’t indicate to me that I was going to have an easy time when it came to selling the game, as though the large amount of backers was fantastic, that money pays for the game itself, not for my continued existence. My first con was the small Spaghetti ConJunction in Birmingham, where I was able to run one of two games. it had four players, two of which who could play any time and knew me well. One of the new players goes to the same club as me too, so there wasn’t really much in outreach there. (Though the game itself was EXCELLENT and all four players had a blast. )

However, ever since then, my expectations and assumptions have been constantly blown, and 2016 also had an unreasonable amount of positive too.

2016-17: the Positive Stuff

ConPulsion: okay, I only had two games, but of those games, I got three return players this year, and some friends of some of those players. I also was NOT lonely this year. Made some friends and contacts last year who all came to find me and chat with me this year and other friends of mine came. I was never bored. Still had a small game booking problem (3 out of 4 bookings got through this time)… but found that if I did a last minute sign up sheet, I would have had players. (I did this last year and got nobody, so didn’t bother this year, signed up to play a game instead, and then found out I’d have had at least three players in that slot who would’ve played ILTC. Ah well!)

Also, if I hadn’t have gone to ConPulsion last year, I would never have met Scott Neil, the first of my artists, who showed me the ropes of art direction, as well as providing some brilliant pieces. I never would have become friends with several industry professionals and bloggers and would have never attended a seminar that gave me utterly vital advice for both my Kickstarter and production.

Strategy: Yes, the con itself floundered quite horribly. But, I got to introduce an entire group to RP and had some other great players who may end up supporting me later. It continued to show me that the game has a decent market. Also, I would never have met a nice lady called Kat, who got me to contact James Hayball. Without her, I would not have a big industry name for art doing my covers. Hindsight, eh? I also met some ace GMs, including my fellow game designer Simon Burley (we had encountered each other before, but the this was the first proper time we actually had a chat, though he did unknowingly give me some decent advice at the aforementioned ConPulsion seminar). Simon has become something of a mentor in many ways, being an old hand at convention GMing and game design, and has given me company at cons since, as well as setting me up at Geek Retreat where I now run monthly games.

The Expos: Yes, the 2016 Expo didn’t immediately give me obvious payoff immediately… until this year, when EVERY con since SpaghettiCon I have had at least a few people come up to me to talk to me, saying they recognised me from the Expo last year. Also, before this years’ Expo, quite a lot of people I saw at ConPulsion and the Nationals said they recognised me cos of all my Expo bookings. Then, when I got to the Expo itself… most people I spoke to who weren’t in a game and I didn’t otherwise know either recognised me from a previous con or had noticed me on the Expo game listings. And most of those people wanted to play my games, but hadn’t the time. There were a lot of requests from both my players and others I spoke to, not only for games next year, but reruns and sequels of this years’s stories.

Kickstarter: And let’s not forget the biggest positive of 2016. Some of my friends saw firsthand on the opening weekend how utterly stunned I was, overwhelmed by the support shown. With that, I have been able to make the books that have consumed much of my life. I can live a dream.

And yet, that support alone will not allow me to continue to do this once I Love the Corps is released. For that, I need the sufficient sales in October. I need the support to spread a lot further. I worry about this constantly. But after this weekend, and reflecting on the last year, those fears are nearly wiped out.

A hell of a lot more people are aware and interested in I Love the Corps than I thought. And in August I have Gen-Con. 7 games, and only two tickets left… and I am practically unknown there. It was a risk to go… not anymore. After the 2017 Expo, I know Gen-Con will be a blast. Despite the people that know me in the UK, 36 of my 40 Expo players were completely new to me and the game, and the feedback was phenomenally positive.

I’m coming, America. Prepare to Enlist.

Nationals 2017 Rundown

So, at the weekend just gone, I took I Love the Corps to the Student Roleplaying and Wargaming Nationals for the fourth time in a row.

Looking on How Far I Have Come…

Back in 2014, after spending about six months turning my scrappy little ruleset into something much bigger, I decided to jump in with both feet forward, and test the game in the best way possible, running games for two groups of between 4 and six randomly selected people I didn’t know. Those people were crazy enough that they wanted to buy the game. This was when the thoughts of releasing it officially first came to mind. One of these players suggested Kickstarter, and that was how THAT came about. And last year I got to turn up to the Nationals, knowing my Kickstarter was on the way, and this year, I got to turn up with a fully Kickstarted game, with all the art produced, and graphic design in progress. Turning up to GM to help out the Nationals hosting teams and getting in cheeky testing at the same time has turned into getting cheeky promo.

NEXT YEAR though, next year, I can come with an actually printable game. And then maybe after next year, I’ll start cheekily promoting Is it a Plane…?

2017 Overview

  • I encountered many past players from previous years who were very excited about how far ILtC has come.
  • Had a few people who are definitive about buying the game when its released.
  • There were also a fair few people there who have backed the game, and I haven’t seen since they have done so, so that was great. Also, I seem to be beginning to be recognised.
  • I had quite a few people I did not know ask me either ‘weren’t you at Conpulsion?’, ‘weren’t you at the Expo last year?’ and ‘aren’t you running at the Expo this year?’ This was great, to show that if nothing else, my face to face promo work has not been wasted, and that the product will at least have some pre-existing UK recognition upon its release.
  • I had the balls to run in Indy, despite the fact that the game is a few months from release. My players did not seem to mind.
  • I had two groups, one was six players, the other three players, and both games went GLORIOUSLY!
  • EVERY PLAYER took their character pack. For those who do not GM, this might not seem much, but I know some who will be jealous of this. This is an incredibly positive sign of game enjoyment. I have a usually good success rate with this, but I have never seen every player take one before.
  • This means that every player also has a business card. WOOT!
  • One of my Saturday players asked for a bunch of business cards so she could spread the game to her friends.
  • My three Sunday players all remained for about ten minutes after the game, talking positively about the game itself and the system, and eagerly ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ at the art folder.
  • Quite a few of my players seemed interested in turning up to play at the UK Games Expo, or at least telling other friends that are already going or live in Birmingham to do so. Good sign.
  • I also had a good time socially. Friday night was a bit quiet in terms of seeing many people I knew and spent a lot of it with a good friend of mine, but on Saturday I got in touch with quite a lot of people I only ever see at the Nationals, and also had a lot of fun random chats with new people. I even ended up talking to a guy who is following on the same path I have taken, and we had a lot of chat about RPG Kickstarters, indie game production and so on.

And now, for the highlights of my two games. Both were runs of my new ‘Just the Wind’ scenario. Just the Wind follows Zephyr squad, a team of drop-commandos. All they have is a mission to rescue a Corps scientist so classified they don’t even have a name, following a tracker signal to locate her, with absolutely zero intel beyond ‘rebels took her, she’s on a low-life rocky planet with low-g’, having to very much improv on the fly from there.

Saturday (6 player game)

  • I was talking about how people can use the brief details on the front sheet to decide what they want to play. ‘For example, you might pick the Sarge when you see the name Volokov, if you want to try a Russian accent.’  A player immediately took the sheet, and did a fabulous Russian accent.
  • The hilariously varied descriptions of exiting the dropship, ranging from falling out trying to grab tools, sighing and simply jumping two feet first, getting pushed by the Sarge and trying to jump more impressively than everyone else.
  • When the players learned that when attacking some guards on a wall, you should probably check if people can see them before you start killing them.
  • The medic, Whirlwind, who, not really equipped for close combat murder, tried to throttle a gunner into unconscious, failed horribly, and then IMMEDIATELY started Freaking Out, because they nearly screwed the mission in the opening salvo. The Sharpshooter on the squad had to put the poor rebel down with a silenced shot as they struggled.
  • When three of the commando squad are entirely out in the open when an unsuspecting patrol (all of their shots were silenced, and three had come down from above to either move or raid the bodies). Fortunately, Tempest gave them a telepathic heads up, and Hurricane blasted four of the five in the patrol down in one attack.
  • Getting to do a hostage situation! (They succeeded, hostage lived.)
  • Putting down the rebel guard of the hostage with Gust’s unseen patrol drone.
  • The patrol drone, known as Fido, having a dog’s bark. After the successful kill, receiving a ‘Good boy!’ from Gust.
  • The telepathic Tempest almost immediately stopping the hostage’s ‘poor defenceless’ act with a decent use of telepathy and calling their bluff.
  • Creeping the player’s out with the hostage’s entirely arsey change of character.
  • Seemingly trapping the players as rebel dropships descend to collect their hostage. I started a new narrative scene, with them in a small room, presenting the challenge of finding the supposed secret tunnel to escape in time… only for Gust to IMMEDIATELY solve the problem with quick uses of Sentry Duty and x-ray vision, and a plasma charge. Good work, that player.
  • The amusement of the players as they hear the disgruntled response of the distracted tripwired rebel, before they untangle themselves and walk right into a laser trip mine.
  • Going from gung-ho action with a vague stealth overtone to tense horror almost instantly as the players find themselves one abreast in pitch black carved tunnels.
  • The ‘oh god’ reaction when they find the claw marks.
  • The ‘oh god oh god’ reaction when they find the heat traces on those claw marks show that whatever made them is not very far ahead at all…
  • When Tempest asks the hostage about the claw marks and creatures, she claims she knows nothing, and he knows she is lying.
  • Using a mobile explosive as a better scout than the spy drone.
  • When the squad are not entirely sure if the two entirely still aliens in the tunnel they can see ahead can see them or not…
  • Many minutes of tense discussion as the aliens move absolutely nowhere, and the squad decides to slow back off. The moment of dread when they realise there are two more aliens behind and they are trapped.
  • Calling the aliens’ bluff, as Breezes puts a knife to the hostages forward, and the aliens freeze, after suddenly moving forward.
  • … the aliens then move as the Feral, Hurricane, cuts loose with laser fire.
  • When Hurricane’s sudden, loud screech in a tight tunnel causes the Mind Games Horror and causes psychological effects to several squad members…
  • Killing two aliens with some well prepared Mobile Plasma Charges, as one is planted in the Breach created by a laser wound, blasting one into chunks, and the other latches over an enemy’s eye, causing me to make the players laugh as I described it thrashing around clutching its face in the background as half of its face melted off. Win.
  • When the Sarge (Tempest) decides its time to die, and really makes that possible by utterly failing to choke an alien with a tripwire as pieces get torn out of his chest.
  • When Whirlwind saves the Sarge by getting in the way, squealing as the alien lunges at her, closing her eyes, punching it in the face, and knocking it backwards. The ‘Get Down!’ Aspect at work.
  • The Tempest continues to try and get himself killed when he leaps on the alien and tries to put his flare gun in its face, has his arm grappled, and the flare shoots up the tunnel.
  • ‘Chris, can the flare fly out the tunnel and signal the dropship?’ You can’t say no to that.
  • Giving the Cold and Calculated Defining Trait bonus to Hurricane for lying down in a packed tunnel, lying under the legs of several marines and aiming for the flailing legs of the pinned enemy. Of course, he hit the creature’s crotch.
  • When the two twins who don’t do direct combat at all team together with assault rifle and patrol drone to blast an alien so much in the face that it can’t alter and armour its facial features fast enough.
  • When Breeze shocks the scientist into unconsciousness, and is rather surprised to see her briefly change form to a familiar alien one before changing back…
  • When Whirlwind and Breeze, with the hostage, leap out the tunnel for the dropship… and Whirlwind is struck and grabbed by another alien, plunging down the ravine.
  • A player Glory Points for the hostage to fall into the ship.
  • The Sarge dives after his medic.
  • Everyone else piles in the dropship. The pilot declares ‘never leave a man behind.’ The ship dives down the ravine too.
  • Roll credits. (Blatant movie sequel set-up.)

Sunday (3 player game)

  • Whirlwind, the medic so Eager to Please that they manage to salute boot polish across their face in the opening scene.
  • Playing the Sarge as the Friendly, doing the Russian accent, grumbling and swearing a lot, and immediately seeing the love for their Sarge from the players.
  • The entirely contrasting dropship jump which was actually by the book!
  • Gust’s player naming the three drones after the Three Musketeers. Genius.
  • Players once again not checking that the guards on the wall can be seen by other Rebels before they put themselves in dangerous positions… (and from here, the comparisons to Game A utterly end, hehe).
  • When Hurricane, the character designed for sniping, moves themselves into a position quite close the enemy, doesn’t have enough Freakin’ Ninja, and despite not being seen, can’t take a shot without being seen, and is therefore dramatically stuck!
  • Whirlwind rescues Hurricane with some well-placed dart pistol shots.
  • Then the guards who can see the guards on the wall are about to act… but with a turret operator killed, Gust ceases control of it and turns it on the approaching guards.
  • Firing a twin-linked minigun turret. Not the most stealthy move.
  • When a patrol comes running, and the medic decides that the best idea is to drop in front of the rebels and open fire with a machine pistol. This is also completely fluffs the prepared Covering Fire of Gust, as Whirlwind gets completely in the way.
  • It’s then Hurricane’s turn to rescue with Whirlwind with some well placed shots… but there is still one rebel left. Proper military firefight ensures as Hurricane’s position is torn to pieces as his enemies fire back as he downs them, and then the remaining rebel gets some shots on Hurricane, before they’re brought down.
  • The hostage is rescued by a patrol drone positioned on the ceiling taking down the rebel card, already removing them from their cell, due to the not so stealthy commando approach. Then the drone urges the hostage forward, using the drone’s speakers.
  • Whirlwind madly leaps across the ravine carrying the rescued hostage… and that is when the players note the approaching enemy dropships.
  • Cut to an exciting ensuing narrative scene COMPLETELY DIFFERENT to the tense tunnel exploration of the previous day.
  • Since the rebels only got 1 Success Level to spot the fleeing commandos, but know enemies are near due to the whole massive amounts of gunfire situation, the narrative scene involved the squad split up entirely (on purpose) to try and throw off the enemy, ranging across the cliff edge, using rocks for cover, as five dropships flew overhead, searchlights close on the marine’s positions.
  • When Whirlwind is caught, with the hostages, between several enemy patrols and the lights of two different dropships, and the only option is for the other marines to attack the dropships to create a distraction. Unfortunately, Gusts’s rocket from the rocket pistol misses.
  • I gave the Sarge a Glory Point (giving money to charity) to HELP THE PLAYERS, just because taking down a dropship with an EMP rifle when you can’t roll dice is damn impressive. I then immediately used the Glory Point to have him take down another dropship before a third blew him up with a rocket. Rest in peace, Tempest.
  • Giving psych effects for a group of rebels appearing from absolutely nowhere behind Whirlwind… I mean, the only option was for them to leap the ravine, and they didn’t have paracoils or propulsion boots…
  • When shooting down ten enemy rebels with your armour piercing silenced battle rifle is still not enough. Shooting a dropship right in front of you with a dropship is not enough. And you just have to spend a Glory Point to end the scene by having your dropship turn up.
  • Of course, the dropship was destroyed. In the chaos, the players jumped into the ravine, and without a way out, deployed their paracoils.
  • Cue a final narrative scene as the marines find a cavern partially hidden by a small waterfall and head inside. They can’t reach their cruiser, and their dropship is out. And the spy drone spots six pursuing rebels… with wings? They then land, change form, and disappear…
  • Whirlwind and Gust rig a trap using electric darts and water, spending a Glory Point to complete it just in time, as they fry four approaching aliens instantly.
  • Hurricane then smells the two far larger ones on the ceiling, already in the cavern before the trap was rigged.
  • Whirlwind takes an enemy down, and then decides to remove a tooth as a trophy… as the flesh heals around the scalpel, and he takes a scything blade through the stomach. As he dies, he blasts it with an electrical dart in the face.
  • Hurricane manages to repel a similar surprise attack, blowing his enemies head apart a second time.
  • Gust and Hurricane live, getting the hostage back to base… and then I reveal at the end that she was one of those same shapeshifting aliens all along.

Convention Visits 2017: ConPulsion

So on the weekend past, I was at ConPulsion in Edinburgh, Scotland’s largest tabletop gaming con.

Reflections on ConPulsion 2016 and Worries for 2017

I went to ConPulsion last year, and though I had decided to return again, I was not entirely sure if it would be a repeat thing. Conpulsion was massively useful to me last year, but mainly due to a panel I ended up attending (rather by accident) and meeting Scott, one of the artists who helped me early on with both I Love the Corps art, and advice on art directing. Though I enjoyed one of the games I ran, I felt the other was not so great, and didn’t get the other two games I had booked, and was left with large periods of time with little to do, due to no sign-ups for sheets I put out last minute and there not being a huge amount of other things I wanted to do that had space. So it was hit and miss, leaving me a bit apprehensive for this year. My apprehension was enhanced a few days before when I saw the programme, and that one of my 4 games I had booked wasn’t present. However, at least I noticed beforehand this time. Not wanting to be left without anything to do again, I decided to sign up to play a game in the slot I had free and hoped the rest would go well. It so turns out that it did.

ConPulsion 2017- the General Experience

When I first got to ConPulsion, I was near to the start of the queue and got signed up quickly. A good sign of improved organisation. Other signs of that over the weekend included being given free water at my gaming table, and receiving free cake not once, but twice! I also left my table plaque (made by one of my groups, which says ‘Chris Dean- GM. Abandon all hope’) on the Saturday, but it was kept for me at the sign up table. And of the three games I had, I got one with five players and two with 6… so yeah, other than missing a slot, it all went well on the organisation front. I also didn’t have the problem of the previous year of struggling to fill time. Two more friends of mine attended this year, and lots of people I met last year appeared at convenient times, and I easily filled time via an arranged lunch meet up with fellow brummie and game designer, Simon Burley and otherwise randomly bumping into people who remembered me from last year. Also filled some time with game demos of ‘In a Bind’ and ‘Wreck and Ruin’ and chatting a lot to their lovely creators. I was certainly not bored across the weekend and fully attend to return next year.

Good work ConPulsion, good work. Now, onto the games themselves.

Game 1- I Love the Corps: Sweet Dreams

I ran one of my Jurisdiction squad Missions. This was the half X-com, half Halo, ‘raid the alien spaceship’ scenario. Of the five players, two were old friends, one of which I haven’t seen for six years. Neither have played ‘I Love the Corps’ before. Joe was raving a lot about it afterwards, including what he wants to GM for me in the future, and Phil seemed to certainly enjoy it as well, being very creative with his Sensitive powers, and playing the controversial mercy of the character well, without breaking any rules. The other three players were entirely new to the game and myself. They dived into their characters beautifully, matching the write-ups really well. It was a very character-acting heavy game, with lots of overly gung-ho heroism which resulted in two suitably impressive deaths, and an equally impressive rescue that prevented a third death. Only thing close to a criticism I got was being asked if it was more normally so deadly, to which I gave the honest answer that it can be fairly easily scaled, and I tend to ham it up for certain one shots, which the player seemed satisfied with.

Highlights:

  • The combination of the work of a crazy Aug with an axe and telekinesis to pry open the enhanced chassis of an alien robot drone.
  • The fact that three of five marines ended up attached to said drone.
  • The balls of the Sarge resulting in grappling to the robot with grapple gun in one hand, firing assault rifle in the other, just as the robot is firing lasers right at him.
  • The nonchalant shrugging off of a laser to the chest by Judge.
  • When Bailiff realises even the Black Hole Gun can’t take down a robot with one blast… and then is saved by an AI Guided Plasma Launcher.
  • The most amazing EMP grenade throw ever (via Glory Point), taking down ten robotic soldiers at once.
  • The look on Verdict’s players face as the EMP grenade he throws at the mysterious alien deactivates after it lands.
  • Getting to describe the thoughts of an intelligent but nonverbal alien to the Sensitive in the form of glimpses of memories that are bits of dialogue and description from earlier in the game.
  • The look of remorse of the player of Arbiter as he is powerless to stop the alien being killed by his more unthinking order following fellows.
  • The plasma launcher being used to blast said (plasma) grenade to kill said alien.
  • The dramatic flare gun blinding of a three hundred foot high robot guardian… alas, I rolled a 6, which is even with the -4 penalty, was still enough for the Sarge to get struck and killed by a torrent of lasers.
  • Verdict launching himself at the blinded robot eye and cut his way into the robot head.
  • Using telekinesis to throw robotic drones into the plasma stream, and teamwork to knock the giant guardian into it… with Verdict still inside.
  • The overloaded Black Hole Gun being thrown into the plasma generator to implode the ship.
  • Arbiter lying prone, with no ability total to oppose being pulled into the plasma stream… cue Inquisitor flying his mech in, with dramatic timing.

Game 2- I Love the Corps: Search and Rescue

The second Jurisdiction squad mission, the affair involving the mysterious Drogan observer and the crashed human spaceship in the jungle of deadly horrors. Three of the six players all played together in a game in 2016 (the one I actually thought went well, so guess I was right!), and this game was prebooked before the event itself. Four of the six were teenagers too, and one of them was another old friend of mine who had yet to play the game. So a very different group dynamic. I was a little worried at first, just because the Sarge was so much more animated than the rest to begin with and seemed to be leading a little too much, but as they all got into it, there was more discussion of their actions, and it became more of a team effort. Then the Sarge did a very stupid thing and got in horrid peril, causing the others to frantically try and save him. My worries were assuaged, and the game also finished a few minutes before the scheduled time, and paced incredibly well. Again, it seemed well received, and four of the players in particular spoke to me about it later in the weekend, and were very complimentary about the system and I’ve had many promises for more returning players next year. Having a younger player determined to GM it when its released was particularly flattering.

Highlights:

  • Whilst everyone else was scrabbling down a hole dug through fallen trees made by Verdict’s axe, Arbiter was serenely floating down and entirely showing off.
  • The only time someone has ever successfully mind read the Drogan and learned anything about the mysterious alien ‘ally’…
  • The first time players have ever reached the first airlock and decided to keep digging!
  • Actually saving the first survivor by digging parallel to their location, and shooting through the hull with a railgun.
  • When you first enter a crashed spaceship, what do you do when you hear a weird clicking sound coming from the vertical shaft that was the corridor and find a survivor screaming ‘it’s coming!’? You stick your head through the hole leading into the corridor, of course! Slow golf clap everyone for the Sarge, and his very horror movie action!
  • Of course, the Sarge got dragged through the hole. Certain traditions have to be stuck to.
  • Repeated attempts by the other players to save the Sarge, including throwing grenades and firing various kinds of weapons that had no chance of beating the immense Freakin’ Ninja of the alien, and it kept using their negative Success Levels to leap further and further up the shaft, eventually depositing the Sarge in the room.
  • The Glory Point spent to stop the railgun shell shot straight up the shaft from hitting the nuclear reactor…
  • Verdict, scrambling up to the room above where the Sarge was taken, slipping, nearly falling, then throwing himself across and into the room to the rescue… only for the Sarge to Glory Point to rescue himself, after many beats of tussling with the creature.
  • After all the problems the Sarge had, the grin on Inquisitor’s player’s face as he slapped an alien aside during its surprise attack, and his AI Guided Plasma Launcher effortlessly disintegrated it.
  • The final team-up moment as four of the team rappelled, floated and climbed down the ship, making loads of noise to attract the last beast, as the two brainiacs got to engineering, turned on the lights and cameras and lit up the creature, as Bailiff easily killed it, and others blasted it to bits.
  • All the squad survived, and found two more survivors… unfortunately no-one was watching the first survivor… who escaped out to the jungle alone and got himself killed.

Game 3- Is It a Plane!?- Good Guy City Adventures- Christmas Special

So, this is the first time I have mentioned my next game in the works on this blog… suiting, as this was the FIRST PUBLIC PLAYTEST! In short, its a super hero game where instead of rolling dice, you draw panels to dictate your actions in the story. All players get the same amount of time to draw their actions, and can draw as many panels as they want.

I was already nervous, as it was the first public game. Nervousness increased when I realised I had forgotten my panels (laminated card cut into various sizes for reuse.) Oops. However, I bought post-it notes, which did just fine. In fact, due to having a long table, and having to lift up the pages to show players and see them clearly myself, the post-its worked better than my usual panels would have done. This got us into discussions about how the panels could work, and I plan to try out velcro to attach the cards I have made, having had similar suggestions.

The game went down a storm, and people were asking how and where they could buy it, surprised I had made it myself, much as first happened with ILTC when I first took it to a con a few years back. All the players seemed to really want to play the game again, and one even said they wanted to GM it. A very good sign for my future as one man game team PSYCHIC CACTUS GAMES!

Highlights:

  • Seeing a character with movement-based abilities largely dealing with situations through well illustrated dramatic close ups and uses of punctuation!
  • Waking up the sleeping giant robot by using Super-Boxing’s power to take weapons from his box head, by producing a megaphone.
  • Knocking out the giant robot by building an ever-increasing wall of lego bricks as it falls.
  • Dropping said wall of lego on the character on the head at the time, who then escaped with dramatic LASER EYE CLOSE UP.
  • Using the ability to create ‘super cars’ to create flying cars to hold up buildings and laser wielding rovers.
  • Using long stretchy arms to pull the giant robot’s foot onto another villain.
  • Revealing the invisible villain by blowing Christmas card glitter onto them.
  • Forcing me to make the master villain sing by featuring him in a panel with musical notes.
  • Using the glass from the windows of a city street to create a giant Glass Man.
  • Using the giant glass man to cap a volcanic eruption.
  • Dedicating several pages of panels to give Christmas presents, decorations, foods and greetings to the villain to show him the meaning of Christmas.

 

 

 

I Love the Corps: Geek Retreat 1

So, yesterday, I did my first of what will be (mostly) once a month visits to Geek Retreat on the 1st Sunday of every month (when I am free, which is most months this year). I turned up a little later than intended, but not late in terms of the event start time. Three intended players were already there, and in not too long, two more players turned up. Considering the event had only been advertised online this week, and for several days with the event day wrong… not half bad. Five characters out of six were played, and being that one player really foolishly, pointlessly but gloriously killed themselves about halfway through, it meant I had a spare character to chuck at them. I wouldn’t ever say a game went perfectly, BUT, it did go exceptionally well. Considering the short amount of time to advertise, the two month gap since I was last at the cafe and the fact that this was the first attempt to do a promo and an RP session on a 1st Sunday at the venue, I couldn’t have asked for better.

So, two of the players (David and Chad) had played once before, and were very firm about playing again when I last saw them and kept to their word. I did discover, however, that ILTC was Chad’s first RPG. This isn’t a first for me, but it is always a pleasure to have the game you created be someones’s formative RPG experience, especially when I had no idea at the time. This says something for both the accessibility of the game and his knack for picking up the RP basics. David is clearly more experienced and really got into some very massively creative uses of the rules, which was great to test me and the system. Chad meanwhile generally opts for ‘gung ho’ as his play mode, which works fantastically. Though he suffered a relatively early character death from an awful roll combined with an unfortunately penalty and a highly risk manoeuvre, he took it with grace and a grin on his face. He then adopted the spare medic character, and pulled off some utterly insane moves that not only saved the Sarge’s life repeatedly, but turned him into a drugged up living weapon/mount. (This will be explained more when I get to the game highlights. Bear with me.)

Next we have James, who I have spoken to at GR twice before, and has specifically approached me with his (highly enthusiastic) intent to play the game. He decided to let me pick the character; due to his level of excitement to play the game, and his general presence at the table from the get go, I threw the Sarge at him… because apparently only children ever want to pick the Sarge. He embraced the role wholeheartedly and really played to his brief. He’s adamant that he’s going to play at the UK Games Expo on Sunday, which being that he is volunteering the rest of the weekend, is a great privilege for me to hear.

Then we have Sam and Trevor, who were both new to the game. Sam really dug her heels into the game and was the exceptionally kickass murder-monster that all women who play ILTC seem to become (okay, not all, but most tend to go for the most aggressive characters). She had some cracking plans and some fantastic descriptions and stole the show many times. She was telling me that she has been telling friends outside of Birmingham about the game, and was insistent to get me some more players from further afield at the UK Games Expo, so here’s hoping I can get at least some of those last spaces filled by a good bit of word of mouth.

Trevor seemed to also have a good time, and was very much into embracing the style side of the game in everything he did. He did, before the game was entirely over, express that he likely wouldn’t play again. He only had experience of Pathfinder, and I didn’t take it as a knock; they are utterly different kinds of game, and sci-fi is not everyone’s thing. At the end of the day, when you design something, not everyone will like it.

However, I then finished the game, and he changed his mind. It turned out that his misgivings seemed largely just because he felt his thunder had been a little stole, which wasn’t the fault of him, me, the game or anything else, just a case you get sometimes in any game, when a player plans to do an amazing thing… and somebody else gets in first. (There WERE  a lot of Glory Points flying around, which is a sign of solid cinematic RP all round.) But, he got to save everyone’s ass at the end, and then spoke with me about his other finer moments, and this seemed to turn him around. So extra victory there I think. They say they’ll all be back next month, and I don’t doubt it. Several character concepts for a campaign were already forming as I was on my way out…

Also, an honourable mention for the gent whose name I did not catch, who insisted on spectating, and was clearly having a blast. He sat and listened to the whole game and was very complimentary. (I think he felt too tired to play effectively, but not complaining at having an audience.)

And finally, time for some spoiler free…

GAME HIGHLIGHTS

  • A Glory Point being used to remote operate a drone, killing 14 different rebels with one single ability total. And then the sniper finished the last two.
  • When all the rebels were dead, but the knife specialist wanted to describe finishing one off as they were staggering backwards, just for cool.
  • Taking a rebel by surprise… and decapitating him with a vibro-knife.
  • When a Glory Point was used to blow out the plasma engines of four rebel dropships (which I gave a Disadvantage for Rebels where you can ignore armour with a +3SL shot, which in this case was used to blow an engine per +3SL, due to the sniper’s Eagle Eyed/Sharpshooter combo and aimed shots) as ‘rock you like a hurricane’ randomly played in the background at the perfect time. Their callsign was Hurricane, by the way.
  • Remote operating an aerial recon drone through three dropwires to drop three rebels to their deaths.
  • Rolling to throw a plasma charge, a close (not thrown) weapon, with no total, a -2 penalty… and rolling a 3. And accidentally disintegrating themselves in mid-air.
  • A Glory Point being used for dramatic editing to explain a rocket failing to hit three exposed marines due to throwing a knife at it…
  • The crazy Sergeant standing in a doorway, wildly firing at a bunch of 20 rebels, and somehow not getting shot. Only to then take a chunk of flying masonry to the back of the head that damn near killed him. Oops.
  • The medic leaping down onto the Sarge’s shoulders (with paracoils) and slamming syringes through the sealant foam covering the hole in his contact armour, stopping him being Compromised by injecting drugs directly into his brain.
  • The medic essentially being the Sarge’s jockey, using Drop and Give Me Fifty and Get Down! (which lets you use DGMF to save others from attack) to constantly move him into cover away from gunfire.
  • Remote operating a spy drone on the Sarge’s shoulder to grab a chemical grenade, leaping through air with it and triggering it mid-air.
  • Kinda feeling sorry for the rebels as they get shot at by a druggle-addled berserk Sarge, tear gassed, blasted from above by a drone, and then shot THROUGH THE WALLS by a Sharpshooter sniper with an armour piercing battle rifle.
  • The medic riding the Sarge like a sledge at the last rebel.
  • Swinging the Sarge wildly to defend from attack.
  • A marine was facing off against a rebel, realising the rebel was more than a standard rebel, as their fingers pressed against the marine’s visor, turned into claws, and started to push through to the skin. AT THAT VERY MOMENT, this chorus played… “What if I say you’re not like the others, what if I say you’re not just another one…” as Pretender by Foo Fighters plays (in real time, again at random).
  • The Sarge trying to get a high enough Sentry Duty to deliberately turn Psychic… they didn’t, of course. But they did get some HANDY PLOT HINTS via mind probe.
  • Saving a marine by shooting a rebel in the dick.
  • The drug-enthused Sarge, hopped on adrenaline leaping through the air with the medic, landing in a Glory Pointed ‘conveniently appearing dropship.’
  • The knife specialist, describing calmly sitting down on the dropship, as three enemies board. They play ‘Bodies’ through their helmet, as each number is called, and a knife hits and knocks a rebel out of the ship.

I Love the Corps: Below (Part 2)

And now for the epic second half (and end) to my first backer game, Below (part 2).

PART 2

GMING NOTE: (The scene continues from last time, we just had an end game CUT, and a bit of time has passed. Still on Beat 1.)

There are the sounds of a tread-mounted vehicle rumbling away. A tracked, mobile laser drill is seen disappearing down the corridor

`A path between the rubble has been cut open by the laser drill, after a few minutes of work.

“Simply marvellous machine, notice how it uses the spin here to….” Able waffles on. Whilst the tunnels the squad came from were laser-carved into cylindrical shapes, the tunnel beyond is not so. The LT’s theory about natural tunnels is likely correct, at least at first glance. The tunnels they stand in are about 15 foot high, necessary to move vehicles down here easily, including those with large drills and lasers attached. The ceiling beyond is a little higher, and the tunnel is wide enough that around six people could walk abreast where they are, and though the tunnel beyond the breach thins and changes in width, it still looks like three or four people could walk side by side. However, the walls and ceiling constantly dip up and down and warp, with no regularity of sense of design.

“So from the doctor’s tracks, we have two armoured men. On top of which there may be a monster with claws that doesn’t leave tracks, which we know from…. how do we know that again?”

Freiberg looks to Fabron pointedly.

“From the deceased.”

“There are no deceased. Besides a foot”, Best says, hands on hips, looking sceptical at Fabron

“I assure you, they are deceased.”

“Well likely. My point is, there are bodies, to examine, to even remotely support your giant monster-claw…” she scoffs a little “hypothesis.”

“We shall see”

“Yes.” Best tuts. “Yes we shall.” Her now bright red visor turns to the breached tunnel. “Shall we?”

“Given your scepticism, I will let you go first”, says Fabron.

She grabs her pistol from her hip, raising it up. “Being that this is still my op until you decide to say otherwise… I’ll take that offer.” She bites her lip and mutters “thank you.” And heads into the breached tunnel.

Freiberg follows beside and slightly behind the LT. She pulls her EMP rifle from her back and aims it down the tunnel past her superior officer. Her eyepiece retracts, allowing her to keep both eyes on the real world.

Fabron follows, and then Able.

GMING NOTE: (Appropriately at this point, due to a new active ability, we go to beat 2. You can continue to use current totals, and means you have four ability totals left for the scene… what you use them for may dictate what happens next and how the scene resolves, so you choose wisely. I won’t be asking you for ability totals in the narrative scene, so let me know what you want to try and if you want new totals at any point. I can advice you privately as to when it may be sensible, if you wish. Totals will continue to provide you results to relevant tasks. This sometimes means I’ll give you more details, sometimes not until you do something relevant like examine a specific area. So the more you describe, better it will likely go for you, and make fuck-ups and surprises less likely.)

The LT doesn’t move with haste, she moves with practised care, gently nudging aside bits of rubble with the edge of her boots, and occasionally with the tap of her cane. She doesn’t appear to have trouble walking. A cane just gives an air of pretension.

Able covers the rear; he shines his finger-tip scanner back the way we came; his face tells you he has seen those sort of movies.

Fabron follows along with slow careful steps, fully aware of the risk of massive hungry aliens.

Freiberg continues to follow behind and slightly beside her lieutenant, covering the way ahead wit her EMP rifle.

Best clambers over the rocks, and carefully begins walking down the tunnel. “Able, I don’t see the tracks you mentioned on this side. Any luck on your end?”

“I don’t want to alarm you but no I have not been able track the foot prints. This could be due to many factors”

“There being none to track seems the most obvious”, Fabron says.

“That, or they covered them”, Able replies.

Best looks back to give Fabron a pointed look, and then grins at Able; “What I was thinking, doctor. They only had ten seconds to grab the ore, so they clearly had no time to clear the tracks inside. But they likely did once they triggered a small collapse behind them.”

“On the way back we should check the rubble on this side for how they triggered it”

“Well, they have a head start on us. We don’t lose anything if you think, as your professional opinion, it would be wise to investigate now?”

“Might be; in case it is mechanical and so used as the so called booby-trap.”

“Okay, we’ll stop and check then. Freiberg, keep an eye down that tunnel, in case the thieves decided they want to come back for more. Give it to them, if they do.”

“Yes ma’am. Also, I’m thinking if they bothered to cover their tracks there must be a junction up ahead – there’d be no point hiding which way you went in a linear tunnel. If that’s so, then once we pass the junction they may be able to circle round behind us and try to get out the way we came in. Might be worth asking the miners to set a guard there.”

“They had time. They were working to a schedule but couldn’t risk getting too close”, Fabron reveals.

“Fabron- I appreciate your here to help, but we prefer hard evidence to speculation… reasonable though it may be” says Best, as she begins examining the walls.

“Mr Fabron could you share your evidence with me. I think a group analysis of our shared data could yield a better result, Able asks.

“By all means, find the evidence.”

“We will” Best snorts derisively, as she begins checking the wall on her left as she turns, just beyond the remaining rubble, Able checking the other wall

Fabron carefully brushes a few specks of dust off his sleeve and leaves the children to their games

“Curious. I don’t see how they made it collapse…. I worry that this could mean they have a means of collapsing the tunnel in a controlled way that we can detect…..” He stops, as his eyes notice the grooves in the rock. Not in the ceiling, not in the floor, along the wall. Four grooves, each about a foot in width with a foot between them. “Oh… I am currently re-evaluating the claw monster theory.”

“Did I mention ‘ hungry’?” Fabron says.

“The hungry claw monster theory.” He gestures to Best to come see his grooves

Freiberg continues to cover the corridor with increased twitchy determination after the words ‘hungry claw monster.’

“I suggest we change this to a….is the term Bug Hunt? Yes?”

Best rubs her hand against the wall too. “There#re markings in the rock. Unusual yes, but lets not jump to giant monster until we find its giant piles of shit, shall we?”

“Understood”

“The tracks didn’t go up to the body – so I’m wondering if one of the armoured guys has some sort of claw arm or mobile claw crane tool or something. Would explain the body being taken at range, and how they broke the wall, with the grooves”, Freiberg reasons.

“Yes indeed. Let’s go and catch those naughty ore-stealing murderers that definitely did this”, Fabron mocks.

“Would even explain the miner thinking he saw a claw monster.. .however Fabron knows what the miner was thinking”, Freiberg reasons.

Best turns on Fabron. “Okay Fabron… if you’re so certain this is a giant monster, please give me a bloody indication as to how you know that.” Her hands are on her on hips, a little passive aggressively. Able looks over to Fabron, eager for this intel. Freiberg keeps her eyes (and gun) on the tunnel, but is listening.

“That information is classified. But you already know that”, Fabron responses.

Able’s eyebrow raises. Best sighs deeply. “Fine. All right squad… I’ve done my fair amount of time hunting killers. That means I am good at reading people…” she locks eyes with Fabron. “And, well he doesn’t have any reason to lie… concealing information, yes. But… well, we have to trust his judgement. So… I am not willing to say there IS a giant monster but…” She sighs. “Well… just keep your wits about you. Clear?”

“I shall prepare for monster stool samples just in case”, Able says.

The tension breaks, as Best snorts in laughter. She walks over and claps him on the shoulder.

“I like you, Doc.”

“Thank you Lieutenant.” He gives her a large grin

“Fabron, if you could keep an eye on the civvie while you’re at the back… well, that’d be nice.” Best gives Fabron a sarcastic, sweet girl smile. “Freiberg, as you were, with me.”

MUSIC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlR4Z4AZ1ho

The camera cuts for a little montage as the marines walk their way down the winding tunnel, which mostly keeps level, but does occasionally get a little steeper as they progress. Its just one linear, yet windy tunnel, so far.

[21/10/

Freiberg is quiet, though gradually becoming less jittery.

“Mr Fabron, could you describe the monster to me so I can compare it against known creatures?” Able asks.

“No”

“It’s classified”, Bests adds derisively.

“Oh…” Able looks very disappointed

“I have not seen it to describe”, Fabron elaborates.

Best stops as they round a sharp corner, and have a straight line of about 100 foot ahead, where the tunnel finally forks left and right at the end. Best holds up her hand. “Something on the ceiling.” As Best draws attention to it, they see some kind of black cube up on the ceiling, embedded in the rock. It looks like it would fit in a pair of human hands. “Looks like tech. Valkyrie, any ideas?” Best flicks her wrist pad, her helmet visor turns white. “Reading strong EM frequency from it. Definitely active.”

GMIN NOTE: (We thusly and appropriately go to BEAT 3 of the scene. So if anYbody wishes to use any final new or improved ability totals, please let me know)

“I think it’s a jamming device… but I’m not certain. Placement is ideal for a trap, but its not like any trap I’ve seen. I’m going to shoot it with my EMP rifle. Should disable it safely at this distance, whatever it is.” Able stands behind Fabron. Best grips her cane tightly, magging her pistol. She rams the tip of the cane into the soft stone. “

“Okay do it”, Best orders. Freiberg takes aim and fires. The EMP rifle charges up with a WHRRRRRRRRRRR as a blue bar charges along it. And a precise, spheroid of energy flies from the barrel. It’s an amazing shot. It hits the cube precisely, with no splash against the rock. The energy flows across the surface of the device briefly.

Best relaxes. “Good shot. No cave-in. Good sign. All right… lets see if we can get you a close look at this thing.” Able slides back to make look like he never hid behind Fabron.

“Damn I’m good.” Freiberg recharges the EMP rifle and then advances with the others.

“Yes, that you are.” Best paces ahead of the others. Able covers the rear with his scanner. “So which are we following? The thieves or my made up creature that may or may not have eaten two miners?” Fabron asks.

“Didn’t they stay together?” Able asks.

“Apparently not”, says Best, thirty foot from the cube. As the cube begins to vibrate. “Oh hell. Must have been shielded…” And then the tunnel walls start to vibrate with the cube.

“You didn’t check the EM field had stopped?!”

“It had! It just kicked in!”

The tunnel vibrates, but not heavily enough to do more than just drop some sediment… so far at least “What? I don’t… I didn’t….. but it was such a good shot….” Freiberg stare disbelievingly at her rifle (rather than, say, doing anything helpful)

“It’s fine Freiberg… we just need to deactivate it before someone notices we’re coming. Can you hack it?”

Best is under the device, looking at it, gauging it. Best seems pretty collected

“Maybe its the induction coils – but I checked them… I always check them.” She seems to be talking about the emp rifle, not the device. She also seems to be entirely unaware Best said anything….

Best slaps her hands on Freiberg’s shoulders. “Freiberg! Listen! Can it be hacked!?” She leans right in, visor against visor.

Able jolts suddenly, then stops and takes in deep breaths. The vibrations continue at the same rate, they don’t increase, but continue to pulse. SLAM. The rock shakes a little more… some kind of distant impact pounds. SLAM. “Shit… ” Best curses. “Fabron! Since you know so much… I reckon left is death, what about right?” Best is holding onto Freiberg, but looking back at Fabron

Freiberg looks up at the vibrating thing, past Best as if she isn’t even there, and mutters “Shielded, then played dead, then barked…. good dog. Smarter than me. I guess I get eaten now…”

“We go right. Before my imaginary friend arrives”, Fabron says. ROAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR. The roar echoes from afar and then echoes down the tunnel. SLAM. SLAM. SLAM, SLAM, SLAM.

“You heard the CCO! Off to the right!” Best wraps her arms around Freiberg. “FUCKING RUN!”

Freiberg does stumble into a run, probably more motivated by the roaring than her commanding officer. She still keeps looking bad at the vibrating object though, so she’ll be going slower than everyone else. Able will run and try and push ‘Daddy’s Princess’ forward. Best helps able, hooking an arm under Freiberg’s right and tugging her along. Fabron just runs for it. Able has a good pace, and Best has a good grip on Freiberg, almost dragged along by Able’s frantic run. Freiberg falls to her knees, almost pulling Best onto her. Best jams her cane into the stone and holds herself up. However, Freiberg is a gibbering wreck. Best hauls Freiberg to her feet and then hauls her over a shoulder. Able runs alongside Best, though Best is hardly going at speed, not being exactly big and muscular. Freiberg is still holding onto her EMP rifle, with as much determination as if it were her own child (rather than magging it to her armour again, which would be safer and more sensible). Fabron, knowing where he’s going, propels ahead. SLAM, SLAM, SLAM. Fabron propels to the end of the corridor, whilst Best can barely walk with Frieberg’s even petit weight on her shoulders

“Able, I told you to fucking RUN! That’s a god-damned order!”

“Civilian consultant” he helps Best…. to the best he is able (Ben wrote this… I am keeping it in.

“Fuck you and your fucking HEROISM…” SLAMSLAMSLAMSLAMSLAMROAAAAAAAAAR. Fabron runs to the end of the tunnel, off to the right. The pounding against the rock getting louder and quicker on his left. “That’s OUR FUCKING JOB!” Best can be heard yelling whilst the camera focusses on Fabron, who turns right… into a dead end. Looks at the wall. Inside the helmet there is a moment of confusion and a hint of fear in his usually dead eyes. He turns drawing his weapon, his eyes returning to their usually steely stare…

Fabron notices that the wall ahead slopes. Up towards a hole… just begin enough to crawl through…

SLAMSLAMSLAMSLAM. The camera cuts between Fabron and the others, Best, barely able to walk, staggering forward. Raises the gun, hesitates, looks at the hole. The camera flicks between the tiny escape hole and the cavern with its echoing slamming. Fabron’s eyes shift barely perceptibly to his team mates…. who are still about 40ft from Fabron

“Why is no-one fucking RUNNNING!?” Best screams… in a very angry manner. Slung over Best’s shoulder, Freiberg has her head facing back behind the others. One hand still clutches the EMP rifle as she gazes into the tunnel behind you, shuddering.

“Oh dear….this is a conundrum”, Able says. And with that, Fabron turns back again. As a gigantic claw comes round the corner, digging into the wall, about 20ft down from Fabron. A clawed hand as big as the front of a semi truck. With a seemingly never-ending arm behind it, with four claws.

MUSIC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXPCDiE7Mrs

Freiberg gives a scream of terror, but possible also mixed with defiance. With her free right hand, she grabs the flare pistol from her hip, and fires at the creature wildly… and surprisingly accurately. The Doctor quickly draws and throws test tubes from his belt and drops a few things inside from his little finger tip hole. They start fizzing as he throws all three as he yells “Apologies!” And then the camera goes into slow motion. As the flare flies through the air, bright blue, flying right at the audience.

The three bottles of fizzing, sparking, chemical follow behind, blobs of liquid slowly flying into the camera lens from all directions.

“Fuccccccccccckinggggggggggg hellllll!”Best yells, as she fires her his pistol.

Fabron raises his gun, his expression emotionless as always. He waits until he sights the beast. His eyes flick to his escape route again as his inner conflict shifts again. He lines up a shot on the beast….

And then raises the weapon firing

As the slow motion slug flies through the air, the Monster’s head comes round the corner. Almost entirely filling the tunnel. Fabron sees it from the front, the others see the head from the side.As one claw holds it in the wall, and the other claw lunges for Fabron. Its scales are red, its head is a massive circle of yellow, blinking, reptilian eyes and within the circle of eyes is a circular maw, each fang twice as tall as Fabron, its claws, about twice his length. Repeated bullets hit the ceiling above the head. The flare goes towards an eye, but as the head moves towards, it sticks in the scales at the side of the head instead. Whilst the chemicals arc off to the right. As the rubble starts to fall, the bottles are smashed apart, releasing corrosive and explosive chemicals onto the beast’s face. It roars out as a claw sparks against Fabron’s armour. The eyelids instinctively close off as the chemicals splash. Fabron doesn’t do as much as flinch back. And the rubble collapses The tunnel fills with dust

GMING NOTES: new narrative scene! This’ll likely be a hasty one…)

Best lies on the floor, Freiberg splayed next to her, flare gun lying on the ground. Able, however, is on his feet as the dust clears and he can see a massive pile of rock ahead of them. And no sign of Fabron

“S-so everyone else saw the giant monster, right?” Freiberg says, seemingly back to sanity

“Yes. Yes we did”, Best replies.

“…..next time I should really add 1.75% more zinc”, Able muses the turns to the others. “I do hope enough survived for an autopsy.”

The intersection is gone, just covered by rubble. Rubble that is shaking

The film then cuts to the surface of Mars. There is a three foot diameter hole in the ground; There is a SLAM SLAM SLAM sound from below. A hand grabs the edge of the hole and Fabron pulls himself out. He stands and catches his breath. He looks down critically and dusts himself off before going in search of the others, unsure if they got out, and not much caring at this point. We then cut down into the tunnel, as the rock shakes. SLAM, SLAM, SLAM.

“Its still alive. We need to retreat. Now” says Best. “If it lives in these tunnels, I doubt rock will hold it for long.”

“I have an idea….” Freiberg says.

“Blow the roof?”

Freiberg’s eyepiece is down again – must have happened sometime in her crazy-carried-time. “Something like that.”

The hole has no Fabron by it any more. The camera zooms out. There is nothing but barren red rock. And a figure in Corps armour, running. And then a massive shadow passes over, a boxy shape with two wings, each with flickering to the edge of their shadow. The shadows hovers in place. SMASH, SMASH, SMASH.

MUSIC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7oMBq1vkCM

Fabron, is fortunately running like Usain Bolt.

Back underground, Freiberg has her wrist-pad open. Best is backing off a little, cane in one hand, pistol in the other “Convenient surface hole – ooh, and is that Fabron on the surface? Hold onto your butts….” Freiberg warns. In her eyepiece you can see her purple cheek illuminated by the glow of red lettering. ‘TARGET’, then ‘FIRE’, as she presses a wrist-pad button. As we cut to the dropship cam, as the hole cracks and a massive red-brown lizard claw bursts out of the ground, followed by the whole forearm, the height of a semi-detached house

As a rocket fires from the dropship. The claw slams into the ground and pulls its upper body out of the ground. Fabron, running, can’t help but look back. The massive form screeches as all of its twenty eyes lock on the rocket, which blasts it in the face. Four of its eyes are horribly burned as it screeches, scoops up a rock and throws it as the dropship

The dropships dodges… barely…

GMING NOTES: (ACTION SCENE! The action scene begins with the most appropriate character… no time wasted rolling on it… we shall therefore go with Freiberg, what with attacking, then Fabron, Able, Best, The Monster of Mars. You take both your abilities in turn, taking a whole beat at a time. You use the action scene passive total for passives… which is lower…)

Freiberg’s voice is heard, but the camera remains focussed on the surface and the dropship cam view. “Well it’s wounded… and on the surface….. and angry.” Brinhilda’s engines rotate so she half hovers, half dances in the air, opening fire with her mounted assault rifle in bursts. As the assault rifle rattles away, the creature blinks all its eyes and heads back down the tunnel as the tracer fire rattles away. The bullets tears through two more eyes before it heads underground. “Okay, NOW we run!” says Best. Freiberg is already slinking off down the tunnel, but not exactly running. As instructed, Able runs this time, at a fare pelt. Best runs with Able, cane in one hand, pistol in the other, as usual. Freiberg, slower, partially controlling the ship, is behind them as the Monster of Mars bursts through the rubble. Looking for safety… looking for the marines.. it hardly matters…

It shoots down the tunnel at the marines, it’s sinious, serpentine body, shimmering down the tunnel, anchoring and dragging its bulk with its two forelimbs, mouth wide open, as it comes right at the camera. And at Freiberg. She screams like a girl (because she is one). A claw slams into the wall around Freiberg and closes around her. The closed fist, oddly almost humanoid looking, rears back to the mouth and opens as Freiberg is tossed towards the mouth. The camera slows as Freiberg is tossed through the air, about 15ft from the mouth.

The second claw lashes out. It slams into Best as three of the four claws on the hand go straight through Best’s body. Best explodes into pieces, blood spraying over Able. Able continues to power on even faster

Flying towards the mouth in midair, Freiberg has nothing to grab onto or push off, and no way to avert her fate. but she does still have the eyepiece and the wristcomm.

“Tell Daddy I went out like a Viking!” she screams. Brunhilda swoops down the enormous tunnel left by the thing where it fled. Its bulk blocks any chance of the dropship getting to Freiberg, even if she had time to. We cut inside the cockpit, the bulk of the Monster of Mars filling the glass. On the control screen, the words ‘remote running’ are illuminated, and below them, ‘combat speed’ suddenly changing to ‘escape velocity’ as the engines roar. At the rear of the creature is a long whipping serpentine tail. There are no forelegs. The ship zeros in and flies down the tail all the way up the back, as Freiberg falls into the mouth, just as the dropship smashes it in the back of the head.

Able looks back as a dropship smashes out through the ruin of the Monster’s head, caked in bright yellow blood, as the dropship wings strike the walls

Able glimpses Freiberg on the front of the dropship, clinging onto it, as the windscreen cracks. her blood streaked across it. Her body already broken by the impact, Freiburg simply murmurs “like a valkyrie”, almost like a child lost in the joy of flying.

“Spectacular……..” Able struggles to say anything else. The right plasma engine smashes into the tunnel wall and explodes, engulfing the dropship in blue plasma fire. The ship spins towards Able. The remaining engine strikes the floor and blasts a plasma wave towards Able. He looks to the wave and throws his body with all he has screaming to the heavens ” ooooooohhhhh sssssshhhhiiii…” he flies forward and the world slows down to a snails crawl, as the scene cuts to black.

We cut to a steel walled office. A black gloved hand, in a very old school fashion, writes with a fountain pen. “It is hard to ascertain if the descent of the drop ship was deliberate or a malfunction.” The scene cuts to show the ruins of the dropship, scattered across the tunnel, as miners in orange suits search through the wreckage.

Fabron replaces the lid on the pen and places it carefully on the desk. He gets up. Checks his mirror. Neatens his hair. Reties his shoes. And then he heads to his next briefing as if nothing happened

Then we cut to Miss Chi, looking over a com-pad.

Miss Chi reads from the com-pad. “… after the unfortunate demise of the military police investigators, I returned with my report to the Corps. They were able to trace the two thieves back to a thought abandoned complex… I believe you are familiar. A part of the old corporation that ran the government. RedPLanet. Of course, the Corps cannot intervene in local disputes on an independent planet. And the evidence we have of the theft is circumstantial at best. However, the mining machine RedPlanet were using… not intended to kill your miners, an unintended side-effect… has been destroyed. You understand such technology had to be destroyed. We suggest, now you know Redplanet still exists, and are stealing ore to make weapons, that perhaps you give your government these grid coordinates. Mars are important trade partners. Should Mars be embroiled in civil war… we will of course be able to help.

“Corps Command Operative 5409.”

The camera cuts back down to the tunnel where workers search through the wreck. with no sign of the Monster’s body except for a tiny, gobbet of sizzling melting red flesh… which dissolves away

“Hey, we found a survivor!”The camera cuts. As several men lift up a broken wing.

“Shittttttttt…”

“Did any of you manage to secure a sample?” The camera cuts to Able; half of his face is missing, one arm is gone and both of his legs are stumps. Where half of his face is missing, is part of a metal skull. The eyes, bright blue. And where the stumps of the limbs are, pieces of metal protrude and spark. His chest armour has been opened, and some of the synthetic flesh as well. “Sample of what?”

ROLL END CREDITS (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v–IqqusnNQ)

I Love the Corps: Below (Part 1)

INTRO

So, below is a transcript of the first part of one of the backer-owed games from the £80 Kickstarter pledge. Now, these are meant to be exclusive games, designed for that backer and only played for the specific one-shot. However, in this case, the backer (Alan) had asked for a game with very short notice (due to being unable to run his own online game, due to not having all his usual players, I believe), and had kindly said that he’d play one of my tried and tested scenarios. In this case, I chose a game I tested about three times before running at ConPulsion earlier in the year. I know that Alan loves his cerebral games and mysteries, so I chose to run Below, as its something of a murder mystery in space.

Now, my original Kickstarter offer was for a one-shot game run online. I ended up running two games, due to time constraints and the limitations of the game format. We did it text-based on Skype. I used to run entire campaigns in this format, but had forgotten how slow it could be compared to being able to describe and react to things in person, so it became necessary to split the game into two. Suffice to say, Alan, and the other two players, seemed to be highly satisfied with the results.

I have tried to stick to the original Skype transcript as much as possible, leaving descriptions and actions of players in tact, and just occasionally moved around the order of details where necessary to assure that it reads as logically as possibly in this format. I’ve taken out all usernames etc too, so it reads like a story. When running in this manner, I ask that players write their actions same as a novel, rather than usual online play style, so actions are just written normally (not with asterisks) and dialogue is quotation marks. A majority of all the rules were kept to private channels for full immersion and to not clutter the game window and obscure descriptions and role play, so rules are largely not included here. I have, however, included general rules related info relevant to all players that I gave as GMING NOTES, just to give you an idea of how the Scene and Beat system directs the role play. (Only one note in PART 1, more in PART 2.)

Here is part 1/game 1 for your viewing pleasure. Alan played Freiberg, whilst the other two players took on the roles of Able and Fabron. I controlled Best as a Friendly (so no dice rolls for her). As with all my pregens, they were not designed with specified gender. In the end, we had a guy playing a girl and a girl playing a guy.

Now, enjoy!

PART ONE

The film opens with a grey, dank room. The floor is metal is gridded, the ceiling is decaying plaster

A blue strip light sits upon the ceiling. The room has a silver metallic table in the centre of it,

On one side of the table sits a woman in her mid 50’s, hair dyed white-blonde. She is attractive for her age, but austere and without a smile. Her black gloved fingers tap on the table.

Tap.

She is wearing an officer’s uniform

Tap.

Her rank is indicated as General. There is a loud knocking.

“Enter.”

The door swings open. The camera zooms in on a fine, long, black leather boot.

“Ah, Lieutenant Best. Corporal Freiberg. Please, sit.”

The camera rotates. First in through the door into the room is a a woman of average height, red hair, tied up into a bun. The LT is in her own officer’s uniform.

She looks like she attends the gym occasionally, if not regularly. She holds herself with confidence, though there is something of a weariness to her eyes. She stops, salutes, and sits.

A short, thin woman, Freiburg looks like she’d blow away in a strong wind. Her most striking feature is her skin, which is pale purple. Her thin face has dark expressive eyes, and while her dark hair has a regulation buzz-cut, she makes occasional hand and head movements as if she is used to having long hair to play around with.

“Welcome, marines. Please be seated.”

As a mere corporal, Freiberg is wearing a standard marine uniform, just with the corporal badge of rank on one shoulder, and the Teutonia colony badge on the other. She salutes and then sits down. Her manner seems curious, but reserved

“Thank you for joining me. I have an unusual mission for you today, marines, so I before I begin, I have drafted in some additional support to aid you. One Doctor Able, and Corps Command Operative Fabron. Enter!”

Another door opens. In walks a man in his 50’s, his well trimmed beard is almost entirely grey leaving a few patches of brown here and there. He has a warm smile hidden beneath the beard, on top his hair is equally as short and maintained. He seems dressed in what can only be called casual scholar, his jacket even has leather patches on the elbows. He gives them all a small nod of respect, “Dr Able at your service,”

“Welcome doctor. Please take a seat.”

He does so

A tall slender man follows quietly. Everything about him is neat. The perfectly combed hair, the lint free jacket, the impossibly clean shaven face, right now to the mirror shine on his shoes. His skin is deathly pale and his piercing ice blue eyes seem to hold no human emotion.

There is the slightest hint of movement at the corner of his lips, probably all the smile he is capable of

“Fabron.” He speaks the single word with a heavy French accent. “Welcome, CCO. Please join us.”

Fabron pulls out a chair seeming to mentally calculate its perfect alignment to the room before sitting. As the chair is drawn back the camera draws focus to his hands. The black leather gloves clearly tailored as the viewer counts not five but six digits on each.

Lieutenant Best, silent up until this point, is sat upright, but and looks a little ill at ease as her eyes dart to the newcomers.

“So, the Lieutenant and Corporal usually operate, as military police, within the confines of legal situations and possible crime within Corps ranks”, the commander explains.”However, this mission will be different. We have a tricky political situation that cannot be dealt with by local colonial police. That’s because the particular colony in this case is not Dominion territory. You will be sent to Independant territory, where the Dominion part owns mining rights, for trade purposes. We’ll be sending you to Mars.”

Freiberg’s eyes widen, a her expression a mixture of surprised and intrigued. However she remains silent.

The camera zooms in on Able’s face. A small hidden smile grows breaking the beard apart. “As you know, the Martians give us valuable trade in both ore and occasional Warrior tributes for Corps services. We have part ownership in some of the mining operations, for ore used in weapons and gears. One of these companies is known as the Chi-Un Mining Corporation, where there have been two recent murders. Normally this would be dealt by local police… but, as you may understand, we don’t have control of the local police… so we are sending you in. As for details of the double murder, you will have to find out the specifics from the mine administrator, Miss Chi, when you arrive on Mars. A cruiser is being prepared for you as we speak. I must remind you that you are representatives of the Corps… which is why CCO Fabron has been attached to you for this operation. We must ensure there are no…” she pauses for a moment, clasping her hands in front of her. “… diplomatic incidents.”

“Whilst Lieutenant Best is a skilled crime investigator, since there will be no local police on hand, we are lending you the skills of talented forensic specialist, Dr Able.” She gestures at the Doc.

“So he can provide whatever expertise you would normally be lent, Lieutenant.”

The LT smiles an almost business-like smile. She looks to the Doc, inclines her head and says “Charmed.”

“As am I,” nods his head to the lady

The LT then looks over at the CCO. “And charmed to have you along… shall I refer to you as sir, CCO or Fabron?”

Blinks slowly. “Fabron will be sufficient”

“General Ma’am, may I ask a question?”

“Of course, Freiberg. Proceed.”

“What is the legal situation? Do we have jurisdiction, or are we sharing jurisdiction with the Mars authorities? Also if the perpetrator is outside the company, do we have arrest authorisation?”

“Sound questions.” She nods. “The site of the mine is on Martian soil, but technically classed as Dominion soil, due to agreed-upon ownership rights. So, within the mine itself, you have authority. Outside of it… well the mine is many miles from any Martian settlements. So if you act with discretion, you should be able to act as authorised. Should you overstep your bounds…” she gestures to Fabron. “Fabron is responsible for informing you.”

“Understood, Ma’am.”

“Excuse me General, am I understand that there won’t be any labs for analysis of chemical compounds, to whit I should endeavour to secure as much mobile equipment as is allowed to ensure our success yes?” Able asks.

“Indeed. Make sure you have the correct installed equipment from the armoury. I have informed them you’ll be coming.”

“Thank you.”

“Any other questions, marines?”

“No Ma’am”, Freiberg responds.

“No Sir “, Fabron responds. The General doesn’t seem to react differently to being referred to a sir or ma’am… she seems almost robotic in her nature.

“Then please head to the armoury to suit up. Freiberg, I have ensured Brunhilde is fuelled and ready to fly. The comm coordinates for your cruiser for transport to Mars have been loaded in by our techs already.” Freiberg acknowledges witha smile, as well as a salute

Fabron stands and returns the chair very neatly

Best stands, prim and proper, stomps a boot and salutes. “Commander.”

“Lieutenant. Dismissed.”

Best nods and lowers the arm. “All right…” the camera cuts to each character one by one.

Best pauses. “… squad. Let’s go solve a mystery, and hunt some bad guys, shall we?”

“Mysteries are always so much fun, I can’t think or something I would rather do Lieutenant.” Able stands up in a dramatic fashion as the camera follows him up.

“Doc, I think we’re going to get on well”, Best says, clapping the doc on the shoulder.

A cold stare and a slight nod entirely devoid of enthusiasm is the limit of Fabron’s response

Best blanches a little at Fabron, and heads for the door. She opens it, smiles and gestures for the team to exit.

The marines exit. The camera zooms in on the other side of the door. There is a cane with battered, steel sphere at the top. A hand scoops it up. The camera then zooms in on Best.

“Here we go…”

The camera cuts to the darkness of space, as the music kicks in.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbSxzqA8QrA)

A slow, spinning cylinder slides into view. It is several miles along, with three cylinders rotating around its mid-section. Along the side are big white letters:

U

C

M

C

The camera zooms out, showing the name, UCMC Possibilities. The camera follows the interstellar cruiser, as it approaches the planet Mars. The bottom of the cruiser slowly opens. Out of it, a tiny speck exits, alone. Lit by two bright blue lights. As the lights fly towards Mars, ahead of the cruiser, which slows. Mars swings into full view as the camera zooms in. The dropship flies into frame from the foreground. A boxy shape, with two wings flanking on either side, each wing bearing a rotating plasma engine at the centre of it, currently pointed to the rear.

As Iron Maiden fades out and Wagner fades in… (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRU1AJsXN1g)

On the front of the dropship is painted the name Brunhilda, while on either side are painted Valkyries, classical, not sexualised images.

The dropship dives down through the clouds. Gunshots sounds fire, as the I LOVE THE CORPS logo is shot in bullet holes

As the dropship heads down, and you can see the Martian landscape as the word BELOW appears.

Written and Directed by Christopher Dean

Six fingers tighten slightly on arm rests, as we cut inside the dropship.

Freiberg is now wearing contact armour, which bulks her out a little so she looks less fragile, or at least less likely to blow away in a stiff breeze. The armour is light and thin but covers every inch of her body, the joints airtight. The helmet has a couple of extra aerials on top beyond the standard comms and uplink, and this combined with the all-encompassing armour gives an almost insectoid look. Her face is visible through the transparent faceplate. If you hadn’t seen her out of her armour earlier, you might assume the faceplate was tinted purple, rather than her skin colour being so unusual. She is lightly armed, carrying only an emp rifle (which is normally on her back on her back but currently stored in the gun rack beside her, since her back is resting on the pilot chair) and a flaregun at her hip. She has a couple of small cases magnetised to her other hip and her stomach, their inventory stamps suggesting they are tools rather than weapons.

A couple of cheap civilian laptop devices have been attached to the cockpit walls beside the actual flight computers. One of these is running a program giving the direction and distance to Jupiter and the orbiting Teutonia colony in real time, the other seems to be displaying a newsfeed of the Teutonia stock market, streamed over the PlaNET network.

Fabron looks exactly as he did when he first entered the room for their briefing. Even sitting seems to barely crumple the neatness. Fabron’s equipment, contact armour, some mag-cuffs, a machine pistol and a stun baton, are magged to the wall behind him.

“… and so you see Lieutenant the enzyme he used to dissolve the tissue sample in fact implicated him, since I was able to isolate the possible locations and more importantly who could acquire it, I find it most hilarious, for you see he..” Able drones on and on at Best, his love of his work pouring into ever word. Sitting in his battle armour, standard issue; as a consultant, he has had no time to customise it. He carries no weapons.

Best, like Freiberg, is dressed in bulky but lightweight contact armour, usually recommended for lack of atmosphere. However, Able’s armour will lend the civilian more protection in a combat situation. Best is sat in the co-pilot seat, but span round, listening to Able, who sits in the carrier section with Fabron.

Best has mag-cuffs magged to her waist, a heavy-duty looking, futuristic pistol magged to a hip, and has a gauntlet around her cane. She looks enamoured with the doctor.

Freiberg peers up through the cockpit glass for a moment at the cruiser, now just a twinkling speck. “Wow, a whole cruiser waiting just for us. If we solve this case quick enough, maybe I’ll have time to make a call to daddy on Teutonia before we leave.” Her statement seems directed to Best as a question, yet its vague enough she could deny it was more than an idle thought if it was objected to.

For Fabron, there is a tiny flicker of a sideways glance at the “daddy” comment.

Best spins the chair, looks to Freiberg, rolls her eyes and snorts in amusement. “You and your daddy.” Best’s accent is very Queen’s English. “However DO you cope being in other systems, Freiberg?”

Able also turns to look at Freiberg.

Freiberg’s accent has a hint, but only a hint, of German. Like a third generation immigrant who not only learned English, but took elocution classes afterwards. “I console myself with the letters and occasional presents he sends. But now we’re in the same system we can do face-time, lag is only a couple of light-minutes. I’m sure if we did he’d send my whole squad a keg of something. Stock in his biggest companies are up three points, so he’ll be in a good mood.” She gestures to the stock market feed.

Able looks to the stock market feed. “Which one is Daddy, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Well Sleipnir Zero-G Construction is his most valuable holding, even though he’s only got 12%, its just so huge. The companies he actually owns are minnows really, but profitable minnows…. mostly”

“Speaking of minnows, let’s see what we can catch today… approaching landing coordinates now, oh mighty Valykrie”, Best declares.

“I know… Ma’am.” Freiberg turns back to the controls, muttering. “I can fly her through the helmet cam you know, I don’t have to be looking out the window…”

Best just smirks, as she spins back to the carrier section. “Hey, Fabron. You best put some armour on.. unless you breathe Martian atmosphere, of course.”

Fabron gets up and methodically puts his armour on. In the exact order they were instructed to in training

Best spins back round and whispers to Freiberg “Not sure he breathes at all…”

Freiberg stifles a giggle. Fabron doesn’t react. Maybe he didn’t hear.

The camera cuts to outside the dropship, as it approaches a landing pad. Near the landing pad, is a long, oblong, concrete building, relatively nondescript, except for CHI-UN MINING in white letters below the roof. It has massive, heavy duty airlock doors. Stood on the landing pad, are several people in civilian issue contact suits, bright orange, clearly used for mining and necessary surface visits. Five figures are on the landing pad. The figure stood at the front is diminutive and unarmed. The four behind the first are of various builds, all taller than the first, but still quite short in stature, and they’re armed, but weapons are magged to their backs.

“Here’s the welcome wagon.” Best says.The camera cuts back in the ship. “All right squad, lets get ready to meet the locals.” The camera cuts as the dropship side-ramp lowers

Cane pounding on the Martian rock, Best if first out of the ship, closely followed by Able.

Freiberg stays at the back, which due to her small stature makes her nearly invisible (though also unable to see) behind the others. She’s retrieved her emp rifle but keeps it magged to her back rather than in her hands

Fabron goes second. He’s pretty important and knows it

The small individual, who is a female with chinese features dimly noticeable beneath her orange visor, bows

Best and Able return the bow.

“Greetings. I am Miss Chi. Welcome to the Chi-Un Mining facility. I am the administrator of this facility.”

“Charmed. I’m Lieutenant Best, UCMC Military Police. This is Doctor Able, civilian forensics. In the absence of local forensic help, he’ll be filling in that duty.” She then gestures to Fabron “This is Corps Command Operative Fabron. He’ll be ensuring that my associates and I are acting in accordance with local and Dominion jurisdiction in this operation. And behind us is the lovely Valkyrie, aka Corporal Freiberg, my pilot and technical specialist. If there is any electronic footage to be looked over, she’ll be the one looking it over.” Miss Chi nods and Best continues.

“Now, I’m told there’s been not one, but two murders?”

It’s at this point that the camera cuts, as Miss Chi narrates over the footage shown. “Yes, it was just yesterday.” Darkness. “An ordinary day. Two of our miners…” the camera cuts to show a rather tall man, by Japanese standards, putting on the helm of his mining suit “Mumasa” and then the camera cuts to a sneering, bald little man doing the same “And Cho.They were in a relatively new section of the mine, recently dug, mining for metal ore…” The two miners are seen on camera, applying laser cutters to an area of rock in a duck out corridor, mining at a bend in the tunnel, one at the left of the bend, the other a few feet on the right. The corridor winds round like a snake towards them and then back on itself in the other direction. “At 2.04pm, Dominion Standard Time, the section of wall in between the two miners…. well…” The camera shows the two from the security cam feed from above, slightly grainy. “It exploded..” The wall explodes, not a fiery explosion, but rock flies outward from the wall. Mumasa is immediately consumed by dust. Cho runs. The dust cloud consumes him. The timer on the camera continues, as the dust cloud billows out, and then starts to settle. “The blast must have come from the other side of the wall. The dust cloud covered sight of what happened but…. there was nothing left of Mumasa.” In real time, the dust cloud settles. After ten seconds, it is gone. There is a bloodied streak where Mumasa was, in front of what was a section of curving wall, now a pile of rubble. “And of Cho… just his foot. But most curious of all… the ore they were mining was gone.”

“So, not just a murder, but a theft?” says Best’s voice. The camera footage continues as armoured guards run in and start shouting.

“Yes, lieutenant.”

“Forgive my complete ignorance of mining, but just to be clear -I assume the ore isn’t itself explosive under any circumstances? Nor likely to burn or vaporise in an explosion?” Freiberg adds.

“Its possible. But the entire cart was gone. No trace of it, even fragments.”

“Did they disturb the crime scene in their discovery of said theft and murder?”Able asks.

“We have left the… crime scene, in tact.”

“Then let’s not waste any time. Send the footage to Freiberg here, and take us to where we need to go.” She looks at Doctor Able and smiles. “Looks like the game is afoot.”

Able smiles back. “That’s a Watson/Holmes reference, isn’t it?”

Best slaps him on the shoulder. “Classic British history, my friend.”

The camera cuts to the actual murder scene as it flanks behind the four marines in a line, as the emergency bulkhead shuts behind them/ And they walk down the curving corridor, until they reach the pile of rubble/ The blood splatter of Mumasa is clear on the left side of the rubble and in front of it. The rubble reaches to the ceiling, but little gaps can be seen. Cho’s foot lies about ten foot from the pile of rubble. There is a camera, still functional, opposite the pile of rubble, dangling from the ceiling before the opposite wall

GMING NOTE: This is what is immediately obvious. Further details will be given where people Look. I’ll tell you what is easy to see, and otherwise, Sentry Duty can give you further details.

Freiberg approaches the camera. She detaches the case magged to her stomach armour and opens it, revealing it to be a toolkit, and she starts work on the camera, first with ranged scanning instruments before looking at direct linkage.

He moves to the foot, and bends down holds a hand over the foot. His index, middle and ring finger tips on his armour slide apart and small tools come out, one is clearly a needle, the other looks like a small, teeny, tiny vacuum cleaner nozzle and lastly a small red pointer light that seems to shift the red light around the foot. As the needle stabs into the foot he starts muttering to himself

“…Blunt trauma?…laceration?….” He turns to the rubble, then looks back. “Interesting….”

Fabron watches the doctor a while before looking at each of his new colleagues in turn. His gaze returns to the doctor.

“The footage we saw seems genuine, nothing extra of use from the camera. Only interesting thing is Cho looked back at the exploded wall before he ran. Could be just slow reactions and fleeing a rockslide, but could be the wall exploding was someone or something coming out. The dust cloud would hide it, and that might explain how the ore vanished”, Freiberg explains. At Freiberg’s words, Best is musing, hand on chin, inspecting the rubble, as Freiberg continues. “Breaching charge, murder a guy, drag the ore back into the secret tunnel and block off before the dust clears. Worth a look, anyway.”

“Sensible theory.” Best picks up a chunk of rock in the palm of one hand. “However, this rock isn’t scorched at all.”

“Dunno then. Can’t think a guy would be strong enough to bring down a wall by force, even a burly miner type with a big hammer, Power-tools would make noise you’d expect the victims to have reacted to on the cam, so those are out.”

“Hmmmmm true… even then, if that was the case, the rocks would be scattered around. Even more so with an explosion… seems rather… neat, wouldn’t you say?” Best begins pacing.

“This foot was removed with a lot of force, but if they took the rest of the body… why was the foot left behind?” Able asks.

“Well it was out of the dust, but if they intended it to look like an accident they made too many other mistakes for such a detail, as not disturbing the camera footage”, Best adds.

“Better to just leave the whole body and the ore if you wanted it to look like a mining accident”, Freiberg concludes

“Definitely not a bite. Saliva of the beast is not found and yet the wound is jagged. Could the cloud of hidden a creature that just bit straight thought his leg? But then what kind of creature would take the ore?” Able is muttering to himself

“They don’t have mining robots here do they? something with big metal claws for cutting rocks?” Freiber hypothesizes.

“A robot harming a human?….perhaps we should look at the programming and physical structure of the machines to be safe/”

“We’ve only seen men working on the footage, so there probably aren’t robots. But would be worth asking., I just wondered, with you talking about jagged wounds and with ore and people both gone.”

“A labour suit mech could possibly wreak this kind of damage, with the right gauntlet upgrades”, Best adds. “I’ll get on the comms to Chi”, Best walks off into the background.

“You might want to ask for some mining gear too. All our current theories involve something going back into the collapsed wall, so digging seems sensible”, Freiberg calls over, and the LT gives the Corporal a grin and mock salute

The camera focuses on Able’s fingertips closing, “this is a most curious mystery indeed.”

Best walks back into shot. “No mining drones, no mechs. Apparently its all vehicle-based. Mobile drills and mining lasers, hence the tunnel size. I suppose a drill from the other side could have caused such a need collapse, but it doesn’t explain the other discrepancies.”

Able cracks his knuckles, then opens his ring finger tip again to reveal the light point and begins scanning the floor as he walks slowly and carefully towards the rubble

“Lieutenant, did your helmet X-ray mode give you anything on the wall?” Freiberg asks.

“Hmm. Good question.” She taps her wrist-pad on her armour. Her visor glows a soft green.

“There’s a tunnel on the other side. Rough hewn. Doesn’t look precisely mined… if mined at all. Could be natural. Or hastily dug.”

“Well that explains how it got in and out undetected… whatever it is”

“A drill is being sent on its way to us now. Dropped in a nice request and a flattering smile.” Best cracks her knuckles. “Whatever they’re using, they’re not getting away that easily.”

Able says as he scans the floor “please use it after I’ve finished…”

“You’ve got time, Doc. What’d you up to?”

Fabron stands very still in the hallway and closes his eyes taking slow and measured breaths akin to someone meditating.

“Ads the chemical analysis of the victims remains yield no results, I have moved on to trying to assemble data on positioning, and also analysis on the footprints of the victims and attacker. Given time I should be able to tell the attack pattern……” Able stops talking and looks back to the floor then back up.

Fabron furrows his brow with concentration

“Curious. Armoured footprints leave the tunnel, and several individuals pushed the cart away but they didn’t reach Cho…and it seems like he was dragged…but they never reached him… I estimate two attackers…or at least two were here for the ore.”

“There was a claw. He was dragged by it” Fabron says.

“Ah…”

“Like a robot claw for the armoured men at range? Or like a….. scary monster claw?” Valkyrie looks nervously round the tunnels, though camera footage still plays on her helmet eyepiece.

Fabron opens his eyes and straightens his armour. “Big scary monster….at least to a terrified miner fleeing for his life that only saw a glimpse of his doom.” Is that the hint of a smile on Fabrons lips?

“Serial killers… I do serial killers… not monsters… oh fucking great” says Best.

END OF PART ONE

I Love the Corps at Asgard Games

So last week I ran another I Love the Corps one-shot, using the Missions campaign characters. I ran the game at a gaming shop in Walsall, Asgard Games. My housemates are well acquainted with Asgard, having lived at this end of Birmingham much longer than I have, and have already gabbled on about the game to Vince (the awesome and incredibly friendly shop owner), so it was great to finally get to run a game at the shop, and meet Vince.

I had turned up the previous week to see if the usual campaign group were interested (the answer was ‘very excitedly so’) and I played a one-off character in their usual Savage Worlds campaign, as Vince suggested I joined in a game before running one, which seemed fair enough to me. I certainly had fun playing with the group, but they were mostly incredibly loud (which coming from me, is saying something) and had a lot of chatter going on and weren’t paying much attention to the game, so it was clear to me that running a game for them could be a challenge. But, they were enthusiastic, and I don’t back down from the opportunity to show people how I like to do RPGs, so CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!

So, six of the seven I had played with the previous week had turned up to play, and also had another player. Good thing I had prepared two additional characters just in case! Now, when I usually run these shorter games, people are usually quite content to spend about 20 minutes familiarising themselves with the basics of the game and their characters. However, it took about an hour… mainly cos they all seemed pretty interested and wanted to know all the ins and outs of everything. A good sign, in a way, but I didn’t get started with the game till 8, and had till around 10.30 to get it done. Certainly doable, but with 7 players, many of which who seem to be very loud and easily distracted, I was a little worried about getting a decent game done in time…

I feel one of the initial things I found gratifying about this game was that even though it was seven men, one of them asked if he could play a female character, which the sheets are very much built for (since I only use initialled first names and try to avoid specifying a gender in the background). After that, the final player to describe his character then decided to be transgender, which is not only fine, but actually fit that particular background pretty well. We ended up with the ‘usual’ lot of the one-shots of Judge (the Sarge, as transgender), Helgreth/Bailiff (as a lady), Inquisitor, Verdict and Defendant, with the inclusion of grumpy battlefield surgeon, Jury and Warden, the unusual combo of heavy/sniper (uses a railgun with a lock-on feature and helmet modded to see in different visual spectra). Arbiter was the Friendly.

I started the game in the usual style for Missions, in documentary style… the players loved it, and it seemed to instantly really suck them into the game. Rather than me giving them interview asides, most of the time they were just asking for them at appropriate times.

They were sent on a mission to investigate a drifting spaceship of alien origin, see if they could recover any aliens (alive or dead) and/or any technology, and then blow up the ship behind them. As they approached the ship, they got a taste of a narrative scene, as their Friendly pilots navigated the field of debris, and the players either tried to discern more information about the ship they were approaching, come up with plans of approach or simply prepare to kick-ass. Not many dice were rolled; like most players in this situation, they were largely quite happy to go with their passive totals. The three marines using Sentry Duty eventually ended up rolling with active abilities to get more info once they realised what little information they were getting, and they could only use three Sentry Duty totals in the scene at most. Eventually, through coordinating their findings, they managed to work out that the ship (made from metal so dark that it was practically invisible, seen only from lights within a hull breach) realised that the lights they could see from within indicated that the hull had been tore open, was hollow on the inside and likely had emergency protocols, lights and likely defences activated. With this information, the Sarge ordered a landing on top of the vessel, near the main hull breach. I was quite pleased with this, since even though they were very noisy and excitable, they were quite happy to engage with the set-up and create their own story approach, and there was lots of communication between them at this point. And then, as things often go, things spun into disorganised madness… but in a thoroughly in character sense.

The Sarge and Inquisitor decided to make their own way into the ship, rather than make their way in through the whole and alert possible attention from internal security systems. Meanwhile, Bailiff, who was also worried about the internal security systems, thought making a new entrance was even more likely to cause unwanted attention. So, when Inquisitor’s (AI Guided) plasma launcher went to fire, Bailiff tries to knock the weapon so the shot misses… unfortunately, running into a mech in zero-g, proved to be a bad idea for Bailiff. I got to give the players their first taste of an action scene and showing how action doesn’t always equal combat. Bailiff’s player spent a Glory Point, as she was sailing over the ship, travelling towards its centre, to grab onto a convenient piece of hull fragment. The Sarge then used their grapple gun to grapple onto the metal, but started to be dragged across the ship. Verdict managed to hold onto the Sarge and keep him, as well as the tightened grapple wire, fragment and Bailiff in place. Warden tried to grab onto Verdict to pull Bailiff back, but it didn’t seem to help at all. In the end, after much struggle, panic and some hilarity, Defendant saved the day quite by just sending his drone to mag to Bailiff and pull her back. In a moment which very much summed up the Sarge’s Defining Trait of Nutjob, they then decided to place a demolition charge right where the squad were gathered, with pretty much zero warning, as they set it to detonate. The action scene continues as each character needed to use their abilities to oppose the effective Target Number of the Sarge’s own weapon. Everyone did fine… except for Defendant. But since I didn’t want someone to really die so early to the Sarge’s own over-eagerness, and I had control of Arbiter, the Sensitive, as a Friendly, I used her telekinesis to throw Defendant clear of the blast. Many of the players seemed shocked about the instant heroic sacrifice. Jury’s player, as Jury had developed a fondness for Arbiter, spent a Glory Point to specify Arbiter as dying rather than dead, as her contact armour coated her in protective foam, and she is flung into the medic’s arms. Then things got worse; as Bailiff predicted, this action warranted some notice from within, as a flying, alien robot with two underslung laser rifles hovers out of the hole, and opens fire at the squad.

The squad predictably opens fire on the drone with active abilities, quickly realising that that can be a bad idea in ILTC, when your enemy is opening fire, and can use that as their defence. Bailiff takes a hit, but due to being blast armour with a Hardened Shell, through a combo of being heat resistant and having high Hardass to reduce the effect, escapes mostly unscathed. Josephine, the battle drone, is not so lucky, as she is blown to pieces. (Inquisitor also gets his plasma launcher crippled by  a laser beam.) Being vulnerable to the Tech Failure Horror, Defendants starts Losing It… the player opts for the Horror of Kill ‘Em All. Jury and Warden retreat behind a cylinder they found extending from the ship, Jury treating Arbiter enough to keep her alive without her dying at the end of the scene, and stores her safely in his hab-tent, with Warden watching over them both. The other marines exchange fire with the drone, and though they can hit it, most of the shots are doing very little against it. So the Sarge gets a crazy idea (of course) and jumps onto the drone, wrapping himself around it. He then pushes his flare gun against it and fires. Now, the machine has immunity to the attack, HOWEVER, Success Levels from beating a TN (or effective TN, in this case) can still be used for other benefits… so he breaches the armour, allowing others to bypass its immunity if they get an attack of +3SL or more. And then the machine plunges back into the ship, with the Sarge attached. Defendant leaps down after it, not to save the Sarge, but because he is really intent on revenge for his drone. Inquisitors uses his thrusters and jets down to save the Sarge, flying at the robot, as it just dodges his punches. Bailiff then attaches a drop-harness, and drops down after the Sarge. Her hail of shots do nothing, but she manages to extract the Sarge and pull him out. Jury asks Warden to watch over Arbiter, grabs Warden’s railgun, runs over to the hole, fires at the machine, and blows it up with a lucky shot. Verdict, stood at the hole as well, sees more incoming and opens fires with his laser rifle. He can’t quite get the distance on the enemies, but laughs as their lasers strike him and he shrugs them off (in heat resistant armour, and as a Hellworlder, is heat resistant, which stack to give him heat immunity in armour). The squad are clearly going to be overwhelmed in moments, so the Sarge orders everyone into the dropship. The dropships swoops down into the ship after Inquisitor, Defendant and the Sarge, as the others pile in. The Sarge Glory Points more (nuclear) demo-charges and an explosive charge begin enough to end the scene by taking out one portion of the ship. Then Defendant, gone utterly crazy, spends a Glory Point to kill HIMself as he propels himself with the Sarge’s blast to fly into the ship’s plasma drive…. leaving the dropship caught in between two explosions as it picks up Inquisitor. Warden Glory Points to detonate repeated foam grenades to create a protective shell around the ship… and that’s how to rapidly finish a game with five minutes left. And bear in mind, that was through the player’s actions, rather than me speeding things up.

And there we are; a successful game. Yes, I did have to nicely ask (or gesture) for them to be quiet and listen a few times, but that applies to many. Certainly went down a storm.