Friday, 13 April 2018

Judge Dredd - Poison on Hell's Highway

Judge Deacon had been waiting patiently in the barren wasteland known as the Cursed Earth for his comrades to return. They had gone on a mission to recover or disarm some nuclear missiles, relics from before the apocalypse, held in a silo somewhere out in the wastes. He became somewhat concerned about the emergence of a mushroom cloud on the horizon, but it eventually dissipated. He decided to give his fellow judges three more days before returning to Mega City One.

However, less than 24 hours later the other judges arrived, with their Killdozer still intact although bearing the marks of bullet dents. Led by the Psi Judge, Judge Judy, they said they were intent on making it back overland to MC1 down Hell's Highway. It might have had another name once, before the war that almost destroyed mankind, but for their purposes it was the most direct route home.

The judges were accompanied by a two-headed mutant child, which they claimed had psi abilities. She in turn was keeping another judge, a rogue SJS judge, in some kind of coma. Deacon shrugged. This seemed par for the course with this mission.

A Judge Dredd GM's screen forms the back drop


The team headed east, hoping to make it back to MC1 as quickly as possible, but within a day they came across an obstacle, a road block on the highway manned by what looked like mutants. Their spokesman demanded a toll from the judges to let them past. The law officers threatened to arrest him for the obstruction of justice. In turn he remote activated a concealed hatch that lay beside the road.

Some form of electronic obelisk emerged from the ground, and immediately generated an electro magnetic pulse which crashed all the judges' electronics, including the targeting systems on the Killdozer's missile array. Deacon dismounted from his Lawmaster and sprinted over to the tank, where he worked to reconfigure the array to manual. This he was able to do and managed to fire one of the Killdozer's missiles at the mutant barricade. The explosion did not do an enormous amount of damage, to be sure, but it did cause the mutant leader to ask for a pow wow.

Judy and Mean meet with the mutant leader.


Judge Judy and Judge Mean met to talk with the mutant leader to try to negotiate safe passage. He was after medical supplies and rad cloaks in the main. Judge Judy used his psi power to cause the mutant to become enraptured by the judges and he eventually offered them supplies from his own stash and ordered his brigands to open the barricade.

So far, so good. The judges cautiously rode through the blockade. It was only as they were leaving it behind that some kind of emaciated fellow with a bowler hat and what looked like a pet rat on his shoulder popped up and shot Judge Mean with a poisoned dart from a blow pipe. Poor Mean succumbed almost immediately to a paralyzing poison. The mutant - Fink Angel - for it was he, offered the judges the antidote in exchange for a Lawmaster bike and one of the remaining missiles in the Killdozer.

Judge down: Fink Angel (far left) ambushes the convoy!

Judy tried to unleash his psi powers on Fink, but he proved resistant, instead shooting another dart at the psi judge, and just missing. It was a stand off. Mean was deteriorating quickly, so Judy decided to cut a deal. Deacon, inside the Killdozer, had been madly trying to sabotage one of the missiles before handing it over to the mutants, but was sadly unsuccessful.

The judges gave Fink and his men a missile (!) and a Lawmaster. Then they motored away until safely out of range, at which point they managed to remote activate the Lawmaster and bring it back to them, shooting its way through the barricade. Unfortunately one missile was left in the mutants' possession. That would not look good in the report.

The judges continued overnight, allowing Judy to restore his powers. The next day they ran into an Australian bloke in shorts, standing in the middle of the road, who was organising a supersurf tournament. As it turned out, the prize for this was a flight to MC1 on board a luxury 'strat bat' [?]. This could provide the judges with the opportunity to get back to MC1 quickly, and do it under the cover of the tournament, ideally without the rogue elements within the Justice Department becoming aware of them. The only problem was that the organisers wanted the judges to compete as a Justice Department team. That might get them unwanted attention...

This game was played using the d20 Judge Dredd RPG, originally published by Mongoose in 2002. It was held at the Dice Saloon in Brighton.


Sunday, 25 March 2018

Delta Green - thoughts about Convergence and the new edition


Last week I was asked at fairly short notice to run a game of Delta Green for some friends at the Dice Saloon in Brighton. I chose the vintage Delta Green adventure from the original softback from Pagan Publishing, called Convergence, written by John Tynes. 

This is the second adventure in that supplement and was originally written for Call of Cthulhu. I chose to run it with the new DG rules from ArcDream. Convergence is considered one of the better DG scenarios.

I’m not going to go into the detail of the adventure – this post really dissects it from the point of view of a GM who is planning to run it themselves in the future. I think it is worth the effort and is a commendable scenario. It follows on from Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays which I would also recommend, and which appears in the same book.

I used four pre-gen agents for the game, and the three players were allowed to pick the agents they wanted to create F cell. This was a slightly different Delta Green team from the usual fare:

  • Christie Ferranti (Agent Florence) – a nurse with the USAF specialising in the health of air crew at high altitudes, USAF Biomedical Sciences Corps
  • Guillermo Schrader (Agent Ferdinand) – an engineer and DG plant working inside Northrop Grumman
  • Wendell Delvecchio (Agent Frazier) – a USAF special operator from Air Force Special Operations Command, stationed at MacDill air force base


This was a great session. I took a short time to explain the setting to the players, allow them to fill in their bonds, and then it was straight into the game!

The players were particularly up for some in-depth role playing, and one of the strengths of the session was potentially also its downfall. They took a long time interviewing Billy Ray Spivey - in character - before taking the assignment to go to Groversville.

Operating under the cover story of FBI agents looking into the possible presence of angel dust in the county, they then conducted a lengthy interview with the local sheriff, with everybody around the table getting into their roles, right down to the accents. This was helped by the fact that two of the players had lived in the United States.

This consumed about 30-40 minutes of the game and was so well-conducted and so enjoyable that similar discussions were held with other NPCs. However, this also burned precious time.

I was aiming to complete the session inside three hours, which I think was a tall order for Convergence. A typical convention slot is four hours, and Convergence could conceivably fit into this.

The agents made a fast break through early on, having discovered the body of UFO journalist Scott Adams (I made him a blogger as the scenario needs a little updating from a technology perspective); they then checked the guest register at Merle’s Shut Eye and realised Adams was renting a second room, which then led them to the discovery of Jane Allen, Billy Ray’s girlfriend. The team had been in Groversville for less than 24 hours by this stage and had not been apart at any stage, so there was no opportunity for any missing time antics.

With Agent Ferdinand hacking Adams’ laptop using his high Computer Science skill, the agents quickly figured out it might be worth snooping around the Ameley’s Hills area, where Adams had sighted helicopter activity.

At this point we were beginning to run out of time and I wanted to see if we could push for a resolution. The group had brought in a two man FBI team with hazmat suits to remove Adams’ body and take Allen away too. They used an unmarked van, but they made the error of keeping the sheriff in the loop, allowing the real enemy to also keep tabs on the progress of their investigation. By this stage they were planning to leave for Ameley’s Hills with the sheriff in tow to have a poke around. I decided that the opposition would see this as a direct threat to their operation and pull the plug on the experiment.

The DG team from Knoxville had also delivered the compound which would allow the agents to check for protomatter (earlier than suggested in the adventure, but this team was making break through after break through). I went with the weaponized virus option suggested in the adventure, but made it more fast acting. With the sheriff sickening, the team sprayed him with the compound and quickly realised how prevalent the protomatter was.

The agents stopped the car in time to see a barn being destroyed in the distance by a Majestic team of special operators (covering the tracks of the real actors in this scenario). With Agent Florence now incapacitated by the virus and obviously dying, Frazier and Ferdinand drove through a corn field at high speed towards the burning barn (it was now midnight). Ferdinand fluffed his Drive roll and crashed into a scare crow. Agent Frazier jumped out of the car and saw the Majestic agents taking off in a helicopter gunship. He opened fire at long range with his Glock and scored a critical, hitting one of the Majestic agents and killing him outright. His body fell 50 feet into the corn.

The rest of the Majestic team escaped, but the DG agents found the body of the soldier they shot. By this stage both Ferdinand and Frazier were deteriorating quickly and Florence was dead.

I allowed the agents one drive roll as they floored the accelerator and made a break for the county line. Sadly Ferdinand missed this one, crashing his car into a drainage ditch, and both agents succumbed by the side of the road having made their final report to their handler in Knoxville.

I felt this was a good resolution for the game as the group is unlikely to reconvene any time soon. Feedback from the players was very positive. Two had never played Call of Cthulhu before. Convergence is obviously a very good adventure, but I was being too ambitious trying to shoe horn it into three hours.

I still have some reservations about the new DG rules system: I’m torn between this and the Gumshoe system for this type of adventure. I didn’t really make use of some of the new mechanics which I should have – for example Will Power. Nor did we explore the use of bonds to mitigate Sanity loss, although the agents did not lose that much Sanity, and bonds really only come into their own as part of a longer campaign – they seem to have less value in a one shot, other than to make it much less likely an agent will suffer a break down, which can be part of the fun.

There is also no skill which covers passive perception – in Call of Cthulhu you have Spot Hidden. In DG there is a Search skill, but I take this to mean an active search. At one stage there was an opportunity to spot a towel wedged under a door but at that point the agents were not conducting a search. I suppose you could potentially use the Alertness skill, but it is not very clear.

In summary I think Convergence is an excellent scenario, which I’d willingly run again with a different group. The new DG rules are, I think, better than vanilla Call of Cthulhu, but will take some getting used to. I’m not convinced that they are superior to Gumshoe however. But then again, I’m not completely convinced with Gumshoe either.


Sunday, 11 March 2018

Battle of Hue - The Dong Ba Bridge

Hue - a helicopter's view over the city
I'm working on some ideas for gaming the battle for the city of Hue in Vietnam in February 1968, 50 years ago! I'm going to be using the Force on Force rules from Osprey. This is a platoon level engagement and is loosely based on the fighting in Hue between US Marines and Viet Cong.

The strategic situation in the city in early February 1968 was that the communists had managed to capture most of it via a surprise attack (apart from a small ARVN garrison in the north-eastern district and some US troops still in the MACV compound across the Perfume River from the old city).

The Marines were assigned the job of rooting the enemy soldiers out, street by street, house by house. They were initially hampered by the ban on using artillery or air support in the city, because the government of South Vietnam did not want to damage the many historic buildings from the country's imperial past.

I'm working on an idea of a 'rolling battlefield' concept - each scenario advances the Americans further into the city. The action is focused on one platoon, and represents one day's fighting. The next day they pick up with a new scenario from where they left off. Some of the features of the first day's board will be shared with the new scenario. In addition, the platoon could receive limited reinforcements, but not necessarily.

It is important to note that the progress made by the Marines in Hue was very slow. It was extremely dangerous work.

"Not since the fight to retake Seoul, South Korea, in September 1950, had the Marines engaged in house to house combat. Seoul had been tough, but the North Korean soldiers holding the capital had had little taste for extended combat and yielded easily. The NVA and VC occupying Hue had no intention of just fading away. The Marines would pay dearly in blood for every step they took down Hue's tree-lined boulevards."
Edward F. Murray - Semper Fi Vietnam (1997)

The Dong Ba Canal Bridge


Here's the first scenario. This is fictional, but I think it would make for an interesting game. The duration of game is 10 turns. The US starts with the initiative, but tests on subsequent turns. There is normal Fog of War and a medium air defence environment. The Viet Cong should be treated as irregular troops - see pp 112-113 of Force on Force. There are no hot spots in use in this game.

In terms of support, the US player can call on a Huey UH1 gunship. The VC player gets light artillery with an artillery FO.

USMC


The Marine objective is to force a crossing of the bridge, which has been partially destroyed by VC sappers, before it is completely annihilated - see photos. They are to clear the buildings on the opposite side of the canal and establish a perimeter which will allow reinforcements to cross. Note: the terrain board that represents the enemy-held portion will be re-used in Scenario #2. The Marine player gets +10 VPs for establishing his bridgehead with at least one fire team on the opposite bank of the canal before the end of turn 10; +4 VPs for keeping casualties to less than 10%.

The Marines are Confident, with d8 initiative, normal supplies and 1d of standard body armour. They have d8 TQ and d10 morale. Use the USMC platoon organization in Ambush Valley, p.42. Apart from the HQ squad with one corpsman, give them two rifle squads plus an LMG consisting of three marines with an M60 (note the rules for M60s on p14 of Ambush Valley). They also have a two man sniper team and have been equipped with CS gas grenades.

US Marines enter from the bottom of this picture.


PAVN / VC


The Viet Cong mission is simple - stop the Marines from getting a foothold on their side of the canal by the end of turn 10, for which they receive +10VPs. They also get +1VP for every Marine killed, captured or seriously wounded in the course of the operation.

The Viet Cong are Confident, with d6 initiative and normal supplies. They have d6 TQ and d12 morale. They are classified as irregulars and benefit from out of contact movement.  They have a forward observer (NVA officer - d6/d10) who can call on off-table mortars. For the purposes of this scenario, the NVA spotter can allocate designated targets - see p13 for limitations to NVA off-board artillery. The VC in this scenario can use the NVA special rules Ambush, Lack of Initiative, Battle Plan and Determined to Win. All the communist RPGs are designated AP2.

Optionally give the VC a three man HMG or recoiless rifle team. Ideally, they should have a minimum of 30-40 soldiers operating in 6-7 man squads with at least two RPGs and two LMGs divided between them. They should have a three man HQ squad led by an NVA officer (TQ d6/ morale d10) who can also spot for artillery in the same way as the FO.

Suggested set up from the VC / NVA side of the table



Monday, 5 March 2018

The Year of Big Battles

I'm finding I have less time for gaming this year, but more for researching potential new games. In particular I am enjoying reading up on military history with a view to writing some tabletop miniatures scenarios of my own. This post looks at some of the topics I'd like to explore this year, as opposed to the 'throw down' games like Frostgrave, which require less thought and planning. For example, I know there is enthusiasm for a return to Warhammer 40,000 at Easter, but this will likely just require me to adjust my Necron army list and perhaps deploy my Monolith to plug the gaping hole I've got there in terms of heavy firepower. More on that in a later post!

 

HUE 1968


The first battle I'll be looking at this year is Hue. This was the battle in February 1968 for control of the old imperial capital of Vietnam/Annam which occurred as part of the Tet Offensive. It was a big urban battle which saw forces of both the Viet Cong and People's Army of Vietnam occupy and defend against the US Marine Corps, supported by their South Vietnamese/ARVN allies.

A lot of the Vietnam era battles you see played out on the tabletop tend to revert to the common perceptions of the war in the minds of Western wargamers, namely of rural engagements among the padi fields, but much of the fierce fighting took place in either relatively underpopulated areas, or in the case of Tet, was distinctly urban in character. It is also the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive, so I thought it worth considering one or more scenarios inspired by or drawn from that battle.

I have mulled over the rules to use and have alighted on Force on Force, mainly because I'm familiar with it already, and because it has the ability to scale up from platoon level games to company level battles. This will allow me to add more models when I paint them.

ISANDLWANA 1879


The second of the big battles is Isandlwana, one of the two most famous battles of the Zulu War and the topic of the film Zulu Dawn. I've been wanting to put on some form a Isandlwana re-fight for some time, but as is my wont, have been pontificating over rules and how best to write a scenario for this. I think I'm looking at a scale of approximately 1 figure = 30 men; a British infantry company would have roughly 10-12 miniatures on the table. Zulu regiments (iviyo) just much bigger, with some estimated at more than five times the size of a British company. This represents a bit of a challenge at 28mm scale, as 40-50 figures in a regiment is a bit unwieldy. Hence, I'm looking at running the battle using rules like Black Powder or Field of Battle which abstract the size effect a little.

Another issue with Isandlwana is how to represent the spectacularly poor British leadership. As with other colonial disasters, the massacre at Isandlwana resulted from poor command decisions, faulty scouting and a general lack of appreciation of the true danger represented by the Zulu impi. When the Zulus were able to get their act together, they could be truly devastating and were rightly feared by many neighouring African tribes. Black Powder as a set of rules is interesting in that it allows the scenario designer to write poor leadership into the battle, and in this case the British leadership was very poor indeed. My plan is to leave this battle set up for a while, as it may require more than one go to get it right.

BERLIN 1945


The third battle is Berlin 1945. This is a big one, as it represented the last big battle in Europe during WW2, with the Soviets moving into the city to finish off the last defenders of the Third Reich. I plan to use some commercial scenarios for this one rather than write my own, but I'm undecided at the moment for which WW2 set to use. The front runners here are Battleground WW2, Arc of Fire and Bolt Action. Of the three I've only played Bolt Action before. We have staged city battles on the Eastern Front before, so this is not new country for us. You can see a version using Disposable Heroes here, and Point Blank here.

BADLI KI SERAI 1857


The fourth battle is from the Indian Mutiny. Again, the Mutiny is one of those conflicts which has become somewhat stereotypical in the eyes of wargamers. It is typically represented as sieges, with rebels attacking British / East India Company forces in entrenched positions, often with the prospect of a British relief force just over the horizon. Some of the engagements in India during this period did indeed follow this pattern, but there were many others that seem to have largely been forgotten.

Thus we come to Badli ki Serai, which was one of the earlier and smaller battles in this war. Essentially, in the early days of the Mutiny, rebel forces had taken Delhi with a view to establishing the city as their base. Incredibly, some British engineers had blown up the arsenal in Delhi - along with themselves - in an effort to deprive the rebels of ammunition. The rebel leaders wanted to use the last of the Mughal emperors, Bahadur Shah Zafar, now living in retirement in Delhi, as a figurehead to rally support in northern India.

The East India Company response was to send an initial force down the Grand Trunk Road towards Delhi from the north. As it turned out, this would prove far too small to even effectively besiege Delhi. The British were also hampered by the tendency of their commanding officers to fall sick and die, which was an ongoing hazard for all ranks in India at this time. The rebels decided to dig in at a position across the Grand Trunk Road that was screened by a walled village and a caravanserai in an effort to stop the British from getting to Delhi.

This is an interesting battle as it has the British assaulting a fairly static defensive position held by a mixed force of sepoy rebels and irregular forces. Again, a set of rules which can model the more disorganized nature of the mutineer command structure is preferable for this campaign.

ROLICA 1808

 

Rolica was the future Duke of Wellington's first battle fought against the French in the Peninsular War, a small but vicious sideshow in the Napoleonic Wars, also known as Napoleon's 'Spanish Ulcer'. Wellesley, as he was then known, had returned from a successful initial career serving the interests of the East India Company in a series of campaigns in South Asia and had been appointed to lead a British expeditionary force to Portugal to keep the Portuguese ports out of Napoleon's hands.

1808 was his first real opportunity to show Horse Guards what he could do against a well-organised European army (under Henri Delaborde). His initial landing caught Delaborde off-guard and created a novel situation where the French were on the defensive against a larger, well-trained British force.

I've got a couple of initial models for this battle. There is a very good scenario for Black Powder in the Albion Triumphant supplement (page 79). However, the attack on a prepared position in Charles Grant's Scenarios For All Ages is obviously inspired by Rolica. What you have here is a bigger British force taking a ridge line which is defended by a smaller French army that only needs to delay the British before falling back. It is not a 'faites ou mourez' situation for the French.

Later in that summer the French were able to respond in numbers, with an attack against the British at Vimeiro.

But Vimeiro is likely to be something for next year. The Rolica project will require some work and some decisions on how large the units should be in terms of actual miniatures. It is a small battle as far as Napleonic engagements went; it could be played in its entirety using something like Republic To Empire. I don't want something too technical for this however.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Frostgrave: Genie in the Bottle

Ragner leads his men into the city...
We returned to the icy precincts of Frostgrave this week. Reading the rules background, I can't help feeling there is a Dungeons and Dragons campaign setting here. I'm mulling over in my head what a map of Frostgrave would look like! But to the action. Last time my adventurers / looters, led by the soothsayer Ragner MacDervish, got a bit of a mauling from a rival band of goblins and orcs, but redeemed themselves near the end when their goblin apprentice was slain. Sadly, that was through no skill of mine, but the luck of the dice or, er, Skeggi Boozehound's axe.

Poor old Skeggi is resting up, as he was wounded in the last encounter. The party has discovered an abandoned library and have made that their base of operations. With Skeggi recovering, they have started looking around for more magical texts, but to no avail so far.

To replace Skeggi, Ragner decided to hire a second man at arms, as the party needs a bit of combat muscle. In addition, a new dog was purchased to replace the one killed in the last encounter. Let's now get to the action.

We played Genie in the Bottle this time, in addition to which for the first time we made use of Ulterior Motives, a deck of cards which, I suspect, was inspired by Malifaux. It gives the sides additional, secret objectives which can bring them further benefits. Ragner's was to get to a trap door which would open a magical vortex, but at the same time grant an opportunity to find some additional loot.

Tracker encounters some giant rats!
The centre of the field was dominated by an ancient mansion, and to the right was a large, icy ridge on which stood an abandoned inn. I split my party into two - Ragner took the right with a man at arms, a tracker and the zombie he raised before the game. His apprentice, Nordgrint, took the left with a second tracker and the pack of dogs. This seemed to work well.

The game was defined by a number of key phases in the action. In phase one, I was able to secure two treasure chests, and assigned my man at arms and a tracker to remove them. The man at arms was my best fighter, and all he needed to do for this game was climb onto the icy ridge, pick up a chest, and man handle it off the field.

My party got into the mansion first. I posted a tracker there with a bow who tried his best to stop the goblins grabbing the chest that sat in the gateway to the mansion's grounds. He managed the kill one goblin early on, but it was not enough to stop a second goblin from finally making off with the chest.

My other tracker found another chest guarded by a zombie, which he and the apprentice Nordgrint managed to dispatch. Nordgrint sent the tracker home with the chest, but he was ambushed on the way by giant rats. He shot one with his bow as they closed in on him, and killed the second with his staff, then picked up the chest again and left.

My pack of hounds proved their usefulness once again. This time I used them to get in among the goblins, and particularly to go after their witch. In this game you really need a weapon that can harass the enemy and stop him from doing things. However, I was also aided by the fact that almost immediately the goblins had found the lamp with the genie in it. The genie was keeping them occupied and their apprentice was having trouble casting anything. He was a poor stand in for his predecessor!

The squigg tackles the genie while a goblin grabs the chest.


The goblins came up with a good solution for the genie by setting their squigg on it. The squigg kept the genie occupied, allowing the rest of the goblins to get on with business. Later on he used a zombie to distract it as well. These were good tactics as the genie was invulnerable to normal weapons, and neither of us has much, if any, magic that can more than distract a creature like this.

Dogs get in among the goblins.
Back in the mansion, which was filling up with mud as the goblins bombarded it with mud spells, Ragner climbed to the roof, where he was more exposed than I expected, but there was a treasure chest up there. Unluckily for him, two orc archers were up on the icy ridge to his right. He was also in sight of the trap door which was on the same ridge, and he had a potion of teleportation in his pocket. It looked so close!

Frostgrave is a great game because it inevitably faces the player with hard tactical calls. Here Ragner was confronted with the choice of whether to risk all and use his potion of teleportation to get to the trap door before the goblins, or grab the chest on the roof of the mansion. It was as tough call. The trap door sat on the ridge, and Ragner would have no support from the rest of his party. My mind was made up for me when the soothsayer was hit by an arrow from the orcs, costing 75% of his health. He promptly downed the potion, teleporting off the roof with the chest to eventual safety.

Meantime my dogs had caught up with the goblin witch, forcing her to use her potion of invulnerability to keep her safe from their fangs. The goblin apprentice continued to struggle to distract the genie with various spells - I wasn't sure what he was trying to cast, but the curses from the other side of the table told me it was not going well.

With two chests off the table and a third on its way, it was time to begin withdrawing my troops. Both Nordgrint and the second tracker left the mansion, stumbling through the mud that was now knee high on the ground floor. The dogs covered their retreat but were gradually picked off. However, that's what they're there for. They're fast and cheap.

We emerged the victors this time, with the majority of the chests. We've also picked up a couple of grimoires which include spells Ragner can learn, and a magic crossbow +2! Counting the final cost, we had one dog killed outright but the rest of the pack will recover quickly. It's now time to ponder whether we buy a second dog or look at recruiting someone who can shoot a crossbow. Both trackers are fair shots with their bows, but a marksman would be an interesting prospect. The dwarf Skeggi is recovering and should be able to rejoin the party for our next foray into Frostgrave!