Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Deadlands Noir At Dragonmeet

Just a quick post this week, as I'm insanely busy with work stuff. I will be attending Dragonmeet in London again this year, as I had much fun last year. It is at a new venue, the Novotel London West. Like Games Expo UK, I suspect it will continue to grow as interest in RPGs and board games increases.

I will be running Deadlands Noir in one of the afternoon slots with pre-gen characters adapted from the player characters that participated in my last campaign. For some bizarre reason, under the listings section, it declares I'll be using Fighting Fantasy Stellar Adventures - this is most definitely not the case, and I will be using Savage Worlds, which is what the game was written for.

I will be making efforts to rectify this error with the organizers at Dragonmeet. Hopefully!

A brief synopsis of the game for those remotely interested: The PCs are all members of a recently established New Orleans detective agency. The year is 1935. The cold war between the United and Confederate States has prevailed since the 1870s, despite both countries participating as allies in the Great War in Europe. A wealthy young widow has had her prize poodle Lucy stolen and wants it back. It doesn't sound like a challenging case, but the money is good and the detectives are keen to get themselves established within high society in the Big Easy...

Just remember - NOT using Fighting Fantasy!

Monday, 10 October 2016

Tour of Darkness: Into Laos

I'm a soldier of freedom in the army of man
We are the chosen, we're the partisan
The cause it is noble and the cause it is just
We are ready to pay with our lives if we must

Gonna ride across the river deep and wide
Ride across the river to the other side...

Dire Straits - 'Ride Across The River'

We left our Marines as they had just been ordered by the mysterious army intelligence officer, Major Schuler, to cross over into Laos to recover a camera from a crashed F4 Phantom. According to the current I Corps rules of engagement, as delivered to the Marines by their CO Captain Veneziano on their first day at FB Tripoli, this was illegal. Schuler stressed they would be on their own in Laos, with no support.

Their first obstacle was fording a very wide river. Luckily it was no deeper than waist high, and there were a number of sand banks at the crossing point still above water. Because of the width of the river, the soldiers would be very exposed, and they knew few of their weapons had the range to cover the squad from the Vietnamese bank.
"Roll to check for leeches..."

With over two hours until sunset, and with speed of the essence, Lieutenant 'Coop' Cooper decided to bring the whole squad across as quickly as possible. Unknown to him, a small group of four Viet Cong were posted on the Laotian bank. They had decided to wait for the Americans to get within short range of their AK47s before they opened fire (to avoid any penalties from medium range). They had the Marines dead to rights out in the water when one of them was spotted by the Rat, who started shooting first. Some of the American soldiers were able to take cover behind sand banks as the VC shot back.

Technically, the communists were in a good position, in shallow trenches and hidden in the jungle, but their muzzle flashes allowed the Marines to pinpoint them, and the unit's two big killers - Rat and Billy Bob, got to work again, with a well-placed grenade taking care of two guerrillas, and Rat killing a third with his sniper rifle. The Marines' radio man, PFC Josh Edgin, was hit and badly wounded. Luckily for him, corpsman Arnold 'Arnie' Seine was on hand to treat him before he expired.

Having finished off the VC, Coop decided to leave the wounded Edgin with Seine on the Vietnamese side of the river, and pushed on towards the crash site with only six Marines. The downed Phantom was easily located, but there was no sign of the camera in the wreckage. The body of one of the pilots was discovered, and it looked as if someone had carved pieces off him with a knife. Tracks around the site revealed that the other pilot had survived and had been captured and escorted away by men in sandals.

The Marines decided to follow the tracks - it looked like the enemy were not making much effort to cover their trail, making it easier for Rat and Jugula to follow them. The Marines were helped by the fact that the VC were more relaxed this side of the river, and not expecting to encounter US troops in Laos. Towards nightfall, the Americans spotted torchlight up ahead, and approached a ruined temple, overgrown with vines and trees.

The site was illuminated by torches, and scouting of the area revealed three VC sentries (the torches had been set there to provide illumination for a sniper who had been posted on overwatch in a tree overlooking the clearing). One guard was lured towards the jungle by Coop, who dispatched him with a machete, while another was killed by Jugula, using his compound bow. This allowed Rat to sneak up on the temple and climb the wall, disguised as a Viet Cong (he is a slight man, so was hoping not to alert anyone).

Inside the temple, Rat spotted three men standing by an altar, what looked like a North Vietnamese army officer, and two identical-looking American pilots. While Rat was observing, he was himself spotted by the VC sniper in a tree across the clearing, who opened fire on Rat. Coop decided to launch his attack on the temple, and the Marines swarmed in, shooting a third VC sentry and with Billy Bob popping a smoke grenade into the temple to screen them from the sniper. One of the pilots began chanting in a strange language, and Rat saw a wall of vines grow up around the trio by the altar, screening them from enemy fire (this was hidden from the others by the smoke).

Luckily for the Marines, the VC sniper's somewhat shoddy Chinese knock off of a Russian weapon jammed, and while he struggled with this, the Marines closed in on the altar. A wall of force was projected out at them from behind the vines, hitting them like a giant, invisible first, but Spirit rolls prevailed, and the Marines managed to down the NVA officer before he could do any damage.

One of the 'pilots' now chose this moment to flee straight towards one of the temple walls, impossibly seeming to disappear through it. Coop and Jugula gave chase, and found that a Gate spell had been used to create an emergency exit through the 15 foot wall for the fugitive. Following him through the gate, they saw him trying to flee into the jungle, now in his real guise of a Tcho Tcho shaman. Sadly for him, I was now nearly out of GM bennies, and three Marines began shooting at him with automatic weapons. He was scythed down in a vicious hail of lead.
VC sniper decides it is time to leave.

With that the fighting ended, as the lone VC sniper decided to fade into the jungle. The other pilot proved to be the real one, his feet strangely secured to the ground by vines. The camera was also found, next to the altar. Coop decided it was time for the Marines to leave, and they headed back to the river, taking the pilot with them. Seine and Edgin were picked up en route to their rendezvous with Major Schuler.

Schuler was pleased to take custody of the pilot and the camera, and said he might need the services of Coop and his men in the future. A medevac was organised for Edgin once the Marines were safely back in Vietnam.

Returning to base, the Marines were told the official story of the night's events should be that they were on an ambush patrol and tangled with some VC, end of story. However, it was not long before they were told they had earned two weeks of R&R in Bangkok. I like to think of them enjoying a few cold beers in a bar in Thailand, when they are approached again by Schuler, now wearing a loud batik shirt and mirror shades. Perhaps it is time to learn a little more about Delta Green?

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Tour of Darkness: Monkey Business

Cuter than you thought they were...?
Back to Tour of Darkness this week, where we had left our patrol of Marines under fire in the jungle. Luckily, Lieutenant 'Coop' Cooper had smelled tobacco smoke (from a hastily stubbed out cigarette) and alerted the rest of the unit, allowing some of the men to get off the trail. Ahead of them, a Viet Cong unit was opening fire.

This proved to be an interesting engagement. The VC plan was to ambush the Americans, then fall back down a trail, and hopefully the Marines would pursue them. They had thoughtfully dug a pit with punji stakes which would be waiting for the pursuers when they gave chase.

Things did not go entirely to plan for Charlie. Firstly, only the point man of the US patrol was hit, although he was badly hit and collapsed from multiple wounds. Everybody else managed to vacate the trail, and some Marines began returning fire. Plus, with all the jungle vegetation and long grass, once the Marines were off the trail, they got a lot harder to hit (in game terms, the target number to hit went from a 4 to an 8). Most of the Americans prudently hugged the dirt and stayed down, making them very hard to hit.

The VC were in a clearing, although taking advantage of long grass. However, they did not reckon with Billy Bob and his grenade launcher, which again quickly started doing considerable damage as he began dropping grenades into the middle of the VC unit. The Viet Cong commander gave the order to retreat, but the Americans still managed to kill most of the guerillas before they disappeared up the trail. Corpsman Arnie Seine managed to stabilise the badly wounded PFC Niese, while Coop called in a chopper for a medevac.

Coop ordered Sergeant Massie to search the bodies of the dead VC - no effort was made to pursue them. Rat and Billy Bob both climbed trees to go on overwatch. Massie found a gold medallion on one of the dead, but Rat spotted him trying to conceal it in his boot (rolling an 11 on his Notice), and Coop forced him to hand it over. Coop recognised the image as being similar to the foul elephant god they had encountered in statue form at Sau Vang, so hastily passed it on to Jugula.

As the helicopter approached to evacuate Niese, Billy Bob was suddenly attacked by wild monkeys while still in the tree. Altogether, five attacked him, but he lashed around himself with his machete, eventually killing three while he tried to climb down the tree. Three more monkeys converged on Rat, but this time the Marines spotted them, and they were quickly gunned down before they could attack the sniper. As the surviving monkeys tried to chase Billy Bob down the tree, the Marines managed to pick them off. Billy Bob survived with just one bite. I was a bit disappointed with this encounter - I had expected the monkeys to do more damage, and when Billy Bob climbed up a tree, I couldn't believe my luck. If he had taken a Shaken result, he was looking at 3d6 damage when he hit the ground, and his player knew it.
Not as cute as you thought they were...!

The helicopter arrived to pick up Niese, while Rat marveled at the uncharacteristic behaviour of the monkeys. Coop, realising that he had now lost his best point man, moved Rat up on to point. Which was lucky, because the sharp-eyed Rat spotted the punji trap easily once the soldiers moved 300 metres up the trail. The Viet Cong had already decided to prudently avoid further engagement.

The rest of the patrol went according to plan, with no further enemy contact, and the Marines made it back to Firebase Tripoli in one piece. Rat persuaded Jugula to give him the medallion, but could not figure out what it represented. Niese was sent to hospital in Japan, while Gee returned to the unit from Da Nang.

The Marines rested up at FB Tripoli for a few days, before Captain Veneziano sent them out again, this time to set up a night ambush on one of the trails intel suspected the North Vietnamese were using to infiltrate into the South. En route to the ambush location, they received orders by radio to rendezvous with a Major Schuler from Army intelligence. The major duly met them in a clearing, arriving by helicopter. He quickly briefed Coop on a fast developing situation across the border in Laos.

Apparently a reconnaissance flight - an F4 Phantom - had been shot down while taking photos over Laos, a couple of hours previous. As the nearest unit to the border (less than an hour away on foot), the Marines were ordered to go into Laos and retrieve any survivors and the camera from the plane. Officially, they were not meant to be there, but the intelligence the plane may have acquired was considered vital. The Marines were given the likely location of the crash site. No assets would be available to support them once they crossed into Laos. They would be on their own.

To be continued...

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Starting in a Napoleonic wargames campaign

Gerhard von Blucher
I'm recovering from severe bronchitis, so was not able to run the third part of my Tour of Darkness game this week, which was disappointing. Apologies to anyone awaiting an update on that. Instead, I've finally got around to something else I have had in the pipeline, namely a Waterloo strategic campaign in which I have enlisted. I have landed the role of one of the Prussian generals, none other than Blucher himself! Hence, I'm spending a somewhat wet weekend in Sussex working out my initial deployments.

The campaign is being managed by a neutral umpire in Canada, and I am assuming that hidden movement plays a big part in the whole process - i.e. just like the historical commanders in 1815, you don't have the benefit of satellite recon! Given that this blog is publicly available, and there is every chance that the French players may be reading this, I will have to be deliberately vague on some aspects of my operations. Indeed, much of the information you see on this blog will be common knowledge to the French players.

I'm quite excited about getting this campaign started. My familiarity with the Waterloo campaign (as opposed to the actual battle) is somewhat limited. Hence, I've done a little bit of reading up. Lack of communications between the Prussians and the Anglo-Dutch army seems to have been one key concern in the early stages of the campaign. Given I've had no contact with Wellington so far, this seems to be evolving along historical lines!

When looking at a campaign like this, you are tempted to review the historical deployments first. In my case, I had a look at the geographical situation in the first instance, then at the available Prussian forces. I immediately came to some conclusions about where my corps should be, and saw that they were very similar to Blucher's. However, I may also make some alternative deployments that the great man did not, largely because I can, and there may have been practical operational considerations for his dispositions that I can happily ignore!

The great thing about playing in a game like this is having no idea what the opposition is up to, or which direction they are going to come from. It is the classic double blind situation, which makes everything all the more exciting. Hence you need to be quite cautious in your initial dispositions - at least, I am. Luckily, I've got some knowledge about the practicalities of Napoleonic warfare, and what is possible for the French army and what is not.

The Prussians begin with four army corps in eastern Belgium. At this stage I am able to detach individual brigades and divisions to other locations. I'm being prudent, keeping detachments within easy reach; for the main part I'm using advance detachments to cover key river crossings and approach routes, but in some areas they have been deployed so that they can react quickly to fast-moving situations.

One must also bear in mind the fact that, in this simulation as in history, the French could move more quickly, and this was a key operational aspect of the success of Napoleon's armies. Hence, my Prussian commanders will need to choose wisely to avoid being outflanked. More on this as and when I have further news. I would go into more detail on my strategic thinking, but at this stage don't want to disclose too much to French spies!

The Prussian army on the march!

Monday, 26 September 2016

Tour of Darkness: the Battle of Sau Vang

The last of the Arkham Pickmans...
Two weeks ago, our unit of Marines was sitting down to a rice planting festival feast in the village of Sau Vang, in the Ah Shau Valley. They were very surprised when three of their number passed out, and quickly realised that their food was drugged. Platoon sergeant Jugula had fired off a few rounds from his tommy gun in response, only for the Marines to be attacked by hostile villagers armed with machetes and bamboo poles.

In a close fought melee, while the rest of the peasants ran screaming, the Marines resorted to machetes and point blank bursts of fire from their M16s to fend off their attackers. Medical corpsman Arnie was wounded, and there were a few other close calls, but flak jackets and M1 helmets proved useful protection.

In the midst of the fight, Jugula began to feel a little odd: he was seized by extreme pain and a burning sensation throughout his being. Smoke began coming off his skin, and his hair stood on end. As he was crouching in agony, one of his men pointed out a richly dressed woman in the window of the headman's hut, chanting, with her eyes closed and arms upraised. It was not long before multiple bursts of M16 fire put and end to her, and to Jugula's tribulations.

Shortly thereafter, the fight ended, as Billy Bob knocked out the last peasant, the rest having fled out to the fields around the village. Rat and an NPC Marine searched the headman's hut, and apart from the dead body of the woman, discovered a secret compartment in the floor, in which were concealed some ancient wooden tablets, inscribed with Chinese writing. Rat decided to keep them for himself - although Billy Bob also knows he has them.

The Marines searched the rest of the village, and it was lieutenant Cooper who came across the old temple on the outskirts of Sau Vang. Here, he discovered a baleful statue of a disturbing, monstrous, elephant-headed deity. Its eyes seemed to follow him around the temple, eventually causing him to empty his M16 into the statue. The gunfire brought Jugula running, and he did the same with his SMG. The statue looked to be made of wood, and covered in gold leaf. The Marines decided it would be prudent to burn the whole temple.

Next, the lone prisoner was interrogated. He proved to be largely uncooperative, although he claimed the attack on the Marines was staged by communist infiltrators in the village, and that they had coerced him.

Luckily for the Marines, Jugula had posted a couple of men on watch, and it was one of these that now noticed a lone Vietnamese soldier in communist fatigues and a pith helmet sneaking towards the village using a padi dike for cover. Rat climbed onto the roof of the headman's hut, and was able to snipe the soldier. This, however, caused his comrades, who were also sneaking up on the village, to open fire.

Two NPC Marines were pinned in a hut on the edge of the village, but did a good job of keeping the North Vietnamese soldiers busy, while Rat continued to pick them off one by one from his vantage point. Coop and Jugula took cover in a nearby hut, and sought to direct the fight while lying flat on the floor. Billy Bob eventually took a hand, using his M79 grenade launcher to good effect. The end result was that the surviving NVA troops fled, but none made it alive to the cover of the jungle. Sadly, PFC Pickman had been shot and killed in the course of this engagement.

Corpsman Arnie recommended that the unit end its patrol and call in a helicopter for extraction to Firebase Tripoli. Coop took his advice, but the Marines had to wait a bit for a CH46 to come and get them. Luckily no more communist troops appeared, despite the smoke from the burning temple roiling into the sky.

Another pagan temple goes up in smoke...

Back at FB Tripoli, PFC Gee was medevaced to Da Nang for treatment. Coop briefed captain Veneziano on the patrol, explaining that the Marines had been ambushed by communist sympathizers at Sau Vang, which Veneziano seems to have accepted. Sau Vang has now been noted as a suspect hamlet by intelligence.

While the Marines rested at Tripoli, Rat began the translation of the Chinese tablets, which seem to be a holy text relating to some kind of Asian deity that is said to dwell in the hills. He learned a ritual from the tablets (in game - Fear spell) but is now becoming more unhinged. The weather has also deteriorated as the spring monsoon begins, with torrential downpours punctuated by mist that reduces visibility to less than 100 metres.

The Marines also debated what to do about top sergeant 'Massive' Massie, whom they believe has tried to kill the Rat by hiding a viper in his sleeping bag and may / may not have laid a booby trap on a trail they were using. Massie is attended by a small posse of mean looking Marines called the Bad News Boys who may / may not be involved in his drug running activities. Eventually the players hit on the idea of persuading Veneziano to let them take Massie - and only Massie - with them on their next patrol, so that they could have the 'benefit of his experience.' Massie didn't seem happy about this when Veneziano agreed, but couldn't pull rank on Coop. Down two men, Coop decided to take corporal Wheeler with him this time, as Wheeler was keen for a crack at Charlie.

"Hey, that's my call sign!"
The new patrol was a recon mission along the border with Laos, to look for signs of enemy activity and perhaps engage any communists infiltrating over the frontier into South Vietnam. The terrain was dense jungle, with little sign of human habitation. Coop kept himself in the centre of the patrol, next to his radio man. Suddenly, they heard someone using their own call sign on the radio. Although there was plenty of interference, they heard the voice calling down an artillery strike on their position. Before the order could be countermanded, the Marines heard shells incoming. They scattered into the jungle to avoid the barrage. Sadly, Wheeler was not lucky, and took a direct hit, vaporizing him instantly.

Coop got on the radio to Tripoli to stop any further artillery. He managed to raise Veneziano, who was of the opinion that communications had somehow become compromised by the enemy. Until they could figure out what was going on, he ordered the patrol to keep radio silence unless absolutely essential.

The patrol camped overnight in torrential rain without incident. In the morning, they pressed on. Rat noted some monkeys following the soldiers in the treetops. He consulted Massie who said they might be hoping the Marines would drop some food. Close to noon, before the lunch stop, Coop suddenly smelled tobacco smoke. With seconds to spare, he ordered his men off the trail, just as the jungle erupted with enemy fire...