Sunday, 30 April 2017

Modifications to Point Blank rules

At some point this summer, I'd like to run a game of Point Blank. I've been casting around looking for a game which can support WW2 skirmish battles, using multiple players per side. The ideal rules would let a player use 1-2 squads as part of a bigger, platoon level operation. I'm hoping to organise a game with a couple of players per side, and see how this goes.

Regular readers of this blog will recall we have had an attempt at Point Blank before. Thus far it is the best simulation I've found for modern small unit combat, where the player is styled in the role of the squad leader. I did have some reservations about the game we played, which you can learn about by reading my battle report. Hence, I've added some changes to the game below, to make it more easy to use in a multi-player environment, and perhaps make it a little more fun too!

In this version, the game uses a stack of playing cards. Each squad / player has a different suit. The cards activate units under the command of the squad leader. Each squad will activate on a draw of between two and 10. The Aces are kept for special events, which I will go into in a future post.

Veteran squads will also be able to use the Jack in their suit, which will allow them to activate TWO soldiers. Elite squads can use the Jack AND the Queen. In each case, court cards allow the player to activate two soldiers, or support weapons, or vehicles.

Conscripts REMOVE one card from their suit; Poor troops remove two, thus a Poor squad will only have seven cards in the deck.

The Joker brings the turn to its end, rather than players using up all their activation counters.

Aces are used to generate special events. I will go into more detail on these later, but basically they can be good or bad, depending on a roll of a d10. Aces can also be used to trigger scenario-specific events as well, should the umpire require them.

Typical examples include the onset of poor visibility (e.g. a snow storm), the unit running low on ammo, a wounded soldier shaking off his injury, the sudden discovery that one of your men is a pacifist, etc.

Kings are kept as special purpose cards for other events, as determined by the GM.

Hidden Movement

I'm also a fan of hidden movement in wargames, but really these systems need to be workable ones that will not slow a game down to a crawl. On pages 85-86 of Point Blank, there is a good hidden movement system, but I'd propose modifying it in the following ways.

  1. Unspotted soldiers are represented by counters. Some of these are dummy counters. The number of these can either be linked to the level of training of the unit, or the conditions prevailing during a given scenario (e.g. at night). I'd suggest no more than three dummy counters per squad.
  2. Counters are activated and moved like normal soldiers, regardless of their status. They only become flipped once a successful spot check is made against them, as per the rules on page 85.
  3. Spending three action points (i.e. moving more than 6") will automatically cause that counter to be revealed.
  4. Only counters that are actually soldiers may fire; once they do, while they remain hidden - i.e. no model is placed on the table - they do pick up a muzzle flash counter, which provides a +1 spotting bonus to the enemy.
  5. Once a soldier is spotted, he stays spotted unless an event roll allows him to hide again.
  6. Vehicles are never hidden under these rules, unless beginning a scenario in stationary concealment. Troops de-busing from a moving vehicle cannot go hidden.
In a future post, I'll look at my proposed random events table, which is triggered with the draw of an Ace card.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Waterloo campaign: now the problems start

Prussian artillery near Charleroi, morning of 16 June
South of Charleroi, 0545 June 16, 1815

Well, here we are, encamped with the bulk of the Prussian II Corp south of Charleroi. To my front is the French I Corps under Ney. Prussian artillery is still arriving and my opinion is we will need to hold here and stop the French getting across the river Sambre at Charleroi.

Finally heard back from Wellington - it sounds as if the British are currently as much in the dark as I am. Neither of us is sure of where Napoleon's main thrust will be. I think it would be prudent to keep II Corps here, and see if Ney would like to try the issue.

To my right Zeithen and I Corps are facing Van Damme and the French III Corps. Again, Van Damme has yet to cross the Sambre and Zeithen has wisely put out overnight cavalry pickets on the north bank of the river to keep an eye on any French efforts to get across.

However, the real problem, and one Dutch partisans have been warning me about, is the presence of French cavalry over in the Ciney/Huy area. As it turns out, large numbers of unidentified enemy horse have swept into Huy, getting across the Meuse and severing communications with Prussia, damn their eyes!

Priority must now be to get rid of them. To this end I am sending most of IV Corps' cavalry to sort this out. Intelligence indicates more French on the move to the south and east of III Corps, so it could well be that Napoleon is aiming to direct his main thrust againt me in the east. We just need to be able to confirm this. I have taken the liberty of sending a single division under Hacke due north out of Namur to secure Hannut, as I'm worried now.

Right now we must ensure the French do not get into Namur, and we free up our supply lines back to Prussia. I must admit, it is starting to look like Napleon already has the upper hand.

Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher, Furst von Wahlstatt, Charleroi, 16 June

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Dracula Dossier - the final analysis

I've not been keeping up to date with my Dracula Dossier posts, which perhaps I should have done, as it would have helped me with my analysis of what exactly was going on. The Dracula Dossier, written by Kenneth Hite and published by Pelgrane, is a large, sprawling investigative sand box of a campaign. Like a number of other Pelgrane offerings, it is not a linear campaign: it relies heavily on the abilities of an experienced referee to mould the plot to his own requirements. As such, it may not be described as a 'plug and play' option for GMs of Night's Black Agents, the rules system it was originally written for.

We didn't play it with NBA either - we used a homebew mish-mash of Call of Cthulhu and the new Delta Green. As a player, it is difficult to deduce what events and characters stemmed from the imagination of the aforesaid Hite, and what hailed from the fevered mind of our GM. Hence, anything I say needs to be taken with a substantial pinch of salt.

Dracula Dossier took us almost a year to play, although with several periods of hiatus when a full complement of players was not available. While I enjoyed it immensely, I think for me two consistent difficulties emerged from it, one early on, and one roughly mid-way through the plot, which should be raised for those wondering whether to run this.

We had a good bunch of characters, and one aspect you do notice during any campaign is how the characters migrate from being two dimensional facades to well-rounded, consistent personalities. Hence, we had the cold-blooded GRU assassin who never left her agency, and was covertly aiding the Russian vampire project; the initially idealistic German counter-intel specialist who lost his bearings and became focused on purely eradicating the undead at any cost; the Israeli hacker cursed with bad luck and a dubious relationship with her journalist ex-husband; and the meticulous English ladies' man with an amoral streak.

I don't think the team represented a pleasant group of personalities, and they were more than capable of torturing and executing a London antiques dealer, making some student interns 'vanish' in a Russian forest, and exposing a group of underwear models to a firefight with werewolves that got them all killed. In the process a prestigious Belgravia mansion in London was blown up, the top floors of an office block in Rotterdam were destroyed, the parliament building in Bucharest was set on fire, German security personnel were framed for drug dealing, and an elderly Austrian security guard was roughed up in a museum. I could go on.

So we had characters with drives, with motivations behind their personalities. And in the system we were using, drives could be used to a degree to help restore lost Sanity. But as players we could probably have done more with this, I'm just not sure how. One particular issue was why the agents were putting themselves in harm's way, because this influenced their involvement in the plot. We began the story as members of Redline Corporate Solutions, a small industrial espionage outfit based in Zurich, that decided to 'go have a look' when a group of competitors in Malaga went missing. This led to the early discovery that Dracula was in fact real, as was evidenced by watching him carve up an SAS hit squad in graphic technicolour.

I can see now that the character of Natasha, the GRU agent, was motivated by the need the Russians had to gather material on the vampires and the British vampire program. My character, the Israeli hacker Carmel, was already disillusioned by her years in Mossad, and wanted to eventually expose the vampires to the world. To this end she uploaded all the evidence the team gathered to a secure FTP server on a regular basis, with a dead hand activation protocol that would distribute it to select media if something happened to her. I'm not entirely clear on what kept the other agents going - Max, our German comrade, eventually switched his drive to simply eliminating the vampires wherever he found them. But there was no central team goal or objective, other than an early decision to take down Dracula, something we only achieved by realising how keen he was on his brides, and doing for them first.

We also were not entirely clear on what Dracula was up to. A raid on the HQ of EDOM, the British government's vampire handling unit, led us to the conclusion that they were under-resourced and largely just interested in using Dracula as some kind of weapon against terrorists. Yet their control / knowledge of him was limited at best, and our team's knowledge of the European vampire network quickly outstripped theirs. It was also apparent that Dracula's brides were involved in some form of vampire tourism / VIP country club plot, but it didn't seem exactly world threatening and more an excuse to hang out with celebrities like Jeremy Clarkson.

While we celebrated our victory over Dracula eventually, we were still none the wiser on his plans, other than to keep running Romania as his private fiefdom. We provoked his eventual attack by simply assassinating those he cared about (who seemed to be off doing their own thing), leading him into a carefully prepared trap in Russia.

Dracula Dossier is a big and impressive sandbox investigation, and should not be embarked upon lightly. It can take agents the length and breadth of Europe. Think in terms of the epic Call of Cthulhu campaign Masks of Nyarlathotep, but make it more fragmented, more granular. Obviously there are key locations, like London, Bucharest and Munich, but it is down to the players to collate and regularly review an enormous amount of intelligence in every session, which requires focus from them and a helping hand from the GM.

Much has been said by Pelgrane and Hite especially about the unredacted copy of the novel Dracula, which was published alongside the campaign. The premise here is that the novel is the after action report of EDOM's first attempt to recruit Dracula for their purposes in the 1890s, and if you have read the original, the changes and additions are indeed entertaining. I enjoyed revisiting the book and its characters after more than 20 years since I first read it. But players need to be VERY dedicated to read this as a handout for a game, because it requires a high level of concentration to go through it looking for clues / evidence to support the ongoing investigation. GM's will have to judge the capabilities of their own group: if most of you are undergraduates reading English Literature, you should be fine. I don't think it is necessary for playing DD, however, and should be regarded as an additional embellishment for the uber-dedicated.

Dracula Dossier represents a new level of sophistication for the investigative sandbox campaign in RPGs. While I have bought it myself, and will read it, I remain of two minds as to whether I would ever try to run it. Like Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, it is one of those epics that should be attempted by ambitious groups looking for a career-defining challenge, but it is really not for the beginning to intermediate group.

Our GM, in his own ruminations on the campaign, has wondered whether Savage Worlds might not have been a better system for this game, and owners of Agents of Oblivion are advised to take a look at that supplement for a possible basis for running DD. It may also be worth cooking up a customised deck of adventure cards for the players. But that will probably be for a different post. Our campaign did result in a number of major battles which tested the homebrew rules system we were using to its limits, but that may also be because our group has a preference for action and combat to keep them awake of a Friday evening!

Friday, 7 April 2017

Just one vacancy left at UK Games Expo

In June I will be running three RPGs at UK Games Expo. Two of them have been written about on this blog previously, while a third could be a new run out for a scenario, unless I get a chance to play test it first in May at some point.

At the time of writing there is still one vacancy left for Project Prospero, my Delta Green game. This involves a scratch team of agents dispatched to a Caribbean island in the path of a massive hurricane. Their mission is to find out what is going on at a covert research facility on the island, destroy it, and make it look as if the storm was responsible. As they get into their helicopter, they only have a vague idea of what awaits them.

The game happens in real time - i.e. the agents have approximately four hours to get in and out of the research facility before the storm hits. This will probably be the last time I run this adventure, after which I will likely post it with full DG stats this site. It has already had an outing at Dragonmeet in 2015.

The following games are also now fully booked up: one is the final outing for Looking For Lucy, an adventure that began life as a starter for a Deadlands Noir campaign, but which I'll be running using Trail of Cthulhu this time.

The other is the first outing at a con of Fuel Stop, my Achtung Cthulhu scenario involving the crew of a stricken B29 bomber trying to make it back from a raid on Japan in 1945. I may run this at Free RPG Day this year, if I get my act together in time.

As I say, both these games are now fully booked up. If you are going to be at Games Expo and want to play Delta Green there is one seat left at that table. I hope to see you there.