Monday, 12 September 2016

Savage Worlds Tour of Darkness

This week, while our regular GM takes a break to tackle work, I finally got to run my Vietnam War mini-campaign. I had originally intended returning to my Deadlands Noir urban sandbox, but the plot there has become quite complex, and with a new-ish player at the table, I felt it was a tall order expecting him to catch up on a complex tale that has been running on and off for more than two years.

This Vietnam campaign uses Tour of Darkness for Savage Worlds, but includes elements of Realms of Cthulhu as well. The year is 1966, and the players are part of a platoon of US Marines assigned to Firebase Tripoli in the Ah Shau Valley. The firebase is there to help interdict the flow of troops and supplies from the Ho Chi Minh Trail into South Vietnam.

We have started off with a group of five player characters, namely:

  • Medical Corpsman Arnold "Arnie" Seine, who can irritate his comrades by spontaneously slipping into French. I'm not sure whether he is Quebecois or Cajun, but he's picked up a -1 Charisma penalty as a result!
  • PFC Billy-Bob Bottle, the team's grenadier
  • PFC Roland "The Rat" Wochowski, a graduate of the Marine sniper school and a natural linguist.
  • Corporal Hunting Feather, aka Jugula, a Native American starting his second tour in the Nam. He is tattoed and bloodthirsty.
  • Lieutenant Zeb "Coop" Cooper - a green lieutenant just arrived in country.
The squad flew into Firebase Tripoli as part of a routine supply run. They were introduced to the commander of the base, Captain Bill Veneziano. They also met some of the other members of their platoon (NPC soldiers being run by me). Jugula had a run in with Sergeant "Massive" Massie, a 6' 5" muscled black marine who made it clear that he was running the base, and that Jugula ought to respect his authority. Later. as the troops were bedding down for the night, The Rat found a poisonous snake in his bed, which Jugula removed, but he suspects it may have had help in finding its way into Wochowski's sleeping bag.

In the morning, they were briefed on their first mission, namely a routine patrol over 48 hours, visiting three villages and checking in with the headmen at each settlement to see if they have noticed any signs of enemy activity. The marines took five men with them, but decided against taking an M60 gunner. Bottle was toting his grenade launcher, and took point.

A couple of hours into their first patrol, Bottle stepped on a toe popper booby trap and wounded his foot. He was patched up by corpsman Arnie, but Lt Coop decided to replace him with PFC Niese on point. Just as a note, I do enjoy the way Savage Worlds manages allied NPCs. It requires less heavy lifting by the GM than many other systems.

The squad reached their first destination, Xanh Nam, close to midday, which they established to be completely deserted, although with obvious signs of recent habitation. A search of the village uncovered two small boys hiding in a rice cache under one of the huts. They had been hidden there by their mother, and said the villagers had been taken away in the night by men speaking Vietnamese, but did not know whom. The marines established the villagers had left heading north, in the direction of Nhur Chu, their next destination.

Taking the two boys with them, the squad moved north. En route, PFC Niese spotted what looked like some abandoned communist webbing and a pack on the trail. Bottle tossed a rock at it, and, sure enough, it exploded, proving to be a booby trap. Jugula also noticed a cigar stub of the type he has seen Sgt Massie smoking. Moving on, the soldiers noted that the tracks they were following left the trail before they got to Nhur Chu, but Cooper decided to stay on mission.

The M 79 grenade launcher

At Nhur Chu, the soldiers stopped to speak to the headman, who seemed nervous but claimed he had seen no enemy soldiers, although he had seen Sgt Massie move through the village four days previous. It was also made obvious that the villagers grow marijuana and sell it to Massie in substantial quantities.

Jugula noticed six of the villagers were young men with military hair cuts. The marines decided to interrogate one, and he was persuaded by the Vietnamese-speaking Rat to tell them he had been press-ganged into the North Vietnamese army. He said he and his friends were deserters hiding out. He also informed the marines that there were NVA units in the vicinity, and agreed to let them  know if he saw any communist troops. Cooper decided to leave the two boys at Nhur Chu. The headman told him that Xanh Nam had been inhabited as recently as two days ago, and said he suspected the villagers there had been abducted by the NVA, possiblhy to serve as porters on the Ho Chi Minh trail. He said that the inhabitants of Sau Vang, the next hamlet, were aloof and generally arrogant, and that relations between Nhur Chu and Sau Vang were poor.

Pressing on, the marines were ambushed by a sniper, who hit PFC Gee, bringing up the rear. The Rat spotted the bunker the sniper was using and pointed it out as the soldiers took cover on both sides of the trail. Bottle used his M79 to lay smoke across the trail, and then Jugula and Cooper led an outflanking move while Arnie treated Gee. A grenade was popped into the bunker's aperture. Cooper ordered a search for other access points, and a trap door was uncovered, leading down into a tunnel. Cooper decided to go into the tunnel himself, backed up by Jugula. It led directly back to the bunker, where he found a spent cartridge from an old WW2 M1 Garand rifle. There was no sign of the sniper. The soldiers debated whether to medevac Gee, but as he was still able to walk, Cooper determined they should press on. Now two marines are hobbling.

Approaching Sau Vang as dusk fell, the unit chose to bivouac overlooking the village and move in at dawn. Here they found the villagers preparing for a festival for planting rice; the headman invited the marines to stay for food and dancing, although Cooper ordered his men not to drink the rice wine. Jugula and Rat stood guard while Bottle joined in with the dancing - despite his bad foot. Cooper began to feel woozy, despite avoiding the booze, while Jugula noticed similarities in the dancing and chanting to a ritual he had seen enacted on a reservation back in America in his youth. Cooper then realised that three of his marines, Starr, Edgin and Pickman, were asleep. Staggering to his feet, he understood his men had been drugged. Luckily, Arnie was on hand to apply adrenalin to the lieutenant.

Jugula, realising something was wrong, opened fire with his trademark Thompson SMG into the air, bringing a halt to the festivities. At that point, some angry looking villagers began arming themselves with machetes and bamboo spears...

To be continued...