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Hack For More

WEEK 35: 01/04/05

by Edward McEneely
Jan 11,2005


Hack For More

WEEK 35: 01/04/05

The last session of the old year went well enough, and I think we all know by now what that means for Week 35.

Honestly, this is one of the few sessions where I've been (a) so frustrated with myself that I've started to really blame the players, and (b) where I wanted to have a re-do.

I'm not going to force a re-do on the PCs, though. This campaign will succeed or fail on the strength of my ability to run it and cope with the unexpected. I'm not going to learn anything from it if I do that, the PCs' sense of excitement will be ruined by the knowledge that anything that goes wrong can be re-done rather than rolled with, and I might as well send everyone home, make up my own ending for every week, and play Avalon Hill's The Guns of August with myself every Tuesday night instead. Hey, actually, that could be kind of fun. Too bad for me that I still have a shred of journalistic integrity, huh?

Additionally, and I don't want to mention any names here, but someone in the group whose name begins with "E" and ends with "H" told me that they didn't really like the way that Week 34 was written up; it didn't give them any insight into what I was thinking as the GM. In the absence of ecstatic praise of the previous column, I went with the prevailing winds, mainly because I have a lot to bitch about this week.

The group began in media res as they heard alarm klaxons ringing and saw a crowd of former Confederates fast approaching what I've taken to calling in my head the "zombie farm". They dithered and dickered and couldn't seem to make a decision to save their lives as the confederates got closer and closer, so finally I pulled a bunch of spare Foreign Legionnaires out of my hat and had them take the PCs prisoner. A little bit of chatter between them and the Confederates indicated a certain amount of contempt between the two factions.

Two asides. One: I'm being hard on the players. It's difficult to think on your feet and to remember something from seven days ago if you're busy at work and dealing with everything that's happened over the holidays and then have to suddenly be brilliant at pretending to be from the 1880s and coping with zombies and Confederate soldiers. It's hardly fair to expect them to MacGyver their way out of things. Two: I was planning, through not-so-subtle clues, to indicate that the French Legionnaires and the Confederates were uneasy partners and that both of them might betray each other. As it turns out, I overdid it.

Moving along, the players were taken for an interview with General Boulanger, the French commander. Boulanger is one of those weird historical figures that nobody in the US (or even Canada, excepting maybe Quebec, is likely to know about). A popular conservative politician and soldier, Boulanger rose to become War Minister in the late 1880s and attempted to place himself in power via an exceptionally ill-thought-out and abortive coup. He ended up fleeing France; he returned in the 1890s to shoot himself on the grave of his mistress. (Georges Clemenceau famously acerbically remarked that he died the death of a Second Lieutenant.) Unfortunately, my only source on Boulanger (aside from a criminally brief entry in my Encyclopedia of Military Leaders) is an early 1990s-era biography of Clemenceau that's shockingly vague on dates. Not a lot of English-language sources seem to exist, although I'm told the ubiquitous wikipedia has an entry on him. Thus, I had to resort to rather broad strokes to depict Boulanger, who as far as can be told, was charismatic and charming. At any rate, Boulanger tried to convince the players to forget everything they'd seen, in exchange for a large cash bribe, blah, blah, blah.

This was supposed to be a "hero moment". I put this in special, for the players, so they could be heroic and outright refuse. Unfortunately, I was a victim of the postmodern era. Damn you, Foucault! Damn you, Kristeva! And as for you, Derrida, curse youuuuuu!

In other words, the PCs decided to pretend to go along with it. Or, at least, Seth did. Erich was noncommittal, and Laura decided that her character (who has a Detect Lies skill of 16--for those of you unfamiliar with GURPS, this means you need to roll 16 or less on 3d6), was taken in by Seth's bluff and was getting panicky.

She was escorted from the room by two Legionaries, and here's where everything started to go so very, very wrong. I meant for the Legionnaires to be basically good guys who were sickened by what was going on. In my head, all they needed was a little thought-provoking dialogue from the PCs, and they would turn on Boulanger. Unfortunately, I guess it all stayed in my head, because when Laura's character was taken to the kitchen, she demanded a cup of tea. When the kettle was brought to her, she threw it in the face of one of her guards and started attacking the other with her derringer.

Meanwhile, Seth and Erich were being escorted up the stairs when the commotion started, and managed to distract and kill their two guards; Erich did so by stomping on one's windpipe. I ruled that as a Pinkerton, he could do it, since he'd probably broken a few strikes in his time, but still...dirty pool, old boy.

Laura's character meanwhile, was turning into a murder machine as her Berserk flaw was triggered and she started trying to tear a guard's throat out with her teeth, having emptied her revolver and misfired a stolen 11mm Chassepot needle-gun. (Not a sci-fi needlegun, but a real historical weapon. Check it out!)

Erich and Seth rushed to her rescue with purloined Chassepots of their own, and a few shots and bayonetings later, they had extricated her from her sticky situation she had found herself in.

Meanwhile, I had, in my excitement, figured out a way to mess things up more; I had the Confederates arrive with one of their walkers and decide to eliminate their erstwhile compatriots. An enormous firefight ensued as the players dashed to the second story of the French building and tried to figure out a way to defeat the walker.

Now, earlier, I had tried to hint to the players that the walkers were mechanically unreliable, and that out of three of them, two were always being worked on at any given time, but I guess I think a little differently from them, because they never even considered trying to sabotage them and thereby destroy them indirectly, rather than try and take one down face-to-face, which is what they in fact decided to do.

Now, once again, this is my fault. I can't expect players to base an entire plan of action off of one seemingly careless remark, and by this point in time, an indirect approach wasn't really an option. Still...

Erich vaulted onto the top of the walker and tried to get at the gunner, who was protected only by a gunshield. In an incredible moment (shamefully, the high point of the game for me), Erich critically failed his Dexterity roll, leapt over the gunshield, the gunner, and clean off the walker, plummeting a good fifteen or twenty feet to the ground and injuring himself pretty badly. (Fair enough. He knows GURPS pretty well, and min/maxed his way through character generation--he didn't have a lot of hit points to begin with, but he was in trouble now.)

The rest of the players foolishly followed, and by a freak stroke of luck, managed to knock loose the walker's explosive ammunition, which promptly detonated, destroying the steel behemoth. In the confusion, they fled the scene of the battle. In the distance, they saw another walker explode while exchanging fire with a French 75mm field gun (in truth, the Walker malfunctioned, though the PCs don't know that), and they decided to contact home using Laura's portable wireless. This was hindered because she didn't think the world's governments should know about a process for making zombies, and some fairly ridiculous and vague warnings (which would have been no use at all) were transmitted as a result, before a slightly-less vague transmission resulted in a promise of reinforcements on a Brazilian river gunboat in a few hours. All the PCs have to do now is wait it out.

All I have to do is get the adventure back on track and save my campaign. You'll know when I know.

We're Back To Just Using The Names Because I'm Cranky:

Ed (as a Legionnaire, talking to a Confederate): It seems that your organization cannot keep out outsiders.
Seth: To their credit, it seems they did a good job of keeping us in.

Ed: The French troops line you up and begin frog-marching you out.
Erich & Seth (snickering): Frog-marching!

Ed: I think we can reach a more satisfactory conclusion.
Seth: What, more satisfactory than death? I should hope so.

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What do you think?

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