Saturday, 23 May 2015

Combat missions - Round 1 - Battle for Talathen sector.

Now before I go any further i'd just like to make a few things clear. I won't be doing detailed battle reports, because they take a lot of time and note taking. So it will be highlights

I'll also mention I didn't take any photos as my camera was at the office when we played. One of our players did the photos, so it's more of a random selection than if I had set out to write a full report.

How missions work in the Campaign


Well, considering this is a narrative campaign and not a "hard points" campaign, the missions can be quite varied in the balence of points. In some cases, the rebels will be out-gunned and over-matched, but have defined objectives. At other times they will have the element of surprise, so will be able to bring greater forces against the Empire.

I start off with a preconceived idea of how the scenario will work in my head and then modify it based on the tactics roll made during the planning stage. A good roll will make for an easier mission, a bad roll ups the difficulty considerably. 

We now have proper rules for this, but these missions were done before I created those rules and were based on feedback from players. They said they wanted more control on how their planning shaped the mission. 

Now these first three missions may seem quite easy, and that was intentional. The Rebellion in the sector totally had the element of surprise on their side, and I want to use them as tutorial games to remind everyone of the different rules. As the campaign goes on, the difficulty will increase.

I'm also keeping track of technology and escalation as the campaign goes on. For example, this round of missions takes place only a month or so after the Battle of Yavin, so I didn't want Tie Defenders and Phantoms making an appearance. 


So, here is a quick rundown of the missions for round one. 

Squadron Command - Assassination mission at Talathen VII



A high ranking imperial officer, one of the Moff's general staff was making a visit to Primm Station on Talathen VII for empire day. 

The Rebellion caught wind of this and decided to send a headhunter squadron to hunt some heads. Now in order to keep things sane i'm limiting most starfighter missions to 8 ships. It's a good number to manage, while still giving each battle a "squadron level" feel to it. 12 will be the absolute upper limit for a big fight. There is also the practical limitations of only have 4 of most fighters. 

So the Rebel squadron consisted of Lt Blout, 3 Veteran z-95's and 4 rookie z-95's. All armed with concussion missiles, the only tech card that Starfighter command has. 

Due to a really bad planning roll, the Z-95's deployed first and scattered into pairs. Also, the Lambda shuttle carrying the target also had a person the rebellion didn't want to kill on it as well as the target ("rebel prisoner" upgrade) and the Tie's were upgraded from Academy pilots, to Obsidian squad. 

The objective: Kill the Lambda before it escapes off the board edge. 

The Imperial plan was simple. Push the lambda shuttle ahead as quickly as possible, and try to engage each pair of Z-95's with 4 ties and destroy them bit by bit, or force them to break away and be out of position to hunt the shuttle. 

As you can see on the right, even when flying in formation you can completely lose track of a fighter :)

My plan mostly worked, with the ties shooting down 3 Z-95s and forcing the z-95s to either park in front of their guns at short range, or lose pursuit of the Shuttle. 



The shuttle nearly got away, on the last possible round to stop it, one Z-95 (I think Blout, or his wingman) got to get one last shot on it with it's shields down. The range ruler just touched range 3 and the concussion missile did the job. 

Even though this was a "starter mission" the failure on the planning roll made it into a real challenge. Credit to the rebels, although they killed zero ties, they focussed on the one ship that mattered and killed that. 




Fleet Command - Raid mission at Nimbala


The fleet commander was initially confused when I informed him that his Fleet operation was going to take place on the X-wing scale. 

Then he remembered that I had the X-Wing corvette and got pretty darned excited about flying it into battle. 

This was another objective based mission. The goal was to destroy the enemy fighters and knock out the freighters shields to make it surrender. Or to simply blow up the freighter, but doing so would mean they go less rewards. 

The corvette was supported by 4 rookie Z-95s. Ppposing them were two tricked out Y-Wings with droids, ion cannons and torpedoes, and a well equipped firespray. 

The Scum tactics were to have the freighter quickly pick up supply tokens off the board until it's shields went, then it would attempt to flee. While it did that, the fighters would engage the corvette and use ion cannons to slow down the headhunters. 

Things looked good for a while for the scum, they had put some hits on the corvette and badly damaged/ionized the headhunters. Both Y-Wings had target locks, and while their shields were down they had been undamaged. 


However, it is worth noting that the Corvette goes before a pilot skill 2 Y-wing. 

As this was a "corvette a" I had given it some extra guns, and on this one round, they delivered. In 2 shots, he corvette did 5 damage to each y-wing, blowing them both out of the sky before they could fire torps. 

With the Firespray out of position and badly damaged, I decided the freighter would surrender in the face of the corvette closing in on it.

Logistics command were particularly happy, as the GR-75 was undamaged and will make a valuable addition to logistics commands efforts. 


Ground Command - Base raid on Korvas

Imperial assault is the game which i've done the most changes for. We are using somewhat of a hybrid of the campaign game (using chararacters and upgrades) and the skirmish game (not using threat, but using premade forces)

I may not have mentioned I picked up a bunch of Star Wars collectible mini's for dirt cheap a while back. This allows me to deploy LOADS of stormtroopers and also give players a figure that more closely matches the character they are using, rather than one of the 6 hero figures from Imperial Assault.

Here is the figure for General Kern (who was using Gideon's card as his template) 




I also got, on special, a massive pile of Sci-Fi themed maps that work for the scale (at about $4US per double sided map). So instead of having to build a map using the Imperial Assault parts, I can just place a rebuilt map. 

The Rebel Forces consisted of General Kern (Gideon), Marl Keel the mon Calamari sniper (Using the bothan cards) and Gooda Cheesa, a rodian scumbag (using the smuggler cards), they were backed up by two squads of three rebel troopers. 

This mission was straight forward. Each of the three "characters" had a bomb charge, one needed to be placed in the armoury (North west building) and one in the Command Centre (middle building)

One squad of storm troopers was on patrol, but the base was not under alert. The cards placed face down represented different squads and models (stormies, e-webs and officers only in this scenario) 

The Rebels deployed in two teams, with Kern and the squads coming from the south, and the Sniper and Gunfighter coming in from the west. 

For a while, this mission seemed like it would be quite close. The elite stormtrooper squad gunned down a full squad of Rebel troopers and chased General Kern around the map. 

However, the other rebel squad teamed up with Keel and Cheesa and started doing some real damage, blowing up the armoury and taking down two stormtrooper squads. The Sniper is also a perfect counter to the e-web and took it out with no problems. 

There was a tipping point, when rebel casualties mostly stopped and they overwhelmed the Imperials. It's worth noting just how good characters are in this game. 

With the base demolished, Kern and his men fled back into the Korvas forests. 



Conclusion

Three missions and three wins for the Rebels, I expected them to win these missions as they were meant to be "training runs" but I was pleased by how close they were regardless. It mean't that I picked the difficulty close enough on the first attempt. 

Next week, we start on the roleplaying game part of the round, where our players will be undertaking a clandistine operation at a resort on Samoth, that will have widespread implications for the future of Talathen sector and the wider rebellion.  



Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The Battle for Talathen Sector - Strategy phase continued

Continuing on from the last blog post, I'll talk more about the other strategic roles. Now we've already begun making changes based on the first rounds play through, which is great. I want every player to feel their decisions make an impact. I also want every strategic role to feel important in it's own way, not equal, but important. 


Fleet Command Overview


The key to winning the title of "hero of Talathen sector" is to win glory. The easiest way to win glory is to lead and participate in military engagements. Needless to say, the commander of the rebel fleet has a good chance to earn a lot of glory. 

This job board is pretty straight forward. Each character is assigned to a spot on the board, and the space underneath is the type of ship they command. 

Fighter command is where you mark down what squadrons fleet command has available. Each space represents 4 stands of a type of fighter. At game start they only have 2 full squadrons of Z-95s, which i have "home made" rules for. 

Now, the squadrons in the fleet are not the same as the one's at squadron command. I figured it would be terrible for the squadron commander to have built up several elite squadrons of pilots, only to lose them all in one armada battle. So the squads here are separate. Think of squadron command being the "rogue squadron elites" of the sector, special forces pilots who can do multiple roles, while the fleet guys are more "blue collar military pilots". 

Another thing to note is "rebel fleet favour". This can be earned by diplomatic missions or sending the Talathen sector ships out of sector to help out the wider rebellion cause. I brought this in because I didn't necessarily want major fleet battles every week in the sector, and I wanted to keep the sector fleet quite small. But I also wanted the option of being able to bring in Mon Cal cruisers and the like for special occasions. Each fleet favour point can be spent to "borrow" 10 points worth of ships from the rebellion, so it will take a while for them to save up to deploy a mon cal squadron. 

Actions for fleet command


  • Plan an attack. Pick a mission on the board or create one. Make a tactics roll and generate tactical points equal to 5 for a triumph, 2 per success, 1 per advantage - 1 per disadvantage. I'll explain how those points are spent later on
  • Support the rebel fleet. Generate fleet favor points equal to the class of the ship sent to support the fleet. 1 point for small base, 2 for medium based, 3 for huge base. 
  • Drydock/service. All ships consume 1 supply point per size class when used. Putting the ship into drydock means you don't spend supply points on them. 
  • Patrol/reconnaissance. Make a tactics roll, each success adds to the intelligence pool. 
  • Coordinate fleet (Admiral only). Make a hard leadership roll, each success adds an advantage dice to each subsequent roll in fleet command that turn. 

Spending tactics points in Fleet battles

  • Seize the initiative for the battle (3 points)
  • Deploy 2nd (1 point)
  • Pick flanking deployment zones (2 points)
  • Enemy ships start stationery (2 points)
  • No enemy reinforcements (3 points)
  • Enemy strength reduced (any number of points)

Fleet Command phase as it happened


At this stage, Rebel fleet command consists of two Corellian Corvettes and a couple of squadrons of Z-95's. Certainly not enough to take on a star destroyer squadron just yet. 

The fleet commander took two actions, the first of which was to plan an attack on Nimbala Prime to attack czerka shipping and seize cargo. Two successes on this role mean't that the attacking force had superior numbers. However, it's worth noting that this battle was fought using X-wing instead of Armada as the deployed force was only 1 corvette. 

The second action was to loan his second corvette to the rebel high command for 1 rebel fleet favour. 

Squadron command overview



Like Fleet command, Squadron command is a great place to earn glory. Possibly the busiest strategy board, this may take a little explaining. 

There are four squadrons, each with up to 12 fighters in them. The class of fighter gets marked in the top row. Z for z-95, X for X-wing and so on.

The bottom row is the pilot skill. Now i'm using a simple version of this where pilots have 3 classes. Rookie, veteran and elite. A rookie is the lowest generic pilot skill card for that fighter. For example, rookie pilot for X-wings or gold squadron for Y-wings. A Veteran uses the 2nd highest generic card for the same ship. So red squadron for X-wings and Grey for Y-wings. Yes, this means a pilot in an a-wing will drop skill from when they piloted an X-wing, but it's way easier to keep track of. 

An elite has either a 3rd generic card if one exists, or if not they have a "pilot" skill upgrade slot for free. If they have no pilot skill cards available, they automatically get +2 pilot skill. 

Aces can exist outside of squadrons, and are characters who have the "Ace" character trait that aren't squadron leaders. Aces can deploy on any mission the squadron commander approves and fly the fighter they are an ace in. This means they may have 1 ace in a fighter class that they have no generic fighters in. 


Actions for Squadron Command

  • Plan an attack. Pick a mission on the board or create one. Make a tactics roll and generate tactical points equal to 5 for a triumph, 2 per success, 1 per advantage - 1 per disadvantage. I'll explain how those points are spent later on
  • Escort logistics command. Already mentioned under logistics command, but supplying even 1 fighter to this action means the squadron is "used" for the turn
  • Service. All squadrons consume 1 supply point a turn. Putting them on standby means they do not consume a supply point. 
  • Patrol/reconnaissance. Make a tactics roll, each success adds to the intelligence pool. 
  • Conducting training. Make a leadership roll, generate training points equal to 5 for a triumph, 2 per success, 1 per advantage - 1 per disadvantage. Results of training are outlined in the training section. 
  • Coordinate Squadron operations (Director only). Make a hard leadership roll, each success adds an advantage dice to each subsequent roll in fleet command that turn.

Spending tactics points in X-wing battles

  • Seize the initiative for the battle (1 points)
  • Deploy 2nd (2 point)
  • Pick flanking deployment zones (3 points)
  • Enemy ships start scattered (3 points)
  • No enemy reinforcements (3 points)
  • Enemy strength reduced (any number of points)


Squadron command as it happened.


Lt Blout is a fine pilot, but he's a pretty rubbish commander as his first mission roll demonstrated. Multiple failures made for an extremely difficult mission where the rebels would be scattered and facing tougher forces than they initially expected. 

The mission was to assassinate a ranking imperial officer on his way to Primm Station on Talathen VII. 

The Rebels were headed into a tough fight, although we have a new word in our vocabulary now. "Blouting", to rush headlong into battle with no planning and care for risk or casualties. 

Ground Command overview




Ground Command is the final of the "glory positions". You may also notice that we have four players and three positions that generate the most glory. This is by design :)

Special forces are set in two squads of five personnel. These are groups for imperial assault. There are six imperial assault skills in the game and they align with each of the six characters currently in Imperial assault. Only one NPC with a relevant skill can be assigned to each squad.

When a squad deploys to a mission, each NPC uses their associated Imperial Assault character class and gains XP to spend on skills equal to their characters "fight" rating. 

Additional XP gained is added to the little box to the right of their character name on the sheet. 

For example, Keel is a sniper, which means he gets the Bothan sniper character card and skill deck. He has a fight rating of 4, so he can spend 4 xp on imperial assault skills. 

He also gets the starting "sniper rifle", additional equipment is unlocked through R&D, not through the normal process of earning credits. 





Actions for Ground Command

  • Plan an attack. Pick a mission on the board or create one. Make a tactics roll and generate tactical points equal to 5 for a triumph, 2 per success, 1 per advantage - 1 per disadvantage. I'll explain how those points are spent later on
  • Conducting training. Make a leadership roll, generate training points equal to 5 for a triumph, 2 per success, 1 per advantage - 1 per disadvantage. Results of training are outlined in the training section. 
  • Coordinate Ground operations (Director only). Make a hard leadership roll, each success adds an advantage dice to each subsequent roll in fleet command that turn.
  • Patrol/reconnaissance (Generals, Base commanders and Guerrilla leaders only) Make a tactics roll, each success adds to the intelligence pool. 
  • Bolster/ Undermine support. (Generals, Base commanders and Guerrilla leaders only). As per the diplomacy rules, but only for the planet that the officer is deployed on. In addition, the difficulty is increased by one. 



Spending tactics points in Imperial Assault battles

  • Seize the initiative for the battle (1 points)
  • Deploy 2nd (1 point)
  • Pick flanking deployment zones (2 points)
  • Infiltrators, can reveal inside enemy position (4 points)
  • Enemy forces passive at game start (3 points)
  • No enemy reinforcements (3 points)
  • Enemy strength reduced (any number of points)
  • Additional squad support (1 per squad)
  • Utility supplies (1 per supply card)


Ground command as it happened.

Ground command is in a sad state, like many of the rebellions current forces. Special forces only has three soldiers of reasonable skill, and one of them is a foul mouthed rodian gunslinger. 

Not deterred by this, the amazingly uninspiring General Kern decided to pull off a daring raid on a Imperial base that was under strength due to the Imperial day celebrations. Despite boring his troops to death with a 237 slide PowerPoint  presentation on the operation, he managed to plan the attack well. Rebel forces had ideal position to catch the Imperial personnel napping while they placed demolitions charges. 


Recruitment overview

Recruitment is a very straight forward role with a lot of hidden potential in it. You see, while there isn't much glory to be had at the recruitment stands, you do have potential to influence the kind of people who join the rebellion, and have more "clout" to hire them when they become available. 

Actions for recruitment


  • Recruit NPC's. Make a leadership roll to recruit NPCs. For each success rolled you can choose one characteristic that you want in the recruit pool. For example, Smugglers, which will mean at least one of the recruit pool will be a smuggler. A triumph allows for a powerful NPC with the requisite traits to be recruited. Advantages rolled add to your clout for next round. 
  • Bolster support, As per the diplomacy rules, but the difficulty is increased by one. 

In addition the head of recruitment decides on how bidding for new recruits will occur. Whether all the characters are revealed before the first bid, or one at a time. Also, whether it is an incremental or blind bid for the round.

It's a subtle power but one that might end up being quite influential.



Recruitment as it happened.


Pol Trall, the head of recruitment decided that special forces should be the focus on recruitment. And while he managed only one success on his recruitment roll, that ensures that at least one new solider will be available in the next round of recruitment. Something ground command sorely needs right now. 



Training overview



Again, training is a very simple strategy roll with a tight focus. Also, like recruitment it generates a lout of clout as the people who train new recruits have an ability to influence them. 

In and of itself, training doesn't do much. What it does is bolster the skills and abilities of other forces. Training is the only way to unlock elite pilot skill cards for X-wing and Crew Skills for Armada. 

Trainers have only one option. To train people. They generate training points with a leadership roll points equal to 5 for a triumph, 2 per success, 1 per advantage - 1 per disadvantage. 

A trainer may train a squad that has already committed to a training action. In that case, the points for training are combined.

Trainers other than the Director are limited to training units in their respective field. 


Training points are spent as follows, an individual may be upgraded only once per turn. 


  • Train civilian to be a rookie pilot (1 point)
  • Upgrade rookie pilot to veteran (2 point)
  • Upgrade veteran pilot to elite (4 points)
  • Increase special ops bonus XP by 1 (equals cost of new XP number)
  • Develop elite pilot skill card (2 points)
  • Develop crew skill for X-wing (3 points)
  • Develop crew skill for Armada (3 points)
Advantage's in these rolls add to your clout next turn. Unspent points also become clout. 

Note that gaining a card only grants 1 copy of that card. To get 4 copies of "push the limit" you would need to spend 8 training points. 




Training as it happened. 

Evo Tras talked a big game during his pitch to become head of recruitment about needing a modern military force that used guile and cunning rather than brute force. His first action was to train starfighter command, resulting in 4 pilots becoming veterans.  


Research and Development overview




R&D is the final strategy board we will look at, and its another relatively simple job. New tech can only be researched from here, so if R&D doesn't do it's job, then everyone will be using blaster pistols and concussion missiles until the end of time. 

There are four topics to research, Fleet, Ground, Starfighter and Special. 

The first three relate to the cards used in Armada, Imperial Assault and X-Wing respectively. The special category is for the roleplaying game and any other random technologies I want to spring during the campaign. 

The progress number is the total number of points rolled to date on that category. While I have no hard and fast rules written on exactly what techs open up at each level, it will be a guide. For example, proton torpedoes will be available for research before Advanced Proton torpedoes, and tier 1 imperial assault cards will be available before tier 3. 

As before research points are generated as  5 for a triumph, 2 per success, 1 per advantage - 1 per disadvantage. Point unspent on a round stay available to be used later. 

Also, if a scientist wishes to change topic. That information is swapped over on the sheet and progress is maintained. 

All research rolls are intelligence rolls and require supply to be conducted. 

  • New card for X-wing (cost equal to points cost of card, minimum 1)
  • New card for Armada (cost equal to points cost of card, miniumum 1)
  • New card for Imperial Assault (cost equals credits cost /100)

All costs are rounded in the players favor. 

Note that gaining a card only grants 1 copy of that card. To get 4 copies of "ion turret" you would need to spend 8 research points.

Results from the "special" category will be decided on by the group, but should represent hard to get and costly gear in the role-playing game. Or, if for specific story related matters


Research and Development as it happened

Num Diem decided that ship technologies were going to be his focus and put a mammoth effort into the task generating 5 successes. During the resolution phase he will be able to pick out some shiny new toys for Fleet command. 

His assistant Ghartoka (whom he hates as Num is a racist, and Ghartoka is a wookie), set to work on the "special" category, gaining two successes. When the A-team gets back from their first mission, he will have new toys for them. 

Conclusion


Another mammoth post, but that's a lot of the core rules out on the table for people to look at. You will note that everything is designed to make progress gradual and each decision important. Spending all your research on Ion turrets and then never using turreted air-craft might not be a winning strategy for example. 

Next week, ill have updates on the first three battles that took place. A fighter attack on an imperial dignitary, a corvette raid on czerka shipping and a daring raid into an imperial facility on Korvas. 

Cheers!

Thursday, 14 May 2015

The Battle for Talathen Sector - Strategy phase part 1

Last week I mentioned the overview of what the campaign would look like.

Well, we had our first strategic phase and conducted our first operation, which was great fun. 


Here is the strategic map as it stands at the start of week one. (Click to enlarge).

The key is as follows. The colours below each planet represent popular support. Red for rebel and grey for imperial. Now, popular support will impact on how easy things are to do on each planet, but I haven't created "fixed" rules for that.

A lot of this game requires GM fudging and tweaking. That's because I don't want to lock everything in stone, but also because narrative missions need a bit more creativity than a fixed rule-set may offer. 


The icons in circles represent major bases. For the rebels, it's their main base on Axamar, a fighter base on Zenith, a fleet base on "the Rock" and they are constructing a fall-back base on Nimbala 8. For the Imperials, the Moff's HQ is on Talathen Prime, the Fleet HQ is on Korvas, Imperial Intelligence on Talathen VII and the army is building a major base on Selano. There are also scum bases on Axamar and Nimbala. 

The Star Destroyers represent where the Imperial Fleet has been sighted. The fleet cannot be everywhere, but missions conducted where the fleet is will have increased difficulty. 

Not shown on the map is "heat". A scale that determines how focused imperial forces are on a planet. If the rebels hit the same planet over and over again, it's heat level will rapidly rise. Increasing the likelihood of them facing stiffer opposition. heat will decrease over time. 


The plan

As the Chief of staff I briefed the Rebel Faction leaders (the players) on the current state of the rebellion by pointing out details on the map. 

I also mentioned our current resources. Two corvettes, a handful of intelligence operatives and guerrillas in disjointed cells, 24 Z-95 headhunters and not much else. 

I put six possible missions on the strategic map, but reminded the players that they are only mission "ideas" and they can come up with their own. 

Based on their current position and the lack of strength in rebel forces. The council decided to focus on building infrastructure first and conducting low-level sneak attacks. And deliberately chose not to "reveal" the rebellion at this stage. 

Based on this plan, we moved on to the strategic stage. 



A note on game phases

The game proceeds in five phases. 


  1. The Policy phase, where the faction leaders make high level decisions. 
  2. The strategy phase where we use the job boards to make strategic decisions for the game. 
  3. The operations phase where we fight X-Wing, Armada and Imperial Assault missions. 
  4. The character phase, where we conduct a roleplaying focused special forces mission. 
  5. The upkeep phase, where the strategic board is updated and the consequences of the players actions are noted. 



The first Strategy phase - Chief of Staff



This was new territory for everyone, including me. I'd written up notes about what each job board could do, but I was willing to fiddle around with it as we played. This is all still a work in progress. 



As the Chief of Staff, I keep track of resources, manage the turn and record the successes and failures of roles. I use handy "supply tokens" from Twilight Imperium 3 to do this. it's also my job to ensure that the overall "mission" outlined in the Policy phase is adhered to. In other words, a mission needs sign-off from me to go ahead. 

My first call, was to logistics. Oh, and note that each check in the tasks below, unless mentioned, is at difficulty 2. 


Logistics command overview. 




Stores are replenished based on the income of logistics. The rebels started with 10 stores, and 2 income. 

The director of logistics has three possible actions. 

  • First, they may attempt a short term financial transaction, which adds a number of supply to the stores next turn equal to 4 for every success +1 for each advantage. 
  • They may attempt a long term investment as well. Each success allows them to spend store equal to double the current income, to increase it by 1. Each advantage reduces this cost by one. (or, on a failure produces 1 supply for next turn)
  • Finally, the head of Logistics can support smuggling. Each success rolled on a hard roll adds an advantage dice to each smuggling attempt. 

The head of finance can do the first two actions, but not the third. 

A Smuggler in the smuggling pool picks whether they will do an easy, medium or hard risk run. Then, in combination with squadron command, they decide if any escorts will be provided. A light escort is 1 fighter, medium is 2 and heavy is 4. Escorts cost 1 supply point per twelve fighters, and if even 1 fighter is on escort duty, that squadron is considered "used" for the phase. 

The formula for how much supply a smuggler generates is as follows

Supply = (Risk value*successes*ship modifier)+advantages rolled

The risk value for easy is 1, 2 for medium and 4 for hard. The ship modifier is 1 for a light freighter like a YT-1300 and 2 for a medium freighter like a GR-75. 

On a failed smuggling run, the smuggler rolls the "evil red dice of despair". Negative results include being captured, being damaged, or being killed. Escorts allow this dice to be re rolled, at the cost of the escort taking the hit instead. 

Supply points are needed for operations to be supported, or in some cases to happen at all. Fleet, ground and starfighter missions need support tokens to even occur. R&D also needs support tokens to make progress on developments. All other departments are hampered by a lack of support in the form of disadvantage dice.  



Logistics command, as it happened. 


Logistics command did not have a stellar turn. The head of logistics tried for a long term investment, failed and generated 2 supply. The head of finance made his roll and increased income to 3!

Then the sole smuggler, Roark garnet, flying without an escort failed his roll and rolled the red dice of despair. Instant death on the first roll.

Now, I could have let that go as it was. But I thought that as the first turn of the game, that was a bit harsh. So I simply had him critically wounded and removed from the game for a turn. That was the rebels "one freebie". 


Logistics command now had to offer up supplies to the Chief of staff for the round. And, another little special ability of Logistics command is they can pick where half of these resources go. That represents logistics being able to control who gets what, while not giving them total control of the matter.

Logistics command put its resources into R&D and recruiting, as those areas of infrastructure are needed to develop the rebellion further. 




Intelligence centre overview



The intelligence centre is a relatively straight forward job board, with a few options for each operative.  

Each Operative as the following options





  • Gather information (personal). Make an social intelligence roll to add to the intelligence pool. 
  • Gather information (Slicing). As above, but a mental roll. 
  • Misinformation. Make an intelligence roll and target a planet with heat. Heat is reduced depending on successes and advantages.
  • Targeted intelligence mission. Sometimes, specific missions will appear on the strategy map for operatives to undertake. 
  • Sabotage missions. 
  • Abduction/Assassinations. 
  • Coordinate intelligence efforts. (leader only). Make a hard intelligence roll, each success adds and advantage to all other intelligence rolls

The intelligence pool is made up off all the "gather information" rolls. You gain 5 points for a triumph, 2 per success, 1 per advantage - 1 per disadvantage


  • Provide close intelligence to a planning roll in the form of an advantage dice (max 2) (Cost, 1 per dice)
  • Provide additional information to an A-team mission(1 point per clue) 
  • Simple investigation of a specific topic (1 point)
  • Detailed investigation of a single topic (3 points)
  • Extensive investigation of a single topic (5 points)
  • Answer one specific question about a person or location (5 points)
  • Perform counter intelligence, allows a reroll of a "consequences" dice on a mission failure (1 point per reroll)


Even if no intelligence rolls succeed on a turn, some information will be available to the players each round. Some stuff doesn't require spies to find out after all. 



Intelligence phase as it happened

Two operatives, and the boss decides to focus on gathering intelligence. A good roll generating 1 triumph and 2 sucesses. Now I don't have the questions the intelligence leader asked for, because I've already changed how this system works from when he rolled. I was initially going to have it all done behind the scenes, but the ideas of questions and lines of inquiry increases interactivity in the game. 

The second operative was sent on a sabotage mission to Nadir and Zenith to blow up some Tie Fighters scheduled to do a "Imperial day" parade. A reasonable success on that roll, but the players do not find out the consequences of missions until the "end phase".

Diplomacy Centre overview. 




Diplomacy is a relatively simple job board compared to some of the others. One of the features of the diplmoatic board is that operatives here are always "at risk". Diplomacy requires meeting people and talking, so failed rolls can end up with diplomats being killed or captured. 

Their options are as follows


  • Bolster support. Make a diplomacy roll to increase rebel support on a planet. Difficulty is determined by how strong the current support is. Moving a planet from 7 to 8 is harder than from 0-1. Only 1 point made me moved regardless of successes, unless triumphs are rolled. 
  • Undermine support. Exactly the same process as above, but instead of improving rebel support, you undermine imperial support. 
  • Targeted diplomatic mission. Sometimes, specific missions will appear on the strategy map for diplomats to undertake. 
  • Gather information. Use a diplomacy roll to add to the amount of intelligence generated by the rebellion on this turn. Represents a diplomat focusing more on rumors than building influence. 
  • Liaise with rebel HQ. (liaison and leader only, and only one per turn). Make a diplomacy roll to get support from Rebel HQ. These points can be spent later on ships and other resources. 
  • Coordinate diplomatic efforts. (leader only). Make a hard diplomacy roll, each success adds and advantage to all other diplomacy rolls. 


Diplomacy Centre as it happened

Well, there is only one diplomat in the diplomacy centre at the moment. Lianna, and she decided to visit Selano to undermine imperial support by pointing out that they are building a massive military base there, and that it can only mean bad things for the people of Selano. 

Two triumphs, an additional success and some disadvantages later. And Lianna has completely undermined imperial support on Selano, and built up a little favor for the rebellion. The disadvantages manifest as "heat", as the imperials are suspicious that the people of Selano are suddenly given them the cold shoulder. 




To be continued

This is already a mammoth post, so i'll break it up and pubish part two in a few days. Thanks all!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Epic Star Wars Campaign - The battle for Talathen Sector

Overview

The sector map, now in glorious A1 on my wall

So, you may have noticed less posts in the recent past. well that's because I've been working on a massive project for a Star Wars campaign.

Many years ago, I read West End Games "Rebel Alliance handbook" and thought, "damn, wouldn't it be cool to play a game as a rebel sector command, making all the decisions and fighting ground battles, space battles and doing spying missions and the like in one big setting.

It was always too complex to pull off in a role-playing game. Too fiddly to use those mechanics for all the different kind of fights and decisions involved.

Now, I don't have to.

With Armada, Imperial Assault and X-wing, I have the tools to fight space battles and skirmishes, all i'm missing is full scale military assaults, but "Onslaught at Arda 1" has game rules for those as well.

So I got my players together and we created the sector using shared world building. A "tourists guide" to the sector is available online if anyone wants to read it.

The idea is that the four players are playing different ideological factions within the rebellion with slightly different goals, and while they have a shared goal of defeating the empire. The intrigue and friction from having competing secondary goals should make for some excellent stories to be told. While they play the faction leaders, they will also be playing all the characters within their faction. 

The "winner" will be the faction leader who accumulates the most "glory" from their actions in the fight against the empire.

Finally, I am playing the "Chief of staff", a rebel officer from rebel command who is neutral and acts as the arbitrator and administrator of the rebellion.



How it works


The core of the game is the minor NPC's that belong to each faction. Now, each character is introduced to the game and each faction bids on their services. Once a character joins a faction, their actions occur on behalf of the faction and earn the faction leader "clout" (which is used for bidding on new personnel) and "glory" which will ultimately decide the winner of the campaign





Some of the 100+ characters in the campaign
Now, each character card is pretty straight forward. They have three stats. Martial prowess, social skills, and mental skills. Those values represent the number of green "FFG Star Wars rpg" dice they roll when doing a task. They also have character traits which boost rolls or provide other advantages.

In Lianna's case she is Diplomatic and Connected, Which means she will be rolling 2 green and 2 yellow dice on a diplomatic mission. She is also rich, which means when has financial power she can add to the rebellion cause. However, she is "wanted", so if a mission fails she is twice as likely to be captured.

Each charatcer is unique and has their own skills and strengths. And some are very mediocre, while others are skilled and amazing. Lianna is one of the better ones.

Each character is assigned, by vote, a job in the alliance. The job boards are below. Characters can be reassigned or fired later, it all comes down to voting from the faction leaders. 





Right now, you are probably thinking "Holy cow, that looks a bit complicated".

Well, it is and it isn't.

During the planning phase we go through the boards one at a time and decide what each group is doing. What planets the diplomatic core are visiting, what engagements the fleet or special forces are taking on. We simply use the star wars dice mechanics to determine their success. 

So, if someone fails a roll planning a fighter attack, well there will be more points of imperial fighters in the mission than if they had an excellent success. Starfighter battles will be fought with X-Wing, Fleet with Armada and Ground operations with Imperial Assault. 

There is also a group of "player characters" who represent the heroes of the rebellion. While the faction leaders are like Mon Mothma, these characters are the Han, Luke, Leia and Chewie of the sector. And will be doing roleplaying game "special missions" each game turn. 

Success on diplomacy will improve the rebellions standing on world and make missions easier, recruitment gets more NPC's into the alliance, training improves piloting and imperial assault skills, and R&D controls what upgrade cards are available. For example, at game start Squadron command only has Z-95's and a handful of missiles. They need to research, buy, or steal better equipment.

Intelligence rolls will determine what missions are available on the next turn. A failure might mean that some of them are going to be traps. 


The idea is to have a rules structure that makes decision interesting, without bogging them down in detail. 


Session 1 report. 


The first half of the session was spent rolling up the characters for the hero team. I'll tell you more about them after their first mission.

What we did do is bid on the first 16 NPC's available and assign them jobs in the Sector command.

The four characters at the top are the faction leaders, and their faction colour is in the circle. 


How it all shook out was very interesting. 

The faction of republic loyalists who are mostly interested in restoring the old republic gained control of the Fleet and Ground commands, setting themselves up as the military powerhouse of the rebellion. 

The Luxon militia, a fiercely independent planet who want's sector independence from both the Empire and republic gained control of Fighter command and the diplomatic corp. A strong and balanced position. 

The merchant guilds (who are secretly controlled by an AI) gained control of R&D, Intelligence and Logistics. A clear attempt to forgo direct military power and glory at the start of the campaign, but to focus on building the rebellion the way they want it.

And finally, the ecological union and anti-slavery movement grabbed Training and recruitment. In a clear effort to shape the people being recruited by the rebellion and to be the faction who decides who signs up. 


The interplay, the wheeling and dealing and general political grandstanding in this first phase of the game was amazing to watch and incredibly enjoyable. 

One NPC in particular, probably the single most powerful character in the first 16, who has a negative trait that he's a pompous git who earns half glory, failed to be elected to 4 different positions that he probably would have been better at than the person who finally got the job. 

Comedy gold. 

With the power structure sorted for the time being, next week we will begin the first round of planning and get into some missions shortly after.

The war for Talethen sector has begun. 


Monday, 4 May 2015

Massive ANZAC Memorial diorama

About four months ago my regular Wednesday gaming group went on hiatus, you see they had pretty much all volunteered, along with a lot of NZ wargamers, to work on a massive WWI diorama.

For those of you who aren't aware, Gallipoli is considered a watershed moment in NZ history. Akin to the American revolution or civil war as a pivotal moment that helped define a nation. It's a story of a pointless war, for a dubious cause, in a far-off land, fighting for an imperial power.

It wasn't my sort of project, so I kept out of it, but I've been keeping an eye on their progress. And, with the official unveiling happening soon. Here are some of the mostly finished shots.

Great job to Peleral, The Scottish Play, the Ginger-Ninja, Lintman, Tank-Engine and all the other painters from Wellington who volunteered their time and their skills for the project. It's looking very very sharp.






 


I highly recommend looking at the link below to see more photos and shots of progress as the project continued. In addition, they will have more details of the full unveiling shortly.

Full information on this project over at http://anzacdiorama.blogspot.co.nz/

All pictures from Andy Palmer. http://www.acpalmer.com/


Monday, 13 April 2015

The Outcast dead (Dud) - A Horus Heresy review

Disclaimer


Spoilers abound in these posts, if you haven’t read the books and will get upset by finding out what happens just stop.

This is also not a recap, if you want a recap go to Lexicanium.

What The Black Library says about the book


The galaxy is burning. The Emperor’s loyal primarchs prepare to do battle with Warmaster Horus and his turncoat Legions on the black sand of Isstvan. Such dark times herald new and yet more terrible things still to come, and when Astropath Kai Zulane unwittingly learns a secret that threatens to tip the balance of the war, he is forced to flee for his life. Alongside a mysterious band of renegades, he plunges into the deadly underworld of Terra itself, hunted like a criminal by those he once trusted. In the face of betrayal, Kai must decide where his own loyalties lie and whether some truths should be buried forever.

What the book is really about?


Um….. yeah that’s a really good question.

This book took me forever to read, I found it quite unengaging. It wasn’t “OMG THIS SUCKS” bad or anything, but I found I just didn’t care about the story much, and more than a few times I was left a bit confused.

First off, the book feels like multiple short story ideas that were bound, kicking and screaming, to a central “Johnny Mnemonic” plot line about a guy with secrets in his head that everyone wants.

I was initially excited to see more of Terra, to learn about the City of Sight, the navigators, and how the communications networks of the Imperium worked. I thought the world building in the story was pretty good, and it was nice to see these parts of the setting get a spotlight, but the central narrative didn’t really do it justice.

Events happened in a weird order, and I’m still confused about certain aspects of the story. In this Story, Magnus arrives on Terra after the events of Istvaan to provide the Emperor with his warning about Horus.

“Hey Dad, I bent time and space to give you a warning about events that have already happened!”.

“Thanks son, cheers for ruining every psyker on earth and blinding us, you knob”

The outcast dead, the group of marines from traitor legions, also seems to have been imprisoned before these warnings arrive, especially the Thousand Son. I found this aspect of the book annoying.

So if anyone can explain the timeline of this book to me better, I’m all ears.

Anyway, we have a prison break led by a vanilla band of traitors who appear as caricatures of their legion. I.e, world eaters angry, Emperors Child is a pretty perfectionist, death guard dude is tough, and the Thousand Son is a Mary Sue, super awesome psyker who is awesome. It was hard to love these guys, and asides from Atharva, I didn’t care for them a jot. And the only reason I was engaged by Atharva was that he had agency, unlike most of the characters in the story.

Also in the prison is the Kai Zulane, who during the early part of the books is established as a broken man who was the astropath on a ship lost in the warp. And while he struggles to deal with his PTSD, he is being retrained to be an astropath and deal with his issues. Not long after he arrives at the City of Sight, Magnus does his thing, and in the chaotic wake of that event, his mentor receives a massive vision that burns her out, but not before she buries the content of the vision deep inside Kai’s Psyche. Kai is taken prisoner and sent to the same prison as the Outcast dead, who then break him out.

Now, this leads to some of the more interesting parts of the story, as Kai deals with his grief and self-loathing within his dreamscapes. The interrogation scenes are quite clever and they do a good job of showing how mindscapes work and how psykers interact in them.

So the Outcasts escape because Arthava is a Mary Sue who can overpower the minds of ……. Well, pretty much anyone. I really didn’t like that he was good at all the psyker disciplines of the Thousand sons, it seemed to cheapen the “cults” idea McNeill introduced in his last book. Ah well, at least he has a plan.

They escape to the “petitioners city”, a slum of the edge of the Imperial palace ruled over by a gang…… pursued by a very slow moving imperial force that seems to take a lot of time to do anything. We meander through encounters until the final battle in, what is essentially a temple dedicated to mourning and death.

Oh, and it turns out the gang is run by the former commander of the Thunder Warriors who was at the Emperor’s right hand when he conquered Terra, and that his right hand man is also a Thunder Warrior. They want marine gene-seed as they are dying, but what really confused me is that the Thunder Warrior henchman kills two marines without breaking a sweat.

This introduces the idea that the Thunder Warriors were more badass than Space Marines, although with limited life spans. I can’t say that this sat well with me at all. I figured they would be good, but the Thunder Warrior does better in a stand up fight than the Custodes does later on in the same novel. I figured they should have been a match for the Astartes, but making them tougher than a custodes?

The final battle is…… terrible.

Multiple forces converge on the building, but for all intents and purposes the writer loses track of that and it ends up being about two specific fights and a demon thing appearing and killing mooks until it gets “Deus exed” by a Primarch turning up. The Thunder Warriors arrive with a big announcement, but aren’t mentioned in the fight narrative. I guess the author was trying to be clever so he could do his last page reveal, but it just bugged me that characters were “on-screen” and then suddenly “off-screen” without anyone making a remark about it. No one went, “what the fudge happened to those Thunder Warriors”

In the end, Kai comes to terms with his PTSD, gives the Emperor the message via a dream scape, and then commit suicide. The outcast dead are dead, and nothing of any real consequence happens.

The Hero-Protagonist McGuffin – Kai Zulane


Kai is presented through the story as the main character, but the reality is that he isn’t anything more than a plot device. Arthava is the one calling all the shots and making all the action happen.

Now in other books, this can work. Kasper Hawser is a McGuffin in the role of protagonist as well, but I feel like he’s making his own decisions within that framework. Kai wombles from one drama to another without being able to decide what he wants to do.
Now from a character point of view, he’s interesting enough, as we explore his experiences on the Argo, what life as an astropath is like, how he deals with the vision and his predicament. But he makes precisely one decision in the whole story, and that is to kill himself.

Also, you simply don’t care about the prophecy he has in his brain as we know the outcome of the Horus Heresy. A mysterious prophecy locked in someone’s brain could be a compelling story, but not when we already know the story. It’s like that BS “he is the chosen one who will bring balance to the force” junk from the Star Wars prequels, we all knew he was going to be Darth Vader, so who cares about the prophecy.

Why are their humans in my book about super-powered Space Marines?


A lot of human NPC’s in this one. Nagasena is interesting enough as the straight and honest hunter of rogues, but WAY too much effort is made “japanizing” him. It’s the year 30,000, someone is unlikely to be so damned 18th century Samurai at this point in time. And yeah, i get that it’s what his character is meant to be, doesn’t mean it’s isn’t stupid. Can anyone recall meeting someone claiming to enact the rituals and language of Ur?

Roxanne is interesting for the brief moments she is in the book, her story of a noble navigator working in the slums after the Argo incident is compelling and would have been a good short story. But I feel that she is drowned out by the sheer number of characters and threads in this book.

The same goes for Athena and Hiriko, who fade away as the book progresses, Evander, who’s arc seems to go nowhere as he kills himself, Palladis, who dies an anti-climatic death.

So many characters, but none of them really make you feel for them much.


MVP – Arthava


Without this character, there is no story. Still, he’s a bit of an archetype, the super-clever Thousand Son who is 10 times more powerful than a normal space marine. But at least he drives the story along, with Arthava, nothing would have happened.  

He's still pretty bland though. 

Worst Character – The Outcast Dead


Well, we had an opportunity to have some tight writing about a group of cut-off marines from traitor legions. There was plenty of space to explore these characters and develop some neat quirks. Asides from the friendship between the Death Guard and the Emperor’s children marine, they seemed really really bland.

You’ll notice I’m referring to their characters by Legion, as I didn’t get attached to them enough to call them by name.

The entire story could have been done solely with Arthava breaking out and finding Kai. That may have been better as it would have allowed for tighter writing and the two characters exploring what it means to be a psyker.

Yep, I actually think “the outcast dead” would have worked better without the outcast dead. Or that these characters should have been in a totally different story.


Get to know your Legion – The Astropaths


Well, we don’t get to know a Legion in this book, but we do get some insight into the Astropaths and the City of Sight. This is the major redeeming feature of this book as the plot and action isn’t great.  

We get to explore how astropaths send messages, and how it’s entirely in imagery and symbols. I really like that idea, and how messages need to be interpreted to be understood. It makes it so much more difficult and technical than Morse code or a phone call from outer space, and WAY more difficult than the communications tech in say Star Wars or Star Trek.

I also liked the idea of Astropaths having massive piles of symbols and writings from their visions, it really made it feel like a “mystic art” rather than a simple exchange of information.

And as disappointing as Evanders plot arc ended up being, I also really like the idea of the “bleed”, where message fragments and subtexts end up and a second layer of interpreters sift for themes and concepts.

I wish the book had examined this more as opposed to the rail-road action sequences later on.


Get to know your Primarch – Rogal Dorn


Dorn turns up, but that’s about it. It seems Dorn turns up a lot in books. Can’t say we saw anything new about him asides he can kill a marine with a headshot. But we probably knew that any way.

Why the Emperor is a giant douche


Thanks for unlocking the secret message in your brain Kai, no one can know this, only winning move is not to play.

Kai kills himself.

Thanks Emperor dude, you could have intervened and saved the guy, let him live out his life inside your inner sanctum or mindlocked him and said to Dorn “dude is off limits”.

But nope, you got what you wanted and then he killed himself to protect you. What a douche.

Moustache twirling evil-bastard award – Golovka


Golovka is such a clumsy and awkwardly written character. I get that he’s a fascist bully boy, but the scene with the apothecary in the petitioners city is just cartoon villainy. Lazy cartoon villainy that made every other character around him lazily participate in what is essentially a war crime. I guess we were supposed to feel something at his act, but all I felt was “wow, that’s some lazy writing”.

Quirky reveals and other coolness


Probably the most interesting things revealed in this book are around Psykers on Terra.

In particular, we’ve always been told that Magnus turning up on Terra made the Emperor lose his marbles at him. What we didn't know is that it blew the minds of many psykers and rendered Terra essentially blind for a period of time. The guys arrival was like a psionic nuclear shockwave that destabilised Terra. That really makes the Emperor’s decision to sanction him a lot more logical.

We also get lots of hushed fears about the Hollow Mountain and what happens to psykers who fail.

Oh and we get all that information about Thunder Warriors being badass, I still think that was unnecessary and detracted from the story as a whole.  

The writing – technical review and evaluation


Oh Graham, you took a giant step forward with “A Thousand Sons” only to take a giant step backwards with this book.

Too many bland characters, a McGuffin concept that you just don’t care about, and a messy and anti-climactic finale, mark this book as average at best.

My conclusions are that a series of short stories would have been better. One about what happens at the City of Sight around Istvaan and Magnus’s arrival. A dirty dozen story about the Outcast dead trying to escape Terra. And a tight two person story about Arthava rescuing an oracle and trying to bring him to Magnus. Pulling all these threads together into one story simply left us with a bit of a mess.

This book gets a “Read it for the fluff, but don’t feel you need to read this book at all” rating.

 *disclaimer, borrowed art is borrowed. 







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