[3:16] Semi-Captain, Lt.-Captain, almost-Captain on deck, sir!

Started by Ron Edwards, November 22, 2008, 11:23:44 AM

Previous topic - Next topic

Ron Edwards


I'm continuing the details of our game here; you can read about the first two sessions at [3:16] Way Too Easy Or Just Got the Rules Wrong? in the context of the discussion there. I decided to begin a new thread to focus on some specific issues.

At last, we had everyone present: me as GM, Tim K with Lt. Gunther, Tim A with Trooper Kowalski, and Chris with Corp. Deet. Previously we'd seen missions at Durer (pleasure planet, advanced humanoids with boost), Matisse (temperate planet, corrupt troopers with suicide), and Monet (cloud/gas planet, plants with ignore armor). This time we did two more missions, to Titian (forested planet, dinosaurs with impair) and Warhol (radioactive planet, apes with exploding bodies). To clarify what follows: I rolled unbelievably shitty all night. It seemed like I constantly rolled 1's and 10's; in the former case, that often meant that the soldiers usually knocked out all the Threat Tokens before I even got a chance. On a related point, regarding Dominance rolls, I haven't managed a true alien ambush in the entire game to date.

Titian was a bit of a walk-through, but it provided some good ongoing story material. I was thinking about how to get the mission under way when it occurred to me that Lt. Frinks wouldn't mind simply assassinating those he hated (Gunther and Deet) through a kind of impromptu mission. The men were hit with yet another pointless military exercise of setting up all their equipment for a mission, including an NFA roll to do it right, and then they were tranked in their sleep and shot off in a shuttle that was due to be junked toward a planet. As Deet had failed his NFA roll, Chris had to choose what single weapon he'd have, which was especially painful for the weapon-festooned Deet. Gunther was able to use his manual to determine some details about the planet, and some other rolls brought the shuttle in for a decent landing.

So if I haven't made it clear, there was no actual mission; the point of the adventure was about how they could get off the planet and back to the ship. It also raised the obvious question of how they might be so easily disposed of - i.e., enemies in high places.

At first glance, a forested planet featuring dinosaurs with Impair would seem like a fine reprise of Jurassic Park with lots more bullets and no stupid little kids underfoot. Unfortunately my roll for Alien Ability yielded only 5, and I barely got in two or three successful rolls the whole mission, with the characters taking no damage at all. I'm getting better at strategizing Encounters, i.e. how many, and how many Tokens in each, but the low value didn't help. Granted, Flashbacks made the most difference. Gunther waxed the raptors with a new Strength, and the pterodactyls did ruin the communications equipment (an instance of players hosing themselves with a winning narration).

Chris seemed to be reading my mind, always speculating about what bad things might happen and turning out to be absolutely in tune with what I was about to do.  In this case, it was that I'd already decided to interpret the Impair as camouflage before he gloomily predicted it. As it happened, this made it twice as fun, and I kind of hope that he chooses "sees it coming, unfortunately," or something like that for Deet's next strength.

Kowalski is the unluckiest Trooper ever. Get this. The final encounter offered the surprising view of gentle civilized dinosaur people with their own functioning shuttle, and then a tyrannosaur rears up behind the hill. The roll looks bad for them (for once). Tim A fills Kowalski's available Strength slot with "Linguist," then goes and talks dinosaur to them, telling them to flee before they all get killed. He rolls seven kills, and with a suggestion from me, the tyrannosaurus leans down to hear him during the dialogue (like a big, big terrier), Kowalski shoots it through the earhole, and it falls to squash six of the dinosaur people, and the rest run screaming. All that, and after the mission, he still flubs the Development roll and doesn't level up! (Incidentally, Kowalski has no interest in ranking up whatsoever, so this really pissed Tim off.)

I also brought in an important new NPC, Major Frinks (who I think I'm going to have to upgrade now that I reviewed the ranks). He's a tough, grizzled, scary-looking, ideal of a field officer who's finally made the brass. He's also very disappointed in his objectionable offspring, good ol' Lt. Frinks, and wants a "real son" to be his legacy. He gave Gunther a kind of bogus promotion to captain, largely by diddling with the ship's computer, and allowed as how any threat to his (Frinks') good name should be dealt with.

Well, as "almost captain" or "lieutenant-captain," as Deet kept calling him, Gunther ushered in a new role for a player-character, to set the mission if not the target. For fun, I had Tim roll the die but I used the charts to set up the planet. As mentioned above, the target planet was called Warhol (prompting an instant flurry of reactions and suggestions from the players), a radioactive planet, harboring apes with exploding bodies. Tim's job was to create the mission, too, which he decided was to collect a sample from deep in the mines, and Gunther also was in charge of the briefing. Imagine his surprise as he was literally shoved into the mission himself by Major Frinks who was passing by; the major wants his new protege to distinguish himself in the field.

This time I rubbed my hands together in anticipation as the Alien Ability was 8, and yes indeed, the mission was much bloodier and more difficult. I didn't quite handle the rules for exploding bodies right at first, and no one died, but they did indeed suffer. This mission featured Flashbacks and frantic medi-pack use all over the place (Deet has taken to looting the bodies of fallen soldiers for them). The drop pod saved their ass big-time, giving them a free ambush, although the circumstances of the terrain didn't let them take their spiffy new APC, or to disclose, actually, the players simply forgot to use it. At the end, Kowalski escaped death only through the most lucky combination of rolls and Flashbacks that permitted them to end the encounter one Threat Token ahead of annihilation.

In this case, Chris joked that touching the radioactive core would provide super-powers, and yet again, I'd already decided to do exactly that (hit them with radioactive ape superheroes for the last encounter) about five or ten minutes previously.

I'm not really sure how to describe it, but this particular sequence, in fact this whole mission, yielded a lot of compelling imagery and weight. The leather aprons the apes wore, the watch-tower toppling, the intersections of the mine shafts, and much more, seemed especially logical, even causal as we went along, in my head. Also, I got the idea that all the players felt kind of sorry for the radioactive ape miners, overall.

Hey, you want to see players eagerly create Weaknesses for their characters? Give the ranking officer a TPK. And finally, Kowalski completed the mission all by himself again, and at least this time he leveled up. Gunther didn't get to keep his dubious captaincy, though, having displayed a Weakness. Also, at one point he tried to punch Lt. Frinks and got put into an arm-lock and made to squeal.

Considering the new rank issues, we've entered the phase of play described in the text as "It's not about the missions." Actually, the missions are involved, because creating them is turning into an in-play process. I can see now that my job as GM will finally include prep, which has definitely not been the case so far, including making up a traditional stable of active NPCs. I should probably even start considering how many high-brass characters there are. Off-mission play is not going to be just about briefing the grunts any more. I've tossed in some details, but now it's time actually to think about things like sections and regions of the fleet, past actions and relationships of different high-ranking officers, the extent to which the commander of 3:16 is in contact with the Terran fleet in general (and in fact with Terra command itself), and more.

I need to get that framework pretty solidly built too, because the personal stories among our player-characters are also coming to a head. On the one end, there's jumpy Lt. Gunther is a berserker (S), full of rage (S), can't handle responsibility (W), exactly the worst personality to be the ambitious ranker-upper he is. On the other, there's lazy fuck Trooper Kowalski, a tinkerer (S), a languages expert (S), and passive-aggressive (W); and most importantly, despite extraordinary competence, a determinedly under-achieving sad sack. Stuck in the middle is tactless Corporal Deet, pragmatically callous (S), must be the center of attention (W), and now we learn he can't kill kids (W). He's getting more complex under his thick skin and cynical obedience; I'm beginning to think Deet is the Yossarian of the bunch.

Gunther is clearly headed for a fall if not an outright fragging; Tim is playing him as more and more crazy-mean as he goes, perfectly happy to murder and sacrifice soldiers, and patently unfit for the higher rank he keeps driving for. Chris keeps goading him as hard as he can with Deet's respectful-disrespect, one example from this session being all the ways he found to emphasize the pseudo-rank Gunther briefly enjoyed, as implied in the thread title.

In sum, this is a big turning point for our game. The drama among the higher ranks and the trauma during the missions are both hitting boiling point. I suspect the next session will have a great deal to do with who, if anyone, remains standing.

As a final minor detail, I'm also thinking that we should take some more time with the missions, really get into the color and feel for each planet. I should think about providing more opportunities to interact with the aliens when dialogue might be possible, and to have a few more NFA rolls. So far, we've never been stuck for details or imagery, and I think each planet has been very vivid, but it's been so much fun with just a little bit that I want to extend it more.

Best, Ron
edited to fix the link in the first paragraph - RE


Quote from: Ron Edwards on November 22, 2008, 11:23:44 AM
Considering the new rank issues, we've entered the phase of play described in the text as "It's not about the missions." Actually, the missions are involved, because creating them is turning into an in-play process. I can see now that my job as GM will finally include prep, which has definitely not been the case so far, including making up a traditional stable of active NPCs. I should probably even start considering how many high-brass characters there are. Off-mission play is not going to be just about briefing the grunts any more. I've tossed in some details, but now it's time actually to think about things like sections and regions of the fleet, past actions and relationships of different high-ranking officers, the extent to which the commander of 3:16 is in contact with the Terran fleet in general (and in fact with Terra command itself), and more.

When you begin doing this prep, I'd love to hear about it. Specifically, I'd like to hear what details you prep and what techniques you use. (For example, I doubt that formal relationship mapping techniques make a whole lot of sense in this context.) So, for instance, when you make up the larger fleet context, are you planning on making that essentially out of whole cloth, or are there details from previous sessions that you can harvest? I wonder the same for NPCs. Are you going to take your currently established NPCs and situate them in a larger network of relationships? (For that matter, will it be a "network" or will it be a hierarchy of relationships?)

Based on my recollection, this is an area that the game doesn't spell out very well, plus it fits into my current interest in emergent campaigns. So, I'm curious to see how you will do it.

Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown

Tim C Koppang

Quote from: Ron Edwards on November 22, 2008, 11:23:44 AM
The drop pod saved their ass big-time, giving them a free ambush, although the circumstances of the terrain didn't let them take their spiffy new APC, or to disclose, actually, the players simply forgot to use it.

Not quite.  We didn't take the APC because Lt./Capt. Gunther was too afraid of getting it scratched ("It's new!").  But also because I, Tim, forgot about it until after the fact.

Because Gunther was so protective of the APC, when he tried to use his TPK grenade Deet used a weakness to escape; then retreated back to the dropship and proceeded to vandalize Gunther's precious APC.

Incidentally, Ron, you're right.  Gunther is becoming more and more self-destructive.  His troopers don't respect him.  The other officers don't trust him, and he's not one of the boys.  He's so focused on obedience and ranking up that he's probably bound to do something stupid.  I picture Deet fragging him, but that could just be paranoia (ooh! new weakness).  I would like to invent some redeeming strength for him before he bites it, though.

Chris W

Quote from: Ron Edwards on November 22, 2008, 11:23:44 AM
As a final minor detail, I'm also thinking that we should take some more time with the missions, really get into the color and feel for each planet. I should think about providing more opportunities to interact with the aliens when dialogue might be possible, and to have a few more NFA rolls. So far, we've never been stuck for details or imagery, and I think each planet has been very vivid, but it's been so much fun with just a little bit that I want to extend it more.

This is actually a BIG detail for me. Right now, the game has a creepy tinge to it, and I find myself anxious to play before every session, but I can't help but feel it would be all the more horrifying if we got to know the bugs a bit more before we ruthlessly killed them.

(Except for radioactive, soulless apes. Those things just need to die.)


Quote from: GreatWolf on November 24, 2008, 04:00:36 PMBased on my recollection, this is an area that the game doesn't spell out very well, plus it fits into my current interest in emergent campaigns. So, I'm curious to see how you will do it.

I second that request, as I just finished reading 3:16 a few weeks ago and thought the game sounded awesome, but was left scratching my head how to, well, play the game (beyond rolling the dice, especially beyond "land on planet and kill everything").
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Gregor Hutton

Oh, the interesting thing I noticed when reading about the characters above was how my view of them as a reader is tinted by what their Flashbacks are.

I've seen this in the games I've run too, where although the Flashbacks are made "in the moment", over many Flashbacks an image of the character emerges.

Ron Edwards

New worlds to kill ...

With the previous posts in this thread in mind, I prepped a little bit for the next session, which we played last week. Not very much, as you'll see, but targeted, focusing on new issues. First, I moved my point of view up into the ship hierarchy, thinking about how much or better, how little contact it might have with central command, and may have happened at that level prior to play (inspired by what has happened in play). I prepared a little names list to pop onto NPCs as they arrived in play, a technique I developed long ago and formalized in Trollbabe.

More generally, this means that I shifted fully into an establishing mode of play rather than a vignette mode. What gets depicted is no longer off-the-cuff satire, but information that can be built upon; also, retroactively, various vignette or "whatever" information is now incorporated into what might be thought of as setting. The main ones I had in mind were the captured advanced humanoid from the first mission, the military intelligence interrogations (and deal with Deet), and Callahan, the target of the rogue-troopers mission.

In this and several other threads, there seems to be a lot of jostling, grunting, and maybe whining about how the book doesn't help with this stage of play. I say, Fie! Aren't you the guys who filled eighteen spiral-bound notebooks with fantasy setting material back in the day? Didn't you used to prep eighty-eight NPCs and lovingly detailed encounters? Are you really telling me that you don't know how to prepare setting material, and are limited strictly and only by explicit instructions in the book? Fie again. I simply don't believe you can't do this.

For me, certain parts of the book really helped with the process: page 43, Re-incorporation; page 48, It's not about the missions; and the color text on page 77.

I also got to thinking about every planet description: come up with a way to screw them through NFA rolls - communication, armor, damage, whatever - players agreed enthusiastically that the radiation planet, for instance, should have simply required an NFA roll between every encounter to avoiding taking a flat kill, period.

I began the session with a nondescript fellow wandering into the barracks and trying to zap Kowalski with a little gizmo. He turned out to be Fritz, an M.I. guy, trying out something they'd developed by studying the live alien from the first mission. A few hijinks ensued, with Gunther managing to alienate both Kowalski and Fritz, but getting his mitts on the gizmo for himself.

I also spent some time with Gunther in a higher-level briefing that shows how the brass pick planets for assault. Basically, they have this big 3-D virtual graphic floating over the conference table, showing where this sector of space is "controlled" by Terran forces and where it's not. Their logic is basically like a big Othello game, trying to extend or connect areas of control in terms of "this system's going black if we don't stop it," and stuff like that, with no reference whatsoever to what the actual creatures on any actual planet are actually doing. In this case, the star system in question, if pacified, would allow them to connect one "controlled' areas and thus effectively be like turning a whole Othello row into your color. It's bullshit, of course, because it's not like the real creatures in the different systems talk to one another or anything, but the brass take this very seriously.

None of that is any good for a casus belli, especially since the satellite imagery from this system was incredibly preliminary and vague, so they huffed and puffed about that for a while, eventually coming up with the idea that these bugs might have concealed secret weapons. After all, since we don't know what they are exactly, they could be anything or have anything! "We can't risk it!" The point being that all the troopers' assigned missions are pretty much spin.

Here's what the rolls gave us: artificial life-forms (robots, I decided) on the desert planet who ignore wounds. No problem! Images of slender but nigh-indestructible Bedouin-style horsemen leaped to mind. I-Robot of Arabia. I also chose to say that the desert gunks up armor, requiring periodic NFA rolls to keep it from becoming useless.

This mission was marred by something very unusual for our group, which is to say, extremely annoying rules discussions. Not only did several rules-bits elude our understanding, but they also happened to work together in relevant ways, so that if we decided to put X behind us and move on, it crept around and ambushed us when we were coping with Y. Here they are:

- Ignore Wounds - does this merely ignore kills or does it keep the alien's Threat Tokens safe from removal as well? (the former seems trivial; the latter seems horrifically powerful although I like it)
- Movement tactics based on successful kills
- The APC, especially getting in and out, and moving around before or after the rolls in an encounter, and when you move vs. when the APC moves
- The "go first, screw you all" tactic, meaning the first successful roller can cancel everyone else's successes

Although beleaguered by hair-pulling rules consultation and debates, our SIS survived throughout, and the APC limped through desert battles with robot horsemen and bad terrain, with troopers hanging off it or relaxing to eat shitty rations in its shade. The special ability hammered'em hard! I particularly liked the part where the APC was blasted nearly to smithereens and Kowalski got jostled all over the place and couldn't get the gizmo working. There was little doubt that the final encounter was going to take some PC lives.

At that point, given Chris' interest in the planets and "bugs" themselves, I tossed in a bit of parley. Now, given the rules, this is interesting - we all know as participants that the planet/mission had to end with more combat. If they took up the robot envoy's offer of alliance against the crazed, expansionist, genocidal robot "tribe," that wouldn't mean anything for the actual risk the characters faced in mechanical terms, although they might get some interesting NFA opportunities. But the players latched onto the chance actually to do something morally right with Terran military force like they were seizing redemption itself.

Of course it turned out horrible and operatic, for which I can only credit the other players. Even as Kowalski and Deet decided that the envoy robot's offer of alliance seemed like an excellent idea and succeeded in the necessary rolls, Gunther called in an orbital strike! It all hinged on Tim K stating that Gunther was deliberately sneaking off to do it, too, and my small but apparently crucial call for an NFA roll to accomplish the sneaking. It was a huge plot hinge, because the other two would certainly have dogpiled him or worse to prevent it. He made that roll as well as the one for the strike itself. The final narration involved Kowalski having to be pulled back onto the shuttle, screaming and kicking, trying to convince the envoy robot to come back with them even as it's engulfed in missile-spawned inferno, with its searing glance of fatalistic contempt burning into his soul.

I thought it was interesting that they've butchered any number of living beings but got especially weepy about robots. Chris was right. Even a teeny bit of interaction goes a long way.

Much to Deet's and Kowalski's horror and self-contempt, the squad came home to a hero's welcome for its victory and they even got a parade through the ship's corridors. I really didn't expect Gunther to live much longer after that.

This time, Gunther brought Deet to the higher-up briefing (as he knew Deet was the real brains in the outfit), making his NFA roll to convince the brass he could (they called sergeants "pigs on two feet"). I had decided long ago to give the advanced humanoid the run of the ship, wandering around while no one notices it, and this time it was sitting among all the generals and whatnot at the conference table, its long neck swaying slightly as it watched with interest. Tim K reacted much as he does in nearly all our games, having Gunther whip out his side-arm and plug it between the eyes. Of course, no one had known it was there until it hit the deck (Tim actually hadn't realized the reverse, that the brass didn't know), and to everyone's astonishment, Gunther was now lauded as a hero!

Not that this was anything to be happy about in the long run. The brass decided that Gunther was just the man to lead the assault on the next planet, where several missions had already been sent and never returned. In the Othello strategic game, this planet was the opposite of the last: no imaginable connection to any other "resistance." Of course, in brass-logic, that meant that it was a "pocket of infection" that had to be cleansed. This time, their casus belli was that the vanished soldiers must be prisoners of war, suffering who knows what torture at the hands of the bugs, so this mission would be all about rescue.

I rolled furry artists in the dense atmosphere who can end encounters, and decided they were like big saucers with cat faces on their leading edge, who floated in the dense atmosphere by big wave actions and rippling their fur like cilia. (I borrowed the term "flat cat" from an old Heinlein novel, although my creatures weren't much like his.) They could turn edge-on to attackers and effectively vanish that way. We didn't do any direction interaction with them as with the robots, but for some reason the players liked them and their hippy rock-carving artist deal. I had the final encounter be all about the flat cats trying to protect their most precious carving.

I did decree that the dense atmosphere did something, but I don't remember what. Anyway, although I managed to ravage the players pretty badly with plain old damage, I also got badly hosed by the dice and never managed to get a lock onto a roll-combo in which the ability would be useful. (Aarrrgh, dammit, I just realized something which is probably obvious to anyone reading this. With End Encounter, I could have forced many more NFA-based confrontations with the planet itself. Oh well. Two gears were turning just fine by themselves, but I failed to see how they should mesh.)

After the last encounter, the players had no intention of leaving the planet until some business was concluded. Deet led a little mutiny in order to execute Gunther. We learned an important lesson: Flashbacks matter a lot. Boy, you really have to work at killing another player-character, don't you? Everyone survived with their hatreds turned up even hotter.

This mission did mark the fall of Gunther's rising star, though. Afterwards, given his use of a Weakness and various rolls, he was actually demoted ("What, no POWs?!") and basically, none of the characters are happy with their lives or with each other. Tensions are quite high and murder is on everyone's mind. We're loving it. I'm betting that people will start reserving Flashbacks for confrontations with one another instead of with the aliens, and that sounds like fun too.

And yes, the personality profiles are starting to look extremely clear. It's great how each Trait only has a mechanical effect when it's invented, but afterwards, the current combination of Traits acts as inspiration for future actions and decisions. It's as if the Trait rules actually have two steps: (1) crisis, Flashback, revelation about a Trait, significant in-story impact; then (2) portrait of the Trait in its combination with other Traits, consequences of each one's use (e.g. rank, but also less tangible things as acted upon by the GM and other players), and the cumulative, ever-changing effect this portrait has on subsequent actions and Trait inventions. Or to put it most clearly, there is no mechanical reason for Chris to use or even to stay consistent with Deet's Weakness "can't kill kids," but the fact is, he and everyone else simply want to. The simplest version would be to avoid killing kids later (and for that to be useful for a given situation on-mission), but it's also just as powerful if in fact in some situation he did kill children - for instance, in the choice Chris might make about identifying the next Trait.

H'mm ... I wonder, is it possible, that later in play, given long-running characters such as we have here, that Flashbacks might even be logically situated in previous missions that we've actually played? Nifty!

One thing that has never been too clear to me is, who else is on a given mission. So far I've tweaked things such that Gunther has always been in charge, but that's becoming quite artificial. Is there some default concept for what rank typically commands a mission, how many troops there are, and so on? Is it normal or usual for the commanding officer of a mission to be an NPC? It may be that I simply missed this material in the book. However, it's OK if the answer is "make it up yourself," and if that's so, then I need to do that too. Also, as a related point, I'm never sure that I'm playing/managing all the other guys on a mission properly. Basically, I just use'em to illustrate hazards, the hard way, and also to provide some running commentary that either reflects tensions among the player-characters or adds some editorializing or plays up the basic ignorance of the Terran grunt. A couple of them have been given names by the players, like the techie guy, Sparks.

One plan I have for next week is actually to design the ship, using the excellent principles outlined in the game Extreme Vengeance. It's not really a map so much as a sketchy arrows-based diagram for "if you're here, what's nearby, and where can you get" use during play.

Hey, you know what other rule we've been completely ignoring out of ignorance and poor text-leadership on my part? Forcing Weakness, which in my defense is hidden 'way in the back of the book. I think it's about time to point that out to everyone else.

Best, Ron

Gregor Hutton

Thanks Ron! Here are some answers.

- Ignore Wounds - does this merely ignore kills or does it keep the alien's Threat Tokens safe from removal as well? (the former seems trivial; the latter seems horrifically powerful although I like it)

I think my intention was the latter. I'm OK with the former since the PCs defeat the encounter but don't get kills for it, but I'm sure I meant for it to be about hard to defeat opponents. It's a sister ability to Regeneration (where the PCs do get to keep the kills caused). This is one where I'd like to have added a few more words to the description (and I will when I fix some things in the text at a future point):
Ignore Wounds
A resolute species, these aliens can ignore grievous wounds and continue fighting. The GM spends a Threat Token and any kills caused in the current combat round are ignored, and the Threat Tokens are not removed. Successful PCs do not add any kills to their total as the beasts keep attacking them and do not die."

My intention is that by sacrificing a single Threat Token the GM does not allow any other Threat Tokens to be removed this round. So, a combat could (in theory) be all about that final Threat Token in the encounter, but let it ride when he sees only one PC being successful in a round. I figured there would be a bit of cat and mouse as players switched to doing NFA things rather than confronting such a Threat using FA en masse.

- Movement tactics based on successful kills
Kill then move. If you act before the aliens you can move. If the aliens act before you then they can move you. If you act on the same number you can't move relative to each other (or cancel each other). PCs can only move other PCs if they are "opponents", which rarely might happen.

- The APC, especially getting in and out, and moving around before or after the rolls in an encounter, and when you move vs. when the APC moves
The APC is part of the driver, it moves and fires on his turn. Anyone else can get out on their own turn (before or after it moves, depending on how they rolled). I didn't write it in, but I figured that to get back into the APC you'd have to fictionally be there at the door or whatever, and mechanically at the same range.

- The "go first, screw you all" tactic, meaning the first successful roller can cancel everyone else's successes
I saw this used tactically by PCs this weekend against my aliens. When I was going to cripple most of the party the best (or second-best) PC would sacrifice their success for cancelling everyone else and the aliens.

Three points to note with cancelling: (i) you don't succeed on your own stuff and then cancel everyone else -- you actually make yourself and everyone after you fail, (ii) three rounds of cancelling (or no kills) leads to the encounter ending formally as a stand-off. When you're backed against a wall this can be a good way to end an encounter. (iii) Ties can't cancel each other, so if the aliens or two opposing PCs roll the same number cancelling isn't an option.

Oh, the thing that the book never revisits after Character Generation is Reputation. I wondered if people might organically change them based on their Flashbacks or (as I think has more commonly happened) your Rep just becomes lensed by subsequent Flashbacks. Oh, you're _that sort_ of pig.>

Lance D. Allen

Some of this may be "No shit, Lance." but I'll try to give you an idea of how "real life" works in respect to who's in charge.

We'll start with Battalion Level. A battalion usually has its own sector of responsibility, and reports to the brigade. Brigade, mostly, keeps it's nose out of the Battalions' business except to tell them what their missions are.

Battalion takes the mission allocated to it by brigade and subdivides it further into main efforts, supporting efforts and reinforcing efforts. It then sets one of it's subordinate companies as the main effort, and gives them their mission. Same deal for reinforcing and supporting efforts. This typically means that the main effort gets priority on any extras, such as fire support, surveillance, etc. In 3:16, this could be simulated by giving bonuses or penalties to NFA rolls to call in E-Vac or Orbital Bombardment, etc. Or not. Whatever.

Company is where the ground fighting really happens. Your BN CDR is typically not going to actually see any combat, unless he's too stupid to stay where he can C&C the battle, or if the enemy overruns his command post. The company commander will usually be behind his line platoons with a headquarters element, but he's very likely to be able to see the combat with his own eyes, giving him direct command and control over his platoons.

Platoon leaders are typically your actual battle-leaders. They're firing their own weapons on a moderately regular basis. They're the ones shouting orders into radios and sending up reports to the company commander.

Squad leaders, your Sergeants, are the ones who are making the split-second decisions. These guys are being shot at, firing their own weapons continuously, pulling their wounded back and pushing their troopers forward. They make the hard decisions in the moment, where even the PLs have comparative leisure to analyze the overall situation.

So what this means in terms of "who else is out there" is this: If you're a Squad leader, expect that the other squads in your platoon will be moving in the same area, engaging the same targets and hitting the same objective as you. If you're a platoon leader, you may be the company main effort, and the other (typically 2) platoons will be supporting or reinforcing you, or you'll being filling one of those roles for someone else.

If you're the company commander, You're going to be having (typically)3 platoons moving in your AO that you're in command of. You maneuver them as units, not as individual men. To your left and right, you'll have other companies that you'll be in supporting/main/reinforcing relationships with, much like your subordinate platoons, but for the most part, you don't think about them unless they fail to do what they're supposed to do. If they're doing their jobs, then you can focus entirely on your company.

If you're the BC, you're not likely even on the planet. You're probably sitting in your cushy commander's chair, watching movements on the map, yelling at your staffers for reports, and making command decisions. It's not your job to coordinate your companies, it's your decision to make decisions based on the evolving situation. Able Company is getting hammered? Send in Bravo to save their asses. Brigade has just sent you a change in priority target? Able's the main effort, but Charlie's closer, so now Charlie is the main effort.

Now, that's the way the U.S. Army works, translated into how it might work with the 3:16. Obviously for this particular setting you're going to have to toss in some twisted dysfunction (as opposed to the more normal dysfunction that happens in any large group of people) like Protocol Alpha, interrogations and suicide missions. But this may help as a basis. If you want actual numbers, I can hammer that out for ya too, but 3:16 isn't typically about solid numbers.
~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls

Callan S.

Heh, have people been tossing in/adding twisted dysfunctions, or...?

Gregor Hutton

Thanks, Lance. I'll point people to that post, that's really informative to me.

One of the playtesters for the game was a former USMC and I know that their group had a very realistic take on fire squads and the military structure/combat in their games.

I'm more ignorant of military reality (other than what I've seen in films and TV shows, and in books like My War by Colby Buzzell) but I wanted the game to allow whatever a group thought was right for them. I usually have large squads of 30 Troopers with Sergeants when we're at the grunt level (I guess this is in the Example of Play in the book, and I cut that numbers down as the aliens cause kills). Higher up I have indeterminate numbers of other officers commanding other units, and I often have them in conflict or at least in the way of what the PCs are trying to do. I don't even spell out how many ships are in the Brigade's fleet. At some point, much further on, I'd point out that the Brigade is down to a couple of ships and only hundreds of troops when someone reaches the level that they could ascertain that kind of information.

I should point out that the new Collective Endeavour Journal, which is available for free, has a list of Missions/Sub-missions for 3:16. You can get it on RPGnow: http://www.rpgnow.com/product_info.php?products_id=59188

Lance D. Allen

No problem Gregor.

I saw that the flexibility was built into the system/setting. This is the 3:16, an army built well after inter-cultural warfare on Earth has ceased to be necessary. The people who decided to built it probably looked at history, but there weren't any living military men to tell them how it was going to be. So it makes more sense that you made this game (assuming this setting) than I did.

But really, I figure the vagueness of the unit structure is a feature, rather than a bug. Military structure may not be what many players care about, but if you'd have included it in the game, it's a statement that it's important. Which it really isn't, to the game. If it's important to the players, don't worry.. We'll add it in there.

My "treatise" above is mostly to describe how I'd do it/have been doing it, and to help Ron and others have a bit of an idea of how the military structure might look.
~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls

Tim C Koppang

I found it interesting that even Gunther had an emotional connection with the robots.  When he called in the orbital bombardment, he did it specifically because he did not want to feel any sort of sympathy for the robots -- because he knew that the 3:16 was absolutely going to kill every last robot on the planet.  Gunther could see his men feeling sorry for the robots, and, probably more importantly for Gunther, could feel himself developing a connection with the robots.  So he chose to end everything in the quickest way possible.  Of course his men hate him for it, but I'm sure Gunther felt as if he was doing the "right thing" in the long run.  I think this makes Gunther a worse person, but strangely more human.

As Ron said, a little bit of detail and interaction goes a long way.

Ron Edwards


First, thanks Lance! That is tremendously helpful.

This time, we only played one mission, but with taking our time, with me hitting my GM-tactics stride, and with some serious character-centric decisions, it was a full gaming evening. Similarly to our second mission, the dice handed me a beauty combination: Bosch, forested, shadow beasts with Induce Weakness ... and AA = 10. Oh boy, I said. There won't be any heartbreaking morality on this planet - it's called "Bosch" for Pete's sake. I pulled out all my hallucinatory hellish GM skills and got ready.

We also reviewed a bunch of rules. One thing we found was that demotion isn't automatic, so we did the necessary rolls in a continuation of the last session. As it turned out, apparently no one was demoted last time after all. It added some fun, though, because apparently demotion becomes a possibility specifically when another player-character finks on the guy.

Pre-mission play was fairly straightforward although as it turned out, a little bit went a long way.
- I did something a bit unusual and narrated a scene with no player-characters present. All the high-rank guys from the previous session are reviewing the missions played so far, and they debated on whether to groom Gunther and the squad as a whole for bigger and better things. Some said yes, some said no. Finally, one said one word: "Bosch."
- Without explanation, the squad began intense training under the tutelate of the tightly-wrapped Sgt. Schoenberg, who at one point made Deet get down on his knees and thank his mother for being alive.
- I built up the reputation of planet Bosch with rumors, and that led to characters doing some investigating of their own, which led to meeting traumatized veterans who whispered to "stay in the light," and "they kept me awake for days to get it out of me," and "the daaaaark."
- Meanwhile, Gunther enjoyed himself in the lower-ranking officers rec room, ignoring the mission (which for once included a detailed explanation of the planet and its dangers) and the briefing (the sergeant made the men sit through the whole allotted briefing period, too). He also showed up to the take-off blind drunk.
- Kowalski, scared by what he's learning, did some tinkering to install flip-up arc-lights all over his armor. Amusingly, Deet asked him to fix up his armor too, and Tim A failed the roll - allowing all of us to anticipate exactly how I, the GM, would screw over Deet with the lights during the mission.
- Frinks slips Kowalski a civilian gun (i.e. to assassinate Gunther); this didn't become apparent until the mission was under way.

The mission was a lot of fun for me this time. I defined the "forested" as vast tracts of closely and regularly spaced birch-like trees, and the shadow-beast became eight-foot-long moray eel things that swam among the trunks, popping in and out of shadows. (Lots of trees = lots of shade) I also decided that they could get into your shadow and possess you, and since it wasn't an ability, the only effect was to give me a handle on defining their attacks and having fun with NPC troopers. The effect on the players, though, was pure enjoyable horror and panic. That leads to an important point about the game: you can make the aliens be or do anything as long as it's color. It was quite liberating to realize that.

I should clarify that when it comes to most skilled activities, I learn best though doing, and one of the frustrations for me in 3:16 is that there's no repetition for Alien Abilities, meaning that I don't really hit a learning curve. However, in this case, Induce Weakness was a little bit like previous ones, so I had a better intuitive feel for how to use it relative to Tokens-per-Encounter and movement tactics. For one thing, I finally realized the logical tactic in response to the drop pod: - throw away one Token on the first encounter, or in this case, two so I could spend one to Induce a Weakness. So they ambush the aliens, sure, but just as combat starts, they're gone, leaving behind a terrifying effect (perfect in this case because the Induce Weakness is permanently consequential). I also split them up more successfully, either ending encounters or messing with weapon effectiveness by shoving characters around the ranges. Although Induce Weakness pretty much obviated Tim A's Force Weakness, it was great fun for me to see all those damned Get Out of Jail Free slots disappear from the sheets.

Despite the danger and the brutal fragging drama that ensued, some black comedy showed up too. Chris W uncharacteristically rolled incredibly badly, something like four 10's in a row, at one point. Hence Deet had a pretty bad time in the initial encounters, including going fetal due to a Forced Weakness. And I had way too much fun with his suit lights, which yielded tons of contrasting shadows and attracted the aliens. Gunther sliced down a shadow-beast-possessed soldier at one point, only to discover that he'd killed Sparks, the only unequivocally-liked NPC in the whole game. Bitten by who knows what bug of inspiration, I had
Sergeant Schoenberg unaccountably fall deeply in love with Kowalski (who moments before he'd threatened with explosive decapitation simply to raise everyone's morale) and pretty much act like a lunatic to save and help him all the time - until, when he attacked Gunther for shooting at Kowalski, Gunther sliced his throat out. There was some comedic business as well regarding frantically reading the mission briefing documents in the middle of a fire-fight. The mission itself wanted a live alien captured, but not in a host. I admit it wasn't very original for our game, but I decided it might as well be a general concern for the brass, and I was tired of the whole "find the thing in the middle (node, core, command center, leader, et cetera) and blow it up."

Hey, we have a rules question: what happens when the group gets genuinely split? I don't mean merely shoved around or off the map during an Encounter, I mean established through more substantial, SIS-based means as being separated and potentially out of contact. At one point, Kowalski was separated from the others via his Weakness narration, and none of us were especially happy with being forced to say, "OK, you're all back together again," in order to proceed. Would I run separate Encounters, one for Kowalski and one for everyone else? How would that fit with the sequence of assigned Tokens? I understand that I could, for instance, require NFA rolls in order for everyone to join up again, if they wanted, but (a) what if they didn't want to, and (b) what if they failed? And never mind the Weakness basis, what if a couple of characters just trek off down the river while everyone else heads up-river, and no one minds?

Again, the point is not "how to get them back together" but how to run Encounters for separated player-characters.

Anyway, on to the fragging. The first interesting thing is that we found ourselves resolving a player-character vs. player-character combat during an actual Encounter. It required a little rules-interpreting. For one thing, I decreed that a successful roll was a straightforward Kill for the target character which did not remove a Threat Token from the aliens. For another, we realized that range was irrelevant, and that as long as the characters were in the same area (in the fight) that combat was possible regardless of weapon. Now, one thing about those player-on-player rules though, is that they say something like "Use Flashbacks, of course." Gregor, that's not enough. For instance, when fighting in this context, does using a Strength end the encounter with the aliens? I ruled that it didn't. It ended the fight with the other character (justified by narration, in this case, the tangle of aliens and soldiers getting in the way), and that's all. But that required serious interpretation on our parts.

The final bits of the Encounter were pure evil. Gunther had one available Strength, was a Mess, and had no armor left; the aliens had seven Threat Tokens (I'd scheduled 6 for the end and had retained one from a previous encounter), and don't forget that AA 10. It was quite creepy to have the characters trading looks of cold hatred and directing fire at one another, risking taking Kills, as the NPC troopers are screaming and fighting and thrashing all 'round. The aliens lost very few Tokens mainly because the characters were frantically rolling various NFAs and firing at one another instead of the creatures. Accusing Gunther of being shadow-possessed was only part of it. As it proceeded, Gunther used his last Strength to make it through Deet's attempt on his life, and to end the Encounter, which was the last one.

Just because the mission was over and the aliens were all gone didn't mean a damned thing to them now! Kowalski and Deet shot at Gunther, and Gunther called in an Orbital Strike (his second, so it was guaranteed to kill him; also quite funny because the aliens were all dead already). And then, the beauty of the rolls: three 5's - all successful and all simultaneous. The narrations were also great, drawing in stuff from all 'round, e.g. Frinks' look of glee as he authorized the strike he knew would kill Gunther. Tim K was happy because he managed to do himself in anyway with the Strike, and also because Gunther (a) got to enjoy the bubble-bath and the Hooters women for a brief while and (b) was actually quite a bad-ass on the mission itself. Tim A and Chris were happy because their combined damage was good enough to kill Gunther without the Strike, plus they could legitimately say they both killed him.

At the end, Gunther's profile was:
- Strengths: Berserker, Full of rage, Voice, Commando
- Weaknesses: Can't handle responsibility, Resigned

And now for the cherry on top, especially since Deet had been so hosed in the mission. Deet not only gets the field promotion to Lt. (successful mission, right? Shadow-beasts had possessed the Loot, right? And hey, it was the Strike that really killed him anyway, right?), he also qualified for and rolled successfully for another promotion - so bam, instant bona fide Captain! Tactless Deet, of all people! Plus, he finally got the clandestine Crimson Sword for knocking off Gunther, as promised by the military intelligence guys way back when.

Want to see a walking time bomb? Deet's current profile is:
- Strengths: pragmatically callous, tactician, I love my gun
- Weaknesses: must be the center of attention, can't kill kids, backstabber, nothing without a gun
Upon his next level, Hatred for Home will almost automatically become available, too ... and notice that he's the target for the low-ranking man's Force Weakness now.

Characteristically, although Trooper Kowalski personally assured that the alien was captured alive, thus completing the actual mission, Tim A failed the Development roll, thus failing yet again to gain rank. At least the poor guy did level up finally (I think that's the second time, out of six planets!). His shorter profile offers its own nest of snakes as well:
Strengths: tinkerer, linguist
Weaknesses: passive-aggressive, can't trust friendships

Tim K was a bit sad about Gunther until he made up his new character: the grizzled Trooper Viper, with FA 10 and NFA 6. Ooooohhhh, said everyone, and Tim K smiled with anticipation. Final minor question: we assumed that replacement characters roll for starting Kills as if they were new/initial characters. Is that right?

Best, Ron

Eero Tuovinen

Hey, what do you know, I've actually played through a similar situation where characters get separated. In our case it had something to do with choosing between saving a comrade and stopping a nucular torpedo that threatened to actually blow up the 3:16 mothership. I was GMing and didn't find it problematic to run separate encounters for the separate groups. Lets the players who are not in it take a bit of a break, too.

Anyway, good accounts of your campaign. Helps me realize how to approach the game's text, which is helpful when I might have to run this again soon. Some bastards in a convention at Oulu corrupted one of my teenagers and now he's clamoring for more 3:16 instead of the solid and virtuous fantasy adventure of D&D.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.