Imagine waking up in a hotel in Manchester after a few too many drinks, breakfast only available via a walk into the city centre and wondering why you volunteered to run a game that afternoon. Well that was me on Saturday 12th November (and I suspect a few other Grognards).
After finding a place for breakfast that was more ‘I saw you coming’ rather than ‘Greasy spoon’ (I had POSH beans on toast I’ll have you know!) and took serving its customers as an optional extra, it was time to head to fanboy 3 and play an RPG blast from the past – Star Frontiers, reffed by Dirk. The title of the scenario was ‘Bugs in the system’, which kind of gives away some of the scenario to be honest, it’s like a Cthulhu scenario I recently ran called ‘The Dragon of Wantley’, a decent adventure but the front cover gives away a rather massive clue as to what is going on and what will be encountered during the scenario…
My choice to play Start Frontiers on the Saturday morning was actually difficult as it was this or the Rolemaster game that another ref was running. I love a bit of Rolemaster and a crit table (mmm crit tables, nice…) but in the end I plumped for the Star Frontiers game for no reason other than I wasn’t sure / convinced how a rolemaster game could fit into three or four hours! Well done that ref for doing so.
We had a choice of pregens with each race in the game represented – Dralasite (think the new shmoo), Vrusk (chittiny chittiny insect type beings), Yazirians (they are not flying monkeys!) and of course Humans (yawn).
I believe all the players chose an alien race – no humans at all – I was a Yazirian called Amle Arar.
We had to investigate why a group of workers had not returned from the Jetson extraction platform that was floating above a gas giant and meant to be extracting valuable gases and minerals. What could be going wrong? What the company needed is a crack group of experienced investigators who can handle themselves and not panic under fire – unfortunately all that was available was our group so they had to make do.
We had a hint that something was wrong when before we left the main station to go to the platform, a robotic gorilla used to help train others in the gym (don’t look at me I didn’t write this scenario!) goes mad and kills someone. We have to destroy it and resolve the situation. We notice electrical sparks coming from its chest and it attacks us (it’s a clue!). We manage to defeat it and then have to head off to the mining platform to find the missing crew.
The shuttle malfunctions on the way down but we make it to the platform and then start investigating. As we go through the adventure we end up rolling pretty poorly and most of the damage we take has been incurred by us fumbling and throwing tangle grenades at ourselves. We overcome a sentry laser bot, various secure doors and then come to a room where all the cleaning robots seem to have gone bonkers – cleaning everything by scooping items into its chest mounted crusher / incinerator. We do battle with the maniac cleaning robot and eventually it is killed with a sonic sword chopping it up into little pieces.
At this point we were running a bit late so then cut to montages describing how we resolve the situation through a bit of story telling. It’s a nice touch to do in a one shot situation when you are pressed for time. We all took a turn to provide a addition to the starting statement made by Dirk eventually finding out that a virus of some sort had hit the gas platform and then taken it over. The ‘Bugs in the system’ then killed the crew and were planning on infiltrating other ships and items to escape from the platform and infest the universe. With a heroic ending montage we managed to defeat the massive maintenance robot and get the reactor going again to heat up the platform and destroy the virus……………..saving the universe from a terrible fate…..or did we??????
An excellent game with excellent players and roleplaying. Really enjoyed this trip down memory lane. As it is on Drivethru I suspect I may be visiting the store to purchase some of these books if for nothing else than the nostalgia factor…
Next it was lunch at a nice Mexican place, filling up on burritos that seemed to be straight out of the ‘burrito of holding’ variety as the volume and density of meat in them was quite extraordinary.
With a high meat density in my tummy I then went onto The Fitzgerald pub to get ready to run my Delta Green game. Nervous – yep, excited – yep, hungover – still a bit, but not too bad.
Delta Green - PX Poker Night
The Fitzgerald is a nice venue kind of like a gentlemen’s club with leather seats and a certain ambience that makes it cosy and snug, a very nice venue. I had five players and I believe only one of them had experience playing DG (Jonathan who I play DG with regularly online). I had all my handouts and got the map set up.
After a quick intro we launched into the game with the players describing their PCs and what they were up to that afternoon on the USAF base they were on in Nebraska. It is worth mentioning that Poker Night is a pretty atypical DG scenario – there is not a lot of actual investigation – rather the emphasis is more on making tension between the players and exploring how to make the mundane seem abnormal and planting doubt in the minds of the PCs that they can use to riff off of during play. As mentioned in part 1 I had a list of hallucinations I could introduce as the scenario doesn’t really provide any it just alludes to the fact that they are needed. These hallucinations start due to the presence of a mysterious van that turns up at the base and then sits at the north end emanating a mysterious hum.
Depending on the PC description of events I then inserted hallucinations into a relevant situation. Some of the hallucinations I used were:
- An old photo on the wall of one of the buildings from 40 years ago – but the PCs and others on the base in the present time are in the picture.
- The canteen being a complete mess and someone having to clean it up – when others go to look at the area it is completely clean and tidy.
- The radar dish on the air traffic control tower has stopped spinning – but when they get someone else to go an investigate it hasn’t its fully operational.
- A report is submitted that just has repeated sentences on it saying something like ‘Sometimes I want to kill myself’ hundreds of times. Of course when the PC asks the writer to visit the office the report is just a normal report.
So pretty standard tropes but effective if played correctly. Luckily one of the PCs kept on being involved in the hallucinations with most of them relating back to that PC. This just happened during play naturally so was good to focus on and encourage the roleplaying. This made for great gameplay with all the players. The aim of this is to increase tension until the poker game, when it all really kicks off.
We move onto the actual poker game and tensions on the base are high and the players obviously know something weird is going on. During the poker game there is suspicion of cheating and some pushing and shoving – we played a few rounds of poker – but purely using luck 50/50. If the players could give me a good reason to have a bonus of +20 or 40% to their luck role I added or subtracted depending on their approaches. After more tension and a few rounds of poker they hear some gunshots and one of the base peronnel walks into the poker room and immolates themselves. Shit just got crazy!
After this there is a lot of panic and running about with various hideous scenes and the players going mad as the drip, drip of SAN loss kicks in. Eventually they figure out that the van is the culprit then a alien spaceship turns up and everything goes a bit weird.
Suffice to say that 3.5 players got out of the scenario with 3 surviving (.5 that was cut in half trying to escape from the alien crafts door and the another player ended going on a trip in the alien craft while eyeing up the quintessential alien probing kit in one of the spaceships rooms…..)
Again it says something about the qualities of the Grogsquad that the players were awesome. Everyone bought into it and i hope had a good experience playing DG for the first time.
As mentioned I have played and reffed DG over the past year online, but having people in the room and being able to riff off of their reactions to situations and knowing when to dial the horror up and down based on that is great. I guess we’ll always play a lot of games online now that so many of us use the tools that have become available (particularly after lockdowns forced us into it) but face to face gaming is and always will be the gold standard in my view for refs and players alike.
A quiet place........
So my Grogmeet was over – others continued playing a few games but I needed beer, luckily many other Grognards felt the same and we ended up at the Ale and Pie for well, ale and a pie – which was lovely. Then it was back to The Northern Monk (with a dodgy DJ playing too loud), then several other pubs that also seemed too loud. At one point Blythy indicated he was going back to the hotel and I thought that was a good time to leave, but dastardly Dirk mentioned he was staying for another pint or two and my resilience was crushed like a grape in the vicelike grip of a stone giant. So we moved onto a pub where Karaoke was going on (I seem to remember singing along to We are the champions…) and had a few sneaky Disaranos before heading off with Dirk back to our hotel. Dirk failed his navigate roll and we ended wandering around Manchester (he thought he was heading home), but eventually we made it back to the hotel and had a responsible night cap – whisky for him and G&T for me….it was 1.30am and at 1.45am it was finally time for bed.
See you all next year and remember Parrying is for wimps!
PS – On the Sunday it was the interview with Chris McDowall – author of Into The Odd amongst other games. It was interesting and good way to finish the weekend. I’ll leave any details so you can listen to the interview via the recording on the Grognard files.