Alien Menace Introductory Session

Saturday night put me in the GM’s chair for the first time in probably seven or eight years. I’ve been blogging for while on the prep. We had a full house. So how did it go?

The Interface – Fantasy Grounds

To start with, we can’t get past the issues with the interface and setup. While I’d run a test session over the last few days to have every one of my players connect, and +Eric hil still did yeoman’s work in getting me as far along as I was able to get . . . when it came time to play, my IP address was dynamically reset and so none of that meant a damn thing. Meanwhile, during the whole “make it work, damnit!” process, the IP address reset again, leaving me wondering whether it would do that sequentially and be massively disruptive.

Fortunately, you can in fact do port-forwarding on the fly, and once I got port 1802 hitting the right IP, my guys were able to link in, and it stayed stable for four hours.

Lessons Learned

  • Check the IP 30 min before the session with ipconfig
  • Reset ports if necessary
  • Do this every time

We still had some issues with the interface throughout the night, and if you make a few keystrokes wrong, you can lose a lot. I thought I was removing a drawn line I’d put on the map at one point, and it turns out I was deleting the entire map. Was a quick recovery, but it was a painful experience.

What else with the interface? It’s pretty non-intuitive for everyone. Some very odd choices of keystrokes, and the mouse-wheel is far too important. Scrolling the wheel can rotate your guy, rescale your guy (I eventually fixed that, but it was painful before I did), and increment nearly any active box by plus or minus, which means you can accidentally dynamically reorder the turn in the combat tracker by scrolling at the wrong moment.

When you add monsters to the tracker, they seem to go in with the same name in that tracker, and it’s very hard to figure out who’s getting wounded. I”d like it if when you selected a guy on the map, his entry in the combat tracker was also highlighted. After all, when +Tim Shorts nailed two Sectoid Workers at once with two well-aimed grenades, I needed to make them both dead. I wanted to highlight the guy on the map, then alter his stats. The interface is definitely character-based, rather than map-based.

Finally, for most of the game, the NPCs were a real issue. I was the only one who could control them, and frankly, the NPCs on the players’ side should be player controlled.

I really missed the +Roll20 ability to ping an area on the map by holding down the button, setting off a sonar ping that brought your attention to a particular area. A laser pointer function like exists in Power Point woudl work as well!

Finally, I got bit a tiny bit by fog of war and masking. As players advance and retreat, the sight-lines change, meaning I have to mask and unmask depending on who’s where. What I need is for a MapTools like dynamic vision model attached to the character, plus a way to place vision-blocking spaces into my map layer (but layers don’t really exist in the version I’m playing).

So it sucked?

No. Far from it. All you need to play is there, and it’s very, very powerful. But the interface foibles detraced from the game a bit.The more I play, the more facile I’ll be with making what I want happen. And I know that diverse people are hard at work making the next ruleset for GURPS a reality. I’m sure my players – every one a long-time GM, author of RPG material, or both – will have a lot of helpful advice.

The Game

The game had a bit of a setup phase first:

The Setup

I set up the game intro by having the players think about answers to the following questions. They didn’t have to tell me what they were, but they’d set up the beginning as characters met each other.

  • When I was contacted by an agent from Mr Oliver’s corporation, I was living in what city?
  • What was I doing at the time?
  • What event or activity brought you to Mr Oliver’s attention?
  • How hard were you to track down?
  • How did you respond to the initial proposal to join a fairly secretive Private Military Company?
  • Why did you accept the offer?

After that, and off-camera, they were flown to a fairly remote location and put through a series of physical and mental tests with a group of people that they have not seen since. Swimming, hiking, running, answering questions about politics, shooting and room clearing, heck, even a 48-hour session of . .  roleplaying games, where you required to remain in character the entire time. Hand-to-hand combat. Orienteering. Disassembling and reassembling machinery. Freaking painting and poetry. Training like an Operator. Yoga.

Then, again, the players were encouraged to think about

  • What was your most memorable (in a good and bad) way about the event?
  • What were you good at?
  • What left you thinking “what the fuck?”
  • What did you decide all this was about?

Again off-camera, they were extended an invitation to join the team. They were given a ticket on a private jet (chartered) to Singapore. There each was met by an utterly nondescript man in a grey business suit, and escorted to a private and posh waiting area, where you joined five other people in a waiting room. While the windows to the airport are frosted, the window outside reveals a Bombardier 9000 business jet, a very posh, very fast aircraft with a 14,000km range.

The game started there . . .

Getting to Know You

The team met for the first time in that waiting room. They were handed new employment packets, with double the salary that had originally enticed them to join. The team ate, drank, and talked for a bit. Then they were joined by two more (NPC) team members, and they got on the plane and flew to a private airstrip on Mornington Island in Australia, a roughly six hour flight. This island isn’t much, and still isn’t – but underneath it is now a major facility, owned by Oliver Industries and built quickly and in secret.

After being shown around the place for a bit – their new quarters (more like apartments than barracks – the facilities for eating, drinking, training and exercise, the next morning they had a briefing with Mr. Oliver himself.

Why would a billionaire start a Private Military Company? Even a former special forces guy like Oliver? Not why you’d think. He revealed that his top scientist, Dr. Arthur Beake, had discovered the secret and the physics behind a practical stardrive. Anywhere in the universe was within reach, within certain parameters.

Beake assembled a team, and they traveled to their first world. While Oliver insisted on the inclusion of at least one security officer, Beake and ‘the captain’ were at loggerheads from the beginning. It was Beake’s project to run, and thus the four-man team traveled to a new world, which was shown to be both earthlike in atmosphere and there was something that tracked as very high energy density at a particular location. Beake concluded that the place had been abandoned.

The overflight and landing was . . . put together quickly. The team landed, and this recording is the only surviving record from the trip.

The team had been wiped out in seconds. The drop ship (unarmed, barely armored) destroyed shortly after. The transport vessel returned home with a horrific tale of hostile aliens. Later studies showed that this hostility was not unique – it was a dangerous universe, and in the words of Nick Fury, humanity was hoplessly, hilariously outgunned, and out matched.

Oliver meant to go back to that world, and others. With soldiers of outstanding skill and flexible minds, looking to bring back sufficient technology to bootstrap humanity into contention.

No F**king Way and Liftoff

Troops would be forgiven for being skeptical, but Oliver escorted them down the hall, into a waiting drop ship, and seven minutes at just shy of 2g acceleration later, they were in orbit, rendezvousing with a 200-foot-long converted submarine. A quick return later, the troops were briefed.

They were to armor up in the best Oliver could provide (and that was pretty damn good), go back to the alien site, and return with as much technology as they could, especially the high energy density items detected in that first mission, 18 months ago. Everything else built to this, including finding and hiring this squad.

Any questions? Good. Gear up, and good hunting.

The mission

They entered the ice cave, and found a nearly perfect cutout in the wall – and the bodies of the dead away team. A hole had been melted through the Captain’s MP5, which Ianali ( +Christopher R. Rice ), the squad medic, determined to have continued through him. Beake had been hit three times, the Captain twice, and Jones and Yi drilled from back to front once each, directly through their hearts. Damage was more consistent with a blowtorch than a bullet.

They cautiously entered the cave complex, and moved into a large room. After a cautious advance, they heard a low noise, and both took cover and went weapons hot. They established sightlines, and soon a three-foot wide, one foot tall floating disc came into view. As soon as it did, the team opened up, and the first shots that were fired were a full burst of 6d bullets from AB Karabus’ (+Peter V. Dell’Orto ) squad support weapon. Despite the armor, AB landed more than 50% shots on target (7 of 12). This jarred the floater, which needed to take a turn to do some sort of targeting sweep. The very next instant, most of the team opened up, , including a devastating blow from Enrique ( +Nathan Joy ) firing an XM500 in .50 BMG for 12d. Other hits and probably a second shot from the Barrett rendered the floater inoperative with nary a return shot.

We were testing two house rules here. One was armor as dice. that worked fine, but it really does mean the GM needs to roll damage, since giving away how much armor the targets have might be too much. The other rule was an alternate take on Aim, and while it worked OK, some tweaks were made to make it even better.

They made careful approach to the north, with one of the NPCs always covering their rear track. They heard sounds that resembled electric discharges, similar to those from the audio recording. Taking no chances, they moved carefully forward until they had scoped out the extent of this north cavern area, and determined that both forks contained bad guys.

As cautiously as one can with a grenade launcher, they took out the guys to the “west” of the map. That brought the easterners running, and when they hit a chokepoint in the cavern, Colton ( +Tim Shorts ) let ’em have it, firing two HE grenades between them. Both were messily killed.

We ended there.

Parting Shot

Pretty sure eveyone had fun, and my first GM experience in 7-10 years wasn’t a total bust. I gave away too much during the fight, and I have to remember that if turn after turn goes by with the players choosing to sit and wait . . . that’s their choice, and if they find it “tense” rather than “boring,” that’s a win.

We also came up with a good alternate rule to handle this sort of situation that will be great next time.

All in all, I can’t wait to go again in two weeks! The aliens can’t wait either.

Cast of Characters

A special call-out to +Steven Marsh , +Gerardo Tasistro , and +Antoni Ten Monrós who rose to the occasion and survived a mediocre script to put together that audio clip that was my record for what happened to the first away team.

I used some free sound effects from the web, plus the Audacity free sound editing program. In probably an hour or so, I was able to put all that together, including splicing in the different sound effects, on multiple tracks where necessary, to allow the sounds to overlay with each other. Tons of fun, and I think worthwhile.

What do you think?

9 thoughts on “Alien Menace Introductory Session

    1. Yeah, I remember now. You nailed it once with the.50, which gave it a moment's pause – it scanned you instead of shooting. Then you all opened up, and riddled it with holes.

  1. "I thought I was removing a drawn line I'd put on the map at one point, and it turns out I was deleting the entire map."—how exactly did you do that? You can go into "draw" mode and erase from there, which should have no effect at all on the map file.

    Most of your interface issues are addressed in FG Core, but haven't been migrated into the GURPS ruleset yet. I don't think there are any plans for sight-lines or dynamic masking, though.

    If we want players to control some NPCs, we usually just make them available as PCs—a player can play more than one character, switching between the two by right-clicking the portrait and "activating" it.

  2. The little grenade said what? "BOOM! Your dead."

    One of Colton's favorite jokes. While no one else finds it funny he thinks its hilarious. Fun game. It's been soooooooo long since I played a modern or sci-fi game I have to get used to all these gun thingys.

  3. most routers you can reserve your private (internal) IP address for a computer, which will get you around the changing IP issue at least for your port forwarding. If you setup a Dynamic DNS setup, it would allow you to get around the IP your router getting from your ISP changing.

  4. Enjoyed the writeup!

    Wow, 7 years without GM-ing? Congrats at your return to fold! Did you have any "stage fright" ? (I remember I did after my one long hiatus from GMing, though it went away after a few minutes…)

    1. I had total stage fright, and much of what Peter said in his 'advice column' to me in his blog was brought on by me trying to make sure that a few weeks of prep and worry about pulling this off would go well enough to keep these guys engaged!

      I think it went well, at least well enough, and my jitters will fade. There's another post to be done on the benefits of megadungeon type play instead of quite as episodic as I have it right now, though.

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