I’m stealing +Christopher R. Rice‘s name for gear and tools entries. ‘Cause it’s awesome, and that’s key.

The Alien Menace game is on hiatus, but one day I’ll get back to it. When that is I do not know, but I swear I should be able to start it up again, and I need to play GURPS again. It was also a really fun campaign idea, even if I did trap myself a bit.

But forget that, let’s talk weapons.

The XM8-Derived Primary weapon

I like weapons, and for the game, I wanted to have a slightly-futuristic feel to it. There seems to be a good argument that the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge is frankly the wrong tool for the job the way that many of the countries want to use it. Fashionably-short barrels which cut enough velocity from the usually 4g projectile that the terminal effects drop off pretty hard, pretty fast.

However, no one can really deny that a short, handy, accurate weapon is a good thing.

So, I decided that my future space commandos would sport a bullpup version of the XM8 rifle. The XM8 has a lot of the things I’d want in a platform: piston driven, modular, etc. I also love bullpup rifles, the look, the feel, and the way you can get a ridiculously short weapon with a long barrel for accuracy and velocity. If you look at the old Bushmaster M17S, you’ll find the overall length of the weapon is 760mm, while the barrel is about 550mm. The variants of the full-sized M16 (A1, A2, A4) are 985-1010mm, but the barrel is 510mm. So 40mm more barrel, but 250mm less length.


I also like the concept of an intermediate cartridge. The 6.8x43mm SPC is my current choice. It’s not quite as long-ranged as (say) the 6.5mm Grendel, which has a very long aspect ratio and a longer cartridge. I’m sure other intermediate rounds (anything between 6-7mm, really) could fit the bill. But I’m familiar with the 6.8 and it also has a nice, even damage rating of 6d, so yay.

Ultimately, though, I wanted an advanced-ish weapon that could be given out. Fortunately, I’m not the only one with such ideas, and a quick Google search for “bullpup XM8” provides much inspiration. I particularly like the one highlighted to the right by PatTheGunartist.

The bog-standard weapon is basically something like a 16-18″ barrel in a bullpup. It probably looks something like the one above. That’s the C version, for carbine. The S version is “short,” which is probably cut down in both stock and barrel, and loses a bit of accuracy and damage in exchange for lighter weight, lower bulk. The SW is a support weapon, which is a bit heavier and uses 100-round drums and a heavier, longer barrel. The DMR is a semi-auto-only Designated Marksman’s Rifle, accurized. It probably has a 24″ barrel or something like that – bullpups can have very long barrels and still be handy. If, for example, you made a rifle as long as the M16A4 but in an M17S frame, the barrel length could be something like 31″ (likely more than you need).

So that’s the set of primary weapons.

The Thor PDW

I completely stole this likely-impractical but ultimately very cool PDW by Pascal Eggert. It’s got a pretty unique C-shaped magazine, but it’s also a very compact weapon. Plus: super-cool looking. I gave it the full benefit of the doubt in stats, but did it also in 6.8×43 SPC for ammo compatibility. You lose a few points of damage for increased ammo capacity and lighter weight, but not that much lighter. It’s a good compliment to a very large weapon, like a grenade launcher or sniper rifle.

Other Guns

The Barrett XM500 and MP7 are both real guns, ported over to my fictional Oliver Industries or whatever – I basically took the entire H&K weapon catalog and said that all of these weapons are really made by Oliver Indistries, my Patron in the game. Maybe there was a merger.

The PDW at 3d(2) is an assault rifle like penetration but in a pistol-sized package. Not sure if any of the characters took one; the bad guys have tended to require bigger guns than this. Same thing with the Kahr concealable pistol, which again is the last-ditch category.

The Weapon Chart

Parting Shot

I wanted to give the guys a bit of hypothetical weaponry that was fun enough to want to add to a character sheet, but no so crazytown that the players would balk at being supplied with weapons that could not be manufactured in the time frame of the campaign.

Thus far, they’ve had fun with it and used the weaponry to good effect. I hope to start up the game again at some point.

Until then, enjoy the hardware.

After something like a three-month pause (Peter says 1/9/2015), we return to the Castle of the Mad Archmage. We’d abandoned the arena, and returned to Level 3, looking for stuff to kill and loot in the fine, grand old tradition of delvers everywhere..

After shooting the breeze for nearly an hour, we got down to business. We were moderately loaded with healing potions, so Rul went shopping, and bought 3 more for 500gp.

We decided to continue to avoid the mass of Hobgoblins to the Northeast (“because there’s a ton of them and they have a terrible Treasure Type.”) We elect to head to the area round the pink room, and as per usual, the three ST 16-17 characters all fail to open the door, rollng 5-6 three times on 1d6. Odds of that? 1 in 27.

Guess we need to find another door.

We do, and then Rul actually managed to kick open a door. The occupants of the room are dead, standing, and they turn to look at us but don’t turn to attack just yet. There are four of them.

“Greetings, denizens of the underworld,” says Mirado. We don’t see any treasure about – we say “sorry guys!” and leave.

As we walk, Minister finds a secret door as we go, and opens it. There’s nothing obvious, but we continue down the corridor, finding a dead-end. We all fail the secret door roll, so we miss the obvious second secret door in the dead-end corridor.

We continue.

We come to another door, and Rul opens it this time. Lots of locked doors. There’s a number on the room, so we at least get XP. There’s a bust with crazy hair, on top of a pedestal. It speaks: “Green. Out. Light. Bird. Boat. Club. Cook. What five letter word can be added to these words to make new words?”

Peter nails it early: House.

A secret compartment opens, and there’s something metallic in there – a large brass key. We kick in the door, Mirado is not surprised, and we roll initiative against a “Stun Jelly.” A very large stun jelly.

Mirado stabs the stun jelly, hitting with a 21 for 4 HP. Mir gets hit by the stun jelly for 4 HP. Peter slices for a few HP, and Rul and Minister miss. Rul hits this time, Mirado takes a HP of damage from his blood drinking sword by rolling a 1, and Minister nails Stun Jelly for 10HP.

It’s in a jam now!

Peter gets hit, and barely makes his saving throw, and takes 1 HP.

Then Rul gets hit for 5 HP, is paralyzed, and it moves in to envelop Rul. If we don’t kill it this round, I take half-damage after. But Peter kills him in the next round.

I’m paralyzed for 80min though. They prop me up next to the Beethoven head, hang their armor and shields on me, and use cantrips to take selfies of my paralyzed body. But inside the stun jelly, there’s 35gp and 8pp. Which is not bad for selfies.

We press on, hang a left at a turn, and roll a random polyhedral die in a random roll-low method, and Mirado kicks open the door. There’s no description or number,so we decide in this room, there are spectral warriors moving spectral clowns around on a sand table, which itself is mounted on a 5% slope.

So we keep on moving, and find a door and more hallway. All three of us again fail to open door, as we roll 5,5,5 against a 1-4.

The door opens up anyway, and a large ogre with a bunch of orcs behind him. We win initiative, and Mirado hits him with his ogre head. Rul hits for a major blow – 12 HP, in addition to Mirado’s 6 HP. Ogre’s still up.

Minister sees a dozen orcs behind the ogre, so Minister casts sleep, and rolls 2d6 for 3 – putting three to sleep. The ogre moves into the hallway. The ogre targets Mirado, wielder of the ogre-head (“Was this your brother? Cousin?”) and hits rolling 21, for 9 HP.

Mirado puts the ogre down with a mighty 10HP blow, but misses his cleave. The orcs look more determined than ever. Rul rolls four hits with two natural 20s, killing four with a mighty flurry of blows. The remainig four orcs miss, and once again we gain initiative. Rul kills one, but no joy on the rest. The remaining three suddenly surrender.

We drag these three into the room with their sleeping buddies, and Mirado gets to work starting to recruit them. He’s like that. He’s always the one that wants to talk to the Lynx. And he speaks orcish. “We are recruiting. You are my subjects. We are your new ogre chieftain!”

He flexes a lot as he talks, but his CHA 10 makes it Hans and Franz. “You ah now paht of owr teem!” BUTT FLEXING!!

We tell them that we’ve no intention of killing their women and children, so they join up.

The new three wake up, and go for their weapons. We try and convince them that we’re their chieftain, by shoving the dead ogre’s dead face into their midst. The orcs admit we’re a chieftain. No, we’re their chieftan. You are A chieftain. Mirado has enough of this badinage, and kills one. They run (all of them) in all directions, and we follow the one bolting out to the north.

Out of the door pops the hill giant. We’re told missile fire is impossible, and out come behind the hill giant a large number of orcs and ogres.

Fireballs Coming Online . . . 

We win initiative, and it’s time to throw fireballs. Minister throws an 18 HP fireball, and all the big guys make their saves. The first five orcs in the rushing onslaught are all turned into crispy critters.

The hill giant misses, an ogre hits Rul for 8 HP. Minister gets tagged for 15 HP, which drops him down to 11 HP left.

Mirado and Rul team up on the hill giant, doing 14 HP between them. Minister gets his magic missile on, versus the ogre that hit him, hitting the ogre for 13 HP. He’s reeling but up.

The giant misses Mirado again, even with +10 in bonuses. The ogre misses Rul, but hits Minister, who’s only got 11 HP left . . . bringing him down to -3. He goes down.

Rul rolls like the fifteenth 6 for initiative, which is good, ’cause we need it.

We keep going after the giant, and hit for 6 HP more. We’ve got giant, ogre, ogre attacking Rul Rul Rul. Ouch. Three hits. 17 HP, and 16 HP . . . 33 HP total, leaving me with 1 HP left.

Rul quaffs a extra healing potion, restoring 16 HP. Mirado hits for a few HP. One ogre hits Mirado for 12 HP.

Mirado hits the hill giant for 10 HP, finally killing it, and cleaves, missing. One ogre on each of us, both hit. Rul takes 9 HP, Mirado takes 15 HP. Mirado kills one of the remaining ogres. The last hits Rul, rendering him unconscious. Mirado takes down the last ogre, after being missed in a simultaneous excahnge.

Mirado threatens the orcs; they do not attack. He then heals Minister, bringing him to 3 HP. Minister heals Rul up to 9 HP. Rul heals himself back with 3 regular healing potions, now at 23 HP.

Peter’s the only effective at the moment, though. We have HP, but need to rest.

The downed hill giant has a few gems in his sack, and a belt or something wrapped around his arm. Turns out it’s a Belt of Fortitute, giving +1 HP per HD.

There are about, well, 8-9 orcs in the hallway, and more wandering about. And still more gather. Mirado growls a warning, and we limp out of the dungeon to rest and heal. We give the belt to Minister, to balance out his twenty-something HP total to keep him alive.

The gems are worth 6,500 gp . . . so the delve wasn’t so bad after all. We decide to continue.

We want to go kill some orcs, vengeance. When we get back, there’s a giant barricade in the hallway. Hrm. We try and make our way to an alternate route. We open a door, and find, on a shelf, four bottles of old Aventian wine. Nope. valueless, turned to vinegar.

I got 99 problems, but a ditch ain’t one

We decide to try our luck crossing pits to get to the orc area. We take some construction stuff and make a bridge, but we run up against another barricade. Drat.

We decide to leave a sign in orcish, saying “By order of the Mad Archmage, this illegal barricade must be removed immediately, or horrible magical torture awaits all within the two walls. To Plead No Contest and Pay the 95 GP Fine, Check and Sign Next To The Box.”

We decide to go tear down the northwest barricade

We both roll 1s, and are surprised by 7 giant centipedes. Ooo. Save vs. Death monsters.

Two attack each of us, but of course three are on Minister. They spend their surprise round missing us. Because they’re coming out of the garbage, no one can get more than one cleave.

We lose initiative, and one bites Tim but he saves (at +6), so not dead.

Our round comes, and we kill 5 of the 7. The two centipedes win initiative for the next round, and miss. Peter squishes the remaining two.

We continue through the barricade, and see that they rolled out a very old ballista, which they loose at Mirado as he peeks around the corner. It screams by his head, missing, and after they fire the orcs flee.

We burn it all, since we’ll never get it up all the 5% slopes.

We carefully scout out the area. Noise to the north – wailing of children, stuff being moved around. We bypass it and head back to where we had the big fight, looking for another. Nothing. We keep looking, find a door, and this looks like it was a barracks, within the last couple of weeks. It’s now abandoned.

We continue to make the orcish circuit, filling in blank spaces in our map. Some empty rooms, but we also find on the south wall a viewport, like on a ship.

We find another door, open it, and find three full-sized statues: a female elf, a halfling, and an orc. Rul the imprudent goes into the room, and Minster follows. The door slams shut, and the halfling comes alive, then starts shapechanging into something else, while attacking Minister. He misses.

Rul hits for 7 HP, while Minister fires off 10 HP worth of Magic Missile. Next round Minister steps in for 8 HP. Mimic misses, and Rul crits, hitting for 12 HP. Minister adds his 9 HP, and the thing is still up, but reeling. 7 HP more from Minister, and the mimic falls.

Mirado knocks quietly on the door, and asks “are you done yet? I didn’t want to attract any wandering monsters.”

We search the room, and find nothing We push over the statues that remain out of spite – we hate orcs so much we’ll even kill orc statues.

We continue on, and barely avoiding getting hit by a Lurker from Above. In our turn, the three of us hit for 25 HP total, each hitting solidly. Lurker misses Rul.

A few more blows traded, Rul for 10 HP. and the Lurker hits Rul for 24 HP on a crit, and then hits for 8 HP more as it slowly crushes me to death; Rul’s down to 8 HP now.

Rul hits from inside for 4 HP, and Magic Missile hits for 14 HP more, killing it.

Whew. Mirado hits me with a healing spell and I quaff a potion, bringing back 19 HP.

We look around for treasure, finding none. Alas.

We contiue to wander around a bit, revealing more and more random bends. We find one more door, and just have to kick it in.

Or try. Mirado kicks poorly, but Rul busts it open. And six theater masks are hanging on the walls. Sadness, Happiness, Chorus, Neutral, Oaf, and Age. “Which of us is telling the truth?”

One of us is telling the truth.
Two of us are teeling the truth, says the next . . .

We just close the door, because most of us have been drinking and it’s 11pm CST.


Tim gets 1000 extra XP for the belt, and 7,305 base XP, x 1.15 for bonuses is 8,400 XP. I’m not something like 4,000 XP away from Level 7.

Work has been a Terribly Dire Polar Bear recently, and today most of all. Fortunately, SJG comes to my blogging rescue by releasing something that was pretty darn interesting in playtest.

GURPS Boardroom and Curia is a book all about groups of people. In a word: Organizations. 

It’s a PC-facing guide to what organizations, from street gangs to multinational conglomerates to multinational conglomerate street gangs (and given the global reach of some gangs, this isn’t really an exaggeration!). From Wayne Enterprises to Intergang to the Peace Corps to the Green Lantern Corps, you can probably figure out what to do.

I had an interesting time on this one, because I’d just threw down quite a long post on this topic thanks to my daughter being precocious. 

This manuscript got a lot of love and attention in the playtest – all of it geared (successfully, based on the revisions brought forward by the irrepressible +Matt Riggsby, the supplement’s author) to ensuring that the manuscript was even more player-facing (and GM-facing) than it had been before.

Organizations – from the merchant’s guild to the Illuminati, from the LiberDemoPublican party to Anarchists United, and (more seriously) many of the organized religions that have and continue to play important roles in politics and society in both reality and fiction – play a defining role in the human world. Every time you shop, go to the bank, go to church to pray, contribute or read something from a political party, you’re interacting with an organization. When you have to deal with the Infernal Revenue Service to straighten out a bit of a problem with your yearly Soul Return, you’re dealing with the people in the organization. Every time you’re stymied on the phone and say “I will speak with your manager, now” you’re interacting with the rules presented in the book. 

Thanks to Pelgrane for JUST the right tone

More importantly, when you need to get the Army to send a squad of gunships to die messily attacking a Lovecraftian Horror – you’re dealing with an organization, and the book will help you do it.

I haven’t re-read it in full yet. But I will. Not only that, but I fully intend to use it to scope out Oliver Enterprises, the fictional megacorporation helmed by my NPC Patron Wayne Oliver (yes, yes, derivative, but deliberately so, and he even makes Tony Stark jokes about himself) for my on-hiatus Alien Menace campaign. 

So check it out – I think it’ll be worth your while. And if not, you can speak to my manager.

Maybe he doesn’t like me. But the other day +Nathan Joy emailed me and noted that the downloadable content X-COM: Long War – a modification on the Enemy Within DLC – would be “right up my alley.”

I blame him for the misery that ensued. After all, it’s completely his fault that

  • This game is right up my alley
  • I enjoyed the XCOM Enemy Unknown game and love the mod even more
  • It plays like my GURPS Alien Menace game, but without endless hours of game prep on my part
From the start, you have a selection of weapons, armor, and other equipment that is like a cheat sheet form GURPS High-Tech and Tactical Shooting. 
It emphasizes cover, mutual support, and the need to work methodically in order to ensure you don’t get outflanked.
It has a morale component to it that GURPS also has in the form of a Fright Check that got a boost in Tactical Shooting.
More tenacious aliens in the early game. Seeing that a mission is too much and aborting is a viable choice. You usually need to send several jets after a UFO in order to shoot it down, and that UFO doesn’t automatically trigger a recovery mission.
Anyway, it’s a great game, and makes me feel like I”m GURPSing in my own campaign, which is cool. 
Now, if they’d only come up with an XCOM: Alien Menace expansion where you fly to Sectoid planets and take the fight to them.

Yesterday’s Alien Menace session was fun, but I think could have been better in a few areas, and they represent some teachable moments for me as I get my GM hat back on.


The concept of the mission started with an idea about a different alien type. Rather than just sectoids, I decided to try and mix it up. That led me to start to sketch things out, which was brainstorming in both directions.

I tried to use my “book of pretentiousness,” but it’s really the wrong tool for the job. After flirting with various methods, I finally downloaded XMind. What I wanted was something that could help me create an adversary map or murder board – something like what you see in Chuck, where you can plunk factions or ideas down, and then connect them.

+Kenneth Hite talks a lot about adversary maps and faction pyramids in Night’s Black Agents, which I raved about in a G+ post and will do so again at length. He also had some advice about plotting a thriller that I tried to follow but didn’t take far enough.

But more on that later.

In any case, I used the Mind Map to do some background planning, and borrowed the Who-What-Where-When-Why-How structure common to fiction and elaborated upon in GURPS Monster Hunters 2 – which is another good reference work to deal with plotting out mysteries, clues, and how to weave a little bit of investigation and discovery into what are otherwise thriller/action-hero genres.

What Went Well

The good news was that my plotline held together well. It was not a linear plot, although of course there was a critical path of “yes, they could do this” that was the backbone. I knew they would fly to the planet where the scout team was lost. I knew more or less that it was an Earthlike world of about 1.2 gravities and that the scout ship had set down intact. I knew they were going to deal with the scout ship, the “structure” where the team disappeared, return to the transport ship, and come home. I also knew that something was going to happen when they got back to earth, and had a series of ideas and some preparation for that.

So all in all, my planning process, facilitated by the mind map software, was good. I was able to ask myself “what might they do?” at every trunk of the planning phase, and I came up with good contingencies and key information to drop off that was available and thought through enough to hold together in most places. Not all, though . . . more later.

The other thing that went well is when the players came up with things that I hadn’t thought of, I mostly let them do it and was able to weave it in well.

Lessons Learned

Not everything went as well as I’d have liked, but there were some take-aways that will help me plan for future events. In no particular order, brainstorming as I go.

Every step should have excitement potential: In my original concept, I wanted the recovery of the drop ship to be fairly trivial in terms of what was obvious. This was fine, but come on . . . the players will always be expecting the GM to mess with them, and so it’s a good thing to play to type a bit. The retrieval would have been perhaps more interesting if there had been something more to it. An angry bit of native fauna, or something contaminated, or a mechanical problem, at least.

Remember the genre: I told the players to make soldiers. And they did, Which was good. But when you make a bunch of guys who solve problems with a hail of bullets, you need to make sure that most problems can be solved with a hail of bullets. If you don’t, then you have gimped the players and basically pulled a bait-and-switch, which is uncool. Especially when, on a 275-point budget, it’s entirely possible to create chracters that can do both investigation and combat, and be competent-to-excellent at both or either.

The players control the pacing: One thing that tends to happen, at least for me, is that I will decide which parts of the adventure should be slow, and which will be bullet-riddled shoot-em-up. That’s all good, to an extent. But sometimes the players will focus laser-like on a place or incident, and if they’re doing a bunch of ‘what if this” and “what if that” when your notes read only “the shuttle is perfectly fine, and can boost to orbit with a few minutes pre-flight” then it might be time for two ninjas with guns to kick in the door. Or if you have some big mystery and invesgitation scene planned, and they wave their hands at it and want to breeze through with a few die rolls, they may be telling you something you should heed. Each little scene should contain a resolution by inquiry, a resolution by violence, or a way to either slow it down or speed it up. based on their preferences. But if I, as GM, dictate pacing, I’m setting myself up for expectations mismatch, and that’s where people start making Monty Python jokes or provoking inter-party strife.

Engage the entire group: I made a couple unforced errors here, largely in service to the previous point. I was trying to force the pacing a few times in both directions. In the dropship recovery scene, I effectively didn’t engage any of the group. Unforgivable to not even ask “what will the freakin’ PCs do?” when they may be there asking questions for tens of minutes of game time.

Engage the group 2: If you’re going to throw combat at the group, even if it’s supposed to be pretty pro-forma or one-sided on the players’ part, make sure you give everyone a chance to do something. In the mission yesterday, I threw only a single slugbeast at the party, which +Peter V. Dell’Orto neutralized in one burst. Granted, the challenge was the expanding cloud of cannibal macrophages (large eaters!), not the gunfight. But I could have easily thrown five to ten of these guys at the players and made a real fight out of it. Even if it were only two or three, with the right kind of forethought, it would have been a very intense scene. I downplayed it too much, I think.

Recon is not Sherlocking: There’s a difference between recon for tactical objectives (a soldierly thing to do) and Sherlocking, which is to determine what the challenge is in the first place. The key to engaging a group of tactically-oriented characters is to make the objectives known, but the methods unknown. “How do we best achieve a known objective” puts agency for decision and action in the players’ hands, where it belongs. “We need to leverage skills no one has to even find out what to do next” is Sherlocking. One of these two things is fine. The other is not. At least given the expectations for this particular game.

Parting Shot

Lessons learned does not imply a failed game. I think the players had fun, but I also think more entertainment could have been had with a bit more attention to more formulaic plot options. Sure, use the mind map to create a plotline flowchart, scenario map, or incident web. But then, take each node and ask yourself what will the character’s do? Do you have something to engage the Scout’s Danger Sense? No? Bzzzzt! Thanks for playing. Do you have a long-distance target for the sniper, or at least something to take large-caliber single shots at? Hrm. Something with intelligent reactions that ducks when you shoot at it? Well, the guy with the suppressive-fire weapon could be more engaged. And for God sakes, let the On the Edge medic sprint across an entirely hazardous combat zone to rescue an injured companion at least once.

Don’t throw in depth Sherlocking at a bunch of thugs when you told them to make a bunch of thugs. This is not Dungeon Fantasy where you expect the players to round out a series of niches such as scout, front-line fighter, magical buff-monster, healer/undead foil. Where no-mana zones, insubstantial foes, super thick armor or ultra-nimble dodge monkeys (perhaps literally) force all sorts of solutions to problems. from investigation to punching them hard in the face. The genre assumptions there say “if you miss a niche, the GM is free to punish you,” more or less. When the GM’s directives lean towards “everyone’s a Knight, Scout, or Swashbuckler,” but you throw in a puzzle that can only be solved by a Wizard?

Party foul.

I don’t think I stepped over that line, but the plot seemed to be hurtling towards that, and the players, all experienced RPGers and authors, sensed it. In fact, the next thing that was going to happen was a fairly obvious clue (and likely this will happen offline betfore the next game) that would give the team an objective they can follow, or failing self-direction, an obvious mission that their Patron can give them: You guys turfed up something interesting. Here are your objectives. Go shoot something.

Wayne Oliver, CEO of Oliver Industries and he who bankrolls the Alien Menace missions, has plans for his hunters, that he’s talked about publicly. Well, not “publicly,” but within the team structure. Just so that they feel he’s got long-term plans for what he’s doing..

There are two kinds of teams. Scout/probe teams and hunter teams. His desire is to have 2-3 probe teams per hunter team, and three or four hunter teams.

Since most “out and back” missions take a bit more than a week, this means about three missions per ship per month.
Up until recently, he had three probe teams and one hunter team. As of the last probe mission (they go out and look for stuff worth bringing back with a hunter team), he now has two scout/probe teams. Oops. Despite the usual caution, despite what the teams call Sir Robin’s Rules of Engagement:

The probe team ran away.
When danger rears it’s ugly head,
The probe team turned it’s tail and fled.
Yes, the probe team turned about
Order-bound to chicken out!
Bravely ran away away.

the probe team was lost to a man on a recent expedition. Based on the telemetry from the drop ship (which is still sitting on said planet), the team seemed to be all afflicted by some incredibly virulent affliction that dropped them after contact was lost after they passed through some sort of entryway.

The mission parameters are two-fold:

1) Retrieve the lost drop ship, and stage it for transit back to earth
2) Bring back a sample of the pathogen that killed the team

Sealed uniforms are recommended.

Departure and Dropship recovery

The hunters, plus two NPCs to pilot the scout ship out for recovery, boosted for the destination planet. They exercised much caution, took air samples, and acted as if they were utterly convinced the GM was out to kill them all upon setting down on the surface.

No idea why.

How it should have ended. Or even begun!

The tests came out clean, the telemetry was solid, and the scout ship was recovered without incident. Yeah, were I better prepared I should have had a monster attack them, a la the critter that attacked Jim Kirk in the Abrams Star Trek. But I didn’t. The point of this adventure was not to waylay the players while recovering the ship.

In any case, the pilot and engineer were transferred aboard after many hours of analysis – and a swap-out of the oxygen tanks they were all carrying to ensure that they weren’t pathogen-ized while getting the dropship out.

Into the sphincter of doom

They then went to find and follow the scout team, first approaching and then deciding to enter the open door into the area. It didn’t look like ti belonged there, but did look very organic, more like a sphincter or iris than a more human type construction.

Nonetheless, the team entered, and traversed several passageways. They found the inner construction again very organic. “Some sort of secreted resin,” naturally. They took samples with Ianali’s ( +Christopher R. Rice ) exceedingly sharp tomahawk, and found that the material was tenacious and light, but very bulky. Much later analysis would show that the material was not necessarily an improvement over terrestrial inorganic materials or high-tech polymerics. Still, abalone is pretty awesome, and this was a variant.

They found doors, with a clear area that seemed like it should be perhaps the opening mechanism, but they couldn’t trigger it.

The moved on, and found several more rooms. Analyzing something that seemed like a “cafeteria,” or at least a large room where some sort of life forms used to gathered, they found traces of a residue on some surfaces, and smearing that smear on the door seal both opened and closed the iris doors.

The place had been cleaned out, though – very little was left.

Slugbeasts and cannibal nano

They found the remains of a SAPI insert plate, partially dissolved, next to what they estimated was over 100 lbs of dessicated powder. They would later conclude the powder was the remains of a team member and all his gear. Only some armor plate and the soles of the boots (also armored) survived. Moving through the door, they found evidence of team member number 2.

While there was some wandering, eventually they opened the last door, and a sluglike creature whirled and moved towards them. A. B. Karabus ( +Peter V. Dell’Orto ) hosed it down with machinegun fire . . . and it exploded like the pressure vessel it was. The room filled with an expanding cloud of . . . something. The team didn’t wait to find out what. They left, and sealed the door. They assumed (correctly) that the dissipating fog was the pathogen/agent that had killed the away team. The evidence for that was two more characteristic piles of powder on the floor.

The mission still wasn’t complete yet, but they came up with the idea of isolating the pathogen in the SAPI plates, as well as using the chitinous samples themselves as a container. It was too awesome to say no, so I said yes.

They did some truly risky things – and Ianali earned his On the Edge by risking himself to get more samples. In the end, they brought back some chitin, samples of the bio-agent, and even some samples of the door material and the membrane that was used to open and close the lock. They would hose down mildly exposed team members with a fire extinguisher and water – this worked very well to halt the dissolution of everything – but Ianali’s armor and boots were still compromised, ruined, and left behind.

Leaving orbit

The trip out started uneventfully, but on their way out, the team got readings on a gigawatt-scale IR and electromagnetic source. They turned their scopes on it, and found it was another ship. An organic looking vessel that was estimated as 100-150 yards long (SM +10 to +11) headed . . . somewhere.

Before too much could happen, they detected a massive surge of Cherenkov radiation, and the ship disappeared. They concluded (a) it went FTL, and (b) did not use the same sort of jump technology that the Hunters used. Definitely an “oh crap” moment, I think.

Analysis, and Close to Home

The samples turned out to be a semi-organic, semi-inorganic cannibal nano. Each macrophage could destroy 100x to 1000x its own mass – which was why the fire extinguishers and water baths turned out to be such a good idea (fire extinguishers more than water spray). The macrophages would disassemble the flood of complex molecules in the extinguishers preferentially to the human host, by dint of “too much food.” Had there been higher concentrations of nano, that wouldn’t have worked.

The lab got to work on the materials. The chitin was nothing special, really. The bits of the slugbeast will require more analysis.

Closer to home, though . . . they received a news report of a town on the coast of Peru that had been nearly depopulated. Thousands missing, presumed dead. And the video feeds from a pirate video showed characteristic mounds of powder where people should be.

The team ordered a flyby, suspecting they were followed to earth. They were not. Any air activity over the last few weeks? No.

So either it was a recent arrival undetected . . . or it was already here.

We ended there, with plans to deploy a team to Peru. The players will get some clues in between sessions, though, because asking a bunch of special ops guys on a “hunt and kill aliens and take their stuff” to do Sherlock Holmes is bait and switch, and that’s not the point of the game.

+Peter V. Dell’Orto‘s summary is here.

Armor as dice is a good way of simplifying and speeding some aspects of GURPS combat. It makes it pretty easy to determine if an attack penetrates armor – do the damage dice exceed the armor dice? If yes, injury occurs. If not, it doesn’t.

Simple and binary. Maybe too much so. In my Alien Menace game, when +Peter V. Dell’Orto or +Jake Bernstein got tagged by a blaster for 3d(5) against 10d armor there was no doubt as to the outcome – you were going to take 1d injury per shot. Period.

In that case, the chance of injury was 100%, and the average injury was caused by 3.5 points of penetration, maximum 6 points.

In rules-as-written GURPS you’d roll the 3d damage against 1/5 of DR 35 or DR 7. That’s about a 12% chance of no injury at all, average damage was 3.68, with a maximum of 11 points. You get an injury more than the maximum 6 points using armor as dice about 20% of the time.

If I increase the overmatch by as little as 1d (3d penetration vs 1d effective armor, or getting hit with 3d(10) instead of 3d(5), normality reverts itself, with 1% chance of getting by unscathed, and a tiny fraction of the time getting higher than the max Armor as Dice value of 12. 

So this is really an extension of the edge case of when penetration is more than armor, but by less than about 1d.

I think the solution to the problem, such as it is, is that if penetration less armor is lower than or equal to 1d+1, add 1d-4 to the penetration and roll it. Sometimes it’ll come out as a non-penetration, sometimes you’ll get in a few extra HP . . . but mostly it’ll keep the right flavor. You either totally overmatch the armor and always cause injury, or the blow pings off and is no real threat.

But as it happens, the deliberate challenge I posed to my players – weapons that just barely overmatched their torso armor – fell right smack into an edge case.

Who’d a thunk it?

Parting Shot

This post started as me wondering how to keep the mystery for the players. They know their damage rolls (usually but not always 6d for the rifles), but by only rolling injury, they know exactly how strong their foes’ armor is. That means I have to roll all damages (which is less fun for them) if I don’t want to give key bits of tactical data away, such as how strong the armor is. 

That’s a real downside to Armor as Dice, since if you roll at all, you are either in the middle of the edge case or blasting through.  Maybe that’s OK, but I like the feeling as a player of rolling my hit and damage rolls, then seeing the effect. In a +RPTools world, or +Roll20, this is often done as a macro: Bob rolls 10 against a skill of 14, succeeding by 4. He hits twice, and rolls 6d6 and 6d6 for 16 and 29 points of damage if his foe fails to defend. Very common MapTool and Roll20 macros there. When playing on a VTT, that sort of automation does speed the game.

For Alien Menace, I’m not too worried about metagame knowledge from my players – they’re long-time gamers, authors, and all-around good guys. But as a general case, while I like armor as dice for many reasons, this isn’t one of them.

A solution by +Luke Campbell offered by Varyon

Over on the GURPS Forums, Varyon comments that one thing that would fix this quite a bit is to change “roll injury as Nd” where N is the penetration dice less the armor dice to “roll injury as 1d x N, where N is still the same.

So the players, on any injury, are rolling 1d. No information need be given out other than the fact that armor was penetrated. Bonus, from my perspective, is it increases the variability of injuries. If you like grazes and hitting the vitals with a 1d roll . . . I wonder if it can be the same roll. If you slam down a 1, you check to see if it was a graze or not (with N being max damage), and if you roll a 6, you have hit something important, and can increase the damage as a result.

Bah. That’s another post. For this one, I think treating Nd+M as 1dxN+M is the answer I was looking for.

A while back I commented that there seemed to be a real advantage to megadungeon play where it came to front-loading the prep. Well, we brought little Melody back from the hospital today, and looking forward to our first night home, I had been hoping to get in a session after we put my eldest to bed.

No way. To make the session concept I have in mind fun, I need to plan a few things out. Sequence out the events, think about the challenges and ‘puzzles,’ figure out some branched scenarios on what the PCs might do.

I don’t think I’d have needed maps today, but I didn’t want to rely on my improv skills to early in the game.

I wonder if what i need to do is make an “effective” megadungeon in the same way that one would map Zork. I don’t necessarily think that the right way to do this would be a ConsPyramid, from Night’s Black Agents, but I could be wrong about that. Actually, I can see how this would be handy.

Some sort of relationship map, like Charles Bartowski made in Chuck, might be just the ticket here.  A few overlapping triangles, a nested Conspiramid/Goals and Objectives map, would allow the players to start dictating the pace of events (like in a megadungeon) instead of ‘no GM worm-on-a-hook, no game’ (which is where we are for episodic play now).

If I can get the game to start (or ideally, end) with “what we need to do next is . . . ” that will allow a whole bunch of agency in the game, as well as feed me plot seeds. I can always break out the locomotive when I need to, but having it be somewhat up to the players, such as “we need to find a frombotzer. Let’s look for a world with the following characteristics and go delve!” will take some of the pressure off.

Still, I do have a fun idea for the next mission. I just need time to flesh it out.

I am now outnumbered and flanked. We welcomed Melody Alexis Cole to our gaming circle yesterday. 

She clocked in at just shy of 50cm and 2.9kg, and thus far – with one exception last night – has been a pretty content little cuddle-monkey.
Her big sister loves calling herself a big sister. Mom is feeling better after all the tubes are no longer connected. 

I’ve got a few things in the works. I’ve got tentative agreement to throw down with another couple of Firing Squad interviews. One with another member of the SJG staff (heh), and since he’s come up in every interview so far, I’ve asked if +Hans-Christian Vortisch would sit down with me and chat about writing for RPGs, and his passion for firearms.
Game On!

The Alien Menace campaign got off to a slow but solid start, and I’m trying to remember how to be a GM. I have a good idea for the next adventure at least in kind, and it should hopefully be a whole ‘nother thing than this last one, which was a giant tactical exercise. Good mix and match going to happen, and I’m interested to see if the players like the direction.

Based on an extensive debriefing that boiled down to five and a half operatives ripping the tech staff and Wayne Oliver (their patron) a new one, improvements were made to the existing armor availability. The trooper’s body armor was tailored to provide arm and leg protection, and also the disc thickness was altered to provide a suitable variation in potential protection and weight. Threat protection anywhere from 5mm to 16.5mm RHAe is now available (4d to 13d).

The R&D department was very excited by the robotic specimens brought back from the mission. Even a cursory analysis showed that while the drones were remarkably vulnerable to projectile weapons. they contained within their shells a fibrous material layer that was an outstanding conductor of heat and energy. While not quite superconducting (though very clearly this is a half-step to room temperature superconductivity!) the structure and composition was relatively easy to isolate. This allowed the fast (but expensive) creation of a heat/energy dissipative cloth. Initially it was tried as an under-layer beneath the armor, but that was a failure, as the explosive/expanding debris from the initial impact punctured the suit and provided no protection. It was then thought to make the layer the outer protective cloth that the ABA was stuffed inside of – that worked.

It also seems to blur out IR signatures [-2 SM for IR signatures] a bit, since it smooths out he natural heat contours of the body. 

[Game mechanically: Hardened 1 against most lasers and blasters, but not projectiles]

Two caveats: it’s heavy, and contains bound metals in the structure (armor weight per unit protection is increased by 50%). Also, it’s a remarkable radar reflector, and increases the radar return from a body by 2x (+2 SM if painted by radar). Finally, it’s conductive as hell, and should be treated as metal armor in trooper’s minds.

Basically, the troops can now select armor from 4d, 7d, 10d, and 13d grades, with torso, arm, and leg protection ranging from 18 lbs for 4d+1 without the dissipation layer to 86 lbs for full coverage with the new stuff. 

The IR dissipation, conductivity, and radar reflectivity may well be BS. I don’t care. It makes it interesting.

Parting Shot

A belated parting shot on this one. I crunched some numbers, randomly generating incoming threats from 1d(1) to 12d(5) and everywhere in between, against armor from 4d to 13d. The dissipator cloth reduced the damage when the threat was a beam instead of a bullet by about 1d+1 injury on the average (4-5 points), and more importantly, increased the fraction of totally stopped shots by about 65%. That’s over 8,000 trials. So for 50% more weight you’re seeing about a 65% increase in protection. I can live with that, and I suspect that my players will like the options presented.