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?

As part of gearing up for my Alien Menace campaign, I’m populating the organization to which the PCs belong. I thought I’d throw open the doors to interesting characters from pretty much anywhere. While I’ve got a small combat team that will do the bulk of the real adventuring, there are going to be lots of other people involved. I could certainly generate and/or stat up these guys, but that will make lots of “cookie cutter” NPCs, since my own biases will heavily influence the results.

So: crowd-sourcing. Here are some types of characters that I will likely need, and general guidelines. The game is set roughly in 2035.

Oliver Industries and Wayne Oliver

The organization is led by a former special forces soldier and industrialist – billionaire, even, named quite deliberately Wayne Oliver. As in (Bruce) Wayne and Oliver (Queen). He is driven, ruthless when he needs to be, but also has a broad view of what success looks like. He likes to quote from movies, and does describe himself as “billionaire, playboy, soldier, philanthropist” and expects people to recognize the reference.

His “industry” has been, much like Tony Stark, very defense related. He controls a large swath of manufacturing and engineering resources. He even bought out Heckler and Koch, a conceit I chose deliberately to give the same feel as in Iron Man and Avengers, where Stark-Tech is mostly reskinned H&K weapons. But he also plays in engines, power plants, and supports fundamental research driving those technologies. 

In short, he’s got the capability to hire really good people if he’s making a small, purpose-built team. Why does he need a Private Military Company, effectively? 

Well. Therein lies the campaign. Don’t want to spoil anything. But it’s no secret that it involves space travel, visiting other worlds, encountering aliens, killing them, and taking their stuff.

Human Resources

So, what other players do we need?

Combat Troops

I could probably use another dozen soldiers. Broadly, there should be scout/snipers, “technical” personnel that includes people who understand engineering, metallurgy, electronics, physcial and biological sciences, and (perhaps most importantly) sensor and security intrusion measures. Weapons specialists to include your basic high-quality riflemen, some with heavy weapons expertise. 

Soldiers should be built on 175 to 225 points. Tech Level 8. No ass-hats. These guys are going to be quality troops, and even the technical and medical personnel will be competent fighters. Strong team support psychology (Sense of Duty) is screened for, as well as a flexible and creative mind. 

Guidelines: ST should be 9 or higher, but at ST 11 or less, you’re going to want Lifting ST (up to 3 levels) to plus that up to at least a carrying ST of 12. DX, IQ, and HT will be 11 or higher. Willpower should be 12 or higher. Guns skills are whittled down to Guns (Rifle) for all types of longarm, Guns (Pistol) for handguns, and Guns (Light Antitank Weapon) for that sort of thing. Tactical Shooting is in use, and Quick Shot and Close-Quarters Battle techniques will be common for pure combatants.

Transport and Support Crew

Again, probably about a dozen.

I’ll need a command crew for a converted submarine that serves as the method to cross between Earth and the target zone. There will need to be a captain, engineering/stardrive chief, pilot/navigator, and some weapons crew.  The drop ship (“Move it, Spunkmeyer, we’re rolling!”) will need a pilot, co-pilot, sensor/electronics warfare operator (who may pull double-duty as a tactical officer, and is often the senior ranking crewmember), an engineer, and an engineer’s mate, who also serves as cargomaster and maintenance technician for both the drop ship and any embarked vehicles.

Logistics, Administrative and Technical Staff

There are always support staff, and the roll is critical. Planners, scientists, an R&D wing, range officers for the combat troops to train. Supply officers and personnel. 

This has the most leeway, and will have the most variation in point values. All will be good at their jobs, though. 

Engineering and R&D: There will need to be some people to try and reverse engineer recovered alien technology.

Logistics, Training, and Support: Planetbound physical and medical support. Shoot-house operators. Supply officers and, yes, administrative/accounting personnel. An interesting character that’s the equivalent of Q? You bet. 

Parting Shot
I will certainly be generating a cast of characters as necessary. But due to time and brain limits, they’ll wind up looking a lot alike, I fear. Asking for help – nifty people to populate the world that we’ll be playing in – is one way to get that sort of real-world variety.

Part of that variety is to not be afraid of throwing down characters that don’t all hit the 225-point limit. While a 50-point shooter is unlikely, a 75-point supply operator might not be. Not every research technician is a super genius. Most will have some level of Talent, however, rather than broadly awesome IQ.

No matter, what, if you have a neat concept, put it in a file somewhere. GDocs, Dropbox, whatever. 

I’m sure that once I’ve got the hang of this, it’ll be faster and easier. For now, making slow progress, but I get a lot of help, mostly from +Eric hil and +Brian Ronnle .

The good:

  • All the PCs are basically done.
  • I’ve got their basic equipment in place – weapons and armor
  • Doing the equipment inspired me to write a very short Pyramid article, which needs some minor polish, but is I think a really awesome idea
  • I’ve got a good starting map
  • I have an outline for what I want to have happen in terms of opening scenes
  • If I can pull it off, there might be something neat, but if not, it’ll still be OK
  • The house rules I’m using – particularly Armor as Dice, make it really easy to gauge how threatening the bad guys are
  • I’m getting better at this token thing, thanks to +Nathan Joy‘s suggestion of TokenTool. That’s just damn handy. Also, while the native microsoft paint/edit programs suck, the Snaggit Editor rocks, so I was able to add facing coloring to the token pictures I made. I can do that with any tokens, which is damn handy.

The bad

  • I really should run through a sample combat before game day with me in the GM seat.
  • While I know that it should be possible to have multiple, pre-staged encounters in the map, with bad guys queued up and ready to kill good guys, everything I do just adds all the bad guys to one giant combat tracker.
  • The invisible bad guys are darn near invisible to me too. Eric’s promised to show me how to deal with this with Advanced Frame, which is apparently pretty powerful.
All in all, I feel kinda-sorta prepared for my first GM experience in, as Obi-Wan said ” . . . a long, long time.”
Cast of Characters

Looks like the team of six starting troopers includes:
  • Colton: A very smart artificer type, with a penchant for grenade launchers. He’s wiry and very thin, but can press more than half again his own weight. While he loves his pistols, his weapon of choice is a six-shot grenade launcher. Broadly skilled in Combat Engineering and dabbles in all things mechanical and electronic.
  • Ianali: A man with a colorful and variable past, he’s found his calling as a combat medic, and it’s hard to say whether the emphasis is harder on the “combat” or the “medic.” If you have holes in you that aren’t supposed to be there, you want him near you. If he’s not near you, he will be, no matter what.

  • AB: A towering chunk of raw fury, he pities the fool who gets in his way. Spectacularly strong, he carries an awful lot of ammunition, and . . . is that a rocket launcher on his back? Yes. Yes it is. I don’t think that’s standard issue. With that many millimeters of projectile, he must be the team lead.
  • Enrique: If you need to get close to, find out about, or otherwise reconnoiter something, someone, or somewhere, he’s your guy. If that someone needs a bullet to the head from a long, long ways off, that .50 Barrett rifle he carries around helps out more than a little.
  • Christine (NPC): A “former” lots of things. Former gangbanger. Former soldier. Former gymnast. Former beauty pageant winner (but don’t ask her about that – she gets mad – it’s not her fault her mother dragged her from city to city, oh, nevermind). Sneaky, fit, with a preternatural sense of when something’s about to go wrong, she distinguished herself in several hot combat conflicts. Some were public, some not so much. Not too many locked doors can keep her out either.
  • Ethan (NPC): The very model of an Army Ranger, “the Captain” is a consummate soldier. Hoo-ah! When he’s not kicking ass and taking names, he tends to relax by attempting to draw his companions into political debates and discussions of military history over bottles and bottles of wine. 
Ethan’s a pure combatant, and maybe the best rifleman in the group (despite being 50 points less than any PC). Christine makes a good point person, and with Danger Sense and good combat skills, can lead a team. Colton and Ianali, while no slouches in a firefight, are the teams technical and medical specialists. In different ways, AB and Enrique bring the hurt – AB can carry over 115 lbs of gear before hitting medium encumbrance, which is a lot of boom-boom, while Enrique carries a weapon that does 6dx2 pi+ damage, even before he decides to get clever with fancy ammo.
I think they’ll be a capable team. They’ll need to be.

I’ve been challenged to throw my hat into the ring for the Ennies. Much like +Peter V. Dell’Orto I don’t expect to win, much less make a strong showing. But you never know, and the more exposure the better.

I figure I’ll link up one or two of the interviews, a S&W or Pathfinder post, and a GURPS post – maybe Technical Natasha.

But I’m open to suggestions. What posts will make the entry the most compelling?


In other news, my family spent a fun night last Thursday night in the ER as my daughter came down with croup, and the usual palliatives weren’t effective. She responded well to the nebulized epinephrine and oral steroid, so she’s been much better. But my wife and I are wiped out. She’s very, very pregnant and I had been up late and up early for the last week, for both work and fun. Short version: took Friday off due to necessity, took care of Short Stack, but am still wiped out.

What that meant, though, was campaign prep. Thanks to some truly epic assistance from +Eric hil, I now know exactly how to get characters, NPCs and otherwise, into FG2. Along with fog of war, importing maps, some nifty waypoint stuff for movement, and a bunch of tokens.

I’m not ready yet, but I will be. He also introduced me to making “modules” in FG, so you can just preload and go from map to map to map, like a pre-prepared adventure.

Also doing a lot with the players. +Peter V. Dell’Orto will be playing a heavy weapons guy (and likely team lead). +Christopher R. Rice is the combat medic with a penchant for two-weapon hand-to-hand fighting. +Nathan Joy is going to be a scout/sniper with an XM500 as his “Muton go away” switch. +Tim Shorts has yet to report for duty, but I also have two 225-point NPCs ready to go for fire support, and can create more (the PCs are 275 points).

Standard gear will be a modified XM8 rifle setup. But chambered in a more impressive cartridge, and I’ve chosen the 6.8×43 SPC, largely because it does exactly 6d from a 16″ carbine, and can credibly be shortened to 12-13″ while losing only 1 point.

The game’s set two decades in the future, so I can more or less do what I want/need for equipment. Chose the XM8 largely for looks, I’ll admit, but I like the overall feel, and it’s something different.

I’ve got the team kitted out in high-quality body armor, but still TL8 stuff. Improvements in gear are part of the genre.

In addition to being a FG guru, Eric is also an artist, He took my basic cavern map that I’d done, and turned it into something special. Heh.

I’m not ready yet . . . but I’m getting closer.


Lastly, this campaign has caused me to jot down a few other ideas for articles. And of course Peter and I have agreed to collaborate and contribute something to an issue of the Manor, which will be my first foray into publishing something D&D-esque.