A Short Takeoff Roll
After a long, long head-down hiatus brought about by life and other obligations hitting several of us hard, the Monday night crew (GM’d by Christopher Rice, proprietor of Ravens n Pennies) finally sat down to start the GURPS “Halcyon” campaign.
I will admit up front was was lukewarm on the premise (spoiler: game exceeded my expectations in every way), which is an Action campaign focused on psionics that have broken out of a secret prison and Do Actiony Stuff while hiding out from the authorities.
If the basic campaign premise sounds like “The A-Team, but with psionics” to you, well, that’s why I was willing to play at all. Psionics tends to be very easy to break games, in my experience, regardless of the GM.
Anyway, short version is that we made all the right choices in how to handle it. We didn’t decide to roleplay the breakout itself, which I thought would be a real “what do we do now?” challenge. We started play washing up on the beach, with enough NPCs for additional skills/abilities and sudden but inevitable betrayal to make things interesting.
We were able to break into an Old Navy store to exchange our bright green prison jumpsuits for yuppie clothing. We foxed an ATM and walked away with $15,000 in cash. The time period is 2016, so we all had a good expectation of what do to, and when we were making plans and pulled up Google Maps to figure out where to run, we were secure in the knowledge that that’s exactly what our characters would have done.
We came up with a short plan: get the hell away from San Jose. That’s where we came ashore from the breakout. I came up with the idea to hitch/stow-away on a truck unseen. We wound up spinning a quick tale about a corporate function where the management decided the staff needed to learn “life skills” and we were supposed to get a ride with a long haul trucker and take pictures of the odometer having traveled at least 120 miles as part of some ill-conceived scavenger hunt.
Christopher didn’t even make me roll; he loved the idea. By the time we ended the session, we’d gotten as far as Reno, NV, and had plans to get to Vegas to pick up new identities. That’s where the game will really “start” from an A-Team action standpoint.
It’s quite clear to me why the OSR and The Fantasy Trip and other groups with a somewhat palpable disdain for skill systems hold strongly to their point of view. There was very little other than “player skill” on display last night except for a few moments when skill rolls made sense because the uncertainty was important to the game.
Could we defeat the lock on the clothing store? Die roll; that could go either way and good stuff would result from either outcome. Could we fox the security on the ATM camera (psionic manipulation of electronics)? Uncertain. Rip open the front panel of the ATM and steal the money? Uncertain. All of those were properly resolved with short die roll sequences with consequences and good directions either way.
The plans we laid? That was all player skill, resolved with no die rolls. We roleplayed the conversations by having the conversations with the NPCs in several cases. Maybe there was a skill roll or two, but I don’t think so. A few Fast-Talk rolls to see if the story we delivered (usually a good one) was betrayed by other elements. We were challenged on our story by the trucker we were going to hitchhike with, “why is there an 80-year-old woman with your group?” “She’s the CFO, but when the Board of Directors says “scavenger hunt!” you go on a scavenger hunt.” That got her comfortable accommodations in the sleeper section of the truck driver’s cab instead of back with the cargo.
It worked very well. We came up with a couple of funny bits that we all liked (a haunted RV that will feature in the beginning of each new episode). The next challenge will be of the “why can’t plans ever go smooth?!” variety, where as we go to pick up our new identities in Vegas, we’ll somehow get mixed in with something A-Team like (“if you can find them, if no one else can help, maybe you can hire, the psi-team!”) that will start the “action” part of the campaign.
It was a good beginning to a campaign premise that I was skeptical about, which was a good way to end the evening. More next week.