Thinking a bit more about S2E4 of the Aeon campaign, I can’t help coming back to how badly we biffed it, and still managed to pull it out because of a metagame ability – for which I paid many points – to ret-con a whole series of crap decisions.

There are certain things you can’t take back – +Christopher R. Rice has a policy, and it’s a good one, of “once you roll the dice, there are no take-backs.” Do whatever metagame stuff you want. Invoke Luck. Declare you’re using Foresight. Spend bonus points or character points to influence things. Make complimentary skill rolls.


But once you pick up the dice to roll for your effect, you takes your chances, as the saying goes.

As the player – even as the player whose job it is to pull our fat out of the fire with a retroactively-thorough plan via the virtue of something like 50+ points spend for that ability – I was shaking my head over and over about our path. And when, when all was said and done, we were able to “win,” well, it didn’t feel like a win.

I begin to understand why +Jeffro Johnson likes the TPK so much, or at least seems to. When there’s no plot armor, everyone has the equivalent of 4-8 HP, and wading in to combat or another violent or prone-to-violent confrontation with zero plan and zero preparation will just get everyone killed, thanks, roll 3d6 in order . . . things are approached with what might be called “the proper caution.”

I think part of my frustration is that we’ve been discussing the importance of planning and tactics in the group. The big dust-ups over planning and tactics at the end of Season 1 seemed to cement the value of such, and the last episode was – I thought – a huge vindication of entering into battle forewarned and forearmed.

This was all on us, too. The GM had signaled through action and exposition that our foe was a badass super-genius super-soldier with an amazing mind backed up with metahuman-level enhanced fighting skills. He kicked the unsuited Arc Light across the green like a rag doll.

This last game we were a superhero version of Leeroy Jenkins. And we deserved the same fate.

My GURPS Aeon Campaign character was in a bit of a fix. He wasn’t really shining in his designated role of, well, Commander. That was both his name, and his mission, and frankly, his skill set.

He’s got an amazing number of points in Wildcard skills. Actually, that’s not exactly true. His breakdown for what seems like 1,250-1,300 points is something like

  • 320 points in attributes
  • 285 points in advantages
  • 335 points in powers and special abilities
  • 55 points in specific skills and techniques
  • 250 points in wildcard skills
  • His power armor suit makes up the rest

So you can see that while he is a powerful character with very good stats, they’re spread around. They are, in fact, spread around quite a bit. His overall good-to-great levels of stats contain one truly exceptional one – ST 24, boosted to ST 28 from his combat suit. The rest is a high DX 18, IQ 14, and HT 16. His Perception and Will are boosted to the campaign maximum, or near enough – they’re both 18 or 19. 

His powers include his enhanced ST, and a couple of 50-pointers. So nothing huge from a telekinesis/energy control perspective. It’s not 200 points dumped into one power, but it is a set of alternate abilities. But by and large, it’s a collection of 50-70-points-or-lower powers that give him a DR-granting force field, enhanced ST, catfall, and some attack powers – notably his kinetic blast(s), both of which are double knockback to the tune of 5d.

His wildcard skills have some overlap in places – and this is where I really missed out. 


You see, when talking to +Christopher R. Rice about why the character was not playing out “on screen” in a more satisfactory manner, the thing that really stuck is that his niche was command, but he was not being terribly effective in the role. We kept walking into terrible tactical situations, getting ambushed, and generally making like the Keystone cops. Not “Call it, Captain.” 

We swapped out his power set a bit, but also spent some points on some Pyramid-based options – particularly Foresight, from Pyr #3/53. That gave him the ability to narratively alter the environment a bit, which proved critical in S1E11, as we were able to retroactively deal with an incoming air strike. That wasn’t even unfair – we’d explicitly discussed “having to deal with the air support,” and in the moment, we were able to say “oh, sure, we’d figured out a way to fox the bomber’s targeting computers.”

Boom, done.

But the real trick was that part of The Commander’s legend was that he’d fought a powerful super – the Combustible Man – in a series of battles where The Commander and his SEAL team defeated The Combustible Man. More than once.

I just couldn’t figure out how. I mean, sure, he’s strong . . . but at ST 28 (Basic Lift about 155 lbs) he can probably lift a motorcycle over his head – like Captain America in The First Avenger. But while that’s strong, it’s not “lifting tanks” strong. His forcefield and DR will bounce a .50-caliber bullet, but not anything much more than that, and in the last few adventures, he was threatened by armor piercing explosive grenades and demon-needles, both with an armor divisor.

And the raw skill numbers deliberately topped out at mostly less than 18. 

But then we started looking hard at Wildcard skills, as I noted earlier. In particular, Stealth. And some Tactics. In combat situations, he beats down with

  • Armoury (Small Arms) – 21
  • Camouflage, Explosives, Forward Observer, Gesture, Interrogation, Hiking, and Tactics – 22
  • Parachuting – 24
  • Stealth (DX+11) – 27

Ah ha. Ah HA!

The thing about skill levels of 20+ is that you use them. They allow you to have a fighting chance of taking “instant use” or “impossible odds” penalties. At Skill-24, you can do it at a -10 and still succeed 90% of the time. 

So, how was I playing The Commander wrong? He was too much Captain America, and not enough Batman. And as they saying goes, be yourself. Unless you can be Batman.

In the last fight, S1E11, he went full Batman. He had the right amount of terrain to vanish into. He’d move from behind this HVAC unit to behind that skylight. And by and large, no one would see him. He ran rings around a dangerous foe – General Cortez – and eventually wound up taking off one of his legs in a sneak-by stealthing. One lucky goon critically succeeded on his Perception roll, saw The Commander move, and was promptly killed by rifle fire.

The key bit here is that with as many points – synergistic points – scattered in many different abilities, I lost track of what he was good at, and in this case, playing him as the from-the-front guy in terms of standing visibly in the fray.

That’s not him. He makes the plan, and leads it, but he’s the sneaky recon guy who’s providing up-to-the-minute information originating a foot from the bad guy’s pancreas. He strikes from concealment, doing 5d+14 crush or cut as needed (that’s like 9d crush, or the equivalent of a .338 Lapua in terms of piercing damage). His hand-to-hand damage with his sword is second only to his ridiculously powerful technomagical super-bullets, which seem to have a large explosive radius, an armor divisor, and no real fall-off within the explosive’s distance. Three rounds took out eight guys in formation in S1E11. At once.

Once I started playing the synergy? The Commander became a force to be reckoned with. Before that?

Not so much.

Thursday is GURPSDay, and it’s time to think ahead.

We had a fun situation in this past Monday’s Aeon supers game.

We decided to use the 4-As framework to make a plan. We gathered intel, we actually guessed at what was going to happen, and we were even right.

Then we completely biffed it by exposing ourselves, which drew fire and brought down the wrath of at least a dozen, if not more, grenade-armed guards. Had it not been for a “flesh wound” Karma point, The Commander would have been killed when a limpet grendade with 20d(2) damage blew up on his back.

But we saw that coming, and I was frustrated that all of our gathering and recon did basically nothing.

This needs to be automated and mechanized – but here’s an idea that I think has been treated before in Pyramid, but maybe not like this.

Retroactive Planning

” . . . this is battle! And battle is a highly fluid situation. You . . . you plan on your contingencies, and I have. You keep your initiative, and I will. But what you don’t do is share command! It’s Never. A Good. Idea.”  – Vic Deacons, Broken Arrow

If you’ve done your homework in advance, you can engage in a bit of a “we thought of that!” retcon.

But that requires homework in advance. Planning for contingencies, as it were.


Assess, Analyze

During the Assess and Analyze phases of the mission, after you make your skill rolls to gather data and complimentary skill rolls as appropriate, you may end the session by making an Intelligence Analysis roll.

Look up the margin of success on the size (and speed range) table, with a minimum of zero. Yes, you can walk out of the planning session with nada . . . but the number you get is how many “foreseen contingencies” you can declare.

So if you make the Intel Analysis roll by 7, you get 3 foreseen contingencies. A “foreseen contingency” can be converted to a single “bonus roll” that acts just like a Tactics roll, or it can be a legit contingency as below. This choice is made during the planning phase, and is binding. No matter what, cap the number of contingencies at 3 – more is unwieldly. So if you make your roll by 10, you get up to three foreseen contingencies, plus one reroll in addition to whatever happens with the on-site Tactics roll.

Contingency Plans

Each “contingency” is a combination of people, places, and things/actions, and must be phrased that way, in the same way that a Wait is fairly well defined, but there’s wiggle room here.

People: This can be as broad as “the bad guys,” but if there’s more than one bad guy faction present, you’ll need to be specific. So “the Red team of bad guys” would be legit, as would “any one not obviously on our side.” But for the Aeon S1E9 eventuality, if we didn’t anticipate that two factions would show up (but we did!) that would not be an actionable contingency. 

Places: Where’s the thing going down. This needs to be recognizeable, but can be somewhat vague (because player/character knowledge can be fuzzy). “The ambush site” might be good enough if you’re expecting an ambush. “The black ops warehouse” from Aeon S1E9 would certainly qualify. “New York City?” Nuh-uh.

Things/Actions: This is the trigger that tells you that you’re falling into a contingency. You see the macguffin (and if you know there’s going to be a macguffin, but not precisely what it is, that’s probably good enough). Again, in S1E9 it was when the two black ops teams started fighting.

These combinations of people, places, and things must be defined in advance, and they are limited in number to the number of foreseen contingencies above – that is, one to three of them.

Saw that one coming . . . 


If one of your triggering incidents occurs, immediately make and resolve an appropriate contest of Tactics, and bank your rerolls as usual. 

You may spend them to retroactively get the following benefits, assuming you haven’t been able to explicitly get such intel already. 

If the GM wants to request an appropriate skill roll (modified by BAD if you’re using it!) that’s fair – but remember this entire concept is based around the characters having had time to develop good plans, enough that the players were able to come up with people, places, and a triggering event.

  • Local geography: Burn a reroll and you pulled searches for blueprints, got satellite data, or otherwise were able to determine what the map looks like. This needn’t be perfect information, but what there is, you have. This is one of those that will often be obtained in advance, but if the team didn’t, this lets you do it retroactively.
  • Enemy placement: Any foes not actively hiding are either located on the map, or at least given “there’s probably one or more bad guys here” markers several hexes om area. This allows some measure of avoidance to be done with careful movement.
  • Positioning: Make a new tactics roll, and again get margin of success from the size and speed/range table (size column). Minimum one, but that number is the number of unique positioning moves you can make. So if you made your roll by 5, you can locate two elements. That certainly might be “an infantry platoon at location X, and a special forces fire team at location Y” just as easly as “The Commander is here by those boxes, while Eamon is on the roof.” This does not imply that you’re undetectable in any way – just that you can “jump” your guys to an appropriate accessible location as if you’d planned it all along.
  • Stealth: With advance knowledge and planning you can force a failed Perception roll where you’re contesting it with Stealth or Camouflage. Each forced failure costs a roll (so wandering through a target zone loaded with bad guys and security cameras will deplete your re-rolls very fast). A forced failure is obvious to the person who’s bestowing or consuming the tactics reroll – you know that, save for excellent intel and tactics, you would have been spotted. This does not preclude future Perception checks by the bad guys, either . . . you get a moment’s reprieve, that’s all. You can use that to make a new Camouflage or Stealth roll to achieve a better hiding spot, or you can burst into action. Go, Leroy, go.
  • Gear: A reroll can be burned to request – with GM’s permission – a single item or group of items (a sniper rifle, or a handful of magazines of armor piercing ammo, or an electronic lockpick kit) that would help. Both the players and GM should be reasonable here. If there’s no gear to be had, you don’t consume the roll.
  • Backup: If it would be available, and reasonable, reinforcements should be allowed. These NPCs will be of an appropriate level given the quality of the requesting group. Assistance rolls or Reaction rolls are good mechanics to invoke here. Failure would mean that none are available; if that’s the case you don’t lose the tactics roll.
  • Normal Use: You don’t have to burn the tactics rolls based on foreseen contingencies. You can save them for dynamic eventualities (and you probably will want to do that).
Parting Shot

This sort of thing wouldn’t have completely saved us yesterday. We did hit on the #1 option, though – two factions would duke it out in front of us, and I had seven re-rolls that we wound up not using, or maybe we used one – but none in the furious and almost-lethal battle on the first floor.

We did, actually, do some of the above – The Commander was allowed to retroactively put suppressors on his own weapons for some initial combat volleys that came and went. 

The biggest opportunity for us was instead of being forced into action with the first failed Stealth roll (or first successful Perception check), we might have been able to choose the time and place of action

The re-roll concept for Tactics is a good one. But they very frequently go unused, either due to heat-of-the-moment, or resource hoarding. Having some things like the above to explicitly spend rerolls on – provided some contingency planning is done – is a good way to bridge the gap between player and character expertise.

In my review of Action 2, the gift that keeps on giving, I noted that there were several frameworks for thinking through things in a structured way. One was Assess, Analyze, Act, and Avoid.

I decided to apply that to the Aeon campaign, and specifically to The Commander, my 1,300-point (or so) super-soldier.

What does that look like?

  • Assess is “how do we gather data”
  • Analyze is “How do we make plans?”
  • Act is how we fight, mostly, in this context
  • Avoid let’s reframe  this into stealthy and non-stealthy transport. 

Avoid

For unsubtle, we have the VERTOL. That gives everyone in the vicinity a note that the cavalry is coming, and even a target.

For subtle: The Rat Queen can be sneaky by virtue of tiny rats. My guy can do Stealth based on SEAL! (so SEAL!-17 I think). Arc Light is notoriously non-subtle. 🙂 Eamon looks just like a guy, and Murui can probably do sneak as well being a martial artist, but not sure.

Assess

One thing that we haven’t been doing well is formal recon. Our Perception skills all seem sky-high; minimum of 18 perhaps? 

But we don’t do a great job of casing the joint, so to speak, and I think we need an SOP here. Let’s do journalism:

  • Who: What metas and what normals do we expect at the place? If we don’t know, how can we find out?
  • What: The goal of entering the building or locale. 
  • Where: Blueprints! significant other buildings or surroundings. Presence or absence of cover.
  • When: timing, not just for all of us to arrive but if we want to arrive in waves. If we need help, is it available, and how long would it take to arrive?
  • How: Subtle, non-subtle? Violence or persuasion? Who’s the notional lead, and in what circumstance? 

Analyze

What skills and skill rolls will help tip the scales here?

I have forgotten Tactics rolls more than once.

In yesterday’s example, we suspected that the building would have an occult presence, and yet we just waltzed in and let in a demon. That was a rookie mistake. 🙂

But we could have done Architecture to figure out the layout. Blueprints for entrances and exits ahead of time. Research for hidden lore, etc, before we started sprinting into the fray. 

My primary skills for the analyze phase include Ten-Hut! at a level of 16 or 18 (IQ+2 or IQ+4), which covers a bunch of nice stuff, plus SEAL! at the same level, which has Interrogation, Intimidation, and some other militarily useful abilities, including Intelligence Analysis so I can take all the recon data and incorporate it into a Tactics roll. Part and parcel of that is also Observation.

Act: The Commander

Defense: Parry-14 with his sword. Dodge is nothing special. TK block with the sword. Armor is worth about DR 20, plus another forward-facing force field (TK) for DR 40 total. This field is projectable if need be.

Offense

  •  Extra attack means I can aim and attack or attack twice with my weapons each turn, so long as I’m bringing the hurt.
  •  Assault carbine. 6d damage with standard ammo. He can both aim and attack each turn, so against the rare mundane foes at SMG distance (-7 for 30yds) he can hit vitals (-3) at about 90%; this means he can also hit legs or arms at 95%. Thus far, gunfire has mostly proved useful for telling us that our foes are immune to gunfire.
  • Uber-splody bullets: I have 68 rounds left of the gadget ammo that Arc Light made for me. I use this one shot at a time, and it’s got a big armor divisor and an even worse follow-up explosion. 6d(3) and some big number for follow-up. I took out a battle robot with this.
  • Sword. There’s somethign special about my grandfather’s sword. I can do cazy TK blocks with it, and it does a lot of damage. Does 5d+14 (2) cut, or 5d+14 cr with the sheath on if I don’t want to slice things.

All of the above are very, very lethal.

My other talents are moving things around the battlefield with 5d double knockback TK blasts. I can transfer energy from place to place, and this can be stunted such as with the earthquake. 

My martial arts skills are solid. 

Parting Shot

I’m good at killin’ folks, knocking them around, and mundane physical violence. I’m good for protecting civilians, and calling off tactical plans. I will likely never do 240 crushing damage.

My ability to recon an area would be insanely good – the go-to guy for this – if it weren’t for the Rat Queen’s ability to do all of that stuff better than I can. So I’m backup recon guy, but probably the #1 player in the “make a tactical plan” department for when we remember to make one. I describe this as “Call it, Captain” from the Avengers.

“Call it, Captain.”

Once we get into the action, my guy is often the one who does recon-by-fire. He sees a target, and fires a few normal bullets into it to see how it reacts. He usually aims for the leg, unless the hostiles (like the demons in S1E8) are obviously in the “kill on sight” category.

Beyond that, he can do lesser damage via grappling and battlefield prep and denial via TK abilities. 

Diffuse foes? Screwed from a damage perspective, but not from a dispersal one. 

His DR is good, but not great, and we keep running into things with (2) through (5) armor divisors, which means my DR 40 becomes DR 20 (not bad, about 5d+2) down to DR 8 (2d+1). So he’s protected but not immune to stuff. His defenses tend to be best when leveraging Weapon Master to parry at -2 per additional, starting at Parry-14, Parry-15 with a retreat.

With all of that, he’s not the front-line combatant here. Our “Hulk? Smash” players are the Rat Queen in Ogre mode and Arc Light, especially with our newly discovered Fastball Special, where he can deal out basically 6dx10 crushing damage, absorbing the blowback on himself 

He’s most useful in clearing the field of “normals” that might threaten his teammates somehow. He can wade through those guys – often with Zephyr the martial artist’s help – at a rate of 1-2 per turn. He’s surprisingly less useful thus far against the powered set.

Well, unless there’s killin’ to be done. Then he’s got three magazines worth of rifle ammo – the result of a one-off gizmo – that do something like 6d(3) with a follow on 10d explosion. That’s 63 points of penetration on the average (just shy of 1″ of steel) with an explosion that will almost always be internal for x3 damage, which can in fact do about 100 points on the average. So if there’s a legit target for lethal force, The Commander can provide it if there’s enough time to swap magazines, and the target sets off the explosion.

I wonder if I can get one of those nifty dual-mag carbines from Ultra-Tech . . . 

Welcome to another installment of Melee Academy! Today’s topic is “Opening Moves.”

Here are some other posts by other participants

Instead of a super-detailed, broad-brush essay on possibilities, I’m going to get specific and talk about my superhero from the Aeon campaign.

The Commander is a fun character to play. He’s got a fully fleshed out background and a fairly well-varied power set.

And yet, he’s a generalist. He’s got a bit of TK – enough for things like 5d double-knockback crushing attacks with no wounding, a TK shield, and a few other things. He’s got a lot of points in Wildcard skills, the five key ones being Fist!, Blade!, Shooter!, Ten-Hut!, and SEAL!.

Plus he has a combat suit and he’s a super-soldier, so he’s got very good stats, including ST 28 and ridiculous Will and Perception.

So for equipment, he has a battlesuit, which is really more like a soldier-enhancing skinsuit than a true battlesuit. It’s got a sensor suite which is mostly non-functional, it provides DR20 everywhere, and enhances my ST and telekinetic abilities by a tetch. He’s also got guns. He uses a REC7 carbine and a FN Five-seveN pistol, because I like both calibers.

His job, in the words of Tony Stark, is “Call it, Captain!”

That is, he’s the guy who rolls vs. Tactics-20 as combat opens, and usually has enough re-rolls to hand out (thanks to Leadership-18 or even Leadership-20 thanks to SEAL! and Ten-Hut! being complimentary skills) to tip things our way.

So his opening move is basically a Tactics roll.

Still, one thing he’s found himself doing up until last game is to open combat by taking his rifle, and using his Extra Attack to Aim and Shoot in the same turn (this is a staple of combat using my On Target alternate rules, and makes for cinematically great gunmen). He did this vs. a few different foes in the last two games.

The thing is, in no case has he actually injured anyone with his rifle firing normal ammunition. In more than one case, the bullet was either stopped by magic or powers, or outright dodged by people with way too much jink in their junk. In a few other cases, the bullets ping off of armor or force fields.

But in every case, it revealed quite a lot about our foes – it was (as much as I hate to use the word) literally reconnaissance by fire. The dodge-masters reveal themselves when a single shot of 6d pi damage comes their way (I aim for the leg. Honest.). The armored guys just stand there and take it. The powered guys will do everything from an aggressive power block/parry (melting the bullets out of the air with a flame blast or something) to plucking the bullets out of the air like freakin’ Neo.

Again: that tells us how we have to fight them. And how fragile they are.

Parting Shot

I’m tempted to use this more deliberately; bring a magazine of pistol ammo (because if they just wind up being a normal human criminal in spandex, it’s less lethal) with a variety of bullet types in it. A regular bullet, maybe a low-penetration version to test for speed, a rubber/plastic to check for ability to affect metal (we fought a ferrokinetic last game). That sort of thing. Heck, an under-barrel shotgun loaded with special birdshot might be useful here too. 

The point isn’t to kill or even injure the bad guys. It’s to make them tip their hand. After that, the team can assess what’s going on and try and deal with it. We almost lost a PC last game to a super-speedster that could succeed a Dodge roll by 5-10 even when rolling a 16 on 3d6. We got lucky, in the end, but a way to see how amazing this guy was at dodging would have driven our tactics.

Some games the bad guys will be obvious, or at least tactics and threat levels will be accessible through common knowledge. Everyone knows Orcs are strong and stupid. Goblins are weaker, but quick and prone to multiple attacks and gang tactics. Feral Kobolds are weak but employ pack grappling tactics backed up with knives. Lots of knives. 

But if you don’t have time to work that out in advance, or you meet a monster with which you’re not familiar – getting some way to assess capabilities is a good idea.