Monday, July 26, 2010

Fifth Playtest

The fifth session running under Shadowitz was a combat intensive session, and the finale of the run. As in the real finale, not the faux finale that I gave them a couple of sessions ago. Last time we played, the team was hired to track down what happened to the simsense star they'd previously kidnapped. She'd gone missing again, and it was now their job to get her back.

Much investigation and negotiation later, the team stood outside a bug infested warehouse outfitted with security armor and heavy weapons looking all the world like the space marines from Aliens (one player even went so far as to find a clip of the movie and play it prior to getting underway).

I was a little nervous going into the fight for a couple of reasons.

This was supposed to be a claustrophobic modern day dungeon crawl, and the Aliens analogy was apt. The thing is, I suck at running horror games, and it became clear that this team would not be skittish. No matter how I described the alien looking bug men, they just wanted blood. Granted, this is a team of veterans and while this was their characters' first experience with a hive, they've all played Shadowrun long enough to have faced this kind of thing in other games before. So it quickly became "I shoot it!" with little emotional impact. Clearly I was missing something essential.

So after a few small skirmishes, I had the sound of gunfire awake the rest of the hive and the shaman directed them to assemble in one place to protect the queen. No more small encounters. Now every spirit, flesh and true, was assembled in one massive encounter. And here was the second point of doubt I had: would the mook rules work?

As it turns out, they worked out famously. All told, the party faced close to 30 opponents, all in a single combat. Most of these were low threat mook squads made up of ant worker spirits. I had a few higher threat level mooks made of soldiers, and then a few true villians (as in mechanically identical to PCs).

It was a long fight, nearly 2 hours, and at the end the party was severely chewed up. Most were staring at completely filled damage tracks, complete with injury slots, and more than once first aid treatments and magical healing were the only reasons someone made it through the fight. People screamed at one another for aid, some sacrificed themselves to buy others time to do something only someone else could do (banishment was a big one here), and it came down to a few critical moments toward the end to see which side would be victorious. Tension rode higher and higher as the fight went on. Really, I was happy with how it turned out.

How did the mooks fair? Poorly for the most part. But they were near useless in the fight by design. After all, they were worker spirits. Still, there were 20 of them, and they demanded attention, and it took a few grenades and some Vindicator minigun spray to wipe them all out (largely because the party didn't know how to throw grenades or fire a heavy weapon, so die pools were small). The thought of being swarmed by them terrified some members of the group, and even if they were low threat rating mooks, a squad of 20 brought pain enough.

The other thing I learned in this session is the value and appeal of tactical combat. Narrative combat is freer; you can do what you like as long as you and the GM agree on the details. Don't sweat movement rates, threatened areas, or terrain modifiers. Just do what you want, and roll with the descriptions. The problem is that it sounds all kinds of wonderful in theory, but can quickly fade to "I attack" over and over. I as GM tried to provide some extra detail for my NPCs, but I slipped away from that as the fight went on as well. And especially when you're using guns, there's only so much extra detail you can pack on round after round to shooting at someone.

Tactical combat provides an additional layer of detail without needing the description. It too can rapidly become "I attack" if you have two people standing in place and slugging it out (ranged or melee), but tactical combat systems usually introduce more combat considerations that can give the proceedings more detail and more substance.

My group seems perfectly happy with the combat system as it currently works and doesn't seem to need the full tactical array, so I doubt I'll be laying down a battlemat anytime soon, but it was an interesting thing to observe. In the meantime, I think looking into some mechanic to inspire more detail in combat actions is in order.

1 comment:

  1. I think, largely, that the fallback to "I attack" is because after a while it moves a little bit faster... I like the idea of the "describe what you are doing, and you've done a great job with filling in the narrative gap when the player doesn't, after the rolls are done. It's almost a split case for hit locations vs non-hit locations... with the non-locations, you have the leeway to make a sweeping descriptive prior to the attack (then determine success, failure, result) vs finding out where you hit them then needing to fill in the narrative...