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[Story Steps] WWII Campaign - I of III

Started by Bill Cook, June 19, 2005, 10:22:14 AM

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Bill Cook

I just completed the first session of a campaign playtest of my RPG, Story Steps. After I ran a one-shot with my now defunct meetup group, I decided to fuse the storytelling piece with the wargame piece. It was harder to get started than it was to actually do it. But it's done.

In reviewing the composite draft, I thought it would be great to have a running example that ties all the rules together. Also, I wanted to playtest it as a complete campaign across multiple sessions. A player in my regular group has been spoiling to do a WWII campaign for some time but unsure of which system to use. After finishing BW, I assumed another GM would step up to take the reins. Maybe dive into TFOB? Fortunately, the group was open to playtesting my system, and (since it's supposed to be accomodating of various game worlds) I thought WWII would be good stress.

To prepare, I have been watching a DVD collection, WWII: the Complete History. I finished three of ten prior to this evening. I also borrowed GURPS WWII: a World Ablaze, Its Destiny in the Balance. (Cory found this helpful to thumb through. I confess I hadn't had the time to skim it.) I set the table with a globe and erected a stand-alone marker board, in addition to usual props (i.e. counters, dice, pencil, paper, etc.)

We dished a bit about arenas for conflict, functions of WWII era figures and unit templates. This was spiked by two pages of notes summarizing my reaction to the DVD set from a roleplayer's POV. We settled on three sessions and agreed to "Multiverse" into another arena if too many PC's bought it. As it turns out, fighting en masse cushions principals from lethality. Cory said he wanted to do some dogfighting but that kind of fell to the wayside. We ended up re-doing the battle at Guadalcanal on the Indonesian island of Halmahera.

(DISCLAIMER: I and my group are historically ignorant to the point of laughable implausibility.)

But the objective was similiar: land troops and supplies, create an airfield and return with troops to stage a Northern advance.

As a way of walking the group through chargen, I created the following character:

Name: Captain Jim Halloway.
Concept: Yank naval commander.
Issue: Safely deploy troops and equipment necessary to build an airfield at Halmahera and return with forces from Australia.
Strength: 2 Agility: 2 Perception: 4 Will: 5 Acuity: 4
* Naval Commander Intelligence (Perception): recon for enemy planes; intercept enemy transmissions.
* Commission of three freighters, two carriers, five destroyers, ten transports; air (x2): three scouts, ten fighters, ten bombers; 100 ground troops.
First Step: Embark from Hawaii to rendezvous with Allied Naval Commander, Aussie Major Malloy.
Last Step: Return to the completed airfield with Allied reinforcements.
Social Network:

Capt. Jim Halloway
└ Maj. Maloy (overly cautious; bridles secondaries)
└ Aerial Squad Leader, Danny Beard (hotshot; overpursues fighters  
  allowing access by bombers)
└ Capt. Ijiwa (Japanese naval counterpart; seeks to disrupt Allied Supply
  lines and support rival Halmahera base)

The other players, Jason and Cory, responded with these:

Name: Sgt. Marcus Jackson (US).
Concept: Demolition expert, special forces.
Issue: 1. Clear area of enemy on Halmahera for airfield to be built. 2. Find and destroy Japanese ammo dump or outpost on the island.
Strength: 3 Agility: 3 Perception: 4 Will: 3 Acuity: 4
* Special forces training.
- Stealth (PER/AGI)
- Improvised explosives (ACU)
- Camouflage (PER)
- Orienteering (PER)
- Standard explosives (TNT) (ACU)
- Scrounging (PER)
- Brawling (STR)
- Knife (STR)
- Pistol (AGI)
- Submachine gun (AGI)

(Most of these analog to Concept.)

First Step: Graduate special forces training assigned to op on Halmahera. Locate enemy outpost and ammo dump. Assign a squad of  four men for the mission. (Cory kind of overstepped into a ladder here.)
Last Step: Destroy enemy outpost and ammo dump; defend airfield as it's being completed.
Social Network: (Here I abbreviate slightly.)

Sgt. Jackson
└ Steven Davis (medic)
└ Nathan Jones (radioman)
└ Commander Fuji (rival base commander)
  └ Okahaka (special ops)

Name: 2nd Lt. Darren Saltzer.
Concept: Security/MP.
Issue: Build and hold airfield position for airbase operation.
Strength: 4 Agility: 4 Perception: 5 Will: 3 Acuity: 4
* Ground recon (PER)
* Jungle and marsh survival (WIL)
* Acrobatics (AGI)
* Hand-to-hand comabt (STR)
* Security protocol (ACU)
* Security resources (ACU)
* Construction (ACU)
* Heavy weapons and artillery (AGI)
* Communications and electronics (ACU)

(More GURPS thinking. I need to explain the rules better.)

* Resources:
- 90 MP's
- Serveillance equipment
- Six jeeps
- Four Dussenhaus (troop carriers)
- Two tanks

First Step: 1. Secure South of island. 2. Recon for demo crew.

(A pretty far cry from a Sorcerer Kicker, which is more what I had in mind; need to clarify rules text.)

Last Step: Go out in a blaze of glory.
Social Network:

2nd Lt. Darren Saltzer
└ Sgt's Will Parker, Michael Smith and Chad Hanging (security shift leads)
└ Base Commander Jack Gardner
└ Sgt. Bob Zilder (airfield construction mgr)

If I could post an image, I'd show the campaign network; that's the composite of each character's social network.

Since Capt. Halloway didn't have a non-GM controller, we skipped past getting to Halmahera. We took a little break while I composed secondary character complications for stirring the pot. I had eight done in about ten minutes.

Jason's next step was to recon into the jungle. He succeeded and narrated discovering an abandoned bunker with a fresh water source at the base of the hill. (FIDELITY CHECK: I'm pretty sure the only fresh water in the jungle is rainwater collected on palm leaves. Oh, well.) I wrote in the complication of a ripe, fly-ridden body in a cot. Jason had some men carry it back to base for inspection. (Why?) He also narrated that they found maps. So three good. Honestly, I think this was a bit of a test to see how far this whole author stance thing goes, but its perfectly legal to say you won the lottery, so to speak.

Cory's group returned to the abandoned outpost and ran into a small enemy group coming to collect water. First combat! Cory's group slaughtered those poor souls. We used a preparation scene to resolve a tactical crossfire. (It failed.) This approach has a modular feel. Very not Sorcerer. I tried to train the seven exits to conflict, but the opportunity was lost in a frenzy of killing.

Jason next stepped about at base, quaranteening jungle fevered men, reporting to Commander Gardner on airfield construction progress and requesting another deployment of men. I used some VCR editing to overwrite a more flavor-filled argument between Lt. Saltzer and Sgt. Zilder. (Mental note: add this technique to the rules manual.) My motivation was drawn from a complication I wrote (which we never stamped) in which Zilder becomes sullen over losing a poker game to Jackson. I portrayed Zilder's pettiness by having him argue for a smaller complement of men to support Jackson's group. Jason had Saltzer counter, spending Impact to prevail. It was a funny little IC moment.

Jason and Cory grasped the grammar of resolution quite well. Especially the mechanics of dice rolling. Jason and I talked a bit afterwards; the only thing he struggled with was how opposition rolls assign a layer of difficulty instead of knocking off successes. The layered aspect of the dice mechanics can be subtle.

I suffered from unfamiliarity with resolution as applied to combat. And there were some unforseen issues with scaling up. (i.e. Can you split forces for separate actions? How does man advantage impact the goal for exit?) I had a big break through on that second question. Jason patiently re-constructed a diagram of counters a number of times until I got how scale was breaking the exit and (more importantly) how to fix it. It turned out to be a ratio-scaled pool addition. (I used this same mechanic for BW Mass.) What was sneaky is that the addition increased an analog to a capacity. (i.e. Bodily Integrity as analoged to Strength.)

Speaking as a worn leather 1st ed. AD&D guy, it was truly weird to start with no prep, work mechanics to produce wholly improvized play and do historical fiction, using rifles and machine guns for weapons. But it worked. I'm particularly pleased with how the combat syntax supported an experience of jungle firefighting and blowing up heavy gun nests. If I'm any judge of tells, they quite liked how restrictions lent themselves to tactics. (i.e. firing blind, turtling, flanking, taking cover, etc.)

A couple of things with combat I noticed that I have mixed feelings about: rolling for initiative and reaching a stalemate. There were a handful of times where no one really had initiative, so we rolled high die for it. It worked, but it had a weird retro feel. To the latter, I actually don't mind that approaches to combat stale. It might throw a gamer mind, though. The way through is to pick another approach. In this case, an exit constraint may be too rigid.

Something that frustrated me a bit was how they baby-stepped their next steps. A next step is supposed to be a middle scale story unit. You parse it by scene. And you sequence your steps to compose an arc. Well, their steps were so immediate that they couldn't be divided. So I felt that we missed out on some forward-seeing propulsion.

All in all, a very enjoyable session. I'm starting to get a feel for how Story Steps plays. It's .. nice. Kind of different. Kind of familiar.