Friday, June 24, 2016

Deathwatch Final Sacntion

We have had our first Deathwatch game last week and it was awesome. I ran the free downloadable adventure, Final Sanction. 

Charles played Konrad the Black Templar Assault Marine. New friend Kevin played Lucian Tyco the Blood Angel Sanguinary Priest. I brought Ulf'yngve "Rufus" Blumgren the Space Wolf Scout

After a small mix up with start times (I had said to meet at 4pm but the place did not open until 5pm), we got down to business. In three short hours, I set the scene of Avalos, a planet in flames. The team's transport, the frigate Invincible, was destroyed shortly after entering orbit by Tyranid Hive ships (but I failed to make the joke about the Invincible not living up to its name). 

The module of Final Sanction starts with a box of flavor text and the team deploying via Drop Pod into a battle on Lordsholm. Before letting them deploy, I made them some a small problem. To make the danger seem real, I had the corridor to reach the chamber with their gear collapse. I wanted them to come up with a way to solve it on their own but perhaps it was too soon to make them think creatively. They ended up going through the obstacle with the brute force. 
I tend to run a little like a Choose Your Own Adventure novels. I set up a problem and give options on what kind of rolls that could be used to solve it. The hope is that the players will start suggesting skills to use or, better yet, try to use skills in ways that they were not originally intended. 

I also ran the my own character int he adventure. I don't think he made any difference but it adds some much needed skills to the team pool and gives me the option of talking to the players in character. 

One the Kill Team got their gear, they deployed via Drop Pod into the night and and chaos of Lordsholm, the only major city on the planet. To add a little spice to things, after the module said that the Drop Pod should lock onto a signal, I had them crash into "something" before striking the roof of a Imperial Chapel. I made the team make a Toughness test to soak the shock. My character was the only one that failed the test and was the last to disembark.

The module called for the game to really start here with a giant battle. Rather than start that way, I had a group of Planetary Defense Force running toward them being pursued by a bunch of Cultists. Rather than have them roll initiative, I had them describe to me how they set up a defense. The PDF ran towards and past them into the safety of the chapel. Even three Space Marines were more than a match for the Cultists running at them.

Once they turned the Cultists they secured the Chapel. There they met an assassin in disguise who was the last remaining member of Inquisitor Kalistradi's retinue. She outlines the Kill-Team objectives. 

First, to save the planet the need to make their way to the planetary Astropath and send a distress signal for reinforcements before the Shadow of the Warp fall across the planet. If they fail to do so before communications are cut off, then there will be no way to bring the ships of the Imperial Navy to stop the Hive Fleet. Second, they must secure the leadership of the planet and find Inquisitor Kalistradi. Third, in order to finish the Inquisitor's mission and "cut the head off the snake," the Kill-Team would need to find the leader (or leaders) of the cultist uprising and destroy them. If the Kill-Team wants to make their fate different than that of the doomed planet of Avalos, they will need to secure the only spaceport on the planet. 

The players are supposed to outline their own tertiary objectives, but I suggested a few. The PDF forces are scattered through the city and isolated from each other. To help them fight more effectively, they need to be consolidated to the Portica district. Doing this will prolong how long the city can stand against the Cultists. There are also Imperial Weapon stores in the Portica district in the hands of the Cultists. If they liberate the stores, the PDF will have a better chance of defending themselves. Finally, the team is tasked with purging the foul Xenos.

Rather than outlining this via the giant blocks of flavor text in the module, I wrote a short paragraph of what Syndala knows from here perspective. This let me speak extemporaneously from her perspective. I think it added to the setting. I even used a voice for her by speaking in a British accent when she was the PDF officer and more softly after she shape shifted. I tried to implement some of the tricks that I picked up on the Critical Success podcast with moderate success. 

The module allows for the players to take command of PDF forces but I did not like that especially for a first adventure. Deathwatch for me is the story of elite warriors standing against the hordes of evil like in 300 not charismatic leaders defending the people like in Braveheart. I dissuaded the players from taking command of the PDF and thankfully they took the lead. 

To enhance the experience, I found some maps that someone had made of Lordsholm that were both marked and un-labeled.I printed both of them and had the un-labeled one laminated. As the players discovered locations, I marked them on the map. 

With their objectives set, the team set off for the Tower of Echos to send the distress signal. 

I had the team make stealth checks initially in secret. I dislike the meta-gaming that is inevitable when you know that you failed your speech or stealth checks. We stopped making them in secret after a while because it slowed things down too much. I started making "group checks" where I totaled the number of degrees of successes each side had, subtracted the degrees of failure then compared them. That left at least a little mystery. In the future, I think that I will have them make any rolls where they do not know if they succeed or fail in secret. 

I tried to give the team a sense of urgency but telling them that they will not be able to do everything and that I was using a ticking clock mechanic.While I was tracking the time they spent, my goal was to only apply pressure and stress to the team. Time was not going to be a point of failure for the mission unless the team was really dawdling. 

I also told the team that I was tracking sound. This had a particular impact on the Konrad, the Assault Marine. I saw him check himself every time he was going to use his Jump Pack. While this does single him out, it also checks the the unlimited mobility that a jump pack seems to provide. 

One of the first hurdles they had to overcome was moving across the canals that separated the districts. I has not planned the specifics of this and shot from the hip for the most part. I had them descend a 45 degree slope into a shallow canal of twisted wreckage and debris. I threw some challenges at them to make the danger seem real but ultimately their success was assured. 

Rather than make a rigidly defines adventure, I come up with objectives for the Kill Team to accomplish and then a series of roughly defined encounters to be used as roadblocks. This way, I could select the most appropriate event in both a narrative and thematic sense. 

I had also planned on making some of the roadblocks specific to the player and characters. The Sanguinary Priest was easy. All I had to do was add in that the Inquisitor had some Deathwatch Marines with her then kill them. I outlined an ambush situation that also told a story. 

The party notice some damage on a wall that looks like bolter fire. That damage tracks back down an alley. I knew I had gotten them jumping at shadows when they very nervously approached the scene of carnage. Around the corner, they saw a trail of Genestealer corpses leading down an alley towards the remains of a Space Marine. As an Apothecary, they are required to try and recover the Gene Seed of fellow Marines so I knew that Lucian would investigate the body closely. I had them make an Awareness test and Lucian got 6 degrees of success. With that kind of roll, I had him notice there was a claw under the Marine move ever so slightly. He could not leave the body but the fact that it was in a dead end alley made it tactically dangerous. 

They chose to have the Rufus, the Wolf Scout, climb on to a nearby roof to cover the situation, the Konrad, The Assault Marine, guarded the opening of the alley while Lucian, the Sanguinary Priest, investigated the Marine and what might be under it. As Lucian slowly moved the Marin body, a trash covered Genestealer emerged from the garbage immediately to his side. And we rolled Initiative. 

The Genestealer grabbed Lucian's arm and a struggle ensued. Konrad wanted to douse the entire area in holy flame but thought better of it as it would damage the Marines both living and dead (and likely himself). He ended up doing a Matrix-style wall run over the dead Marine to help Lucian only to have the wounded Genestealer under the dead Marine slash at his ankle doing the only damage of the encounter to the marines. Two Genestealers emerged from further down the alley to join the fray as Lucian dispatched the Genestealer that was tangling with him. Konrad dispatched the Genestealer under the fallen Marine with a deft strike while Lucian blasted the two oncoming Genestealers with his Helfire Flamer.

I learned a lot from this combat. Primarily that Genestealers are deadly in close combat but sqishy at range. If I want to do any damage to a Marine, there needs to be a lot of them and all at once. I think that a Marine should be able to kill a Genestealer per turn of just shy of it. So for every turn that a Genestealer needs to close, there needs to be one plus another one. Once they close, I need to be careful as even a single Genestealer is deadly. 

I was also doing Genestealers wrong in so many ways. For starters, I was not accounting for their Toughness bonus when applying Damage to them. This will help make them slightly less squishy in the future. The Lordsholm Genestealers do not have additional attacks like the rules for Purestrain Genestealers do. I think I am going to run them with Swift Attack giving them 2-3 attacks per full action. 

After the battle the team made their way past the Imperial Warehouses. This allowed me to set the stage for a future objective. They didn't feel like they had time to stop and secure this objective and so moved on to the Tower of Echos. 

I can't remember when I made them roll Common Lore: Imperium but I remember that Lucian rolled like a beast. With a great roll, I let him know that planetary Astropaths usually have advanced security systems around them that are only accessible by the Planetary Governor. This re-routed them to the Lord-Governor's mansion.

I didn't have any real idea for a roadblock for getting into the Lord-Governor's or even that I would throw one up. The fact that they were not able to walk right in there, I feel really set the tone that, while they may be heavily-armed and armored super-human killing machines, they are not the end all be all. I saw the DBs on Minions of the Monster Master play Deathwatch and the players were very bossy and threatening to the Planetary Governor and that didn't sit well with me. I don't see Space Marines Acting like unless the Governor is derelict or corrupted. 

As they rolled up to the Governor's Palace, they came across a giant plaza with the entrance to the palace. They saw a civilian woman run up the gates. She was cut down by the defenses as she ran towards the gate. In retrospect, I did not have to make this a woman. I didn't need to specify.

The Kill Team thought about how to get into the the palace and yet again I had no plan for this. There was a fountain in the middle of the plaza and the team had Rufus sneak up to fountain and see if the drain was big enough to use as an entrance to the sewers. No idea how they came up with this plan but never mind that this is how no fountain in the history of fountains works. We went with it.

It was at this point, I think, that the team started to realize that their lack of skills hurts them in a strategic sense. Lucian bought some Characteristic advances and Konrad bought Search and Awareness. No one has any special Lores. No one has Tech Use. No one has any social skills. This makes it hard for me as a GM in that I feel bad asking the team to roll for skills they don't have. At the same time, if I don't ask them to rolls skills they don't have, or at least mention that a problem could be solved with a skill they don't have, then they would not branch out.

The team eventually made their way into the sewers and up the entrance to the palace. At this point it was getting late and we are all old. We called it a night because the palace is going to be a big mess once it starts. 

On a side note, I am going to change the way that Dodge and Parry work. Rather than simple tests, I am going to make it a comparative test where you match up the Degrees of Success from each side to determine if it is successful. I feel that this represents how the mechanics are supposed to work. If someone is a sniper with awesome gear and a Full Action aiming that rolls 6 degrees of success, it stinks that someone can roll Dodge at +20% to side step it. This is going to mean that Parry and Dodge are going to be less effective all round and high BS and WS enemies are going to be very deadly. I feel ok about this as Space Marines are almost impossible to hurt let alone kill. 

I also realized that I was doing Multiple Attacks wildly wrong. Assault Marines get the Swift Strike Talent. That only lets them make two Melee attacks as a Full Action as you can't take two of the same Half Action int he same turn. I was letting my players make two attacks with their melee weapon and one attack with the pistol. In order to do that, the book says that the character needs Two-Weapon Wielder for both Melee and Ranged to accomplish that. This seems insane to me as the table top game has everyone getting +1 Attack for having a pistol and close combat weapon. Fortunately, Assault Marines can buy both Two-Weapon Wielder Talents for 1,000 XP.

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