Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mecha - Episode 4 2060 Chiron

After Episode 3, the players are going to be somewhere in trans-Neptune space and wondering just what it was that they fought - and why that thing is barrelling towards the inner planets at more than 1% the speed of light.  After the tragic destruction of the Gunnar Thorson and the loss of her crew,  dinner conversation on the Jeanne D'Arc is likely to oscillate wildly between shocked grief, intense scientific curiosity, and a military grade xenophobia.
Describing this situation and working it into the player scenes in a way that the players don't just take for granted is going to be pretty hard in an action orientated game like Mecha, and I wish I had had the resources to work up a bunch of multimedia or audio flies to play to set this scene properly without taking a long time describing it to the players and slowing down the game.  After this brief atmospheric description, the players will once more get a situation/operational briefing on their consoles.

This message is TOP SECRET
Coalition Space Forces Command & Operations has designated the object P/2170 VG as a Hostile Entity Codename INTRUDER.  INTRUDER is on a intercept orbit with Earth.  INTRUDER is travelling at a velocity of 1.4 PSOL and is expected to be within near Earth space in 43 days 20 hours.  CTA and Republic forces have been apprised of the situation and a multilateral force is currently being assembled to intercept INTRUDER.   
Coalition and CTA Listening posts have identified a unnatural and unidentified signal originating from trans-saturnine proto-comet 95P/Chiron also designated as 2060 Chiron.  The CTA has dispatched the Carrier Enterprise from Martian orbit to investigate the signal and to determine if it is in any way related to the appearance of INTRUDER.  The Jeanne D'Arc is the closest active carrier and is to proceed at best possible speed to 2060 Chiron and join the CTA in these operations.  Estimated travel time of the Enterprise is 20.4 days.  Estimated travel time for Jeanne D'Arc is 21 days assuming successful gravity slingshot. 
Secure point-to-point communication protocols are now in effect for all military and private transmissions.  
This setup is a lot more clean than the one I actually provided to the players.  It also glosses over some setting established animosity that had been built between the Coalition and the CTA forces for player backstories.  The established back-story for one of my players is that the CTA had used a nuke on one of the Coalition's Martian colonies some 30-40 years in the past, and although the Martian colony 'war' was long resolved, that there was still a huge amount of resentment still there in the descendants of the surviving Coalition pioneers.

-- Player Scenes --

The players finally got to do a repair scene which was nice since one of them had focused on that skill set and so far had felt a little left out.  They also tried to recoup some tactical points and overdrive, however due to bad rolls whey didn't manage to recoup very many and realized that they were going into combat pretty empty handed. 

-- Combat --

After the player scenes, inform the players that they have arrived at 2060 Chiron and that the Enterprise is here already, station keeping and doing exploratory work.  The Enterprise is sharing their preliminary data and there a number of ground crews exploring some artificial caverns carved into the planetoid.  The players land their ships in a designated cavern and disembark to do some exploring.  They see large statues along the walls of the cavern and all sorts of hieroglyphics and stuff.  Excited researchers on CTA and Coalition com channels are discussing the similarities with Babylonian tablets and architectures.  It becomes very obvious that this is a human installation - however one from many thousands of years ago.
Then rocks fall and damage the ships in the makeshift cavern hanger.  The CTA communication channel cuts out and the last message the players hear is from the Jeanne D'Arc saying:

Bzzt -- INCOMING -- CTA is calling back their pilots --- Bzzzt Bzzzt --- Return.   and so on.

People begin running in all over and lasers start firing, CTA crews grabbing up artifacts and shooting at the Coalition crews.  The players notice that a group of CTA pilots are trying to make their way up a number of ramps that appear to lead behind and up into the back of the statues.  Sure enough the statues appear to be some type of escape pods or ships.  As the cavern rumbles around them the players must fight their way up to the statues.

Then it's into ground based combat.  On the CTA side there are 7 Base 2 mooks and one enemy Ace: Gus the platoon sergeant.

The battle board is set up with the following:

Quadrant 1 Sector 6; The PCs
Quadrant 2 Sector 1: 2 mooks
Quadrant 4, Sector 1: 2 mooks, Sector 2: 2 mooks
Quadrant 3, Sector 6, Gus and one mook
The Tatical Waypoint is in the center of the map.

If the players manage to capture the way-point they are the ones that climb into those statues and therefore are the ones who discover that these are actually ancient Babylonian mecha which will bond with their souls and which were created to fight the alien invaders they now face.  If they don't manage to win the combat the CTA will fly off in the mecha and the players will be in dire straits until they notice that some of the shattered tablets* and artifacts in the cavern wreckage have leaked some sort of glowing slime onto their fighters.  The fighters are invaded by a nano technology repairs them so the players can fly back to the Jeanne D'Arc but that also mutates the ships into a sort of proto-mecha, which over time will grow into full mecha powers and change the nature of Coalition technology forever.

Stats for the mecha are 2/2/2/2 with 3 points allocatable by the players (max of 4 per stat) when they bond with them.  They also pick 2 configurations and inherit the associated traits.  Their link stats are the same as they've been using for their fighters.

Stats for the proto-mecha are the players get to add 4 points to their ship stats (max of 4 per stat) and choose one configuration and it's associated trait.

This is where the game ground to a total halt and it was clear where I had screwed up.  Firstly I had made the class 2 mooks above as 2x2 'aces', not actually mooks - this had the effect of making them made them incredibly hard to take out.  Having that many enemies with stability to soak up damage turned this exciting battle into a grind as the players kept damaging them and they kept coming back to take the way-point.  It was a long and dispiriting drag as the players kept knocking the enemy out of the centre only to have them come back and slowly one by one take the players out.  Secondly, the players didn't have any tactical points and very little overdrive and they used that up mostly to soak damage on defence rolls and maintain their ground.  I think had I changed the enemy grunts into mooks this fight would have had a much different tone.  They still might have won however if they had saved even one tactical point from their first fight with the aliens.  

In any case the players lost the fight and I lost their interest since this battle ground through the remaining time we had to play.  They got the nanopaste and not the cool mecha.  They were more worried about grey goo scenarios than excited over choosing configurations.  I also finally told them what game they were playing.  In the pre battle setup I read to them from the Enûma Eliš which was all super cool in theory, but they had already checked out by that time. I think that the amount of information dumped on them in this scene was too much and they had too little impact from their scenes - they really felt that the story was out of their hands by this point since they had been playing scenes to gain points and advancement of their character and left all the narration to me.  I was dictating the direction of events more than you might in most Mecha games but I thought that this would be acceptable in a starter type scenario.  I think however that if they had been using the setting and NPCs in their scenes more, they might have had more investment in the story and the events would have seemed more organic to them.  I still think there needs to be a way to achieve this mechanically by splitting the scene narration and resolution up a bit between the players.

*These would be the Tablets of Destiny for you ancient Babylonian gods following along at home.  Obviously that's a nanotech delivery system if you understand the texts...

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