Shreya First Mission AAR

I’m running for two groups, and will be posting mission AARs in a largely arbitrary order. First one I posted was the Kingfisher Knight mission.

So I’ve got a new crew starting, and they want some body horror and hard core military campaigning. Shreya, Blighter, and Render.

Starting mission is blowing the bridge. First thing I have to justify is, why hasn’t the bridge been blown already? If the legion retreated across it, they probably would have wrecked it on the way, unless someone fucked up, and I’d rather the legion not have fucked up. So the legion crossed elsewhere, blew that crossing, and now needs to make sure this bridge is blown too. Maybe an Aldermark regiment routed across it, and failed to set charges. If it’s this critical, why hasn’t it been heavily garrisoned by the undead? Clearly they haven’t gotten there yet, maybe because of infighting but rest assured, there’s a flying column on its way. Probably a squadron of Render’s heavy cavalry, followed by endless streams pikemen and undead.

So what makes the bridge cool? It could be a simple stone bridge, but the mix of high and low tech is neat in this setting. And the most badass bridges are suspension bridges. Maybe it’s a giant old empire suspension bridge? Made with metals we no longer understand. The world will never again see its like. Maybe it’s even one of the wonders of the world! And the legion needs to destroy this precious infrastructure to save their asses.

Simple blackpowder charges aren’t going to do for this marvel of engineering. The crew agrees that all the rookies are carrying barrels of powerful acid that will eat through the metal of the bridge, and maybe set it on fire, letting the weight of the bridge tear itself apart. Where do the charges need to be placed? We decide planting the acid charges at the top of the tower will both shear off the cables, causing lots of damage, and also be metal as fuck in a thunderstorm.

So they deploy, three PCs, playing a medic, a scout, and a rookie. Scout takes two rookies forward to picket the far end of the bridge, while the PC rookie and an NPC rookie go up one tower, and the Medic and other rookie go up the other. The Scout’s not really leading the two rookies picketing the far side, more explicitly ignoring them, but no one gets scared or lost anyone.

Everything’s going fine, when the scout hears the jangle of armour, and hammer of hoofbeats. Eight knights of the oak ride up bold as brass, not expecting any trouble, and the leader has a great white hound on a silver leash. The scout decides the best warning is a good offence, and so the leader goes down hard with an arrow through his open helm. His horse goes wild, so the hound gets a little trampled, and retaliates by evicerating the horse. The two rookies open up, and miraculously manage to do a credible job of providing covering fire for each other as they fall back across the bridge. With the enemy advance party in utter disarray, the scout calls it a job well done, tosses a grapnel further down the bridge, and decides to swing himself below along out of danger. Of course, he misjudges the distance, and his momentum, and thus ends swaying gently from a rope below the bridge. When he looks up, he sees Eater, because of course its Eater, staring down at him. Eater starts to climb down the rope, grinning a horrible, lipless grin.

Meanwhile, the PC rookie, who was formerly an architect, has realized that severing these cables isn’t going to be enough, and when the shooting kicks off, slides down the ladder from the top of the tower down to one of the pylons. He slides a bit too forcefully, and breaks a leg. Swearing and limping, he starts to try to set additional charges on the underside of the pylon, when he sees Eater go after the scout who’s hanging impotently from the rope. The scout pulls some acrobatics, and manages to get a black arrow knocked (devil’s bargain, the rest of his quiver empties into the river as he flips upside down), just as the rookie draws a bead on Eater, and they shoot together. Hard failure. Eater twitches out of the way, and screams, giving them both supernatural migraines.

The medic has rallied the rest of the rookies, found a bunch of rope, tied it to an abandoned wagon wheel for weight, and swings it out to the Scout, who manages to grab onto it, and cut himself lose from the rope Eater’s decending. Eater makes a grab, but misses, and has to scurry back up.

By now, the knights have reformed, and to ride down the legionnaires. Disciplined musketry and a slippery road-bed breaks up their attack, and they dismount, drawing bows. One starts scaling a tower, to try to defuse the acid bombs, but a PC, I forget who, grabs a musket from a rookie, and manages to blast the acid bomb just as the knight reaches it. Acid eats into the cables, and the armour of the knight. Both bridge and knight catch fire. The cable sags, frays, and parts. I start describing what’s happening to the bridge: “You see cables snapping and scything across the bridge, sheering through abandoned carts-” “No we don’t. We’re running and we don’t look back.”

They make it off the bridge, which is now warping badly, and engulfed in alchemical flame, but they don’t have a chance to mourn the passing of this architectural marvel, because a badly burned Eater leaps off the bridge at them. They get off one volley, but without blackshot, it doesn’t do much, and then its hand-to-hand. They hold the line, more or less, and on a backswing someone manages to cut the stitches holding Eater’s eyes shut. They open for the first time since it died. It screams, and dives into the river to escape. I offer them the chance to hunt it down. They look at me like I’m crazy, and flee back to camp.

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Very nice. I did this same mission recently. It seems you chose to throw much more at them than I did (and I worried having thrown not enough), but at the same time being more generous with rolls and conséquences. Or were the players just incredibly lucky ?

Meaning :

  • The “open helm shot” from the scout. I would have required an AIM use by a sniper to do this, or a critical from the Scout. Did the Scout roll a critical, or you just gave him this shot with just one 6?
  • The escape, running from the burning bridge. I would have said that with a character with a broken leg, the squad would be slower and they couldn’t shake off the Knights so easily.

I am not criticizing what you did beacause the story is great, my problem is I am still trying to adjust what would be the correct settings for Position, Harm, Conséquences nd so on for my group, zhile staying fictionnally relevant without Killing them too fast.

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No worries! I was wondering the same thing!

For the knights, i was treating them as a threat 2 scale 2 group, so theres a bit of inverse ninja power law going on. I also like rewarding my players when they think and act like irregulars. This was the initial shot of an ambush at very close range, so given the element of surprise, and the success (any success, i would have done the same on a 4-5), and that this really is the scouts element, i gave him the kill. (IIRC. I may be embellishing and he may just have hit a horse). Conversely, when the medic lead the rookies in a group shoot as the knights were charging, because the knights were prepared and doing their thang, they were just wounded, unhorsed, and surpressed instead of any of them being taken out.

The escape from the burning bridge was a group manouver, and they got a 6, and one of the other rookies was already fictionally giving the rookie Pc a hand. Fictionally, the bridge was a deathtrap, so i figured the dismounted knights wouldn’t be able to follow quickly. Eater, on the other hand…

I love your players “No we’re not, we’re running and not looking back” is so great :slight_smile:

Good reasoning on evaluating the fiction there too.

Interesting with your take on “inverse ninja power law”.

(One of) my worries is that if I allow too liberally this kind of “headshot” and other kind of “instant kills”, then there will be no reason to open a clock for Elite undead and they will feel not more threatening than the line troops.

On the other hand, there is a HUGE gap between a “2 segments clock, Threat 1” undead and a “8 segments-clock, Threat 2” Elite, much bigger than between a T2 Elite and an T3 Infamous (but maybe that’s because I haven’t yet sent an Infamous against my players) .

I just don’t really know when and how to us the clocks in a fight, be it single fight or group fight.

I suppose “whenever you want!” isn’t a helpful answer :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: .

I think it’s been said before, and please correct me if I’m wrong. But clocks are definitely not hit points. Some tier 1 rotters probably don’t need any clocks at all unless there are a lot of them, or if it’s a fictional situation that warrants it. Ie: The characters need to sneak past them, or there’s a lot of them, or etc etc.

Setting a clock for antagonists in game for me is about “how hard do I want this to be for the characters to accomplish”. For a tier 2 elite, I don’t think I’d put out a 8 tick progress clock unless it was, for example, a Crow backed up with rotters and a situation the players would have to figure out with at least 2-4 rolls.

The threat comes into play when I run far more with the position and consequences of rolls. Some Rotters on their own will generally be controlled or risky, with standard or great effect (circumstances of course highly dependent). Whereas those Rotters being led by Crows up the stakes quite a bit.

I don’t know if this helps, but I always play it by ear depending on the in game situation.

Also, the AAR was great! I look forward to more!

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I was just typing up something very similar, and had to stop because you said it better. For me Clocks are narrative markers (doom tracks for story arcs) and walking away from treating them as HP was a hard thing for my tactical brain to do, but it has been very rewarding.

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Yeah, these are things I’m struggling with too.

But it’s clear you don’t make an 8 clock for every Knight you encounter. If you’re squaring off to have a fair go at a knight in armour, with her sword in her hand, then sure, make your 8 clock. But I wouldn’t make an 8 clock for escaping a knight on foot if you’re on a horse. The 8 clock is contextual. And if you’re fighting a regular squad of 6 knights, that would be 42 clock segments to render the unit hors de combat. Instead, you need to make one clock, or a few clocks, to represent the unit as a threat. The clock segments aren’t representing the health of the knights, they’re representing how much effort needs to be expended before this group of knights is no longer a threat, and if the context changes dramatically, maybe the threat ends sooner. In one of Stras’ actual plays, they’re fighting a tier 3 monster, and have chewed halfway through the clock, and then they just run away. But they didn’t need to fill up that clock with manouver ticks, they just jumped out a window, and the monster wasn’t a threat in that context.

So within that framing of the clock representing how much longer the knights are scary in this context, you can have a reasonable degree of freedom in depicting the fictional changes that accompany the ticking of the clock. You could have a knight go down with every action. You could have three or four go down with the first action, and have the last two be really stubborn bastards. You could have none of them die, and instead they flee.

If you’re worried about making them sufficiently scary, I’d recommend reading https://www.latorra.org/2012/05/15/a-16-hp-dragon/ which, upon further investigation, I see was originally written by Stras =P

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This is a really good point. Breaking up the Knight’s charge was a desperate action for the Rookies lead by the Medic; had they not succeeded with a 6, it would have gotten really dark. Conversely, the Scout sniping with a bow from a shadow was only Risky.

Modifying the downside risk and the level of harm is a way to compress the time of the engagement. I don’t want to have to tick 42 clock segments. I’d rather roll once, and have the stakes be enormous. But moderately sized clocks are a nice middle ground.

Agreed. And thanks man!

Thank you for your answer.

I know clocks are not HP, and of course rotters and T1 undead don’t need clocks, “2 segments-clocks” just means they would go down from a standard effect (except special situations).

But the book does recommand opening an 8 segments-clock for T2 undead. So when I don’t do it, I wonder if I am too soft. Because it would change the difficulty A LOT. And if you want consistency, it’s difficult to justify opening a clock for one T2 if you haven’t done it for the previous.

I have no problem with alarm clocks, mission clocks, progress clocks and so on. The clocks in fight are my only problem.

I guess it will come with more practice. I have to admit I wish the rules had more examples for the various situations where a clock is warranted, or not, and the various ways to feel it so it doesn’t look like, well, HP.

The only examples are… “terrifying”. On page 229 you have one Heavy + one full squad , and the pitiful result of all this is ONE segment on a 10 segments-clocks for an Infamous, while on anything less than a 6, the squad would lose three rookies. So this is clearly not viable. And I know the answer is “Don’t fight an Infamous head on”, but it doesn’t really help with other situations, because clearly there will be many fights in this game and many sitautions where the qustion of clocks will be present, even for threat 2 undeads.

Well, I’ve read the 16 HP dragon story many times in the past years, but it doesn’t really help since my problem is with clocks which are not HP.

I KNOW how to make my monsters and undead awesome and powerful. It’s definitely not a problem. The problem is WHEN to make them NOT too powerful, ie when not to open clocks, or how (and WHY, fictionnally ?) to combine a group of Elites in one clock which is not just an addition of individual clocks.

The problem is that if I make my monsters too powerful, the Legion is f*cked, because losing too many rookies and specialists on any mission will doom the Morale, Campaign actions, Supply economy. The death spiral can come very easily in this game. Much more so than in vanilla blades,

Fair enough! Sorry, I shouldn’t have assumed; just wanted to make sure you had seen those resources.

Yeah, this is exactly something I was (and am) worried about too. I’m not sure consistency for clock sizes is really very important at all. Because the threats are contextual, it may not matter if the same kind of threat is always represented the same way mechanically. It certainly doesn’t matter to my group very much. But YMMV; my group is pretty flexible about these things if they’re justifiable. After each session, I check in on them to see how scary it was, and how close they think they were to a TPK, and they think its really close every time.

The more and more I think about it, the more I think clocks should be deployed at the unit level. It’s never a Crow also some Rotters, its a Crow-and-rotters. If you’re not really fighting them separately, then they aren’t really separate clocks.

I suspect that leaning on your skills as a GM to moderate the difficulty of missions will be sufficient. If the characters are more brittle than Blades characters, they recover faster too, and you have a lot of spares to use while they recover. While the death spiral is bad, they actually have a variety of tools for moderating it, sufficient that one TPK shouldn’t permafuck them. And if you provide them with ways to scrub the mission rather than die, that might help too. And if the legion ends up going down, that might be a fun story too. I think?

I guess the other thing is i prefer in war stories for the threats to be groups, not individuals. The infamous and lieutenents are cool, but honestly take the place of tanks and aircraft; they are things that happen to you unless you are actively hunting them. And i like the focus to stay on the mission rather than killing every baddie. So i am never going to throw a single knight
or witch at a group unless the situation is exceptional.
But that’s just my preference and every group can turn that dial themselves

Indeed. But I would say that in warfare, unfortunately tanks and aircraft are quite not things that only happen to you when you actively hunt them!

This conversation has been very interesting and has provided quite a lot of material for reflexion on how to adjust the cursor.

One more thing, though, to Michael the OP. I’ve been thinking again on your Shreya starting mission and how it differed from mine. I have one observation more : the way the medic and two rookies were able to retreat in good order with some shooting. I don’t think I would have said that’s possible, at least with the kind of equipment the rookies have (slow one-shot muskets). And also because what they did is, effectively, “suppressive fire” – and that’s what a Sniper with the special ability “Sharpshooter” and fine guns is supposed to be able to do. So there’s a risk here of giving everybody possibilities that should normally reserved to specialists.

Sorry, I explained that badly. EITHER they are things that happen to you, so they get a big fuck-off 10 clock and high threat and you basically have try to hold them off until your actual mission is done and you can bug out, OR you are hunting them, in which case they get a big fuck-off 10 clock and high threat, but you brought the right gear.

Glad! I’ve found it useful too. Trying to articulate my thought processes has helped clarify things for me.

That’s a fair point. I’ve always been iffy on the suppressive fire thing being restricted to sharpshooters. But also to clarify, that was just the rookies, no medic. The scout shot the leader of the knights from concealment an ambuush, and after that the rookies, who had passed a fortune roll not to get lost or hurt advancing up behind the scout, rolled a 6 on a fortune roll to fall back successfully. Had they failed, or even gotten a 4-5, both would have probably died. So I narrated them taking turns discharging their muskets at the baddies, and falling back across a cluttered, dark bridge, reloading as they ran. The knights weren’t pinned by sustained fire. They were caught at a choke point by an ambush at night, with a maddened, dying horse and a very pissed off Eater in front of them, and rookies sniping ineffectively at them. I ruled that even with the rookies not hitting anything, the morale effect of the ambush was sufficient to make them fall back and regroup temporarily. Rather than tick down the clock, I decided it bought them a minute or two.

Had it been a sniper, I would have probably ruled that the sniper had pinned the whole unit, and that it wouldn’t be able to advance until the fiction changed significantly, and instead of desperate, leading to deaths on failure, it would have been controlled.

But it also would have been totally legit to rule the Knights reacted to the ambush by charging into it, and that they pursued the rookies across the bridge, where they would be flanked by the rookies and medic up on the towers, and that would have been awesome too.

A very nice description of a moment of play which must have been excellent !

I fear my own players are (for the moment at least) unable yet to build such a “fiction first” style of play.

It will come… hopefully !

More than a year after the fact: I love this AAR, and I’m going to try using the same setup (suspension bridge, rain, Black Oak Knights) in my very first game today.

Thanks for the inspiration!