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Sunday, May 8, 2011

After Action Report: Alpha Play Test May, 7 2011

Pictured:Somebody's Kubelwagen I found when I did a Google image search.

I was tweaking rules right up until character generation time, so I am not surprised we hit a couple of snags there. When Lee Ann got here we got started, but her and Ashli took off on a snack run, which was actually helpful because it let me concentrate on just Mona and John's character generation to begin with. Right off the bat it became obvious to me that my "chance of officer" rule was too lenient and needed to be scrapped entirely when both Mona and John made 2nd Lt. So I ditched the officer rule and went more squad level, which was what I was aiming for anyway; I just added the officer rule because I thought it would be cool. I was wrong. It was annoying. Oddly enough, my rule for starting at a rank above private probably needs to be tweaked to be more lenient, because with 4 players we got 2 privates and 2 PFCs. My plan was to have rank (and medals) be rewards for leveling; I think now that I may just have to have the group vote for one of their own to be the "party leader" or "Sarge".

Character generation also made me break down my "Fighter" class the GI into two separate classes, tentatively called "Rifleman" and "Heavy Weapons"; and I think Heavy Weapons is going to be forced to specialize in a specific heavy weapon- the fighting later on showed us that.

In the end we wound up with most of the classes represented. Lee Ann played a Medic named Candyman, Mona was a Sniper named PFC "Nevada" Jones, Ashli was a Heavy Weapons soldier by the name of Pvt. Pyle, and John played a Rifleman named Pvt. Reed who we nick-named "Professor" because of his super high education stat; he was also the only on randomly determined to have volunteered rather than been drafted. Since PFC Jones, as a Sniper, was in a combat arm and the only other PFC was a Medic the group determined that Mona should be the squad leader.

Equipping the Characters was pretty easy, they each got a weapon issued to them appropriate to their class, if there was more than one I let them choose. I was pretty lenient with sidearms too. I let Medics carry weapons if they want too, ours chose to. I gave everyone 1d4 pineapple grenades too. I put off assigning stats to the weapons until the last possible second, trying to balance rates of fire, damage, recoil penalties and how realistic I wanted to go with magazine capacity and number of rounds carried. John in particular kept begging for more realism. So they got, at the last possible second, statted out with real magazine capacity and rates of fire for a six second round*.

Now, what I didn't count on for this early alpha test, since I didn't have any vehicle rules at all yet, was that they would beg me for a bazooka. Worse, was I said OK; I figured what the hell, I'd just statted out all those other weapons, what's one more? So I gave our BAR Heavy Weapons Soldier a Bazooka and 3 rounds for it just to see how that would turn out.

Then we started. I couldn't decide on a setting or scenario right up until the last second, I had a few running through my head, so I went with mid-June 1944 Normandy, on a prisoner snatch mission. They were given intel about a farm house being used as a CP by the Germans and wanted to snatch an officer, so over land and through some hedgerows they went. They avoided an enemy 1/2 track; which I threw in just so they'd have a chance to use the bazooka, but they figured would be too loud and would alert the enemy to their presence so they just hid from it instead. Their next encounter was with a machine gun nest set up guarding a field they were going to have to cross to get to the enemy farm house. They spotted the Germans first, so I figured it really wouldn't be much of a fight. I was wrong. Sniper set up and Rifleman set up to fire after the sniper. They both missed. This made me think that maybe I should have pregened the characters myself instead of having them do it, or made there be prerequisites for entering each class. Turns out the Sniper's Coordination (Dex) wasn't that great. Neither was the Rifleman's. The Nazi's opened fire with their light machine gun (MG-42) and tore through both the Sniper and the Rifleman; teaching me a lesson of modern warfare and D&D- more shots is better. It also taught me that if I want to have a comic book feel to this game I may need to greatly increase the number of hit points for characters. I failed to remember to have them make saving throws here, but it still wouldn't have mattered, even half damage would have put them into wounds, unconscious and out of hit points.

Now is where my weapons defining hubris and the poorly defined Medic skills come into play. First, our BAR gunner Pyle doesn't even consider trying to duel BAR vs. MG-42, he drops that and loads up the Bazooka he's been lugging around too, then blasts the Nazi machine gun nest to hell. Well played. Now I have to redefine the way bazookas and other anti-tank weapons work. I am thinking that they will have a separate attack value vs. armored targets and a separate damage type. I probably would have thought of this if I had considered any vehicle rules yet, but what ever; you live and you learn.

Now the Medic I had been using the 2d6 Thief skills B/X variant for Medic skills, essentially a "heal" check after each wound. My thinking on this is that this is not supposed to be a realistic game, this is the cleric replacement but there are no spells, as you level you will get better at treating wounds and we need some way to keep PCs alive and moving. Now I realize that I need to more clearly define what constitutes a distinct wound, "Professor" Reed took 3 rounds from the machine gun, is that 1 wound or 3? Does the Medic get 1 check or 3? My thought was that a Medic would get 1 check per combat encounter, but that may not be sustainable.

Next, the Hit Points themselves, which I need to rename simply because they specifically do not only represent physical damage** to a character in this game; I need more of them and I need more ways to quickly restore them. I am thinking that the Medic can have this ability to automatically "fix you up" if you have lost any HP in an encounter after the encounter is over. I am also thinking of giving "Sarge" a leadership check to try and inspire. We'll see. In the most strongly anti-munchkin moment I have ever seen in a game, John actually thought that wounds should be worse for his character and have a more deleterious effect on his ability to perform in the field. I told him there are realism options coming for the future, let's just playtest the basic system for now, eh?

Next the squad made it to the farm house with out further incident and then chose to go with a smart plan rather than something I would have expected. They hid in the pear orchard behind the farmhouse and avoided the guards while they waited for an officer to come and use the out house. Then they rushed over and took him prisoner pretty much without incident. Since it was late we broke there, but their plan at that point was to toss grenades into the barn where most of a squad of German infantry were, by this time, sleeping; then steal one of the kubelwagens parked out front and drive back to allied lines with their prisoner.

*Which I surprised myself by being shockingly accurate with just off the top of my head, all those years of tactical level WW2 gaming were not, apparently, wasted.

**In fact I would say that HP represent only the most minor physical damage here, more like bruising, knock-out damage and fatigue than permanent harm.