Monday, February 18, 2013

Con of the North: X-plorers Play Report!

I ran my FIRST EVER con game Saturday night at Con of the North and (I think) it went really well. But, I'm not taking credit for running a great game--I'd say it was great because I was fortunate to a group of players who were:
  1. Allowing of my naive, baby-deer-learning-to-walk referee skills, and-- 
  2. They were really good roleplayers. I had a full table too--six of six players showed! 
John Till from Fate SF was the first to arrive and we chatted a bit beforehand. He did much to bolster my confidence. I ran the X-plorers Box Set (Limited Edition) rules, sans the corporations-in-space setting. I also threw out quite a bit of the regular rules (Basic Hit Bonuses and the four-phase space combat rules) just to make things go faster (we only had two hours!). The game ran from 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm, which was perfect for a wooly, space adventure. For some players, this was the last game of the day. Now on to the highlights as best I can recall.... 

Note: In a completely boneheaded move, I forgot to take actual game-play photos. So here's a few images from the campaign...

Character Generation Made Easier
Right now is also a good time to thank John Adams for creating X-plorers Players Guide pamplets because those TOTALLY saved my bacon. Character generation goes a lot quicker with a bunch of these and some pre-printed character sheets handed out at the table. They rolled up 2 scouts, 2 scientists, and 2 soldiers. I had them roll 4d6 and throw out the lowest. I think John had one attribute with a 4! By in large, I think the PCs ended up overpowered on skills, mostly because I let them...but then I threw a LOT of adversaries at them, so it evened out in the end.

Nicodemus Hasselfury!
Return...or Revenge?
Not wanting to repeat my earlier adventure, I ran a new one that I'd dashed off mostly Saturday morning (the day of!) having had the rough outline in my head for barely a day before that. Basically, it was "Return to the Forbidden Planet," but since Altair IV went ka-blewie at the end of that movie, I assumed the Krell had been a spacefaring race and made another base on Aquailae Gamma. So I called it "Revenge of the Forbidden World." That all made for some confusing backstory--but, on the upside it didn't matter once the group got into some action encounters.

The Black Rider (like this--but, er, black...)
One thing I didn't change too much from the previous game I ran was having the PCs wake up from cryo-stasis aboard an already enroute ship, The Black Rider. That trope seems to work well in moving things along. The ship's butlerbot, JV-3Z, or "Jeeves," tells the PCs they've been selected from the infantry inventory (grown and stored in a giant underground warehouse on Earth) for a black ops mission. Handpicked by Captain Nicodemus Hasslefury himself!

Stiletto fighter
Hasselfury turns out to be useless to them--disappearing whenever things get rough and the boys had their hands full. Having just woke up from cryo, the proximity alarm went off and they ended up fighting off two wings of Drukhar starfighters (single-pilot, Stiletto-type, 6 total). 

After hailing and bluffing failed (they had to at least try to keep their cover) they engaged, and took out, half the enemy ships (the others bugged out). 

Arrival on Aquailae Gamma
Recon, Intel, Telemetry Automaton (RITA)
After landing, Hasselfury, true to his nature, punked out and stayed behind on the ship for repairs while the grunts took to seeking out the MacGuffin--a psionic amplifier capable of weaponizing the user's own consciousness into a--we'll get to that in a second. 

Jeeves stayed behind with Hasselfury to work on the ship, but they did take another robot companion with, RITA (Reconaissance, Intelligence, and Telemetry Automaton). She's got one up on RIGB-E from the last game in that she's armed and she can hover over rough terrain (something with which RIGB-E has a lot of difficulty). 

The ship was already low on supplies (thanks to an in-flight encounter when the crew was in cryo), so the heaviest weapons available were a few laser rifles.

Hasslefury dug out something special for each party member: a small stim capsule (a fluid stimulant/mutagenic agent delivered via chapstick-sized capsule with hypo-needle). He ordered them not to use them unless they really needed them. Then everyone "turned the capsules over to read the label" (rolled 1d6) and this is what they were given:

  1. Extra arm (extra attack)
  2. Tail with bony mace at the end (extra melee attack)
  3. High Kicks (kangroo legs - double movement)
  4. Quils (fire 1d6+1 poison tipped)
  5. Space Yeti!
  6. No effect, dud
The rolls went: one tail, a couple a' extra arm stims, and not one but THREE SPACE YETI stims! I really had no clue how I was going to make that work.

Flashback to Saturday afternoon: while eating a terrible turkey sandwich in the hotel restaurant (should have known better!), I thought I should include something that could turn out to be completely up-ending for both me and the players. It would give them the chance to ham things up and me the opportunity to roll with their ideas. So with hours to go, I added it in.

It worked TOO WELL. More on that later.

Doom Squad Warriors

Using her sensors, RITA pinpointed the Krell compound where the weapon was located--and a Doom Squad of Drukhar warriors behind a nearby bluff. The bogies that fled the space battle had already alerted their companions on-planet, who were now on the lookout for Hasselfury's squad. 

And from the frying pan into the fire, they stumbled on to a pride of Aquilan Land-Mantas. Basically bed-sized manta-crabs with stinger-armed tails. 

My strategy was to get them to split their offensive, which they did eventually, but to their credit they handled it well. A well-aimed shot took out one of the mantas. But in its death cry--it shrieked and alerted the Doom Squad--blowing the party's position.

This encounter was likely the hardest for me as a more novice GM--not knowing how long to let the encounter last, while still remembering that they had a lot of plot-relevant stuff to get to. So I let the mantas retreat so the PCs could focus their firepower on one enemy. I don't think I'd do it again, but I was keen on them getting to, at least, the big baddie stage of the game. There was plenty of laserfire to come and nobody seemed to even notice.

Every Yeti for Himself
Space Yetis!
For some reason, about this time, one of the scientists in a rush to--I don't know what--make something happen (?)  STABBED A TEAMMATE WITH HIS MUTAGEN STIM! That guy grew a tail. Instantaneously.

The next round the same "mad" scientist (there's always one!) decided he needed to have more armor and tried to pry the controls to RITA away from the other scientist, so he could get his hands on a fallen Drukhar warrior's combat suit. RITA, operates mainly under single-operator remote control and she's got two hip-mounted, quick-shot lasers, but she's meant to be more of floating tricorder and my way of giving the PCs important info. 

With the two science officers now in fisticuffs over the controls, the rogue scientist won out and used RITA to loot a downed enemy of his armored suit. RITA managed to survive this ill-conceived row. The other scientist, understandably anxious at this point, took matters into his own hands and stuck himself with his Space Yeti mutagen. I was certain this would escalate, but to his immense credit, he ran into the compound instead to secure the Krell weapon--which triggered the final phase of the game. 

Lord Zathar of the Drukhar Empire
Now that the PCs were entering the base, the Drukhar's commander, Lord Zathar--wielding a sonic sword and leading a second squad--made an appearance. He'd arrived to reinforce the Doom Squad that the PCs had cut through (a little too easily for my tastes, BTW).

As it turned out, a lucky roll and fate intervened. One of the soldiers got off a shot with his laser rifle and winged the evil warlord quite severely (note to self: that dude's AC needs adjustment). Seeing imminent defeat, Zathar called for a full retreat of his forces--but not before leaving a present behind for the heroes.

Zathar had been on the planet long enough to play with the Krell weapon before the PCs arrived. Through an amulet slung around his neck, activated a giant energy wraith, containing his angry subconscious--our heroes now trapped by it in a narrow hallway inside the compound. 

Giant Energy Wraith, a psionic/electrical monstrosity!

You can't make this $h!t up!
Miraculously, they were able to hold off the creature while they looked for the power feed (it was energized a la wireless Tesla power).  The luckiest roll in the game arrived just in time to save one lucky bastard (one of the scouts) who took a full-frontal electric blast and SURVIVED his saving throw with a NATURAL 20. The only explanation was that the blast was somehow grounded. He was reduced to zero HP, but he lived to fight another day. Once they cut the power, the wraith winked out of existence like a cathode ray tube television signal.

X-plorers Players Guides make for great freebies!
XP You Can Take to the Bank
With the heavies vanquished and Krell tech intact, Hasselfury shows up just in time (natch) to pick up the boys. They've saved the galaxy from a Drukhar superweapon and survived! From the beginning I wanted to reward great roleplaying (with moxie and flourish) handsomely with XP, and they walked away richly compensated. I let all the players keep the players guides, plus a colorful, golf ball-sized 1d20 they got to use during the game. 

So how did I do?
Well, I'm positive I played too fast and too loose with the rules (I will be re-re-re-reading the space combat rules, ASAP), but everyone were great sports and just went with it. My overly ambitious adventure seemed to be a crowd pleaser. A few said it "went really fast" which is exactly the opposite feeling I had--probably because I constantly felt the need to keep things clipping along. (Is it normal to feel exhausted afterwards?) But thanks to fantastic players who were willing to just go with the flow, they really did seem to enjoy themselves--can't ask for better than that.

If I get to run this as a campaign, I'm interested in using the new classes I'm working on (and other surprises) in the full-fledged Rad Astra setting.  I've got contact info from some of the guys and I'm seriously considering starting a regular X-plorers game at the Source.

And there's room left to continue with Zathar's end-of-the-game getaway. Alas, we've not seen the last of him--he will have a major role in the overall saga of the Rad Astra space opera...

I have one more post to do on my con experience (mainly another game I played) so stay tuned!


  1. Hi Jay:

    That is a great post, and gives a really clear account of the pulse-pounding (to use a 70s Marvelism) play from the game! That photo in the header is really classy too - very nicely composed. I wish I had thought of doing something like that.

  2. Thanks John, hopefully I captured the spirit of the session. It was great to meet you in person. I'll let you know once I've got my act together for a regular game!

  3. Sounds like a blast!
    I'd also love to see more on the new classes you've teased about.

  4. Thanks BB! Yes, I'm hoping to have a few up in the next week or so. The Starlocke is taking a while because I have to write spells in order to make the class work.

  5. Awesome setting. Sounds like a great time was had by all.