Sunday, September 25, 2011

Nuts! Battle Report

I'm going to try out a post on solo miniature games today.  If you enjoy miniature games, Two Hour Wargames puts out some nice stuff that is actually made for solo play.  I really enjoy WWII as a miniature games setting, and so have been playing the game Nuts! on and off for a while.  Pros and Cons abound, as you can expect in such a game.  The biggest pro is that it is made with solo gaming in mind, and as such has your "non player" side very well covered.  Also, there's little bookkeeping beyond noting what status a model might be in.  On the con side, the rules are disorganized and the reaction system takes a lot of getting used to it before it becomes enjoyable.  I also wouldn't call Nuts! a "rules light" system. 

Having said all that, I've come to enjoy Nuts! as a solo game.  Once you "crack the code" you realize the game isn't all that hard to play and most of the stuff you can keep in your head.  Rather than talk on about it, I'll just give you a battle report to review.

This is a Recon Patrol mission, where I have to scout every section of the board.  The board is divided into nine equal squares, and I have to move my troops through each one.  I'll be playing US Rangers, and the non player (NP) side will be German infantry.  The terrain set up is randomly generated.  Next I place three Possible Enemy Forces (PEF) at randomly determined spots.  These PEFs may or may not turn out to be actual German enemy forces.  I will have to roll on a contact table to see if something is really there, and then roll up what it actually is.  I make the same rolls for any terrain feature to which I have LOS.

Some things to know about the mission are 1) the Enemy Activity Level (EAL) is 3 (out of six), which means I have a 50/50 chance of finding the enemy when I roll for contact, and, 2) the Support Level (SL) is 1, which means if I get a chance for reinforcements, I have to roll SL or less to  have them show up.  So the US is highly unlikely to get any help.

Here's the table set up with the PEFs clearly marked and US forces deployed.  I'm playing on a 4'x4' board.
The rules state that a PEF should be placed out of LOS if possible.  So two of them are completely out of sight.  The last one is in the only open "square" and is just placed in the center.  Here's a better shot of it in relation to the US Rangers coming on the board.
So you can see that the US Rangers have LOS to not only the PEF but also the woods, the church in front of them, as well as two building and a hill (off camera) to their left.  I have to roll to scout each of these, comparing the EAL to my dice roll.  If get contacts, then I have to roll up what these are.  So the US comes on the board, moves 2" in and comes into LOS of the first PEF.  So I decide to make all my checks now.

It's going to be a hard fight for the US Rangers, as they are in the open and have discovered that they have enemies everywhere!  I roll up a "rest of the platoon" result for the PEF, which means since there's nothing yet on the board I will place an entire platoon of infantry where the PEF is.  Ouch!  The woods reveals that there is an additional squad of Germans hiding there as well.  If that's not bad enough, a MMG team is in the church directly across from me.  Yikes!

Here are some pictures of the enemy.  I couldn't get them all in the picture, there were so many.

So as it's my activation, all these new enemies get to take In Sight tests to see what they do.  To make it easy on myself, I make them all Rep 4.  By contrast my Rangers are all rep 5, and the leader is Rep 6.  Rep is a measure of how good someone is, with 1 being the worst and 6 being the best.  Rangers are elite, and so have higher chances to be higher Rep.  But I digress.

The Germans decide to open fire.  The first shot rings out and takes the Rep 6 Ranger leader out of the fight!  This causes an immediate Leader Lost test.  The Rangers only pass one of two dice, and so split both ways looking for cover.  One group jumps into the ruined building on the left and the other hides in the woods on the right.   I played this whole part wrong, which had profound implications for the game.  I should have resolved all German shooting first and then did all the tests.  But instead as soon as the leader dropped I did the test.  This put everyone into cover.  In reality the Rangers should've been blown to bits before they could get anywhere!

Now that all the Rangers had ducked back behind cover, it became harder to hit them.  Once you are shot at, either when active or not, you can take reactive fire.  Rep figures into this, and at Rep5 and the targets being in the open, the US Rangers were extremely effective in killing the enemy.  By the end of the Rangers first round, the Germans were running for cover and dragging their injured with them.

The Germans activated next, and the PEFs had a chance to move.  There were only two now, and they activate and move randomly.  One stayed in place and another PEF moved from behind the church to join the other PEF at the rear.  It was like they knew things weren't going well up front! Germans tried to fire from cover but couldn't bring numbers to bear.  Return fire from the Rangers was deadly accurate.  I tried to have Germans lob grenades, but they couldn't prepare them in time.  They would be killed before the next activation when they could throw them!

This went back and forth, with US Rangers having no trouble preparing grenades and tossing them on the same turn.  That's the difference between Rep 5 and Rep 4 models!  Because the Germans bunched up trying to find cover, they got plastered in the 5" blast radius.  One brave Ranger rushed to the church window and threw in a grenade that blew up the MMG team that had pulled back from it's sniping perch.  Here's a shot of it in action.
 By the end of the second turn the Germans had lost a lot of men, while the Rangers were just down by their leader only.  I use the metal yardstick to show my "board edge."  Those Germans are all casualties.
From here on it was a mopping up action.  The Rangers filtered into the church to get a view of the second PEF.  It turned out to be another infantry squad.  I had a Ranger with a grenade launcher inside.  So he readied a grenade and fired into the bunched up Germans.  Boom!  The squad pretty much disintegrated.  I think I unconsciously aided this disaster for the Germans.  I shouldn't have placed the PEF forces so close together.  If they had been better spaced, the all wouldn't have died so easily.  I've got to remember that going forward, because I keep doing it.  That makes it too easy for one grenade or blast weapon to kill entire squads.

The Germans for their part were constantly retreating.  They never could get a grenade throw without the person holding it being killed first.  I've read in another THW game (5150 Star Army) that if a model with a readied grenade is killed before he can toss it, it goes off right then.  Had that rule been in place during this game, the Germans would've killed themselves.

So as the Rangers push forward, one Ranger moves up to contact the remnants of a rifle squad that is hunkered down.  Being contacted in this state means that the hunkered down models will surrender to enemies who come within 4".  So rather than shoot at the team (which actually can't be seen while in this status unless you go prone), it's easier to double move up.  One Ranger captured a group of four enemy and took them out of the fight.  I use the fiery blast marker to show hunkered down status.

So now only one PEF remains unresolved.  Each PEF has its own REP, and this particular one was REP 1.  This means it can only activate on an initiative roll of 1; so it didn't move all game.  Because I didn't actually know what it was, I hadto approach it carefully.  This became the highlight of the game for me.  I could be looking at another entire rifle platoon hidden in the corner, kept in reserve until the last minute.  I didn't know until one of my men drew LOS.   So I gave one soldier the difficult task of checking out what was behind the wall as the rest of the team closed in.  I still had Rangers in the church, who would be unable to help if something big popped up.
The brave soldier peaked around the corner.  I rolled on the contact charts.  Nothing there!  Just a case of the nerves, I guess!  Whew!  Game over and the US Rangers pushed away an entire German rifle platoon while only taking one casualty.  During the course of the game, I moved through every square and scouted every terrain piece.  Nothing else was found, and the sector was cleared.

So that's a game of Nuts! for you.  If you enjoy solo games, you should check out this system.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Solo Gaming Set Up

A few posts back I was asked how I set up for a solo RPG session.  I'll address that in this post and hope someone finds it useful.  I'll also talk a little about my experiences with the GME.

I've only completed one full story arc thus far.  So as far as story generation goes, I'm still developing.  I've got the excellent adventure generators from Adamant Entertainment.  These seem to have a ton of possibilities, not only for RPGs but for story-driven miniatures games as well.  The link I provided goes to the Space Opera generator; but there are others for different genres such as fantasy, military, and pulp adventure.  As for my first solo RPG games, I started with a simple premise and asked questions of the GME to get things moving.  The story evolved from there.

In terms of setting up my physical space, I have a wide office desk.  I set up my Asus netbook to use for typing the session.  I keep the main rulebook to one side and all my character sheets and the GME on the other side. Dice are needed, of course, as well as a pad of scratch paper.  From here out, it's like writing a story only I pause to consult character sheets, rulebooks, and of course the GME.  I try to keep sessions to one hour, as that's about all the free time I get for this hobby.

However, for the few Pathfinder sessions I've run, I've been able to keep things entirely on the PC.  I did this by using PDF rule books exclusively.  Also, I bought Lone Wolf's Hero Lab which not only allows me to keep character sheets on the PC but also has a tactical combat tab.  This tab lets you import monsters or other NPCs and keep track of the fights and all the details.  It's really slick.  I use an online dice roller as well.  Lastly, for the completely paper free experience, I use Mythic Apprentice that you can download from the Mythic Yahoo group.  So everything is on the PC and I can just type directly into Mythic Apprentice.

That's about the extent of my solo gaming set up.  While I love having hefty, full color rulebooks, I think they're not very efficient for solo games.  I've started getting all the Dark Heresy supplements as PDFs, and definitely all Pathfinder books as PDF.  Electronic books are easier to search and bookmark, and they don't suffer from wear and tear.  Definitely stay electronic if you can!

As for using the GME, I admit I was hugely surprised by what it can do.  I think as long as you have a well designed setting (like the WH40K universe or Pathfinder's Inner Sea), you can easily interpret the results you get from the GME.  If you don't have such a setting, as long as you have a good hunch for what would make a good story then you are still fine.  I think if you didn't know anything about the setting, you'd have a tough time with it.  You'd have to ask GME everything!

I will say that the best addition to the GME is the Mythic Variations book.  While you can live without it, it has a lot of clarifications and customization options.  The complex questions section increased the power and usefulness of the GME charts tremendously.

Working with the GME charts was a learning experience.  I learned chaos factor adjustments figure hugely into how things will go.* The rule to either raise or lower the chaos factor after each scene really wasn't working for me.  There were plenty of times where the scene wasn't getting out of control but wasn't letting up either.  So to me that meant it should stay unchanged.  Besides, GME needs a higher chaos factor to be more entertaining.  Without interrupts, altered scenes, and random events you could just as well day dream rather than play out a scene. 

The one big thing I learned is that you have to ask a lot of questions to get things moving.  Without questions, GME doesn't work.  As I worked through the sessions, I realized I sometimes had to ask questions just to generate a random event.  I guess I could insert a random event when I wanted; but then that's not really using GME and just becomes fiction writing.  So I asked a lot of questions and coaxed out events that way.

Finally, how you ask the question is paramount.  Here's where it's easy to fudge things and maybe even subconsciously cheat the system.  If the chaos factor is low, and you assign a low probability, you can almost guarantee you will not get a yes answer to your question.  "Is the main antagonist a Daemon Prince of Khorne?"  Chaos Factor: 3, Odds: Very Unlikely.  Even rolling 9% the answer is still no.  So if you feared meeting such a Daemon Prince, asking this question under these conditions almost -- but not definitely -- guarantees you won't run into that bad boy.  The main GME book talks about cheating and asking silly questions like "Do I find one million gold pieces right now?"  But it doesn't address that you can manipulate things without realizing just by phrasing the questions differently or asking under certain conditions.  I guess it probably can't be helped, and might even be desirable.  But I realized I was doing things like that to manipulate my story at points, and I took back those questions where ever I found them.

So there are my thoughts on my first time solo RPG sessions.  I'm brewing up a few other ideas, and will get started this week.  I think I'll keep the same characters and see where things go next.

*EDIT Added 9/20:  One thing I wanted to add but forgot to mention in my post is that the Chaos factor tends to feed on itself.  By this, I mean once you raise or lower the chaos factor it tends to keep rising or lowering.  This only makes sense, given that if the chaos factor is dropped then less random stuff happens.  Therefore the next scene will have a lower chaos factor, etc., and vice versa for raising it.  That's why I felt it was important to have a situation where the chaos factor stays the same.  Just be aware of this tendency, as the story can get crazy in short order once you move to a level 7 chaos factor!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dark Heresy Sessions, Part Three, Finale

I wrapped up my first story for Dark Heresy.  What started as my own experiment to see if I could run a solo GME game turned into one of the most enjoyable experiences I've had in a while.  This last part of the story took me in surprising directions. 

The rich setting of the WH40K universe really helped with interpreting GME results.  But still, the GME drove everything in this series of stories.  I simply started with one PC and a single premise of "assassinate this person and then prove his heresy."  Everything spun off from there.

This is a long post, with a lot of story.  It represents many hours of game play.  I'll let you read it for now, and will later post up my thoughts on working with both the Dark Heresy game system and the GME.  For now enjoy the conclusion of the story!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Dark Heresy Sessions, Part Two

I've continued my Dark Heresy sessions, picking up right from where I left off.  I brought in two new characters who I think would be called in to deal with the particular threat being addressed.  I did an interlude session as suggested in the GME Variants book.  It was  good idea that produced some surprises.

Speaking of surprises, as I look over these sessions I noticed that game mechanics were not as widely used as in previous sessions.  It's more like fan fiction generated via GME than a game.  I'm not sure I like that.  But without a lot of combat or skill checks, I guess all RPGs become like this.  It's just when you are doing it solo, it becomes more of a writing exercise.  Still, I enjoyed discovering the story.  At this point, I don't know where the story will go.  So that's a step up from just writing.  This could go anywhere.  The session reports are after the jump, and include the interlude and the first two scenes of the next part of the story.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Pathfinder Solo Playtest

I played my first game of Pathfinder tonight.  Having come from a D&D background, and having read all versions of D&D, the transition wasn't so bad.  I have forgotten how heavy the rules are for these games.  There's basically a test for everything you want to do.  But from my group gaming days, we tended to ignore stuff that got in the way of the story.  So, I did the same here!

Meet Taka the 1st level human monk.  I'm trying a "Bourne Identity" type of opener here.  After this premise is established, I'm going to let GME determine the rest of the story.  I bought the Pathfinder Inner Sea World Guide to use as a setting.  I plan to have Taka wander those lands and discover them along with me.

I also did this session completely paper free!  I'll detail that set up in another post.  But it was quite a liberating experience.  However, my PC was cluttered for sure.