Thursday, August 30, 2012

Go Play NW: Commando World/GI Joe 1946 Actual Play

So, hey there. Wanted to mess with the format real quick-like and stick the music at the top instead. Have a listen while you read or something!
God I love the No More Heroes and No More Heroes 2 soundtracks. Seriously, they're just plain fantastic - a lot of games try for the awesome rock soundtrack thing (Sonic games are doing this all the time, though recently Unleashed and Generations have opted for orchestral- and electronic-dominated soundtracks), but very few succeed with any particular consistency. NMH2 has a kick-ass punk/rock soundtrack, with The Upside being a more light-toned song on it. I find the The Upside really really nice, and catchy too.

Rapid-Fire AP! Or not. This is another whole long AP post - turns out that, despite having been a whole two months ago, I remember quite a bit. Commando World was the game I played last on Saturday, so it was a late evening game (took us til just about midnight from 8). Coming into the slot, I didn't actually know I was going to be playing it. I didn't have any idea what I'd play actually - I tossed myself in for the Donut (GPNW's mechanism for matching people who want to game with people willing to run or have to fill spots). Ogre had his Dungeon World hack that he'd been working on for the past few weeks, with the premise being, instead of adventurers or post-apocalyptic wasteland, it was GI Joe right after the end of World War II. Ogre mentioned that once the serial numbers are filed off he'll probably call it Commando World, hence what I'm calling it here (cuz it's easier to say than GI Joe 1946 AW Hack).
So it was a really big group! Seriously, I don't remember exactly how many people were at the table but it must have been at least eight. Ogre was GM of course, and the others whose names are jumping out at me as memorable are Kingston, Matthew (though I don't remember his last name), and Eric Logan (the owner of the best Seattle game store, Gamma Ray Games).
I admit, I dont' remember all the character names - I am not familiar with GI Joe and I'm not particularly knowledgable about WWII either. The ones I remember were, of course, my own (Grunt, who I'll talk more about 'cuz I have a picture of the sheet to remind me), Kingston sat to my left and played Snake Eyes, the mute ninja, Matthew, who played Flash, the expimental-tech guy who wielded a flamethrower, and Eric played a leader-type character (thanks very much to him for that, really kept things moving forward). Additionally, I remember we had an NPC team member sniper named Snowblind or some such. One of the players was playign an artillery specialist (with a donkey-mounted portable artillery), and we had other fellows that I don't recall.

An interesting aspect was the GIANT pile of character sheets Ogre had out. One sheet per character, there must have been two dozen characters to pick from. Even once we had our characters and we had gotten our mission briefing, we got to pick any of the other guys from the pile to support us. I think I would have liked to see what would happen if we had a limit to the number we could pick to come with us - as is, it was just, "need an ace pilot?" (oh that was another NPC we took, Ace. That or it was the T-copter dude...but Ace was an option at least), and the answer was just "well, you got one now!". Oh well - we didn't take too many folks, so it didn't feel like we were too overprepared or anything.

Another interesting thing to keep in mind: this is loosely based on Dungeon World. Not AW. Ogre hadn't seen AW really, and had only gotten a brief look at DW before really wanting to build this game with it. As such, it starts diverging from standard Apocalypse Games pretty early. Its closest link is it uses the move mechanic of "When you [trigger], roll+[stat], on a 10+ success, on a 7-9 [description of partial success], on a 6- miss." This also means Ogre has not read The Regiment (which the game could definitely get some assitance from I think), nor has he read other hacks like Monsterhearts or Monnster of the Week to see what they do. This is a VERY early playtest.

So we all had our characters, and we went around the table. For each of us, Ogre roleplayed as, uh, some big military figure (I don't recall the name, but I'm sure it was an actual GI Joe reference), approaching each of us in turn at wherever we were at the time and trying to convince us to come and join his new team. It was a quick and interesting way to give us some background on what our guys have been doing before play. Then we started introducing our characters to the group. Here's my sheet:

Okay, so going through. Yes, this was just a sheet of paper with stuff printed on it in standard font. Ogre said he'd been doing this for only, like, 3 weeks. Also yes, I DID draw little pictures to indicate how many stuffs I had. Anyway, up top we have my character's name (Grunt) as well as his military position, his real name, and his birthplace. Following that are the places I've served in - Grunt's been getting around. The last line there is our medals. I gotta say - I wish the medals had some cool little stat benefit, especially if we pick medals for our guy when this gets genericized. Snake Eyes' sheet was quite funny - it had his code name, Snake Eyes, and then the word classified a bunch of times for everything else.
We had 5 stats: Att(ack), Def(ense), M(o)v(ement), F(ix)/B(reak), and H(it) P(oints). Like most Apocalypse-Powered systems, these will be used to add to our move rolls. Ogre had a big pile of basic moves we could use. F/B is the most general, used when none of the others really applies. HP, of course, is health, just like D&D.
Then you see the moves. Fortune's Fool is pretty good, giving Grunt an enormous potential to not get hurt. It's worth noting though: the balance on the conditions that Ogre had come up with were a little overwhelming - mostly they resulted in penalties to using certain moves, and the penalties were a bit too large for a 2d6+stat roll. It was nice throwing some conditions on the enemies though - it was very effective. The Hardest Working Man move was helpful in one instance in particular (letting me move ahead of the group and get into a better position), but in general we more treated it as a narrative trait that Grunt had awesome endurance. The Ammo Hump was definitely the best thing I had - our "ammo slots" were essentially our load. By default, Grunt had three, so the ammo hump's bonus four was great. With the ammo system as it is, this is a fantastic move (and I carried a couple other folks' stuff so they had more room). Unfortunately, I'm not so keen on the ammo system - but I'll get to that. Being a Small Arms Armorer looked like it could be really useful, and I imagine would be great in some games, but the way rolls came out I think it just triggered one time for a buddy. A lot of ENEMY gun jamming though! Also, the wording on this one could be strange for campaign play, but it's an early draft built for a con, so it's to be expected.
Beneath, you can see my inventory. We were given a couple choices for guns, and I picked a pistol and a rifle, along with my complementary grenades and knife. On the right, you can see 7 bubbles, now with slashes through them. These were my seven "ammo slots" and I slashed them when I filled it. Most of it is filled with spare ammo, but I took a spare grenade, Flash's shape charge that we were going to use in the mission, and the walkie-talky. I have two smoke grenades (white ones - each of the teams had some smoke grenades to act as signal flares, and there were three teams, so red, white, and blue!). Flash had a move that gave him access to experimental technology - when aske if he had anything this time, Ogre gave him some Plant Rockets to pass out. These are the sort that you stake in the ground and will go off. I think we ended up with one each.
Okay, I wanted to talk about the ammo. This is a very early draft, done inspired by DW but not very closely modeled after it without a real reference text and done swiftly, so I have absolutely no ill will toward Ogre for doing it so, but I think it's a flawed system. I've played games where we count individual ammos before. I very much dislike it. Both major Apocalypse-Powered texts have a solution to this issue, and both are clever, though they are very different (I actually think there are 3 major AW-systems, AW, DW, and Monsterhearts, but MH doesn't really have any gun or ammo rules at all. And yeah, I consider MotW and Regiment to not quite be the major ones yet, though they're close). Apocalypse World doesn't HAVE an ammo system - running out of ammo just happens, usually as the result of the MC's "Activate They're Stuff's Downside" hard move. Things with lots of ammo get the infinite tag, and it simply means the MC can't make you ever run out of ammo on that weapon (the big example is actually "lots of knives", which has the infinite tag usually, but it applies to guns too). DW, on the other hand, uses an arbitrary ammo system. It's pretty common to carry 2-ammo. Ammo is just like spells - shooting doesn't use it. However, when you shoot, on a 7-9, one of the downsides you can pick is to need to take more shots than usual, lose 1 ammo. In this way, losing ammo is always voluntary, but often preferable to whatever other punishment could come from that 7-9. It doesn't rely on close tracking, and it's easy. For this particular game, I'd say to go the DW route, but the AW route works too. If you went the DW route, the best way to word it would be "For Grunt, 2-Ammo takes only 1-load of space, not the usual 2-load." In that way, the Ammo Hump is very clear - he can carry twice the ammo, but only ammo, whereas in the actual game I ended up using those extra slots for stuff. For the AW route, I'd word it "When Grunt is prepared for a fight, all of his guns add (infinite ammo)." You can't out-ammo this guy. The reason I prefer the DW route is because of the aspect that ammo-loss is punishment. In the DW-track, you can lose ammo a bunch more times to avoid bad situations. In the AW route though, running out of ammo is the result of a Hard Move. When your guns are infinite, he simply can't narrate you running out of ammo - in other words, he'll just pick a different hard move, and you still get punished, making your feature useless mechanically. That's why infinite isn't so amazing in AW as it would be in other games. Now, I'm not talking about the elephant in the room - The Regiment is a very military, very gritty AW hack. I'm SURE it has a sweet ammo solution as well, but I haven't gotten the time to actually READ The Regiment yet, so I can't talk about it. Ogre, if you see this, check it out as well for any possible data you can use.
OK, I've gotten through the ammo thing. Note: Ammo was my single largest complaint, and it barely arose in play, so don't take it too hard, this is mostly talking in theory. It was a lot of fun, even with a little bit of ammo tracking (and we weren't down-to-the-bullet specific).
And now for something good! See those Zones for the range on the weapons? Those seemed to be ripped right from FATE (or from The Dresden Files RPG's version of FATE at least). Zones are conceptual, not measurements. Across the kitchen is a zone. If I leave the kitchen and go into the living room, that's a zone change. If I run out of the kitchen, into the living room, out the back door onto the deck and jump off and am running across the lawn, I'd call that 3 zone changes, ending in the "Back Lawn" zone. How large exactly they are is a bit flexible, and I really like these as a mechanic in games. They are AWESOME. If you have to be tracking position, this is one of the most narrative ways to do it.
Now back to suggestions! This was not an issue. This is something that I think could be added to make the game better. So far, every variant of AW I've seen has changed the Hx system into something unique. Apocalypse World itself had Hx, a sliding scale of how well you know another PC. It doesn't denote liking them, just knowing them, understanding how they work and stuff. Bonds were Dungeon World's mod. Bonds are short phrases describing your past with another PC. To get a score, you counted up how many you had with a given person (usually 1, or 2 if you know them real well). Both the Bond score and the Hx score are used for Aid Another type rolls. Monster of the Week has something kinda like a fusion of the initial Hx questions and Bonds, but from my reading they seem to have no mechanical effect. I don't know the Regiment. Monsterhearts has the most radical change, with Strings being a sort of token you have tied to another character that, when spent, give you some power over the other character, generally representing emotional control over the target - there's a whole economy of Strings being traded and such, and they're my favorite mechanic as a whole. My point in summarizing all of these is to point out that Commando World had none, and I think the inter-team cameraderie and relationships are something that would really come up. I don't know much about GI Joe, as I've said, but I imagine that as a series there has to be more going on than just kicking bad guy ass or it wouldn't hold people's attention, and that drama is very easy to stimulate with some variation of the History rules. I don't really know which way to go with it - make something new, or try one of these and run with it for a bit (I don't think Strings fit though, those are very much about emotional control and that's, while not absent, less prominent in this genre).
Those are the main game design points I wanted to hit. I think it may be worth visiting AW's harm rules instead of DW's HP (and thus also simplifying damage on the guns) but that's not an imminent thing, just idle thought.
Oh, and for the record, my "Rifle" weapon was advanced in a bunch of ways, I don't remember exactly how, but it was essentially a modern assault rifle.

So. What actually happened? Again, the details are a touch fuzzy thanks to it being 2 months ago, late at night, and using a lot of names of characters I didn't recognize.
We were all together at the compound, and roleplayed a touch of the existing relationships between our characters, with the idea that we've been getting ready on this team to, so far, do absolutely nothing. Finally, we get called in for a mission briefing - or at least Eric's character, the group leader, did. Turns out that the enemy forgot to tell a few of its troops that the war was over, and a couple of incredibly high-profile targets were spotted in the mountains of (I believe, this is more of a guess) Eastern Europe. We had a blurry photo of a man in a metal mask outside a complex - this man would of course be Destro, the one name enemy name that stuck with me. He was explained by the boss, who then told us also about another objective for the mission, a more espionage-type thing down in the town. Essentially, we had a choice of mission for this con game. We picked Destro and the arms complex.
We spent a bit of time planning and choosing who goes on ahead. Snake Eyes, being mute, did a whole pointing and charading thing a lot of the time, which was a lot of fun - also cool was that he actually wrote and passed notes to Eric. We decided that Snake Eyes would go ahead of the main group the night before and infiltrate the place and investigate, and that the rest of us would transport in and drop just before sunrise around the side of the mountain this complex was situated on. Snowblind was in a sniper's nest relatively nearby with a clear view of the complex with his rifle - he had one color of smoke grenade. I was at the front of the advance team with Flash, while Eric's leader led the rear team which assisted with artillery and such, and each of us had a different color of smoke grenade, leaving us with all three of red, white, and blue (Snake Eyes didn't have any smoke grenades - that would be FAR too overt for him). We watched Snake Eyes's actions the night before the attack, sneaking in, getting over by the big shipping palettes that were ready for pick-up, and prying one open to get a peek inside: they're manufactoring experimental weapons! It appeared to be a rocket launcher that fired six rockets at once, meant essentially to be a shotgun but with rockets. Using a small metal piece he had, he morse-coded a message to snowblind with the little flashes - the message itself was about what the situation is, that they're building weapons/explosive. He then went off to go over the roof of the main building there...
Meanwhile, we're getting set to drop. That was an interesting thing - for most of the getting-to-there stuff we kept a loose track of time, and at one point it actually looked like we weren't going to make our planned attack time of sunrise, but we made it. At this point Snake Eyes made his final pre-assult move - he snuck into the building and coated the inside of Destro's mask (cuz he was asleep and all) with a paralytic contact poison. Nasty. He then snuck out.
We opened quick and stormed the wall of the complex, the three of us (Flash, me, and one other whose name and character name escape me unfortunately). The I-forget-his-name character couldn't even make it there, I think his foot ended up in a badger hole or something. Me, I botched my wall vault and am now hanging more or less upside down by the straps of my uniform, trying to get loose. Flash vaulted just fine and started striding in toward the guards, flamethrower in front of him, when BAM a perfectly dialed in artillery strike hits right in the middle of the courtyard from the rear team's fire. That'll teach 'em. We kept going, me managing to not get shot, but Flash was fired at and missed - in fact, one of their guns jammed. If I remember, there were 4 dudes. The rear team was mostly just digging in and supporting the artillery. My turn comes around again and I decide that I could either shoot with penalties or get myself free. I shoot! And manage to do awesome, hitting a dude and possibly killing him, I don't recall. A couple of guys later noted that it was a pretty awesome manuever, me hanging on by my straps, totally vulnerable, and still sighting upside-down and shooting out some guys, so I suppose it was indeed pretty cool looking. Flash just stepped forward and started lighting guys up with the flamethrower then, and a-bit-behind-us finally got loose and got to the wall and started taking shots from cover.
A bunch of fighting later, we're moving into the building there while I'm untying myself and Flash is advancing inside, with Snake Eyes in the rafters. Destro is now paralyzed on the floor in the next room, and the basement door is open. I get in there and am participating in the firefight (and even get a dude taken prisoner) before grabbing Destro and taking him as flash set the shape charge in the basement full of ammo and rocket-building components.
Meanwhile, the rear team is havign some trouble. Out of nowhere, ninja! It was definitely a GI Joe villain, a ninja type guy - at research, his name was Storm Shadow. He immediately incapacitated Eric (whose character I now think was named Hawk) and attacked the artillery fella and the other guy who was back there. Through some mean feats of teamwork and skill and fortune, they actually won and got the ninja to surrender, which was awesome.
We ended the mission, having taken out the weapons depot and bagged both Destro and Storm Shadow. We concluded the game as it was late, and that was Commando World!

It was a lot of fun to play, and I'd absolutely play again. In fact, I'd actually be interested in playing it at home - at least one of my players is a GI Joe fan, and at least two of us (now three) of us are WWII buffs (so just not me basically - not Kris too much either). I'm eagerly awaiting any release or playtest of the game.
Also, does anyone know how to contact Ogre? I have no idea where he is online, and it'd be cool to know and let him know I did some AP finally and maybe ask about possibly running it myself (goodness am I going to need to do research to make it work).

That should be it now I guess. Oh, remember that I'm good for doing free art! I put up a text thing on the sidebar about it. Also, I recently changed the blog layout a bit - I finally found where to alter the text column width, which has bothered me since I started this blog. It should be much nicer now.
What's up next? I have three more GPNW APs to write and post. I'm also gearing up to do a The Binding of Isaac Let's Play! Been working stuff out, I'll be restarting a file and going from scratch. Never seen the game? Have seen it but really suck at it and want to see someone with at least a touch of skill do it? Look forward to it.
NOW I'm done.

End Recording,

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