Posts Tagged ‘Utopia’


Utopia #6 – Something rotten on 311-Krugman

March 27, 2013

Utopia unit 16 was slowly recovering from their disastrous last mission. With Wu and Hämäläinen dead, Trill and McSorley left behind on Ryukyu Epsilon and Evans and Franz-Haugen-Ankerson hospitalized, it was time to bring in some fresh meat. With the losses suffered by the Utopia units, new troopers were transferring in from various sources. Joining the Sweet Sixteenth were

Pvt. Abdul, a polite and well-mannered devout Moslem transferring in from MESA – the Middle East Security Army. With no blemishes on his service record, Abdul’s semi-forced transfer is a bit of a mystery.

Pvt. Swartz, the unit’s new heavy weapons specialist. A jovial Neo-Bavarian with a liking for beer and sausages – lots of both. Schwarz is also from MESA, and he’s a voluntary transfer.

Pvt. “Shaq” Leroy, a medic from the New Orleans isles. Leroy’s not only a capable medic, but very canny in the kitchen as well – managing to turn even freeze-dried spam into a more than decent meal.

Pvt. Cohl, the new sniper. Cohl’s a calm, relaxed professional in his forties, with a history in Olympic shooting.

Pvt. Dastevan has a long background working for the private military company Greyocean. Dastevan’s a real killer with a leaning towards black supremacist ideas and a drive to bond with everyone he conceives to be a “brother”.

Pvt. Bruce who simply loves military service. Or rather, the chance to yell at people, keep a strict discipline and inflict physical harm. Bruce is in Utopia for the front line action and doing his best to impress Sgt. Fender.

The unit was enjoying their downtime with rest and recreation, or rather what downtime they had after Sgt. Fender’s merciless training sessions. They were regularly visiting Evans and Franz-Haugen-Ankerson in the sickbay and trying their best to form a team when they were given what sounded like a very lightweight mission: the small factory colony of Adderall Field on 311-Krugman had gone quiet, and the Sambreel corporation was fearing an uprising similar to the one on Kessler-11.

In fact, Sambreel had already contacted private military company Skyhawk to look into the matter. However, due to colonial legislation the mission was placed under the jurisdiction of the Union and that meant the 16th was going in with the Skyhawk PMCs. The mission was to go in and find out what had happened and bring back the factory manager’s computer with its relevant information and records if the colonists didn’t have an explanation. Civilian casualties were to be avoided at all cost. A simple job, yet Captain Jensen called to Fender before the mission and asked him to keep an eye on the PMCs and to make sure they didn’t take the computer. It was time for Operation Big Brother.

The troopers deployed on the edge of Adderall Field, and cautiously started moving in. Meanwhile, the Skyhawk team lead by lieutenant Dircks stormed forward towards the factory manager’s quarters, seemingly not bothering to look for civilians. The PMC sniper, Cpl. Thoreaux took the stairs to the top of one of the nearby storage silos, while Pvt. Cohl, the 16th’s sniper, did likewise. To make sure there wouldn’t be any nasty surprises from the Skyhawk crew, Pvt. DiGlaeser tried to tap into their private communication channel. While he couldn’t quite breach it, he was able to monitor the transmissions to the extent that allowed him to notice if voices were spiking and communication got hectic.

The Skyhawk PMCs deploy

The Skyhawk PMCs deploy

Lt. Dircks leads his men

Lt. Dircks leads his men

Pvt. Dastevan checked out the closest building, and found a civilian standing there, staring mute at the wall and not responding to the trooper’s communication attempts. Elsewhere the troopers and PMCs were spotting some more civilians, all of them in a similar, passive state. All of a sudden, shots started ringing out. At the orders of Sgt. Fender, Pvt. Abdul climbed to the roof of one of the buildings to better survey the situation. He was shocked by what he saw: the Skyhawk operators were indiscriminately gunning down unarmed civilians!

The troopers spread out and Abduls heads for the roof

The troopers spread out and Abduls heads for the roof

Fender tried to contact Lt. Dircks but to no avail, the PMCs were not responding to hails but continued firing. DiGlaeser noticed there was some heavy radio traffic going on. Dircks, flanked by two of his troopers, made it to the factory manager’s quarters to secure the computer. The sixteenth were encountering some more civilians. Pvt. Bruce got a little rough-handed on a female civilian, who completely surprised him by turning around and lunging for him, trying to claw and bite the trooper. There was general confusion, and Fender ordered the civilian restrained, which Bruce happily did with the butt of his rifle and some zip ties. Around the same time, the dog Baton had joined Dastevan who was still wondering what to do with the civilian he’d encountered. The dog’s hackles were up and he was barking furiously. Just to be sure, Dastevan pinned the civilian down and tied him up. The colonist was finally showing signs of life, struggling and snarling. It was obvious at this point that something was seriously wrong with the colonists. The medic Leroy suspected some kind of mass hysteria or possibly a strain of rabies or something similar, and advised everyone to be cautious when approaching the civilians.

Sgt. Kendrick observes the situation while Pvt. Adeyemi looks on

Sgt. Kendrick observes the situation while Pvt. Adeyemi looks on

Pvt. Mourtada, the Skyhawk heavy

Pvt. Mourtada, the Skyhawk heavy

The Skyhawk leader Lt. Dircks had recovered the computer and was making his way towards the landing zone. A civilian wandered closer, and Dircks shot him down with his heavy pistol. Gunfire was now ringing all around the small town as the PMCs let rip into the townsfolk who were, to the mercenaries’ horror, getting up even with grievous bullet wounds. The noise was also starting to draw in more and more of Adderall Field’s residents, who seemed to be getting more aggressive by the moment. Unlike the PMCs, the Utopia troops were utilizing non-lethal methods, bringing the civilians down and restraining them. Pvt. Leroy approached one civilian: “We’re here to help. Sir, just relax and stay still while I look at your injuries. Sir! Please hold still sir! Sir, stop I will be forced to restrain you!”

Pvt. Leroy approaches the civilians

Pvt. Leroy approaches the civilians

Sgt. Fender got on the intercom and tried to reach the Skyhawk operatives but to no avail. “Private DiGlaeser, let the dropship know that the Skyhawk bastards will not be leaving before they explain what the hell they’re doing!” DiGlaeser started relaying the message only to find out it wasn’t happening: “Sir, it seems the Skyhawk unit is jamming our transfer!” Frustrated, Fender hailed the medic: “Leroy, what’s up with the civilians?” “Sir, these people are far beyond our help…it seems they’re..well, dead.” With some relish Fender finally gave the order: “Squad sixteen, civilians are now considered hostile targets, fire at will!” The order was well timed, since a group of the undead civilians was converging on the medic Leroy and Pvt. Lau who had reluctantly come to Leroy’s aid. Pvt. Bruce joined in, as did Pvt. Swartz. With the sniper Cohl providing assistance from above, the troopers started clearing the situation.

While this was going on, things were getting personal for Sgt. Fender as a group of four civilians closed on his dog, Baton. “Hold on, boy!” Fender shouted, heading to aid the dog. Baton, being a genetically enhanced combat mastiff, wasn’t in too much trouble, pulling one assailant after another to the ground. With Dastevan stepping to the dog’s aid, the attackers were quickly eliminated. More were pouring in ceaselessly, so the 16th decided to pull back, even Abdul coming down from his safe roof.

The Skyhawk PMCs tried to do the same, but they had hung back a bit too long and with the civilians closing in en masse, the soldiers were running out of room to maneuver. Pvt. Privalov’s gun jammed, and as he was clearing it, a group of the undead swarmed him and bore him to the ground. Corporal Thoreaux, the PMC sniper could only watch through his scope as the attackers tore into Privalov’s flesh, obscuring him from a mercy shot.

Pvt. Privalov is swarmed by the undead

Pvt. Privalov is swarmed by the undead and Sgt. Kendrick can’t help him

Cpl. Thoreaux looks on as Privalov is eaten

Cpl. Thoreaux looks on as Privalov is eaten

Sergeant Kendrick, Lt. Dircks’ NCO gave the order to retreat right before getting attacked himself and suffering the same fate as Privalov scant moments before. Pvt. Adeyemi ran full tilt towards the troopers of the 16th, while Dircks and his heavy, Pvt. Mourtada, were attacked. Mourtada gave his assailant, a little boy of maybe 10 years, a heavy combat boot in the face and darted off after Adeyemi. “Come back here your rat bastard [expletive]s!” Lt. Dircks roared at his men, as two civilians attacked him from behind. After a brief struggle, Dircks managed to free himself from the attackers and ran after Adeyemi and Mourtada, carrying the computer and sullenly handing it over to a waiting Sgt. Fender. As the PMCs were hurriedly led to the landing zone disarmed and at gunpoint, the undead townsfolk were left moaning and snarling and fighting over the remains of Privalov and Kendrick. It was time to leave 311-Krugman behind.

The Skyhawk team collapses

The Skyhawk team collapses

As the factory manager’s files were decrypted and the PMCs questioned, it turned out that Adderall Field wasn’t quite the agricultural vehicle and tool manufactory it was supposed to be, but rather a site for some very suspect bio-weapons research. Sambreel had intended for the PMCs to retrieve their data and leave the 16th to hang – and met with a resounding failure. The already tense relationship between the Union and the corporations and security firms were not going to improve soon.

Hey, an actual victory for the 16th! For once, everything went swimmingly, and the squad performed like professionals. Additionally, this was one of the most cinematic games we’ve had, capturing the zombie movie vibe very nicely. The fall of the PMCs wasn’t consciously set up. Instead they just suffered a bout of some horrible dice rolling combined with some very unfortunate rolls for the zombies, and ended up essentially recreating the biker scene from Dawn of the Dead.

I loved the way my players handled this scenario, as their RPG experience really showed. While the players knew perfectly well they were dealing with zombies, their characters didn’t, and so they acted accordingly, trying to save civilian lives. This was a great example of the warpg-style gameplay that I’ve been advocating (see earlier posts here and here) – putting fun and a good story ahead of winning mechanically.

The scenario also allowed me to use my zombie miniatures for the first time in ages, which made me a happy panda!




Dusty Gamer & Troupe play

March 9, 2013

My regular readers know that I’m frequently blogging about the Utopia campaign we’re playing. I’ve often wanted to write a more detailed explanation on how the campaign is actually played, but luckily, my friend (and one of the players) Joonas who runs the Dusty Gamer blog did it for me. So, if you’re at all interested in Utopia and troupe play – playing several characters at the same time – go check it out. You can find the post here.

flying lead sheet

Photo by Joonas Laakso

Utopia #5 – Disaster

February 21, 2013

After the devastating events of their previous mission, squad 16 was reeling. With their sergeant and heavy missing and their corporal KIA, morale was low and the atmosphere on UTP Tien Shan sombre. Pvt. Lau had started doing heavy drugs while the normally optimistic medic Evans was just shutting down. Dour Pvt. Hämäläinen’s daily verbal output had gone from four words to two. Pvt. Franz-Haugen-Ankerson had been promoted to corporal, a fact she was trying to get her head around.

The genocidal AI Hamachi had dealt the UTOPIA project its first real blow. While most squads had succeeded in their evacuation mission, the casualties were horrendous, on average around 35-40%. Squads 39 and 42 had been completely destroyed, and several of the 50 squads were at half strength.

Another squad that had suffered was the 21st. With only four survivors after the previous mission, the squad was merged into the 16th. This brought the following new faces to the table:

Sgt. Fender, a stern bastard of a career sergeant in his fifties. Fender operates on a no pain, no gain mentality. There are rumours of him once having killed one of his subordinates for poor performance. Fender is accompanied by his foul genhanced mastiff Baton.

Pvt. McSorley, a true jarhead and the squad’s new heavy weapons specialist. He enjoys his job and is more than happy to hose down enemies with his smartgun, Jane.

Pvt. Trill, a genuinely likable female tech specialist. Trill knows her way around technology, but isn’t the most socially active in the squad. She is the third tech to join the 16th, after the demise of her predecessors Bjornssen and Ghillian.

Pvt. DiGlaeser, the squads new communications specialist. While somewhat creepy, DiGlaeser is a downright wizard when it comes to communications. He has established superiority over Baton the dog by tazing him.

Sgt. Fender took over the squad very efficiently. He made a pretty distinct entrance, when the first thing his lovely little pet did was urinate on poor Pvt. Lau. Fender didn’t bother with small talk or pleasantries, instead putting the new combined squad through a couple of days of very strict training. This training was interrupted by Cpt. Jensen – it was time for a new mission.

It appeared that Hamachi was a bit more resourceful than expected, and had captured several troopers wounded in the previous mission. They were interrogated as well as used for experimentation, providing the AI with both information and a useful tool for eroding morale. The prisoners were held in POW camps around the planet Ryukyu Epsilon. Most interesting for the 16th was the fact that Sgt. Brauer was still alive! Implanted with a tracking chip like all soldiers with an undefined amount of service ahead of them, Brauer had been found to be in a camp in the ruins of the settlement of Fuji Reach. The mission was simple: get the sergeant and as many prisoners as possible out of the camp and show Hamachi what the UTOPIA squads were capable of. As a result of previous experience, the squad was supplied with two RPGs – carried by McSorley and Hämäläinen – to help deal with Hamachi’s killer cyborgs.

The sixteenth deploys. The dog insisted on being included in the photo

The sixteenth deploys. The dog insisted on being included in the photo

The 16th deployed carefully and observed the situation. The small POW camp was guarded by four cyborgs who were standing behind concrete barriers and keeping watch. The squad moved forward with caution, and prepared to open fire. Hämäläinen started towards the right and McSorley towards the left, in an attempt to get the RPGs into a flanking position. DiGlaeser activated his signal jamming device to make the squad more difficult to target.

McSorley and DiGlaeser

McSorley and DiGlaeser

Wu and Trill

Wu and Trill

The squad started firing at the cyborgs but without much effect. The long range and cover meant that most fire simply pattered off the thick concrete or glanced from the cyborgs’ chrome hide. The cyborgs on the other hand were much more effective. The first shot fired by one of the guards punched into Cpl. Franz-Haugen-Ankerson and dropped her to the ground, heavily wounded. Evans the medic sprang out of cover to go to the corporal’s assistance, and was promptly gunned down with the light machinegun carried by one of the cyborgs. This was turning out to be much harder than expected.

With determination the 16th went forward. However, their firing continued to be ineffective. With the exception of a single cyborg knocked down for a moment, the massed firepower wasn’t doing much. Even the lethal sniper Wu was having a hard time getting a shot off, and McSorley’s smartgun kept jamming. A third trooper went down as the cyborgs’ bullets found Pvt. DiGlaeser, but luckily he wasn’t badly hurt, just shaken. This left the entire left flank up to McSorley. The right flank with Hämäläinen, Trill and Lau pushed on, while Wu and Sgt. Fender held the center.

The medic Evans is down, with DiGlaeser and Franz-Haugen-Ankerson in the background

The medic Evans is down, with DiGlaeser and Franz-Haugen-Ankerson in the background

The right flank started having a hard time. Hämäläinen was preparing for a shot when a lethally accurate cyborg shot exploded his head, showering Trill and Lau with blood and brain matter. While Lau lost his nerve and turned to flee, Trill kept it together and picked up Hämäläinen’s RPG. Sgt. Fender, assessing the situation, saw that third of the squad was gone with no real progress made so far. He started calling for a retreat, but the squad insisted they keep on fighting to rescue Brauer and the other prisoners. A moment later Wu dropped one of the cyborgs with a well placed shot to the head. The squad capitalized on the fallen cyborg and their shooting managed to destroy it completely.

Trill moved up the right flank with the RPG. Things were looking up, as one of the four cyborgs was down and the squad was making progress. DiGlaeser had recovered and was covering Cpl. Franz-Haugen-Ankerson while trying to get her to safety.

Suddenly there was a crack of a shot heard, and in the following silence Wu the sniper, veteran of Velasco Creek and Triton-4, slumped to the ground, the back of his head missing and smoke drifting out from his bullet-shattered scope. This was the breaking point. “ABORT MISSION!” called Sgt. Fender, and the squad went into retreat. Unfortunately this left Pvt. Trill in a very difficult situation. She was far up the right flank and had been cut off by the cyborg machinegunner keeping watch over her path of retreat. To make matters worse for the whole squad, McSorley was hit and dropped down, shaken by the close call. The same happened to Fender, who nevertheless recovered very quickly.

The retreat was going well. Pvt. Lau was experienced in this sort of thing, and was making his way quickly away from the hot zone. DiGlaeser was doing his best, crawling along with Franz-Haugen-Ankerson in tow. Meanwhile, Trill’s situation was going from bad to worse, as one of the cyborgs finally left the safety of the barriers and went to investigate the wall ruin that Trill was hiding behind. Before Trill could escape, the cyborg stepped up to her, brought up its gun and pulled the trigger.

There was nothing but a click.

Pvt. Trill was quick to react, blasting the cyborg down at close range. This prompted the machinegun-wielding cyborg to move in to investigate the disappearance of its squad mate. The third cyborg had a weapon malfunction, and it discarded the ruined assault rifle and started walking towards McSorley, who still couldn’t get up and moving. Not so for Trill, who was running as fast as her legs could carry her to put as much distance as possible between her and the machinegun cyborg.

Lau made it off the battlefield, as did Fender who was dragging the unconscious Evans with him. As the unarmed cyborg advanced on McSorley, DiGlaeser stopped his retreat, pulled out his pistol and shot it in the neck, momentarily knocking it down and buying McSorley more time. Trill was almost out, too, and in cover. There was still a chance of most of the squad escaping. Then the machinegun carried by the cyborg roared, and down went Trill, heavily wounded.

Pretty much all was lost. DiGlaeser took one look at the two approaching cyborgs, got up and carried Franz-Haugen-Ankerson away with him. McSorley was still trying to get himself moving, when the unarmed cyborg loomed over him. As Trill slowly drifted into unconsciousness, she could hear the desperate sounds of McSorley’s short, doomed struggle against his metal opponent.

The mission had been a disaster throughout the field. Reluctantly, the UTOPIA troops were pulled away from Ryukyu Epsilon, and the Union Navy moved in with their orbital bombardment ordnance. The POWs would need to be left behind.

What a game.

There are moments when you just feel sorry for your players. This was one of those games. The combination of lousy dice rolling and a dangerous enemy led to the worst beating the players have had during the campaign, with two very good veteran troopers confirmed dead, two more left behind and two heavily wounded and in need of lots of down time. All in all the squad lost most of their specialists (sniper, heavy, tech) and their NCO and medic were hospitalized, and their beloved old sergeant was left behind. A disaster indeed.

We had a chat after the game and despite the heavy losses mood wasn’t bad. The campaign has managed to do one thing that I was hoping it would: it strikes a good balance between RPG and miniature game in the way that losing characters, especially important ones, hurts, but not as much as losing an actual RPG character. After the game, the players were already picking out new minis from my collection and making up new background stories for them. It really helps to have a group of experienced role-players when you’re running a game like this, thanks guys! The survival of old characters also helps with the continuity. While only three (Pvt. Evans, Pvt. Lau, Pvt. Franz-Haugen-Ankerson) of squad 16’s original nine members are alive, it’s definitely still the Sweet Sixteenth. By the time they’re gone, the new guys will have become regulars and so on.


Utopia #4 – Blood and chrome

January 25, 2013

The Utopia campaign is still going strong, and we just played the fourth game last Tuesday. Having left the jungles of Triton-4 behind them, squad 16 travelled onwards. The mood on the UTP Tien-Shan was weird: Sgt. Anna McIntosh’s squad 20 had recently died while testing a prototype dropship, the Pelican. The 16th was coping, each in their own way. While Sgt. Brauer tried to keep the mood up by turning the tragedy into a Day of the Dead -style celebration, Pvt. Lau and Pvt. Evans were becoming very superstitious. Recently married Pvt. Haugen-Ankerson-Franz was shocked by the recent events, and the dour Pvt. Hämäläinen was keeping to himself.

The squad received news of a disturbing recent development on the planet Ryukyu Epsilon. Hamachi, the military AI developed by the Cyberdybe-Sendai corporation had become sentient, and like AIs tend to do, had launched an attack to wipe out the human inhabitants of the planet. In a week the casualty rate on Ryukyu Epsilon had soared to 90%, and in a bold and unprecedented move, all the 50 UTOPIA squads were activated in a massive operation to both attack Hamachi and it’s legions of cyborgs and to rescue the remaining civilians.

The sixteenth went in boldly – especially after liberating an RPG from Sgt. Hiroshi’s squad 12. Their mission was to retrieve a group of ten survivors. Five of the survivors were armed police officers while the rest were civilians.

Wu and Hämäläinen take up positions in the ruins

Wu and Hämäläinen take up positions in the ruins

Left to right: Evans, Brauer, Jane and Wu, with Kenny in the background

Left to right: Evans, Brauer, Jane and Wu, with Kenny in the background

Squad 16 made landfall outside the settlement of Tanaka Town and quickly established firing positions amidst the ruins. The squad came in from the south, while ten heavily armed cyborgs were entering the area from the north. The civilians were scattered on the eastern half of the battlefield in three groups.

As the civilians hunker down, two officers stand guard

As the civilians hunker down, two officers stand guard

Early on, the cyborgs were relentless. While the civilians were pretty much frozen to the spot, the machines steadily moved forward and made contact with the first survivor group. It was brutal. The cyborgs marched in, firing, and cut down the two fleeing civilians in short order. The two police officers failed to do anything as one of the cyborgs moved up and torched one of them with a flame thrower. This prompted the other officer to flee in panic.

Flames consume one of Ryukyu Epsilon's finest

Flames consume one of Ryukyu Epsilon’s finest

Meanwhile a few of the cyborgs were closing in on the troopers. They were greeted with a hail of fire, knocking a few of them down. The machines didn’t stay down for long, though, but got up and kept on coming. Pvt. Kenny had switched his flame thrower with a smartgun, and was happily hosing down the approaching machines with it.

The cyborgs didn’t have it easy. While half of them had turned their attention to the troopers, the sixteenth were being ruthlessly effective. Cyborg after cyborg went down, Pvt. Hämäläinen being especially deadly. The rest of the cyborgs weren’t doing much – although neither were the civilians. The sixteenth were winning the combat, but the civilians were still in danger. Cpl. Rodriguez and Pvt. Jane started moving towards the civilians as it started to become apparent that the survivors would not get moving on their own.

Rodriguez and Jane reached the survivors, who were finally beginning to activate. The mission was going heroically well, with half the cyborgs down, the rest standing around halfway across the field, the troopers in good positions and the civilians moving towards the evacuation zone. Then something happened.

It was as if the machines were waking up from a slumber (or probably a standby mode). All of a sudden they became a threat again. The one police who had survived the first attack was doused with flames from the flamethrower. The cyborgs that had been far away moments ago rapidly moved towards the troopers. A few that had been knocked down by gunfire got up and started firing. Pvt. Kenny, the heavy weapon specialist was hit with a spray of bullets and went down. Pvt. Wu, the trusty sniper was suddenly completely frozen and just didn’t seem to be able to get a shot off. Lead was flying all over the place, but at least the civilians were on their way towards the exit.

The officer looks on in fear...

The officer looks on in fear… the cyborg with the flamer approaches

…as the cyborg with the flamer approaches

The cyborg attack was steadily getting more dangerous. Cpl. Rodriguez was hit and knocked down while escorting the civilians. Most of them had made their escape by now, so Sgt. Brauer gave the order for a rapid retreat from the field. Privates Lau, Haugen-Ankerson-Franz, Evans and Hämäläinen complied and left the field. However, this left it up to just Brauer, Wu and Jane to rescue the fallen Kenny and Rodriguez. On top of that, Jane was stuck pretty far away, having covered the fleeing civilians.

Things didn’t go well. Despite a valiant effort by the troopers, they were overcome by the machines. Wu managed to flee the field, while Brauer went down in a hail of shots. A cyborg raked the downed Rodriguez with a machine gun, making sure he’d never get up again. Pvt. Jane, the lone survivor put up a brave fight but was finally cornered by the three remaining cyborgs. Jane fought to the last, before being brought down in hand to hand combat. The mission was over, and most of the civilians had been saved, but at a terrible cost: Cpl. Rodriguez KIA, Sgt. Brauer, Pvt. Kenny and Pvt. Jane MIA. It was the worst beating the sixteenth had taken to date. Apparently when the captain briefing the squad had said “avoid a prolonged firefight with the cyborgs”,  he’d meant it.

As the battle ends, the machines have the field

As the battle ends, the machines have the field

It was yet another exciting game, and filled with lots and lots of drama. Early on the troopers really had their way. With the exception of the few first turns, turn after turn the cyborgs failed to activate and those that did were cut down by some very effective firing. Unfortunately for the troopers, the civilians weren’t activating either. As the report says, something just happened suddenly, and just as the game seemed to be in the bag, the machines came to life with some odds-defying rolls and tore into the player characters. Four casualties out of a squad of nine is a pretty gruesome toll, and I’m sad to see Sgt. Brauer and Pvt. Kenny go. Man, war is hell even in 28mm.

This scenario obviously drew a lot of influence from the Terminator franchise. It was a great chance to build and paint a lot of ruined scenery (which will feature in a dedicated post) as well as some killer robots (ditto). I was also happy to see my old em4 and Copplestone cops get an outing.

Comments welcome!


Utopia #3 – The hunters hunted

December 29, 2012

We just finished the third game of Utopia a few hours ago. If you’ve been following the progress of the campaign, you’ll know the last game ended with Sergeant Salt Brauer promising his superiors they’d make amends for killing the Predator they encountered – by capturing a live one. The orders were simple: no firearms, bring the creature back alive.Off went Utopia squad 16 (“The Sweet Sixteen” as they were instantly named), armed with tasers, flashbangs and a tranquilizer rifle, to bring down a Predator in the jungles of Triton-4. The squad’s sniper Wu managed to use his contacts in the munitions department to set himself up with some heavy duty poison darts for the tranq rifle. Hey, if the Predator died, it would be the scientists’ fault for supplying the wrong kind of darts! Meanwhile, trooper “Dog” Lau stole a thermal camera to help the squad get a bead on their prey.

With Cpl. Rodriguez injured and Pvt. Iljutsh dead, two new troopers joined the squad:

Pvt. Hämäläinen – a dour, quiet Finn. Hämäläinen keeps to himself and tends to his gear meticulously. His sullen mood prompted the squad’s medic Evans to arrange for Hämäläinen to receive a call from his mother to help his wellbeing.

Pvt. Bedford – the Brit Bedford is a passionate feminist. Coming from a career in private security and joining the military due to “workplace disagreements”, Bedford is a tough woman who can hold her own.

The squad moves out

The squad moves out

The squad set down and spread out towards three possible target sightings (we were using three Predator models on the table, with only one being the actual creature), with the exception of Pvt. Lau, who just happened to wander off alone – right into the line of sight of all the potential attackers. A moment later there was a flash of plasma, and Lau went down screaming. Before he fell, he managed to catch a glimpse of the attacker, eliminating the other two possibilities.

While the tech Ghillian ran to check on Lau, the squad turned their attention towards their so-called prey. At this point it became painfully obvious, that their weapons had a dreadfully poor range, and they would need to close with the Predator to actually knock it out.

The Predator wasn’t going to stand around waiting. Instead it charged out and impaled Pvt. Bedford with its wristblades. As the cloaked creature raised the screaming, thrashing trooper into the air, a wave of panic rippled through the squad. Brevet Corporal Haugen-Ankerson fled into the jungle, while a few others retreated. The squad was in shock over Bedford’s fate, and they were unable to stop the now de-cloaked Predator from charging across the clearing at Pvt. Ghillian. Having just checked that Lau was ok, Ghillian barely had time to register that she was under attack before the Predator’s vicious blades slashed her apart. Covered in blood and panicking, Lau clambered away on his hands and knees.

The last moments of Pvt. Ghillian

The prone Lau witnesses the last moments of Pvt. Ghillian

The creature’s charge had brought it out in the open, and Wu wasted no time. The sniper selected one of his poison darts and sent it into the Predator – to apparently no effect. The alien strode towards Lau, who desperately fired his taser. Laughing, the Predator tore out the darts and wires and then promptly keeled over, Wu’s potent poison working its way through the alien’s system.

The Predator is down!

The Predator is down!

No time was wasted by the squad as they mobbed the Predator. Sgt. Brauer tased the creature once more for good measure, and they swiftly tied up its hands and feet. Meanwhile, Hämäläinen got on Ghillians radio and called the dropship in. It was now only a matter of waiting for pick-up.

Evans tends to the Predator as Jane and Brauer look on

Evans tends to the Predator as Jane and Brauer look on

Problems did appear, though. First of all, the Predator was dying, its breathing slowing down and foam coming out of its mouth. Secondly, as if the Predator wasn’t enough, it was becoming apparent what they had been hunting, as Xenomorphs were suddenly appearing and could be seen skulking in the jungle.

The medic Evans did what she could with the Predator. Whether it was due to her xenobiologist ex-boyfriend or just luck, she managed to actually stabilize the creature. Around her the rest of the squad were throwing flashbangs and frag grenades (that weren’t expressly forbidden in the mission briefing) to keep the Aliens at bay as they waited for the dropship to arrive. Amidst all the chaos, Hämäläinen managed to establish radio contact with Haugen-Ankerson, who was returning from her panicked flight. The only problem was that Haugen-Ankerson’s way back brought her very close to one of the approaching Aliens…

Finally the dropship roared in, guns blazing. Sgt. Brauer quickly gave the order to fall back, and the squad packed itself into the dropship. Brauer himself heroically stood in the doorway as his second in command Haugen-Ankerson sprinted through the jungle and dived in the ship with the Xenomorphs snapping at her heels. The dropship soared into the sky, and squad 16 finally left Triton-4 behind. While their two missions had both been successful, victory had come at a heavy price: two troopers were dead and one missing and presumed dead. It was now apparent why ghost stories were told about the planet.

The third game of Utopia was as fun as the previous two, and for the same reasons. It was filled with drama, excitement and cinematic moments. I was a bit worried that I might’ve made the Predator a bit too powerful as it slashed its way through two troopers in two consecutive turns, but luckily our heroes turned the tide and put the creature down. The small RPG session at the start of the game are an essential part of the game, and they really breathe life into the characters. Sgt. Brauer’s drinking problem has evolved to the point where he simply eats powdered beer without bothering with the water anymore, while Pvt. Haugen-Ankerson is busy writing her wedding invitations and the Sweet Sixteen fight with Sgt. Hiroshi’s 12th squad over bragging rights.

Yes, I think this game actually works.




Utopia #2 – Triton revisited

November 28, 2012

I’m happy to report that we played the second game of Utopia yesterday. After the events of Kessler-11, our group of misfits was in for another adventure. The mood was pretty low – the first combat deployment of the squad had left two members dead and one hospitalized. Imagine then the joy of a safer mission, one of reconnaissance and protection! Three new troopers joined the squad:

Pvt. Iljutsh – a former Russian truck driver who got into trouble for doing some illegal business on the side back on Earth. Generally likable despite his somewhat dishevelled appearance.

Pvt. Jane – A young, hulking man straight from the academy. Jane knows the manual back to front and is very motivated by the service in general. He’s also a very good poker player.

Pvt. Ghillian – Replacing the deceased Bjornssen as the squad’s technician, Ghillian is a young woman and a wizard with computers. She has a nice collection of retro 21st century music, which now replaces the Union of Terra official background music playing in the crew quarters.

In happier news, Pvt. Haugen-Ankerson had just gotten engaged, and the crew threw her a party. For some reason this made Sgt. Brauer even more sombre than usual. Not even the fact that his service would come to an end in a few days would cheer him up, nor would the sangria made from moonshine and powdered synthetic orange juice.

A team of scientists would be setting down on a planet to research strange signals and energy bursts that seemed to be alien in nature. Might it finally be a contact with another civilization? Oh, it was.

Unfortunately for the squad, the planet turned out to be none other than the notorious Triton-4, a place on par with LV-426 when it comes to ghost stories and urban legends. Even more unfortunate was the fact that the civilization encountered was that of the Yautja, more commonly known as Predators.

The squad set down on Triton-4 to look for a science team that had gone missing. They were looking for clues that would explain the team’s disappearance. The squad was also tasked with mapping the area and discerning the source of the weird signals picked up by the orbital platform’s scanners. Accompanying the squad were Dr. Ernest Klein and his three synthetic assistants (quickly named “Fucking Huey, Dewey and Louie” by Sgt. Brauer), cordially provided by Weyland-Yutani to help with the information gathering. Pvt. Kenny wasn’t too fond of this, his football career ending due to replicant technology being used on players leading to higher performance compared to unmodified ones.

At first, everything went nicely. The squad spread out and found some clues. Sgt. Brauer did stumble into a patch of poisonous fungus, but his iron constitution and high tolerance to toxic substances helped him shrug it off. Pvt. Kenny had his flamer fill up with treacle, but was luckily able to clear it up to keep the team’s heavy weapon operational. There was a spot of miscommunication, with the synthetics and the good doctor wondering out from the safety of the landing site, resulting in some heated words from Sgt. Brauer (“You haul those electronic asses back to the landing site on the double!”). Eventually a compromise of sorts was reached, and the civilians allowed to move about a little.

The science team and the last known picture of Pvt. Iljutsh

The squad had been hearing animal roaring and howling since landing, and this finally culminated in an attack by giant dog-like creatures. Despite their fearsome appearance, the beasts were brought down with heavy firepower and things quieted down once again. Pvt. Ghillian managed to repair the communications satellite the previous team had set up, allowing her to locate the source of the signals – it was a clearing on the far side of the area.

Upon reaching the clearing, the squad was surprised to find nothing but some shimmering air, as if distortion from heat. That’s when things started happening. Three red laser dots appeared on Sgt. Brauer, followed by a heavy energy blast that he evaded through sheer luck. The squad went on full alert. A few moments later the communications satellite, at this point unattended, exploded.

Pvt. Kenny approached the shimmering air in the clearing, and found himself bumping into an alien space shuttle. As the squad started wondering about this, an energy blast from an unseen enemy put Pvt. Iljutsh down, heavily wounded. Things started happening. The medic Evans ran over to Iljutsh to help, while most of the troopers nearby did this (with the same effect):

Further away, another energy blast put down the newly promoted Cpl. Rodriguez – instead of one attacker, the squad was facing two. Luckily, Pvt. Wu was at hand. The sniper took careful aim and managed to land a shot on Rodriguez’s nearly invisible attacker, disabling the Predator’s cloaking device in the process. The creature dived into the underbrush to hide and reactivate its cloaking system – hampered by the constant rain.

A Predator in the midst of decloaking

Further away, the torrent of fire unleashed by half of the squad had failed to even injure the second attacker, who promptly emerged from the trees, picked up Iljutsh and then disappeared into the jungle amidst a steady stream of pulse rifle fire. Iljutsh would never be seen again by his squadmates, although he would make an excellent trophy.

Meanwhile the other Predator had managed to activate its cloak and was making haste towards its ship, trailing green blood. In its haste it had completely failed to notice Pvt. Kenny, who was slowly making his way back from the ship towards all the action. Luckily for the Predator, it was able to ambush Kenny and charged into close combat…only to be brought down by a masterful shot from Wu. Despite Sgt. Brauer’s orders, Kenny decided to play it safe and turned his flamer on the wounded creature, torching it. With its last strength, the Predator managed to activate its self-destruct device.

The drop ship had been called, but it wouldn’t make it in time. There was only one thing to do: run! The squad went running for the relative safety of the encampment, with one of the synthetics carrying Cpl. Rodriguez. They made it just seconds before a massive explosion tore through the jungle, scrambling one of the synthetics despite it reaching the landing site. While Iljutsh was missing and Rodriguez was down, the squad had survived.

In their debriefing session Sgt. Brauer was dragged over hot coals for allowing his men to kill a sentient, advanced creature that they had managed to incapacitate. Despite Weyland-Yutani calling for Brauer to be taken to court-martial and executed, Cpt. Jensen allowed Brauer to keep his life and his squad, although it did mean the sergeant’s service would continue until terminated. Brauer also might have accidentally promised to lead his squad to capture a live specimen…

Man, this was another fun game. Lot’s of action and tense, cinematic moments. Suitably frustrated players (“What do you mean I missed? What the hell kind of stats do those Predators have?!”) who still managed to pull off a victory of sorts. No, seriously. Losing only one trooper and managing to complete the main objective plus an additional one to boot – not to mention bringing down one of the Predators – was no mean feat.

The narrative is now really starting to build up, as we were following characters from the previous game. We were also all familiar with the Predator movies, and this game managed to recreate the feel of those quite nicely. The Predators were very hard to kill or even target, resulting in lots and lots of useless shooting. When the Predators shot back, it was basically a trooper down per each shot. I was worried about balancing issues, as I didn’t have time to playtest the scenario, but everything turned out nicely.

The jungle setup

I was happy that I could deploy my jungle terrain for a change, and as you can see from the pictures, I managed to get the Zuzzy mat painted as well. There are only a few pictures unfortunately, as due to the poor lighting all the other pics came out very blurry. Things you can’t really see are the Predator shuttle that I scratchbuilt and the hellhounds from Heresy that are almost finished as I write this. Not to worry, they’ll feature in upcoming posts.

Utopia will continue in a few weeks, most likely with our heroes trying to capture a live Predator. Good luck with that, guys and girls!


A player’s eye view

November 23, 2012

A few posts back I reported on my new game project, Utopia. I felt it went great, and from what I’ve been hearing from the players, they liked it too. In fact, one of my players wrote a very nice blog post about the game, so for another point of view, do take a look. And while you’re there, read around – it’s one of my favourites.


Project Utopia #1 – The start

November 16, 2012

Some of you might remember me time and time again fiddling around with the idea of warpg’s – a combination of wargame and RPG. While I’ve made some forays into it, such as the one-off werewolf game and the short-lived Triton-4, I’ve never really gotten it off the ground. This just might be changing!

My new gaming project called Utopia (from Union of Terra Orbital Platform Insertion and Assault) took off yesterday. The game is a continuation of Triton-4, basically. There’s a game master (that’d be me) and three players, and we are using the wonderful Flying Lead system by Ganesha Games. As the name suggests, the game deals with a squad of troopers sailing around on the massive orbital platform UTP Tien Shan and getting into all sorts of interesting situations. It’s 2100-something AD, and the universe is basically a mash-up of cool scifi influences (Alien, Terminator, Predator, Starship Troopers, Blade Runner, Pitch Black…to name a few), ditching strict internal consistency in favour of having fun and being able to use all the wonderful minis I’ve collected and painted during all these years. What this means is that we might have Weyland-Yutani, the Tyrell corporation and Cyberdyne Systems teaming up to create one hell of a synthetic being in order to fight the growing Arachnid menace, and so on. Canon purists will weep, we will have a great time!

As I mentioned, we had our first game yesterday. We started out by fleshing out the squad of nine by playing a short RPG session before moving on to the miniature game. This worked wonderfully, and we ended up with a pretty awesome group:

Sgt. Salt Brauer, the alcoholic leader of the squad, who is weeks away from completing his tour of duty.

Cpl. “Ace” Wembley, a through-and-through cynic, who also tends to take to drink to forget why she’s in the service in the first place.

Pvt. Lim Evans, the highly motivated, beautiful young female medic.

Pvt. Chora Haugen-Ankerson, Sgt. Brauer’s only friend who reminds him of his second ex-wife. She’s a large lady, and currently training to become an NCO.

Pvt. Wu, the resident sniper from Athens. Wu has good contacts in the supply department, and can get you pretty much anything you want.

Pvt. Diego “Ding” Rodriguez, who comes from a privileged family. After his father was sentenced into prison for shady financial dealing regarding orbital platforms, Diego was forced to sign up.

Pvt. Bjornssen, who is a large, mild-mannered Norwegian and the squad’s tech expert.

Pvt. “Dog” Lau, who’s a pretty despicable, scrawny and shady character with bad personal hygiene. He always tends to be up to his elbows in trouble over one of his schemes.

Pvt. Kenny, who never made it as a professional football player. Kenny is a hulking guy, although not the sharpest pencil in the box. He wields a dreaded flame unit.

Just like that, with maybe 20-30 minutes of light role-playing, we had nine personalities instead of “marine #3” and “NCO w/ shotgun”. This made it much more fun to wade into the miniatures part.

The first mission was set up as follows: the workers on the Alpha moon of the planet Kessler-11 had rebelled and captured the valuable refineries and mining towns. The orbital platform -based troopers would strike key locations around the moon in order to capture or eliminate the separatist leaders. It fell to this particular squad to take the refinery town of Velasco Creek. The town had been taken over by former workers’ representative Bjarn Halmer. Halmer’s workers had received a shipment of weapons from unknown sources and overcome the local police and security forces. They had also captured Weyland-Yutani representative Eldon Burke (related).

A negotiation situation had been arranged. What the rebels didn’t know was that the Union of Terra simply does not negotiate with terrorists, and had no intention of actually getting into any talks – with the exception of possibly trying to save Mr. Burke at the request of the corporation. The orders were clear: the squad was to eliminate Halmer’s men, and if possible, rescue Burke and capture Halmer alive.

How did it go?

Pretty well, actually. The squad split into two groups. While a larger group of six moved towards the landing pad where the negotiations were to take place, a smaller group of three snuck up from behind, climbing one of the large refinery silos for a good vantage point.

The large group was taking pretty long to get to the pad, so Halmer started getting suspicious and anxious. Meanwhile no-one heard Pvt. Rodriguez shove one of the rebel guards down from the top of the silo. After that things started happening pretty quickly.

Pvt. Lau spotted a couple of rebels through the window of a bar. He tried to open fire but this was his first combat mission and he had forgotten to load his gun. Thinking quickly he smashed the window of the bar with his rifle, allowing Pvt. Kenny to fill the interior with a nice blast of flame.

A firefight erupted through the small town of Velasco Creek. Lau and Kenny were hit by a shotgun blast, the furious rebels executed poor Eldon Burke on the spot and Halmer, not knowing that one of his guards up on the silos had been replaced by hostiles, ran right into the open and into the sniper Wu’s lethal sights. Halmer’s death led to half the rebels running away, and everything seemed to be going great for the troopers, who were bulldozing their way through the town and laying down a lot of fire.

All of a sudden one of the rebels managed to actually fire back, and that’s all it took. Bjornssen, the friendly man of the fjords, was no more. Rodriguez and Wu lost their nerve, and for a crucial moment left their vantage point. This breathed some more life into the rebels, and the remaining few got back into position to fire upon the advancing troopers. The same rebel that had killed Bjornssen took another shot and this time dropped Cpl. Wembley. By the time the squad medic got to her, Wembley was already gone. The furious troopers redoubled their efforts and mercilessly gunned down the rebels until only one remained. Despite losing two of his own, Sgt. Brauer kept cool and the remaining rebel was captured for questioning. Pvt. Lau eventually survived, but would need to spend some time hospitalized.

That was the game in a nutshell. A lot of fun, great cinematic moments and improvised narrative as troopers died, flamers roared and guns jammed. A good example of the narrative way the game was handled was that no “out of ammo” result was ever just that. It was always someone having forgotten to load their gun on the dropship, or the gun jamming because of being used as a blunt instrument or something similar. In some places narrative overruled the mechanics. For example, in Flying Lead a model usually has to shoot at the nearest enemy. However, I made an exception to this in the case of Evans the medic. Come on, the so-called rebels were basically civilians with guns! They’re not going to shoot an unarmoured medic with large red crosses on her clothing. Then again, a particularly evil or fanatical character might have, and so on. Flying Lead is a very good system for a game like this, as it is generic and flexible enough to accommodate pretty much anything.

I’m happy to report that none of the problems that we speculated on earlier cropped up. The biggest concern raised was whether the RPG aspect would hinder the tactical task of trying to win the game and vice versa. This never became an issue, and for that a huge thanks needs to go out to my three players. In addition to being experienced gamers, all three are very genre savvy, and it shows.

The RPG element was a big addition to the game, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. I guess we humans are (luckily) built to relate to one another, even fictional, roughly sketched-out characters. Funny as it may seem, the deaths of Bjornssen and Wembley were far more meaningful that the deaths of two anonymous troopers. We even role-played a small memorial afterwards. It was hilariously cheezy (since everyone was well aware that we were, in fact, dealing with two wargame characters that had been created a few hours ago and would be replaced in the next session) but also weirdly touching.

All in all, I’m really happy about how all this seems to be turning out. Not only am I hugely motivated to get new stuff and paint what I already have, but I’m also really into miniature gaming for the first time in a long while – Blood Bowl excluded. I’ll be sure to show off all the related projects that this one will undoubtedly spawn!

What’s next? Well, my players will most likely read this post and I like to keep an element of surprise. Let’s just say that I’ll be surprised if we don’t need a new memorial after the next game…

Here are some pictures from the game for your viewing pleasure. While I sadly haven’t had the time to paint my Zuzzy mat yet, it worked nicely as a barren lunar landscape. The two hipstery pics are courtesy of one of my players, Joonas. You can click on the pics for larger versions.

One of the rebels keeps watch – the killer was the one on top of the next silo

The rebel negotiators with Burke in the front and Halmer the guy in green in the back

Pvt. Lau leads with Cpl. Wembley in the back and Pvt. Kenny on the right

A trooper’s eye view with Pvt. Rodriguez on the left and Pvt. Bjornssen on the right

A rebel’s eye view

The medic Pvt. Evans gets to Cpl. Wembley, only to find her dead

Dice roll as the bar goes up in flames

Privates Wu, Bjornssen and Rodriguez keep watch from the top of a silo, with the Blood Bowl die indicating a jammed gun

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