Friday, 14 November 2014

A Stony Sleep: afterthoughts

For some reason, I managed to post this in August, months ahead of finishing the actual podcast. When I realised, I de-published it and am posting it here to make the archives more sensible. I'm not sure how it escaped my drafts folder, but just to reassure you, I haven't yet reached the point of actually running repeats...

In my head, I've been thinking of this as the one where we shifted into more of a straightforward Space Marine game with less of the Fisty humour that originally got us playing. Having now listened to the recordings for the first time in months, I can't imagine where I could possibly have got that idea.

Known knowns

I don't actually own the scenario (why would I?) so there are a few things I really don't know. One is just how much you're expected to know - as both player and Marine - about what's going on.

Because our Librarian can do auguries, we traditionally begin each mission with a time of meditation, prayer to our founder Rogal Dorn, and brutal sadomasochism cleansing through ritual pain. It is very much in keeping with canon, and incidentally (as Dan points out) one of the few ways Astartes have of getting specialist information, since the Imperium is far more comfortable with superstition and mysticism than with any kind of science or technology, so we can't exactly go doing research or analysing data.

This provides a vision of what threats we will face during the mission: in this case, both Necrons and some form of Chaos Marines. Dan and I are also steeped in canon, and so picked up on the sunken city-Necron connection, as well as immediately guessing that mysterious Marines leaving a trap for the inquisitor were 99% sure to be Alpha Legion infiltrators, a legion renowned for their unMarinely use of guile and deception, and taste for imitating loyal Chapters.

However, checking this instinct out in-character required a tricky skill roll (Forbidden Lore: Traitor Legions, as I recall) that we didn't make, leaving us with in-character suspicions and OOC certainty on the matter. I'm not sure if that's a purely mechanical decision to use the skill that exists, if the scenario specifically wants to be secretive about that kind of information, or if Arthur had reasons of his own. I found it a slightly tricky balance to strike, but thankfully it wasn't particularly important to the scenario.

In general I think one of the awkward aspects of Deathwatch is the an awful lot of information is widely published in canon but is also canonically obscure and closely guarded, which causes some complications in judging how much PCs should know about things and how they might react. The existence of skills like Forbidden Lore: Traitor Legions and Forbidden Lore: Xenos (or whatever it's called) is a bit inclined to add to this, since it reinforces the idea that you might not know things. I don't really have a clear view on this, it's just something I noticed. We discussed whether or not Space Marines should even be aware of the existence of Necrons (which were canonically kept top secret), what they should know about Chaos Legions, and so forth. Logically, it's completely nonsensical to keep this information from your elite troops who exist to battle this stuff and frequently stumble across it in desperate situations - but the Imperium is not a very logical place.

The plot

The original hook seems solid - a missing inquisitor is a very reasonable situation for Marines to investigate, and doubly so when he was investigating alien artefacts. I'd call it a stronger hook than the Price of Hubris one, because it doesn't need quite as much finessing for it to make sense as a Marine mission. Arthur did a very solid job in that mission of expanding "dead Sister of Battle" into something that Marines would feel needed their attention, rather than being left for the other Imperial authorities, by pulling in the Chapter-specific theme of recruiting new initiates and playing up suspicion over the recent Tyranid activity. However, as far as I can tell the hook itself was a bit of a stretch. In A Stony Sleep it didn't seem to need any adjustment.

The other links between scenes were perhaps less good? It's a little hard to tell; Arthur made the sensible decision to compress the scenario slightly, in order to suit our sporadic schedule better, and this may have weakened connections that were a little tenuous to begin with. As I understand it, you're presented with an initial hook with a missing inquisitor and Alpha Legion, but next you run into xenos cult activity. While both are matters for Space Marines, there isn't an obviously inherent connection between the two (especially if you aren't aware of the Alpha Legion's cult-fostering tendencies). Basically you're following up the cult trail because it's what there are clues for, rather than because it seems to relate to your main objective.

Okay, on reflection, there's some connection, because the inquisitor's disappearance is connected to the alien city, and so probably tenuously connected to the xenos cult. So it's a bit better than I thought, but not as stong as I'd like.

The poison box, in its original form, seems a bit weak. Why would anyone else have the box, instead of leaving it in the room if the Alpha Legion have been in there? It seems that would only serve to massively increase the risk of the plot failing, because it adds one more failure point. There's a reasonable chance of the carrier not wearing gloves (who does, habitually?), and it seems to me that Quist ought to be less suspicious of a box found in Vincent's room for her to inherit, compared with one brought out by a high-ranking official claiming it's for her the very second she steps onto the planet, before she has a chance to investigate anything.

Arthur suggests (not very seriously) the Alpha Legion may be reluctant to change the inquisitor's orders in case it causes suspicion, but here we're talking about scenario writing, not a real situation. It strikes me as odd that the staff would have gone into Vincent's room at all. The authors could have simply said that Quist was to inherit the box and leave it in Vincent's room; in this case, the Alpha Legion wouldn't be relying on compulsive glove-wearing amongst the staff and on Quist not wearing gloves - despite being a professional with a reasonable amount of training and common sense in handling suspicious situations - for their plan to work.

Even if the point of this plot is to create an atmosphere of distrust with the staff, this is perfectly possible with a box left in Vincent's room. Who might have gone in? Who might have let the Alpha Legion in? A mole is still a real threat here.


I felt like this scenario offered a decent mix of gameplay types; admittedly there's a fairly standard structure to Deathwatch missions. We had investigation, some planning and fact-finding sections, and combat on several different levels.

The early investigative stage allowed for us to be trusting or utterly paranoid, and we wisely chose the latter, even when we were OOC confident that the prewritten plots had been dealt with. This is largely down to roleplaying (we quite like being tactical and planning, and I'm an organisey-logisticsy person) and a little down to trusting Arthur to keep us on our toes. If we'd overlooked some simple precaution, having easily overcome the initial plot, he might well have wanted to take advantage of that and throw in an improvised threat, because Alpha Legion are cunning adversaries.

We did actually head straight for the abandoned memorial, but if we'd gone looking into Vincent immediately, I imagine we could have begun with the submarine cult instead, and perhaps skipped that section entirely.

The cult encounter ended up as a simple fight, but could have gone in various ways depending on our approach. Capturing the cult leader gave us a useful information source immediately. Massacring the lot of them would have left us little to go on. They might have detected us immediately and actually got to the weapons platforms, which would have changed the fight substantially - we've never yet actually had a fight against serious firepower, and it might actually have made Iacamo keep his head down and called for new tactics. We could even have taken a very softly-softly approach, spied on the cult and followed them to various other contacts, rather than going straight for the fight.

From the first cult fight, we moved onto the island cult bases. These could have been quite nasty, but again offered several ways to approach: by air, by land, or by sea, and with shock attack or stealth. As it happens, we were unlucky with stealth, or we could have been right in the middle of them, but we still wiped them out in a matter of seconds. Apparently there are several such battles available for longer-term play, which is good for a more military campaign - we tend to do more investigation and special ops.

Finally, we had the trip into Necronville, which was a full-blown military infiltration against known and deadly opposition, all of which we conquered quickly through a mixture of tactics, luck and having really big guns. This bit you really do want to be fairly fast and ramping up the danger, and I feel like it did a reasonable job of that, although as so often, I'm not sure how the game was supposed to continue if the Tomb Spider got to actually fire, as it would have annihilated us all.

On the whole, a pretty decent game.

No comments:

Post a Comment