Sunday, 26 January 2014

Preview: New Hope City PI (Part 3)

Following on from Part 1 and Part 2 of my preview, my PI has found he must return to the scene of the crime and try and locate security footage of the vehicle theft.

It is now day time in a busy area of town. I have to get to the parking garage at the opposite end of the table. Between me and there, lie 4 PEFs and a line of sight obscuring building. The PEFs are evenly distributed, so I opt to go left, round the front of the building.

This is now a great example of how things don't go well...

The first PEF resolves as police, just the usual security, not Stormtroopers. Fine I think, no problem. I pass my interaction check and they leave me be. But no, not so simple. I almost forgot that Police will automatically assess you for suspicious behaviour. The Law Level for that time of day and the fact that it is an important area of town (this is my own modifier based on those given in the game) mean they easily roll more successes (in this case meaning 1-3 on a die) than I do (using the table for suspicious behaviour). First, they check me for warrants. I have not committed any crimes so they don't arrest me, but they will now question me about why I am there and what I am doing. Probably they are extra vigilant following recent vehicle thefts!

[An aside before continuing. THW games use a core mechanic of 'passing' dice. You have a target number, often your REP, and roll (usually) two dice. Each one that scores the target number or less counts as 'passed'. So you normally can pass with 0, 1 or 2 dice for varying degrees of effect. For example, a REP 4 character rolls a 5 and a 2. The 5 is higher than his rep, so fails. The 2 is equal to or lower, so passes. He counts as 'Passed 1d6' for whatever check he was making.]

I use the "Investigation and Arrest" table to find out what happens. I roll two dice against my REP of 5, so need 5 or less. They roll against a Level 2 crime rating, needing 2 or less. I roll badly, 3 and 6, so I pass with 1 die. They roll well, 1 and 2, so they pass with 2. A difference of 1 die in favour of the police mean they take me in for some proper questioning. This is bad. I could potentially go to jail for a crime I didn't commit!

Fortunately, a quick roll on the 'Questioning' table goes in my favour and they drop the case against me. This is a relief as I really didn't want to end up in court! On the downside, they did haul me off the streets while I was trying to carry out my investigation. This wastes time and now I have to return to the place during a different time of day, which can have a knock on effect depending on where you are. I'm fortunate in that the timer doesn't start ticking until I find the first clue and the Factory District is fairly stable in terms of it's law level. But still, it was a close shave I didn't need.

I head back and try again. I quickly encounter a mechanic, but to no effect, so we both carry on our way. The next encounter is a bit more risky.

PEFs move around the table during the game. One went into a nearby building, so I decided to go that way round, hoping it wouldn't come out again. Not so lucky, it jumps out and surprises me. Worse, I find out it is a gang member. Fortunately my People skill, which is used in these interactions, is higher than his resulting in a better outcome when I roll the dice. He isn't interested in me and I quickly move on.

Approaching the side entrance of the car park I encounter a medic. Would have been nice to get him on my side for future, but he's too busy with whatever he's up to. I enter the car park and quickly find the security footage I am after. Heading off the table, I check for another travel encounter and end the scenario.

Great, I've found my first clue which is good, but now the clock starts ticking. I check what I need to do next... another clue. What fits my story? I see someone in a mask steal the vehicle, but the footage also shows a landspeeder slowly moving around the lot. Maybe casing the joint? I'm going to check that out. Research shows it is likely to be near a bar in the commercial district. I don't really have much choice but to head of immediately due to the time constraints. This is what I meant before about the knock on effect of being hauled off for questioning by the police. The area I am heading to has a Law Level of 3 during the day, but now I am heading there in the 'Late' part of the day it drops to 2. There are fewer PEFs (3), but a much higher chance of more appearing out of nowhere and surprising me. So because of the inconvenience earlier I may be in for a rougher ride now.

This game is interesting in how it can throw unexpected occurrences at you and how they can have a knock on effect for future encounters. 'Wargamers' may be dismayed at the lack of actual conflict so far, but that is more than covered by games using the core 5150 rules. This expansion is all about the investigation, the story around it and what happens to you along the way. Sure, the deeper I get into things the more dangerous it will become, certainly when I start to question possible suspects. But for now it has thrown up a few surprises and tense moments, really making it feel like an investigation game rather than a skirmish wargame with a PI theme.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Preview: New Hope City PI (Part 2)

Following on from Part 1 of my preview, It's time to get on with the first game. Before investigating the case, I picked a figure for my PI and decided on his stats. Like all THW games, the key statistic is REP (as in Reputation), a catch-all measure of the character's quality. In NHCPI, this is supplemented by four skills to account for variations in things like fitness and street smarts. Characters also get two skills (chosen or determined at random). The figure I choose has two pistols, so I equip him as such as well as deciding on a few pieces of additional equipment. Then I'm all set to go.

Not your standard gumshoe
First thing to do is meet with my employer. A few die rolls later and I have determined it will be a morning meeting in a building in the factory district [Note: The tables in the game are specific to the game setting, but are easily modified to your own. In this case, I have removed the 'Financial District' and replaced it with a 'Factory District', more suited to my specific setting].

Using the NPC generation process, it turns out the employer is an Engineer. As the victim of the crime is an engineer and this chap is his boss, it is a simple matter to decide he must me a senior engineer at the factory.

Yes, this is an engineer. Mainly as he is one of the few unarmed Star Wars figures I own...
Before getting to the meeting, I need to find if I have had a random encounter on the way. This is a simple 1 in 6 chance and I don't have one this time round.  That's good as I'd rather not be robbed or mugged at the moment!

The initial meeting is always set up as a "Chillin'" encounter, often used in 5150 if your characters are looking to recruit others, or just gong about their business. Other encounters usually focus on a raid or other hostile action, so it makes sense. Each area has a Law Level and a number of possible NPC encounters depending on the time of day. In this area in the morning, there is a good level of security (4) and not many people around (1 potential contact). The Law Level is used to determine if additional PEFs (Potential Enemy Forces) appear. You need to roll a double higher than this level at the start of the turn for this to happen, so there is not a great chance of unexpected activity in this game.

The PEF is between me and my objective, so I will almost certainly encounter it

Almost anything can happen in games from THW and they specialise in the unexpected, a real boon for solo gamers. But it looks like this scenario will be a quiet one, something I am pleased about as I only want to meet my employer, not get into any tussles.

A couple of turns in, and I come into line of sight of the PEF, which has moved towards me. NHCPI contains comprehensive PEF resolution tables, so being in different areas will result in meeting different people.

I see it, but what is it?
THW games can often be about more than just the fighting, and in this case I really don't want anything too difficult. If it is some kind of street tough looking for trouble I could get hurt (or worse) and I need to get on with my business. Worse, if the fighting starts, the police could get involved. In the rules as written, the police will either be human or Zhuh-Zhuh (think really tough intelligent monkeys), but I've modified this possibility so that they will either be planetary security or Stormtroopers (as the planet is under Imperial control). So getting into a fight only to be shot or arrested by Imperial troops would be a seriously bad outcome at this stage...

Luckily, I roll for PEF resolution and get a 'Something's out there' result. So this time it was nothing, but future rolls have a higher chance of being something. For fun, I decide it was a group of Jawas and place them on the table.

Jawas seem to be everywhere these days!
Onward! I make my way to the meeting with no further incident and approach the building. When I enter, I have to roll for another PEF and this will almost certainly be something this time round.

Yeah, my sets are a bit 'wonky'
I head in and see what happens... The PEF is resolved as an encounter, but just a single figure. Turns out it is a 'Criminal Element' and in this case a hacker. I figure that could work in Star Wars even if it isn't a 'Matrix' style cyber-warrior... (R2-D2 kind of hacks the Death Star after all!). I rummage round my figure collection and pull out a Twi'lek scoundrel. He'll do. A couple of rolls on the NPC generation charts and I find he is only REP 3. Probably why he is hanging out with no friends...

After this, I see what kind of interaction I have with him. This can have a range of outcomes depending on an opposed 'People' skill roll and the type of person you are interacting with. Interaction with criminals can get a bit nasty if you are not lucky. Fortunately he is happy to ignore me. This is fine with me, but I file his stats away for future use in case I need to find myself a hacker at some point. There is also a chance of meeting previously encountered characters again, so our paths might cross in future.

A pair of big guns doesn't impress everyone, it seems...
That out of the way, I meet my employer. I find out that I will be paid 3 Items for a successful investigation (Instead of book-keeping with currency the game uses 'Items' as a measure of wealth and equipment). I also need to find out whether the first clue in my investigation will be an Object or a Person of Interest. A die roll on the right table tells me it will be an object. The first object is always in the location of the crime. But what is it? Well, the game won't tell you that, but this is an element often best left to the player because of the massive variation possible. In this case it is entirely appropriate that there was some kind of security footage taken at the scene, so I'm gong to scoot over there and see if I can get hold of it. As for the current scenario, I leave the table and check for another travel encounter. There is none. The time moves from 'Early' to 'Day Time' and I'm ready for the next encounter.

So, an uneventful game in many ways. But it could have gone another way quite easily and, if it wasn't for making notes and taking pictures, it would have taken no more than 10-15 minutes, so really I'd be looking to play several of these encounters during a single session. Of course, more PEFs, a different location, the time of day and the Law Level all have an impact. This was a relatively 'safe' encounter.

This does of course barely scratch the surface of what the game offers and my next write up will be of a more eventful scenario!

Monday, 13 January 2014

Preview: New Hope City PI (Part 1)


A few days ago I was the privileged recipient of a draft copy of New Hope City PI. This book is a supplement for Two Hour Wargames' 5150: New Beginnings rules. For those not familiar, this a sci-fi skirmish game with a heavy emphasis on story and characters. If you read game reports from this and other THW rules, you'll notice two things. Firstly, they always seem to have a great narrative and secondly, they are great for solo play.

NHCPI focuses on solving crimes in the city, with the player characters typically being PIs or police, although others are usable. It can be fully integrated into 5150:NB, meaning you can play games using those rules and then branch off to investigate a crime that has happened using NHCPI.

One of the things which I find the rules tread a fine line with, is the balance between player created narrative and rule created narrative. By the former, I mean elements that are player driven and made up on the fly and by the latter I mean emerging directly from the game mechanics. I love rules to be comprehensive. It's not enough for me to be told 'Wow, the way the game unfolds is great, so much cool stuff happened' when really someone means 'I wanted to do a lot of things not covered by the rules, but that was cool because I just rolled a die for it and made it up as I went along'. I think that, as THW rules have evolved over time, they have grown to be more comprehensive (note, this does not mean more complex!). For me this is a good thing, and you only need to look at the evolution of popular sets such as All Things Zombies to get an example of this. Anyway, the above is offered so readers understand how I like to approach rules and also to explain how I am presenting these previews. So it is clear, I will be presenting sections where the rules are the focus as underlined text and sections where I 'explain what is happening' in normal text. In this way, it should be clear how much is 'from the rules' and how much I'm 'making up', hopefully resulting in a transparent and clear account. But anyway, on with the show!

My games of 5150 are set in the Star Wars universe (or at least my interpretation of it) and this test game takes place before my main campaign starts. The planet my games are set on is predominantly jungle covered, with some large urban/industrial areas. It lies in the outer-rim and is currently under the control of an Imperial governor. The main industry is focused on mining and processing metal for droid circuitry, so there are several droid manufacturers vying for control of the resources. Plenty of opportunity for industrial espionage as well as rebel insurrection and bounty hunter action.

The first thing to do when starting NHC:PI is to determine the details of the crime. This uses a few rolls on some tables and cross referencing a couple of charts, all of which conspire to create a lot of variety.

A 2d6 roll determines the crime. I get a result of 'theft' and two additional rolls tell me the crime will be investigated by a PI and that a vehicle has been stolen. 

Okay, no surprises so far. I have a couple of ideas about what this will look like for my particular setting, but I'm going to hold fire on deciding that until I have figured the who, when and where of the situation. Why is a PI involved and not the police....? That's a question for later.

A roll on the victim table tells me it's an 'ordinary joe' and cross referencing this with roll on a sub table shows that it is an Engineer. A couple of further rolls show the crime took place in the evening and in a parking garage.

Right, so an Engineer is likely an employee of one of the major droid factories, presumably with access to restricted materials. Was he daft enough to leave something in his car, or was it a random theft from a car park?

The next step is to find the difficulty factor. Theft has a difficulty of 1 plus 1/2 d6. I roll 4, for a difficulty of 3. This is doubled to find the number of clues my PI must find, 6. I also roll to find my employer. I roll a 10: Employer or Associates of Victim. 

Okay, so not an overly difficult crime to solve, but no real back story emerges from this. On the other hand, the fact that my character is being hired by the Employer (I choose this over Associates) of the victim suggests that there may be more to the theft of the vehicle than it being a chance event...

There is a 50% chance that 'Theft' will be a pressing investigation. I roll and find out that it is. I have half the difficulty factor in days to solve it. 2 days... If it is not solved, the crime can be investigated again but at additional difficulty.

Wow... 2 days to solve a vehicle theft. Okay, so we know it is important. I'll have to ask the employer more about why this is when we meet. Sounds to me like some important data may have been in the vehicle and perhaps a competitor was interested in this... Or did the engineer leave the information intentionally and it was all set up to look like an accident... but if so, how does the employer know what happened...? At this point, anything is possible!

So what's next? Well, I actually skipped a step before finding if the investigation is pressing. I need to meet my employer and have a proper chat with them. This is always the first encounter of the investigation before you go off hunting clues.

As this will be an actual game, I'll cover this in part two. For now I will leave things as they are, partly because I'm aware of the lack of pictures and don't want this to be a massive wall of text. I hope I have demonstrated a bit of how just a little time spend on some background development, stimulated by the game mechanics already leads to an interesting starting point for a series of games. It probably takes less than 5 minutes to make the required rolls and then it's up to you how you put some 'flesh on the bones'. I certainly find myself wanting to know what is gong on! A promising way to start!