And now, a tale about how giving your players too much prep time can actually destroy your campaign.
|Hang on... this one gets painful.|
The Immortal Deathwish, and Victor's Valkyries
I'll be honest, I'm not the biggest gamer in the world. I've played my share, but they were mostly just one-offs with friends we did to pass the time. Part of it was that I just didn't have the time to dedicate to that kind of habit, but a bigger part of it was the stories my dungeon masters were trying to tell. I'm not a fan of Tolkien, and there's only so many times I could have someone say, "so, you're all at the tavern," before I just wanted to burn the world to its foundations.
With that said, I've got a dark little corner of love for Warhammer 40k. I don't have any armies of my own (again, I don't have the time or money for that kind of addiction), but I love the world, and the lore. Which is why when I was in college, and my friend Greg told me he wanted to run a 40k RPG, I told him I'd be there. Bells optional, depending on what he needed from me.
|Trust me folks, it goes downhill from here.|
These days, most people would think I was playing Rogue Trader, but at this point in history that game wasn't around in my neck of the woods. So what Greg had done was cobble together a D20 Modern and D20 Future bastardization, and slapped a 40k skin on it. I wasn't complaining, though. Greg was a big enough fan of the world that I trusted him to get the details right. Problem was that the only other player who'd taken him up on his offer was another friend of ours named Brian. Still, a two-man show wasn't that bad.
The trouble really got started when he asked us his first question as our DM.
So, Do You Guys Wanna Play Space Marines?
Greg had a huge hard-on for space marines of all kinds, but Brian and I could really take them or leave them. Their lore was great, and they were awesome in a minis game, but he and I were on the same wavelength when it came to what we wanted to do with a story. So when Greg asked us our preferences, we told him we'd rather play imperial regulars.
|This was the first of several times Greg had to stop and re-think his strategy.|
Greg hadn't planned for that, but I could see in his face that he didn't want to tell us what characters to play, now that he'd opened up the floor. So, as a compromise, he told us we were playing imperial officers, and we each had 20 standard soldiers under our commands. Brian put together a tough-talking, cigar smoking career sergeant called Dog, who often played dead to lure the enemy in before letting loose with everything he had. I created Victor "Deathwish" Thanatos, a man who wanted to serve the emperor, and who was always the first through the breach. Leading from the front was the only way he knew how, and he had the scars to prove it.
Greg rolled percentiles for Brian, telling him his troops were split 60/40 between men and women. Then I remarked I'd find it interesting if everyone under Victor's command was a woman. Greg decided he liked that, and that was how it was. And that is how Victor's Valkyries were born.
We spent the next hour or so doing character creation, but the thing I remember most was assigning names and stories to all the soldiers in my command. Functionally they were all pretty identical, but I was bringing my a-game to this endeavor. That was how characters like Voodoo (a middle-aged sniper), Boom-Boom and Turntable (an inseparable pair of boot-mates who were my demolition and explosives team), Cross (my medic who had a secret crush on Victor, but who didn't want to endanger either of their careers), and Mercy "Machine Gun" Kelly (so-called for her surname, as well as the fact she was the heavy weapons expert) were born.
Superior Numbers Guarantee Nothing
Once we were all ready to go, Greg laid out our first mission. There was a distress call on a tiny, dirt ball of a planet that we were being sent to provide relief to. So, off we went. What we found was a small, stone fort with two squads of space marines, and a small handful of regulars. They're all tired, worn, and living in fear of incoming attack (well, except for the marines, since fear wasn't really a thing they did).
Attack from what? Orks, of course.
|Not quite, but you get the idea.|
We had five days to fortify this place, and get ready for a serious attack. So we got to work, and did some Home Alone shit to this base. This included planting caltrops (both large and small), digging ditches to break up charges, and making sure the fort had a moat full of something noxious and flammable. We outfitted war cycles with heavy wheel scythes, ensuring that if we rode against the grain of a charge that we would cut enemies in half. We even found used cooking oil, and kept it boiling on the second story to be sure no one who approached would get away clean.
As the sun went down on the fifth day, the Orks came over the hills. They didn't have any big guns, and they had only a few tanks, but what they lacked in tech they made up for in raw numbers. That was when the dice came out.
Unfortunately, the dice decided Greg was going to lose, and lose badly.
The first wave of orks fell almost entirely to our passive protections. They were slowed by the caltrops, smashed in the ditches, and burned in the moat. The few pieces of heavier artillery got stuck, and one blew up, killing two dozen troops around it. The space marines, hidden in the field as a surprise measure, didn't even have to flip their safeties off.
The next waves didn't fare much better.
Those who managed to get through our steel thorns, and over the flaming pits, found themselves getting cutting cut to raw meat by the marines. They withdrew from their initial spots, firing the whole way, drawing enemies in greater numbers toward a single section. Once the orks were charging, we roared out of concealment, and drove along the ditch with scythe blades spinning. Victor even decided to show the enemy how he'd earned his name, pulling the pin on a satchel charge and jumping off his bike as it ramped into a knot of enemy troops. The resulting explosion took out over 50 orks.
A team of 42 regulars, with help from 10 space marines, killed over 500 orks before we were forced to take the high ground inside the fort itself. Lead started flying, mortars punched holes in the ranks, and boiling oil made sure no one managed to get up their siege ladders. Even a mutant colossus, who managed to get halfway up the wall, got Victor's trench sword buried in his back. Before Victor could be killed, though, Voodoo put a high-powered round through the thing's brain pan, finishing it off in front of its own troops.
Their fighting spirit broken, the orks limped away as fast as their legs could carry them.
Then, For An Encore...
By the time the first session was over, Brian and I were responsible for the death of several thousand enemy troops. Even better, we hadn't lost a single soldier under our command. Most of the marines were dead or in traction, but that came with the territory. Victor was the only one who'd been injured in the siege, and his hurts were easily repaired with the finest in Grim Dark technology.
Of course, the orks had gone somewhere. When we came back for the second session, we decided to find out where. So we loaded up in a pair of armored personnel carriers, locked, loaded, and set off on a scout patrol.
|Nothing bad could possibly come from this decision.|
We're several hours out from the fort, when the bloody trail the orks left disappears down a canyon. We know a kill box when we see one, so instead of going down the canyon, each of us designate a team to climb the sides, and recon from the top. While that's happening, Boom-Boom and Turntable bury some three-dozen landmines at the mouth of the canyon. They even improvised a remote to blow them all at once, if necessary.
The A and B teams make their way along the high ground, also planting land mines as they go. Also rigged to blow on a remote signal. We continue on about two miles down, and that's when we find a force of chaos troops. Several thousand strong, with several hundred corrupted marines, they're well-armed, heavily armored, and are executing the last of the orks who had thought they'd found a safe refuge.
We were probably supposed to tuck tail and run. Instead, Voodoo took her shot at the chaplain. She missed, and that was when our position was given away. They returned fire, and thousands of black-clad madmen came boiling down the canyon thirsty for blood. That was when we triggered the bombs along the walls. Greg rolled to see how well-placed they were, and we were all staring at 100 percent.
To make a long story short, we literally dropped a mountain on them.
Every, single member of the enemy force died, but there was a trump card left up their sleeves. The chaplain exploded in blood and gore, as a demon of chaos used him as a portal to manifest. The hulking thing roared in unbridled fury, running toward the few imperial soldiers who'd dared to stand in its way.
At least until it hit the mine field. Which Greg had somehow forgotten until his bad guy stepped in it.
The sheer number of high-explosive and flechette rounds cut the big boss down to size in a single round. Hacked off at the knees, it got a chance for a single attack. He gored Victor through the shoulder, but before it could do more damage, Mercy leaped onto the demon's chest and cut loose with a heavy bolter. The critical hit ripped the thing's ribcage open, and pulped what was left of its internal organs.
We never got together for another session, mostly because Greg said he couldn't deal with how insane we were, but I learned a lot of lessons in those two games. The first is that for me, as a player, I get a lot more invested when my numbers have faces, names, call signs, and personalities. The second was that brute force and sheer numbers will only get you so far. Good strategy, and ruthlessness, will clear the field every time.
Third, I learned that even short-lived games can give rise to great stories. Which was why I wrote The Terror From Titan, starring some key members of Victor's team as they respond to yet another distress call. It is, of course, not a part of the Warhammer-verse.
|And sometimes it leads to more than a blog feature.|
Still, if folks take a look at it, now they'll know where these characters came from.
Thanks once more to Vincent Cross for his Table Talk submission. For more about him and his work, check out his Facebook page, Vincent Cross Books. If you have a story you'd like to put in the limelight, feel free to reach out with it! If you want to make sure you don't miss any updates from Improved Initiative, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support me and my blog, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Pledge at least $1 a month, and you'll get some sweet swag in addition to my everlasting gratitude!