Guns of Pellucidar – Pt 3

The assault on the Nazi forward base went both smoother in some regards and rougher in others than I’d hoped. Rougher because I was using too many scales (I didn’t want a huge base, but I wanted the players to be able to tactically maneuver, so I used 500ft sub-hexes within an approx. 1.5 mile portion of the 6 mile hex). Smoother because somehow the party managed to pull it off with only three characters dying (the little Wehrmacht force made some really bad rolls).

The party wisely kept off the main game trail and skirted around a machine gun nest that could’ve mowed them down, had they taken it straight to the base. A jungle snake grabbed one of the guys and nearly killed him, but the medic managed to juice him up to keep him standing for the op. The snake didn’t last long against several guys with trench knives and bayonets, and the otherwise ineffective commu guy managed to put in the killing blow. Also, since they went counterclockwise around the outskirts of the base, they didn’t run into any patrols. Had they tried to go around the south side, they would’ve crossed paths with an SMG scout team.

The base was made up of 4 sandbag walls with light machine gun teams at the four corners of the base, each covering a portion of the treeline, two crude towers with observers and snipers, and some tents. The party approached from the northeast corner and not only did the observation tower abysmally fail their awareness roll, the machine gun team critically failed, so were busy smoking and chatting instead of watching the treeline.

The sniper tried to take a shot at one of the machine gunners, but just barely missed. That gave the signal to the mortar team, who began shelling the area where the tents were. The players quickly overran the gunners’ nest, but fooling around with the MG 42 and trying to get it and all of associated junk moved to the other side of the barrier cost a few guys their lives. Except for the sniper, most of the Nazis were lousy shots, and eventually the combined fire of a couple BAR gunners, the guys who got the MG 42 up and firing, the mortar fire creating confusion, and the other assault teams eventually honing in on where the fire was.

By the time the German patrols got back to the clearing to respond, all hell had already broken loose.

Really, this fight was probably a foregone conclusion from the outset for a handful of reasons. There were only about 60-80 Nazis in the hex in total, 50 of whom were in the sub-hexes the party was going through. The Allies put 130 men out of their 180-200 total, because it was a do-or-die op, so there were several teams in the hex reconning in force. They were going to win (probably), it was just a matter of how many PCs died in the process while I tested the upper bounds of how combat in this could scale.

Holes in my rules:

Suppressive fire doesn’t quite work the way I hoped in fire-fights. I need to figure a way for suppressive auto fire to pin guys who are in cover. Probably I will just allow extra attacks against targets that pop-up from behind cover to take a shot.

Sniping needs to be a bit more refined. Most of the sniping rules assume relatively close sniping range. I need something for longshot sniping. Enemy snipers will also make pretty short work of characters, since it’s not even an active save vs. death roll; the enemy sniper just has to roll under his dex, so the one sniper in the tower probably did more damage picking off the guys fooling with MG-42.

Movement rules are based on D&D and assume standard D&D distances. Doing a hex-crawl on a quasi-tactical level put it under some strain. The battle area was large enough that groups could move round-robin through several hexes avoiding combat all together, but the scale was such that folks could fire at one another from adjacent hexes and, in some cases, from multiple hexes away. The pain point was determining where in the 500 ft hex anyone was during a round and how that might have affected combat variables. By the time the minis were broken out, I got away with it by acknowledging that the positioning of the minis were not to scale combined with the fact that the party spent most of the fight pinned down but with much heavier firepower at their disposal than the Germans had.


I think that this will work out better for smaller-scale fights, like against a single strongpoint or pillbox, or against some random Aufklarung unit they might happen upon.

Also, so far this has been more of a serial wargame disguised as an RPG rather than an actual RPG, and I’m pretty okay with that for the moment. I’ve already acknowledged that this is basically turning into a tabletop version of Close Combat, which has definitely scratched an itch for me. But I would like to see a bit more roleplaying elements worked in eventually.

So long as the party stays in the immediate area of their base camp, they’re going to be under the orders of the commanding officers and answerable for all of their actions, so no murderhoboing, obviously. I’m hoping that they’ll eventually take up an opportunity to do some advanced scouting and get far enough away that they have to become a self-sustaining fighting unit in the wilds of Pellucidar, meeting some natives besides angry Lizardmen. I’d like to eventually peel away some of the military trappings bit by bit as it becomes more of a “dudes lost in the jungle, fighting to stay alive – also there are Nazis” game.

But I’m also finding that I’m already itching to be back on the player side of the table and break out DCC again…

More Pellucidar

So, my Pellucidar game is running smoothly and playing better than I could’ve expected. My initial theories on how combat would play out have all proven correct so far, but the next session will test how well firearms vs. firearms battles will work.

Friday, the party did some more mapping, with orders to recon the area immediately adjacent to their new base camp. While they pussy-footed a bit more than i would’ve liked, I can’t blame them for wanting to return directly to their camp after each encounter (though they were somewhat punished for it with the first hex).

The first hex they explored, they found some Draco Lizards; rather than leave well enough alone, they took the opportunity to use the giant lizards for some target practice, not knowing that they were up against 8 of them and had only spotted 2. Some of the other lizards came at them through and from the trees. While they killed and hurt a couple, they still got a few big bites taken out of them before they managed to drive the beasts off. A perverse desire to haul the carcasses back to camp meant they were slowed down enough to warrant an extra random encounter roll, which led to a pack of mountain lions ambushing those carrying the two carcasses. It cost the life of the medic, but a few rifle shots killed or drove off the big cats.

Fireteam got some fresh blood and kept exploring, managing to ambush an allosaurus on a game trail. If the allosaurus had not rolled a 1 on its perception roll and the players hadn’t got a free round to fire on them, at least one guy woulda been ate before the beast went down.

Last hex, I rolled for a Nazi base in a forest on my random terrain generator, so I asked if we could call it while I came up with some content for it.

I’m making a sub-hexmap for a relevant portion of the hex, where I’m putting in a small Nazi forward base. Along the game trails will be a couple of strong-points, and there will be a few patrols. The main base will be set in a clearing where they’ve pushed back the treeline and set up a few machine gun teams in front of a couple crude observation towers (scoped Mausers!).

This will be a damn tough fight if my players try to attack the base head-on. The first strong-point should be a warning, but if they just come out of the treeline, especially if they’ve alerted the base with a fire-fight, they’ll almost certainly be mowed down by MG42 fire.

I HOPE that they will remember that there’s a pack howitzer setup on a mountain top in the adjacent hex and that they have mortar teams at their disposal. Otherwise, the 30-50 Nazis hanging out in this hex will not only repulse the attack but almost certainly jeopardize the Allied base camp (which is apparently just a 12 miles south of another tribe of lizardmen! ::I rolled up to see what happened to the other NPC scout teams, and those guys didn’t come back…::).

I’m actually to the point where I may need to figure out how many guys are in the US company; they’ve lost one entire team, and probably about 15 or so other soldiers (so maybe 25-30 KIA/MIA). Some of them went back with the dirigible to pick up more supplies once the mountain base was established. Some of them will HAVE to stay back at camp to keep it secure. So, I guess if I want to really ramp up the scale, I could have as many as 100 soldiers dedicated to this particular OP. I’ll probably use some handwaiving for the NPC fireteams who will be a) reconning other parts of the hex, b) possibly flanking to get a better position for the assault on the base, c) getting into fire-fights with Nazi scouting teams, d) acting as “off-board” artillery as mortar teams.

This will be the first real test of the Star Frontiers Advanced Combat Order I’ve been using for initiative by side. Up until now, initiative hasn’t mattered too much, because whether the players win or lose initiative, you’d better believe they’re going to hang tight, guns ready, and shoot at whatever’s coming towards them. A couple times against the lizard men, the lizard men got some javelins in, but guns are always going to go off first against enemies who don’t have a ranged attack. With the Nazis, though, the players will be facing substantial fire themselves for the first time.

Guns of Pellucidar – Pt 1

So, a few interesting things happened Friday when running my Pellucidar game.

We had only three people able to make it, so we ended up not only doubling up on characters, but did something of a squad-based system for the big combat at the end. Now, if only two people had shown up, I was prepared to fully wargame it, but as it was, we did kind of a hybrid.

The random world generation I used accidentally created some super relevant, almost plot-related content in the first hex the party explored.

Due south of the dirigible’s landing zone, I rolled for mountains. Whenever a party “explores” a hex (rather than simply move through it), I roll again on the terrain and by animal/encounter type, and plan to cook something up in my head based on what I roll. That way, the game isn’t just running around through hexes looking for random encounters; a “search” of the hex will force some sort of relevant content to be there. So, on the second roll, I got “body of water” and “Lizardmen”. When rolling how many Lizardmen there were, I rolled ridiculously high (nothing lower than a 5 or 6 or 6d6), so I figured “Okay, there is a mountain spring and small lake here in a rocky bowl, with a Lizardman village just above it on a plateau.”

Guy taking point on the way up the mountain trail critically fails his psych roll, so something bad’s going to happen. While the recon team is filling canteens in the spring, a group of Lizardmen spot them and attack from above. A handful of them charge down the slope with spears and clubs while several from above rain javelins down on the soldiers. A couple of well thrown grenades and rifle-fire are able to scatter the attacking Lizardmen, but those up on the slope throwing spears do their damage and hurt some folks pretty badly. The team beats it back to base where they are debriefed.

The Colonel fills them in on why they’re there, what the Hollow Earth is, what the Nazis may be planning there, and says that it’s imperative that they seize that hill – with high-ground and a source of fresh water, it would make an ideal spot for a base-camp that would be far more secure than the present LZ. The team is given additional men to take the plateau, including a fire-team of riflemen and a 3 man mortar team. (Yeah, I got to use the mortar!)

Team goes up the trails to the spring just below the plateau, sending one two-man fire-team around the west, a two man fire-team to cover the spring and guard the mortar team, one guy at the base of the hill with the Commu man, and the rest set to climb up the direction they’d been attacked from.

The Lizardmen fishing on the far side of the pond critically failed their Psych roll, so did not manage to spot any of the guys in the two eastern teams moving into position. Sure enough, on top of the plateau, the troops spotted an entire lizardman village. The sergeant signaled the mortar team to start laying in fire. All hell broke loose once the first shells started landing. The lizardmen scrambled and started rushing to their defenses. Plus, their chieftain hopped onto a big dinosaur. It was a damn bloody fight, and including both PCs and NPCs, the party lost around 1/3 of their men, but able to route the Lizardmen. One of the highlights was the NPC mortar team killing the chieftain’s mount with an almost point-blank mortar shell at the charging beast.

So far, combat worked out both as designed and as expected – soldiers with fire-arms will have an extreme advantage against any opponents at range. Since I’m using Star Frontier’s order of combat, anyone with a fire-arm will always have advantage over someone trying to close in without a ranged weapon, regardless of initiative. Once opponents are able to close the distance, it becomes another story – the lizardmen who were able to get into melee range (except for the few who rolled exceptionally poorly) tore into infantrymen who couldn’t go toe-to-toe with them. Suppressive fire rules worked out well in most cases. Because of the shift in scale (we used minis, but it was done a bit abstractly), it was a little trickier to adjudicate things like grenades, so I allowed 1d4 and 1d4+1 on groupings.

The soldiers took the hilltop, the medic patched up the guys who were not dead, and the commu man radioed for reinforcements to secure and hold the village. After a couple of hours, another 40 soldiers showed up, carrying light and heavy machine guns to begin fortifying the position. In the aftermath, the Colonel made the call to move everything from the LZ to the new location, setting up a permanent base-camp in the Lizardman village. The dirigible could then be sent off for additional troops and supplies.

Anyway, I have no idea what next session will bring. We might have more players, but everyone got down how things worked pretty well. Since there’s high-ground, we might have long range artillery after all! I haven’t rolled up any other hexes, but if we ended up with something that awesome on the fly, I have high hopes for how things will turn out.

New Review, Hugo Packets, and Tarzan Stuff

Jon Mollison of Seagull Rising has a new review up of Cirsova #5. You can read it here.

I’ve made a lot of people writing reviews, in part because it’s one of the easiest ways to promote and support us, but that’s not the only reason. Reviews let us know what works and what doesn’t. One advantage of our double issue was it let us throw a lot against the wall to see what would stick and what didn’t. In some cases, it was seen as one of our weaker issues because it was much less focused that our others, but some folks seemed to enjoy it ‘with the exception of a few stinkers’.

While I enjoyed all of the stories (else I wouldn’t have bought them), that sort of feedback lets us know what you, the readers, are enjoying and what you’re not. So, to help us maintain and improve the quality of the magazine, be sure to leave your feedback!

Hugo Voting Packets are finally available. With only two months to go before voting is final, I don’t have a lot of expectation that readers will make it that far into their packets if they’ve waited this long to start, but it will be what it will be.

Also, I have not forgotten about my need to write a review of Frayed Knights! I really loved it, so I really ought to hunker down and get the write up on that done. I’ve just been so ADD and OCD these last two months, I’ve been a complete mess (can autism have flare-ups?)

I finished Tarzan at the Earth’s Core last night, and I’d stand by my previous question:

If Edgar Rice Burroughs can tell a bad story but still make it balls-out awesome, is it still a bad story?!

TatEC spends so much time on its journey towards the otherwise unimportant reason for throwing Tarzan into Pellucidar that when it finally gets there, there’s very little book left and the story kind of peters out. Except the reason that it peters out is perfectly believable and doesn’t detract much from the story: once Tarzan, Jason, and Tarzan’s rifle squadron of African tribesmen are finally reunited with the airship and its crew, there’s not a lot that primitive pirate port is going to do except answer the ultimatum that they’ll bomb the city into oblivion by turning Emperor David I over to his friends. Plus, Jana snaps out of her Tsundere fugue and declares her love for Jason, so we get the important ending we’re all waiting for.

With our G3 game taking a short hiatus, I may take an opportunity to flesh out my WW-2 rules-lite and run a Pellucidar mini campaign.

As I wrap, I’ll leave you with this one great exchange that perfectly illustrates the sort of tough pulp dames Burroughs wrote as well as his sense of humor:

“We will accompany you, then,” said Thoar [Jana’s brother], and then his brow clouded as some thought seemed suddenly to seize upon his mind. He looked for a moment at Jason, and then he turned to Jana. “I had almost forgotten,” he said. “Before we can go with these people as friends, I must know if this man offered you any injury or harm while you were with him. If he did, I must kill him.”

Jana did not look at Jason as she replied. “You need not kill him,” she said. “Had that been necessary The Red Flower of Zoram would have done it herself.”

“Very well,” said Thoar, “I am glad because he is my friend. Now we may all go together.”

Half-Review of Tarzan at the Earth’s Core

I’m only halfway through Tarzan at the Earth’s Core so this will only be a half-review, but I still wanted to talk about it.

The story itself is a bit of an aimless mess that’s only held together by Burroughs’ ability to make every scene and tableau he’s writing completely awesome.

The setup and megaplot is just an excuse to have Tarzan in an exotic dinosaur filled jungle: One of the characters from the Pellucidar series is in trouble and has radioed a distress call. A wealthy American is determined to investigate the hollow earth, which, if filled with jungles, means that Tarzan is the ideal person to track down and bring along. After lengthy preparations and a healthy dose of German engineering, they go off together to the north pole in a giant airship and find the entrance to Pellucidar and get hopeless lost in the jungles within, because this is, after all, a Tarzan novel.

-Tarzan goes to check out the jungle and gets lost because you can’t navigate the hollow earth using normal means (sunrise/sunset & the stars)

-The guys who go out to look for Tarzan get lost and attacked by savage animals.

-The rich American finds the airship again and goes out in his plane to try to find either Tarzan or the search party; except that since this is a Tarzan novel, his airplane is attacked by a pteranodon and he crashes in the jungle. But he does find a cute jungle girl!

So, a few things I’d like to note:

-Burroughs goes to great lengths to try to make Pellucidar’s alien aspects relevant to the story and how the characters are able to function in the hollow earth. The perpetual sun is disorienting, and even Tarzan has a hard time dealing with both perpetual noon and a lack of horizons (the landscape gently curves upward in all directions).

-The airship’s cook could easily be written off as a racist caricatures, but I think it’s interesting that the African tribesmen that Tarzan brings with him (in Africa, Tarzan has a game range and is on friendly terms with both the men and animals on it) all speak perfect, if simple, English, while the black cook from the American south is the one with the thick vernacular accent. This is likely intentional, in the way that Twain’s attempt to faithfully recreate several Missouri, Arkansas, southern Illinois, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Mississippi accents was intentional.

-In a lot of ways, the roles of Jana and Jason are a mirror of Tarzan and Jane’s, the savage girl met by the civilized man, except Jana’s a bit more likable than Jane and the pair are a bit more on equal footing – while Jana knows and understands Pellucidar and can survive there on her own, Jason is capable and a crack shot with his gun, which certainly evens the odds in many cases. In another way in which this subverts the criticisms of the colonialist nature of pulp, it’s Jana who teaches Jason her language so they can communicate rather than the other way around. It is pretty implicitly an interracial coupling (the people in Pellucidar strike me as Amerind inspired), and it’s Jason who’s made to look like a heel for even letting that cause doubt to creep into his mind.

-One of the most important aspects of Lord of the Rings in context of Appendix N is that it’s one of the few works on the list that features an adventuring “party”, but it’s certainly not the only. For a stretch, here, Tarzan, Tar-gash (a talking ape from a Pellucidarian tribe slightly more advanced than the one which raised Tarzan), and Thoar (a Pellucidarian tribesman who, as coincidence would have it, is Jana’s brother) adventure in the jungles together, hunting, fighting, and searching for the airship.

-Back to Jana. Jana is great example of how to do a female character in a pulpy adventure romance. She’s brave and confident and capable – when we’re introduced to her, she’s holding her own fairly well, considering that she’s been outrunning four plainsmen who are trying to capture her – so much so that they’re begging their leader to give up; she’s just not worth the trouble she’s been giving them! She’s feminine, but not totally demure, accepts the man’s help when it’s needed and given, but able to show that she’s willing to walk if he’s gonna take her for granted.


Depicted: Tarzan and his party lose initiative to the wild Chocobo.

Saving Throws, Pulp Heroes and D&D

Every once in awhile, you’ll hear the complaint that lower level D&D characters don’t feel like the heroic characters from pulp adventures on account of how fragile they are. The low HP means that a couple of good hits will kill those lower level characters, whether in fights or to traps or even something as ignominious as falling down a flight of stairs.

One of my counters to this is that most pulp heroes would be at the lower end of mid-level, contra to what is suggested in many of those old articles where Gary and friends would stat up Cugel or Eric John Stark as being well into double digits with massive pools of HP to prevent low-level PCs from being able to meet and kill these characters just because they were there and they could (though I’m sure they did).

Another bug-bear of oldschool games is the saving throw, particularly in save or die situations. Why should a character with all of that HP be insta-killed?! It’s just not fair! A character who can take 8 full-on sword wounds shouldn’t be able to die just because he was bitten by a snake or had a rock fall on his head!  Besides, that’s entirely unpulpy, right?!

Well, take this from Tarzan at the Earth’s Core, at a point in his career where he’s probably level 27 and has a gorillion hit points:

Tarzan remained very quiet. He did not wish to frighten it away for he realized that one of them must be the prey of the carnivore sneaking upon them, but if he expected the thag to be frightened he soon realized his error in judgment for, uttering low grumblings, the great bull pawed the earth with a front foot, and then, lowering his massive horns, gored it angrily, and the ape-man knew that he was working his short temper up to charging pitch; nor did it seem that this was to take long for already he was advancing menacingly to the accompaniment of thunderous bellowing. His tail was up and his head down as he broke into the trot that precluded the charge.

The ape-man realized that if he was ever struck by those massive horns or that heavy head, his skull would be crushed like an eggshell.

The dizzy spinning that had been caused by the first stretching of the rawhide to his weight had lessened to a gentle turning motion; so that sometimes he faced the thag and sometimes in the opposite direction. The utter helplessness of his position galled the ape-man and gave him more concern than any consideration of impending death. From childhood he had walked hand in hand with the Grim Reaper and he had looked upon death in so many forms that it held no terror for him. He knew that it was the final experience of all created things, that it must as inevitably come to him as to others and while he loved life and did not wish to die, its mere approach induced within him no futile hysteria. But to die without a chance to fight for life was not such an end as Tarzan of the Apes would have chosen. And now, as his body slowly revolved and his eyes were turned away from the charging thag, his heart sank at the thought that he was not even to be vouchsafed the meager satisfaction of meeting death face to face.

Tarzan, with all of his HP was forced to make save-vs-death against some kind of charging inner-earth dire oryx. His saving throw numbers are probably really low at this point, and he probably could’ve made it with anything but a nat 1, but it was still going to be a case of instant-death regardless of how many hit points he has.

This ties back into the game theory that HP doesn’t represent actual wounds but exhaustion and the character’s ability to fight on under pressure in extreme circumstance. Of course, you also might say that it would not be very pulpy to fail your saving throw and be instantly killed, but D&D is a game, and without a genuine sense of risk, your game can end up in a boring slump where everyone knows that everyone is going to live no matter what, so why bother faking the suspense? And in those cases where your life is on the line AND YOU MAKE IT, how much more awesome is it? It makes those times when you could’ve lost your character but didn’t all the more special.