Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Trouble in Teufeltal session six, Steam Tank Rally

After fighting an Orc Shaman and freeing Otilla the group decided to take it up a notch. They planned to rescue the girls studying at DeBlanc's School for Ladies, recruit the wizard Dieter von Heinz and convince the knights at the White Wolf lodge to join the defense of Schluesselschloss.

Only now do I realize I missed a perfect chance to add some chariots to the spectacle.

At the mill
Since Dieter von Heinz's mill was closer than Schluesselschloss the group went in that direction. During their evening walk they saw gold lightning in the sky. Arriving at the mill, it turned out to originate there. Dieter's mill was built on top of a large (two story) barn. It had started sagging during construction, and the builders solved this by adding straight layers on top of the crooked ones. The end result was a mill bent over in many different angles, yet somehow still standing.

Dieter von Heinz
On the mill's balcony stood a man dressed in a golden robe, wearing a bright red cape and a golden mask; Dieter von Heinz, we presume. A group of orcs was advancing towards the mill. They were cut to pieces by gold lighting bolts. The group decided to shout at the wizard from a distance, just to make sure they would not be mistaken for orcs. The wizard greeted them back and offered a set of hard to follow instructions to get past the tower's defenses. Kylael failed to follow all instructions and was promptly hit by a small gold lighting bolt. It put his hair straight up for the remainder of the night.

A peaceful night
Inside the mill the group found a very well equipped wizard's laboratory. A huge tarp covered a wagon-like shape. Dieter discussed the situation in Teufeltal and concluded that his mill would not stand a concerted attack by an orc Waaargh. He offered the group a room for the night and told them he'd be leaving for Schluesselschloss in the morning.

This is probably not at all what Karlmann the Red looked like.
Karlmann the Red
Dieter instantly recognized the black armor Kylael had taken from Janus in the previous day's work. It was the armor of Karlmann the Red, a vampire lord that had been defeated by Otto III during a battle in Teufeltal. After a quick check for mutations on Kylael, Dieter warned not to wear the armor for longer than absolutely necessary. The sword Drett had taken from Janus had also belonged to Karlmann the Red. It allowed a user to attack at immensely fast speeds, at a cost of severe fatigue. Dieter was rather surprised to hear a 'weasel' like Janus had been in possession of the armor and the sword. Af far as he knew both pieces should've been resting somewhere in Schluesselschloss's dungeon.

The Steam Tank
After a peaceful night the group reconvened in the laboratory. Dieter pulled the tarp away to reveal an actual Steam Tank. He had been working on it for fifteen years, trying to uncover the secrets of its construction. Dieter gave a quick explanation to the team on how to work a Steam Tank. Someone needed to steer and fire the steam gun. A main gunner was needed to fire the steam cannon. One or two stokers should shovel coal into the engine and a final person was needed to control the flow of steam and grease. As the group was discussing these jobs the wizard stepped onto a magic circle and disappeared in a puff of golden smoke taking any chance to ask questions with him.

Places everyone
The group divided the jobs in the tank. Micky and Gorgor where on coal shoveling detail, Barnard manned the main cannon. Kylael would be in charge of levers and buttons and Drett would assume command and control of the tank. Luckily Dieter had started the war machine before leaving. All the group needed to do was open the barn doors, pull a random handle and leave. A few orc boar boys and a single goblin spider rider immediately started off in pursuit of the tank.

Boar boyz!
Fury Road
Drett had a plan. He would follow the road to make the trip to Schluesselschloss as easy as possible. Unfortunately he lost control of the steering wheel almost immediately. What followed was a wild tank ride over rough terrain. A few fences where bashed apart and at a certain point the tank slipped down a hill and into dense bushes. Meanwhile both Drett and Barnard had to work hard to shoot pursuing orc boar boys and goblin spider riders. The noise of the tank seemed to attract ever greater numbers of these unsavory types. Kylael, trying to figure out the controls, occasionally shut down the cannons by accident.

Squeaking turns to rattling
Gorgor and Micky really took to the job of shuffling coal into a furnace. As a result too much pressure was brought to bear on the steam engine. Kylael tried to alleviate the pressure by throwing a likely looking switch. It turned out to be the wrong switch. It was actually meant to put the tank in reverse and it clanked back into the forward position instantly, hurting Kylael's fingers. From that point on the squeaking sounds the tank had made turned to rattling. Kylael was almost hit by a big bolt that shot out of the control panel.

Crossing the bridge
Finally with more luck than skill Drett managed to ride past the ruins of the monastery. Kylael at this point had discovered how to aid the driver with proper applications of grease. At the monastery Drett took the tank onto the road again. He even managed to cross the bridge to Tallenhof in stead of dropping into the river. With Schluesselschloss now in sight, the last leg of the journey was on. A deep pool of mud almost made the tank slip again. Narrowly avoiding the castle walls, Drett maneuvered the Steam Tank into the castle's courtyard.

Want to simulate a Steam Tank in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying, that requires a hand-out!
Back in Schluesselschloss 
The vehicle came to a halt. With a sense of relief the group got out. Dieter was already waiting for them. He took the party into the war room where they where joined by Otilla, Sergeant Martin, Captain Pansy, Senschal Reinhart and Erik von Schluessel. A dwarf engineer from Karak Azgaraz also joined the conference.

The oldest son (and heir?)
As he was almost baron Erik considered himself in command. His plan was to ride out with the entire garrison and take out the spider riders in the forest with a surprise attack. The assembled group took the time to tell him (in great detail) that he was not a baron yet, and his plan was foolish to the point of suicidal. Erik, clearly suppressing tears, stormed out of the war room and called for his mother.

Feasts and valuables
Pansy suggested a feast. This plan was shot down instantly. The captain and cook walked the kitchens in a huff. Reinhart told everyone that the official signet ring and necklace of office where needed to appoint a new baron. Micky, who had previously stolen the now deceased baron's signet ring and necklace, felt powerful for about a second. Then he realized both of these items had turned out to be fakes. Martin told everyone in the war room that the old baron had been hiding his valuables from debt collectors. Most of it was stashed in the cellars of the ruined monastery.

A quick reminder to stop undead before they start raising zombies. 
A strange likeness
Barnard, Drett and Gorgor took a long look at the portraits of the baron's ancestors and realized they all looked a bit like Kylael. All had similar noses, chins and eyes. Strangely enough the rumors in the valley said that Kylael was the baroness's bastard, not the baron's. This was starting to look like a very odd family history...

The dwarf engineer reported that Schluesselschloss was constructed oddly (even by the low standards of humans). The castle was apparently built on top of another building and it's structure was therefore unsound. Also lacking was any logic to the rooms and corridors of the keep. The dwarves had started fortifying the outer walls. During their work they had discovered the outer measurements of the castle where a lot larger then the inner ones. He concluded that Schluesselschloss most likely had a lot of secret rooms.

New to-do list
In the end the group decided on a new to-do list. This time they would finish the entire list in one go. First of they would visit the ruins. Then they would save the girl's at DeBlanc's school. After that they would go on to the White Wolf lodge. They where going to finish by getting Lowe's sheep to the castle. With a plan like that, nothing could go wrong. Or could it? We'll find out next time...

GM's perspective

And that's what was happening behind my (3rd ed.) GM's screen during the wild ride through Teufeltal.
How do you include a Steam Tank in a pen&paper roleplaying game?
I got the idea of including a ride with a Steam Tank in my story when I decided to stick a gold wizard in the mill on Teufeltal's map. Unfortunately I had less time to prepare for this evening then I would've liked, finding only a few hours to plot the story around Dieter von Heinz and his Steam Tank. The main effort went into figuring out how I could include a Steam Tank in my game in an interesting way.

Step 1: source material
I started out going through old army books to find stats for the tank. I also hopped onto a few forums about steam engines in general and problems with said engines in particular (it's the fastest way to make some damage tables and figure out skill rolls). Using old Warhammer weapon stats to create their 4th edition counterparts is easy. But having the statistics for a steam cannon and a steam gun does not an adventure make. I started wondering how to make this exiting. And decided a challenging minigame within the game was called for. This game should require some decisions and dice rolls from the players that would affect how the story progressed. 

Pursuit in roleplaying games
As a small bit of extra background. Pursuit tends to be hard to play out in roleplaying games. Do you roll once each for rider to decide the result? Best out of five? Plot a course on a map? Go for hex/square encouter maps? Road tiles? Just abstract it all? I prefer working with abstraction. For a pursuit you can keep track of distance and have players roll to close in or or keep their distance (as preferred). But for longer pursuits this can quickly devolve into a rather boring set of dice rolls. It also lacks details that make the story interesting. After all a proper pursuit requires fences, dangerously low hanging branches and proper spot to taunt your pursuers from. To make a ride in a Steam Tank epic requires even more. And it needed to be done in such a way that all players would be involved. 

Operating a Steam Tank 
After brainstorming I decided that steam pressure would guide how well the tank was operating. A controller would balance between powering the gun, cannon and engine. Grease was a second factor making running the tank smoother. At the same time there would be limited supply of this. This would give the group a chance to wonder 'should we use grease, or risk a harder roll?' Shoveling coal into an engine would replenish steam power, but shoveling in too much would blow it up. Running a dozen combats with standard rules would be boring so orcs and goblins in pursuit would make controlling the tank harder (and attack it as a group). Successful canon and gun shots would reduce the number of pursuers.

Step 2: Making a dashboard
And there where the makings of a minigame. This gave me an idea. I played an old Paranoia adventure decades ago featuring a submarine. We were given a control panel without a manual and as a group had to press random buttons to operate the sub. I still recall the horrified conversations we had after pressing a button that went 'bing....gloop'. What did it mean? Where we about to die? I needed something similar for my Steam Tank (albeit not quite as lethal as the Paranoia variant). Giving this to the group without a proper explanation would work well to establish their lack of knowledge. After all no one had even a single skill required to properly operate a Steam Tank. I made a quick sketch of how the dashboard should look.

And then used 'borrowed' images from the internet to Photoshop this.

I printed this 'piece of fine art' (and later discovered I forgot to include a slide to set the grease levels (I drew that in with pen)). I glued the print to a piece of cardboard, blocked out some red areas in the white spaces (to add to the drama) and used black paper and push-pins to make some dials. The end result was this hand-out (seen here 'in action'). 

Step 3: Let's make some tables!
I then used Excel to make some tables. One with off-road obstacles and one with road obstacles (I should call it bits off-road and bits of on-road). Then I came up with a way to run all this.
  1. The controller sets levers and grease-slide. 
  2. The stokers make an (assisted) Challenging (+0) Endurance test.
  3. The driver rolls a Challenging (+0) Perception test, every SL (Success Level) gives him one roll on the obstacle table. He picks one as his direction/obstacle.
  4. The driver tests for Drive skill (the obstacle determines difficulty and effects).
  5. The driver can fire the steam gun (if operable), killing 1 orc or goblin on a successful Ranged test.
  6. The gunner can fire the steam cannon (if operable), killing 2+SL orcs and goblins on a successful Ranged test.
  7. Check if extra pursuers appear.
  8. Repeat from 1.
Every orc and goblin in pursuit gave a -1 to the Drive test. I had a separate table to determine if more enemies joined the pursuit (I actually added some extra random events to this to make it more interesting). I assigned 100 wounds to the Steam Tank and reworked the vehicle damage table to reflect serious damage to the tank (for every 10 wounds lost, one or more rolls on this table where made).

Step 4: Figure out rules
On to the control panel. The three levers operate engine, cannon and gun. The three (small) top gauges represent the relative amount of pressure on the engine, cannon and gun. The controlling player sets the three levers each in position 0, 1 or 2. What happens is relative to how each lever is set (shutting of both guns overpowers the engine, even when it is set to state 1, shutting off all three levers over-pressurizes the steam engine and can cause damage). The gauge on the top left is the speed dial. The two gauges beneath it are current grease and grease reserves. The (forgotten) slider beneath that sets grease to 'off' 'medium' or 'high'. The switch on the bottom right is used to put the tank in reverse (only to be used when standing still). The red button blows off excess steam (and produces a whistle that attracts more orcs). One of the four bolts flies off with every 20 wounds sustained. This should give an impression that the damage to the tank is starting to have real consequences.

Keeping score
Behind my screen I kept a tally of steam produced and used (5 for the gun, 10 for the cannon, 5 for the engine). I also kept a straight face and pretended to apply non-existent different rules. Then I used to gauge to imprecisely give the players a sense of how much speed, steam and grease there was. I used the top gauges to help the controller figure out what his levers did and the slider to give him a sense that the grease supply was finite. Making all the read-outs slightly random gave an extra experimental feel to the tank. Figuring this panel out kept at least one player nicely occupied for the evening.

Did it work?
In the end it worked quite nicely. Making the driver choose between hitting a fence or going down a slope. Describing boiled orcs dropping down the road to the gunner. Even the discussion between the stokers and the controller. To add atmosphere I prepared a list of synonyms for creaking and - depending on the amount of damage the tank took - I described new suspicious sounds their vehicle was making. 

Missed details
I did fail to properly plan one major detail and that was distance covered. I had some ideas but I quickly discovered that I forgot to take a number of important things into account. One is that the average skill level in Warhammer gives you around a 30% chance of success. My distance planning assumed multiple SL's each round. Most of the drive rolls failed. In the end I assigned a bastardized form of advantage to the driver for 'getting the hang of it'. Another is that the distance between the mill and the castle was (eyeballing it without scale on the map) around three kilometers (1.8 miles for the metrically challenged). Putting a fixed amount of rounds on this might take a bit longer then I wanted. That was solved by step 5.

Step 5: Always remember the Golden Rule 
In the end it didn't matter. The trick turned out to be very simple. I kept a close eye on my players and by the time they started to look bored, I described the monastery zooming by. With the journey almost over everyone got back into the game. Shortly after that, the bridge to Tallerhof followed and a few turns after that they arrived. The Golden rule: rules are nice, but an enjoyable game is preferable. Always apply this rule. 

20/20 hindsight
Afterwards I got the feedback that I should've included water reserves. I think that could have made for an extra fun measure to make the ride even more interesting. If I ever do this again I will also separate the Steam gun and driver positions, the driver in my scenario had slightly too much to do, the two stokers too little. I would probably force the stokers to occasionally bolt down a loose bit of tank to give a few more meaningful rolls. Oh yeah, I will also include chariots in the pursuit (and remember to actually have the orcs attack the first two rounds. My players are luckier then they realize). I should actually also work out a few missing details in the tank rules, but in the end that did not really matter, everyone had fun. 

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