[This article contains heavy spoilers regarding the Weird War I PPC 'In Vino Veritas'. You have been warned.]
A short while ago I ran the first scenario of Weird War I's PPC In Vino Veritas. Although we lost a player before the game even started (conflict of schedule, the Heeresleitung, German Army High Command, really screwed that one up) the remaining two guys had a blast (quite literally). I will give a rundown of the session, my decisions for events within the session, how it affected the players/characters, and what I learned from that.
Because this would be my first time running Weird War I, and because I didn't have as much time as I would have liked to familiarize myself with the background given in the War Master's Handbook, I restricted characters to mundane people: no Magic, Psionics, Weird Science, and/or Miracles. This was done mostly because I didn't want to screw up anything about the Weird background of Weird War I when it came to character knowledge. I may have been overly paranoid in that. After the session I offered the players the option to modify their characters, or create a new character, with an Arcane Background, if they so wished. Luckily, they were happy with what they had. But I get ahead of myself.
One of the players owned a copy of Weird War I, the other had only heard about the setting, and both had never played it before. So to start things of and ease them into the fray, I began by trying out the Narrative Missions. The more creative you can be spontaneously, the better these will work. For me, they worked really great - I saw the cards, thought about it for a few seconds, and constructed an event around the cards drawn and the rolls the players were required to make:
- -King of Diamonds (Phyiscal) for the NCO (failed his Strength roll)
- -5 of Clubs (Combat) for the Squaddie (failed his Shooting roll)
- -Joker for the extras (lucky bastards)
I narrated the squad to be out on patrol in a lorry near the Belgian-German border during the start of the war, and them getting caught in an ambush (to set the tone of the Belgian resistance being fierce and not all that rational at times): a tree felled across the road. The NCO shouted orders and joined his driver to push the log off of the road, while the Squaddie and the other troops laid down covering fire to repel the attackers. Since both failed their rolls, this meant in this case they managed to get their respective tasks done, but got wounded in the process by the attackers - slightly crazed seeming partisans. The extras (their squad mates) of course got out of the ambush without even a single wounded, only a few bumps and bruises.
Overall, I really like the Narrative Missions. They provided a short scenario with opportunities for short snippets of roleplay, while giving me as the GM a platform to set the tone for the game, the mood of the setting, and even introduce plot-relevant hooks and information. If overused I could see the Narrative Missions getting repetitive, but if used in moderation, and paired with the Mission Generator, this is a great tool and adds a lot of value to the game.
Next I started the actual scenario. Because of there being only two players I modified the numbers a little bit, and made the choice of using this session to focus on getting the PPC's pot rolling without that much danger to the PC's (but, of course, dice can always ace, so in theory nobody was ever truly save).
Having had some r&r in a conquered Belgian village after their patrol, the PC's where in the right mood I was going for. They where still looking forward to joining the actual front, but it was dawning to them that war may not be all that glorious. After finally receiving their marching orders and the long march to Liege they encountered the leaving German wounded soldiers, as per the PPC scenario description. The mood turned gloomy really fast. Of course it didn't help that I assigned them (with a few extras) to a night patrol of the streets around the command post, where only the Sqaddie's danger sense saved them from walking into an ambush by a left-over Belgian machine-gun unit.
Due to an enemy of the NCO (another NCO, who for the time was in charge of distributing ammo) they didn't have grenades. Trying to flank the machine-gun they discovered the two Belgian soldiers mutilating the German soldier's corpse, fear checks were made (and some failed), and all Belgians and one German extra subsequently died in a close-quarter melee and firefight (you will be missed, Soldat Schultz).
There were 5 Belgian soldiers (the 2 crazies and 3 soldiers still manning a machine-gun after getting cut off from their main force), 2 PCs and 8 friendly extras. I tried to even the odds with Belgian grenades, but the dice where really in favour of the Germans in this fight. Soldat Schultz died in a Wild Attack in Round 1 of the encounter, and that was the first and last time the Belgian soldiers hit anything! Not even with grenades.
The NCO sent some men back with the captured Belgian machine-gun and Soldat Schultz's corpse, and finished the patrol without further incidents. Returning to the command post the Squaddie checked the rumour mill and confirmed that something was off. Nobody could lay a finger on the cause, but the fighting in Belgium wasn't what anybody had expected. Crazy Belgians, right?
The next day started with a one hour bombardment of the Liege forts, which I narrated quite extensively to give an impression of the massive industrialized firepower to the players. When they stormed their assigned fort and the Belgian soldiers opened fire with everything they had left, I had the players make straight Agility checks to dodge the flying debris and ricochets, a failed role resulting in one level of Fatigue from bumps and bruises. This I did because I didn't want to play through a lengthy part of "cover-hopping", but still communicate the dangers of storming at an armed fort to the players. The NCO failed his roll and, leading his men from the front, took one level of bumps and bruises Fatigue.
The clearing of the lower fort went exactly to PPC plan, with the Squaddie throwing a grenade into the occupied room and the Belgian soldiers all failing their "throw back" roles. A big blast later, the Squaddie scouted the remains of the room and its now dead occupants. He found the uncovered room and the cross (and decided to hide and keep it! Sweet!), and now we are well on the way in the story.
We all very much enjoyed this session (about 4 hours) and I really hope I can find the time to run the rest of the PPC. Coupled with the mission generator (which I have yet to try out) and the Narrative Missions, I can see it being a very enjoyable trip for all involved.