Thursday, April 11, 2019

Helgacon 12 - Stay Frosty

The second game I was in for the Premium segment of this recent Helgacon was "Stay Frosty" run by Paul. This apparently was an adaptation of James Raggi's "Death, Frost, Doom" module, re-genred to be more of a military sci-fi sort of setting.

So to give a brief play by play, we were a bunch of grunts from a spaceborne military empire whose dropship had crash landed on a frozen planetoid where we'd been directed to stomp out some kind of cult activity. Since we were close at hand to the center of this cult activity, and lacking any chain of command since our captain and lieutenant had been pulped in the botched re-entry, a gaggle of us troopers following a sergeant had been given hasty orders from some general on the mothership to head toward the most recent satellite scanned co-ordinates, stomp what we could, and as a secondary order of business take out the orbital defenses so that they might get more boots on the ground.

We gathered up our gear and marched to where our wrist comps were pointing us, which turned out to be a small installation on the hillside where our dropship had augured itself in. We hacked the door access panel and got in, and then set about exploring the facility.

The upper levels were totally deserted, and were generally kinda forebodingly nondescript. Then we found a hatch that led down to the lower levels where things started to get weird. There was a room full of severed hands in a grid of tubes, each one hooked up to some kind of apparatus, that we passed on the way to a large chamber that had an assortment of unknown devices, and that's where things started to go south on us. 

One of the main features of the room was all these big chunks of ice hanging by chains from the ceiling, which turned out to be the frozen torsos of humans, once they started melting and dropping off their chains when we entered the room and raised the general temperature. There was this pipe organ deal that was so packed with alien molds and fungus that it killed our medic when they tried to play it. (The rest of us had better reflexes and the sense to step back and drop our facemasks when the spores started to shake loose. Of course Handyman Andy's attempts to revive poor Doc by slamming them in the face repeatedly with a medkit probably didn't help much.) 

Finally, there was this door with a couple of small, liquid filled receptacles on either side, which we eventually figured out would open if you put a tooth in one. So we had Private Nubbins, the jittery young recruit who'd stepped up to fill in for the Doc get some pliers from one of the tool kits and pull a couple out of one of the plummeting corpsicles. 

From there we further explored the complex and found all kinds of weirdo devices. By plugging into the computer terminals and doing some hacking and linguistic analysis, we determined that the prior occupants of the installation had been a bunch of aliens who'd invaded and used the prior prior occupants as subjects for a wide variety of grotesque experiments. 

We followed our wrist comp pingers to the central control of the planetary defense grid, and discovered the room it was in was occupied by this giant, swollen bag of gross mucous that had at one point been a dude. 

This game has a mechanic for tracking rising tension, and it was at this point the freakout meter hit critical. Since my character, Circuits the network tech & cable guy, had a satchel charge, my freakout involved going totally deadpan and arming my bomb, then shoving it into the mass of the gummy bear that was sitting in front of our objective and telling my comrades to beat feet down the corridor. This we did, and the goo-bag went boom, covering us with spluth from all the way down the hall, but we were able to get to the control panels and shut down the planetary defenses. 

Of course, doing that also set off all the waiting waves of nasty horror that had been counting down with the dropping torso timer in the big hall, so a bunch of zombie type guys started swarming us. (Actually, they weren't undead so much as corpses being puppeteered around by 10 inch long alien centipedes, but a nod's as good as a wink for H.R. Giger.)

Private Nubbins got in a good hit that took out a wave of zombies with their satchel charge. Sarge, our fearless leader, had his gun jam one too many times and went apeshit, ripping off his shirt and attacking the shambling bug taxis with his powered stun baton, which sadly ran out of batteries pretty quickly.

We managed to put down the first wave, but more were coming fast if our proximity scanner was to be believed, so we had to think faster. Sarge leapt down the giant nostril that the gumbag thing in the control room had been nestling in, and was lost forever. (Turned out he landed in a big nest of brain centipedes and got turned into a sporty convertable by our alien overlords.) The rest of us scampered down a side hallway, and got gnawed to death by a horde of zombie children when we opened the wrong door. Whoopsie poopsie.

So yeah. It was a fun session, and Paul ran it with his usual flair. I really liked the character creation system a lot. It was exceedingly simple and flexible, and fit the concept of disposable cannon fodder future soldiers excellently. Our plastic space army men were a ton of fun to snap together before the mission started. I'd love to use this system with something like a Paranoia styled game or a genuine Aliens or Starship Troopers style scenario.

One innovation that I really gotta credit him for is the idea that we all just had serial numbers, and that it was up to the other players to give each of us our nicknames. So we had Sarge and Doc, I was Circuits, and rounding out the team we had an intelligence agent who wound up being called Handy Jack, then Handy Andy, then Andy just because he happened to have a toolkit as part of his equipment. (He definitely used it more than his intelligence, not that the rest of us were any brighter.) Private Nubbins was a result of the player who played the late, lamented Doc saying their character had crap stats and Paul telling them the character was probably just a basic private, which suggested a hapless Morty type and that's pretty much how they played it, with the rest of us taking turns as Rick.

I'd say my only critique of the system was that their terminology for their rising tension system seemed kind of counter-intuitive in its symbology. You start at "warm" and go up to something like "super cool" or "ice cold", and the characters get more bonuses until they cross a threshold where they have to roll saves and roll on a chart to see how they freak out. This seems kinda backward to me, with a group under pressure getting more competent until a breakdown occurs. You'd think it would start at "frosty" and then get hotter until the meltdown, with more and more mistakes and fumbles on the way there as the soldiers' discipline and nerves break down. Odd. 

Finally, the setting and scenario just didn't do a lot for me. I'm not much of a fan of horror, especially of the body horror/splatterfest variety that seemed to be on display here. It just felt like they were trying so hard to be disturbing that it just wound up being kinda uninteresting. I'm not going to invest enough emotionally to be genuinely disturbed, and it's not a sensation that I choose to seek out anyway, so I'm left just playing thru that aspect of it and finding other ways to enjoy the game.

So anyway, it was a TPK but that was kinda the point, and we did technically accomplish one of our primary missions, which was to shut down the planetary defenses so that our guys up in orbit could nuke it from same. So I call it a success! 

Thanks for a fun session, Paul. 
Knowing is half the battle! The other half is not letting your brain get eaten!

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