Friday, 2 July 2010

The Ministry of Blades : The Pyramids of Hertfordshire, episode 6

Antonia and Marsh play with really big guns; Constantina takes a tumble.

Played

17th June 2010.

Dramatis Personae

Lady Antonia deVore - a Heavily-armed Aristocrat.
Miss Constantina Spit - a Rebellious Debutante.
Captain Benson Curruthers - a Military Policeman.
Jack Prentiss - a Dodgy Pedestrian.
Miss April Sharpe - a Self-taught Inventor.
Rodney Marsh - a Partially-reformed Thief.
Mr Erasmus Rooke - the Boss.
Mr Chester - a Foreign Gentleman of the Scientific Persuasion.
Jackson - an old Associate of Curruthers.
Two Anonymous Scientists.
A Sceptical Commandant.
A number of Heavily-armed ‘Gamekeepers’.
A large number of Shambling Corpses.

Plot

Prentiss sprinted for the powerhouse, bursting through the door, then ducking at the last moment to avoid losing his head to a shovel wielded by a panicking stoker. Marsh arrived behind the zombie fighting Curruthers, returned to human form and, nearly decapitating it, followed up by bowing ironically to his combat trainer. Lady Antonia decided to try and help the guards while Miss Sharpe powered up her weapon and aimed it at the top of the mast, soaking it in a stream of corrosive liquid. Miss Spit followed Prentiss into the powerhouse, arriving just in time to see him pull a thick cable out of the steam-powered dynamo, causing a massive shower of sparks which made up for the lights going out.

Prentiss staggered as the engineer whipped a huge spanner across his throat from behind and attempted to strangle him while the dynamo sped up, its whine rapidly rising in pitch. He managed to turn his attacker to take the full brunt of the blast as the building exploded in a shower of flames and shrapnel…

Miss Spit was still standing in the doorway and was thrown in a spectacular arc across the square, landing with catlike grace near the transmission mast. Prentiss was apparently buried in the rubble.

All around them, the zombies pressed their slow but relentless attack; small groups of soldiers desperately trying to hold the gaps between buildings against up to twice their number. As the remainder of the team tried to decide what to do, several of the soldiers went down screaming and Curruthers and Lady Antonia leapt to help shore up the defences, closely followed by Miss Sharpe and Miss Spit, each heading for a different group. Marsh, spotting the collapsed guard tower, reverted to rat form and scurried out of the battle zone.

Lady Antonia grabbed up one of the large rifles used by the soldiers, a magazine-fed elephant gun, and put her marksmanhip skills to good use, blowing several zombies to pieces in quick succession. Miss Sharpe made similar use of her ‘ectoray orgonator’ while Miss Spit, using her deflection spell to avoid damage, charged straight into battle swinging a makeshift club. Curruthers arrived just in time to see three men fall and found himself holding the defence together, using the bayonet on the end of his elephant rifle.

Prentiss pulled himself out of the ruins of the powerhouse and, grabbing the huge spanner as a club, looked around to take in the situation. Spotting Marsh in the ruins of the tower, he burst through the line of zombies to join him, where he found the little thief attempting to set up a Maxim machine gun. Between them, they got it braced and proceeded to spray the nearest group of zombies with bullets, stopping frequently to unjam the weapon.

Gradually, the tide of battle turned, although by the time the zombies were all destroyed, so were all but four of the soldiers.

As a result of running out of time, the following was not actually played through.

Once the battle was over, the survivors picked through the bodies, separating the wounded from the dead and the undead. With his remaining troops securing the perimeter, the Commandant gathered the team together in the mess to thank them for their help in fighting off the zombies. Overcoming his pride, he admitted that they had been right and that there was obviously a link between the experiments and the zombies. Turning to the scientist, Mr Chester, he informed him that the experiments were over until they had been thoroughly examined by other military scientists. Chester, his temper flaring, stalked out of the room, swearing to take his ideas to the Americas where they would “appreciate the genius!”

The team were escorted back to London by the Commandant himself, where reports were made to Mr Rooke, and matters between the Ministry and the Royal Esoteric Guards were taken ‘upstairs’. The team were congratulated on their handling of the affair and Curruthers, Marsh and Lady Antonia were finally promoted to full Field Agent status.

Notes

The Royal Esoteric Guards are the military equivalent to the Ministry and form the sixth of the elite Guards regiments. As well as regular soldiers of the line, trained in combatting supernatural as well as mundane foes, their organisation includes a number of autonomous research and intelligence teams, enabling them to deal with most problems without help from other military units that might not be able to cope with the same kind of conditions. If Curruthers had remained in the Army, he may well have joined them. Obviously, they are still capable of making mistakes.

As mass battles go, this one actually went quite quickly, it just didn't seem like it.

Savage Worlds is definitely quite good at handling large numbers of battling characters; the “two hits and you're down” approach to Extras is much easier to track than hit points, just requiring markers for Shaken figures. The players quickly realised that ganging up on opponents is the key to success, both for the +1 multiple attackers bonus and for the guaranteed kill on a Shaken Extra. I was also able to hand groups of five soldiers to individual players to manage, taking some of the pressure off me.

The problem was basically with the number of players. We had an extra player this week, taking us to seven, which slowed things down enough to get in the way. The playing card initiative system can also cause delays, as players frequently forget to hand them back after their action or at the end of the round. Even handing the whole initiative system to a player didn't work as well as I'd have liked. Chatter amongst the players is always a distraction and the only way I can see around this would be to reduce the numbers - or start deliberately killing off characters!

One element that didn't get to play out was that Prentiss and Miss Sharpe's two-pronged attack on the electrical transmission system was successful: the zombies were about to collapse of their own accord when the battle ended for the evening. In retrospect, I probably should have upped the number of zombies to increase the apparent danger then had them collapse at a suitable dramatic moment, but I'm trying to avoid too much GM's fiat - even for effect.

We didn't quite finish in the main session, although the battle was virtually over, so the wrap-up was kind of assumed.

The game is now on hold until the autumn.

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