Monday, May 18, 2020

Anatomy of a TPK

I've been running a weekly Mothership campaign for a few months now. I string together a series of short scenarios (written by myself and others) in a loose campaign framework. PC mortality rate is high: averaging around 1 death/session. In our last session, my players TPK'd in spectacular fashion chasing down a bounty to her penthouse hideout.

The Scenario

"BLACK EYES" wanted for piracy of corporate assets. Bounty is armed and dangerous.

The Job

One (1) Azure Horizons Cryosuit™
  • Experimental, ambulating cryopod. Performs all functions of a hyperspace-maintenance android without the wasted space of a bulky, traditional cryopod.
  • Retrieval: 30kcr (pristine), 10kcr (functional)
One (1) Senior Azure Horizons Accounting Officer "Hector Rios"
  • Presumed still asleep inside the Cryosuit™. Corporate credit card recently used to purchase 2 months stay in Plaza Nouveau's penthouse suit, plus room service.
  • Retrieval: 5kcr (alive)
"Black Eyes" (aliases unknown)
  • Dead or alive: 10kcr
Unknown # collaborators
  • Dead or alive: 1kcr each

The Situation

  • High-rises surround the Plaza Nouveau hotel. Balconies separated by 20m.
    • Front door booby-trapped with a shotgun. Fires through the door if latch fully extended.
    • All shades drawn, windows locked.
  • Cryosuit hacked, protects Black Eyes and her crew.
    • Combat: 50   Instinct: 10   Hits: 3 (80)
    • Grapples hostiles, snaps limbs.
    • Rios visibly wounded if suit takes damage. Killed if suit takes 1 Hit.
    • Moves to provide Black Eyes cover, engages hostiles who approach in melee range.
  • Black Eyes & crew prepared for lethal engagement.
    • Combat: 40   Instinct: 30   Hits: 2 (20)
    • Black Eyes (SMG, grenades) on watch in the living room. 
    • Redd (revolver) using the south-east bathroom. Enters combat after 1 round. 
    • Klaus (shotgun) asleep in the north-east bedroom. Enters combat 1d5 rounds after Redd (if comrades killed first, ambushes PCs who enter his bedroom).
    • Willing to negotiate release of the suit and Rios: 100kcr wire transfer (company will not agree).

How it Went

My players were in deep shit with Azure Horizon's parent organization after murdering several of their employees to cover up the events of previous missions. In response, the company strong-armed the party into indentured servitude. They burned the party's contacts so the only available jobs were corporate issued. They slashed the pay of remaining jobs and squeezed the party with higher prices for company-owned goods and services. The party was already poor and deeply in debt (to the company) after purchasing a [haunted] ship. Mercenary salaries and docking, lodging, and fuel costs burned through what was left of their savings. They were desperate for a payday and took what they could get: this bounty job. After the price cuts, it paid only 10kcr.

On route to the hotel, the pilot attempted to save some fuel by cutting thruster use to a bare minimum on approach to the city's docks. He ended up crashing into a company-owned sensor array and racked up additional debt worth 7x the job's pay.

The party forwent any attempts to recon the penthouse. They planned to zipline down to the penthouse from an adjacent building and eschewed a potentially time intensive or pricey search for climbing harnesses in favor of a (critically failed) jury rigged solution.

They climbed a convenient fire escape and handed the rigging gun off to their NPC mercenary. 2 misses. The first shot hit low and needed reeling in. The second went through a penthouse window. Hastening to capitalize upon what element of surprise remained, the party ziplined down in the following order:

1. Potts, Teamster
2. Rabbitt, Marine (NPC mercenary)
3. Charlie, Marine
4. Brody, Teamster
5. Carver, Scientist

As a consequence of the critically failed jury rig roll, I randomly rolled for one of the crew's harnesses to fail mid-zip. Brody. As he fell, he quickly whipped his cowboy hat off his head and over the line in an attempt to save himself. Speed test at disadvantage or die: Success. He dropped his weapon in the process and rode his hat the rest of the way down.

The zipline inconveniently terminated in the middle of the penthouse's living room floor, meaning a painful slide through broken glass as characters struggled to free themselves from the poorly wrought harnesses.

The situation was bad.

Potts came in hot off the zipline and freed herself with the expertise only the creator of those terrible harnesses could possess. In the kitchen on the far side of the room, Black Eyes was ready for her. She stood behind the Cryosuit for cover, using its shoulder as a firing position. Potts fired her shotgun at Black Eyes and missed, instantly killing Rios inside the Cryosuit. Black Eyes returned fire, screaming "DIE MOTHERFUCKER", and shredding Potts's left arm (critical hit: bleeding out).

Potts ran for cover as Rabbitt shredded his back on the broken glass during entry. As Rabbitt got up and made his way to flank around the right side of the Cryosuit, one of the kidnappers (Redd) came out of the bathroom and shot him in the back of the head. 1 down.

Meanwhile, Potts gave up on shooting and rushed Black Eyes to club her with the back end of the shotgun. She missed: the Cryosuit's arm reached up and grabbed hers in a vice-like grip. Potts took some point-blank SMG fire and after failing to flip the shotgun up in the air and catch it by the grip, the Cryosuit broke her arm and she passed out. 2 down.

During Potts' ill-fated charge, Charlie touched down on the deck and engaged Redd with his SMG, who went for cover in the south-west bedroom. Brody arrived in the middle of the arm-breaking and sprinted across the room to tackle Black Eyes. He successfully pinned her against the heated stove top and they began a prolonged struggle for dominance. Carver critically failed their entry and knocked themselves out against the living room furniture. 3 down.

Aside: I majorly fucked up with Carver. It took way too long for them to get into combat (I should have sent in 2 PCs/turn instead of 1), and when they did arrive they immediately got knocked out and subsequently killed. I'm very anti-roll-fudging in general, but in this case I'd already kept them sidelined for way too long and should have picked a different critical hit result or skipped that roll entirely. Sorry Ryan!

Redd moved to flank Charlie by climbing out the bedroom window and crossing the southern "Green Roof" to get to the deck. She sprayed Charlie's position behind the couch with bullets but failed to do more than alert him to her presence. Charlie decided to break out the grenades and lobbed one out on the deck, obliterating Redd but also catching Carver in the blast radius. Even taking only half damage because of cover, Carver died in the blast (again, sorry Ryan!)

The final kidnapper, Klaus, roused himself from a mid-day nap and cocked his shotgun as he stepped into the living room. Brody concluded his struggle with Black Eyes by bashing her head in with a cast iron pan, then turned to catch a face-full of lead from Klaus's shotgun. 4 down. Charlie tossed another grenade in Klaus's direction but the Cryosuit snatched it out of the air and smothered the blast, destroying itself and decidedly murdering the barely-alive Potts.

Klaus walked through the wreckage and kicked over the sofa which Charlie had pulled over for cover, pumping his chest full of lead. Barely clinging to life, Charlie tossed one last grenade at Klaus's feet as he turned to search for survivors. With that, there were none.


Aside from my guilt about how I mishandled things with Carver, I had a lot of fun with this session. It felt exactly like the kind of massacre that results from shooting your way into a hostage situation without any intel. After facing and mostly surviving paranormal terror after paranormal terror, a few common criminals finally TPK'd this resilient party. After the session, I asked my players for feedback. Some players had a good time with the chaos. They may have died, but at least they took all those bastards with them. Carver's player politely expressed displeasure at being sidelined for the entire game, very understandably. Someone mentioned that it felt like a Tarantino film, which is precisely what I was going for.

Despite using no explicit horror tropes, this scenario dripped with tension. My players got in over their heads very quickly and they knew it. I was concerned that a mundane bounty mission might not hold water compared to supernatural scenarios, but it felt equally intense, terrifying, and Mothership.

My players and I decided to keep the campaign going with a new party. They expressed interest in taking over as the next owners of their spooky ship, which gives us a lot of leeway about who that party might be and under what circumstances they acquired the ship. I'm looking forward it.

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