About 3 weeks ago, when I realized that we would not have the necessary number of players for our usual D&D session, I looked into Critical Hits’ review bin and found one of the games I long wanted to try, 3:16 Carnage among the Stars written by Gregor Hutton.
I sent out feelers for the game and got 4 willing participants: Math and Yan, my longest standing players, stepped forward as volunteers.
Math: As long as there’s wine and a chair, I’ll play anything.
Quick, prep the game, they’ll be there in 10 minutes!
To say that 3:16 little prep is like saying that rain is wet. With the help of a few charts to pick planet names, planetary environments, alien appearances, alien powers and various NPC names, the GM just needs to add a few creative sparks to create a 2-3 hour long adventure.
Here’s how I did it:
I looked at the alien types and saw “Corrupted Trooper”, defined in the rules as “renegade troopers that must be all killed”, then over the power list, I saw “Wounds resistant” which allows the ‘aliens’ to ignore wounds in a combat round (provided the GM pays with some of his pool of alien “threat tokens” each time)… finally one of the planetary environments was “Toxic Atmosphere”.
Of course these choices (our of many many more) popped up because earlier in the day people had been pointing me toward the Left 4:16 Dead hack of 3:16.
All this started something brewing in me brain!
The 3rd army recently attacked a planet where lifeforms with very advanced nano-tech triggered a Scorched Earth defense before dying out. A planet-wide strike release of Nano-bots, over-saturating the Terra-like atmosphere attacked all DNA-based lifeforms, took over their neural functions and turned the invaders into near-mindless, tough to kill monsters hungering for the flesh of their uninfected kind.
Of course, the army command could not afford to let the secret of their botched mission out to Terra, nor could they inform the grunts… so before they nuked the whole planet, they sent one last mission to try to isolate the “Zomvirus”, study it and leave all grunts involved in the mission planet-side to roast in radioactive fire.
The first mission would be to capture the North Pole base, where the concentration of corrupted troopers was supposedly lowest.
Length of prep? 10 minutes.
I spent a few minutes explaining the core rules and all players made PCs.
Here’s what they created (Rank & Name, Reputation, Player):
- Sarge Beloved, Smartass, played by The Maze.
- Corporal Vyper, Ice Cold, played by Vyper (Real name Steph, but not our usual Steph)
- Trooper Will “I like all Positions”, Ruthless, played by Yan
- Trooper Frederico Mayweather, Bravado, played by Math
Character creation, 15 minutes, including pouring some wine and re-explaining a few concepts.
Dropships leave in 5, get your ass in gear!
Structure of play usually goes as such:
- Briefing (GM controlled)
- Lead to 1st Encounter (GM controlled)
- 1st Encounter (Group Narrative)
- 3-6 more encounters (Group Narrative)
- De-briefing/Leveling up (GM controlled, Player choices)
One of the reasons why prepping is so short is that the game discourages GMs from planning too far ahead to prevent railroading. The game’s fun does not come from following a well crafted plot (this is a game about mindlessly killing aliens) or the combat mechanics (at least not the tactical aspects of them) but rather the way players spontaneous use military and Space Marine tropes and clichés to build a story that ends up grabbing everyone’s attention.
Yes, this is Indie RPG talk, but it worked. For a good chunk of the evening, even the rules crunch addicts of our group were enchanted with the concept and we enjoyed it a lot.
Playing the role of an uncaring lieutenant, I briefed the group on a mission about rebel troopers from the 4th having taken over a previously cleaned world. Their mission was dead simple: Drop near the North Pole, recapture the base there and progress to kill each and every rebel.
Math (lisping heavily): Oh man, I can’t wait kill all thoshe fucking traitorsh!
Man, we had barely started hitting the first bottle of wine that Math was already deep in character.
Will: Hey Frederico!
Math: It’s not “Frederico” It”s “Fheyderico”
Will: Hum, Fheyderico”
Will: That’s what I just said!
If it don’t talk, Shoot it!
The players instantly got the whole ” troopers are Zombies” shtick and played along. The first 2 fights were mostly us getting used to the whole combat system and were dispatched quite rapidly. The first one was about the ‘Corrupted Troopers” charging the squad and dismembering a few NPCs before the PCs figured out the difference between guns and grenades. During the second scene, where the PCs were taking over a base filled with ranged-weapons armed Zombies, Vyper used one of his Flashbacks to “Ambush the Ambushers” and win the whole fight.
The high point of the evening (which also inadvertently triggered that game’s downfall after) was shortly after Vyper left for the night.
Maze: Hey, I know, what if Vyper got infected and we had to kill him? Then we’d load him in a sealed suit and send him back to the ship!
Others chimed in and they more or less created the adventure’s “end” scene:
Some time after the debriefing, Vyper’s motionless body is seen lying naked on a morgue table, waiting to be incinerated and chucked in space… As the Camera slowly pans to his ashen restful face, he opens his eyes!
Fade to black.
Now with my usual post-game hindsight, I realize that I should have gone with making “fight zombies on the ship” the game’s next scene and go from there. That’s how the game was designed to go, players are expected to direct where the action goes from the 1st mission onwards and what they came up with was truly awesome.
Instead, by classic gamemaster reflex, I had already decided to push forward with the plot I had in mind about tracking the nano/bio lab in planet’s capital and fighting 2 more waves of zombies to get to it.
Understandably, as we played the next 2 scene, a certain ennui set in in regards to combat and we ended up fast forwarding the final fight downtown around the ruins of the Nano-lab with another player taking a Flashback and putting an end to it all.
Aside: If you intend to play 3:16 as a one-shot, I suggest not giving PCs any ‘Strength” flashback or planning more scenes that there are players to avoid each fight being dodged using them.
After playing the game, Yan and I felt somewhat unsatisfied about the experience. He wanted more tactical options and I felt that the later combat encounters and story felt flat. In hindsight, going over the whole experience and focusing on the period where we were in the game’s ‘zone’, we all agreed it was tons of fun and that we would give the game another try to see how it stacks up in campaign mode.
So stay tuned for more adventures of the 3:16 troopers who were mysteriously found to be immune to the “Nano-virus” but, by a freakish accident of fate and paperwork (both under the portfolio of the same Goddess BTW), were reassigned to duty instead of being quietly executed in the massive cover up that followed the mission and its consequences.