Session report from Drylands

Again this is pulled from notes years and years ago, specifically 2007-10-22, and captures some details of one of my early Drylands sessions with a friend. I’m always grateful to my various dedicated friends who will try my games. We played this campaign off-and-on for about 3 months before it sort of faded away.

Session Report


His character, who tended towards melee, had been graduated from medical school in Rapid City, SD, and worked at a lucrative job there for a few years (his age was 30-something). When the economy started to fail and the fabric of the USA unravel, he decided to try to meet up with his parents, who had moved to Canada. So the short term goal is to trek to Sioux Falls, SD, and hopefully catch a train northwards, to a larger city that may even have planes still flying.

Right now I started him outside of Rapid City, in a little town called Scenic, SD. I just sketched up a map for the location, but now that I looked it up I realize I wasn’t far off in the size and layout of the place. I put in a home area, a parking lot with a few horses and one or two cars, a Walmart that had been converted into the mayor’s office, a hovel tent camp in another parking lot, a strip mall and boat store.

He started in the hovel camp, the idea being he took shelter when a huge duststorm rolled in. He had been taking subhighway 44, since I90 heading west out of Rapid City was still jammed with cars trying to flee during the initial days. A younger doctor aid who had assisted him in his old job came along too (named Ed Downs), safety in numbers and all that. I started his character (named Thaddeus) off with a bolt action pistol, a crossbow, a spear, and a dagger. Then the usual mix of armor, a few tins of beef stew, and we were set to roleplay the future.

After making a little money and talking to the locals by healing up folks inside the “sick tent” of the hovel camp, he was set to head out of the city. One of the people he healed (a one armed war vet who’s head had been hit with an axe) was named Wyatt, and said having a doctor along his next trip would be handy.
apocalypse-kitWith some deliberation and negotiation, Thaddeus decided it was worth the slight detour to be able to get ahead quickly (Wyatt had an old van). The plan was to all drive down to Rockyford, inside the Indian reserve (which had violently expanded it’s territory). Wyatt was running a few things down there (his previous “paycheck” came from 80 pounds of cigarettes delivered to Rapid City), and after Thaddeus helped any wounded, Wyatt agreed to drive him to Cedar Butte, a town west of the Indian reserve.

Wyatt is in good standing with the Indians, and as I mentioned has a vehicle, so the detour should speed things up. I believe my player had plans to cut back onto the Interstate at that point.

The van Wyatt drives had taken some damage when it was rolled by a roadblock (and ended in his ear being cut off by the axe, a wound which Thaddeus healed). So they waited until a friend showed up with a new tire, a few engine parts, and tools to punch the roof back out. His vehicle is converted pretty heavily for the road, with a cargo area, slit windows in a few key locations, a gunner chair, a fold down bunk, etc.


They made it about 75% of the way to Rockyford without incident. But then they saw skidmarks on the road, and a car that was smoking / burning in the ditch, with 2 unconscious passengers. The road cut between hills on the left, and trees on the right. As they crept forward they could clearly see a ditch had been cut in the middle of the road, wide enough to pop the leading tires of most cars. Logically the ditched car had skidded to avoid that fate.

Ed and Thaddeus got out of the vehicle, with Wyatt covering their left side. After pulling the people out of the car, Ed hunkered down behind the door on the left side of the car, with the intent that enemies would come at them from the forest. Thaddeus went around the right side, and was creeping up to the engine when they noticed movement in the forest.

With their eyes trained on the clump of trees, the gunfire from the hills came as a surprise. Two bandit looking fellows were crouched behind trees and rocks and had shot at Wyatt (who was leaning out the van window with an AK-47).

Ed took a chest shot as well, as the opened door didn’t cover him from the left. He ended up ducking back into the vehicle, crouching and standing on and off to fire back at the attackers. Wyatt edged the van into a better position, while Thaddeus ran towards the trees to try to flank the gunners (and see what the movement in the forest was).

The shootout continued, with Wyatt landing a killer blow on the nearest bandit (who wasn’t in cover from Wyatt’s position). Thaddeus finally reached the trees, and saw that a feral dog had been chained into the center. The ambush had been set up so survivors of hitting the ditch would see movement in the trees, and focus on that, thereby being surprised by the attackers on the hill.

After a few more shots back and forth with the remaining bandit (who was really dug in between the rocks), Wyatt edged the van forward enough to get a clear shot. At this point the bandit made a running leap onto the top of the van. Thaddeus left the dog alone for the moment and made progress along the bank of the road. Wyatt and the bandit got into a shooting up / down through the van roof firefight.

The modifiers were really low to hit, and even with the van roof reducing damage by 1/2, Wyatt managed to cripple the bandit’s legs, with Thaddeus blowing off an arm. The one armed bandit had to hang on for his life as Wyatt gunned the engine then slammed on the brakes. After an amazing show of strength, the bandit held on for the first start/stop of the vehicle. He lost his grip when the van went into reverse suddenly. Finally the stress of his wounds and the painful fall from the van knocked the last bandit unconcious.

After some talk, they put the bandit out of his misery.

Then they hooked up the ditched car, bandaged up the passengers, took the dog (who became friendly and docile once he was off the chain), and rolled into Rockyford.
After a quick restock and resupply (a new lightweight spear and some ammo for the BM-59 rifles the bandits had), they headed to the location Wyatt had to drop his cargo at.

The location was a run down house, and the wounded were 2 people (one had taken 3 bullets, the other a shot in the shoulder). Thaddeus didn’t have much luck helping them, even with his 50% Quality Doctor Bag. Wyatt told them he had some business to take care of, and to come back at 1am when they’d head back out. It was almost 1am in the real world, so we called it a night.

Rules Review Afterwards

I also wrote a bunch of notes after this first game, which are similarly interesting to see how they eventually applied to the Drylands rules:


The biggest change was moving from a hex approach to inches for range and movement. He had suggested it, and it sort of struck me as “Well, I don’t even know why I am sticking to hexes”. I guess it was a hold over from making the Horizon ruleset all those years ago. Sort of a “if there are hexes on the board, use them” mentality.
A few minor Talent and Technique tweaks, some changes to attacker and defender modifiers (as the range increment was giving impossibly high rolls to the defender).
I also think I need to get some blank statlines so I can quickly fill in scaled encounters. Otherwise, the rules worked very well. It was easy to adapt skill checks to anything from foot infections to gunshot wounds to jumping on top of a moving vehicle. The action point system also seemed good. For example in the firefight Ed wanted to open the car door, get in, pull the passed out driver across him to the other seat, slam the door, and crouch behind it. With a phased or turn based system, this would be rather hard, but with action points it was easy.
Overland travel scale needed to be tweaked back, since it would be a simple 1 day drive to Sioux Falls from Rapid City. Instead we thought people would drive slower to conserve gas, there would be rubble on the roads, etc. so the average speed would be slower. Even a true 30 mile march per day on the overland map would make a 10 day journey to Sioux Falls. I might need to start brainstorming the rest of America, which gives us tons of room to play but also breaks from the Dakota Belt area I had originally intended to be the game world.

Initiative also worked well, including adding new combatants (the feral dog when it was discovered). Firing was realistic, but it’s hard to strike a compromise between game balance and realism. For example, if a target has surprise, is a few range increments away, is crouched in hard cover, it is almost impossible to hit him with anything but rank 7 Awareness. But technically, this makes sense, as does basically autohitting a person who is in the open and close by. I also wonder if hitpoints in limbs are a little too low, or if it’s just because combat is lethal at lower levels. I mean if you get hit in the leg, it’s sheer luck if it isn’t reduced to 0 hitpoints. Maybe I need to revamp the level system to focus more on Talents and Techniques, instead of bonus hitpoints. This always comes back to the issue of “I can’t buy a Gun +1”, so equipment doesn’t get better at the same rate as the player. And finally I worry how the system will scale to higher skill and hitpoints.
So besides some minor tweaks and questions about a few core mechanisms, I’m happy with the ruleset. It is specific enough to cover pretty much every situation we wanted this first game, without being too generic so that everything is a bland “Roll D8”.

I’ve been penciling in changes to the rules, and will eventually write up a changelog and modify the documents, and release Drylands 1.1. Of course I might need to buy a printer to get all the changes locally.

For helping me brainstorm, I’ve been trying to find a catalog list of standard consumer items. Mainly for loot from dead foes or empty houses, instead of “Uh there is a table and uh the guy drops a gun”. It’d be cool if I could throw in a sleeping bag, some climbing gear, etc. Just stuff that normally doesn’t come to mind but would still be useful from an inventory point of view. Another list I would like is a car list. As it stands I tend to say “And there is a 4×4 truck. And uh a 2 door car…and a van”. I don’t want super specific stuff, but even the “leading” cars in each class would be handy. Alternatively I’m considering printing off the Vehicle Guide from Car Wars, and just using their fictional cars (since they come with images as well). Otherwise I have already researched and created the common armor material list, and I use an existing Twilight 2000 book for a guide on those (even if I still have to make up the stats on the spot, it’s handy to have a reference besides “Um, AK-47 and um…um…desert eagle pistol”). Kind of funny since I bought that book…um…9 or 10 years ago, and back then it was just for the neat pictures of guns. So maybe I’ll buy the D20 Modern weapons book, instead of just using their weapons gallery.

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