The Siege of Mersadie Hive: Preparing the Waaaaaagh!

So, another Imperial Fist adventure happened recently after, against all expectations, my previous Fisting partners demanded more. Having mulled over their response to the previous adventure I thought I’d try my hand at preparing something homebrewed to fit the particular needs of the group, to wit:

  1. They needed to feel like their PCs were doing cool shit appropriate to their character concept.
  2. Since all the PCs are Space Marines, this means that as well as stuff suited to their particular strengths, they also needed a chance to kill things. Preferably lots of things.
  3. Since all the PCs are Imperial Fists, the adventure also needs to provide opportunities for player-directed comedy homoeroticism ritualistic religious and military practices which are in no way homoerotic.
  4. As they were very pleased by the new recruits they obtained in the previous adventure, ideally they ought to make another appearance.
  5. Since the group isn’t very invested in taking this campaign super-seriously the adventure should really take a reasonably casual-friendly format, optimised such that I can cut it short if it’s getting a bit old.
  6. Because I’m actually interested in the whole “really, really good at the whole siege thing” aspect of the Imperial Fists, I wanted to try to write a siege-based adventure.

Point 6 was actually the one which helped me solve more or less all the others. Siege-based adventures don’t seem very common in tabletop RPGs, and yet in this case I think it actually caters to our needs quite well. So, here’s a quick rundown on how I prepared my siege, breaking it down by how I tried to make sure each point 1 to 6 was catered to.

Points 1 and 2: Doing Cool Shit and Killing Things

A siege concept is a good way to make sure the Imperial Fists are at centre stage; in-canon they are the Imperium’s most admired experts at siege warfare, to the point where during the Horus Heresy they were responsible for the defence of Terra. In the adventure the PCs are a set of “advisors” sent to provide backup to the Imperial Guard regiment responsible for the defence of a hive-city, a towering megalopolis of millions of Imperial citizens. (Sieges at other hive-cities on-planet and other commitments of Imperial Fist forces explain why only three Marines are sent along.) It’s specified that the point of them being there is as much to boost the morale of the defending forces as it is to provide practical help with the siege, which both reiterates the point that normal humans look up to and idolise Space Marines and gives the players an indication that they can showboat to their heart’s content. To crank this particular aspect of the adventure up to 11 I made the specific Imperial Fist regiment the 1st Auran Infantry under Colonel Darkscourge – in other words, the feral world king from the last adventure and his warrior band, having signed up to the Imperial Guard at the close of the previous session. This not only explains why these particular PCs were chosen for the mission – they’re already heroes to these soldiers – but also lets the players enjoy the benefits of their past achievements a little. (Hopefully it will also make the siege feel a bit more high-stakes: if the Aurans are massacred that’s one of the PCs’ greatest achievements vandalised.)

The siege concept also provides lots of opportunities for ostentatiously killing things, of course. As far as adversaries go, I needed creatures which were diverse enough in their tactics that I could throw a range of different siege-breaking schemes at the players, varied enough in their composition to provide decent adversaries for the PCs to fight, and tend to fight in big hordes large enough to besiege a hive-city. Orks are perfect for this: the big ones make decent opponents for a Space Marine whilst the little ones make reasonable Hordes (and indeed they use horde-based tactics in the wargame) and are reasonable opponents for Imperial Guard to face. As such the battles ought to offer plenty for the PCs to do without expecting them to do absolutely everything – provided, that is, they are able to keep their Imperial Guard comrades in the fight.

Your flexible, all-purpose Marine-smashers.

Points 3 and 4: It Isn’t Gay If Your Boltguns Don’t Touch

Making the Imperial Guard regiment defending the hive the 1st Auran gives me the perfect excuse to reintroduce the raw recruits from the last adventure as fully-fledged Scouts. As well as providing a genuinely useful recon/sniping unit under the PCs’ direct control, this also means that the PCs interactions with the Scouts can provide scope for roleplaying, both in terms of offering up Fisty lols and in terms of proper mentor-protegee interactions.

The way I see it, any recruit who attains the rank of Scout is going to be pretty competent in their own right. They’ve gone through basic training at least to the point where they can be trusted with being given a weapon and put on the battlefield; moreover, the Chapter has already invested some of its precious gene-seed in them, so their trainers must have some expectation that the Scouts will be able to keep themselves alive in a fight. On some level, the process of incorporating all those Space Marine genes is probably going to be like a second puberty for the lads.

The end result is that the Scouts are going to be keen to do their bit in a fight, anxious to prove themselves worthy of the trust the Chapter has placed in them, and generally eager to please. It’s going to be interesting to see how that sits with the protectiveness the PCs felt last adventure. If the Scouts are kept away from risk then they may be physically safe, but are they going to be satisfied with staying back when their beloved mentors are going into mortal danger? On the other hand, if the Scouts are sent into battle and one of them dies, how will the PCs live with themselves? How will the Scouts react to encountering their Auran friends and family again? For that matter, how will the Scouts react to being with their favourite Battle-Brothers again?

“Gotta make the Battle-Brothers proud of me!”

In short, the Scouts are bundles of potential drama packaged in carapace armour and armed with sniper rifles; the challenge for the PCs will be to make best use of the Scouts whilst defusing any drama that arises. To prepare for this aspect of the adventure I made some notes in the form of a handout for the players to enjoy (specifically, a report from their Scout-Sergeant on how their training is going), which helped me put my thoughts in order when it came to each Scout’s different personality and aims and the relationships between the Scouts, with the intent of improvising exactly what goes on with the Scouts depending on the players’ interactions with them.

Point 5: Exit Strategies

The thing about sieges is that often when they fail, they fail for reasons not entirely within the control of the besieged party. For instance, a friendly army can show up and rout the besieging force, or a plague could sweep the enemy forces leaving them with insufficient numbers to keep the city contained. In this case, the PCs are going to be stuck inside the hive with a truly ridiculous number of orks outside and that’s not going to change unless and until the cavalry arrive. I’m not going into too many details right now about what I’ve got planned for that since the adventure is ongoing, but suffice to say there’s a number of ways I could bring the adventure to a sudden close.

This should put a quick end to any scenario.

This raises an advantage and a disadvantage of the siege format. The advantage is that if the group wants to cut the adventure short then you can – just have the cavalry show up and presto, mission accomplished. The disadvantage is that prolonged helplessness is not a fun, interesting, or useful feeling for the players to have in a game about being kickass Space Marines. At the very least, as well as thinking up ways to end the siege I also need to think about ways the players’ actions can affect the progress of the siege. The advantage of hive-cities, of course, is that they are actually quite big, so the orks can potentially conquer a lot of ground without entirely breaking the defenders’ ability to retaliate and hold the line. So, the outcome of the siege isn’t a binary win/lose situation: between the orks killing everyone and utterly overrunning the hive-city and the orks being stopped at the gates and entirely failing to accomplish anything there are a plethora of different possible outcomes. How much of the hive-city is trashed? How many of the civilian population, the Planetary Defence Force and the Imperial Guard survived? What does the future hold for the hive-city? Once you start thinking about that angle, it becomes clear that there’s actually a lot the players can accomplish during the siege without them necessarily being expected to actually eliminate the besieging forces personally.

Point 6: Making the Siege Interesting

I’m fairly sure this group won’t be thrilled with an adventure which consists solely of constant combat encounters with orks, so I need to make sure that there’s plenty of stuff going on aside from that for the PCs to get involved with. Fortunately, hive-cities in the 40K universe tend to be bustling places with a lot going on – but clearly, I need to flesh out the hive city so that the players aren’t just defending some bland hive but a location which is interesting in its own right even before you add tons of greenskins. The hive-city needs a personality, and the planet it’s on shouldn’t be an anonymous dirtball either.

After some brainstorming, I came up with the idea of a planet dominated by massive commercial interests of the sort we are occasionally assured exist in the 40K setting but don’t get much airtime in the wargame; a balkanised planet where the various hive-cities are under the sway of powerful corporate feudal overlords whose executives are the aristocracy of the planet: they have titles like “Chief Executive Monarch” and “Duchess of Accounts” and their departments are literally their personal fiefdoms. The particular hive world the PCs are sent to should reflect the particular interests of the corporation in question: in this case, they’re a terraforming corporation so the upper hab levels consist of massive domed environments showcasing the ecosystems of the various pleasure-worlds the corporation has been involved in terraforming over the years. Naturally, there should be an Adeptus Mechanicus presence in the hive to provide the technology for this process – which means a fair number of Magos Biologis, which the PCs may or may not choose to make use of, but not many tech-priests with expertise in manufacturing, say, weapons of mass destruction or battle-ready vehicles.

To throw the cat amongst the pigeons, let’s have there be some tension between the Imperial Guard and the Planetary Defence Force: so far, the planetary governor (a retired Imperial Guard Brigadier who’s very much in the pocket of the local corporations) has had the Imperial Fists out tackling the ork invasion, the Imperial Guard looking to the overall defence of the hive cities in order to keep them busy, and the PDF looking mainly after the corporate elite’s personal domains and interests, with a high priority being placed on ensuring the executives’ personal safety and comfort over all over concerns. This was fair enough earlier on, when the Fists had the orks more or less contained, but now with ork Meks jamming vox communication (conveniently eliminating any need for me to develop the other corporations on the planet in any significant detail) and a new rok having made planetfall outside of the cordon the Fists have set up, that situation isn’t tenable any more: the hive-cities are about to be besieged, and everyone is going to have to muck in. Luckily, the Imperial Guard high command for the system has finally made it on-world and had the planetary governor shot, and now they’ve requested that the Fists send military advisors to each of the threatened hives in order to help them brace for the coming storm.

And what, pray tell, do these chaps think about all this?

So, we have a grumpy Imperial Guard, a local elite who aren’t necessarily going to be very co-operative and will want to stay far away from hard work and ouchies, all the psychotic institutions you expect of the Imperium, an underhive bustling with criminal activity (hive cities are legally required to have these, no exceptions), a whole bunch of shiny habitat domes and stuff I’m keeping secret for now. I think I’ve got the interesting NPC factions/interesting locations angle sorted for now.

Next up: the first session…

3 thoughts on “The Siege of Mersadie Hive: Preparing the Waaaaaagh!

  1. Pingback: The Siege of Mersadie Hive: Great Shot, Scout, That Was One In 10,000! « Refereeing and Reflection

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