So yesterday we continued my siege-based Deathwatch adventure which we kicked off in October, and I pulled a mild bait-and-switch on my players which actually worked out quite well. I was fairly sure they wouldn’t bother dragging the Scouts along with them on their trip down to the Underhive to inspire/bully the local gangs into helping out against the Orks because, let’s face it, three Space Marines versus the masses of the Underhive is just no contest even before you add the Scouts to the equation. Odds were, they were either going to leave them behind or send them out to do actual Scouting (an option I made sure they were aware of so they could have a reasonable choice of what to do with the Scouts).
The switcheroo was this: the Underhive jaunt was pure flavour and frolics, with no serious challenges facing the PCs. The actual challenges of the session would come in wherever the Scouts happened to be, with the players getting a chance to play the Scouts throughout the incident in question. If they sent the Scouts out on a recon mission, they’d get a chance to take down an important Ork facility, at the cost of not being onhand to take immediate action in a crisis occurring in the upper hive. If they kept the Scouts onsite, the Scouts would have a chance to perhaps see and intervene in something someone doesn’t want them to see and intervene in, at the cost of a nasty surprise showing up once the siege starts thanks to the Orks being able to build their airfield unhampered. This wasn’t a zero-sum game – one option was more optimal than the others, I’ll wait until the adventure is over to reveal which but suffice to say that the optimal choice is one which the players could naturally be expected to hit at given the knowledge available to them. (Had the players decided to take the Scouts with them, I’d have rolled with it but it’d have been a very suboptimal choice on their part because it’d be a just plain wasteful and redundant use of their resources, which as it turned out they recognised.)
As it went, the players sent the Scouts out on a scouting mission, which actually turned out to be amazingly successful. The Warhammer 40,000 RPGs don’t really do critical failure (though the “degrees of success” mechanic kind of implies you can have degrees of failure too), but I think it’s a reasonable houserule to have critical failures happen to the Orks because the Orks are an unpredictable rabble who tend to be subject to extreme twists of fate – the game mechanics for the Shokk Attak Gun are proof of that. In this case, the Orks rolled two “100s” in rapid succession – once in seeing how the Mekboy’s Kustom Force Field operated, which I ruled led to the field exploding because Ork technology should randomly explode once in a while, and then another 100 when it came to the Gretchen-Herders trying to keep the masses of gretchen under control. I’m happy to let players have the benefit of their own good luck when it’s a 1 in 10000 chance so they were able to completely disrupt the building of the airfield and get away without the Orks ever realising they were there.
Of course, just because the Underhive side of the adventure was pure flavour doesn’t mean we couldn’t have fun with it. I’d seeded the Underhive with some things I thought it would be fun to encounter (two orphans willing to give up their only worldly goods to help the war effort thanks to the propaganda convincing them that “if the nobblty are making these sacrifices, why can’t we?”, a horde of Beastmen Redemptionists, out to kill all the unworthy before killing themselves for their wretchedness in the eyes of the Emperor, and the Pirates of Piss Ocean, a gang of buccaneers who sail on an enormous disused reservoir which was the relic of an abandoned attempt to get proper sewage and clean water arrangements in the Underhive by a more tolerant administration of long ago – who in the end didn’t get to appear onstage because I decided to wrap the session up comparatively early after the Scouts’ amazing success). But for the most part, the sequence of events was entirely random, with the Underhive gangs themselves being generated on the spot by rolls on my homebrewed Underhive Gang Generator.
Table 1: Roll 1D20 to determine gang aesthetic.
- Smartly dressed
Table 2: Roll 1D12 to determine activity gang is primarily known for.
- Drug dealers
- Black marketeers
- Knife fighters
- Protection racketeers
My basic plan for the session was to generate a few major gangs to be the “superpowers” of the Underhive from the list, and then generate minor gangs (all of whom would have their own relationships with the major gangs) as the session went along, and see how long it took the players to grind down the Underhive’s resistance taking into account their actions and my top secret multiple-tracker Hive morale system. As it turned out, it didn’t take much intimidation at all for the major gangs to quickly get together and offer their services in defending the Underhive to the Marines with the only concession requested being that they weren’t inducted en mass into the Planetary Defence Force, because (not unreasonably) they don’t completely trust the PDF to demobilise them and let them go home in a hurry once the siege is over.
All told, this was a comparatively easy session for the players, but it was intended as such because it’s the calm before the storm. They’ve barely got enough time to get their new recruits in order before the Green Tide hits…
- Randomly generated Underhive gangs are the best gangs.
- 1 in 10000 chances are the dice’s way of telling you to let something go very right or very wrong from the players.
- Even Space Marines are suckers for big weepy orphan eyes.