It had been about half a year, which meant it was time for us to Fist again (like we did last summer). Having run an interim adventure so that the player characters were actually of a level appropriate to the campaign, I ran the gang though the next episode of The Emperor Protects, entitled A Stony Sleep. Session logs are up here, Dan’s thoughts are here and here, Shimmin’s thoughts are here, here and here, my thoughts are immediately below. (Spoilers ahead.)
As is usually the case with prewritten adventures, I had to change a lot on the fly. That, in itself, I don’t hold against A Stony Sleep – no published adventure written will ever be able to take into account the specific circumstances of your home campaign, or the sheer range of potential actions your players might follow, after all. For the first two thirds or so of the mission, up to the point where they reached the underwater city, the major changes were as follows:
- Truncating and streamlining the process of investigation and island-hopping smackdowns of Reborn cultists, since we basically do Deathwatch in short bursts every few months or so and therefore keeping things short and snappy is a priority. This is a change I imposed myself.
- Having Inquisitor Quist not die early on. This is a change the players brought about by virtue of taking their stated goal of protecting Quist seriously and showing basic common sense.
To be fair to the adventure, it does provide suggestions on what to do if Quist survives. (I had her handling most of the investigative stuff for the PCs in the background.) On the other hand, it seems to think her survival is much more unlikely than it actually is, when all it takes to ensure is for one of the PCs to say “Hold up, we should check out that box before you get near it ma’am”. In addition, there’s a weird red herring involved here where Quist isn’t wearing gloves (why?) whilst literally everyone else in the room is (double why???), which I think is meant to prompt trigger-happy groups to come to the conclusion that the assassination attempt was actually down to the local Imperial commander and his men (who are genuinely innocent) and gun them down, complicating matters massively. This setup, however, makes the Alpha Legion’s plan seem ludicrous, since it requires that everyone else who handles the box happens to be wearing gloves, and I don’t see how the Alpha Legion could have counted on that.
The major change I made, though, was allowing the PCs to destroy the tomb-city’s power core by simply shooting at it. This flies in the face of the module, where the presented solution to destroying the power core is “let any plausible-sounding plan the players cook up work provided they make a suitable roll, otherwise rule that that plan doesn’t work and make them come up with a new approach. Oh, and simply shooting the thing never works.”
The problem I have with this approach is that the module throws out this suggestion but doesn’t build in much in the way of features which the players can latch onto in order to actually come up with these schemes. More or less all the examples given would never be arrived at by the players simply working from the information presented in the module; to jump to the conclusions in question, one of two things would have to happen:
- The referee would have to provide additional information. For the referee to just add this information into the descriptions would seem to steer the players towards a particular solution or solutions, which seems to be against the spirit of the way this part of the adventure is written. Alternatively, I guess the referee might come up with something in response to a successful Tech Use or Forbidden Lore (Xenos) roll, but again, the choice of what information to give in response to the skill roll would seem to be steering.
- The players would have to spontaneously come up with some appropriate technobabble and put it into effect. In some games this would even be appropriate, but I don’t think Deathwatch is one of them – like the other Warhammer 40,000 RPGs, it’s a fairly traditional affair where players typically don’t get to narratively wish solutions into existence and the referee tends to have authorial control over the world and scenario.
If I had to guess what A Stony Sleep is driving at with this plot point, it’d probably be the latter, but expecting players who’ve been approaching a game with one set of play assumptions – play assumptions the module has itself been following up to this point – and then, without warning, suddenly switch to a different approach to play seems bizarre, and I don’t know how players are expected to cotton on to this. Possibly they’re meant to start resorting to oblique solutions after trying shooting and finding it doesn’t work, but this feels like a frustrating, time-wastey approach to me. There’s a time and a place for fashionable storygamey stuff like this, and it’s in a fashionable storygame; material like Deathwatch requires that the referee really be given much clearer direction on how shutting down the power core works, and information to give to the players which can convey this.