For the last three gaming sessions, we’ve been fighting in an abandoned gas station against some marauders. A 5 VS 5 fight. Maybe there’s gas in the tanks?! Spoiler: No, there isn’t.
Let me back up. Since the last SitRep after having salvaged a down helicopter crash site it was time to leave the city of Kepno; it was getting violently crowded. Jakob “Skull Guy” joined the group, a Polish green soldier following the Polish doctor Janusz, a PC.
The group spent the morning on the move west to the town of Sycow. They avoided a roadside bomb. They made camp early and while the Swede slept to make up for keeping last night’s watch, the American mechanic and the spook found a janky pickup truck with about a half tank of fuel. They hit the road early the next day. Fearing a soviet unit was still around a section of road they needed to pass through they gunned the pickup for all it was worth and managed to speed by the watch patrol before that unit could engage!! Following the highway north, they stopped at an empty, damaged roadside gas station, hoping there might be fuel left. Checking things out cautiously and leaving the pickup truck a ways off, they approach the station on foot…right into a trap!!
There are 52 event cards. One is drawn every shift, for the most part. I’ll pre-draw 3 to 6 cards if I know we’re going to be on the move and I’ll use them where they make sense fictional but I don’t swap them out, only the order they appear! The encounter for the gas station was the last card I had and it fit perfectly as the players took the highway north, free of the Russian unit it felt like it was all clear. The conversation about whether to stop or not was fantastic to watch play out at both the player interests and character levels.
For three game sessions, about two-and-a-half hours per session average, we dug into the combat rules for Twilight: 2000. Learning as we played it out. I know that sounds awful, I promise you it was intensely engaging, fun, and worth the commitment. It was a process of iteration, those early combat rounds had mistakes. By the time the combat was over, we had a nice groove going and understood the procedures. It’s crunchy for sure, but I cannot stress how engaging it is, even if it is not your turn! Combat is lethal if you do not have a plan and don’t work with your other players. Players will break or lose characters.
After 8 rounds of shooting, ducking, grenades. Three sessions of working it all out. Justin, our CIA spook, recognized one of the marauders as an American soldier and yelled out to him. This (and a successful persuade check) began a series of de-escalation moves that turned into a parley. Turns out “Warder” and his mixed band of marauders are tracking a Soviet force that has prisoners, one is Warder’s girlfriend. The PCs have seen this Soviet group a week ago east. Warder trades information about what’s happening up north for what the PCs saw coming from the east. Warder is on a mission to get his girlfriend back. The players, driven by their various moral codes and big dreams, break into a character and player discussion. Do they team up with this Warder guy to rescue those Polish prisoners? or continue north to some big skirmish happening? I cannot do that conversation justice. It flowed between the players talking about what their interests were and role-playing their character’s positions. A very nice dance between these “stances”. They reached a consensus through some player-driven compromises. They would go north.
Here I exercised some GM Lifting. The gas station firefight was an event card I drew. When it became a conversation I used the player’s moral codes and big dreams to scaffold up a topic. Our Polish doctor is deeply into saving the Polish people and kicking out the foreigners. The Swede wants to go home. The CIA spook has secrets and the American mechanic wants to re-build. Plenty of stuff here to play off and create a problem with. Warder is my agent of chaos then, he never asks anything of the PCs. Once presented the information, they did all the rest.
That firefight, however, cost them a day of sitting tight at the gas station to patch up, recover stress, sleep, hypothermia (yeah baby, yeah!). Even when they hit the road, Janusz, the Polish doc was still patching up folks in the truck. I fucking love this game. Dammit, it’s good at what it does. Heading north on a highway they drive by an overgrown, probably abandoned farmstead -they were not interested and low on gas. They navigate around a crater-pocked section of the road and then, after some discussion, they hide from a squad of American soldiers marching south on the highway. As Justin’s winning argument put it: “If we link up with them, THEY will be in charge.”
Those event cards are like Tarot cards. These were three random cards I pulled and wove into the travel narrative. Mechanics dictated what enagement options were available. I try to entice them to engage, especially if I know they have a "plan". But it sounds like some shit is happening up north don’t it! The cards seem say so!
As we IRL figure out how to engage gaming with people. I have the urge to run Twilight: 2000 as a West Marches thing for my local game store. A weekend thing, folk just drop in and play. I just need to figure out how that works, what does it look like.