[3:16 @ GenCon] 4 Days, 6 Games

edited August 2008 in Actual Play
I ran five games of 3:16 Carnage Amongst The Stars at GenCon, and played in a sixth.

Doing APs for all of that would be way too much trouble. So, instead, I'm going to talk about the whole experience and drop in some details here and there. I'll also outline a few tips and tricks I developed for running the game.

First: Why Did You Do This?
Ben Robbins ran 3:16 at GoPlay NW Jr. and I had so much fun in his games, I fell in love with 3:16. The ultra-fast startup time, the easy buy-in, the surprisingly deep themes and premise -- all added up to a knockout game. I knew I wanted to have something in my GenCon bag that I could run at a moment's notice, and 3:16 fit the bill perfectly. I also packed In A Wicked Age, Poison'd, and my quick-play D&D4 materials -- not realizing I would not need any of them.

Who Played?
I had amazing players! I'll record their names for the record here. Sadly, I didn't have my notebook handy for session three, so those people are not represented. If you were in that game (the planet of gas-cloud aliens), speak up!

Squad 19A (The Fuckin' Deaths Heads): Matt Wilson, John Stavrapolous, Tony Dowler, Seif.

Squad 27V (Murphy's Boys): Jason Morningstar, Eero Tuovinen, Tony Dowler, Alexander Newman, Adam Riemenschneider, Matt Snyder, Luke Crane, Brandon Amancio, Paul Czege. People dropped in and out of this game, thus the large number of players.

Third Session: ??? Jonas? Crazy flame-gun guy? I need your names!

Squad 801 (The Blood Demons): Scott Szabo, Aaron Sapp, Patrick Rollens, Andy Hirth, Seth Blevins, Rachel Renier.

Squad 4:3:Able (Criner's Commandos): Lance Allen, Julia Ellingboe, Brandon Amancio, Steve Segedy, Matt Wilson, Matt Machell.

Squad 17A (The Hell Punchers): Shannon East, Matt Wilson, Markku Tuovinen, Gregor Hutton, Me (GM: Paul Riddle). And then a second planet with Adam Riemenschneider and Paul as players and Gregor as GM.

Players! Jump in with your own thoughts, anecdotes, threats, etc.


  • edited August 2008
    Getting Started
    It started with an impromptu game at one of the banquet tables behind the Forge booth. I was standing around chatting with Matt Wilson about 3:16 and suddenly we're like, "Well... let's play it, then." We rounded up John, Seif, and Tony with no trouble and got down to it.

    (I should confess here that I had not really read the book at this point. I knew how to play the game by playing in Ben's games. Still, I was utterly confident that I could bring the heat as a 3:16 GM. The game just clicked with me that way.)

    There's a thing that happens when you pitch 3:16 and start playing. You go, "You're a trooper. Your job is to exterminate all life in the universe." And people go, "What?!" and give you a funny look. You just stare back at them expectantly and they ponder it and go, "Okay then." And you're off. So long, moral ambiguity! Little do they know, it will be back again in short order.

    (Some people skip the "What?!" part and go straight to "Okay then." If they are smiling in a fun way, it's a good thing. If their eyes are glittering with bloodlust, you're on your own.)

    At the very last second before the mission briefing, I decided to run the same planet Ben started with when I played (Narcissus) -- as a kind of homage to him. Instead of doing the exact same mission, though, I decided to do a parallel story about a different squad on the same planet, doing a secret black-ops thing on the side. I didn't tell the players any of this, I just enjoyed the parallel story thing as my personal bit of fun. That proved to be a good decision, and I followed through on the parallel mission idea for all the games at the con.

    The GM-as-character and stealing from Lacuna
    There was some table-talk as we got set up to make characters and I was suddenly inspired to start barking at the players as if I was some kind of asshole officer. "Shut your holes and listen up! I'm only going to say this once! Do you have a problem with that, trooper?" John S. immediately barked back, "No problem here, sir!" and it was on. "That is what I like to hear, trooper!"

    Everyone was smiling and getting into the groove. We were playing the game, in fact, before character creation. I played in an excellent Lacuna game run by Carl Rigney a few weeks before, and I think a bit of that "GM as Control" thing was still fresh in my mind as I took on the role of Lt. Eames.

    Some key phrases for the asshole Lieutenant, if you need them:
    "Only your mama cares what you think, trooper, and your mama is not here."
    "If the Expeditionary Forces require you to have an opinion, trooper, one will be issued to you."
    "You will follow my instructions to the letter, trooper, or you will discover all the ways that I can be a petty and vengeful man."
    And if they say anything remotely bloodthirsty or militaristic: "That is what I like to hear, trooper!"
  • edited August 2008
    The Conspiracy Appears
    The squad did the black-ops mission (discovered alien tech!) and made it out alive. Everyone had fun, and wanted another mission right away. My mind was blank. No worries! 3:16 has a fast and easy mission generator built right in. So I rolled on the tables and had something ready in no time. As I was about to start the briefing, though, I had a sudden urge to do another planet Ben Robbins ran for me before. The parallel mission thing was fun once, so why not do it again?

    When Ben ran the planet (Daisy) part of the mission had to do with aliens and tech. But I had just done that, so I didn't want to repeat myself. Or did I? Yes, yes I did.

    I ran the same briefing as the first planet, again, word for word. "Gentlemen, you have been selected for a special mission. I know none of you have done a special operation before, so listen up." The players started trading looks. What the hell was this? The Lieutenant stressed every repeated line, and made eye contact with each trooper to make his point. "I know none of you have ever seen non-Terran technology before," (shows holo-image of alien tech recovered on first mission) "But it is vital that this item is recovered intact." It was creepy. The players knew they were involved in some kind of secret thing now. They probably already knew too much. I think some of them began to worry about their future careers at this point.

    Gambling Is Good for Morale
    After the first mission (Narcissus), I did an interstitial scene back on board the Savastopol. The squad was passing another unit in the hallway, and the Sergeant of that squad started giving them shit. "Oh, look! It's the FDH. Don't you boys kill aliens anymore? While we were down in the shit doing our jobs, what were you doing up here? Polishing the LTs latrine, I bet! HAR HAR HAR!" The PCs had been on a secret op, right? The other troopers were told some BS about them staying on the ship. It gets thrown in their face! Now what?

    Someone (Matt W?) started to mouth off about how they were on a secret mission, but John S. (playing the Sarge) shut that down instantly. He backpedaled and lied and completely went along with the cover story. It was wonderful. Then John turned the tables on me.

    "If you guys think you're so bad," he said, "How about a friendly wager on the next planet?" "Sure!" I said. "What's the bet?" John says that the two squads will compete for kills. Best individual killer on each squad against each other. The stakes? "Your combat drug rations," says John. Oh ho ho. "You're on."

    I quickly roll up kills for the NPC squad's best guy. "He'll get 41 on the next planet. That's what one of you has to beat." The players felt that number was a tad high, so I told them to fuck off and grow some balls. Long story short, they did it. The PCs won the bet. So, for the following mission, they all got to have an extra "Drugs" box on their sheet. So, so good. I love that John came up with something so crazy and fun, and that the game is robust enough to handle rough treatment like that without breaking down at all.
  • John, you are a machine with human parts.
  • Posted By: John Harper

    The GM-as-character and stealing from Lacuna
    There was some table-talk as we got set up to make characters and I was suddenly inspired to start barking at the players as if I was some kind of asshole officer. "Shut your holes and listen up! I'm only going to say this once! Do you have a problem with that, trooper?" John S. immediately barked back, "No problem here, sir!" and it was on. "That is what I like to hear, trooper!"
    That is a great idea and one I plan to use! I have a good model for it too - my old D.I. Sgt. Ganzler from my Army days, who was something like a cross between Adolf Hitler and Mickey Mouse...

    Sgt. Ganzler (pleased): That's what I'm talkin' about!
    Sgt. Ganzler (not pleased): You people FAIL because you are not MOTIVATED enough! Now, I will motivate you!" (followed by 50 pushups with gas masks on, down in the barracks basement where it was 100 degrees...)

    Come to think of it, there are a number of personalities I can draw on from way back then, and none of them were very nice people...
  • Trooper Battles, reporting as ordered SIR!

    So I took my own by-the-book tendencies, and dialed them up to 10. Stole the name of one of my former joes who is about as opposite of "by the book" as you can get, slapped it on him, and away I went.

    I think the character concept would have played better with more troopers, as TPR Battles didn't speak to noncoms unless spoken to, or it was necessary, so I did a lot of sitting quietly, looking for opportunities to follow lawful orders and interject militarisms. It was still very fun for me, but I imagine I wasn't as interesting a fellow-player as I would have liked to have been.

    Battles did, basically by accident, give an ultimatum to the dominant, more experienced SGT though.. SGT Criner's methods were very much not by the book, where The SGT played by Matt Machell was more like TPR Battles thought a noncom should be, so after displaying cowardice in battle (used a weakness) Battles told him that if he would defer to Matt's SGT (whose name I, regrettably, forget) he wouldn't recommend him for demotion. I forget if the phrase "suck eggs" was used, or something less polite, and so SGT Criner was put up for demotion, which he managed to get out of, to be promoted after the next mission. I'd almost hoped he'd hold a grudge, but if he did, it did not manifest before GenCon ended for me.
  • John, I had a lot of fun playing in your game. It was my first game at Gencon and a great start to a great con. Thank you! Sir!
  • I'm still going to get that asshole Jones and shove my campaign ribbon down his motherfucking neck.

    -Bennett, from the grave

    P.S. What is this "moral ambiguity" shit all about? It's probably Jones' mom.
  • I spent a Strength to save a Trooper dying on a Ridge. Literally, dying to climb and descend a ridge. I think we all have mountaineer badges now though. I so live in fear of a GM picking a "Moutainous planet" in the future though.
  • edited August 2008
    Lance: Trooper Battles was great! I was sitting right next to you, so I got to really enjoy his quiet ways.

    John: Your sergeant kicked GenCon off with a bang. I love your character's mix of "Suck it up, troopers!" and "These are my guys and no one is going to mess with them!"

    Matt: Your death was completely awesome (in the Graham Walmsley way). I think even Sgt. Jones (the asshole NPC Jones, not Matt Machell's good-guy Jones) might have to salute you for it.

    Gregor: Thank you for saving my ass. I still have ridge-climbing nightmares.
  • Corporal Maggie "Shamrock" O'Malley killed lizard aliens with her bare hands and saved her squadron, by spending a Strength. My flashback was getting in school yard brawl. And it was creepy how easily she got out of having her blood drawn. Creepier still that she won an admirer.

    It became clear that Cpl. O'Malley was too much of a smartass to ever get promoted past Corporal with ease. I really loved how my character's stats backed that up. Hero, yes. Officer material, no.
  • In John's Sevastapol games I played "tongs" the company medic for the F*cking Deaths Heads (FDH). A lot of my memories are hazy now, but here are some high points.

    In our fist mission the LT send us on some bullsh*t "find-and-retrieve" mission for an alien artifact. We got ambushed by starfish right off the boat, and quickly found out that grenades at close range are not a good idea. At least I figured that out. Some troopers never learn that lesson. That's why I use maneuver when the enemy is at close range. We found the alien jello mold and brought it back for testing.

    On our second mission, we fought the ambushing tree aliens. It turned out that my character had been studying alien biology on the sly before he signed up (a highly illegal activity). He was actively interested int he aliens and started gathering samples. I think it was this mission that command exposed us to the alien atmosphere, though we didn't know it at the time. I had to risk my life to keep the squad from executing some half-crazed lieutenant we found on planet. The fool almost got us killed, but we brought him back anyway.

    Mission three is where it started getting dicey (and icy!). We ended up fighting aliens hanging in an ice crevice near what turned out to be a buried alien starship. The aliens have starships? Who knew! This time we had to squeeze into an ice cave to get the jello mold, and I tossed my armor to get at it. Turns out I got the alien jello all over myself. Obviously that can't be good... We got out just before the nukes arrived on top of the alien ship smashing its way out of the ice crust of the planet.

    Between missions I was able to establish that I and the other squad members had alien bio material in our bloodstream. Still, command must know that too, so I kept my mouth shut. No use letting them know I was doing my own study of the alien material.

    Then during a training exercise with the new Mark II armor, the whole ship shuddered and went dark. The sarge thought it was all an exercise, but I knew better. We got into a long range fire fight with what turned out to be our own guys! WTF? We spent several hours crawling through the dead ship like rats in a coffin before we made it to command. The squad wanted to execute the whole command crew (naturally), but I made them wait until I could verify the crew were infected. Well, mostly they waited. We caught a glimpse of the aggressor before we were rescued - it was the same ship we saw on the ice planet!

    Those were the easy missions.

    After that I got rotated to a green squad. I have no idea what happened to the rest of FDH. The LT sent us down to investigate a Terran outpost that had gone dark. Of course the base nearly shot us down with its AA batteries. It took the squad tech to figure out how to use the dropships fusion engine to bust through the force field. There goes another radiation badge shot. Inside the base we were attacked, and mostly overcome, by huge masses of alien goop. I managed to escape the ambush by pure *cough* luck *cough*, and helped free the rest of the squad. Of course in the firefight with the alien jello brain thing, some idiot trooper tossed a hot grenade belt and almost blew me away. That's also when Bennett went down the elevator shaft, poor stiff.
  • edited September 2008
    Tongs was a great character. Nothing beats a curious trooper with medical training.

    Tony: "I want to test my blood and see if I'm okay."
    John: "Okay. NFA check."
    Tony: "I made it!"
    John: "Okay. First of all, you have cancer."
    Tony (and others): "What?!"

    Hey, if you don't want to know, don't run the blood test.
  • The Alpha Protocol
    I came up with a fun little bang element during the GenCon games: "The Alpha Protocol." Here's what you do:

    On the drop ship going down to the first planet, the Lieutenant calls the PC Sergeant on his secure comm channel.
    "Sergeant, please instruct your troopers to engage the Alpha Protocol on their armor systems." The channel closes. Look at the Sergeant expectantly.

    All kinds of good things can happen at this point.
    - The Sergeant just passes on the order. "Alright troops, before we hit the turf we have to engage the Alpha Protocol on our armor. Go ahead and do that now." The other players will start to look at the sergeant funny. This guy isn't a thinker, is he?

    - Someone (or several someones) wants to know what the hell the Alpha Protocol is. NFA checks! Success yields the awful truth: The Alpha Protocol disengages the bio-filters on the armor, so the alien atmosphere of the planet cycles through their breathing systems. "It's probably fine, though," I say. Any combination of successes and failures is good here. If only the Sergeant knows the truth, the other players are gonna start to pressure him. "You tell us what it is, right?" If some troopers pass the rolls, do they speak up or not? What if no one succeeds? Will the Sarge still follow the Lieutenant's orders in the dark?

    - Characters start getting sneaky. "I make it look like I activate the protocol, but I really don't do it." "I order the men to do it, but I don't engage my own." Etc. NFA checks! Does someone get caught? What happens then? Who's in charge of the squad, really, and how will discipline be maintained?

    When someone activates the protocol, the suit makes them confirm the selection several times. "Are you sure you want to activate this protocol? Are you really sure?" etc. Once it's on, the suit status indicators inside the helmet all go red. "It's supposed to do that," I say.

    This bang kicks off several things. First, it puts the sergeant to the test. Is he really in charge? What will he do when he's given a difficult order from up top? How much does he care about his men? How much shit will his men take? Second, it sends the message loud and clear that command does not care about you. Command has its own agenda, and you don't need to know the details -- just shut up and do what you're told.

    I did this in several of the GenCon games, always with excellent results. If you give it a try in your own game, let me know how it goes for you.
  • John, this is REALLY stupid but ...

    The Alpha Protocol trick was great. Really great. Know something totally lame? I was thinking "Jeez, I wish it was something slightly more unusual ... like Protocol Gamma!" Like, somehow my lizard/nerdbrain was thinking Alpha was way too "primary" to give us doubt.
  • Posted By: John HarperSecond, it sends the message loud and clear that command does not care about you. Command has its own agenda, and you don't need to know the details -- just shut up and do what you're told.
    Increasingly, 3:16 makes me think of Paranoia, but played for keeps. Even "Replacements" have an air of the clone about them, at least as far as the players are concerned.

    This is a good thing! It makes my role as GM clear, that's for sure....

    Seth Ben-Ezra
    Great Wolf
  • edited August 2008
    A few people said the same thing about "Alpha", Matt. Command did several tests and found that the name "Alpha" was less intimidating to troopers. :-)

    EDIT: More seriously, I don't want there to be any doubt. The protocol should be obviously shady right away, raising red flags as soon as it's mentioned. Thus the suspiciously primary name.

    Seth: Yep. I was calling on Paranoia GM tricks all throughout these games. I even got to do the voice of The Computer when the Sevastopol was being scuttled. "Everything is okay. Please report to your assigned safety zones..." In a similar vein, Catch-22 was a touchstone, too.
  • My fave bits.

    The briefing scene with the intelligence guys playing Mitt and Ball in the background.

    The interplay between old hands and new blood in Criners Commandos.
  • Oh, Eppy and everyone fragging Paul's Sergeant and in the aftermath asking "er, who got that kill?".

    Eppy got it in the end though he was happy for Jari to tell everyone: "I keeelled heeeem. It was meeee. I was the one who keeeeelled heeem. Me!"
  • John, The Alpha Protocol is amazing; I'm definitely stealing that for my game tonight.

    Keep sharing the bits of awesomeness guys, this is highly infectious.
  • Lucile
    Early on, I decided to give the squad's drop ship pilot some personality. Unlike the other pilots, she kept the connecting door to the troop area open so the troops could talk to her and see out the canopy. I told them that Lucile was the most reckless of the drop ship pilots and played her pretty much like Starbuck from the new BSG.

    Of course, the troopers hit on her. She traded banter or playfully insulted them as necessary. The end result was to give the squad the feeling that someone in the fleet was looking out for them and was on their side -- since every other aspect of the military machine seemed to have it in for them. Not only that, Lucile was an officer (a Chief Warrant Officer) who wasn't a total dickhead. How refreshing!

    Everyone bonded with Lucile. Instead of just saying, "We call our dropship for pickup," they would immediately jump in to roleplaying, holding a hand to their ear and barking, "Lucile! We need your sweet ass down here ASAP!" They knew the Chief was recklessly brave, and would swoop down to pull their butts out of the fire no matter how nasty things got (so long as that Evac box was available!). On one mission, Lucile flew down just ahead of the Sevastopol's planetary bombardment, picking up the squad and boosting for orbit just as the nukes erupted below.
  • The Portable Funeral
    I forget which of the games this was from. One of the NPC troopers was killed and the squad was falling back. Someone said, "We can't leave him behind without a proper funeral!" So the Sarge pulled out a tube from his kit bag labeled STANDARD FUNERAL (QTY 1). It contained genuine soil from Terra with blessings and holy symbols from every Terran religion. He tossed it on the dead trooper and that was that.
  • OK! I played this game yesterday, and had a great time. Now I've planned to run it a weekend in october, making a "tour-de-force" run of 3:16 to make the players get (almost) as tired as the troopers they will play.

    And this thread has given me some really good ideas for building relationships, tensions and mood. Thanks!
  • Damn, John. I ran 2 games of 3:16 before reading this thread and my GMing seems so damn pedestrian and vanilla compared to all this. Good thing the games were fun anyway. Testament to 3:16: you don't have to be John Harper, high on GenCon fumes, to run it and have fun with it, though it sure helps. :)

    On the upside, on the first one I did a quick illo of the aliens, which helped me grok what they were about:


    And for the second one, though I didn't do an illo of the Goyan asteroid-dwelling crystalline angel-beings, I did use trademarked 3:16 genuine alien threat tokens, as mentioned in this thread... Googly Threat Tokens

    Thanks for the ideas on messing with players. :)

  • I used another version of the Alpha Protocol last night - very effective! In our case, the protocol was "turn off all active radio and IFF transponders". The mission was hunting robots in an asteroid belt, so between the nuclear rocket attachments for their mandelbrite armour and having no idea where the rest of the squad was... well, I certainly had fun. Players who had picked low NFA expressed some regrets.
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