I’ve received an advance copy of the new edition of Two Hour Wargames’ 5150: New Beginnings to evaluate and review. Do I need to say I’m excited?
The book is thick with some 250 pages all in color. It updates and consolidates the “civilian” or non-military science fiction rules. While the rules can be played in any setting, the book also fleshes out the 5150 universe in its most complete form to date. (I may have to resign my post as keeper of arcane 5150 lore!) You will recognize that this book updates and combines the material from (long list here) – 5150: Book One; 5150: Illegal Aliens; 5150: New Beginnings; 5150: Urban Renewal; 5150: Fringe Space; 5150: No Limits; Alien Fight Night; THW Bar Fights and Brawls.
So I grab a pencil, notepad and open the rules to play my first encounter. I create my star character, Guihan, a twenty-year-old punk girl – she has lots of attitude because she knows she has no future. I also create a Grunt Co-Star as the only member of Guihan’s band. Her name is April and she’s a bit trigger happy.
My first encounter is an involuntary encounter. There are three kinds of encounters in 5150: New Beginnings – involuntary, voluntary and travel. Involuntary encounters are those that happen to your character; voluntary encounters are ones you choose, and the travel encounters are those that occur when your character moves from place to place. When playing a campaign, you play two basic encounters per month in your story’s timeline – the first is involuntary and the second is voluntary. Your voluntary encounter is often influenced by the involuntary encounter and both encounters may involve travel.
You start by rolling 1D6 on the Involuntary Encounter Table. My roll resulted in a Job Offer. The Job Offer is not an encounter per se, but it is a form of an encounter-like interaction between your star character and a prospective employer NPC. To find out who is hiring, you roll a 1D6 again and add the result to your character’s Rep. Guihan’s first prospective employer is a member of the Criminal Element profession.
You then look at the available jobs under Criminal Element and roll a 1D6 a final time to find out the job available from this NPC for your character. The result is Haul Cargo….. Whaat?
The Hauling Cargo encounter involves using a spaceship to move material from one planet to another. It’s not something you would trust to a 20-year-old kid, especially if this is her first job. Normally, you would just reroll the process and find another job for your star. But I started thinking, which sometimes is a bad thing, and I thought sending a kid on a delivery errand would be a good first encounter for an inexperienced street punk wanting to get ahead.
Mr. John certainly lived up to his street name, “the Smirker”, his expression seldom changed, it was always this wide condescending smirk like he knew better and you didn’t. It made Guihan’s skin crawl.
“So, you’re Guihan”, means “Precious”, right? What’s your family name?” he asked, “Bet it’s Kim or Park.”
“I have no family” said Guihan. She lied and she knew he knew it.
“I understand you’re familar with the Lower South Side, especially the Embarcadaro?”
“Yes,” she replied, “I grew up in the fish market there.”
“Good,” Mr. John said, “I have a small package I would like you to deliver….”
That’s the encounter I want to play! But there isn’t a Delivery Encounter in the rule book, so I have to do what every GM (Game Master) since the first edition of D&D has done and build my own.
Start with a Similar Encounter
“There is nothing new under the sun” a statement attributed to an ancient king. Many, many years ago, when the Floozy first attended university, she read a book titled “36 Dramatic Situations” in which the author suggested that there were only 36 dramatic situations or plot lines in all of literature & about half of them involved triangles – you know the classic love triangle type.
I started my studies majoring in Classical Languages and English Lit and years later ended up with a degree in Computer Science. And even in Computer Science, most programs are built using a few basic structures. So it makes sense that the basic building blocks for the encounter you want to build already exist in a similar form in another encounter.
In the case of my Delivery Encounter, it is very close to the Escort Encounter. In fact it is exactly like the Escort Encounter. In the Escort Encounter, your character has to accompany a NPC or group of NPCs from one point to another ensuring their safety every step of the way. In my encounter, my character has to deliver a package from one point to another ensuring its safety every step of the way.
Define the Objective
There are only two things I need to change in the Escort Encounter. The first is the Objective. Your encounter must have a specific goal or objective for the character(s) to achieve. If you don’t, your players will soon lose interest. Remember that “nothing new under the sun” quote? Its text points out the seemingly aimless vanities of life. If there’s no objective, goal or challenge, your players will find the game aimless and the sin of all games: “boring”.
I can use the exact same objective from the Escort Encounter by just changing a few words to refer to an item instead of a person:
“To be successful the item you are delivering must reach its destination without being damaged.”
Was the Item Damaged?
The last thing I need to change is the very last section of the Escort Encounter, which deals with what happens if one or more NPCs being escorted were harmed. In my Delivery Encounter, I need to determine what happens if the package was lost or damaged. This may mean my character failed the objective of the Encounter.
- If there was a Confrontation or an attempted Robbery – take an Easy Challenge against your Rep. If you fail the Challenge, the package was damaged.
- If there was more than one attempted Robbery and a Confrontation – take a Difficult Challenge against your Rep. If you fail the Challenge. the package was damaged.
- Gain 1 Decreasing Rep d6 if the package was damaged.
- Gain 3 Decreasing Rep d6 if the package was lost in a Robbery.
- In addition, if the package was damaged count a -1 to your total when next rolling on the Employer and Job Table (page 96).
- In addition, if the package was lost in a Robbery count a -3 to your total when next rolling on the Employer and Job Table (page 96), then a -2 the second time, a -1 the third time.
Again, this is very similar to the Escort Encounter, I just had to change it to reflect what happens to an item being delivered from a person being escorted.
One last piece of advice to keep in mind when altering an Encounter or designing a new Encounter from scratch:
Avoid creating new rules – use Challenges instead.
Challenges can be taken using a character’s Rep or Skills (People and Savvy).
Challenges can be nested, looped, and modified.
Challenges are easier for your players to understand and get behind.
So what do my characters get if they succeed? They get 3 Increasing Rep D6s.
I now have a playable Delivery Encounter. All that’s left is for Guihan to put the package in her carrying case and head for the transit station.
I know this seems like a lot of work for my first encounter, but come on, would you toss the keys to your spaceship to a pair of inexperienced punk kids, err…, young women, to deliver cargo across the galaxy?
Knowing my luck, just as I publish this post, Ed will come along & say “You want a Delivery Encounter? Check out page ###.” It almost always happens that I fail to see the forest because of the trees.
Comments, critiques, admiration, admonition & lavish gifts are always appreciated!