Wednesday, April 7, 2010

After-Action Report: Strange Aeons

I returned home on Saturday to find something oozing with mind-numbing horror lurking in my mailbox: my Strange Aeons rule book had finally arrived! (And there was much rejoicing.)

So I spent the remainder of the day reading the rules and on Sunday the group gathered to have a go*. The scenario we played was "Escape... into Danger!" After the forces were readied and the table set up, we had a pretty good idea about the back-story (which I will embellish upon slightly for your reading pleasure):

Escape from Franklin Corners

Having heard rumors of nefarious activities taking place in the small New England hamlet of Franklin Corners, Threshold sent a pair of its newest operatives to investigate. "The Professor" and "Agent A" assembled their teams. The Professor brought agents Denny O'Keefe (a crack shot), J.P. Dithers (an explosives expert, armed with dynamite) and Maggie Dawson (an intrepid female, armed with a double-barrel shotgun). Agent A brought agents B (armed with a shotgun) and C (armed with a tommy gun).

After a brief investigation, the Threshold team discovered that the entire community of Franklin Corners were members of a cannibal cult. Having witnessed unspeakable rites being enacted in the fields to the west of town, the team attempted to elude the cult and make good an escape to the east. Between them and safety lay the huddled, dilapidated buildings of the sleepy hamlet bisected by an east-west road; beyond the far (eastern) edge of the town lay a cemetery to the south of the road, and a cornfield and abandoned mine entrance to the north.

Here's how the scenario played out:

Figuring that the cemetery - with its high, spiky fence - would slow them down whereas the corn field would offer cover for their escape, the team planned to skirt the town to the north, move quickly past the rear of the run-down houses, through the field, and past the entrance to the mine. However, as they approached the town it was apparent from the swaying of the corn stalks that there was considerable activity in the field. The agents quickly amended their plan and decided to skirt the town to its southern edge, hoping that the cemetery would not significantly hinder their movement.

For a while, it looked as if the Threshold plan might work. Then, as the team approached the last house before the cemetery, Agent A (whose well-armed unit was leading the way) spotted movement among the headstones. Quickly, the team formulated a new plan: since it was obvious that an ambush awaited them and that escape without a fight was no longer likely, they would turn northward toward the center of town, where the open road would provide them the best field of fire.

They moved quickly between the last two houses and into the center of town. On their right, the cemetery was mostly out of view, but to their left the team could see a good portion of the cornfield. The swaying stalks gave away the positions of the cultists within, so Agents B and C - at the vanguard of the escaping team - opened fire. Alas, the cover proved to be too much, and their shots failed to find their marks.

Suddenly, a figure emerged from the all-too-healthy corn and with a half-chittering, half-meeping noise it lunged for Agent B. Agent B fired as it approached, but his shot went wide of its mark. Reeking of the grave, the bipedal creature snapped at him with its canine-like jaws and slashed at him with its long, yellow claws. Despite its fearsome form, Agent B's resolve held, and he struck the beast with the butt of his shotgun, cracking its skull wide open. It fell limply to the agent's feet.

As the beast breathed its last, a pair of shots - obviously from a small-caliber weapon - rang out from the corn, but none of the agents were struck. Agents B and C returned fire, but again their attacks were in vain.

The team crept forward, and again the well-armed agents in the lead fired blindly into the field. This time, their shots were answered by a cry and the heavy "thump" of a body falling to the ground.

Suddenly, a pair of robed figures rushed from the corn, the glint of steel in their hands. The lead agents fired, but their desperate shots failed to hit home. Agent C quickly dispatched his attacker with the butt of his SMG, but Agent B found himself locked in a life-or-death struggle. He cried out in shock as much as pain as the cultist sunk his teeth into his shoulder.

Before The Professor's group could move to help, a cry sounded from behind them and a pair of figures darted out from between the houses. They'd been outflanked by the Lurkers they had spied in the cemetery! Maggie fired at one of the attackers, but her shot went wide and she suddenly found herself staring into the wild eyes of a lunatic. Before she could react, the maniacal woman swung something at her that looked - strangely enough - like a teddy bear. Something inside the stuffed figure's form glinted in the moonlight, and when it fell the sting of steel biting into flesh came with it.

The other figure lurched into The Professor with its bony claws. The stench of rot was upon it, but The Professor was unaffected by it. He wrestled with the undead thing, but despite his best efforts it managed to sink its half-rotten teeth into his forearm.

Behind him, the maniac raised her teddy bear for another strike. This time, Maggie's blood hid the steely glint of the cleaver concealed within. That blood-stained bear was the last thing poor Maggie would ever see.

Meanwhile, Agent C moved to help Agent B. Stepping behind the robed cultist, he drew his Bowie knife and plunged it into the back of his neck. The cultist collapsed like a rag doll. The agent then moved to help The Professor, but the elderly man growled at him (as he struggled with the reanimated corpse): "Get out of here!"

Respecting their comrade's wish, the three members of Agent A's group darted down the road and disappeared into the night.

Denny moved to help The Professor, but the creature lashed out with a decayed hand and tore open a gash in the young man's chest. The Professor finally managed to reach his Bowie knife and quickly dispatched the undead thing - its half-rotted head rolled away into the shadows. Ahead of them, Dithers moved farther down the road and fired at the lone cultist that remained lurking behind the rows of corn. The robed figure fell dead.

With a maddening cackle the maniac leaped over Maggie's limp form and attacked The Professor, her blood-stained teddy bear cleaving a gash in his arm as he tried to fend her off. They struggled more, but neither could best the other.

Denny moved to help The Professor, but the maniac - with her insane strength - threw him to the ground and he struck his head. (When he awoke later, he was severely traumatized. He kept mumbling: "The monsters are coming! The monsters are coming!") The Professor buried his knife in the insane woman's side, but she only laughed at him. Dithers moved to help his friend, but The Professor waved him off.

"You must get clear of this accursed place!" the elderly man pleaded.

Reluctantly, Dithers turned and made for the edge of town. Behind him, the maniac wrestled The Professor to the ground and, with one final muffled blow from the teddy bear cleaver, the night went silent.

(The Professor and Denny would turn up later, in a doctor's office in the town of Kingsport. Recuperating nicely from his wounds, he regaled his surviving comrades with his tale, relating how he pretended to be dead and waited as the maniac moved to the other fallen bodies. She settled upon one of the bodies and began to strip the flesh and eat it. (He told them the body was that of one of the cultists, but in truth it was Maggie's.) While she was preoccupied, The Professor crawled to Denny's inert body and slowly dragged him into the night. He made it to the road several miles to the south, where a passing motorist found them and drove them to Kingsport.)

Unfortunately, the Threshold team failed to procure any of the map pieces they believed to be hidden within the town of Franklin Corners. Despite having exposed the cult's existence, The Professor couldn't help but feel that their mission had been a failure.

. . . . .

*Although there are no multi-player rules in SA, we had to accommodate four players. So we decided we would play our initial game with two Threshold and two Lurker players. Each Threshold player created a team with 15 build points. The Lurkers pooled their 15 build points each, and even though this left one of them with less than half as many models as the other, in the end the one with the fewer models was the only player with models alive on the table at the game's end. This simple multi-player house rule served perfectly for the scenario at hand.

Game Details (as best as I can recall them)

Threshold player 1 bought a character with Improved Command (a waste, since he later took his third agent off his roster in favor of more equipment), an agent with Ambush and a shotgun, and an agent with Ambush and a tommy gun.

Threshold player 2 (myself) bought a character with Improved Command, an agent with a Dexterity boost, an agent with Munitions Expert (IIRC) and dynamite, and an agent with Ambush and a double-barrel shotgun.

Lurker player 1 bought a cultist leader with a .22, a trio of cultists with knives, and a lone ghoul.

Lurker player 2 bought a maniac and a zombie, and the Plot Point (the name of which escapes me) that makes all of the Lurker humans cannibals, giving them crits on 4+ instead of 6 on the second die. (My fiancee - she loves her some crazy cannibals. Maybe I should be worried...)

As a side note: the maniac was portrayed in this game by a West Wind miniature in the form of a woman wielding a teddy bear high above her head. We've decided that this is none other than the grown-up version of little Zoe from Betrayal at House on the Hill. Poor little Zoe, so cute - so broken. (See the images to the right, each courtesy of their respective game publishers.)

Some Post-Game Thoughts

First: I love this game! It's easy to learn, fast to play, and really lends itself to character and story development. (It also reminds me a lot of my favorite Games Workshop game, Necromunda - only with cleaned-up, more-playable rules. This is a Very Good Thing.)

Some things that came up:

Weapon range: We felt that the limited weapon ranges are problematic. To that end, our group has decided to implement the following house rule: at 1/2 a weapon's range or less, attacks are at +1 to hit; at over and up to twice a weapon's range, attacks are at -2 to hit.

Ghouls: They should really be tougher to handle in close combat. I can see them being brought down by gunfire, but agents should be afraid to face them in close combat. With only 1 attack, they're far too easy for an agent to best in hand-to-hand. Just increasing their attacks score to 2 would suffice. (This has already been adapted as a house rule amongst our group.)

Lurkers: Really only one of my players strongly felt this way (she's the one who likes to play the monsters in games like this), but it would be nice if there was some system of development for them the same way there is for Threshold. I explained to her that this wasn't really the goal of the game, but I can see her point to an extent. Some sort of campaign rules for Lurkers would be nice, at least as an option to standard play.

Maniacs: If you're playing Threshold, stay far, far away from them - they're dangerous! (Especially in the hands of a player who's known to warp the dice-rolling bell curve toward the high end. Trust me on this, as I watched in horror as three of my Threshold team fell to one maniac.)

Dynamite: If you're planning on throwing it, make sure the character doing so has boosted Dexterity. Thanks to the range of thrown weapons, the radius of dynamite's effect, and the devious deviation rule that allows the enemy player to determine the direction of deviating dynamite, I found myself very reluctant to even attempt doing so. If my math was right, it panned out to a 67% chance that the blast would end up encompassing the character doing the throwing - and about a 50% chance that his comrades would also be in the blast radius. Let's just say I was not comfortable with those numbers...

Otherwise, Strange Aeons is a brilliant small-force skirmish game. I'd heartily recommend it to anyone who likes the genre.


A Hard Won Thing Scoreboard:

0 wins / 0 draws / 1 loss (but a fun one, none the less)

. . . . .

1 comment:

  1. Lovecraftian action by way of Necromunda? Holy wow, I gotta get my hands on this! Thanks!