Saturday, June 18, 2011

Oh crap, we're going to die!

Our last Deadlands session was a perfect example of what I wrote earlier about combat in RPGs. A bit of background: if you kill enough monsters and fight enough manitous (demons), then you will attract the attention of evil forces who really don't like it when people try to make the world a safe place again. This is what happened to one of the characters in the group (Alan, a half-Crow scout/gunslinger), but at first we had no idea. He just had this strong sense of a doom coming closer and closer with every sunset.

The characters finally found out what was about to happen when they met a group of Crow: a powerful manitou had been send to kill Alan and he had to fight him on his own. The rest of the group could give assistance and, well, moral support, but would not be able to harm the manitou. In terms of game mechanics: the other players can give Alan's player poker chips, which can be used to buy away wounds and to influence dice rolls. We had some additional help from a ritual the Crow did for us, which boosted our dodge rolls considerably.

So I went to this game evening fully expecting to see Alan die and maybe get my character killed as well. I knew that we had a chance but I didn't think it was a very big one. Things were not helped by the fact that our usual group of seven has shrunk to only three players for several reasons. So the characters that faced the manitou were Alan, Elisabeth (a nun) and Eliah (a black cowboy, my character). It appeared in the form of a gigantic Texas Longhorn bull, armoured with scales and breathing fire. Enough to make us all go "oh shit."

The manitou tried his very best to disembowel, skewer or trample Alan and without Eliza and Eliah, he would have succeeded in the first seconds of the fight. But although they could not hurt the bull in any way, they could distract him. At one point, Alan was on the ground, staring up into those firebreathing nostrils and managed to escape the bull's hooves only by the breadth of a hair.His gun jammed and he was running and dodging while trying desperately to repair the damage. He did kill the manitou or at least sent him back to the hunting grounds, but it was a very close call and the characters won't do anything much for the near future.

The worst moment for the players was when the GM rolled a initiative of 42, which gave him nine (nine!) actions during the combat round, not just three or five like the players had. That was the "the bull is trying to trample Alan into mush"-scene - but he missed every single time! We couldn't believe our luck. It was an epic fight with a powerful enemy and we're all proud to have survived this. The GM told us that he gave us a chance of about 50% (10% if the other characters had decided not to help Alan).

It was masterfully done, with suspense building up over the course of several sessions, a very well researched and vividly told meeting with the Crow and a combat scene that had us on the edge of our seats the whole time. We won't be playing Deadlands for a while and this was a perfect ending for this part of the chronicle.

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