Actual Play – The Battle for Kommerscheidt (8/6/2011)

GM: Jason Morningstar
Players: Sean Nittner, Karen Twelves, Steve Segedy, Rich Rogers, John and Paul Lyons
System: The Regiment (see more on John’s blog)

The short version (via Karen Twelves): We rolled poorly, almost died, then rolled well and stole a tank. Done! =P



The Long Version

Saturday night a certain kind of magic happened, as it does at Gen Con. The small crowd I was walking with intersected a small crowd including Jason and Steve, and moments later we were sitting down to play Regiment!

Prep for the game

The game emulated gritty World War II movies like Band of Brothers, the Dirty Dozen and Saving Private Ryan. We were going for the historical setting that followed just after the Battle of the Bulge, where the Allied troops met a stiff resistance from the Germans.

Character creation

Most of the choices were pretty self-explanatory. Pick a rank, name, look, etc. The Playbooks moves were also pretty clear. One area I wasn’t sure about but just decided to pick was the “specialized training moves.” There were two things I didn’t know. One was if we all had the same choices (we did) and how the various engagements moves (insertion, landing, contact, patrol, escort, travel, transport, recon, infiltration, ambush, defense, and security) would play into the game.

After the personal choices were made and names chosen we did our round of introductions:

Steve – Private Pope (Soldier)
Paul – Corporal Lynch (Commando)
John – Sorenson (Partisan, non-military figure)
Karen – Private Riley (medic)
Sean –Sergeant Brooks (Sergeant)
Rich – Private Macking (Soldier) (joined the game a bit of the ways in)

We started doing bonds, which I assumed was like Hx, but it didn’t quite flow that way. Now to be fair Hx is confusing in Apocalypse World as well. Often people don’t read a few critical details namely “on your turn” vs. “on everyone else’s turn” and the “pick one”.

Sticking points:

Give vs. Take. A variation from Apocalypse World is that on your turn you were putting bonds on both your and someone else’s playbook. We ended up giving when we should have taken and vice versa.

What happens if there is a contradiction? If I say I saved your life and give you +3, but you say you don’t trust me and take -1, what do you have?

How many bonds to give out? Most of them said choose 1 or 2, but we slipped on this one and gave out too many bonds.
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Assuming that The Regiment would work the same way as AW was actually a hindrance. I was way too ready to assume I knew how the game worked and I think had some bumps on the road because of that. In this case what I should have done was petition either Jason or Steve to step through the mechanical bits with everyone during creation.

Squad creation

This part I really liked. It reminded me of Scot White’s Iron Road game, where we got to choose options for the strengths of our holding (a train) and its troubles. As a group we chose to be fierce blood brothers who were over-extended and far from our reserves. We took the name “Devil Dogs” and were immediately ready to start marching.

We are the 112th Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion, Company A. We are the Devil Dogs. Hooah!

Intro to the scenario

The 3rd battalion had taken over the city of Schmidt with little to no resistance and we were to be their rear guard, holding the town of Kommerscheidt. Easy as falling off a log… nope, we walked into a shit storm.

Entering the city

We had our two intelligence folks both make moves to assess the situation. Sorenson, a local anti-Nazi German, thought he might know someone in Kommerscheidt. Lynch, our recon commando, thought he would do a bit of scouting to find the best approach to the city. Both players missed the roll. Hard moves began piling up.

As we approached we started receiving unexpected fire. We dropped down and just as we were getting ready to make a organized assault, Sorenson pulls two grenades. Even though I didn’t understand what he was doing exactly, I knew he was running like a crazy man and disobeying orders. YES! Just like a Hard Holder in Apocalypse World, my character was all about dealing with the problems other people (that are supposed to be on my side mind you) create!

We heard the shouts from inside and realized (at least some of us realized) that they were American soldiers. Sorensen kept charging and Lynch wasn’t convinced it wasn’t a ploy. Madness!

Pope started laying down suppressive fire and Brooks tackled Sorenson to the ground just as he ran into the town. After confirming these were our allies, Brooks gave the call to cease fire.

FUBAR

The obvious question was what the hell were the 3rd battalion doing in Kommerscheidt? Intelligence on Schmidt was grossly wrong and their forces had been decimated. They had retreated to Kommerscheidt and were totally out of control. This was the moment when I thought, okay, we can rally these men and hold fast. Brooks outranked them and I was going to “Impose my Will”. And then I missed. They deserted and the shit continued to roll downhill.

Great. Just great.

How much like a movie a few misses makes

I think it is really worth stepping back and saying that all of this crap that happened–bad intel, the 3rd battalion deserting, friendly fire, people out of control–was the result of dice rolls. We missed… a lot. And it felt perfect. This is exactly how I felt a military game should go. It starts all planning and polished boots, and ends in the mud, bleeding and praying for a radio to call in support.

The heart of the mission

I haven’t mentioned it up till now but our Lt. Mays was what Jason called a 90-day wonder. 90 days ago he was in college and now he was in Germany commanding troops. He had no idea what he was doing and was far too timid to get the job done. This was an awesome additional pressure for our characters, especially Brooks, who reported directly to him. Mays may not have been a coward but he was ineffectual and his desire to look good on paper was probably going to get all of us killed.

We were holding fast in Kommerscheidt when the artillery rounds started dropping in nearby fields and beginning to narrow in. It seemed like this was the time in the story to start bucking authority. As far as I could tell we were sitting ducks, but Mays wanted to dig in.

Many characters at that point had separated, so the next few instances may be out of order:

Riley tended to the wounded men from the 3rd battalion. Luckily (for them) he had already stabilized them when Brooks ordered him to cease any medical attention for these deserters. A German woman pleaded for help for her wounded son. Riley quickly identified him as a German soldier, but rendered him aid just the same.

Sorenson looted the town and found a German uniform (with the intent of infiltrating the Germans in Schmidt). Upon Brooks’s not quite legitimate order, he donned the uniform and headed towards Schmidt to gather intel.

In the town proper Mays, Brooks, Pope and Macklin (an NPC gunner at this point but who became a PC when Rich showed up soon after) were setting up a military base.

Lynch, being the only one left that spoke German, entered the aid station to talk to the German solider. The talk quickly became an interrogation and when Riley objected he got a shiner across his jaw and a threat that he should to tend to the sick elsewhere. Lynch rolled “Enforce Your Will” and got a mixed result. Riley went along with it, but he told Lynch to remember that when he was the one who needed medical attention. The one thing that was wonky about it was that although the dice matched up pretty well with everyone’s expectations, they seemed to take some of the PC autonomy out of the equation. The rules looked fine for NPCs but I think need to be rethought for PC vs. PC interactions (ala Seduce or Manipulate).

Riley left the aid station to tell Brook what had happened, and I was about to go in there and lay the smack down on Lynch, but decided there was too much other shit going on and we need to “GET DOWN!!!!!”

The Bomb Dropped

Perfect timing Just as we were getting a little settled in, that’s when the artillery closed in on us and we figured out how the “Endure Heavy Fire” rules worked. Yikes!

We were too divided in our own efforts to have really built a defensible command station (hell, Brooks wanted to be mobile by this point) and so we were all exposed as hell when the bombs dropped.

That’s when the moves I picked really made me happy. One was “Look Out” which allowed me to take wounds for other people nearby (up to two). Since Riley happened to be reporting to me, I felt justified in using it to keep him alive, which not only made me feel like I was doing my job as the Sarge, but also, from a mechanical perspective, kept the medic alive so he could take care of everyone else. That made me really happy!

The artillery rules rock. Lynch was near death, Pope was down, Brooks was messed up, and Mays was nowhere to be seen. Sorensen had already left and for a while it was only Riley up and about, trying to patch us all up. Lynch, that fucker, got what he deserved; Riley didn’t even waste supplies, he just let the bastard bleed out (see the “What Rocked” below).

The bad news

After the worst of the damage was triaged, we got aid from Lt. Flieg’s tanks (three of them) and finished building our command post.

Sorenson returned from his crazy adventure in Schmidt. I didn’t hear all of it but he tried to impersonate one of Hitler’s high ranking units which gave him just enough rope to hang himself once he got inside the city. I know there was some “Lost in the Fog of War” business. The news he had was all bad. 10 Panzer tanks and a whole battalion of soldiers. We were overwhelmed more than three to one!

Enemy at our gates

Having hammered us with artillery, they sent in troops to clean up the mess. We got lucky that they expected us to just be the few reaming cowards from the 3rd battalion and were caught off guard when Pope and Macklin unloaded round after round into them.

Sorenson and another Partisan (not sure what the name of Paul’s second character was) agreed to take matters into their own hands. They weren’t soldiers and they weren’t going to flight like soldiers. The two decided to sneak back behind enemy lines and while I didn’t catch the details of their adventures, the gist of it was that they car-jacked (tank-jacked?) a Panzer. I can only assume they had lots of “Are you Crazy?” Rolls.

Finally, we got around to “Making a Battle Plan”, which was to make our little outpost defensible as the inevitable incursion of the Germans continued. We drew things on maps, which I always love, and made little Madden-like arrows going all over.

The Stand at Kommerscheidt

Eventually the full force of the Germans was upon us. We took another pounding from artillery. We got assaulted by tanks and soldiers. The world was falling apart. And then a certain kind of magic happened.

The partisans used their stolen tank to blow up another from behind and sow chaos in the enemy’s lines.

Posthumously the Commando rolled one of his “Blow Your Stuff Up” moves and took out a tank that way as well.

When the soldiers advanced upon our tanks with a Panzerschreck we miraculously killed the German carrying it, took it from them and used it against the enemy tanks!

Despite our soldiers taking brutal injuries in the machine gun nest, Riley was always able to keep one of them conscious enough to fire and while Brook barked out orders, he was able to feed the belt and keep the iron hot.

And finally, after many a brutal battles, reinforcements arrived. We had held Kommerscheidt. Mission Accomplished!

What rocked

It was clear that Jason really loved this setting. He did a fantastic job depicting the intensity and awesome terror of a WWII scenario.

Squad creation was great. Quick and easy but it unified us a players and got us all invested in the Devil Dogs.

I really loved how the early misses (6-) set us up for hard moves later on. Jason pounded crap out of us and we knew we all deserved it. Our particular string of luck seemed to emulate the genre VERY well.

Some awesome moments in the game:

Pope was a pretty happy-go-lucky kind of guy. At one point as the 3rd battalion was threatening to desert he very calmly and casually plopped his giant machine gun down in front of them and aimed it in their general direction, just as a kind of incentive to listen to Brooks ordering them to stay.

The crazy frenetic momentum when Pope was down and Brooks was feeding the gun for Macklin and we realized that the Germans were advancing on us with a Panzerschreck. Nobody was free but Riley the medic. Holy crap was it awesome when I turned to him and said “Riley, go get me that rocket launcher!” AND HE DID! Karen rolled a 10+ on “Suppressive Fire” from Macklin, a 10+ on “Assaulting The Enemy” to kill the guy holding it and a 10+ on “Are you Crazy” to run up and grab it and then run back without getting shot. For that brief moment at the end, the dice loved us.

That move was followed by the equally awesome Macklin taking that Panzerschreck and wasting a tank with it!

The “supply” currency really hit home. We were constantly concerned that we wouldn’t have enough bandages or bullets to get through the mission. In fact our medic Riley had to make some real tough decisions about who he could save and who would die. When Lynch, who had already proved to be a sadist and generally an insubordinate asshole, took six wounds (enough to kill or nearly kill him), the players agreed (Paul and Karen) the best thing for the story was for Riley to decide he just wasn’t worth it, and that frankly Lynch was a guy who deserved to die.

We had the same general feeling when the soldiers were firing suppressive fire, thought not quite as acute (no real hard choices to make).

The artillery rules are terrifying and awesome. Spot on!

Making maps is fun = Making a battle plan is fun!

Steve’s character Pope was unconscious for a good portion of the end of the game and he said (genuinely) “This is the most fun I’ve ever had while unconscious in a game”

What could have improved

There was a point where the game got a little away from me. After the artillery started dropping, I said “Screw this, we’re moving on Schmidt.” I had no intel on the place but decided I’d rather move than be picked off by artillery. And it seemed like all the PCs were down with the plan as well, and I made what I figured was the move to go over Lt. Mays’ head (“Petition up the Chain of Command”). And the roll succeeded, Private Davies got Tank commander Lt. Fleig down the Kall trail and he gave Brooks the go ahead to take charge.

But the move never happened. That could have been because there were still so many other hard moves Jason had banked up against us that needed to be dealt with before we could take action, or because of chatter at the table (there were 6 players by the end), or because there was another move I should have made first (Leading a Maneuver, Imposing my Will, Making a Battle Plan), or maybe just because Jason knew that would be suicide and was gently curbing the narrative away from a TPK (or at least an instant TPK). At any rate, I really loved how the story went, and I would have wanted to change it, but there was a moment when I felt like I lost traction in the fiction, like I didn’t know what gear to engage to start moving again, and it wasn’t until the Germans started their invasion that I felt like my actions were producing the results I expected.

Social rolls, as noted above in the interaction between Lynch and Riley, don’t seem well suited for PVP play. I think there needs to be something close to Seduce/Manipulate.

I’m not sure if it was just our choice of characters, but the highest “Tactics” we had in the game (till the very end when Karen used experience to bump Riley’s up) was +0. This made making good battle plans really hard. We failed at it several times. Did we need a Lieutenant? Some other playbook?

I wasn’t sure when it was appropriate to “Lead a Maneuver”. When you send a single guy to do something (like “Mackin, go blow up that Tank!”) or when you’re moving the whole unit? Do you pick the maneuver you want to make or describe the action and see which move matches up to it? Should the person who has the specialized training roll or the person barking out orders?

I need a bit more of a walk through on making bonds. I think in retrospect I could probably do it again and be just fine, but for a first time player, I think there should be a blurb like “every one go around the table and on your turn, pick 1 or 2 of these. If someone has already given or taken a bond from you, do X.”

The game got a little zany at times. The partisans really had quite a bit of leeway to try nutty ideas, both because they weren’t part of the military structure and because they had +2 Lucky, giving them a better than fair chance of success. So we got things like Sorenson running around with dud grenades, impersonating German’s of high rank and stealing a tank. All very fun stuff, but more Indiana Jones than Saving Private Ryan.

The kind of thing you might not pick up on if you’re not a military buff.  A potato masher (in this context) is this:

Not this: