Here is the second installment in our campaign. I haven’t yet decided if I want to cast the synopsis portion as a journalist recording what Melodi reports, or more like Melodi’s own records. I’m sure I’ll eventually settle on one or the other, but for now, the tone of these pieces may vary somewhat. If you haven’t read the first session recap, you should probably do that first. 🙂

Melodi and the others head for the Fallen city, via the trains. Buying the tickets is a small snag as we are trying to travel without drawing attention to ourselves, but we don’t have a lot of imperial credits that are older than 90 years, and anything newer will reveal us as the “visitors from space”.

Kato handles most of the negotiations and smooths things over. Commander Devore, with her twisted ankle rides with most of the civs (Emylyn, Adam, Yumi, Kato and Lindus).  Helseth, LeBeau and Jane ride with the cargo, under the standard excuse of protecting the cargo from thieves. No one is going to argue that the head-to-toe armored strangers packing complicated looking weapons can’t protect cargo from theives.

About half way to “Tumor Town”, the shanty-town that has sprung up on the edge of the Fallen City, the train is stopped by a group of people claiming that “this is a robbery.” The bandits start to work their way down the train, looking for the “visitors from space”.

Helseth and Jane decide that they should take pot-shots at the tires of the cars that the attackers used, to great effect. Melodi grabs her gun and heads for the passenger car, where the civs are. Once Melodi arrives, she, Kato and Devore discuss and elect to shoot anything that comes through the front door of the train car. A handful of bandits attempt to enter the car, and as promised, Melodi, Devore and Kato open fire. The party torches the enemies pretty handily, and the few slug weapon shots that are launched by the enemies bounce off Melodi’s shiny TL14 armor.

We manage to not completely fry one of them, and Helseth pulls out an expensive little vial of clear liquid that serves as a truth serum. From our prisoner we learn that they were sent by June Tem, the leader of a splinter faction of the Librarians that had hoped to take the visitors from space prisoner and blackmail the Maelstrom into attacking Efret and Separin by orbital bombardment. After this minor distraction, we settle down to try to get some sleep.

We arrive in Tumor town the next day, gather supplies, and head into the Fallen city. As if we didn’t have sufficient motivation, smoke now rises over the city, near the area where Kato’s mother was reported to be headed.

We work our way into the city, tracking the radiation levels, and trying to keep the civs from wandering off and getting themselves hurt. [Spoilers] Melodi is very excited to explore the city in search of information for her mission. She is looking for advanced AIs, that might even have been able to resist virus, and any information on EMP resistant material.

The group works its way through the city, occasionally checking on computers, and finding them all slagged. As we approach the edge of the disk of the flying city, we find a robotics facility with a sign over the door which reads: “Angstrom”…

This session showed me a dichotomy within the PCs that I hadn’t noticed before. Initially, I was mostly worried that the planet-siders and the spacers wouldn’t be able to bridge the gaps between them and trust each other. Turns out that having 2PCs + 1 npc with an initiative of 6 is a much bigger problem. Emylyn and Adam in particular, being the PCs with low initiative, found themselves feeling rather useless.

I don’t have a ready solution for the problem of how to make combat challenging for combat oriented characters without boring (or worse alienating) non-combat oriented characters. On the one hand, a GM wants to crank up the difficulty on combats in order to make it challenging and interesting for the combat oriented characters. On the other hand, this forces non-combat oriented characters to become combat oriented to participate, or  find themselves repeatedly unable to make substantial contributions to the action.

A GM could also say “this isn’t a problem”, and continue to have combats which are trivial for a subset of the party to deal with. The problem I see with this is that combat, even easy combat, takes up a lot of screen time during sessions, which limits the time available for other important things like plot and character development. And easy combats are just not as satisfying for players. It’s like stomping on a leaf in autumn and it not going crunch.

The naive solution (by which i mean “naive” as in computer programming) is to try to encourage players to make all one kind of character or the other. But that doesn’t necessarily work for a number of reasons. The first is that not all players will want to do that. The second is characters like Melodi. Depending on your definitions, Melodi is combat capable, but not necessarily combat oriented. Her stats are split pretty evenly between combat and diplomacy, so I haven’t really min-maxed her for combat, but she is still one of the best combat characters in the party (possibly above everyone except Commander Devore, although that is mostly driven by her equipment, which is far superior to Kato’s simply by origin).

Melodi doesn’t want to fight, but she can. As a player, I would much rather run the character development, and [Spoilers] pursue her mission to collect specific intel and thus earn her black-ops command. That said, Melodi is also very competent and efficient in a fight, and as a player, I may sometimes want to interact with that portion of the character.

I think the better strategy to address this problem is to generate situations that have some trick to them. Rather than just cranking up the difficulty on the combat to challenge the combat characters, create combats where the civilians can do something clever to help, or even win the day. While these situations are more challenging to come up with, and may not always work out exactly the way the GM intended, I think that having it in mind when designing encounters can greatly enhance the likelihood that civilians enjoy combat.