It’s time for Tabletop Report! For the uninitiated, Tabletop Report is a new series chronicling the adventures of my DnD group as I run them through a custom campaign and ruleset based off of Microsoft’s Gears of War universe.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Gears of War, and I’m totally not claiming otherwise. I just really love the universe, and have wanted to run a campaign set in it for the longest time. The system I built is entirely my own, and this game is a test-run of its viability as a full tabletop system.
This is the report summary for session 2. Prior sessions will be listed before the break if you need to catch up. Some knowledge of Gears of War‘s greater universe may be required. Now, let’s see what happened to our players after last week!
Session 2 – Act 1 Chapter 1
When I last left the party, they’d been deposited at a mountain campsite—a rather nice one, actually—by Andrew, a gear who had saved them from the ravages of E-day pouring out across Sera and then left them to go hunt for more survivors back in Tyare.
At this point, the last bit of direct railroading occurred, with the party being told that they stayed at this campsite until food started to run low, waiting for the COG to come for them (which of course, they never did) and watching the world end from their mountain retreat.
Official Gears lore has been kind of sketchy on the exact timing of the global Hammer Strikes that decimated Sera and killed billions of Serans and Locust (sources plant it between the week of E-Day to a year later), so I played a bit loose with it and had the three day warning go out about three weeks after E-Day. One of the cabins had a radio, so the party was able to hear the cry to get out of the cities and if possible to the Jacinto Plateau, and then three days later they got to see and hear the devastation of the hammer strikes laying waste to most of the planet. Forests burning, ash falling constantly from the sky … the works. I gave the group a detailed rundown of all the reports on the radio, the sights of massive beams arcing down on the horizon to wipe out Tyare, the city they’d come from, and the smoke and ash on the wind that even weeks later covered a lot of places in a washed out grey until rain came … at which point it would occasionally come back.
But at last, after explaining that they waited another three weeks after the hammer strikes, they were beginning to run low on both the food they’d brought with them in the truck and what had been stocked at the camp, and that they were now free to do as they pleased.
Oh, and they’d all leveled. To level 2! The group was happy with this announcement, happier still as I passed out ability cards to specific players and walked them through the leveling process.
See, unlike most tabletops, again I’m trying something different with Gears. Rather than a list of skills or a manual, each player has a deck of cards. They start with ten, one for each attribute, two that are mixed, and two for skill check improvements, but as they play, I pass the players cards will skills and abilities on them that they add to their deck. Then, when the player levels, they shuffle the deck, draw five cards, and choose three to apply to their character. This does let a player choose the path they want their character to follow in how they play … but at the same time, allows for a little bit of randomness in what they learn and what skills they might pick up. It also (and this was completely by accident) has the effect of weighting stat boosts early on when they’re much needed, but making them much rarer as the amount of abilities in their deck piles up as the levels come.
Anyway, a few characters were given special skills as a reward for actions in the first session (one player was given the card for an overwatch ability), and everyone was given the ability card “ROADIE RUN” which is pretty explanatory. So the party leveled, and then, with the world of Sera before them … promptly spent the next half-hour discussing what to do and discussing what they’d spent the last six weeks doing while in the camp. One of them set a number of snares and managed to catch some game (though he did lose one snare to a wild ticker, not that he knows that), while a few players working together managed to find a deer near the campsite and kill it without attracting any locust (I did roll for that, but they’re off the beaten path, so it was a d100, very low chance of trouble). Another player successfully smoked said deer, which gave them a really nice, lightweight boost to their provisions. Another player organized the entire party, using their leadership skills and checks to bolster the party and effectively take over managing how the party divided gear among them. And the last member of the party, realizing that they’d be unable to carry all the ammo and fuel they still had left from their flight from Tyare, set about making travois using lumber from the cabins once the team had decided to leave. I’d actually kind of hoped they’d make the place a permanent camp, but for now, the team has decided to travel on the move. Letting them know that the cabins were built to withstand razorhail in the autumn (it’s currently the middle of summer in game) may have had something to do with that. The idea of razorhail freaked a few of them out (razorhail is an atmospheric phenomenon in Gears similar to hail … except the falling ice is comprised of razor-sharp shards of ice).
So they spent a day getting ready to leave, and decided based on their food stores and the fact that Tyare was a smoking ruin likely filled with Locust (their call, not mine) to head north to the small town of Bedel, which had been the rendezvous point for the evacuation of Tyare. It was a good twenty miles west and forty miles north by the highway, but with a successful (and not very hard orienteering skill check), the party was off, carrying everything they could bring from the cabin: all their food, 16 boxes of ammo (the nice big COG ones you pick up in game, with all the ammo types … which none of them can use at the moment) and 20-odd gallons of imulsion fuel. With their custom-built travois, the group managed to get all of it in the weight limits, and make their way down the mountain.
They saw little along the way but trees and one offshoot road that was heavily overgrown to another campsite, which they declined to follow (good) and kept on going until the road they were following was down from the mountain and met with the highway. At which point they found out what had become of Andrew. The truck that they’d been in was in the ditch, burned and riddled with bullet holes, one rear tire blown to bits by some explosion, and the axel bent. A check of the cab showed that all the emergency supplies and equipment were gone, and the bed of the truck was full of spent Civil Defense Pistol casings, meaning it was likely there were people in the truck when it was hit. The only body they found however, was that of one gear who was likely Andrew. It was hard to say, though, because the head was gone (as were a few limbs), the armor was ravaged, his weapon was bent in half, and his COG Tags were gone too.
One player did take the broken bayonet-knife from the front of the destroyed Lancer MK I, however. Another player, while determining that the vehicle would not run again without a lot of work, did find the vehicle’s emergency jack (like, for lifting, not the bot unit) and took that. We did run into a bit of a disconnect here, with a few players finding it quite difficult to visualize just how heavy and armored COG vehicles are. Thankfully, one quick thinking player did a quick Google on their phone and pulled up this, which immediately was met with ooohs, aahs, and “Oooh! I get it!” from the players.
Traveling north, the sun soon began to set and the players elected to make camp. Thankfully, the area they were in was still heavily forested, so they went a ways off the road, established a watch for the eight hours of night (26-hour day on Sera plus summer day lengthening) and went to sleep.
I made a roll … and things got interesting. The player on watch began to hear a rasping, fluttering noise, like wind rustling through trees but much louder and mixed with squeaks, coming from the sky. The noise grew, and I had the sleeping players make awareness checks as twigs and bits of bark and moss began to drift down from the disturbed treetops above them.
This is where things went very, very wrong. One player, upon waking up to the noise (and playing true to his character) panicked and let out a loud yell as the stuff fell on him. At which point there was a loud chorus of shrieks from above … and the Kryll (effectively a nocturnal, flying piranha) dove. If not for another player sleeping with a flashlight at hand, that could have been the end of a party member right there, but the second they clicked the flashlight on at the air above the party member, the “scary bats” as the party has dubbed them, swarmed away from the light. Flashlights immediately lit up, and one player fired up a flare, which drove the Kryll back to circle around them in the woods for the last two hours of the night. All they could make out were wings, angular bodies, and teeth.
Yeah, so now the party is very scared of the dark (and best part is, had the one player not yelled, the high-flying kryll would have passed by them) and the “scary bats.”
The sun rose, and with it the Kryll flew off, and a somewhat subdued party began to follow the highway north. They found cars along the way … but none was usable, and there were also massive divots in the ground, signs of old E-holes (not that they know this yet). They also intersected with a freeway for a bit and saw that it had been collapsed at a few points.
Traveling north, they came across a boarded up gas station. After a few players snuck up close with some okay stealth rolls and banged on the door, the group concluded that the owner had probably left with the evacuation, and decided to check it out. It was a small place, just a single storefront and a small garage. The front and back doors were locked and boarded, and the windows shuttered from the inside, so the party managed to brute force the rolling garage door up just enough to get their newly acquired jack under it, and then crawl under it to find that the station still had power (COG: Built to last) and they could open and close the door from the inside. They checked the place out, found an old Mule bike that was missing a lot of parts, and then decided to spend the night in the storefront. Not a bad plan. Along the way they found some snack food (which they ate, and were comforted by, so I gave them all a bonus action at the start of the next combat within three days), some cleaning supplies, including baby wipes for the germaphobe member of the party, some more flares … and most importantly of all to the party members, sunglasses and trucker hats. The team mechanic is now the proud owner of a mesh red trucker hat that reads “Foxy Grandpa.” Oh, and dirty magazines from behind the counter, which they wanted to trade for supplies later.
Oh, and a pamphlet road atlas of all the major highways of Tyrus, which is why I spent my weekend building the map. Two maps, actually. One I keep with everything on it, and one the players fill out … after I’ve put all the highways on it.
That night, the team rested well, passing along watch without much difficulty, save for one team member who awoke when the Kryll flew by overhead and couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night.
Anyway, morning came (along with dwindling food), and the team resumed their trek north to Bedel. After a few hours, they arrived, and began making their way down the small town’s main street. Most of the stores looked picked clean—at least, the grocery did, and they ignored all those in favor of the cars on the streets! This group does not want to walk. Finding two cars in working order, they poured fuel in both of them, fired them up … and at that point, a stranded watching camouflaged on a nearby rooftop with a Longshot (who all their rolls had not spotted) shouted out to please shut the cars off before they attracted the Locust.
The party, quickly sensing the logic, complied (and I was making Locust rolls behind my screen, but they were safe). The man with the longshot told them that they could have the cars if they wanted, they’d just need to leave fast, and be ready for the risk, and the party, curious, asked if there was anyone else in town.
He pointed them at the school, the site of the evacuation rendezvous, and said that they’d been left—COG never came back for them. He said that they could go say hello to Keela, she was in charge there and would want to meet them. The party followed the old evacuation checkpoints across the town, found the school—and its guards, one of whom was very happy to trade with them when he found our party had some porno mags, and let them in. At which point we called it good for the night.
Hope you enjoyed reading about my group’s travels! See you next week!