Saturday, November 26, 2022

Assault on Pillbox 12: an OWB "Trial by Fire" Funnel attempt

This post is based on a recent "one-shot" session I ran my group through using the "Trial by Fire" rules from OWB and the "Assault on Pillbox 12" scenario from the "Normandy Breakout" supplement. We were a regular player down (the one that is the designated group leader), so it made for an interesting diversion and helped me with some of the individual personality dynamics... 

Into the Jaws of Death...

So Why a D-Day Scenario? 

So when I start a new group of players or a new campaign arc for existing ones, I like to throw the action straight at them - not always a combat situation, but often something dangerous - they begin in media res and need to quickly sort themselves out - it's one of The Lazy DM's tactics I like to use repeatedly. I thought this would work even better for a one-shot and the nature of a funnel is that things move fast and improvisation is the name of the game...

Assault on Pillbox 12 is an almost scene-by-scene simulation of the Omaha beach landing scene from the film "Saving Private Ryan", so I thought it would be ideal, if somewhat intense... (trigger warning)

I mean the first few minutes really kick things off and get the adrenaline going - I recommended the players watch that extended scene from Saving Private Ryan if they could to get into the mood.

Amusingly, only one of the three players had actually seen the film, which I think amplified the whole effect and created a very compelling sense of confusion and urgency.

How to Play OWB "Trial by Fire" 

Effectively the rules on pages 42-43 of the OWB Corebook are a type of funnel, well at least a "mini-funnel" in the spirit of DCC or similar. A bunch of unskilled 0th-level characters are thrown into a dangerous situation and the survivors develop relationships, back stories, and an idea of their skill aptitudes and personality quirks during the "funnel session".

Character Names 

Rather than actual proper names, I just asked the players to pick the appropriate style first names (and optionally surnames) starting with the same letter in the sequence. So for instance we first had:


Then as each character dies, moving down the alphabet:


... and so on, cycling through the letters. 

This prevented interruption of play, and to further keep up the momentum I had each new character appear as a new grunt running up to the spot the player's last character died or near enough (emulating respawning in FPS games eg Call of Duty and similar) and falling in.

The only hesitation was choosing the weapon loadout from the three choices (Large Rifle (M1 Garand) + 4 grenades / SMG + 4 grenades / Heavy Weapon + only 2 grenades) and the preferred Physical Stat (STR or DEX or CON). This rolled through pretty quickly after the first few "changeovers".

After a player had three characters die, as a variant rule given the lethality of Assault on Pillbox 12 for zero-level characters, I allowed for 4th and subsequent characters but restricted the weapon choice to Large Rifle but players could scavenge from their fallen comrades.     

In the session I ran with my group as a "one-shot" , only the character that started with Colin had a surving character (Leonard) from his three initial "lives", the other players had one surviving character (Mike) with 4 dead, and no surviving character and 7 dead. So in total, 13 dead and 2 surviving 0th level characters from the "funnel", one who stood out as a possible Tactician, the other was played more as a Grunt than anything (survived jumping on a grenade with a helmet).

Using Allied NPCs 

I used a similar strategy with any Allied NPCs, using their first names A, B, C ... etc, but in retrospect, it would have been better to use surnames for realism, and will do that for any subsequent sessions. An alternative would be to use a name generator such as this one (in advance) and have a ready-made list

So I didn't use any officers, because I wanted to let the players attempt to rally the remnants and didn't want to railroad them, but unfortunately, they just randomly headed off in a group by themselves... LOL. 

However, I did throw in a brief encounter with a combat medic moving along the lines, healing up the troops and any wounded player characters, and some combat engineers with Bangalores. I left it pretty freeform and let the chaos reign.

For a future session, I'd run these a bit more developed (see below).

Running the Beach Landing

Just like in the movie, there's a lot going on during the beach landing and it can be confusing... this is inherent to the chaos of the assault but can make it difficult to run easily even with the "mass combat lite" approach used in the scenario, so I broke things down into a couple of actions I needed to do. 

I first decided to push the dice rolling back onto the players to increase their buy and in and provide a sense of urgency and hopefully retain agency... this worked so well though that it resulted in the players running off in different directions without coordination - somewhat less than optimal, but led to amusing outcomes and I think truly reflective of the potential for panic.

To achieve this I made each character roll TWO d6s each "round" (preferably different colours unless using Discord or Roll 20 etc) while moving to the base of the cliff. Depending on their choices and the Bangalores, a given character can reach the cliff base in as little as 6 "rounds" but it will most likely take longer than that to cross the distance into the relative safety of the  

The first d6  is to check if they were hit by "enemy fire" - on a 1, that is the main event for that round and the second d6 is used to determine what they are hit by (Normandy Breakout, p4). 

If I'd thought of it, I would have added a d20 save as most of the time they ended up having some sort of cover they could use or flong themselves towards - one of the players worked out how to make a short macro for Roll 20 which we used, so that would be the way forward I suspect.

                Use this string:     /roll 2d6+d20     (copy and paste)

Secondly, I created a "DM Playsheet" from the map that had all the main information to hand:

DM Playsheet for Assault on Pillbox 12

This has everything I need in the scene but is not covered by the basic OWB rules.

I also found this elevation plan that gives an idea of the beach terrain for better visualisation and can be handed to as a printout for players or sent as an image over Discord / Roll 20 or other VTT:

And a nifty diagram and photo of a Landing Craft (aka "Higgins Boat") to help evoke the initial moments:

Ideas for Repeat Playthrough

I plan to run this again, as it really was a lot of chaotic fun!

It was a great "one-shot" filler for when a player or two is missing, and I can see adding in WW2 style variations (Nazi Super Science, Nazi Occult, etc) or shifting it into a different setting or game system even with a bit of jury rigging. There are definitely a few elements and structural parts that could fit into say a T2k 2nd edition or 4th edition (Free League) game - adjusting some of the "atmospheric" rules for the initial breakout from Escape from Kalisz...

Added Details and Encounters while Crossing the Beach

For future plays, I'll be making it so that if they roll another number than 1, other events happen based on this optional expanded table next time, using the second die to help determine the exact scene the player witnesses:

Table A: Stray Fire & Additional Beach Scenes

1.        Hit by Enemy Fire (1-4 stray fire, 5 MG, 6 explosion) as per p4 
2-3      Just missed by enemy fire (use 2nd die to determine type of enemy fire)
4.        Soldier falls in front of you to enemy fire (use 2nd die to determine type of enemy fire)
5.        Come across a dead body (can use as partial cover for stray fire only) with gear
           + Wire clippers (1-2) / Rocket grapple (3-4) / Weapon upgrade (5-6)
          6.        Officer (1) / Radioman (2) / Sniper (3) / Medic (4) encounter OR soldier falls (5-6)

Officer: will attempt to rally the players and push them towards the next objective by barking orders.  
Radioman: busy trying to communicate about conditions on the beach, characters will hear snatches of communication but be aware that few officers have survived. 
Sniper: can ask to lay down covering fire on an MG nest to avoid if rolls next turn 
Medic: will heal character 1d3 hit points of wounded. If the character is not wounded, the Medic will ask them to help drag a wounded soldier to the closest piece of cover and assist for 1 round. 

This is roughly based on the script of the beach landing scene and the brief encounters of Tom Hank's character, Captain Miller, plus a few other ideas to help the meta-game progress and give the players some hints and the potential to pick up some specific equipment or weapons.