Saturday, May 09, 2015

Mission Improbable

The names and backgrounds -- some now amended -- of the player-characters are here. They work for the Special Operations Executive and their secret mission is to set up a partisan network in a rural area of Vichy France; their secret secret mission is to find a missing German occultist, last seen in the area in 1938.

When I saw that the adventure begins with a parachute drop, I knew things were not going to go well. I did not expect the campaign to almost unravel no less than three times in the first session!

Tidelina Swiftraider -- she seems to have wandered in from Star Wars -- stumbled as she jumped from the Halifax bomber and her parachute failed to open, then her backup parachute also failed. As she plummeted towards France, commando Mike McVeigh attempted to reach her and activate her parachute but also failed to release it in time. With a stomach-turning crunch, Tidelina landed in France, much faster and much harder than she had planned.

That is probably the quickest fatality I have seen in any game and it seemed a touch unfair, so I ruled instead that she was incapacitated with all sorts of broken and punctured bits, and she lost a few Strength points. I also thought it would be more interesting -- as in it would give me more opportunities to make things difficult for the players -- if they also had to deal with an injured member of the team on top of their main mission, their secret mission, and the tensions already brewing between them.

It was not the best start to the mission, but at least it couldn't get worse! Except it did! Fergus O'Brien found himself in some strange turbulence that seemed to slow his descent, as if he was falling through treacle, not air, and he drifted away from the landing zone towards some woods. He crashed through the trees and although not injured he was overcome by a strange panic and started running; in his confused state, the Irishman didn't realise he was heading deeper into the woods.

While the rest of the team met up with their partisan contacts and attempted to make Tidelina comfortable, the ever-helpful McVeigh crashed into the trees in search of O'Brien and also became lost, stumbling into the remains of a camp site; it had been wrecked by some sort of explosion and the campers -- a group of German soldiers -- seemed to have been squashed by some great pressure. McVeigh's mind snapped at that point and he blanked out.

O'Brien meanwhile ran into an enormous wolf that stared at him with bright yellow eyes before bounding off into the darkness. After another five minutes or so of aimless wandering, O'Brien blundered back out into the field to be told that he'd been gone for over twenty minutes. About half an hour later, and with the partisans getting more and more anxious to move on, McVeigh ran out of the woods and fainted in the grass.

Those with keen ears could hear, floating on the wind, the sound of a head thumping on a desk in London, again and again.

Eager to leave before they were spotted, the partisans took the team to a nearby farm and the leader, Jacques Martin, led them to an old pig shed in which some rough beds had been set up. He would return to the landing zone to remove evidence of the agents' arrival, and then would meet with them the next day for a proper briefing. Until then, it was best for them not to leave the shed.

Of course, players being players, they tried to leave the shed and got into a brawl with the burly partisan assigned to guard them. He fled to the farmhouse to fetch the others and a standoff ensued; after some tense negotiations between the partisans and the agents, the latter group agreed to return to the shed and rest if they could be allowed a brief exploration of the farm to assess its defendability. That done, both groups retired, regarding each other with narrowed, suspicious eyes, and with weapons close at hand.

During the night, O'Brien and McVeigh dreamed of endless spirals; for O'Brien this was strange and unsettling, but for McVeigh it was terrifying and he realised that his experience in the woods had left him with a fear of getting lost.

The next morning, Jacques Martin opened the door to the pig shed with a broad grin on his face; it seems the tensions of the night before had gone. His wife Helena was nowhere near as warm towards the new arrivals but she was at least welcoming, providing a meal that while not unusual was a touch extravagant considering that, well, there was a war on. The fine spread did little to make the agents any less suspicious of the partisans.

Martin answered the agents' questions and gave them some tips on getting around Saint-Cerneuf and fitting in. He told them that the local hotel owner was not to be trusted, that the mayor was "a puppet of the Fascists", and that the local gendarme was desperate to make a name for himself. Martin's brother-in-law Louis was also present for the breakfast meeting and indicated that he could get jobs for the SOE agents at the local copper mine as he was chief administrator there. During the meal, one of the less friendly partisans from the night before turned up outside and got into a brief argument with Jacques but Martin told the agents that it was nothing significant and was none of their concern. Again, this did little to allay their suspicions.

Later, Tidelina was moved to the farmhouse in the hopes of speeding her recovery while the rest of the team went exploring; Kirby Tinkerton and McVeigh went to the mine to sign up as labourers while Pierre-Yves Bertrand and O'Brien decided to look around for good potential sites for future parachute or aircraft landings.

Tinkerton and McVeigh met Louis again at the copper mine and he fabricated some documents confirming their employment but they were interrupted by the arrival of Claude Decharette, the son of the mine owner, who engaged them in conversation about their origins and mining experience, an impromptu interview that McVeigh just about managed to scrape through with his basic French.

Meanwhile, O'Brien and Bertrand scouted out an area near their original landing zone; to the French pilot's expert eyes there was no good place to set up a landing strip as everything was either too cramped, too hilly, or in plain view of a nearby mansion. While out and about they also investigated a strange patch of land where nothing seemed to grow, mentioned in their briefing as "the Devil's Field", and the remains of an old monastery. These explorations brought them closer to the mansion so they decided to introduce themselves to the occupants.

The door was opened by a beautiful young woman who introduced herself as Reni Decharette. The agents asked about working at the mansion, perhaps in the kitchens or gardens, and Reni took their names and promised to ask her father later in the day. During the conversation the young woman seemed to be listening to something the two agents couldn't hear but they couldn't work out what was going on and decided not to pursue the issue. They asked if they could return the next day to find out Monsieur Decharette's answer to their request for work -- although Bertrand seemed more keen on seeing Reni again -- and the odd young woman agreed.

Next time the agents of the SOE will... well I don't know what they're going to do, but the partisans want them out of their cow shed so they should go looking for somewhere to stay, but they'll probably instead spend the session trying to blow up a German patrol or kidnap Reni or something.

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