08 May 2012

Yo Joe! - Some "Comfort Food" Gaming

  Let's get the Real Life(tm) stuff out of the way.  After all that communication about moving our foster kids - things went quiet a week ago and have been eerily so for days.  Nobody seems to know anything - maybe something went bad with the possible homestudy?  Anyway, I'm now Packet-15lbs, having lost 15 lbs since submitting my Texas State Guard paperwork.  Maybe this will be enough to swear in on 12 MAY?  We'll see.  Since I opened my big mouth about being a gamer - specifically a wargamer - in my Maneuver Warfare calss at AMU, I'm now Blue Team Commander... COBRAAAAAA!

  So let's talk about Comfort Food Gaming.  As I get older, I begin to notice that when I get stressed or frustrated with life, I tend to "run home to Mama" as Sonarman Jones from Red October would have put it.  I listen to 80s rock.  I watch "Cheers" and "Night Court."  And I have the urge to play games I loved in the 80s, when gaming was a new hobby for me.  A lot of times this means D&D, AD&D, Traveller, TMNT, Robotech, Star Trek, Paranoia, Marvel Superheroes, Star Frontiers, Gamma World...

  A coupla days ago, we played GI Joe.  Now, there was never an official GI Joe roleplaying game - which I think is a terrible, terrible missed opportunity.  There have been some really good homages to GI Joe - such as Strike Force 7, Real American H.E.R.O.es, and of course Cartoon Action Hour - which I did some development work on back in The Day (the first edition, rather than the current edition linked here.)  There is also a great conversion for Marvel Superheroes here.  I chose to use Spycraft 2.0 for the game I ran, as the three players I had were familiar with D20 - as the day went on, I started to realize that Spycraft makes changes and additions to D20 that I'd forgotten about, and the players certainly hadn't been aware of them, either.  A lot of them are good changes, but they do add significant crunch.  If we continue to play, which the players want to, I'll have to really bone up on Spycraft 2.0 to make sure the players and the GM are getting the most out of the system.

  This game combined one of my favorite TV/Comic franchises from my childhood with my favorite hobby and delivered a really awesome day of stress-release.  Mary took the kids out and about as would be normal for an RDG meeting day, but since it's finals week and most of our players couldn't make it, I ended up with three players plus me.  Hence the one-shot opportunity.  GI Joe caught the imaginations of a couple of the players, and so we decided to give it a swing.

  We convened at 1100, and character gen took us until 1300.  Why two hours?  Well, Spycraft 2.0 is D20, but it's a particularly crunchy D20.  Feats and skills are implemented in a very structured way, which changes some of the base assumptions players of D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder may have.  There are new concepts added, like result caps for skill rolls, threat ranges for all skills, and the application of Action Dice.  There was a bit of a learning curve.  For those of you who'd like to try Spycraft 2.0, I heartily recommend this excel spreadsheet which will help you create characters.  It's a godsend.

  From 1300 to 2300 we played.  And played.  And it was most triumphant.

  The game was set in 1983, to take advantage of the original GI Joe team.  Our players were a Soviet scientist who had defected to the US, a member of the US Olympic rifle team, and a former-US Army CIA spook.  The game was broken into two sessions as I had thought my wife would be taking the kids home at around 1800, so I figured that was my turn-into-a-pumpkin hour.  As it happened, she didn't finish watching movies until 2300, and the kids just fell asleep over at her friend's house.  So we got a second adventure in from 1800-2300.

Session One -
  A mysterious series of psychiatric events begins to occur with US personnel in Germany, formerly stable personnel experience violent paranoia episodes and must be restrained and sedated.  What begins as an isolated incident at a border post slowly becomes multiple incidents, too many to be coincidence.  Intelligence wants to bring in the aforementioned Soviet defector, as he has experience with a KGB biological agent that was designed to cause just such paranoid outbursts - but was never quite stable.  The PC Agent was assigned to be his handler while he was in Germany doing the investigating, but before he could arrive, two members of the US Olympic team were stricken by the illness.  One of the witnesses is our third PC.  All of them are brought together in an invesitgation that had all the hallmarks of a good Cold War spy thriller.  Car chase.  Checkpoint Charlie.  A cigarette gun.  An assassin found assassinated.  Tensions across the Wall.  It was awesome, but wasn't quite clicking as GI Joe.  That said, I had a GREAT time, and so did the players.  Over the course of the session, we introduced some GI Joe characters by their file names,  but didn't yet hint at the team's existence.  Once the investigation turned up a refined version of the original KGB formula, and the Soviet scientist concocted a counteragent, they managed to track and capture Major Sebastian Bludd.  Bludd was apparently there to do away with the bottom-level agents who did the actual placing of the bio-agent, and the PCs were in the right place at the right time to nab him.
  The end of Session One had Colonel Dexter Sharp and Master Sergeant Conrad Hauser offering the PCs a place on a new kind of counter-terrorist team.  Since they'd all seen so much in Germany, and since they all had unique skills that could come in handy...  They accepted, and were flown back to Staten Island, New Jersey.  Fort Wadsworth, to be exact.

Session Two -
  The PCs meet SPC Lance "Clutch" Stienberg, the wrench-turner who takes them to the Fort Wadsworth motor pool - and under it.  To The Pit (original comics incarnation.)  The two players who were more familiar with Joe were smiling at all the references, and all three knew enough to know who they were dealing with when codenames started to be used as nicknames.  The Base Commander was Colonel Clayton "Hawk" Abernathy  and they met Alvin "Breaker" Kibbey who jokingly suggested the name "GI Joe" for the team when it was revealed the project didn't have an official designation yet besides some obscure DOD budgetary obfuscation name.  Hawk gave Breaker no end of disapproval on naming the team after a 1960s-70s action figure, and refused to consider the name. 
  Banking on none of the players having read the comic recently, I basically ran Operation : Lady Doomsday from Marvel GI Joe #1.  After qualifying with weapons, the players were summoned to a morning briefing with the rest of the team, who chided them on their credentials and offered some rather uncomplimentary ideas for codenames.  The situation was explained that Dr. Adele Burkhart had been kidnapped by a shadowy terrorist group, and due to political realities needed to be rescued as quickly as possible.

  The team was led by our PCs, with Clutch, Zap and Torpedo assigned to round out the team.  The infiltrated the island with a Zodiac boat, and using a great Google Maps-style depiction of Cobra Island found here they planned their mission.  This is where it went from Top Secret/SI to GI Joe.  Sneaking around Cobra island, they got their first look at the bluesuits, the Stinger jeep, the HISS tank, and Cobra's volcano base.  They waylaid a Cobra patrol, stole their uniforms, and snuck into the base by causing an explosion at the airfield as a distraction.  Once inside, they encountered a pompous Crimson Guard officer who had been left in charge of the base in the absence of Cobra brass, who lectured them on their slovenly appearance and lack of professionalism.  As he was telling them how Cobra would give back just as much as any trooper decided to put in, and all the wonderful rewards for faithful and competent service to Cobra, the team decided they were tired of listening to his guff and executed a lightning-fast attack to neutralize the officer, the armed members of Cobra in the room, and rescue Dr. Burkhart.

  Setting charges, they beat feet back to the Volcano motor pool, stole a vehicle, and broke radio silence to call for extraction.  A flight of Sky Strikers from the USS Nimitz laid down some AGM cover, while Wild Bill picked up the team in a Tomohawk.  When the helicopter landed, they saw that someone had painted "GI Joe" on the side of the helicopter nose-art style.  The PCs cheered.  They lifted off, mission accomplished, and returned with the Sky Strikers to the Nimitz, meeting Hawk there and recieving his congratulations for rescuing Dr. Burkhart and putting a hurt on this mysterious terrorist organization that was apparently larger, better financed and more organized than anyone had suspected.  Hawk grimaces at the new paint job on the Tomohawk, but says nothing until Breaker comes out onto the flight deck to tell him he has a radio call - from the President.  As Hawk walks back to the carrier's island to take the call, one of the PCs jokingly says "Yo Joe."  The cry is immediately picked up by the rest of the PCs, and the session ends with Hawk turning around and yelling "BREAKER!"

  The team hath been named, methinks.

  So we had a friggin blast playing GI Joe.  The players and I hope to do it again.  It was a great stress release for me, and  a definite double-portion of comfort food gaming.  I want to explore Joe gaming some more, and see if I can't squeeze it into my busy schedule...



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