A friend of mine started running a hybrid roleplaying and miniatures campaign based on a freeform mashup of Starship Troopers, Aliens and whatever else space marine and scifi cliches you care to mention. It’s doing something I’ve thought about for years yet never acted on: adding some character to miniatures gaming. Putting some soul into it.
Our space marines are not very heroic – they’re grunts in space. Our three players each have three guys, one of which is always starring in that episode. A game consists of some 20-30 minutes of roleplaying and a tactical scenario. Mortality rate is high. The game master plays the opposing force, so it’s roughly 10 versus 10.
In the initial scenario our nine troopers encountered a hostage situation with a miner uprising in a human colony. We did conquer the day, but suffered a 30% casualty rate. My star character for the evening, Corporal Ace Wembley, died in the hands of our medic following an admittedly foolhardy rush to the enemy flank. My second most favorite character, Trooper Dog Lau, got shot in the first moments of the encounter, but at least lived to tell the tale. The Norwegian Tech, Bjornssen, got killed in a sniper shootout.
I was initially skeptical about how much depth the roleplaying would add, but it worked out great. We only played through a very short introduction and briefing – one scene – only sketching out the characters with a couple of lines and a single shot. But when the troops bled, it meant something.
We’re approaching it like a war movie or TV series – rookies come and the ones that stick start to gather personality. But there is no such thing as script immunity. I was really surprised at how little effort it took to breathe some soul into the otherwise standard fare, for a large part identically kitted out marines.
The Flying Lead system was new to me. It’s very good, completely supporting the way we roleplayed the characters and moving fast enough to keep things dynamic. The risk-based initiative system is brilliant. The way the situation developed and deteriorated felt both natural and cinematic. It tells a lot that even though we didn’t document anything, I can vividly recall all the key moments and most of the names and roles of the guys in the squad.
I’ve been thinking about a system to replace Warhammer 40’000 for me, and this could well be it. I like smaller unit action anyway, and Flying Lead allows you to keep things on an individual level without getting bogged down in minutiae. Most closely this resembles the original Rogue Trader, except with a much, much leaner system. Compared to current 40K, Flying Lead works well with individual characters… without adding character level complexity. It’s really rather good. (And it costs eight bucks.)
If this all intrigues you, do take a look at the gamemaster’s side of things.