In my usual RPG group sometimes we can’t all make it to the game, as I’m sure it happens to each party. Normally we play Earthdawn (3E), and due to the storyline it’s rather hard to come up with reasons why one character or other disappeared. So, instead of making us all stop when we can’t have a full party, we’ve come up with Wraith Recon.
Well, obviously, we didn’t come up with Wraith Recon itself. It’s moderately known setting for Mongoose’s RuneQuest II – or rather, for D&D 4E, which was reworked for MRQII, and which we’re currently playing on house-ruled D&D 5E. Why the roundabout way? Because RuneQuest edition is what I have on a shelf, that’s why.
The main premise of Wraith Recon is simple: the players are a kind of spec ops for a fantasy kingdom, part of a super secret organisation specialising in trouble-shooting all types of issues that might endanger the country and its citizens. Need the price of an invading nation quietly assassinated? Send a Wraith Recon. Need somebody to spy on the new industrialist that decided to bring in some strange magics to the table? Send a Wraith Recon. Kill off all people in a village to keep the plague from spreading? You get the gist.
The players get debriefed, they are handed portraits/maps/items, collect their gear, and are directed to the portal or griphon-riding Air Cavalry. Off they go! The strict mission-oriented adventures make is easy to play Wraith Recon as a series of one-shots, either week after week or with months pause. Characters do not need to worry about equipment, magical items are provided as GM desires from the quartermaster, no need to count XP (just level-up players every mission or two, to keep the progression going), no need to worry about coming up with adventure hooks, no need to worry about all-encompassing story arc if that’s not what you want to do.
As we just started, and we weren’t sure whether this style of play would suit as all, we’ve decided to play through the introductory adventure included in the book. However, as I can’t ever just play by the book, I’ve mixed and matched my favourite tropes from war films and stories (I’m really into military history, you folks). The adventure is heavily inspired by Apocalypse Now, just with lizardfolk instead of Vietnamese (borderline racist, I know. But that’s a standard issue of fantasy, ain’t it?)
The party this week consisted of:
- Carric, half-elf barbarian (path of the zealot) with acolyte background
- Varius, human ranger (gloom stalker) with noble background
- Halvar, human wizard (school of evocation) with urchin background
As all of the characters were proficient in Stealth, that informed a lot of story choices. The adventure, for example, called for a battle with lizardfolk patrol – which of course was resolved on a sneak-around basis – and for a full-on assault on a fort at dawn (yes, there should be Wagner playing in the background for this scene), which was dumped as a dumb and risky Air Cavalry plan and replaced with night infiltration, assassination and sabotage. The issue of ruins swarming with undead was resolved with ‘we’ll just stay on a boat in the middle of the river and order an air strike from the command centre’. And you know what? It worked. This time.
The main house rule is the assassination. After all, if a standard humanoid is ambushed while sleeping or by an invisible enemy, they should die of a single cut to the throat. Of course, if there’s magic involved, or players roll poorly, it’s not going to work, but I’m all for awarding the players for thinking and using proper tactics in the field. If it means they can one-hit the boss, that’s perfectly fine – after all, the boss may have possessed some knowledge the players may need in the future, and neither or them can speak with dead. And of course the rule works both ways – if they’re not careful, the players can not-wake up one morning with their throats slit.
The feedback after the first session was pretty good; however, I don’t like the style of play suggested in Wraith Recon rulebook as it’s rather episodic and doesn’t leave much space for character interaction or roleplaying. It does have a certain cinematic feel, with a lot of fast-forwarding. I’m sure next time I’ll make some more space for those elements of play as I know my players like to get a bit more into their characters.
Anyway, this Sunday we’re going to finish off the story – finally off the boat, the characters will face some jungle encounters and the ultimate evil in the Heart of Darkness: Colonel Kurst. After that, back to Earthdawn – unless somebody can’t make it, again.