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[Frozen Reaches] The Damaris Project

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or: what's a guy to do if his players really want to go?

Warning: this topic will discuss the overall story arc of The Frozen Reaches. If you are a player (what are you doing on the GM fora anyway, shoo!) stop reading now if you intend to participate in that particular story.

About a month ago the first 'chapter' of my Rogue Trader game - The Building of a Dynasty - ended with the Horst line of Rogue Traders being a modest but well-regarded line of Rogue Traders who rose to prominence in the aftermath of the Gothic War. I typed up a document with a general status of the Dynasty, their vessels and their captains, and added a series of plothooks in order for them to decided themselves what they wanted to do. One of the possible hooks was a footnote about a small planet called Damaris where the current Rogue Trader's grandson has already made some inroads with the natives to give the Dynasty a stable base to explore the Expanse from. His Master of Whispers, however, had reported that the likes of Hadarak Fell and Jeremiah Blitz were rumored to be on their way there, too... probably wanting to seize the riches for themselves.

As the next objective of my own Rogue Trader party was to ensure the Dynasty had that stable base in the Expanse they decided to go to Damaris - with excellent ties to the Battlefleet, the Adeptus Mechanicus and the Ecclesiarchy the prospect of using Damaris as a stable resupply base was too good to pass up. And remember, if the Koronus Expanse one day becomes the Koronus Sector, the world of Damaris has a shot at Sector or Sub-Sector capital... So off the players went in their little ship, into the Expanse. I ran a session of preparing to enter the Expanse including a visit to Port Wander, and then I stared running the Frozen Reaches adventure.

I do agree that the Frozen Reaches is a bit light on some of the stuff like extra maps and some details, but it is nicely detailed and sets a good stage. I also like the simple ground war system that allows you to also simulate the war in the fast, frantic pace that Orks are so rightly feared for...

Da Plan & setting the stage

The central story of Frozen Reaches is the Ork siege of the Planet Damaris. As the Horst line of Rogue Traders employs both ex-Guard as ex-Navy I really wanted to portray the scale of the siege and put my players in the middle, giving them control over everything and making their decisions really county. My first stop was seeing if I could find the maps, but even a thorough search through Deviantart and the interwebs did not yield the maps in high quality, so I want about it the old fashioned way: scan and print. Luckily I have acces to a nice big multifunctional printer (being a computergeek doth hath its perks) and both the system map and city map were printed out in color and A3 size.

Some wrestling with OpenOffice Calc (a free variant of Excel) later I had a sheet containing all the Ork attack strenghts based on the number of Roks present and the units involved in the conflict, with some formulas to speed up the process of calculating damage done to units depending on which location they defended and attacked in. It gave me an overview of which units would participate in the ground and space war, and save me a bundle of time rolling dice. It also allowed me to keep the conflict in the hands of the players without having 'administrative breaks' in order to set up for the next strategic round. Also made and printed a series of Quick Reference sheets so that the players knew what their options were during the strategic rounds, again to keep up the pacing.

Then I did some customizing. One of my players has taken the Flight Commander from Into the Storm and has a squadron of Furies (The Apostles) and Starhawks (The Disciples) - generally I represent these by adding bonusses to ships they are defending and roll some extra firepower when they are attacking to keep the speed in the game. The Frozen Reaches also mentions several fighters and bombers stationed at the Bulwark and the Spaceport and even mentions that the Levy fields can accomodate them if the Spaceport gets taken, so I decided to add a squadron of Marauders to the Bulwark and two Lightning squadrons to the spaceport. With the added fighters and the fact that the players not only brought their own ship, the Radiance, but a destroyer escort, the Exercitio I decided to up the ante on the Orks and added an Ork Terror ship, Da 'Ammer, to the already considerable Ork fleet. Terror ships are Ork carriers, so that added Fighta-Bomma's to the mix, too... Again, in order to simplify I gave all units involved a strenght like any other space or ground unit and keep score like that - in order to keep the speed into the game to really give it a frantic feel it is vital not to tack on too many complicated rules.

After that it was time to raid the miniature stock to fill up the big lonely city / space maps a bit. Being a Warhammer and Warhammer 40k player myself (though especially in the latter, not a very prolific one) I already had a modest stock of models, but nowhere near enough to represent all the units portrayed.

My Battlefleet Gothic ships are mostly of Eldar and Chaos origin (having played both fleets) and so far I only had one Imperial model, painted up by one of my players to represent the Dynasty flagship. After some consideration I ebayed a bit and ordered some stuff from the GW site. In short order a pair of Imperial Cruisers, several Ork Savage Gunships, a Terror ship, a Kill Kroozer, a pack of 3 Firestorms and a lance-variant Dauntless were delivered to my doorstep. I already had some planetary defense ships and Rogue Trader escorts, and all the ships combined I had all the models I need to properly fight the war in space. I declined to construct Ork Roks - as they are of a very limited use in further RT games, so I simply photocopied the picture of the Damaris Roks in the book a few times. An alternative is to spend an afternoon using Google to find the ship templates from Battlefleet Gothic or cut them out yourself from the rulebooks found on the GW site. Or just use one of the pre-made sheets that can be found on Dark Reign or the various Battlefleet Gothic fansites. Those and ten minutes with a photocopier should get you all the ships you need.

That left the war on the ground, and there I ran into two problems: the map is not that big, and neither me nor anyone I know plays either 40k Orks or Imperial Guard. The solution? Some old Orky miniatures from the Star Quest game that I still had lying around, and the Imperial miniatures from the Horus Heresy game - the stands are great to slot small pieces of paper in so you know what unit they represent, too. Solved and sorted. Again, an afternoon on Google looking for sheets or pics of Epic40k miniatures should get you all the Orky and Imperial models you need, so it doesn't need to be expensive or time-consuming.

Lastly, for a bit of mood. First the music - I threw in the sound tracks from the Homeworld series and Dawn of War. Tastes may very, but for me that music draws me in, also because I played both games to death. Then the visuals. The handouts of messages and reports were duly printed out to be given to the players at the appropriate time, that was simple enough. I also remembered playing an old game, Epic40k: Final Liberation, in my opinion the best Warhammer 40k universe game before Dawn of War. It tells the story of the Ork invasion of the planet of Volistadt and the Imperial response, and I loved it. The various Live-Action cutscenes are really nice, so I dug up  my old copy and with some mucking about managed to extract the videos of the cutscenes. Slightly lower quality versions also populate youtube, so check them out. Favorites include

& http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lwU_1axvmvI .

With that, the stage was set... in in all it took me about a week to get everything ready to my satisfaction. Now I hoped that the players would like it.

 

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The first session

The arrival of my players was swift enough with some really good rolling by our Navigator, and they wasted no time reaching Damaris orbit as they detected prowling (but not attacking) Ork warships. They had not technically responded to the distress call and they planetary governor had expected the grandson and not 'Horst the Elder' as they call him, but he was happy for the help. Hadarak Fell had appearently already left, deigning not the assist Damaris, but they detected the Aegis, Ordained Destiny and Starweaver easily enough. Splitting into teams the Horst dynasty quickly surmised all was not well on Damaris with the various powerblocs quabbling, but a lot of good roleplaying, interaction tests and talks later they had all the Rogue Traders, PDF forces and Space forces in line and talking to each other. Sebastian Horst the Elder was named Lord Commander Militant and quickly put his trusted inner circle to work - our Navigator was keeping an eye on the Auspex and garnered vital information about the forces arrayed against them, the Explorator did her thing on not only the planetary defences but also converted the ancient colony ship into a fireship, Lt. Jesco promoted himself to Commodore and whipped the orbital defenses and fighters into some kind of fighting shape and Lt. Earhart, the Arch Militant, spent time and her considerable charms into making sure the PDF played nice with the armsmen and experienced Guard veterans she brought into the mix.

The second session

The invasion began, and first blood was for the Radiance and the Aegis as they and the fireship brought down both Roks and both Savage Gunships in the Space Mission. In other quadrants Roks did land, though, and it took all four tank regiments (two from the planet, two supplied by the Rogue Traders) to destroy what Roks had landed. The assault had begun, but in the end only the tanks suffered some losses and the naval armsmen took losses and they defended the outlying bunkers. Both the Outlying Infrastructure and Outlying Industrial Structure were levelled by the players themselves to deny them to the Orks. The Radiance slid into dock and was under repairs for the next day and the System Defense Boats were ordered to bombard the Orks massing on the East Wall.

On Day two the war in space went considerably worse without the Radiance. Ordained Destiny boarded not once but twice, necessitating in the Exercitio deploying her Murder Servitors in defense of the stricken Lunar-class cruiser while the Starweaver admirably destroyed the escorts. But again victory went to the Imperials. As the Radiance left dock, the Ordained Destiny was towed in - the Orks seemed hell-bent on taking on the large shiny cruiser, which the players had renamed 'The Golden Brick'. Again three Roks made it to the surface, and again the tank regiments sallied forth. Three more Roks went boom, but the Orks wizened up to the tank regiments, inflicting more damage this time. The walls and bunkers held well despite mounting pressure on the East Wall.

Day three saw the largest Ork attack yet - twelve Roks and attendant escorts, and the Ordained Destiny was hauled from the dock to add her lances and batteries to the armoured first. All escorting ships were destroyed, but two Roks made it, including one with a very special shield generator which started churning out Fighta-Bomma's. Lord Comander Militant Horst stationed a permanent cadre of Murder Servitors on board the Ordained Destiny, with Blitz' blessing. The Naval Armsmen in the bunkers are starting to lose badly, and the East Walls are facing mounting pressure. All positions held, though, but it is clear that a Warboss of some level is present on the planet organizing the Orks as much as that can be done. The tanks too more of a pounding in their sally but still managed to destroy the unshielded Rok.

Day four is just about to start, and Ork ships are warping in right on top of our players...

( Next time I'll add some pics )

 

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