Tag Archives: Modern

Redacted 3, GM Retrospective

It’s taken me a while to get to posting my post-run thoughts. But finally, here’s the story of how the run of Redacted 3 went.


The conditions at my workplace that led to the design of this “simplified” and shortened campaign run suddenly ramped up, just as it was about to kick off, such that I nearly postponed. The ripple-effects of that added pressure continued to be felt throughout the run, which suffered a bit as a result—not necessarily ruined, but less than it could have been. Six sessions turned out to be the right length, and I was as exhausted by the end of it as I normally am after twelve. I ended up doing quite a lot more research than I expected, and not nearly enough scrutinizing of the plan, maps, etc.

As previously mentioned, my original intention to run this as a “dungeon-crawl on a ship” gave way early, by in-the-moment necessity, to a more traditional “railroad” narrative. Without the narrative rails having already been laid, however, I had to scramble to put the next set-piece fight in front of the PCs and maneuver them towards it. Thankfully, it worked. But a prepared, deliberate narrative would have been more efficient. If I had to do it again, I would build that narrative from the start, but then again, I might now have enough knowledge to make the dungeon-crawl actually work, so who knows?

That said, the rest of it seemed to come off pretty well. The overall tone, theme, and tempo all seemed well-received, and the players went along with the flow nicely; they “got it.” I only had to be reminded to be “cinematic” a couple of times. I ended up awarding a lot of Bennies, and the players actually used most of them—that mechanic definitely got a workout. Aside from some much-discussed behind-the-scenes issues, my only real complaint was that I failed to work in the proper boss-fight I wanted.

Lessons Learned

  • I think the most important lesson isn’t really a lesson, so much as a reminder: I need to figure out what to do with “Quick Time,” as I’m now referring to that mechanical gray-zone between “combat time” and “out of combat time.” It is a frequent situation that desperately needs some sort of practical organization, and one that I have yet to find a satisfactory answer to. I have proposed various solutions over the years, but I’m thinking about researching how it’s handled in other RPG systems to see if I can find some inspiration.
  • I didn’t have a problem with how the “wagering” worked out, though it could have benefited from a little more prep-work, to figure out odds for various expected situations. But it wasn’t popular with the players; they didn’t seem to know what to do with it. This is something that needs to be “their idea” for it to really work properly, I think. I probably won’t use it again unless it’s requested.
  • Achievements were well-liked, and served their purpose: Players were encouraged to “get creative” in an attempt to trigger new ones, and they came up with some of their own. This will definitely get used again, though there is the question of whether or not I should keep the existing ones or wipe them all out and start over next time.
  • I used BAD a bit more than usual in this run. The per-session raising of BAD seemed to work. I’ll probably use that in the future. It was around mid-run that I started making some notes about when I should use (or should have used) it; that will be available for next time.
  • This was the first “real” use of Fantastic Dungeon Grappling. As expected, it got used quite a bit in the first session, and fell out of use after that. I’m happy with how it turned out, but we’ve identified a few holes I should probably fill before next time. Also, we really need to come to grips ( 😛 ) with how choking/strangulation works—every time it has come up, it’s gotten awkward.
  • One of the casualties of my lack of time and/or motivation was the self-discipline required to review the combat maps beforehand. This bit me in the ass multiple times, and as mentioned in previous posts, is something I consider “inexcusable.” I can’t let that slide in the future. That said, I did apply the actual ship’s dimensions to the hex-grid on the main deck map, but it never quite “looked right,” and I’m still not sure why—bad information, maybe? In the end, I think that having it “look right” is actually more important than being accurate.
  • I need to remember to “Keep it Moving” at all times, especially in a campaign like this one. It dragged in places because I let that slip. Related to this: It wasn’t until the last session that I realized the utility of going in media res to deliberately circumvent having the players waffle about what to do next, and that’s something I will definitely keep in mind for later.

The Future

I think a return, for Redacted 4, is a near-certainty. This time with a new enemy, and hopefully, a proper boss-fight. But depending on how my work situation goes, (a) I expect it may be a long time before I’ll even consider running anything again, and (b) when I do, the situation may have changed to allow a more “traditional” (that is, less combat-focused) campaign style. So, we’ll see…

Other Stuff

  • Final casualty count: 55, including dead and KO, but does not include off-screen or “the helicopter” (I had originally decided there would only be 50 terrorists aboard, but I realized quickly that it wouldn’t likely be enough 😛 )
  • Only had one player absence this run, but that meant I got to try out my “punishment”
  • This was my first time using Fantasy Grounds Unity’s animated graphics feature—for the ocean map, and the “24” clock graphic; I had to find an app to convert them to MPEG v8, but it did the job without too much fuss
  • My plan was to have one hour of game-time pass per session, but that changed to 30 minutes in the course of play; so noted

Redacted 3, Part 6, GM Debrief


GM Confidence: 3.5/5. I can’t justify giving it a 4; it was a little too unpolished. But ultimately, it did what I wanted, ending the run on a properly dramatic note, despite the rough edges.

The Promenade

I had a really hard time deciding what to do with this session. Apart from a properly dramatic “escalation,” there were two problems I was attempting to solve, which contradicted each other: I wanted to do the fight in the Promenade, specifically to give an opportunity to get a few achievements (as the players correctly guessed) that they wouldn’t have had otherwise; and I wanted to do something in the engine area because there hadn’t been enough close-quarters fighting for a group primarily designed as close-quarters fighters. Ultimately (as evidenced) I decided to do both. The Promenade fight was supposed to be a quickie, but I know how these things go well enough to make plans to abbreviate the second part if needed. I didn’t want to do any sort of quick-time scene for the approach; I just wanted to get right to it. I decided to go in media res to skip over the inevitable “what do you do next?” fiddling about, and having to funnel them toward the right location—simplify; put them straight where they need to be, and point them at the objective. This is one of those situations where removing the players’ agency is often welcomed—they don’t enjoy waffling about any more than you.

It went more-or-less as expected. I expected Mayhem to stay back and provide cover—and potentially kill everyone before the other PCs could reach the fight zone (the reason for the second group, and their delay). I expected someone to attempt some kind of shortcut to Deck 5, though we dithered over the details longer than we should have—and dithering of this sort is usually the result of too many and/or unclear choices; I could’ve “funneled” them in a useful direction. (Afterward, it occurred to me that if Ness had followed Shredder to Deck 4 and the casino stairs, she would have been in the fight sooner.) I expected they would use the car—I was pleased I didn’t need to nudge them in that direction at all.

I meant to have “Shoe” encounter Mayhem on the rifle, and end up helping cover for him—completely forgot. The “clear/not-clear” mechanic I came up with didn’t even get used. I did not expect them to take the second group down so quickly; the security team was supposed to actually help. We would’ve benefited from a few more images of the shop-fronts, to better communicate that geography—once again, I didn’t think through the issues with the map.

Down Below

When we finally got to the bowels of the ship, there was enough time to do a fight, but not on the scale I felt it deserved. I had a nagging negative feeling about the way the “sentry takedown” situation was unfolding that I didn’t fully understand at the time. After the game (of course) I realized what it was: Just hanging some bad guys out to get ganked from the shadows, ultimately, feels a bit “unearned”—just a die-roll to surprise them, and an easy, undefended kill.

This segment needed some kind of quick-time mechanic, and a (usable) map—you know, like a GM normally does. Then they’d have to figure out how to approach unseen. There should have been some consequence for failure to sneak up (which did not occur), or taking too long to dispose of the sentry (which did occur), but I didn’t manage to come up with anything at the last minute. It took long enough to get through the sentries that I couldn’t justify throwing in a proper fight with the mini-boss, and that’s a shame. The coordinated death-from-above was “cinematic,” but a bit…unsatisfying. And once again, I find myself questioning the right way of handling the situation where the bad guy(s) is basically defeated, but not 100% “down” yet—continuing to play it out is tedious and pointless, but just saying “it’s over” feels lame, too.

I was starting to suffer from a bit of brain-lock toward the end, which I would later conclude to be the combination of a lack of preparation and performance pressure eating up the available mental bandwidth. Preparation gives your brain the capacity it needs to deal with new, unexpected issues—like someone suddenly deciding to use a garrote when you haven’t read up on it in over a month 😛

The End?

After the fight was over, all that remained was really just a narrative wrap-up; not much for the PCs to actually do at that point. Another after-the-game realization was that I should have made Dalavi, somehow, be physically unavailable. Then he’d have to talk the PCs through the bomb-defusing process—making them roll for it, and feeling the tension of potential failure. I felt good enough about the results, but honestly, I was just glad the run was finally over, so I could relax.

I’ll speak to what comes next, and (potentially) when, in the campaign wrap-up review post to follow.

Redacted 3, Part 5, GM Debrief


GM Confidence: 4/5. Given last week, mercifully, this session basically went to plan, with only a few, minor, rough edges for me to complain about. We’re approaching the finish-line now. As usual, the better the session goes, the less I generally have to say about it afterward.

The Sniper

As mentioned previously, there was supposed to be a sniper involved in the fight last week. I decided to kick this session off with him downing an “expendable” NPC to set everyone moving. I had been toying with making the sniper one of the mini-bosses, El-Saleem, but this time, I thought an “upgrade” was warranted—even at lower skill levels, chances of a miss were pretty low, so survival would come down to PCs’ tactical/defensive decisions. At this point, I wasn’t concerned about him being spotted, and/or being killed, since the “ambush” was already over—though I would have preferred him to participate on the Sun Deck. This was another “Quick Time” scenario, but it had a sort of natural rhythm, the time it would take the sniper to line up another shot. I meant for Mayhem (or whomever took the shot) to make the shot roll in secret, but forgot until it was too late.

The Middle

Given the last two sessions, I was more keenly aware of the need to prevent things from bogging down. The helicopter provided the “countdown”/urgency. The plan was to use the drones to encourage the PCs to keep moving, but I couldn’t quite figure out how to fit them into the narrative. Arbitrarily deciding they would be attacked by an explosion feels, well…arbitrary. I decided after the game, firstly, that a “random encounter” thing might have sufficed, providing the players were “aware” of it and rolling it themselves; and secondly, a Tactics or Observation skill roll might be better, with Margin of Success as the time-to-attack. Also, players tend to waffle about next-moves when there are too many or too few obvious options/solutions presented; ideally, I would use nearby NPCs to communicate this—there were plenty here to use, and they could have benefited from a little more development. Had I more time…

Other than needing a slight nudge in the direction of using the RPG on the helicopter, it went well enough. I did find myself having/trying to steer them toward dealing with the helicopter first and not “something else,” and I would generally consider that a minor GM failure to communicate the situation properly (and/or be flexible enough to accommodate the players).

The Sun Deck

The bad guys “remembered” to wear their acquired armor this time, making them (slightly) more dangerous, along with their improved (via BAD) skill levels. The bad guys really should have been “warned” of the PCs’ approach and not been surprised—meh. The glass panels made the terrain a little more tricky to navigate—also confusing, as it turns out; I might have been able to communicate that better. I decided in favor of the cinematic, and let the glass be shattered by the bullets, even though I suspect it’s actually too thick for that. I didn’t have a proper mid-point change-up planned, but one presented itself when I got down to the last bad guy or two, cornered, and remembered I had grenades. Spreadsheet to the rescue, once again making the complicated math mostly-painless, and I finally got a proper PC injury!

As the third combat in a row at “firearm” ranges, I am very aware that the close-combat focused characters (that is, everyone but Mayhem) are not getting the best use of their abilities. This is narrowing what I want to do for the finale quite a bit.

The RPG shot at the helicopter went as expected. I prepped a lot of that ahead-of-time. They did end up using the default anti-tank warhead, which is not what was loaded to be used against the PCs at the pool, but I actually intended to do that anyway—”cinematic.” I actually intended to carry on a little after the helicopter, but in the moment, it seemed like the right place to end on a cliffhanger.


  • I didn’t get much mileage out of the BAD 4 this time, but it is capped at 4. After-the-fact, I see a number of places I could have reasonably thrown that in for good measure.
  • I’m still debating about whether or not to make the Extra Effort “Overcome Encumbrance” option an official house-rule.
  • “No body; no death”—I can bring back the terrorist boss later if I want, regardless of how ridiculous his survival chances realistically are.
  • PCs will have armor next time. If Mayhem had armor this time, the results of the grenade would have been much different.

Redacted 3, Part 4b, GM Debrief


GM Confidence: 3/5. Saying it was better than its predecessor isn’t very telling. Despite the apparent relative improvement, I walked away from it feeling less than enthusiastic. As usual, it took some downtime to nail down what the problem might have been, but it turned out to be pretty obvious (to me).

The Recovery

As stated previously, after a long night’s sleep and a long shower, I had already mostly figured out how to fix last week’s long list of problems, and I continued to improve it throughout the week. I was able to find images to clarify the situation outside the flying bridge. I had better images of the combat area, and a much better understanding of the geography and how to communicate it. I had places to relocate the ambushers so it worked better, and still made sense. I rewired elements of the immediate narrative to flow better. At game-time, I actually felt pretty good about it all.

We decided to splice the video together at the intermission so we didn’t end up with two short videos broken in a weird spot. As we started, I was able to catch up, make the necessary clarifications, and explain the landscape sufficiently—or better, anyway. No problems there.

The Paranoia Puzzle

That’s what I’m calling it, for now, anyway. Here’s the idea: The PCs find themselves before a wide-open space with a locked chest in the middle. Empty or full of treasure? Doesn’t matter—they don’t know. Unless there’s a proper Leeroy Jenkins in the party, the players will inevitably take hours of real-time looking for eleven-foot-poles and rubber gloves, poking every floor tile, throwing grappling lines, leaping about, tapping or pulling on anything sticking out, plugging holes, and otherwise beclowning themselves, in an attempt to cover every possible perceived vulnerability before they finally, actually, open the damned chest. Sure, it can be entertaining as GM to watch the antics unfold, but if you’re trying to keep things moving—and this is supposed to be an Action game, so it must keep moving—it reduces momentum to an aggravating crawl. That’s not what I intended here, but it’s what we ended up with.

(Side note: If you really want to see them squirm, very seriously ask them things like, “So, are you touching that with your bare hands?” 😛 )

In this case, we have the hostages: seated in the center of a wide-open space, the pool area, secured to what appeared to be a bomb. PCs are the Big Damn Heroes™, but with some of the hostages being family, there was no question they would attempt a rescue—so motivation wouldn’t be a problem. Behind-the-scenes, the bad guys were attempting to get the PCs to call Dr. Dalavi, the explosives engineer, so he would reveal his location, so they could go grab him. The bomb was a fake, but the PCs weren’t built for Explosives Ordnance Disposal, so logically, they would defer to the expert (the bad guys didn’t have any reason to know that, but it’s a reasonable guess). Simple enough. What happened was a bit of a mess, that took way too long, and totally killed the momentum.

  • They suspected an ambush from the start—that’s fine. I knew, from last week, that Zoltar would scout forward, and Mayhem would ascend to Deck 12 and poke around—also fine.
  • For starters, they held back a bit more than I expected, trying to get a look at the bomb from as far away as possible. I didn’t expect that level of caution, or scrutiny of the bomb itself—I said it was “obviously a bomb.” Was that not enough? 😛 They talked about needing to call the expert, but they didn’t actually do it.
  • I introduced the drones, and they spent time trying to figure out how to bring them down, but eventually kinda “forgot about them.” To be fair, the drones weren’t meant to loiter, watching, while the PCs deliberated, but the PCs had yet to pull the trigger.
  • I forgot to tell the players the video was playing on the movie screen, so that didn’t factor in like it should have. It was specifically intended to lampshade the “camera” fiasco from last week. Meh.
  • After some head-scratching over the attempt to sneak up through this wide-open space, it looked like Zoltar might actually attempt to defuse the bomb. I hadn’t even considered that. Meanwhile, they still hadn’t called the expert. The ambushers—through the GM—were getting impatient.
  • The rest of the PCs continued to shift positions, doing what they could to stay behind cover (except Ness, who was running around as a distraction). At one point, Ness tried the backstage door, behind which were several heavily-armed jihadis—I was really afraid she was going to force the ambush early. Saved by BAD penalties.
  • Meanwhile, Zoltar continued to examine the bomb and prevaricate. They mentioned calling the expert, again, and did not actually say “we’re calling him now,” again. I asked the player after the game, and he said he was concerned the enemy would be listening to the radio, but he failed to vocalize that—it was worse than that, but nevermind. 😛

Then the PCs decided to pull back, and it looked like they were actually going to go back downstairs and fetch the expert directly. I just wasn’t prepared for that at all. By this point, it was getting close to the two-hour mark, and there wouldn’t be enough time to run the actual fight the whole session was built around, and I nearly called it off there. It might have been better if I had. But I decided the bad guys would switch to “Plan B,” and trigger the ambush before the PCs either disappeared entirely or dispersed enough to make the RPG shot(s) mostly-useless.

The Ambush, Take-Two

  • It was a really short fight, in combat-time…can’t decide if that’s amazing or underwhelming.
  • I completely forgot the ambushers were wearing body armor.
  • The RPGs did their job, if only briefly. I finally got to do legit injury to a couple of PCs.
  • I tallied up the ranged modifiers for the ambushers well beforehand, but I didn’t actually look to see where that left the riflemen—a 4 to hit. Well, it’s “realistic,” I guess.
  • There was a sniper, well-hidden, but the PCs stayed under the cover of the Deck 12 walkaround, and he never got a clear shot—completely negated. PCs’ paranoia paid off, sorta.
  • The drones never reached the battle area before all the jihadis were dead, so they got left hanging. I really needed a better plan for those.
  • Mayhem went from no achievements to besting everyone else (I think) in one sitting. 😛 This really was his element, to be fair, and I’m realizing I need a bit more “close-quarters” action coming up to get everyone else involved.
  • While I had considered the inappropriateness of RPGs near what was meant to be seen as a bomb—the major plot-hole I discovered at the last minute last week—I hadn’t actually considered how nearby, raging, explosive combat would affect those attached to it. Oops.

This session was supposed to be just the combat, and the wrap-up afterward. I got more, and less than I bargained for. We had to go long to get the combat in, and didn’t end up having time for the wrap-up. And I buggered the wrap-up a little, realizing afterward that by showing them the video of jihadis breaking into their room to snatch Dalavi, I couldn’t do “something else” instead. That’s GMing for you.


  • This is my longest recorded session, at ~4:50, though it doesn’t really count, since it’s actually two short ones, crimped together. Longest is still ~4:30.
  • The last two fights have demonstrated how close-quarter-focused all the PCs but Mayhem are, and I realize I should have steered the character development a little better, one way or the other.
  • I did have a glitch in my explosion spreadsheet, which I have now fixed. That said, it was definitely helpful here.
  • I was excited to see the “ricochet” rule from Tactical Shooting: Extreme Conditions actually come up in game, but when it did, I immediately realized it was problematic—a Critical Failure shouldn’t result in what could be considered an equal-or-better outcome than if the roll had succeeded (in this case, hitting an adjacent PC, with no chance of defense). Have to go back to the drawing board on that one.
  • I screwed up the odds on Ronnke’s wager that Mel would not roll a Crit Fail all night—I got it backwards; should probably have been 2:1, if not disallowed altogether as “negligible.” Well, what’s done is done.

Redacted 3, Part 4a, GM Debrief


GM Confidence: 0/5. I consider this session a complete disaster, and an entirely preventable one, which makes it worse. There is an easily-followable chain-of-failures, leading from the very beginning of the session, to its premature, unceremonious end with a GM’s BSOD.

How have I failed thee? Let me count the ways…

I had a bad feeling about this one, but couldn’t quite put my finger on why, and I was sorely tempted to call it off. There were interruptions during the week that resulted in less available prep-time. I discovered a bad plot hole on Friday that I was frantically trying to resolve up to game-time—that is, the use of an RPG near the “bomb” nullified the deception. That I eventually came up with a weak-but-serviceable resolution left me with a false sense of security in having solved the problem, while all the other issues I had yet to identify remained unaddressed. This was one of the worst cases of GM “tunnel vision,” on my part, in the last decade or so, that I can recall. The following is a list of known fail-points in mostly-chronological order:

  • I had originally assumed the “entertainers” got around the ship via non-guest-accessible areas, but in the moment the magician was asked about alternative routes, I realized that if I gave the players that option, they would take it, and that would result in a small amount of chaos. So, I backed it off. No harm done.
  • The PCs’ reactions to being monitored by the security CCTV system was the first real issue to be revealed. It wasn’t just the fact that I didn’t know how many cameras were where, looking at what, or how one “sneaks” around them. It wasn’t just that I didn’t know, specifically, where the monitoring occurs, or how thoroughly—I had some educated guesses. It was in that moment that I realized the PCs would be walking right past where I thought that should have been, in the “office” area behind the bridge, and if the bad guys had smashed all the monitoring stations, I had no idea where they could have gone to continue monitoring—but it was now well-established that they were. Plot-hole discovered.
  • When the players also mentioned finding the security office and, not just shutting down the cameras, but possibly using them, I went white. Another plot hole, and a potentially serious one. (See below.)
  • I didn’t think about the PCs going back to their cabins, which meant I hadn’t given any consideration to their potential interactions with the NPCs there. GMing is all about improv, so I did what I could—could have been better, I suppose.
  • Due to the above point, I hadn’t considered PCs asking about Dalavi’s background, and his relationship with his wife. I hadn’t actually developed that well enough. Improv, again. I let the Universe decide about the situation with his wife.
  • I didn’t think about going outside the ship, to the bridge—this is really inexcusable, as I had considered just that for the set-piece fight at the Dalavi’s cabin. As a result, I hadn’t fetched the right images, nor considered the geography of the area, much less what it would take to navigate it, or what doors might be locked. This is a pretty common operation, though, so we know how to wing-it. (I discovered afterward that I got the geography a bit wrong—but near enough.)
  • I didn’t consider someone (specifically, Zoltar—who else?) might go onto the bridge alone, meaning that first encounter with the 3rd Officer possibly wouldn’t be witnessed by all. I also didn’t consider him working his way past the windows, where he could see right into the offices, which I had presumed to house the security monitoring stations. Not a big deal, I guess.
  • Another moment of temporary insanity: At the moment the words were about to come out of my mouth, I realized that if the 3rd Officer was in the bathroom during the whole takeover situation on the bridge, he would have no idea where the bad guys had gone when they left. This meant the PCs would be floundering around trying to guess, now that I had said all the monitors were smashed. More improv—I had to let them see the hostages at the pool area without revealing too much. I had given no thought whatsoever to things like “zoom,” and “pan” capabilities.
  • What made the previous point worse: at the very moment I told the players what they could see on the pool deck, I realized full consequence of the PCs’ having access—my carefully planned, cleverly hidden ambush would likely be in plain sight to the wide-angle cameras. I heard myself saying “you see nothing” while my brain was frantically trying (and failing) to figure out a way for that to be true. This was the point where things truly started to unravel.
  • At some point, I threw out that the bad guys might have repurposed the media center as a monitoring station—I had seen this place in a tour video—I didn’t consider that they might make going there a high-priority agenda item. Of course, I had only a vague idea where it might be, if it was even suitable for that purpose. I was fortunate they decided to sort out the hostages first.
  • Now that the PCs were on the bridge, they had access to full deck plans—I knew this because I had seen it in some videos of bridge-tours within the 24 hours leading up to game-time (which I really needed to have seen much earlier). That meant they had full knowledge of the back areas of the ship. And if Zoltar taking snapshots of the plans weren’t enough, I realized they have a bloody “tour guide” now, with the 3rd Officer. Of course, I have been virtually unable to find any sort of diagram of what those areas look like, or how one gets around them, up to this point.
  • I had no idea what the hell an EPIRB was 😛
  • Of course the PCs would decide to take the back-way to reach the Deck 11 pool area. Fine. I could just fast-forward them to their exit—they don’t need the details, really—but I wasn’t really certain what exits were actually available, though I had a vague notion or two. (As a result, they didn’t come out in quite the right place, but I can correct that later.)
  • To be fair, I was pretty flustered already, by this point, given all the crap that preceded. But once the PCs got to Deck 11, the whole thing started to collapse. It’s not that they were expecting an ambush—I figured that would be the case. But I had gotten a little confused around the geography, and was expecting them to emerge somewhat closer to the main pool area. I had them much farther back, which meant my carefully-planned, cleverly-hidden ambush was going to be compromised. Then it got worse when they started talking about Mayhem going up a level to Deck 12 to scout around for a sniper position—in which case, he was highly-likely to end up on top of part of the ambush, neverminding causing some other tactical issues. For whatever insane, inexcusable reason, that had not occurred to me whatsoever.

After all that, my brain was just overloaded with cognitive dissonance, and the circuit-breaker was finally tripped. We took an intermission, which has sometimes been enough for me to regain my footing, but at that moment, I could not in any way arrive at an acceptable solution. The very thing that would have filled this set-piece fight with escalated tension would be utterly nullified, as the PCs leisurely sidled up behind the ambushers and murdered them, entirely unaware. To just move forward with it as-is would have been utterly boring, but I didn’t have time to reconfigure. So, for the first time in multiple decades (I think?), I had to cut the session short, because the players “broke the GM”—or, if I’m honest, the GM broke himself; I just let the players hold the hammer. It will go down in my GMing history amongst the other spectacular failures I’ve had to learn from.

After an extra-long night of rest and a long shower the next morning, I had already worked through all the problems—maybe 75-85% anyway. But that will have to wait until next week.

Redacted 3, Part 3, GM Debrief


GM Confidence: 4.5/5. I’d say this session went about as well as I could reasonably expect, especially given the struggle it required to see production.

In Between

As I was processing what the PCs might do in the wake of the last session, I realized I had absolutely no idea what one might do with “the doctor” in a situation like this. There’s no way off the ship. There’s nowhere to hide, really. The best I could come up with was to relocate him to a room the bad guys had already “processed,” hoping they wouldn’t return to re-check. I was prepared to have the wife suggest this, if needed; fortunately, the players arrived at more-or-less the same idea on their own.

Carrying on with the “railroading” I mentioned last time: I knew that what they’d really want is to go after the helicopter (which turned out to be correct). I knew where I wanted to send the PCs. I wasn’t able to come up with a better plan to get them there other than to rely on the players to “play along”—something I normally do not in any way recommend (but this campaign is a particular exception). So, I left a suggestion (via radio) that the helicopter was “unimportant,” and used the NPC, Bob, to leave a clue pointing toward the theater. Weak, but sufficient for them to pick up on the not-so-subtle direction, which, thankfully, they followed.

The Rescue

Especially in the early years, as I have often lamented, attendance problems were the bane of my GM existence. One of the ways I’ve learned to cope is the cunning use of narrative devices that “allow” for a player’s untimely absence within the story. In this case, I announced to the players during the Session Zero that the character of anyone who missed a session would be unceremoniously captured by the enemy as “punishment” (tongue-in-cheek of course).

I have to admit that, naïvely, I didn’t actually think it would happen. But, in this session, it did. So, how to work that into the narrative? I ultimately decided “simple is best”: have the PCs stumble across him in-transit, and he has no memory of how he got into that position. I really wanted the PCs to be taking the elevator down, so I could have the comedic doors-open-surprise-reveal, but I had to settle for second-best. The fight itself wasn’t meant to last long, and it didn’t—a testament to the potential lethality of a “focused” 250CP character group.

Off-screen, Mayhem picked up an Idiot Ball and got knocked on the head, drugged, and dragged off. Once back in play, his “punishment” consisted of the tipsy condition (B428), which I kept forgetting about, and a little “wandering damage.”

The Theater

I’ve been gradually increasing the number of opponents in the set-piece fights, feeling out the right balance. In this instance, though, I wanted to give them the opportunity to reach out from the shadows a bit—a proper Mook Horror Show. I’m also still trying to figure out how to make this “Quick Time” idea work, and this was an ideal spot for it. Unfortunately to that end, due to a combination of miscommunication and impulsiveness, Mayhem’s player “went loud” ahead of schedule, and we went into regular Combat Time instead. The PCs were outnumbered 2:1, but I had expected half of those to be eliminated before combat-proper began. I had another four waiting in the back-rooms in case they were a little too successful at the start—they weren’t needed. Even with their numbers and armaments, they were apparently at a significant disadvantage. That 2:1 fight took around an hour and twenty minutes—not bad, actually.

I finally got a “proper” cliffhanger. The idea came at the last minute, as they often do. But this one is going to lock me into a particular narrative direction for next week. All good.


  • Fantasy Grounds did a big update, which wrecked parts of the GURPS skin, so I had to spend prep-time fixing things; the new 3D-map feature is not something I expect to use, but then I said the same of the animated maps, so we’ll see…
  • I’ve been using BAD (Action2 p.4) more than previous games of mine; it occurred to me that using BAD “Universe Reaction” rolls made sense, so I implemented that here for the first time
  • Wagering was under-used again; it may take some time for folk to get used to the idea—probably just after the last session 😛
  • I realized the day after that I missed an opportunity in not casting Chris Tucker in the “magician” role—that would have been perfect 😛
  • I had lampshaded the “doves” in the first session—a John Woo homage. This won’t be the last time.
  • The boss, and the two mini-bosses have now been (mostly) introduced

Redacted 3, Part 2, GM Debrief


GM Confidence: 4.5/5. This session went way better than the last one. There were some rough edges, as usual, but nothing disastrous. Due to the “simplified” nature of this run, there’s actually not a lot to talk about when things go smoothly.

What Went Right

The nature of this campaign means the connecting tissue of the story is less than important. I decided that “railroading,” which I normally take pains to avoid, is a perfectly acceptable motivational mechanism in this case. I used the “radio” to get the PCs to the first fight of the two, and the “doctor” to get them to the next one—a simple, logical progression. And I don’t feel bad about it 😛

Two fights in one session is tricky; a single fight can take up most of a four-hour session sometimes. For one, I had fewer PCs for this session, which would make it a little faster. For two, I intended the first fight to be extra short, so I put the PCs in a position where they could get the jump on the bad guys. As such, I didn’t really plan for a midpoint-twist or anything flashy. It partially worked, though it took a bit longer than I intended. I planned to do it “mapless” but reflexively ended up using one anyway—a mistake that probably dragged things out longer than needed. The second fight was the intended set-piece for the session, but ended a little shorter—which actually worked out. In both cases, that one round of Do Nothing, due to Partial Surprise, was a killer for the bad guys, and could easily have been much worse if they didn’t have Combat Reflexes.

What Went…Weird

The lead-in to the first fight was a little clunky, once again, due to the not-quite combat timing—I really need a better solution for this. I fault myself for not putting in the work (by design) and really thinking through the narrative flow. I was better prepared for the second, at least.

The players surprised me in both cases. I hadn’t considered making a Molotov Cocktail at all—bad GM! I hadn’t expected Shredder’s player to “test the boundaries” by trying to hit all three bad guys at the bar at once, and it resulted in some rules mistakes. (I nailed it down later for future reference: Rapid Strike and Dual-Weapon Attack can not be combined, and Rapid Strike is not allowed for a Move and Attack.) Then there was Shredder’s “Crotch-of-Death” flying-scissors attack at the end, which I had no idea how to adjudicate at that moment. Fortunately, another player was handy with the lookups while I was trying to sort these things out, and came up with some answers I could use. I look forward to creative solutions, though I wish I were better prepared sometimes. That’s GMing.


  • The capture-team at the bar in the first fight should have approached “deceptively,” leaning on their supposed authority with these “random guests,” rather than approaching guns-out—this would have changed the flavor of the situation somewhat
  • I couldn’t quite formulate the words at the time, but: I know the cabins can be “deadlocked” from inside, and I suspect they can be unlocked as such from the outside (would be dangerous otherwise), but being able to lock it from the outside, such that the occupants couldn’t open it from the inside, is highly unlikely IRL—but this is cinematic!
  • Shredder’s slide-door at the cabin should probably have been too heavy to manipulate like that IRL—but this is cinematic!
  • I decided, in the moment, that Shredder’s door “opponent” would use All-Out Attack to kick the door back. It was somewhat logical given he had the door as cover, and needed the extra assurance it would hit. But the use of All-Out has always been a little weird—bad guys should make mistakes, but as a GM who is also a player much of the time, it’s hard to “let go”

Redacted 3, Part 1, GM Debrief


GM Confidence: 3.5/5. Some good. Some bad. I would say it was a disappointingly sloppy start, but not an utter failure.


For a campaign designed specifically to reduce my usual workload, it certainly involved a lot of prep-work. Fortunately, a lot of that was up-front, and I won’t have to do it again, excepting some cleanup here and there. As usual, I was scrambling up to the last minute, getting graphics together and re-writing notes. On top of that, we got off to a really late start due to some scheduling issues, and we ran late to compensate, which may have turned out to be somewhat of a mistake. But we did get in a couple of practice combat sessions with the characters (in their unfinished state) in the weeks leading up, which smoothed things out a bit when the fighting started.

The First Half

The first half or so was all setup. This is typical. Aside from the obvious purpose of orienting the players, it gives me a chance to re-acclimate myself to my role—I tend to go for rather long periods, sometimes years, between runs. That part went well enough.

I expected that the “unusual” concept, the wagering of Bennies, would garner less than full participation, and that was the case. But one bet was placed, at least, and paid out in hilarious fashion. I expect that, for the next session, there will be a little more activity to that end, now that they’ve seen it work. But it would help to put some more ideas out there, and I need to pre-plan the odds for some likely scenarios. I decided at the last minute not to give out a free Benny “for wagering purposes only”—I didn’t feel like it would really help. So far, so good.

The Second Half

When we finally got to the meat-and-potatoes of the evening’s entertainment is the time when it all started to unravel.

For starters, I didn’t think through the lead-in well enough. As a result, the timing got a little weird: Is this combat-turns or not? How much time has passed? How far did they move? At least there are two PCs with Impulsive who made predicting their responses fairly easy, so I didn’t have to twist their arms to get them involved.

The real problem was the map, or lack thereof. I was starting to realize my error while I was dealing with the aforementioned “timing” issues. This was the one set-piece fight I could guarantee would occur, and I knew that from a very early stage. I had been thinking, for the months leading up, that I really needed to scrutinize the intended combat area and figure out what I needed to do with the mapping. I didn’t. I’m not sure why. It turned out I also could have benefited from having some additional images of the scene on hand, to give the players a better understanding of the geography—I had plenty. This mistake resulted in a last-minute, half-assed attempt to paint the picture well enough the players could understand. I suppose the attempt succeeded well enough, but it could—should—have been much better.

The fight itself actually went pretty well, overall. But since we’d run late, I had to wrap things in a spot I hadn’t intended, and with my brain somehow addled by the late hour (I guess?), I just couldn’t process how to close it out properly, and made a right mess of it. Honestly, I should’ve taken a short break before closing it out, to give my brain a chance to catch up.

Even so, it wasn’t all bad. Here are some highlights:

  • I was really happy with how the characters turned out; there is enough variation to set them apart, and it was fun to watch them do their thing—they each got their chance to shine. I did notice how they managed to cover for each other without really “planning” to—good teamwork.
  • I finally got that “proper” use of Fantastic Dungeon Grappling, and it actually went pretty smoothly, no doubt, due to the test-fights we did on previous nights.
  • They went through quite a few Bennies in this one; that might come back to bite them as the BAD gets higher.
  • I put the last bad guy in the lifeboat overhead as a midpoint twist, which was fine, but I really didn’t think through when he should appear, so he showed up a bit late.
  • There was only one instance of a player throwing the “this is supposed to be cinematic!” flag; better than I expected 😛
  • The players seemed to like the Achievements. I’ve got over a dozen currently lined up, most of which I have graphics for. I’ll add more as I think of them (assuming I have the brain-cycles to spare).

Introduction to GURPS Action: Redacted


As was stated numerous times with regard to my previous run of Sea Dogs, my workload at work over the last year or two has increased uncomfortably, to the detriment of my ability to effectively run a “normal” RPG campaign. This remains the case, though maybe I’m in a bit of a very-welcome lull at the moment. But GMing is a part of me that I can’t quite turn off, and we’re a bit short on GMs at the moment. So, I needed something I could reliably manage in this hostile environment—the less “work” required, the better. I tossed around a couple of ideas for a while. But while I was on a cruise vacation at the end of October ’23—first time since before the Plague of 2020—I came up with the idea of having some terrorists attempt a takeover of a cruise ship, and loose some fully-cinematic Action PCs upon them in that enclosed environment. It’s about as simple as you can get: create some generic bad-guys, and some set-piece fights, loosely-connected with some basic plot stuff that doesn’t really matter—no need for it to “make sense.” As close to perfect as I could hope for, I think.

Campaign Overview


“Keep It simple!” Basically, it’s an ’80s/’90s action movie in a modern setting (I toyed around with making it a “period piece”). Die Hard on a Cruise Ship. I’m shooting for True Lies level of cinematicness—still kinda ridiculous, but somewhat more “grounded” than its ’80s forebears. Owing to some lessons learned last run, I’m going to make this a short one—I’m planning for six sessions, though it could easily go a little long without too much additional stress. The plan is to do around one hour of in-game time passage per session, so the whole thing will take place within six-or-so hours.

Through a combination of Discord and a Session Zero, the players and I agreed on the parameters and rules to be used (or excluded). We settled on the name, Redacted 3. The PCs would be a group of former quasi-governmental assassins now in various stages of retirement, temporarily reassembled to honor their fallen, beloved mentor, by scattering his ashes on the sea, while on an otherwise-real cruise vacation. The events of the previous “movies” (Redacted 1 and 2 don’t actually exist 😛 ) and any other of their former associations are a Noodle Incident. The bad guys are going to be typical, generic Islamic terrorists—I’m ripping off the Crimson Jihad from True Lies as if those events “actually” happened 20 years ago.


The PCs were all generated using the standard Action templates, with the usual tweaking; they come with all the included cinematic abilities that are going to make it really hard to take them down—which is fine. Restrictions were placed on the availability of Disadvantages, understandably, to make sense within the short in-game timeframe and single-location. They will each be known only by their codenames (with one exception), which are taken from ’70s/’80s/’90s cartoon villains. They will be starting with no gear whatsoever—they’re on vacation, not a mission—and wealth will be irrelevant; weapons will need to be taken from the enemy or the environment.

Rules and Experiments

  • We’ll use Tactical Combat with the usual attention to detail; that is, not 100% strictly observed—maybe 75%-85%.
  • The overall “cinematic” level I’m intending is not one I’ve had to adjudicate before, with the very-brief exception of the Knight City one-shots. I expect I will have to be reminded from time to time to let things slide.
  • Basic Abstract Difficulty (BAD; from Action 2 Exploits) will be used throughout. The plan is to start at zero for the first session and increase by one-per-session—probably capped at 4 (situationally or globally—or a bit of both).
  • This campaign will make full use of Fantastic Dungeon Grappling. This won’t be the first of my campaigns to officially feature FDG, but it may be the first where it actually gets used—at least for the first engagement (given the PCs’ lack of equipment).
  • Bennies are once again making an appearance in this campaign. I’ve been pretty happy with how they’ve worked out so far.
  • Given the in-game timeframe, spending character points for advancement seems a little weird. We’re going to defer CP awards until the end of the run, but I’m planning to give out per-session Bennies instead. That said, we’ve recently “discovered” the rule on B292 regarding the “IQ roll to see whether you learned from your experience” after using a skill at default—I’ll allow the borrowing of CPs from the end of the run in these cases.
  • Another consequence of the in-game timeframe is “healing”: that is, healing probably isn’t going to happen much, so they may be stuck with injuries for the duration. This is totally in keeping with the source material, of course. But with the PCs’ abilities, and the use of Bennies, I expect this won’t be such a big deal.
  • Meta Experiment: I’m going to be allowing the wagering of Bennies, versus the “house” or between individuals—for things like “who gets injured first,” or “who gets the first crit roll,” and the like. It’s actually not a new idea for me, but this will be the first time it will see production. Whether or not the players actually do make use of it is another matter, and will tell me how viable this sort of thing might be in the future. If it goes well, it may warrant a future blog post regarding the details; if it doesn’t, I’ll probably forget it ever happened 😛
  • Meta Experiment: Achievements—I’ve got a bunch in mind, a few of which I’ll inform the players of beforehand, with the rest kept secret. The idea is to give a Benny any time someone triggers one.

In Closing (or Opening?)

If this ends up fitting my workload the way I intend, I expect a sequel or two in the future—optimistic as it is to say at this point. Worst-case: We get some interesting and/or entertaining fights in, and learn some stuff in the process. I am looking forward to seeing how it turns out.