Don't Forget Your Boots

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Evaluating Evaluate

It looks like everybody else is talking about Evaluate (I think this is probably as good an entrance to the conversation as any), so I might as well follow the herd.  My two cents’ worth:

I remember, back when we were first going through the rules, a couple of my long-term players expressed delight over the existence of the Evaluate maneuver. In actual play, though, I don’t think anybody has ever used it. I’ve never asked, but I assume that’s because of the same reasons everybody else has mentioned: the bonus is small, and the opportunity cost is high.

If I wanted to encourage my players to use the Evaluate maneuver, I think the easiest thing I could do would be to change it from “Step” to “Half move”. The PCs in the Dungeon Fantasy game are heavily biased towards melee, so they’re constantly trying to find ways to cover ground and still project damage. They first went through a phase where they favored Move and Attack, but the skill cap was too harsh for them. Then, there were experiments with All-Out Attack, since it allows a half-move. For the most part, though, nobody likes giving up their defenses. TKotBO was depending on DR for a bit, so he didn’t mind losing his defenses, but then his player figured out the effects of a shield on active defenses and now he won’t give up his Block for anything. Alric does a lot of AOA’s, seemingly betting that any enemy he gets near will have more on its mind than taking advantage of any openings in his defenses. Like, collecting all its suddenly-severed body parts. For their part, Gabby and Needles live by their Dodge scores, so they didn’t want anything to do with the AOA. I think they might go for a maneuver that lets them move without doing damage, if it sets them up to do more damage later on.

Of course, I’m just speculating, there. Might be, even that wouldn’t be enough.

Myself, though, I don’t think there’s anything that needs changing, particular. In my opinion, Evaluate isn’t really for most PCs. PCs might use it if they want to “one punch” a slower opponent, or if they’ve got a bear in a trap or some such, but that’s it. Evaluate exists to give mooks something to do while they’re waiting to queue up and get knocked down. It’s the maneuver taken by the second and third ranks of flunkies while they wait for the first rank to die and get out of their way.

(Actually, I’m pretty sure Evaluate was originally intended to explain what boxers are doing when they circle each other and don’t exchange any blows. Lulls in combat. As many others have said, if you want your PCs taking an Evaluate and producing lulls in combat naturally, you want to take a look at “The Last Gasp“.  That’s really the missing piece of the puzzle.)


Throwback Thursday: Space Cowboys, Season 2 #2 – “Felix’s Follies”

This was the episode in which we learn that Miranda actually does export something besides opium derivatives and corruption. They are also the source of the system-famous Corinthian leather. 

The character of Juanito Pequeño was accordingly played by Ricardo Montalbán, from the Fantasy Island days. 

Looking back, this was one of the episodes in which the usual plans of PCs ran afoul of the <cough> “realistic” nature of the universe. At one point, a couple of members of the crew were advocating for a plan the involved all the usual bits of a plan put together by players: ultra-violence, shock and awe, a variation of Klingon promotion… 

Don’t get me wrong. When I play, my plans are predictable, too. I’m a bad’n for “split up, circle around in a pincers maneuver, team A attacks hard, then team B attacks even harder from behind while they’re distracted”.  You may have seen an echo of that in the bandit ambush from the last DF session, actually.

Anyway, the problems with this are manifold, which is why people in the real world don’t go in to random businesses, assassinate the head managers, and try to take their desks. As mentioned below, the first hurdle is, you have to be the kind of person who can kill in cold blood. 

On the other hand, this episode also shows how even a Reluctant Killer can set into motion a series of events…

What Happened:

At breakfast on Wednesday, 23 April 2521, Jasmine Mung returned to the ship from her business, to find a cigar box full of paper receipts. Mel brought up her plan to track down Dr Clement to ask about the sniper she had foiled the day before, which gathered support from Osolo only. Hal remained on duty in one of the orbiting ships. Madame Dori evicted Mung from her chair to get her customary breakfast of a soft-boiled egg. Felix skipped breakfast with the crew to go find a bar, with Nuku-chan scampering along behind him. Sohio set Terreno to running laps around town.

Mel had done some research into Dr Clement, finding that he had a compound in Syracuse. Being the top representative of Weyland-Yutani in the Heinlein system, he was among the richest people living on Miranda. (As a matter of fact, the only reason Mel was able to do this research was thanks to the ‘net connection from Clement’s systems.)

After breakfast, Mung sat down to come to grips with the accumulated receipts. She rapidly discovered some… questionable… expenses, and began asking pointed questions to Osolo. After a few frustrating exchanges, Osolo turned off his communicator.

Shortly after, the Akbar brothers tried to call Osolo for advice on what to say to Wally’s local laborers, come to load the cargo. They were unable to contact him.

Mel and Osolo agreed on a general strategy of trying to meet Clement at a bar, but disagreed as to which kind of bar to look for. Mel went looking for the most high-class establishment, while Osolo looked for the places with the most action. Accordingly, they split up.

Meanwhile, Felix had managed to break through the language barrier and order a drink. To his pleasure, the bartender indicated that there would be no need for cash. He celebrated by ordering another drink. Then, as a small crowd began to form, by buying a couple of rounds.

Back at the ship, inflated invoices for Felix’s drinks started arriving. Thanks to the Arabic invoices, only the amounts could be readily understood. Mung began to become curious about the stream of costs, but had her own headaches. Among other things, she caught one of Wally’s hired laborers unloading the Cabra, rather than loading it, thanks to a badly worded work order.

A well-dressed man walked into the bar and approached Felix. Using accented Portuguese, he introduced himself as Juanito, a humble dealer in leather, from the neighboring country of Corinth, and offered to buy Felix a drink. This was acceptable, and so Juanito took a seat. Shortly, he had the bartender bring a deck of cards, and struck up a friendly game of poker, along with drinks, cigars, and civilized small talk.

As the conversation continued, the other members of the crew filtered in, one by one. While each on their own errands, Terreno, Osolo, and Mel all noticed the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd outside the bar – at 10:30am, no less – and made their way inside, while Mung finally got fed up with dealing with the bar’s boy and came to see what she was paying out for. As each crew member arrived, introductions were made, and Juanito had another chair added around the table.

When Osolo came in, he noticed Nuku-chan, cowering behind the bar, out of Juanito’s line of sight.

By the time everyone had assembled, Juanito’s small talk had turned to anecdotes from his childhood in Corinth. He particularly mentioned an occasion when rustlers stole from his father, and his father had the men tortured and crucified for the offense. As the crew’s nervousness increased, Mel ran Juanito’s face through the local ‘net news database, discovering that he was, in fact, General Juanito Pequeño, the warlord of Corinth!

Felix put two and two together and realized that Juanito must be Nuku-chan’s original owner. He was just working through a combined confession and attempt to return the creature, when Terreno noticed Nuku-chan escaping through the kitchen. Mel and Osolo exchanged a series of meaningful eyebrow gestures that led to a trip to the bar and a whispered consultation. Upon their return, Osolo faked a drunken sprawl across the table, sending cards and local currency flying, and giving Terreno the cover he needed to get Juanito in a choke hold.

Several members of the crowd revealed themselves as Juanito’s agents, drawing guns, but held off firing for fear of killing their employer. Mung patted Juanito down, taking his concealed laser pistol. Osolo started crawling for the back door, calling for the Akbar brothers to come to the rescue, with the added advice: “Bring the guns!”

Just as it seemed that a Mexican standoff would firm up, Felix threw a knife, crippling one of the gunmen, and triggering the other two to fire. Mung’s right arm was crippled, but she was able to spray covering laser fire around the bar with Juanito’s pistol in her left hand. The crew made their way towards the rear of the bar, with Terreno dragging a gurgling Juanito along.

Bursting out into the alley behind the bar, the crew found the ship’s white van, driven by Daniel. Everyone piled in and they took off. To begin with, they just circled, while arguing about how to proceed. Osolo and Mel, as the crew’s radicals, described a course involving infiltrating Juanito’s compound, several hundred miles away, to get at the secrets in his safe, then killing Juanito to set up one of the crew as a warlord by taking advantage of the resulting power vacuum. (Enthusiasm for this plan dampened after Mel applied her psychology skills and realized that only Mung seemed to possess the required cold blood to pull off the role.) Others saw this as overly risky, and preferred a quick getaway.

Finally, they at least agreed to return to the ship and take off as soon as possible. While the crew was making final preparations, including obtaining food for the upcoming 4+ month voyage, a Walken approached the ship. He explained that General Pequeño was his employer, and his mission was to negotiate the General’s release. If negotiations failed, he continued, it would be his job to authorize the use of deadly force.

A short, tense talk was had at a local taco stand. In the end, it was agreed that the crew would hand over Pequeño in orbit, in exchange for safe passage and 26 tons of mega-poppy opium. Osolo spent the rest of the day with the Walken, playing go and preparing a fine meal for them both, acting as a hostage against the crew’s good behavior.

Unknown to the rest of the crew, Mel made contact through the ‘net with Dr Clement’s systems and negotiated her own side deal. In exchange for protection for the Solo family in the Heinlein system, she traded the time and place of the hand-off.

Osolo got to travel into orbit aboard a TL 7 ship. (As in, the kind of rockets that took us to the moon… complete with countdown.) He found the experience displeasing and frightening, being accustomed to the relative quiet of the Cabra.

The exchange went smoothly, to begin with. Felix suited up and went outside to help attach a plastic transfer tube between the Walken’s vessel and the Cabra. While the cargo was moved, Mel tested each package for purity. Finally, Osolo and Pequeño traveled the length of the tube together, each starting at his own end. When each had gone the distance, Felix and the warlord’s man detached the transfer tube.

Mel ran from the cargo bay to the control room. As she entered, Terreno turned from the controls, and so, only saw the flash of light from outside.

Felix hurried into the airlock, looking back just in time to see a streak of light cross the heavens.

Looking out the control room’s main window, Mel saw the explosion of Pequeño’s ship, blown apart by some kind of missile.

The Cabra bucked under the impact of the expanding cloud of gas that had been the warlord of Corinth and his ship and crew. The only injury was to Mel, when she got hit in the throat by an empty bottle of Scotch thrown across the control room by the unexpected maneuvering.

The crew immediately turned to the task of raising sail for Venus.

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