Tuesday, January 31, 2023

A Pinch of Salt: Churn Rate

Author: Ian Yusem
Artist: Sajan Rai
Reviewer: Dan D.
System: Mothership
Run as Referee

General Disclaimer: I share a couple discord servers with Ian and we've chatted on occasion.

MANHUNT

Manhunt is a alternate ruleset for Mothership where you play as the monsters, found as part of Hull Breach Vol 01. Four new classes are included: the Broodmother (your classic spawn-producing xenomorph), the Leviathan (gigantic ooze), the Anomaly (weird psychic egg-thing), and the Parasite (a puppeteer worm-centipede). I love these, and their art, and in practice they fulfilled their individual niches excellently.

Instead of gaining Stress, Manuhunt PCs gain Wrath - from killing humans, failing stat checks, and watching fellow aliens die. Hitting 10 Wrath triggers a mutation (some useful, some not), and resets the alien back down to 0. It's a nifty way to get around the general lack of tool usage.


CHURN RATE


I'll warn you up-front, I messed this one up big time - I was rusty as a referee, I was running it right from the book with little prep time, and I forgot a major component of the adventure. Some other factors made everything more of a mess, but those were mostly external factors without much bearing on the module itself. The players still said they had fun, though I can't say I agreed - or that it was entirely the module's fault.

First, the good.

The premise is great: the alien PCs have been captured by a corpo VIP to be imprisoned as trophies on her private space station, and they've just broken out of containment.

Layout is excellent: the adventure is two pages on a single spread, keywords are bolded, room contents are bullet lists. The map is clean and easy to read.

Now the bad.

Churn Rate involves engaging with a heavily-fortified location filled with well-equipped and well-coordinated enemies. You're stuck in tight quarters, with no means of exit (sans the one you need to the Executive's head to activate), and if any witnesses or evidence last an in-game minute the station goes into high alert.

My players immediately revealed themselves, and didn't manage to kill anyone - there were enough agents that, even if they had, the survivor would have sounded the alarm. An in-game minute seems a bit much to me - these are the security crew, they're going to have walkie-talkies.

So we ended up in a situation where the no alert stage wasn't even part of the session. Maybe this could have been avoided, but I think the root of the issue is present in the premise - these are security staff - they're going to have walkie-talkies. All it takes is one of them to hit a button and scream "security breach in [room name]!" and your cover is blown, immediate high alert.

While in the high alert state, all agent encounters are replaced by panicked civilians and the Executive you're after gets taken to the fortified saferoom with the guards stationed outside. I made my critical error here, and didn't make the agent -> civilian switch - the players had to fight through a near-constant stream of agents. It'd make sense, right? They know the aliens are here, split the crew between the saferoom guards and the squads hunting down the aliens.

An agent's standard weapon is a 1d100 damage chaingun, and they patrol in groups. I reduced them to one chaingun per pod, revolvers for the rest, out of necessity - even with the increased damage output and health-restoration abilities of the aliens, it strikes me as too much.

This got to be a problem when we factored in the party train. It makes a regular circuit of the station, visiting almost every room on a 2 minute loop. It's filled with partying corpos, security agents, and a mounted cannon, and it was an absolute pain in the ass every single step of the way. As soon as it was introduced, the players were constantly asking "where's the train?" Which wouldn't have been an issue if I had remembered to swap the agents out, but since I hadn't it was a major combat encounter that was eternally around the next corner. Gods be praised they never actually had to fight it.

There are a few other minor issues - the location of windows is somewhat confusingly worded (they're supposed to be between rooms, but they're not marked on the map - and that also makes stealth basically impossible and is even more things to track), certain interactives are mentioned but never linked to anything (ie draining the steam from the sauna - there's no sign of how to do this)

Final Thoughts

While my own mistakes as Warden made for a worse experience, and I've kept that bias in mind while writing this, I don't think Churn Rate is a very good showcase for the Manhunt rules - the small arena and tight security mean that you don't really get the xenomorph experience that Manhunt sells you. A more open adventure - picking off humans in an isolated colony while dealing with increasing security measures while you try and find the MacGuffin - feels like it would be more appropriate as an introduction.

While escaping from a containment facility is fun on paper, it's a trickier genre than those plans would imply. Whole lot of rather boring SCP stories about violence in indiscernible hallways filled with generic security mooks.

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