This scenario very much takes Hellfire back to its beginnings. Many years ago I ran a scenario where I wanted to somehow get the troops to act like people. They’d be more nervous in the dark, fire discipline would be an aspiration and people shot at would shoot back first and ask permission later. The trouble is, back then rules didn’t really allow that.
So I just tagged a ‘reaction system’ onto whichever rule set we were using at the time. It worked. Two squads got into a gun battle with a water buffalo.
This scenario also tries to get the players ‘involved’. It’s one thing to get the little plastic or metal figures nervous, it’s a far greater challenge to get the player on edge as well.
I confess I’ve got previous for this. Over the years I’ve run a lot of Call of Cthulhu, and in the process learned quite a lot. One technique was to switch from hilarity to stark terror without missing a beat. So if the players end up mentally viewing the world through the eyes of their men and trying to work out what on earth is going on, this has to be a good thing.
The wargames table.
You want as big a table as you can sensibly manage, and this game works for an Umpire and up to about four players. Cover it with jungle and terrain. The idea is that nobody can really see anything unless they are within a few inches of it. If you have something which can pass as a ruined temple/shrine or similar then it could add to the nervousness as the game progresses.
Each player gets between ten and twenty 6mm figures. Ideally they’d be based in threes because the idea is you’ll have between four and six bases. What figures the players get is what figures you happen to have, but this isn’t a scenario for the military elite. This is a scenario for the scruffy undesirables. These are ‘soldiers’ who aspire to the level of military discipline and martial enthusiasm inherent in the term ‘unwilling conscript.’
A card table.
Somehow over the years I acquired a couple of the old green baize covered card tables. They fold up and can be remarkably useful at times. This is a ‘secondary’ table and should be erected out of sight of the main table. For use on this table you’ll need a few 15mm or 20mm figures. Again use what you’ve got, even Airfix 8th Army can serve here. Similarly if you haven’t got a card table, a tea tray or large atlas will probably serve.
Stand the players around your big table, one on each table edge. Just off the table is their village or small military base. Then read them this.
A report has come in that a helicopter or small aircraft was seen crashing in the area. You have been tasked by your superiors with finding and rescuing any survivors, before they are captured by the enemy.
Note that the temple (gesture vaguely in its direction should you have one) is regarded by some sects as haunted, and approach is Taboo.
Each player gets their own situation report. I’m writing these as if the scenario was Vietnam based, but obviously you can tweak them.
Player One. You lead a patrol of fifteen American infantry. You have the usual mixture of M16s, M79s and a M60. The men have a selection of grenades and similar. You have a radio operator but have been told that radio silence is important, and because of the presence of a helicopter crew they’re not happy with the idea of giving you artillery support.
The lads are just ticking off the days until they go home, but rescuing a chopper pilot is one of the things they feel obliged to do with a degree of enthusiasm.
Reaction code 2,2,2,3,2,1,2,2 16pts
You’ve been told that intelligence thinks the Vietcong use the temple as a rendezvous.
Player Two. You got a phone call, “Can you take a patrol of your village militia out there to find this chopper?”
You have fifteen men with a mixture of M1 carbines, miscellaneous submachineguns, and even a few M1 Garand rifles. Your force is tastefully dressed in normal peasant black pyjamas although a few have bits of various US uniforms they’ve picked up second hand. As for the temple, as a lad you did some of your best courting there, perfect place to take a girlfriend.
Reaction code 2,1,2,1,2,1,2,2 13pts
Player Three. You got a phone call, “Can you take a patrol of your village militia out there to find this chopper.”
You have fifteen men with a mixture of M1 carbines, miscellaneous submachineguns, and even a few M1 Garand rifles. Your force is tastefully dressed in normal peasant black pyjamas although a few have bits of various US uniforms they’ve picked up second hand. The temple is somewhere you’ve always avoided, mainly because nowadays it is a rendezvous for terrorists and smugglers.
Reaction code 2,2,2,1,2,1,1,2 13pts
Player Four. Your village chief pointed out that as a smuggler and occasional bandit, you and your men know the area as well as any. So he’s formally deputised you as the peasant militia. It’s worth the trip, there could be all sorts of saleable stuff on a chopper, and probably a reward for the crew.
You have fifteen men armed with everything from M1 carbines through to illegally acquired M16s and AK47s. You even have an RPG with three rockets.
With regard to the temple, you do have some stuff stashed there. Mainly narcotics and Vietcong stuff you sell in Saigon for soldiers returning home to buy as souvenirs.
Reaction code 2,1,2,2,1,1,2,2 13pts
Playing the Scenario
First the umpire has a piece of paper with the reaction codes of the various units taking part.
Each player has three counters. They place them on the table edge within a foot of their notional starting point. Two of the counters are dummies, one is real.
We allowed players to move their counters six inches per move, at least at the start.
When two counters come within ten inches of each other there is a chance that one counter will notice the other. Roll a d10 and if you roll equal to or higher than the distance in inches between the two counters, the moving counter has noticed something in the area of the stationary counter.
Now both counters may be dummies. In this case it doesn’t really matter, as at this stage it is the umpire who will roll the dice. (You might want to roll them on a dice tray where nobody else can see them and cackle insanely, but this is purely optional.)
If the counter the umpire is rolling for is a unit, then roll a d6 and compare it with the appropriate reaction table.
So let us assume it is the first time this happens. All units start their reaction code with the number 2, and they’re testing because they’ve been ‘surprised’ (“Sarge, there’s something out there.”). When you’ve done the test, cross off that number, they’ll use the second number the next time.
What the results mean
b. Group stops, counts as in as good a cover as possible, and will open fire whatever happens.
c. Group stops, counts as in as good a cover as possible, and will not open fire or expose themselves to enemy retaliation in any way. Count as pinned. If it is really good cover, the group may no longer be visible to enemy troops and is therefore immune to direct fire.
d. Group stops and fires at half effect, gaining no benefit from cover other than what they accidentally acquire merely by standing there.
f. Group falls back one move in as direct a line as possible avoiding impassable terrain, firing at half effect.
g. Group falls back to nearest cover in as direct a line as possible, avoiding impassable terrain. Once there they take one move without moving or firing to regroup.
As you can see, your trigger happy heroes have a fair chance of just opening fire in the direction of whatever has worried them. See what is in the direction they’re firing in. If the counter they’re firing at is another unit, it too must take a reaction test and may fire back. But bullets don’t necessarily stop, with a true generosity of spirit, look at other counters beyond the ‘target’. If they are units and not dummies, they have come under fire (ineffective certainly, but still) and they must test as surprised.
As I mentioned before, we had two squads blazing away at each other, whilst the water buffalo who spooked the first squad lumbered off to cause trouble elsewhere.
If the unit that has done the spotting isn’t a real unit, roll a d6 on this table. (Otherwise smarter players will work out you don’t roll dice for dummies.)
You can read the results out aloud. Note that in the table above, if nobody opens fire, read one of these results out. Just in the interests of making it harder for players to spot the dummies.
|5||It was the wind in the trees.|
|4||There is the crashing as if a large mammal is moving through the jungle.|
|3||There is the squawking of birds and then a suspicious silence.|
|2||The sound of voices?|
If a unit opens fire, then it’s obvious which the real counter is. That player removes their dummies, and next move, places the two dummies next to their real counter and moves them normally from that point. Obviously you can change which is the dummy and which is the real counter.
When a unit opens fire don’t just tell the player, “You rolled a 6”, tell them, “Somebody saw movement, a dark shape.”
Similarly when announcing the fire to the players around the table, describe it. Allow your inner poet some space to grow. Go for “A lot of automatic weapons fire.” If troops armed with AK47s open fire say, “You’re sure you recognise the sound of an AK47.” Or perhaps, “Was that a grease gun? I’ve not heard one of them since Korea.”
Playing out the scenario
In all candour, you can probably leave it at this. I’ve known players have a fun packed evening shooting up their own side with no further intervention from the umpire. You don’t even need the crashed helicopter. In fact I think you can dispense with the helicopter and crew, after all it’s probably a fiction of somebody’s imagination. (Probably the CIA operative who rather hopes you’ll conduct a reconnaissance by fire on the temple.)
But there’s no reason why you shouldn’t turn the screw a bit. Finding the helicopter would in reality be a bit of an anti-climax. Far more interesting if you were to find something totally weird.
I discovered Trilaterum Miniatures https://www.trilaterum.com/
They produce some nice 15mm figures of alien races, and one in particular caught my attention. The Agaracale. These are beautifully alien and perfect for this scenario. The ‘crashed helicopter’ might even be their ship.
Mentally mark an area of the table. This is the area that you have decided is going to be infested by Agaracale. When one unit does into it, and it attempts to notice another unit, instead of the usual table, it spots the first Agaracale. I suggest you start them off with the spores.
Whilst these cannot defend themselves, they can summon somebody who can. If the party prod or poke or even worse, attempt to destroy them, transfer action to the card table where the other players cannot watch and these will appear.
You get d6 Agaracale troopers.
All combat will be at short range, automatic weapons fire will cut them apart, single bullets will do less damage (although a Garand could leave an embarrassing hole in one).
Human figure firing, roll a d6. On 6 the target is dead. +2 for automatic weapon fire. Flechette rounds or white phosphorous grenades also kill on a 4,5,6.
The Agaracale trooper have initiative, they’re in ambush and they’ll hit on a 5 or 6. Their weapon fires a toxin laden dart. On a 6 it’s a clean kill, on a 5 the victim is wounded and needs help walking.
These rules aren’t sophisticated, the action is going to be so fast and furious that nobody has time to think never mind panic.
The play returns to the main table, the other players are merely told what they can hear and from where. Using white phosphorus could well be visible.
From now on that particular unit is marked. The troopers summoned a support trooper. These are altogether ‘heavier’
These will attempt to stalk and hunt down humans to prevent them from attacking their colony. Once any humans have entered their area and caused trouble, each unit which enters the area will attract one. It will attempt to follow them, trying to keep hidden. It will ‘shoot’ at the last figure in the party. Each move roll a d6.
1, When somebody looks back, there is no sign of the back marker.
2,3 nothing happens.
4 the back marker gets nervous and tells you that there is somebody out there.
5 the back marker shouts something like, “It’s there, get it.” The unit tests for being surprised. If they open fire they will get their stalker on a 5 or 6. (6 if they fire at half effect.)
6 When somebody looks back, there is no sign of the back marker.
If the unit decides to deal with their stalker, go to the card table and there will be a short brutal fight, the heavier unit can fire three shots at once, at three different targets.
Each move roll a d6 for each wounded man. On a 6 the man has beaten the toxin and is better. On a 1, anybody looking at him will see his skin is changing colour and sporing bodies are appearing on his bare flesh. Anybody touching him risks becoming infected (roll of 1 or 2 on a d6). The wounded man can be killed by gunfire (just say you’re doing it, he cannot dodge) and the body can be destroyed with white phosphorus.
Finishing the Game
Ideally things will get pretty chaotic as players realise that ‘this isn’t Kansas anymore’.
At some point you might want to hint that just getting off the table alive might be a good idea and they should abandon any hope of rescuing anybody. Indeed there could be enough morale failures allowing their men to express this opinion to the players
The next interesting part of the game is when they get back home. What exactly are they going to say?
Three parties are going to be written off as superstitious and poorly educated types who may not even speak English. As for the American party, radioing to call artillery down on aliens is going to have you put on a charge for taking hallucinogens on patrol. When you get back to base things aren’t going to be any better unless you have samples. About the only thing you can safely carry a sample in is a metal canteen. (Or a glass bottle.)
Also you may have to explain away your casualties. Are you going to insist on aliens or just complain that Charlie is out there in battalion strength and you were lucky to get away?
In case you don’t know Hellfire rules, they’re available in pdf from Wargame Vault
They’re available from Amazon in paperback or on Kindle