Sunday 9 June 2024

Gangs of Titan City (solo game): session #2 (operations phase)

I set aside 31st May for a session in the City of Ghosts but was unable to attract the required number of players. A few weeks ago I decided such occasions presented me with a great opportunity to test out Gangs of Titan City  as a solo game, but as it transpired it would not be until yesterday (7th June) that I'd be returning to Plutogia.

Alternative cloth-bound cover to the book available from Soul Muppet

This was the first "operations phase", the segment of the game I predicted would be the most challenging to resolve satisfactorily as a solo player. In the event 

* * *


The gang are a team of operatives on the run from their former employer and data crime conglomerate Wavelength: in trope terms, they've tried to leave the mafia and the mafia aren't happy. They are looking to quietly establish a foothold in this sector to protect themselves against future reprisals from Wavelength, or possibly even to mount a pre-emptive strike back. To this end they've seized control of Blind Willy's Bar, allowing the eponymous Willy to stay on as the business "face" and ensuring they can maintain anonymity.

Last session the gang (Smiler's People) had gathered sufficient intel (at the cost of 1 desperation to the spectre now known as Tark) concerning alcohol deliveries throughout the hab blocks of New Eden. The trade is controlled by local dominant faction The Bullet Boys, a quasi-religious off-shoot of the militaristic Lead Legion. The job is also politically motivated, as the objective is to frame the Misshapers (a group of gene-hackers and their mutant army) to a) escalate conflict between the two factions and b) create an opportunity for Smiler's People to establish a foothold in the sector. Smiler has met with minor mutant capo Kayvan Hoo (through his contact Rennia Ren, a former activist-turned-arcology administrator) to facilitate this.

Meanwhile, marksman Carmen has been doing her own intel-gathering on the movements of renegade Psi-squad operative Agent Colm after their psion Ezra saw the man in a vision. This enabled her to develop relations with rivals among the Bullet Boys, though this is a dangerous game for her as she's much more used to working behind the scenes.

The Operation 

Behind the Scenes
For the first operation I decided to follow the gang's plan through, using partial successes and failures to introduce surprise twists and turns. Right from session 0 my expectation was that I would not need to use additional tools (i.e. oracles) to keep this feeling like a game rather than a writing exercise. I'm using paper character sheets, real dice and a spare notebook (actually the City of Ghosts notebook) to record my actions and snatches of narratives, then typing it up here after the event.

Before set up
Just before I got down to it, a thought occurred: all four of the gang are going to be leaving the bar unattended, or at least leaving Blind Willy all by himself. Needing to keep the old man onside (and also have a convincing alibi should things go south) some cover was required. It befell Tarquin aka. Tark to convince the part-time bar staff to help them out. Approaching a few of the team as they restock the bar, Tark invented a cover story and then promised the crew time off in lieu if they drop their plans and provide cover. Unfortunately, the dice were unkind (4+1+1 appeal), and not wanting to sabotage the team so early on and over something so trivial, Tark spent a point of desperation, pulling out all the stops and promising the world in return for covering. I then had the chance to reroll the lowest dice (1)... achieving 1 again! The dice had spoken.

(Tark has already taken on desperation from the previous gathering intel exercise: I'm starting to imagine that they're the one least comfortable with life on the run, despite being the most competent operative... maybe only Tarquin realises what's at stake, or has the most to lose?)

The plan had to go ahead without them, so without a word the team set off to the hab blocks to begin the operation, leaving Blind Willy tending bar alone...


Each gang member is disguised as a squad member of the gene-splicing Misshapers. For visual reference, I imagine the gang's disguises to resemble something like the artwork by Tony Ackland from Confrontation (an early iteration of Necromunda):

Originally I'd thought of the scabs from Oblivion (the movie, never read the comic book), but the costume design for that movie looked a bit too shiny when I took another look:

It is very cool and in-keeping with the game vibe: maybe this could be the uniform of the higher ups of Lead Legion, if they're ever sent in to clean up after their quasi-religious off-shoot The Bullet Boys?

Otherwise, load-out looked like this:

Long-barrelled auto rifle plus...
    • Combat knife (infantry issue)
    • Camouflage kit
    • Armour
    • Change of clothes (from disguise)
Hand-held cattle prod plus...
    • Armour
    • Dose of freakout
    • Change of clothes (from disguise)
    • Pet pocket lizard
Ugly serrated combat knife (customised version of Carmen's) plus...
    • Auto pistol
    • Armour
    • First aid kit
    • Change of clothes (from disguise)
Concealed stiletto plus...
    • Change of clothes
    • Cybrnetic interface
    • Armour
    • Lockbreakers
Taking position 

Sugar Bates (Frankie Faison) & Job (Hoon Lee) in Banshee: 
provisional inspo for Blind Willy & Tark respectively

The gang would intercept the dray-truck as it turned a corner at one of the bottle shops Tark had staked out. Carmen takes up position in an abandoned hab-unit, completely concealing herself (camouflage->exploit) to provide firepower cover against any outside threats such as Bullet Boy gang members or local enforcers.

Tark arrives next, in the same role as they had gathered intel before (a scabrous old drunk): as on previous occasions, this would be an appeal roll. Once again this would be an appeal roll (rather than exploit), as Tark is exploiting their natural charisma to pull off the role. Again Tark rolls less than ideally: a partial success means that while bystanders are convinced of the disguise, they recognise the character from before (which may help in counter intel gathering by enforcers or gang members should the job succeed). In position, Tark will be able to notify the team when the truck arrives.

Ezra's role is to provide a distraction once the truck rounds the corner. The least socially adept of the team, the gangly teenager struggles to blend in, but is able to use their whispers on the streets influenced mood of Titan City specialisms and advancements to somehow blend into the background, (+1 die on his roll). Like Tarquin, Ezra's disguise is convincing but partial success means bystanders are going to remember the character should they be quizzed later.

In other words, while witnesses won't be able to provide accurate descriptions of Tark and Ezra's true identities, it is clear to bystanders that these two disguised individuals are an essential part of the plot.

Smiler, as point man, is masked and wielding a firearm, so his role is not in doubt: he simply walks down the street and waits for the rest of the team to execute their part of the plan.


Tark hears the rumble of the truck and radios the team to let them know. Carmen steadies her weapon from her perch, and Ezra steps into the middle of the road. The truck brakes sharply and the drivers honk their horn, but Smiler is already at the window of the driver's side with his handgun pointed at them. His overwhelm roll is a 9, so while the driver has his hands up and off the wheel, his side man is already pulled out a gun. There's enough time for Smiler to take him out but the original plan didn't involve any bodies...

Eagle-eyed Carmen sees all from her perch and acts quickly, taking a point of desperation to utilise her deadeye ability and attempt to snipe the gun from the drayman's hand with a long-range shot through the windshield. Carmen achieves only a partial success: instead of shooting the weapon, she hits the man's hand. He screams in pain as Smiler pulls them out onto the street at gunpoint. 

(the strategy behind a bloodless heist was essentially winning hearts & minds: ultimately, the gang want control of this sector and they want support of working citizens in achieving this aim... a long way off, but start as you mean to go on...)

Meanwhile, instead of assisting Smiler, Ezra has scooted round the back of the truck where Tark is already attempting to hack the digital lock open (the idea being that this will be faster and cleaner than getting the drivers to do it). This is an intellect roll which, despite having a specialism in security measures, Tark has to expend ANOTHER desperation point in order to get a partial success (they just can't seem to catch a break!). The door is unlocked and swings open, but the locking mechanism remains proud and the door won't close properly...

Smiler lips a fistful of currency into the back pocket of the drayman's overalls (ostensibly for medical bills) before leaping into the driver's seat and pulling away. The rear door flaps continuously owing to the faulty lock, with Ezra and Tark hanging in the back amongst barrels of beer and bottles of spirits. To tear away at top speed and then slow down sufficiently for Carmen to make a clean jump from her perch and onto the vehicle requires another test of Smiler's skill (exploit +1, +1 die driving specialism). Smiler's timing is initially off (roll is a failure), but a point of desperation means he floors it, brakes sharply in time for Carmen to leap down (the reroll is partial success, but now Carmen is going to have to test to see if she can make the jump)... 

Carmen's impressive agility means she just makes it (11- full success) as the truck is then able to high tail it out of there. However, they've still got some work to do: according to Tark's intel, the van has a small tracking device placed on the underside, meaning they're going to have use their cybernetic interface to disable while the truck is in motion. Ezra provides physical support, but this will be down to Tark: even with their specialism in security measures and their loadout (+1 die) and their intellect (+1), Tark takes a little longer than expected (partial success). They pick up some road rash (2 scratches) as Tark hangs upside down on the underside of a goods truck, hurtling through a built up area at high speed with a skinny teenage psion holding onto their legs.

This delay and all the commotion they caused mean that thought they have a lead on any enforcers and/or Bullet Boys in potential pursuit, Smiler's going to need to show exceptional skill at the wheel as they weave between the stacked hydro farms of New Eden. I roll well for Smiler again, smashing Ezra and Tark from side to side. They're well clear of any pursuers but they are still deep within Bullet Boy territory: they need to make it to the claim held by the Misshapers to make the exchange with Kayvan.

The crew already know of a long route round whereby they can avoid the checkpoint, but Smiler is at the wheel and his adrenaline is up.. they smash through the improvised barrier manned by a handful of bullet boys, two of whom leap onto speeder bikes and begin their pursuit!

Carmen leans out the passenger window to take a shot at one of the pursuers with her auto rifle (the roll is a miss, so I take ANOTHER desperation to reroll)... she leans out the side of the speeding vehicle, under a hail of bullets and is able to score a direct hit on one of the pursuers, hover bike crashing into dumpster in a dramatic fireball.

The other pursuer is attempting to hit Ezra and Tark in the back of the truck: Ezra utilises his psionic power (grasp, 1 desperation) to upend the remain hover bike and sending the Bullet Boy tumbling across the tarmac (roll was 11, achieving "advanced effect" of being able to move an object up to a tonne in weight). The gang are nearly home free!

Moving into the outskirts of New Eden the, the streets are dark and overgrown: mutant vegetation strangles the crumbling edifices of failed hydro farms, and the only light is that provided by burning trash cans. Smiler brings the vehicle to a halt at the agreed rendezvous, where Kayvan is already waiting with two stolen jet bikes. The gang quickly changed out of their "aberration" disguises and back into their civilian clothes, then begin loading the spirits and high value stock onto the bikes, leaving the heavier beer barrels on the truck for Kayvan's squad. Smiler shakes Kayvan's violet coloured hand but no words are exchanged, before leaping on to the back of the hover bike now being ridden by the battered and bruised Tark. 

As they speed away followed by Carmen and Ezra, they just glimpse some of Kayvan's squad daubing a massive smiley face on the side of the dray in spray paint. The gang aren't sure what to make of that, as they head back to Blind Willy's, sticking to the back streets now slick with a greasy black rain.


I didn't continue the session into the fallout phase, I'll take a look at that next time around (probably combining the fallout phase with the next escalation phase, we'll see) but to note: every gutter gained "desperation" in that operation, some multiple times over! I'm quite excited to see how this (and the noise mechanic) will affect what's to follow... but you may have to wait a little longer than a week to find out.


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