By Robin D. Laws
In this, the first in a two-part series, I’ll be looking at ways to inject additional combat options into your Ashen Stars games. Next month’s selections adapt existing combat add-ons first found in the Esoterror Fact Book to throwdowns in the Bleed. This column floats a new rule concept in unplaytested form.
Before the rules, the disclaimer: GUMSHOE’s main focus remains on investigative action, with combat a secondary activity. We keep fighting simple so that it will also be fast, and not take up a disproportionate chunk of any given session. Most GUMSHOE GMs and groups prefer this stripped-down approach to fighting, considering it a feature. If you fall into this category, by all means continue to ignore the extra crunch. This material is for gamers who, for aesthetic reasons outside the game’s main scope, want its punching and shooting to feel more detailed. Although these rules add options, they still conform to the game’s central design credo, in which we emulate fictional models, rather than trying to simulate real-world physics.
As we value genre fidelity more than universality over multiple game iterations, we sometimes tailor combat options to particular genres. Mutant City Blues grenades work differently than in The Esoterrorists, because in one instance we’re emulating comic book reality, while in another we’re getting as close to Clancyesque as we’re willing to venture. Here we present quite a different take on suppression fire than appears in the Fact Book. This one gears itself to a universe of NLD fire, where the Fact Book version is more about your proverbial hail of bullets.
When opponents in a Shooting combat take Full or Partial Cover, and you are armed either with a disruption pistol or rifle, you may specify that you are laying down suppressing fire. As your action for the round, spend 1 point of Shooting and specify a single barrier or obstacle, behind which any number of combatants are currently taking cover. Specify also whether you’re using lethal or non-lethal fire.
You do not take a Shooting test.
Any opponent abandoning that cover between this action and your next gets hit.
If you specified lethal fire, the opponent is hit and damaged without the need for a Shooting test on your part. Armor reduces this damage as per usual.
If you used NLD fire, the opponent falls unconscious, regardless of its current Health pool.
Targets who are somehow immune to your chosen disruption setting are unaffected by your suppression fire. Protective gear, such as poppers, reacts as it normally would to the fire type chosen.
If a friendly combatant enters your specified cover area, you can (and probably will) choose to drop it. Your ally is unaffected, as are any enemies moving out of the cover area until at least your next action, when you may choose to re-establish your suppressing fire. Should you choose to maintain suppression fire, your ally is affected as an opponent would be. Expect the post-combat ready-room operations assessment to get heated.
In complicated cases your GM may find it clarifying to draw a sketch map of the fight and the positions of its participants. You can only create covering fire when you have a suitable vantage point from which to do so.
When there is more than one escape route from a covering position, and you can hit either from your present vantage, specify which of them your covering fire precludes. Your suppression fire kicks in only when combatants cross the line you’ve laid down.
Sentient or otherwise battle-savvy opponents avoid crossing lines of suppressing fire, doing so only as a desperation move. If your suppression fire strikes no targets during the course of a fight, you refresh all of the Shooting points you spent on it.
Upon entering an abandoned research facility on Asteroid Q-80923, you are fired upon by strange silica-based lifeforms. Two of them hide behind a partially dismantled console, granting them Partial Cover. They could abandon this cover either from the near side (advancing closer toward you) or from the far side (fleeing deeper into the complex.)
The entire melee pits four lasers, including yourself, against four silica lifeforms. You are the third laser to act. The lifeforms act after the lasers.
The first two lasers having fired, it’s now your turn to act. You don’t want the lifeforms to get away, and so declare that you’re laying down suppressing NLD fire, specifying the console’s far side as your suppression zone. You spend a Shooting point, dropping your pool from 8 to 7.
The last laser acts, then the four lifeforms. Neither of the two in your designated cover area tries to get away.
As the first action of the following round, a fellow laser drops one of the lifeforms with NLD fire.
When your turn to act comes up again, you decide to continue the suppressing fire. You pay another Shooting point to maintain it, lowering your pool by 1, from 7 to 6.
The next laser to act also drops his target with NLD fire.
The GM then describes your two pinned-down opponents as fleeing in panic through your suppression zone. They both fall unconscious.
From the GM’s point of view, this conveniently ends a fight whose conclusion is on longer in doubt. Since your suppression fire did in fact hit them, you get no refund for the Shooting points spent on it.
Disruption Accessory: Double Downer
This pistol or rifle modification bifurcates your gun’s barrel and adds a special targeting nanocomputer. During an action, you may both pay 1 Shooting to lay down suppressing fire, and make a second, standard Shooting attack.