Session 1 – Eindhoven Sector, 101st Airborne Division
My Thursday group wrapped up a game of the Regiment and we were itching for more, so I tossed the idea of A Bridge Too Far into the ring and got the group’s buy-in. The Regiment is definitely still in play test mode, so we’re constantly finding and fixing bugs.
The characters are part of the 1st Bn, 502nd PIR, 101st Airborne Division who are to jump into the Eindhoven Sector (southern Netherlands) just north of Son Forest. 1st Bn’s primary objective is to capture and hold Best bridge until British XXX Corps arrives. British XXX Corps has the objective of traversing the 90+ miles and more than half a dozen major waterways between Eindhoven and the final objective: relief of the British 1st Airborne Division in Arnhem.
I want this game to play out like the movie A Bridge Too Far, where we see the campaign from several different viewpoints and the impact one group has on the campaign is then later experienced by the groups on down the line. It’s a lofty goal; but, hell – life’s short.
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The Cast of (Player) Characters
M/Sgt. Franklin [Sniper] – Drafted farmer from Delaware, male, battered uniform, scarred face, sturdy body. Weapon: M1C Garand (scoped)
Cpl. Amherst [Commando] – Drafted barber from Pennsylvania, male, worn uniform, striking face, blank eyes, sturdy body. Weapon: Sten SMG (silenced)
Pfc. Smith [Soldier] – Drafted mechanic from Chicago, male, worn uniform, weathered face, wild eyes, sturdy build. Weapon: M1919A6 LMG.
Day 1 – 17 September 1944 – 1400 hrs.
The allied airborne armada passes over Eindhoven heading north to the drop zones along the Eindhoven-Arnhem corridor. The 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), the players’ unit, has the airborne special training move. M/Sgt. Franklin, the stick leader and first trooper out of the plane makes the landing engagement move and blows it, rolling a 6. I choose a loose interpretation of “pinned” – “Your Dakota lurches with a violent shudder. The nose of the aircraft pitches up for a moment then slowly rotates nose-down. The jump sergeant yells, ‘Jump now – go, go, go!’” M/Sgt. Franklin takes a quick look around. With his trained sniper instincts he quickly gets his bearings: they are jumping several miles south of their LZ. Then, he jumps out of the plane.
I give the guy standing in the doorway a freebee for jumping out of the not so perfectly good airplane. I ask the other players, “So, Franklin is the first out of the airplane, which of you is the last?” Pfc. Smith steps up to the plate and says that, since he’s carrying the machinegun, it’s probably him. No objections there. I take the opportunity to introduce Pfc. Smith’s loader, Pvt. Jacobs, a slight, mousy, teen who’s on his first combat jump.
The pinned situation is this: Jacobs and Smith are the last troopers in the Dakota and, by now, the aircraft is descending quickly; Jacobs is wild-eyed and panicking, screaming we’re going to die! As long as Jacobs is cowering, Smith has no way to get out of the plane – so he’s pinned. The condition can apply to anyone or everyone. I ask Smith, so what do you do? Smith grabs Jacobs by the collar, yells at him to get his ass moving, and then pushes him out of the Dakota and throws himself out too. I give Smith 2-harm incidental for the near death experience and, since Jacobs is compliant and Smith is a tower of a man, I let Smith throw Jacobs out of the plane without making a move – rally or impose your will could have been good choices. In retrospect, I should have made Smith act under fire; but, I really didn’t want to chance a miss and kill a PC on the jump, I just wanted to screw with them. Since I can always decide what the consequence of a miss is, I should have made Smith roll.
The stick jumps somewhere short of their objective; I give them all 1-harm incidental for hitting the ground.
Since Pfc. Smith was the last out of the plane (and closest to the ground), he’s the first one to land and take action, so I put him on point for the next engagement – tracking down the rest of the stick. He asks, “Where the hell am I?” Good question: you just narrowly avoided death – the Dakota and its aircrew are now a smoking ruin – you can see the plume billowing skyward about a half-mile northwest of you.” I tell Smith that he is pretty sure they were hit over Eindhoven – several miles south of their drop zone – and he can see the chutes of the rest of his stick descending to the southeast.
This was a set-up for assessing the situation and Smith could have pushed for the move more; but, the question I essentially posed to him, without actually questioning Smith’s state of mind, was, “did your character really have the presence of mind to get his bearings while jumping at the last second?” Smith said, “I guess I have no idea where I am?” so that’s where we left it.
When assessing the situation, the character needs to have an opportunity in the fiction to find the answer to whatever question is asked. In this case, I thought of several ways in which Smith could have answered that question; but, I challenged the obvious one, which was, “I looked around and saw where we were when I jumped out of the plane,” and left it to the player to decide if his character figured it out some other way. Smith’s player decided no.
Long story short, they re-grouped, figured out where they were (more or less), and set their course toward Best Bridge (their objective) albeit, from the wrong direction.
Approaching the Objective
After regrouping, Cpl. Amherst, M/Sgt. Frankln’s spotter, takes the lead and navigates the stick toward Best Bridge, approaching from the south. Their goal is to get there undetected, so I tell Amherst to make the infiltration engagement move. He hits with an 8 – alert level raised. The consequence was easy: the bridge defenders are on alert because of the huge airlift going on right overhead and they’ve deployed sentries.
I tell Amherst that he sees a pair of Germans patrolling along the south bank of the levee, about 200 yds away from his vantage point, a low hedge. Amherst sets up his spotting scope and Franklin dials-in his rifle scope. Franklin takes the shot with the one, shot one kill move. He hits on a 7-9, which has some ugly side effects. Since he chose the advanced marksmanship move, which allows him to add the quick tag at near or far range (certainly applicable here), I defer the consequences until after his follow-up shot. It’s really important to be aware of any special abilities that your characters have and to give them the advantage whenever possible: as GM, you don’t have to make an effort to screw them – just give them some dice and an opportunity to screw themselves and watch the train wreck slowly unfold.
Franklin takes down both of the sentries; but, the stick is now suppressed under machinegun fire from a concealed position. That takes care of the “pinpointed” consequence of Franklin’s 7-9 and sets me up for future hard moves. They all wince at the 3-harm incidental – the first of many combat harm rolls.
Clearing the Machinegun Nest
At this point, they have no idea what lies to the north of the bridge/canal. They can only observe machinegun fire from a concealed position in the brush atop the south bank of the levee, west of the road. Pfc. Smith and Pvt. Jacobs get their machinegun setup and return fire on the enemy. M/Sgt. Franklin and Cpl. Amherst hatch a quick plan to flank the enemy machinegun nest and then assault it. I should have had them roll for make a battle plan; but, I seem to always forget that move.
I tell them that if they take the most direct route, then Smith will have to stop firing for a few moments while they dash under his gun. They decide that’s a dumb idea and counter with a plan to take an L-shaped route to allow Smith to continue firing on the enemy uninterrupted. Great! Smith gets to shooting and nails his suppress the enemy roll with a 10+; he suppresses and pins them.
At this point, Smith is 1-gear into it. I tell him that if he wants to continue to pin the enemy while the rest of the squad maneuvers into position for the attack, it will cost him 2 more gear; he smiles as he erases half his gear. GM’s should make them pay gear and supply often and not just after they use it – give them opportunities, like carrying a success over, and tell them what it would cost. Give them a reason to use their gear and supply and, in so doing, create shortage (or the appearance of shortage) that drives the players to hard choices.
Meanwhile, Franklin, Amherst, and the rest of the stick run to cover at the point where the bridge ramp and the levee intersect southeast of the bridge – kitty-corner to the enemy machinegun nest. Cpl. Amherst readies himself to charge the enemy and instructs Pfc. Turner to pop smoke to conceal his movement from possible fire from across the canal (which is still out of sight). Again, I should have told them to roll for make a battle plan! Turner pops smoke and Amherst runs up the embankment. When he gets to the top, Amherst sees the 3-man MG crew cowering in their slit trench. Pfc. Smith’s machinegun fire continues to pepper the area.
Cpl. Amherst asks if he can make the are you crazy move, because he took the commando move improvise, adapt, overcome, which allows him to roll +battle instead of +lucky. The advantage here is that are you crazy gives XP and he gets to use a good stat. I ask him what he’s doing and he tells me he wants to throw a grenade into their trench and kill them. I tell him, that sounds like attack the enemy. Are you crazy is kinda the catch-all move for doing something that’s not covered by some other move. When a player suggests using this move and it seems like it should fall under one of the other moves, ask them to tell you why they should use are you crazy and not the other move. If it fits, go with it. In this case, he really was just attacking the enemy.
Amherst makes the attack the enemy move and hits on a 10+ with a grenade attack. I make him mark off 1-gear (for the grenade) and he watches as the machine-gunners evaporate in a cloud of fire, smoke, and dirt. Amherst can hear harassing fire coming from a blockhouse on other side of the canal. They can’t see him through the smoke, so Amherst hustles back to M/Sgt. Franklin and the others.
Crossing the Rubicon
Pfc. Smith and Pvt. Jacobs pack up their machinegun. Smith, having blasted through a lot of their ammo, decides he wants to try to salvage the enemy machinegun and turn it on them. I tell him it sounds like he’s scrounging for spoils. Smith hits on a 10+ and chooses find it without trouble and hit the jackpot; he recovers 6-gear. Since Smith didn’t choose to do it quickly, I tell him that the smoke screen is now gone; but, the enemy machinegun is now in their control. Smith and Jacobs get it turned around and pointed at the blockhouse.
By the time Smith gets the machinegun ready on the left side of the bridge, M/Sgt. Franklin and Cpl. Amherst are setup in the bushes on the right side of the bridge, directly across from the blockhouse. They observe three riflemen in a slit trench guarding the door to the blockhouse, which faces the canal. The range is about 35 yds (near). The enemy have no idea what’s going on and have not spotted either Franklin’s sniper team or Smith’s MG team. Franklin has time and relative safety, all he needs to make the one shot, one kill move, which he does. First soldier falls with Franklin’s 10+. The Quick tag allows him to act again before the enemy can react at all. So he does, hitting on a 7-9. Two down. I hold off on the consequences again because the quick tag allows him to go first. Franklin drops the third enemy, who knows what’s going on; but, has no way out. Another 7-9. Now the shit catches up with him. Franklin is hit by a sniper’s bullet – 3-harm direct – he’s critical from wounds. I should have made Amherst roll for when you see someone close to you go down in battle; but, I forgot to.
Coincident with Franklin’s kill streak, Smith turns the captured MG on the slit trench to suppress them. He succeeds in suppressing them, which seals their fate; but, draws fire from the top floor of a farmhouse about 225 yds. away, across the canal. The enemy can’t see Smith and Jacobs because of the brush concealing their position on top of the levee. The enemy does, however, have a heavy machinegun and plenty of ammo, so they hammer away at Smith’s position. Smith and Jacobs take 4-harm incidental. They turn their gun on the farmhouse and suppress the enemy; but, the enemy continues to fire on them from their superior position. They take more harm and are suppressed themselves.
Cpl. Amherst, the spotter, assesses the situation. A miss! Amherst wants to get a fire team across the river to take the blockhouse, so I tell him that the enemy machinegun stops firing for a solid 5 seconds and it’s now or never. He orders his team across the bridge, leading a maneuver with a 7-9. About half-way across the bridge, the enemy machinegun resumes firing and walks the fire across the bridge. Amherst spends his one hold to give himself and his team 1-tough. He assesses the situation to find a way out. Success! Over the bridge and into the drink, I tell him.
Amherst asked, earlier, if they could ford the canal. I told them the water would be over their heads and, with their packs on, there would be no way for them to swim it. Faced with the proposition of drowning from jumping off the bridge, Amherst asks the question again. I tell him that he and his team probably wouldn’t have charged across the bridge with their packs on any way – just weapons and grenades. So I told them they could make it. That would have been a great opportunity for me to have said, “yeah you can make it; but, if you don’t want to drown, you’ll have to drop half your gear in the drink!”
Pfc. Smith continues to suppress the enemy HMG in the farmhouse. I tell him that Jacobs is about to bolt and I tell Smith that he’s got to hold fast under fire if he wants to keep his gun on the enemy. Smith does and trades fire with the enemy. Jacobs breaks and runs. Smith takes 4 more incidental harm from the enemy and goes critical from stress. M/Sgt. Franklin is still critical from wounds.
As Cpl. Amherst and his team scramble up the levee on the north side of the canal, the leading elements of their battalion begin to fire on the farmhouse and the blockhouse from the woods to the northeast. The enemy MG in the blockhouse, which was suspected; but, not yet discovered, fires on the woods to the north. They don’t realize that their position is compromised by Amherst’s team to the south – the door is closed and the windows shuttered. Amherst makes a close assaults and hits on a 10+. I tell Amherst, they’re going to surrender, how do you pull it off? Amherst sprays the enemy gunner up and down with his SMG and demands their surrender with the couple of words of German he knows.
Amherst takes prisoners and sets up Cpl. Pierce and Pvt. Jefferson on the captured machinegun. They start pouring fire on the farmhouse. I tell Amherst friendlies are now shooting at their position – they don’t know you’re there and they don’t realize the position has been captured. I tell Amherst he can have a radio if he spends 1-supply or he can waive the white flag and hope they recognize them. He asks if there’s a signal or something that’s been pre-arranged, like green smoke. Of course! If something sounds reasonable, let them do it; but, give them a cost, a hard choice, or tell them possible consequences and ask. In this case, I tell him to spend 1-gear for the green smoke and make the are you crazy move, which he was all too excited to do – rolling +battle and getting that XP – first time I’ve ever had a player in an AW-type game tell me he wished he was missing more rolls (the Regiment gives you an XP for each miss). He crushes his roll with a 13! You pull it off without a hitch, I say – they turn their attention to the farmhouse; you hear the bark of a heavy automatic, probably a Flak gun, well to the north.
Crossing the Rubicon Again and Again…
Satisfied that the blockhouse is secure, Cpl. Amherst grabs Pvt. Adams, the BAR gunner, and dashes across the bridge. By now, the enemy HMG in the farmhouse has relocated from the south side to the east side of the farmhouse to address the much larger threat of the bulk of 1st Battalion. They make it across without incident and find M/Sgt. Franklin alive; but, still badly injured. With time gone by and no treatment, I tell Franklin he gets worse, taking 1 more wound. Cpl. Amherst then crosses over the road to locate Pfc. Smith and Pvt. Jacobs. He finds them cowering; but, largely unharmed at the base of the levee embankment.
Returning to Franklin, Amherst surveys the scene and, looking through the open door into the blockhouse, can see that Cpl. Pierce and Pvt. Jefferson, who were manning the enemy machinegun, now lay lifeless beside it. Pfc. Turner, who was also left at the blockhouse is not visible through the narrow doorway.
At this point, Amherst knows that out of the original eight members of his stick, two are now dead, one is critically wounded, two are checked out, and one is unknown. That leaves just Amherst and Adams (the BAR gunner) in a position to do anything. The radio topic is revisited: Amherst asks if he can still spend 1-supply to get his hands on a radio. He wants to stick right where he is and call for help – particularly medical help. Sure, I tell him – but, neither you nor Franklin are carrying it because you’ve got your ghillie suits and other scout/sniper gear; neither Smith nor Jacobs are carrying it because they’re humping the machinegun; Adams, with his BAR, same story – just gun, grenades, and ammo; so that leaves the guys in the blockhouse, at least two of which are dead – still want it? Amherst: “Fuck! No.”
Supply can be traded for heavy and high-value equipment; but, that equipment doesn’t just magically appear: someone dragged that around with them this whole time (or maybe you get lucky and find it), we just now decided what was in that backpack or crate. Supply represents a thing that your group has and you decide what that thing is when you spend the supply. These are the two principles of storytelling supply: 1) the thing the supply represents comes to the forefront in the fiction – now – but, it must have made sense to be there before and it must make sense to be there now and 2) GM, in general, say yes; but, tell them what it costs (how much supply, how screwed over someone else will be, etc.); give them a hard bargain or consequences; or if it really makes no sense at all, tell them no and tell them why. Don’t always treat the expenditure of supply like it’s a 7-9 result. Just do it when it advances your agenda or when it makes sense in the fiction.
This is probably as good a spot as any to point out the relevance of accurate historical detail in gameplay. The Regiment model is very loose and abstract. The intent is to keep the rules from running afoul of inaccuracy. If you accept that the model is close enough (or remedy it yourself), then the historical details will exist almost entirely in the fiction, which is to say that the only knowledge that is required to play the game “correctly” is a basic familiarity with period war movies. The extent to which historical accuracy matters beyond that is entirely up to you and your gaming group, be that Kelly’s Heroes, Band of Brothers, or a life-long devotion to studying military history. Right, back to the fiction…
Cpl. Amherst and M/Sgt. Franklin have that moment where one proposes to drag the other across open ground under enemy fire and the other says leave me behind. It was Regiment gold! I tell them that if Franklin, who is still critical, wants to move with Amherst’s help (as opposed to just being dragged across), he’ll have to push himself. Like a champ, he rolls a 10+. They hobble across the bridge together with Pvt. Adams and his BAR leading the way. Again, with the enemy in the farmhouse otherwise occupied, they make it across the bridge and back to the blockhouse without incident. Count it: Amherst – that crazy SOB – crosses the bridge 3 times.
Pfc. Smith and Pvt. Jacobs also have a moment – both are critical from stress and, after being ordered across the bridge by Cpl. Amherst, I tell Smith that Jacobs isn’t going anywhere and neither are you unless you succeed at a rally move. Bear in mind, Smith has all of his stress boxes checked: one more and he’s done. Smith blows the roll to rally. I say, “OK, why this is, is completely up to you; but, you aren’t going anywhere. So what’s your deal?” Smith says, “I’ve done my part and Jacobs too!” They kept two enemy machineguns suppressed in the face of their return fire, did so with bravery, and retired to safety after the immediate threat of the enemy machineguns abated.
It’s important here, when the GM asserts that a character cannot or will not take a specific action, to use the tools available and to do so without overstepping the GM-Player boundary. The boundary is only the player has license to say what the character thinks, feels, says, or does. The Regiment provides moves and conditions that, in essence, allow the GM to call bullshit. The moves include: act under fire or hold fast, push yourself, and when you see someone close to you go down in battle. The GM has a bunch of moves in the GM Toolkit too! The conditions include critical, suppressed, pinned, and any other applicable conditions that the GM assigns during play. The conditions are triggers for moves, clues that suggest a conflict of interest between potential player goals and potential character goals. In a broader sense, any fictional circumstance where a character ought to think twice or take contrary action is a prime opportunity to make a move. The moves themselves provide checks and balances to the player’s autonomy in dictating character thought and action. That said, the resolution of the move only establishes the fact that the character does or does not take the player’s desired course of action. Why the character does it, how the character does it, and what the character thinks and feels is still the player’s call.
In the example above, Smith is stress-critical, which means he has to push himself or otherwise clear the critical condition (which rally can do) in order to confront and overcome the stressful situation of crossing the bridge. I tell him to make the rally move for two reasons: because 1) it tests Smith’s leadership, which he is sorely lacking; but, more importantly 2) it gives him the opportunity to clear the critical condition for both himself and for Pvt. Jacobs (push yourself neither clears the condition nor affects others) and they can bond over staying or going together. Smith fails the roll and it’s up to him to say why his character decides to stay behind with Jacobs, which he does.
A Close Call
Cpl. Amherst drags M/Sgt. Franklin into the blockhouse on the north side of the levee and finds Pfc. Turner pale-faced and trembling with fear as he hurriedly snips through a rats nest of wires feeding into a control panel. Amherst yells at him, asking what the hell he’s doing, to which Turner replies: cutting the demolitions wires – everyone knows the German’s got these bridges ready to blow! Amherst quickly scopes out the blockhouse, convincing himself and a reluctant Turner as well that at least the blockhouse isn’t filled with explosives. He tells Turner to stop cutting and wait for the engineers and he does. The bridge is totally wired and Turner saved their asses – they’ll find that out next session…
That’s where we called it a session. Not because it was a good stopping point; but, because we ran out of time.
The new approach we’re taking for XP and the regiment is, you still get XP when you miss a roll and when moves tell you to in play; but, the rest of the XP stuff and most of the bond stuff too is now an end of session wrap-up.
Letters home is a ‘round the table discussion that includes a summary of what was accomplished, both individually and as a team, and who is closer to whom. In my group, this is about a five minute thing where I re-cap the mission objectives, ask each player what personal objectives they encounter, and then it’s off to each player to say who their character bonded with. In your gaming group, maybe the players actually write letters home for their characters… just a thought.
How exactly you do this is entirely up to you and your gaming group. This is how I do it.
Here are the XP guidelines I’ve been using. This isn’t canon yet; but, it seems to be working pretty well for us.
1-XP for accomplishing significant mission objectives.
1-XP for accomplishing significant personal objectives (character goals).
1-XP discretionary for goals (i.e. for the GM to highlight particularly significant accomplishments).
1-XP for taking wounds or stress –or– 2-XP if, as a result of taking wounds or stress, the character gains the critical condition.
Between XP moves, failed rolls, and session wrap-up, players can expect 1 – 1.5 advances in play. They might get 2 advances if they pull some crazy, daredevil shit and live through it; more power to ‘em.
This is also the time to get to bonds. Each player decides which other characters their character bonded with over the session, tells the group why that is, and marks +1-bond with them. That way, we can all reflect on the significance and gain better insight into the character. The other characters, whether GM or player controlled, decide if they reciprocate. If they do reciprocate, they say why and mark +1-bond too. Then we repeat this for each player and the GM just chimes in whenever.
Like AW, if you hit +4-bond, reset it to 1-bond and mark +1-XP.
In case you’re wondering, I gave them 1-XP for mission objectives with a bonus 1-XP (discretionary) for not only making it out of their shot down Dakota; but, for taking Best Bridge intact – historically, both Best and Son Bridges were blown by the Germans.
Right now, at least, the players have managed to turn a bad starting situation into a remarkable success. We’ll see if that’s short-lived, the German 59th Infantry Division with supporting infantry guns is on a collision course with their battalion. Best Bridge is still wired to blow and the fate of Son Bridge, XXX Corps’ primary route across the Wilhelmina Canal is, as yet, unknown.