If the Player’s Don’t Hate You, You Aren’t Doing Your Job

The best roleplaying games aren’t the hack-slash-kill-grab the loot variety. The best games challenge the players to look beyond their character sheets and make strategic decisions that have ethical repercussions.

My Monday night Post-Apocalyptic Blues campaign is starting to move into the end-game phase. Since the campaign began, the threat of an invasion from the Republic of New Texas has been held over the players’ heads. For background, the RNT formed immediately after the end of WWIII from the remnants of the government and their wealthy oil tycoon allies who survived thanks to secret government bunkers. They have spent the decades rebuilding the infrastructure of Texas and, more importantly, getting the oil wells and refineries up and running again. No small feat after a nuclear war.

New Orleans is the only major settlement left in Louisiana. There are smaller militias, tribal groups, and sects throughout the bayous, but NOLA is the only settlement with a real chance of rebuilding thanks to the efforts of the Zombi Court. Throughout the campaign, the PCs have been working with the Court to acquire resources, forge alliances among the other settlements and tribal groups, and cut off RNT allies in the region to prevent having to fight a war on multiple fronts. The campaign has been a fight for survival, and the players are highly vested in the stability and (hopefully) eventual prosperity of New Orleans. The RNT tried and failed to take NOLA years ago (before the campaign began) and the city only held them off by blowing up some of their own remaining bridges into the city as RNT troops tried to cross.

But despite all of their efforts, the city is still not fully prepared for an invasion. And they just learned that the RNT has begun to rebuild Fort Patriot, which is on the border between Texas and Louisiana. If they get the fort up and running, it will give them the perfect location to launch a naval assault on the city. And the city has no means of protecting itself from an attack from the water.

Baron Samedi (the governor of New Orleans) and Chevalier Bastille (the de facto head of the city’s defenses) are in the process of trying to reinforce the city and want the PCs to help train fighters and put their efforts into defense. One of the characters is an Engineer, and they recently formed an alliance with a smaller sect that has some advanced tech (advanced for the setting, anyway). If they double-down, they may be able to build up enough of a defense that the city could repel an invasion.

Chevalier Armand has other ideas. As the city’s resident Spymaster, he thinks a small team could infiltrate the fort and sabotage it to the point that it would become useless. Removing Fort Patriot as a potential launch location might not stop the RNT completely, but it would force them to invest more resources into another location further away from NOLA, and the cost/benefit of moving a naval force from a different location to try and attack NOLA might prove not worth the effort. Of course, he is recommending this behind the Baron’s back because he and Bastille have conflicting views on the matter.

Some of their more militant tribal allies (Such as Leonitis and the Thorson) are itching for a real fight and want to just take on Fort Patriot head on. Both men believe that, if they attack now with their fighters, they could beat the RNT on their own ground and cause them to suffer a huge morale loss. Such a fight would probably result in high casualties, but both groups of tribals (Leonitis’ Pride and Thorson’s Gods of Thunder) have no qualms about dying in combat. A head on victory on their own land would give NOLA a big morale boost while potentially leading citizens of the RNT to think twice about supporting a war with their neighbor.

But after conferring with their allies with the advanced tech, that group’s leader made a different suggestion. Fort Patriot is going to be heavily guarded and the risks outweigh the rewards for a straight out assault. Infiltration may also prove difficult, because if they are rebuilding then they would have already boosted the defenses there to protect the rebuilding efforts. However, a navy with no source of fuel isn’t going anywhere. And his sources indicate that the nearby oil field and refinery, the only one close enough to the fort to be a logistical choice for fueling the fleet, is a soft target that could be easily destroyed (particularly since one of the PCs is a demolitions expert).

Of course, their ally Captain Harris in the settlement of Pineville is against that plan because the RNT oil fields are operated on slave labor and attacking the oil field would effectively be slaughtering hundreds of slaves. Harris thinks a risker, but potentially more valuable plan would be for the PCs to try to get hired on by the RNT as mercenaries for hire at the oil field and try to get better intel on the RNT’s actual infrastructure and resources. Because right now almost every other plan is based on sketchy intelligence along the border and nobody actually knows the full extent of the RNT’s real firepower yet.

There is no right answer. Each option has the potential for success, but also the potential for absolute failure. I’m prepared for any of the routes they take insofar as what they would encounter. They spent a good hour the last session arguing amongst themselves as to which plan makes the most sense. If they reinforce the city and wait to repel an invasion, they risk the lives of thousands of civilians if they fail (or even if they win). Attacking Fort Patriot outright means putting their NPC friends’ lives on the line, and if they don’t succeed then they have that many fewer fighters to defend the city down the road. If they infiltrate alone, they have odds stacked against them and may not make it out alive themselves (this has already been a high casualty game. I don’t pull punches.) Destroying the oil field means slaughtering hundreds of innocent slaves, but even if the rig is completely destroyed there would be nothing to stop the RNT from rebuilding it in time. Trying to infiltrate the RNT may get more intel, but what good will the intel be if they attack before NOLA can defend itself?

It should be entertaining once they decide on a course of action and follow through with it.

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