Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Yeti Sanction, part I (spoilers)

Art by Dave Billman

Enjoyment of fiction sometimes requires suspension of disbelief.  Such suspension is also needed when participating in a role-playing game.  However, different genres can tolerate suspension to a greater or lesser extent.  The genres of mystery and espionage, dependent upon logic and plausibility, are not well suited for suspension of disbelief.  The first Lords of Creation adventure, The Horn of Roland, includes a mystery scenario.  Although I questioned the appropriateness of the scenario as an introductory adventure, the mystery was competently crafted.  The second Lords of Creation adventure, The Yeti Sanction, begins with an espionage scenario.  Unfortunately, this scenario is so implausible, it makes any given Saturday morning cartoon plot look sophisticated in comparison.  Lords of Creation can accommodate mystery and espionage, but the potential of the game is so vast it seems a shame to present an unsatisfactory espionage scenario instead of any of numerous possible opportunities.

The Yeti Sanction “was designed for characters who have just finished” The Horn of Roland, but the completion of Roland is not a prerequisite for Yeti.  In fact, the continuity between the two adventures is practically non-existent.  Yeti, however, requires characters of a higher power profile than RolandThe Yeti Sanction (1984) was designed by Ian Guistino and Tom Moldvay.  Since Moldvay is listed second, it would seem that Guistino did more of the work.  Other than some magazine contributions in the 21st century, Yeti is Guistino's only published RPG effort.

Like Roland, Yeti encompasses six scenarios.  The first scenario begins with the player characters being contacted by an Air Force colonel; however, when “he is sure that no one else can hear, he will reveal to the characters that he is actually a member of the CIA...”  The colonel “has been sent to escort the characters to Washington.”  I think we can all appreciate how annoying it is when someone from the CIA wants to escort us to Washington.  The colonel establishes his bona fides by presenting an ID card.  Also, “Any characters with the Espionage skill will know that CIA agents have a recognition code which is changed each week.”  It is also somehow known that, “This week the code is wearing a piece of silver jewelry shaped like a lion, with imitation ruby eyes.”  The colonel “is wearing such a tie pin.”  This is important later when...oh, wait, it isn't important.  If the characters call the CIA to confirm the colonel's credentials, the GM should “give them a 10 XP bonus for intelligent play.”  Ten experience points is more XP than a character can earn by beating up a grizzly bear or an orc leader.

It is assumed that the player characters will accompany the colonel to Washington.  Instead of taking them to Langley, the colonel brings them to a facility underneath the Pentagon.  A CIA official named Commander Williams addresses the player characters via television screen.   Williams explains that the Secretary of State has been kidnapped and, as a result, the commander is “empowered” to recruit the player characters “to help during the crisis.”  Williams claims, “Every one of you has been recommended to me.”  The adventure background claims the characters are asked “on the basis of the job they did in New Bristol” (assuming they completed The Horn of Roland adventure).  Williams gives the characters the opportunity to back out; however, “The GM should encourage the the characters [sic] to accept since there is no adventure otherwise).”  Assuming the characters accept the offer, they become “Force J” and are briefed by Williams:
     ...Up until three years ago, Dr. Markov was Chief of the Asian Division for the Russian KGB.  Then one day he suddenly disappeared.  Unconfirmed rumors placed him somewhere in Siberia at a secret base.  We believe that he received special training in terrorist tactics while at the base.  About a year go Markov surfaced in Tibet.  He is currently leader of an international terrorist organi-zation named YETI.  As far as we can determine, YETI stands for Young Everest Terrorist International.  They have an isolated base somewhere in the Himalayan Mountains.
     In the past year, YETI has established an international reputation for kidnappings and assassinations on a grand scale.  While not as well known yet as some other international terrorist groups, their actions over the last year make YETI one possible suspect in the kidnapping of Secretary Jackson.  Other agents are checking out different leads.  Your mission is to find out whether or not YETI was involved in the secretary of state.  If so, rescue Secretary Jackson and capture or kill Anton Markov.
Additionally, Williams explains that the characters' “contact in the field is Sally Anderson at the United Travel Agency.”  Anderson “has already done some preliminary work on the case and...will handle all preparations for your trip to the Himalayas.”  Williams directs his secretary, Helen Robbins, to take the characters to the “Armaments section” so that they may be issued their equipment.  Williams concludes the briefing by alerting the characters, “There may be a leak in the agency” and only five people know about Force J:  the colonel, Williams, Anderson, Robbins, and George Fox, “the head of the Armaments section.”

I would have handled the recruitment of the player characters in a different manner.  Rather than have the Secretary of State kidnapped from his home, I would have him kidnapped from a conference held at a hotel.  They player characters would also be at the hotel and they would fall victim to the incapacitating gas used by YETI.  The characters recover from the gas with the aid of the CIA.  After checking the characters' backgrounds, the agency offers the 'Force J' opportunity.  In this way, the player characters would have a sense of obligation to the CIA and a motive for going after YETI.

Just over six pages near the beginning have listings for spy equipment, rules for car chases, and forty-eight car descriptions.  The only foreign vehicle that isn't a luxury model is a Volkswagen Rabbit.  Anyway, “The Game Master has two methods of giving the characters their special equipment.”  The GM can either provide the characters with the suggested equipment or let them outfit themselves with a budget (“$50,000 for two cars, and $15,000 for other equipment”).  If you bog down the adventure by letting the players go on a shopping spree, you're doing it wrong.  Just give them the suggested equipment and entertain any reasonable requests.  Honestly, time is too precious – both in real life and in the game.

Once the characters get their equipment, they go to United Travel Agency to see Sally Anderson.  There are two indicators that something isn't right:  'Sally' doesn't respond with the proper recognition phrase and there is “a muffled yell from behind the back door.”  The real Sally Anderson is being kidnapped.  Specifically, she is being forced into a station wagon in the back alley.  The station wagon has the name 'Yak Exports Unlimited' displayed on the sides.  A car chase ensues...probably.

Included in The Yeti Sanction box are some player aids:  equipment lists, car descriptions, charts pertaining to the car chase rules, and a map of Washington, DC.  The Lords of Creation car chase rules are not as abstract as those for other games.  The chase follows a specific route through Washington and there is a table that indicates what happens on each game turn (including what 'driving check' rolls are required).  The adventure acknowledges that – instead of pursuing the station wagon – the characters can just find the address of Yak Exports Unlimited by looking in the phone book.

At the Yak Exports Unlimited warehouse, the player characters find out about the YETI plan:  “Dr. Anton Markov hopes to start a nuclear war by setting off [atomic] bombs in Washington and Moscow after first kidnapping important officials from each country.”  A disassembled atomic bomb is present at the warehouse and “Included with the bomb is a copy of Markov's orders.”  If your plan is to start a nuclear war, destroying Moscow and Washington ought to do the trick; kidnapping officials would seem to be an unnecessary effort (unless that's the easiest way for a GM to involve the player characters).  The player characters have captured the Washington bomb, but the Moscow bomb plays no part in the adventure.

Also at the warehouse, the player characters come across a bad guy burning some papers.  An unburned fragment relates information about a Russian mole in the CIA, including the mole's date of birth.  The reasons why this document would even exist, why it would it be written in English, and why the bad guy would have this document on his person are not elaborated upon.  (Spymaster pro tip:  If you really must write down your mole infiltration plans, don't mention the mole's identity.)  Additionally, “On a pad next to the telephone is a message which reads:  'Tell Katrina about Force J; also call Marie at house'.”

The characters are awarded 50 XP if they can determine who the mole is.  Only five people know about Force J.  Of the five, only two did not know Sally Anderson's recognition phrase – George Fox and the colonel.  Fox is too old given the mole's date of birth; hence, the colonel is the traitor.  Of course, this logic assumes that the mole would have supplied YETI with the recognition phrase if he or she knew it.  Absent is the possibility that the actual mole would implicate someone else in order to avoid detection.  “Of course,” the adventure states, “deducing who the mole is, and proving it, are two different things.”  Also, “The GM should remind the characters [sic] that they do not have any actual proof.”  Via the phone company, the player characters can determine “that a number of calls have been made from Yak Exports Unlimited to a number which originates from an apartment on 20th Street...”  At said apartment, the player characters find “the complete dossier on the mole...[including] pictures, fingerprints and a list of...subversive activities.”  So, there's the proof.  Fortunately, Markov kept a bunch of identifying information about his infiltration agent so that his enemies could acquire it when needed.  Actually, the mole subplot doesn't affect the rest of the adventure, it didn't even need to be included.

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