Arion, Episode 88: Ochkeefee Worm

We were almost eaten by a six-metre worm on O’Keefe when the starport fence failed, but once the Dolphin unlimbered the heavy laser, the party was over…

O’Keefe, Week 37, 1105

“Stay frosty, everyone,” says Arion. “We’ve got reports of a fence section down and an adult worm breaking into the compound. One up the spout, safeties on.”

A rules-heavy and story-light post this time, a flashback to the fight with the worm on O’Keefe, which actually happened partway through the previous post. I’m using Roll20 with the free basic tokens and a battlemat from the old hex-and-counter game Cry Havoc! The stats for Team Dolphin are here and the opposition is a giant worm from the SWADE core rules bestiary, nerfed to bring it down to the right size. The scenario is that the starport extrality fence has failed, and a worm has broken through intending to kill Our Heroes, who must survive until the end of turn six, at which point the Dolphin fries it with a heavy laser. For simplicity, the innocent bystanders have fled, but Arion’s Heroic hindrance requires him to hold the worm off to ensure they get away safely.

This engagement could also be run as a Chase or a Quick Encounter, but I want to avoid skills fade on the core combat rules for group play.

Initial setup: Wormsign!​

Turn 1

In game terms, Team Dolphin’s goal is to stop the worm exiting the map from the right-hand edge. The worm’s goal is to kill them in melee before heading offmap to the right. Ochkeefee worms are smaller than the standard SW worm (SWADE p. 184) – a bit under 20′ long as opposed to over 50′ – so have Size 6 rather than 9, dropping the Toughness to 18 (4), Strength to d12+6, and giving the creature 4 Wounds; on the plus side, rolls to hit it are at +2 due to its sheer size.

Turn 1 initiative draw: Arion 9C, Coriander 7S, Dmitri 3H, worm AC. The worm is up first and burrows 20″ towards Our Heroes, closing to melee. I decide it will begin with its trademark Slam attack before getting bitey; as per SWADE p. 175-6, it will emerge from below the PCs, but as they begin the encounter aware of its presence it can’t surprise them. It can, however, still burrow for protection – they can’t shoot it while it’s underground. Team Dolphin will shoot at it with their assorted slugthrowers once they can do so.

Suddenly, six metres of worm erupt from the ground next to Arion; the worm raises its front third into the air and slams it down on him, and it’s so big that it partly covers Coriander as well. Arion rolls aside into a small courtyard, but Cori has nowhere to go and is battered by the worm.

Since the worm is less than half its usual size, I reduce the Slam attack to one SBT. Arion is closest to it so it Slams him – this brings Cori partially under the template so she is attacked as well. Each makes an Athletics roll (d4w) opposed by the worm’s Aglity (d6w); Arion scores 5, Cori 3, and at this point I have to decide whether to use Bennies to reroll before the worm goes. I decided not to, and it rolls 4. Arion rolls out of the way but Cori takes the worm’s Strength (d12+6) in damage; that’s 15, beating her Toughness of 6 (1) by 9 – Shaken and two Wounds. She expends a Benny and rolls Vigour (d6w) to Soak damage; she gets lucky, scores 11, and Soaks both Wounds.

All three open up on the worm with their pistols and SMGs, but its hide is too thick, and the bullets ricochet off it in all directions without penetrating.

Everyone now shoots the worm; Cori is using d4w and both the guys are on d6w. Arion gets 13 to hit (including +2 for the worm’s size), getting 3d6 damage; 15, not enough to harm the worm. Cori’s SMG has ROF 3, so she rolls 3d4 for skill (1, 2, 1) and a single wild die (11) – the +2 for the worm’s Size is cancelled by the -2 for Recoil, and she avoids the critical failure that would occur if three of the dice came up “1”. She swaps the wild die for one of the Shooting rolls and has scored one hit with a raise, having fired a 10-round burst. 3d6 = 11 damage, no use. Dmitri fires his auto pistol, scores 10 to hit and does 13 damage – less than the worm’s Toughness, so no harm done.

“Split up!” Dmitri yells. “That way it can only slam one of us!”

Team Dolphin now uses their movement to break contact, moving away from the worm in different directions while retaining line of sight for shooting.

End of turn 1. SBT shows wormslam.​

Turn 2

Initiative: Arion QS, Coriander KC, Dmitri 10C, worm KH. The worm goes first, followed by Cori, Arion, and Dmitri. The worm decides to bite Arion (he’s closest), scores 11 on its Fighting die, and inflicts 20 damage – against Toughness 6 (1), Shaken and 3 Wounds. That needs Soaking; Arion gets 7, and decides to take the two Wounds as he expects to need more Bennies later.

Cori realises she has a very poor chance of hitting anything, and uses her psionics to focus on better aim. The others fire again, but do the worm no harm.

Cori uses boost trait on her Shooting, and thanks to a raise bumps it up to d8w.

Arion rolls Spirit to recover from Shaken, and succeeds, so he can return fire, albeit at -2 from the Wounds. He misses, and flees into the nearest building.

Dmitri plugs away with his pistol; 9 damage. He closes on the worm to retain line of sight if it pursues Arion.

End of turn 2. Red spot indicates Shaken, red health bar shows Wound status.​

Turn 3

Initiative: Arion 6C, Cori AH, Dmitri KS, worm 4S. Cori blasts it with her new improved skill; three ordinary hits. The 6 damage and 8 damage won’t do much, but the 25 is going to leave a mark; AP 1 ignores one point of armour, meaning the 25 damage is compared to an effective Toughness of 17 – success and two raises. The worm’s not having that, and makes a Soak roll, using one of its 5 Bennies (two for being a Wild Card, and one per hero in the common pool – which only the worm is drawing on). It rolls 4, success, which would soak one wound; I decide it has enough bennies to try again, but it does no better. It is now Shaken with one Wound.

Cori’s psionically boosted shooting serves her well, and allows her to focus on what looks like a weak spot. Ichor spurts from the worm as her bullets strike home. Continuing fire from Arion and Dmitri does nothing but annoy the worm, which turns and bites Dmitri with teeth used to tunnel through bedrock.

Dmitri hits and does 18 damage with AP1; he Shakes the worm again, but as it is Hardy this does not cause another Wound. Arion misses.

The worm recovers from Shaken, turns on Dmitri and bites him, only just managing to hit for 12 damage; success and one raise against Toughness 5 (0), so Dmitri spends a Benny – and fails to soak. Bah.

End of turn 3. Adding blue health bars to show Benny status and green to show Power Points.​

Turn 4

Initiative: Arion 3D, Cori QH, Dmitri 7S, worm 3S.

Cori thinks about healing Dmitri but reasons she is the person with the best chance of damaging the worm, so shoots – and again wounds it. Dmitri staggers back, shaken, until his back is to a wall, which he seems to need for support. Arion fires, but is badly injured and not shooting straight.

Cori fires again. Two hits, one of which does 20 damage and Shakes the worm.

Dmitri fails to recover from Shaken, figures he needs the Benny for the next bite, and falls back around the corner.

The worm recovers from Shaken and bites Cori (spending a Benny to reroll a missed attack), and does 14 damage – two Wounds. Cori fails to Soak that.

Arion closes with the worm and shoots at it, but misses.

End of turn 4​

Turn 5

Initiative: Arion 9D, Cori 3D, Dmitri 6H, worm 9C.

Arion keeps firing, but his gun jams, and in his present state clearing the jam is temporarily beyond him.

Arion rolls a critical failure while shooting the worm.

The worm charges Cori and slams itself down on her.

The worm decides a successful slam attack on Cori ought to finish her off, so executes that manoeuvre. Cori rolls 7, the worm 5 – it spends a Benny to reroll and gets 10, whacking Cori for 17 damage vs Toughness 6 – success and two raises, so Cori is Shaken and suffers two Wounds, which could Incapacitate her. She only has one Benny left but gambles and uses it to Soak damage, soaking one Wound; she’s now Shaken with three Wounds.

Dmitri composes himself and fires again, but the bullet bounces off its hide.

Dmitri recovers from Shaken and plugs the worm, but does no harm.

“Six seconds to target acquisition,” says the Dolphin, calmly. “Get the Hell out of Dodge!”

Cori is only too happy to obey. “Try to keep up!” she yells at Arion as she runs past him.

Cori declares she is running, ducks past the worm and heads off down the street with her now-empty SMG.

End of turn 5.​

Turn 6

Initiative: Arion 7H, Cori QC, Dmitri 7S, worm 3H. Team Dolphin runs, because as the scenario is set up, they only have to survive this turn and the cavalry arrives. Alas, the worm is faster, and moves up to Arion to bite him – 17 damage, another two Wounds. Let’s soak that; success, reducing it to Shaken and three Wounds overall.

Team Dolphin break like a flock of startled seagulls and sprint away from the worm, as the Dolphin rises into view, rolling inverted to bring the dorsal turret to bear and traversing the heavy laser towards the worm.

At this point, the Dolphin gains line of sight with the Heavy Laser. As per the Science Fiction Companion, ship’s AIs have skill d10 but no Wild Die; even so, the Dolphin dumps 16 damage into it at AP 30, Shaking it, and can safely be assumed to slice it up over the next few turns.

End of turn 6.​


Team Dolphin limps back to the starport proper to lick their wounds, while the Dolphin provides covering fire for the fence repair gang.

My notes from the fracas show that all three PCs are Shaken, Dmitri has one Wound and Arion and Cori each have three. The healing rules are on page 96 of the SWADE core rulebook.

It seems reasonable to assume O’Keefe’s scout base has a first aider with basic medical supplies and Healing d6, so that worthy is the first stop. Cori’s healing power would be the normal port of call, but she is rolling at -3 because of her own wounds. The local first aider is not brilliant, but isn’t wounded either. Now, in my head, the Wound penalties for the victim are also applied to the healing roll, but that isn’t what the SWADE rules say, so either they have changed, or I misremembered – wouldn’t be the first time either way. I can’t be bothered to look up whether Deluxe had that ruling or not.

Over the course of the next half hour, the base first aider rolls 11 for Arion (no Wild Die, but his skill die can ace), 4 for Cori, and 3 for Dmitri. Success with a raise for Arion, healing two wounds; success for Cori, healing one; and failure for Dmitri, so nothing to be done there. Cori is now at -2 to trait rolls, so tries her psychic healing while no-one is watching; failures all round.

Now we’re forced to resort to natural healing – a Vigour roll every five days. The first roll, while still on O’Keefe, sees Cori and Dmitri both succeeding with a raise and returning to full health. Arion fails his roll, so he has one Wound left when the ship lifts; the healing power works even after the Golden Hour, so a little TLC from his psychic girlfriend fixes the remaining issue.

GM Notes

Giant worms are a grave danger to PC life and limb, and I commend them to the House. Team Dolphin had no realistic chance of killing one with their popguns, while it can move faster than they can run and bite their heads off with ease – I suspected as much, hence the cutoff when the Dolphin‘s laser came into play.

I’m a bit rusty here, so please point out any errors you see.

I was expecting combat to be slower and more difficult now because of the extra conditions (distracted, vulnerable, etc.) but none of those came up in this fight, and it ran about the way I remembered. It took about an hour and a half, because of page flipping and running all figures on both sides while trying to be fair and record all the die rolls; in actual play I would expect a fight like that to take under an hour, two minutes per figure per turn at most for an experienced table.

Overall, that went better than I expected, and I feel reassured now that combat will flow as quickly as before. However, while I will occasionally drop into the full combat rules to avoid skills fade, Quick Encounters will be more practical for most solitaire encounters going forward, not least because they remove any concerns about whether NPCs are using optimum tactics.

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