Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tommy's Take on Operation Hydra Den


As part two of our week of Bedrock Games Terror Network modules, here is Operation Hydra Den. Spinning out of events of the Operation Hydra module, Operation Hydra Den follows Al Mahara back home to the Middle East, to at least take out key players, if not take the whole operation down.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: First, this is a module for Terror Network, so you should have that in order to get the full use out of the module. Second, this is designed as a sequel to Operation Hydra, though it is worth mentioning that you can use either "Hydra" module independent of the other with minimal effort. Don't want to play through Operation Hydra and maybe blow up chunks of Dallas? That's fine...handwave some other atrocity by Al Mahara and use that as the rationale for sending the PCs to the Middle East. Finally, the module is for sale in PDF format for $4.99 (of in the Terror Network bundle) and in print at Studio 2 Publishing. It is fully bookmarked and such, with the interiors being black and white.

Chapter One lays out all of the essential information: Basically, two Al Mahara cells operating out of different towns in Saudi Arabia are mining uranium in hopes of acquiring WMDs (which would be Bad). So the CIA have launched this mission (you do have the option of using the same FBI characters from the Operation Hydra module, although this is discouraged due to them possibly lacking the necessary skillsets), under the noses of the Saudis in order to stop this operation. That means that the PCs have to infiltrate and stop Al Mahara as well as avoid the Saudi authorities, so as to not cause a diplomatic nightmare.

In addition, this chapter also provides background on Saudi Arabia, as well as additional background on Al Mahara and the details of their current plot. Finally, an in-character briefing for the Agents as they arrive for the mission, as well as what they specifically have available to them in the beginning (both in regards to material possessions as well as contacts).

Given that there are two towns they need to infiltrate, two of the chapters are spent focusing on each town, what the PCs may find there and so on. In a nice touch, the chapter for the mining operation lies directly between the chapters on the two villages...just as the mine itself lies between the two villages. Given that they have to choose between going to one town first or the other, each location also has a section detailing what the PCs find at a given place if they went to the other town first. For instance, the safehouse in Khuddah is abandoned by the time the PCs get there if they went to Al Arif first. As with the previous module, each location details the NPCs found there, the information that can be attained and so in, and there should be something guiding the PCs from place to place as long as they are doing their jobs.

Chapter five explains how the module wraps up, and defines success or failure based on just how the PCs performed in each town, as well as the encounter at the mines in between. All of the PCs dying, for instance, is a Very Bad Thing. It is also possible for the PCs to get their primary target but lose their secondary target, which can come back to haunt them later.

Chapter six details the relevant NPCs, including how they are likely to respond to interactions with the PCs (such as what they may give up under interrogation), but also provides both a Players and GMs map of each relevant location.

WHAT WORKS: As always, a painstaking amount of research has gone into the module, and again, success or failure is left up to the PCs (ranging from total success to partial successes to utter failure). One of the most common problems with modules (indeed, most written adventures, store bought or homemade) is that they tend to fall apart once the players make contact with them. Hydra Den does its best to avoid that by combining the "Government Agents" approach with the sandbox format and site descriptions that cover what happens when either town is approached first (by necessity, the Mine event should always happen in the middle, regardless).

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The editing didn't appear to be quite as tight on this one as it did Operation Hydra. One of the player's maps was mislabeled as a GM's map, and I caught the odd typo in the text.

CONCLUSION: I couldn't tell you why, exactly, but I didn't like this adventure quite as much as Operation Hydra. Not saying it's a bad product, far from it, I just think something in Hydra worked better. Maybe I'm more partial to the FBI than I am the CIA. Maybe it was the whole "on American soil" thing. I don't think it was the minor editing issues, but who knows? That said, I do think Bedrock Games nailed another great product with this, showing how you can release modules that are ostensibly connected, but can easily be ran separately. I also like the realistic "sense of scale" for this mission: You don't swoop in and wipe out a major terrorist cell in one mission, and that's not what they were trying to accomplish here. In the final analysis, I would say a half a step down from Operation Hydra, but still a great investment for anyone with interest in the modern espionage genre.