Exploration of Skull Island

The First Day



I have wanted to do a series of  quasi-fantasy games set on Skull Island, of King Kong fame.  This would be a campaign such that the outcomes of one game would influence the next.  Outcomes and experiences from games would be cumulative.  Maybe a cross between a historical campaign and a role-playing game.


Besides seeing the new King Kong, part of my inspiration for this was a batch of sailor figures painted for me by Brian Langham.  Here are some examples, Brigade and Pulp Figures.









A few years ago I wrote some rules for an African Safari game.  Players outfitted their party with supplies and people and then followed a map to a specific site of interest -- elephant grave yard, gold temple, lost brother, etc.  Although the players started with a map, they had to scout the terrain.  The table started out empty of any terrain.  As in the great old game, The Source of the Nile, the players had to "discover" what was in the next hex.  Often it was not as shown on the map J.  Besides moving into the unknown territory, players had to manage their supplies -- people needed food (carried or gotten by hunting), medicine, gifts for natives, ammunition.  Players might fight natives and other groups or animals encountered, but the game was less a "war" game and more of a logistics game.


I wanted the Skull Island game to have less management and more action.  As I was modifying my older game, I came across the Skull Island Yahoo group, and Mohawky's great Skull Island game.   






What an inspiration. The game is a really fine work on the natural history of Skull Island, including characteristics of all the animals, areas, and plants.  The premise is that a small party of people is trying to get from the interior of the island to the coast.  They must find keys to unlock the great gate.  As they move along, they go into different types of terrain wherein they have various encounters.  These can result in attacks by animals, finding things or just moving on in peace.    One valuable resource for other rules writers, is a vast array of monsters and their characteristics -- strength, movement and attack power.  The monsters are keyed to different types of terrain --grassland, swamp, river bank, coastal area, jungle, etc.  Thus one might find giant alligators in a swamp and a stegosaurus in a grassland area.


My goal, however, was to have a game based on an expedition going into the interior of the Island, searching for treasure, animals, rare and valuable items.  Moreover, I was thinking of Skull Island as being at the vortex of a space-time continuum.  All sorts of people and things might "wash up" here.  I was thinking that this is why pre-historic creatures are there.  It could just as well be that people from various times in the past or future or from other dimensions show up.  There is no telling what an expedition might discover.


So, I would draw from Mohawky's encounter list and add some others, but set up the game as a terrain mapping exercise.  Unlike the Safari game, there would be limited book keeping and logistics.  Thus no need for bearers to carry food and other supplies.  Turns would not be a day, but a game might be thought of as a day. 



The game table is set out empty of terrain.  The characters will enter the interior area of the island through a hole in the great wall.  In the early light, this is the view.




Strong binoculars allow one to get a strange view, as the fog lifts, this would be the destination.




The expedition is sponsored by Miskatonic University.  Each of the first three groups will be headed by a member of the staff and will consist of a female assistant and some number of ship's crew.  A basic crew might look like this


(No staff assistants at my University like that one)


The leader of each crew is given 3 crew men armed with rifles and $4000 in expense money to improve the group.  The leader has a sub-machine gun and the assistant a pistol.


There are two basic skills that the group needs.  Ferocity -- how well they can fight, and Fieldcraft -- how well they can scout an area.  The score represents an overall value for all the members of the crew.  Ferocity starts at a 0 and Fieldcraft at 2.  For $1000 these can be increased (by getting crewmen who are better) by 1 each, up to a maximum of 4.


Group leaders can also re-equip the crew with up to 2 submachine gun for $1000 each or one light machine gun for $2000.  Additional crewmen with rifles can be added for $1000 each.  Each group upped their fieldcraft and ferocity.  One took on some extra crewmen, and the other two bought sub-machine guns.


The table was empty as shown above.  When a crew entered a new hex, we drew a card which told what terrain was in the hex and what encounters might be made.  The terrain can be done randomly, as in The Source of the Nile but this is time consuming, and I have limited numbers of specific terrain hexes.  The other approach that I will use next time is to predetermine what is in each hex and then allow the players to discover it as they enter.  Then I can create a terrain that facilitates a better flow of the game.  In our game, players ran into troublesome terrain in the first few hexes so got tangled up a bit, needing to cross each other's path. 


The terrain card also told what were the chances for a monster (for example, roll = 1,2,3,4) and if there was an artifact to be found -- by rolling equal to or less than field craft.  At first I just put out a monster I happened to like.  Players wanted it more random, so we then rolled for which one showed up.  If I preset the terrain, I can follow a system more like Mohawky's by having only certain monsters show up in specific terrain.


The cards also explained how to deal with special situations such as how to get a raft on a lake hex, or build a bridge on a gorge. 


Players did shooting to get hit points by rolling a d6 for rifles and a d10 for sub machine guns (x3) and pistols (x1).  No one took light machine guns, but they had 4 d10.  A jam for auto weapons occurred if a 1 was rolled, followed by a second die roll that was odd.  Leaders and the assistant got 20 hits and the crew only 15.   Monsters were taken directly from Skull Island rules, both hit points (10-150 depending on size),  and attack cards.  No "drive off" as this would always happen and just meant the monsters were weaker than the kill points.   The attacks by monsters were done with cards but a face card caused the crew to back up to where they came from.   Ranges did not come into play because all the action took place in the 12" hex.   The leader and assistant took 20 hit points, the crew only 15. 


The First Expedition

There were 5 players divided into 3 crews.  Three is all the ping pong size table can handle and not have them get into each other's way.  I wanted each to follow a different path but as it turned out, there were some cases when one would meet an impassable situation and have to move into a hex discovered by another crew. 


Within the first 3 hexes all three crews ran into serious threats.  One entered a native village with 12 warriors.



Another found a ruined temple guarded by the ferocious Leopard Men.


(one orange dot on left and orange on back of stand denotes sub-machine guns.  Two dots denotes leader)


They went after Dorothy but she survived,



The third group got caught in some deserts.  If a crew enters a desert, it is assumed that they bring water from the previous hex.  But if the next hex is a desert, it can be entered only if an oasis is found in the first.  This crew went into 4 desert hexes and found no oasis on a 50% chance to do so!  They had to back track and go through hexes of another crew. 


One group found a lake and was able to make a raft, and even fend off a giant alligator.



Another crew was not so lucky and left a member behind to feed some lizards



Two crews finally reached the Kong monument mound.  Each had lost a couple members but did find some artifacts/treasure along the way.



The group that had gotten caught in the desert then got stuck trying to cross a gorge



and ended up in a difficult swamp with some nasty monsters coming after them.



Here is a view of the table at the end of the day.



The game lasted about 2 ½ hours plus about ½ hour explanations and setting up the parties.  The players liked the game, in general, especially the terrain generation but were not happy with the combat system.  We shared some ideas and I will make modifications for the next time.  I "promised" to do these games no more than once every two months.  I am usually the game night host so get my way, often, but others want to do games too.  Thus we rotate among various games and cannot bunch up on one system.


I would be grateful for any comments or suggestions.