Wednesday 18 March 2020

[CAMPAIGN JOURNAL] Into the Jungle, and Back Again

“The Vietcong dug too deep.” This is the premise of Into the Jungle, an interesting Into the ODD hack I reviewed here last summer. Mixing Vietnam-era combat with fantasy monsters emerging from jungle dungeons, and making even more of a mess out of Nam by taking both sides completely off guard, it is a quick, deadly little game that holds together surprisingly well. Over the holidays, we got the chance to play two sessions of the game with Marvin (posting here as Volja, not his real name either) as the GM. What follow are some quick notes on how the game works, and what kind of adventures you can run with it. If you haven’t read the review first, much of this post will leave you baffled; if you have, there will be some duplication. You can’t win either way. Welcome to Vietnam!

...but with beholders and orcs
Character generation is one of Into the Jungle’s strongest sides. It is very simple and mostly random, but in a way which helps a lot to define your characters from the outset.
  • You roll randomly for three ability scores (2d6+3 for Strength, Dexterity and Wisdom), hit points (a brutal 1d6 per level, although 0 does not necessarily mean death), a “class skill” and two “weapon skills”. These characters are random losers drafted into the war, and while they would all be classified as “Fighters” (duh), the class skill acts as their basic military profile (e.g. medic, sapper, heavy weapon guy, tank crew, etc.), and their weapon training rounds out their approach to combat (you can use weapons unskilled, but you will have really crappy damage that way – you can lug around that M60, but can’t aim it properly).
  • The second layer of customisation comes from equipment, which contains some basics (e.g. jungle fatigues, an M1 helmet, your rucksack, a canteen, etc.), but also a handful of fun random items: 1d4 standard and 1 special.
  • Then there is a third, giving you miscellaneous details like a pre-war job, a basic trait, a motivation (and, optionally using the NPC tables, a name and nickname).
  • You can also generate a few disposable secondary squad members. These guys have the three stats, 1 Hp, and one weapon skill.

This takes about ten minutes, if you have to have the process explained to you.

So the three of us sat down and rolled up some basic PCs:
  • I got Stanley “Junior” Horowitz, a goldsmith from Brooklyn, with STR 6, DEX 11, and WIS 11, 5 Hp (sturdy!), demolitions, skills in pistols and infantry rifles, and a weird old book he got somewhere in Saigon. Junior was lazy, but he had an Ideal (The American Way), as well as a companion, Robert “Touchdown” Francisco, who was much needed because he had to carry low-STR Stanley’s equipment.
  • Premier got Henry “Doc” Cavinton, a combat medic and former cook, followed by Corky “The Swede” Henriksson.
  • …and Orastes got Arthur “Hollywood” Turner, a sniper who has somehow gotten his hand on his “own” jeep, and also controlled (?) Diego “Afterburner” Hendrix, a flame thrower guy suffering from acute stress and paranoia.

These nobodies were brought together in May 1968 in District 202, a military district nominally pacified after “the battle of Hamburger Hill” (not the real event), but still beset by Vietcong activity. Base 204, a small “keep on the borderland”, was a small microcosm to itself, with an enigmatic and frankly shady commander, and a burgeoning black market. In driving range along the river were three villages (Bao Loc, Dalat and Ban Bai) and three fire support bases, located in a jungle-covered mountain area. Summoned by Commander Ateman, deathly pale and wearing sunglasses, we were allowed to pick between four codenamed assignments, and chose…

District 202
Operation #1: PURPLE BEER

A partially pacified settlement, Ban Bai has been found abandoned. We were tasked to find out what happened during our patrol, and report back to Ateman. Using Hollywod’s jeep (super useful), we drove along the river. Transportation is a godsend in Into the Jungle: “Stress Points” are an important rating, which accumulate by doing stressful stuff, including combat, witnessing horrific things, or hunting/being hunted by hostiles, but also moving through mosquito-infested jungles, heavy rain, or the sweltering heat (so basically everything you actually do in Vietnam). R&R helps, but exposes the company to random encounters. As a neat touch, drugs also knock off stress, but come with a nasty addiction mechanic. Since this is still the “Reefer Madness” age, weed cigarettes are exactly the addictive devil drug portrayed by television!

Along the way, we stopped to gather intel in Bao Loc, a mostly friendly locale. Here we learned that the inhabitants of Ban Bai were “Dead but not dead”, and Mao Duc, the local VC leader was somehow involved. We also learned that Uncle Dung, a local elder, was kidnapped by the “dog-faces”, who were living next to the northern missile base. We continued to Ban Bai, which was indeed deserted, save for a hungry tiger, which we ambushed and killed.
  • There are no attack rolls in Into the Jungle unless you are using auto-fire (which, granted, you generally do); the attackers immediately roll damage. This makes setting ambushes and avoiding getting ambushed crucial to survival.
  • On the other hand, you need that auto-fire, because otherwise, multiple-HD monsters are impossible to take down reliably. This is a flaw in the otherwise elegant system.

A limestone pit hid no bodies, but seems to have had a trail of perhaps 100-150 footprints leading off to the south. Afterburner started getting really unhinged due to stress, and set the village on fire.

The trail led to a tall, lone tree next to abandoned rice paddies. Junior realised this is a tree he had seen on an illustration in his strange old book, next to drawings of bizarre purple flowers, and a picture of the flowers in a tree hole. To the south of the tree, we also discovered an encampment of a dozen horrid, pig-like creatures grilling human remains, equipped with discarded old firearms! We circled around them, and set up an attack with claymores and ambush positions. However, when commencing the attack, the pigmen called out not to shoot, and one of them came forward as an emissary. Calling himself Nguo Chan (~Pig Leg), he let us know that the purple flowers were in the lair of the dog-faces, and that their females were abducted by the people of Bao Loc. He offered to lead us through the jungle to the dog-face lair, which we accepted (although Stanley only reluctantly once it occurred to him this guy was made of pork).

Halfway through the jungle, we discovered a small village, and doing some reconnaissance, found that it was inhabited by loathsome snake-human hybrids! We retreated a little, and called in a strike from the nearby fire support base, watching the village get turned into flaming wreckage. Continuing, Nguo Chan took us to a hill overlooking an bunker entrance, the lair of the dog-faces. We parted from our companion, and decided to make camp for the night. In the morning, we left the unstable Afterburner to watch camp, while we called base and arranged a napalm strike set exactly 2 hours from now.

Snake-men?! What the...
Down at the entrance, we knocked on a heavy, rusted gate. The dog-faces – tall, shaggy, dog-headed monsters with firearms – emerged, and we somehow negotiated with them to fetch their boss, Alpha Mane. The boss and his second arrived on a roaring Harley Davidson, cutting a few circles in the field to impress us. We held up our offer: a jerry can of gasoline for the vehicles. Alpha Mane started to become more interested, and we asked him to release Uncle Dung. Alpha Mane barked about “Uncle Dung purple death!”, but agreed to the deal. Stanley started getting big ideas. “Yeah, this was just our first gift. There will be more gasoline, soon. Our guys will deliver it by airdrop, you should just bring out the rest of your guys to carry it.” Alpha Mane didn’t quite get this, but seemed positive, and we decided to pack it and get out with Uncle Dung’s unconscious body while the going was good – we were already back through the jungle when we heard the helicopters sweeping in from above the clouds.

On the way back, we made another detour to Bao Loc, where the wise Uncle Dung’s recovery was met with cheers and impromptu celebration. Stanley and Doc started interrogating the villagers about any “new pigs” they may have seen around. While initially resistant, a pack of cigarettes changed hands, and a local informer showed us to a disgusting pen filled with mud, and fat porcine shapes with a faint resemblance to… No, Stanley was not interested to find out. We sternly warned the locals that the “pigs” are to be released without further ado, no ifs and no buts. And so we headed back to base. Operation #2: Roentgen #78 ­– a scenario where we would have to escort a NYC newspaper reporter around the area, and show him just what the Army wanted him to see, and not to mind the Viet Cong massing on the borders, or a massive six-headed river monster emerging from the murky waters – would commence in a week. But until then, we were free to spend time in Saigon, and not worry about the future.

Not depicted: river hydra


  1. This whole thing sounds delightfully awesome.
    I hadn't noticed the auto-fire thingy as a real flaw.
    You can deal massive damage if you roll well and it costs you one strip of ammo every time. So you have a great bonus balanced by a drawback and the uncertainty of success.

    And there is the possibility of using stunts to gain an extra damage die ... and to inspire your players to try great stuff in-game.

    Though having not played it yet all this is just from my read of the rules.

    1. It is a neat, fun and deadly little game; not really suited for a full campaign, but quite good for a few sessions.

      My problem with auto-fire is that you have to keep it going if you want to take down opponents who are not 1 HD grunts. Meet six or seven snake-men (a general random encounter), and even if you get the drop of them, you can't mow them down until they charge you and decimate your forces. That feels off. Or maybe I am still sore about poor Stanley almost getting KIA in our third assignment.

  2. You can have one devastating attack at the cost of having to reload next round (unless you carry multiple loaded automatic weapons, a sensible choice). And a whole squad opening up on full auto on a hapless monster is more than likely to waste it.

    Thanks for the journal btw, I can't wait to see the next installment.