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Review / Remix: Everyday Heroes' "To Dethrone A Dictator"

Sparky McDibben

Howdy y'all!

I recently downloaded To Dethrone a Dictator by Evil Genius Games from DriveThruRPG. It's an adventure meant for their Everyday Heroes system, which I found quite interesting and refreshing (system review here). The adventure is 59 pages long, and available as Pay What You Want. It's a decent set up for a 4 hour convention game, and a massive missed opportunity for a super-fun Far Cry-style sandbox. So, what I wanted to do here was to go over a quick review of the scenario, and then start talking about how I'd flesh this out for a sandbox-style game.

You play as mercenaries recruited to kill the dictator of an African island nation. I half expected the group patron to be the Chevron corporation, but instead it's a shadowy group called REDEMPTION*. You parachute onto a beach, potentially fight some guards, link up with some resistance fighters in town, scout the King's palace, fight off a raid, and then launch your attack on the palace, culminating in a shootout with the dictator himself!

That ain't bad for a con game where you need to keep the pressure on and the PCs constantly moving. But there are some significant problems with the setup and execution.

For one, the King is defended by local troops and hired mercs. We're told that when the troops don't get paid, they'll leave. I cannot stress to you how much "That's not how that works!" was going through my head when I read that. If you're interested, see the Mercenary War, the 1527 Sack of Rome, and the Spanish Fury at Antwerp. Historically, the general point is that if you don't pay your mercs / troops, the result is that they take whatever isn't nailed down and then set up a bunch of little fiefdoms in the process. Ordinarily, I don't knock points for lack of realism, but reading that just threw me right out of the game.

Second, there's a distinct lack of meaningful choices on the part of the PCs. Almost everything gets spoonfed to them by NPCs. That's mostly a result of the convention game format, but it comes across as stifling when I think about trying to run this.

Third, it carries some problematic "white man's burden" vibes, although thankfully they weren't ever spelled out or expounded upon. That one I'm not going to knock the writers for, simply because I don't like dragging people for making the same mistakes I have.

Alright, now I've gotten through a quick review of the subject matter, next time I want to talk about how we can remix this into a great 1 - 10 sandbox adventure. See y'all next time!

*I presume the name was rated "A Little Too On the Nose" by the ACRONYM agency.
**@Libertad - don't worry, Grim Hollow's coming. I'm still re-reading the damned thing! :D

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Sparky McDibben

So first things, first, we need to revise the hook and the premise significantly. If we're going to be doing this over 10 levels (or around 30 sessions), we're going to want enough to power that gameplay. (Also, don't yell at me about the names; I don't speak any Bantu languages, so this is all very general guesswork on my part. If you want to come up with better names, please leave them in the replies, along with sources, and I'll absolutely change them :) ).

The Premise:
Currently, the East African island nation of Estwara is ruled by an aging monarch, King Obafemi (referred to as "the old King"), and has an economy mostly dependent on tourism, for the island's natural beauty and unique biodiversity. A recent discovery of off-shore mineral wealth in Estwaran waters led to some tensions as a mining corporation (Bumicorp) tried negotiating for mineral rights, only to have the King rebuff them soundly. He summoned his only surviving child, the Princess Nkoyo, from Oxford University, where she was finishing her legal degree.

Bumicorp, unwilling to take "No" for an answer, went to the head of the Royal Guard, Colonel Idowu. They gave him funds, mercenaries, weapons, and tech to start a coup and then to give them the mineral rights. Col. Idowu practically leapt at the chance, since it was widely known that the Princess would have put him into early retirement once she took the throne (they really don't like each other).

As the campaign starts, Idowu's mercenaries and loyal troops are taking up positions to implement their coup. They've smuggled in a Russian S-300 missile system for air defense, and landed mercs in platoon strength to counter any resistance. Once they seize power, they'll clamp down an iron fist on the island: no one in, no one out. And thus, the stage is set for...

The Characters:
Instead of dropping them in as desperado-mercenaries, the PCs start as above-average Joes (level 1) with a backstory. They're all going to start as civilians on the island. Work with each of your players to develop a backstory, and give them each a unique NPC contact. For example:

Strong Hero: A minor league boxer here for an unsanctioned "underground" fight. NPC Contact: a local promoter with extensive contacts among advertisers and local businesses.
Agile Hero: A local criminal who's heard rumblings about some unsavory types being flown in to help toughen up the Royal Guard. NPC Contact: a black marketeer who's the go-to for anything illicit on the island.
Tough Hero: The point person for the Princess' bodyguard team, here to prep for her arrival back from Oxford. NPC Contact: a retired general, loyal to the old King, and stubborn as an old goat - but has access to a small cache of weapons.
Smart Hero: A genius engineer, asked here by the Princess (currently returning from Oxford) to take a look at modernizing some of the infrastructure. NPC Contact: the manager of a local junkyard, who can get you just about anything with enough time (although it may not run very well).
Wise Hero: Retired head inspector who used to serve under the old King, living out their last years in peace and quiet. NPC Contact: the butler at the Palace.
Charismatic Hero: A pop idol who's out here on a charity tour, showcasing their philanthropism. NPC Contact: a nun distributing anti-tuberculosis meds for kids on the island.

The goal here is to at minimum give the characters 1) a reason to be on the island, 2) a contact they can hit up for more information, and 3) a goal pertaining to the island, something they came here to do. If possible, try to give the PCs a connection to the royal family.

The Map:
The other thing we need is a workable map of the island. There are a variety of battlemaps in the adventure, but no map of the whole island (again, it was written as a con adventure, so you don't need to reinforce a lot of player choices in that context). You don't need to get fancy with this. You can literally do something like this:


Big house looking thing is the Palace, the awnings are all towns, and the things that look like towels with umbrellas are tourist beaches. Everything with an anchor is a marina (small fishing and sightseeing boats, mostly). Just add some labels into it manually, and a title that says, "Welcome to Paradise!" and tell the PCs that it's a distribution by the local tourism department. What you're really looking for here are 1) what are the points of interest around the map, 2) how do you get there, and 3) a general sense of the layout.

The reason this is important is that as the campaign progresses, you want the PCs' decisions to build them up support or antagonism, depending on how they act. So if they have to blow up that missile system to escape, you want to be able to say, "It's here in Dutchtown, where you guys accidentally burnt down that orphanage. So don't expect the locals will have forgotten that." Maps help ground that feeling.

Obviously the map above is a bit tongue-in-cheek, and I encourage you to make a map that suits the campaign you want to run, but my point is that you don't need that much to run an interesting campaign.

Alright, next time we'll come back to this and do Act I!


Making a Far Cry style sandbox with Everyday Heroes is an idea I've been entertaining but am unlikely to write anytime soon given my other responsibilities. It's nice to see someone else thinking the same thing I've been thinking.

Don't worry about delayed reviews; I've been there myself. Also, for whatever reasons the "@" notifications don't inform me when someone tags me; I don't know if it's a site-wide thing or a thing about my settings.

Sparky McDibben

Making a Far Cry style sandbox with Everyday Heroes is an idea I've been entertaining but am unlikely to write anytime soon given my other responsibilities. It's nice to see someone else thinking the same thing I've been thinking.

Well, I'm in good company, at any rate!

Alright folks, so to launch a sandbox, you want a nice big BANG! that will shoot the players into the sandbox with impetus to start frantically knocking stuff over. In this case, as the PCs are all outsiders, what they want is to get off the island once the coup takes place. So their initial goal is to survive, but their subsequent goals are to either get off the island or defeat the coup supporters to get the lockdown lifted.

In this first case, our initial scenes should take place about an hour before the princess' coronation. The PCs don't have to be there, and may not be, if there's nothing tying them to the princess. The problem is that all of the PCs are suddenly approached by military police and asked (politely) to come to an army base over questions about their paperwork.

The MPs do not take the PCs to the palace, but rather to a small army base (holding less than 100 men) on the north side of the island.

Use the drive in to drop hints to any relevant PCs about:
  1. The army seems to have a lot more firepower, and there seem to be a lot of outsider contractors stationed here all of a sudden
  2. The locals have significantly upgraded their air defenses, including some Russian hardware that looks especially nasty (the S-300, under heavy guard)
  3. There seems to be an odd split, with some members of the military more comfortable with these outside contractors (these would be the Palace Guards), and others looking on askance
The MPs drop all the PCs into a holding area together, and say that their interrogations will begin shortly, but will be brief. It's a good idea to underline that the MPs here are wearing Palace Guard insignias.

The reason for this is that the Colonel wants a handle on all outsiders on the island; he needs them contained so that no one can get word off to spark pesky sanctions on his little nation. Most of the outsiders are at the princess' coronation - the MPs are rounding up the few remaining, including the PCs. Include a small TV in the corner, tuned to the princess' coronation. As the PCs are riffing off each other, describe how the Palace Guards start to flood into the coronation ceremony, along with mercenaries, and then the TV signal goes to static.

Then include some gunfire outside, as some of the loyal army elements are resisting, triggering fire fights outside. More gunshots sound, within the interrogation center, and the PCs hear the boots of the military police headed down the corridor - back to them.

From there, let the PCs escape as they can. I'd recommend including some heavy artillery (heavy machine gun, RPG launcher, grenade launcher, etc), along with a bunch of stuff that can blow up (fuel trucks, ammo pallets, etc.) on the way out. The trick will be just making sure the artillery doesn't have a lot of ammo. I'd also give them a vehicle with limited fuel, and having the news coming over the loudspeaker that Colonel Idowu is now in control of the country, repeated in both English and the local languages. "All foreigners are to report to the Palace Compound immediately for interrogation and deportation..." is a constant propaganda effort. (It's also a lie; Idowu will shoot the ones no one will miss, and ransom the others through black-market contacts set up by the mercenary group).

At this point, you can give the PCs the map and a one hour time limit, and let them decide where to go. If they argue too long (ie, past the one hour, a small patrol stumbles on them and a combat ensues - the first thing the patrol does after surprise is decided is to radio for backup). You'll want to keep the pressure on, and occasionally turn it up. Idowu starts offering bounties for foreigners after the first day; everyone they talk to is a potential traitor.

This should be about where the PCs hit level 2.

This is where the NPC contacts we sowed earlier shine. Have each contact point to one of two ways out. There's reportedly a CIA agent on the island named Whyllis Hundleigh, but finding him will require assaulting a police station near the capital to grab his file. The other way out is the princess. She's reportedly alive, and leading a government in exile. She'd probably be happy to have some extra help.

Making contact with these groups will likely involve helping them out against Idowu's forces, and that's about where the PCs hit level 3.

Of course, as the PCs close in on these lifelines, each has their own motives. Whyllis wants intel on why this invasion is going on, and will trade ruthlessly on the PCs' safety to get it. He wants them to infiltrate the Bumicorp temporary HQ on the south side of the island and get him some hard evidence before he helps them. The princess wants to overthrow Idowu (who has shot the Old King), and see him tried for his crimes. She wants the PCs to takeover the local TV station and broadcast a tape she's made, denouncing Idowu and throwing down her proverbial gauntlet.

Both of these options are dangerous, but they serve to put the PCs on Idowu's and Bumicorp's respective radars. Once they're known as a threat, the stakes, and the heat, turn up.

As the PCs make their choice of which target they want to hit, we transition from Act I to Act II...

Sparky McDibben

Once the PCs have made a choice about which lead they want to pursue (or are pursuing them both), we hit an inflection point.

Infiltrating the Bumicorp HQ is difficult. The HQ itself is a prefab structure where engineering staff are being housed, along with a small detachment of mercenary guards. The guards have uniforms, assault rifles, and badges that govern access to various places in the HQ. I'd probably borrow from Expedition to the Barrier Peaks and color-code the various access points, making security higher as they get closer to the command center at the heart of the HQ, so they can't steal one badge and hope to get in that way. I'd also borrow from Goblin Punch's excellent Underclock mechanic and let the PCs know that they're on a time crunch before complications ensue. Once they make their way inside, they can determine that Bumicorp is financing Idowu's coup. If the PCs are willing to risk it, they can also uncover that Bumicorp has already placed contracts to sell their mineral exploits here to a shady arms dealer, and that the oil drilling is actually a side concern - what Bumicorp's really after is uranium.

The likelihood that the PCs get out clean is very low, and I'd lean into that. After all, guards are going to be slower to respond to a threat within than without, and there's going to be a bunch of ways to sabotage Bumicorp's operations (blow up a generator, toss a frag grenade into the ammunition dump, steal a technical, etc.), so let the PCs run wild as they leave.

The local TV station is a hard target as well. The PCs not only have to get in, they have to trigger an island-wide broadcast and hold the station long enough for it to finish. It's guarded by a five-man detachment of Idowu's regular army troops (not Palace Guards), who are mostly bored and playing cards to pass the time, gambling on bottlecaps. However, the central police station is run by three additional squads, one of whom are Palace Guards, and who have a response time of:

1st Squad: 1 minute (10 guys in two trucks)
2nd Squad: 5 minutes (12 guys in three trucks - one of these is a technical; Second Squad is on next shift and will take a little longer to get ready)
3rd Squad: 10 minutes (10 guys in two technicals; Third Squad had night shift last night, and are sleeping; they are the Palace Guard squad)

The TV station has three points of ingress: the front door, a back door, and a roof-hatch for use when the A/C is frozen. The guard squad on duty checks the back door every thirty minutes, and will investigate if it's open (the door locks when shut). The guards are in the lobby and keep an eye on anyone coming in and out through the front door. Anyone they don't know will be stopped and questioned.

The PCs have to get in, and either convince the local tech to help them broadcast (which will almost certainly get the tech shot - high DC) or jury rig the broadcast themselves. The tape that the Princess gave them is 15 minutes long; the lobby guards realize something is wrong one minute into the broadcast. They immediately call for backup and try to stop the broadcast. If the lobby guards don't get the backup call off, the police station starts scrambling five minutes into the broadcast (so 1st Squad would arrive six minutes in). Players will need to use equipment and clever tactics to deal with waves of enemies, most of whom are not going to be eager to rush the building, but will siege it (including the back door) and try to wait the PCs out.

On that note, make it very clear to the PCs that no help is coming from either Whyllis or the rebels. This job is intended to show what the PCs can do; if they have to pull their asses out of the fire, the PCs weren't worth a damn to begin with.

Once the PCs have pulled off either job and successfully escaped, advance them to level four.

Whyllis can identify Bedlam (the chief mercenary) as a soldier of fortune, one he's crossed paths with before. Last Whyllis heard, Bedlam was working for an Iranian outfit. If your PCs uncovered the information about uranium from the Bumicorp HQ, they may start to realize that this is a ploy to get a rogue state radiological materials.

Whyllis can radio for extraction, but before they can go, he needs three things taken care of:
  • Blow up the S-300 air defense systems so the CIA extraction team can pull them out
  • Destroy a radio jammer preventing him from broadcasting
  • Create a diversion near Bumicorp's HQ to pull Idowu's goons out of position
Each of these should be a significant operation, on par with the Bumicorp infiltration, that take about a full session or two to run. The PCs should be advancing a level per objective met, roughly, so they should be at level seven by the end of this section. Once these are done, Whyllis will ask the PCs to meet him on the opposite side of the island from Bumicorp's HQ (creating a tense chase scene), so they can be extracted. Unfortunately, it turns out Bedlam realized the radio jammer's destruction meant that someone was trying to signal them, so he set up direction-finding antennae, and triangulated Whyllis' position.

The PCs can rescue Whyllis, but he's had to wave off the extraction team. No help is coming. If the PCs don't rescue Whyllis, he is shot as a spy. At this point, the only way off the island is the helicopter that is stationed at the Royal Palace overlooking Kingstown. From there, we transition to Act III.

If the PCs are helping the Princess, she thanks them for getting her message out, and asks for help on a couple of minor issues before the rebels start making more moves. She needs more of everything (fuel, ammunition, medical supplies, food, batteries, etc), and thinks a nearby patrol base would have plenty. As the players gather stuff from Idowu's forces, you can start to introduce them to the rebels who are helping the PCs out on these runs. I wouldn't send along any real fighters, but a driver, a ranger/pathfinder, and a sailor might be some good companions to rotate in and out of play.

Mix these "requisition missions" into play over the next several levels to let the PCs meet the rebels and give the campaign some room to breathe. You should also let the PCs spend more time with the Princess and get to know her a little better. She's a hard woman, but ultimately a fair one. She blames herself for not "dealing with Idowu" before his coup, and has vowed to get her country back, no matter what.

The Princess will also ask the PCs for several dangerous missions:
  • Rescue political prisoners being held for ransom at Camp Idowu (temporary military installation in a large cove on the north end of the island)
  • Plant doctored evidence that Bumicorp is only using Idowu and will soon get rid of him (stealth mission; getting caught means there's only a one-in-three chance Idowu believes the fake data)
  • Steal the cash payroll for Idowu's Palace Guards from Kingstown (the capital), and deliver it to the rebels
Each of these should be about a session or two, and the PCs should be able to level up after about each one. Once they hit level seven, the Princess gambles that she can move into the open. Regular army units either desert or refuse to fight, and Idowu is left with only his Palace Guards and Bumicorp's mercenaries. Desperate and running out of options, Idowu threatens to unleash a chemical weapon on Kingstown if the Princess doesn't surrender.

Horrified, the Princess has a choice to make, and the PCs' advice will be the deciding factor. Sacrifice 10,000 souls for the good of the nation, or give herself up? From here, we transition to Act III.

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