The first encounter on Part 1 didn’t show any new enemies, but did introduce players to the fact that the trees drop puppets when threatened. This time they were quite a bit better at staying out of melee range, and the puppets were undone by their own overconfidence despite being able to do some damage.
There’s no shocking revelations in the “Puppet Theater” fight in Part 2 either, aside from the fact that puppet theater is a thing. As I said in that part, I messed up by not having additional battle-ready puppets show up when the PCs grenaded the tree.
Things get a lot more interesting when we get into the firefight on Part 3. There was a lot of new stuff packed into it! The players didn’t manage to figure out much before they left, but I’m laying it all out here.
The downed alien craft was a small vimana, which is why it looked like a house. It was originally piloted by the alien the PCs rescued, who had defected from the Ebon Masters (the alien faction using the forest as a weapon). Despite their exotic looks, these magic-powered vimanas have more or less the same capabilities as the UFOs in the original games.
The two factions having a firefight over the vimana and its pilot had found the crash site just like X-COM did and were converging on it with the goal of taking everything they could. The people occupying the vimana itself were indeed humans, something the PCs would have noticed if they had managed to approach them a bit more. That doesn’t mean they were friendly! This was the first on-screen appearance of X-ALT. They likely wouldn’t have fired at the PCs right away, but would take their help and backstab them later.
The group firing at them from the ruined building were Elite Puppets in direct service to the Ebon Masters. This explains the white masks. Elite Puppets in the original rules have somewhere between 5 and 7 hit dice as opposed to the 3 of the rank-and-file, and these were similarly improved over their GURPS counterparts, making them better in a fight than all but the most badass human action heroes. On top of that, they had some pretty beefy TL 9 gear, including armor that made them basically immune to assault rifle fire from the PCs.
The PC’s biggest mistake here was sticking too close to that black tree by the container, since its emissions allowed the puppets to spot them. Puppets can see through cover, particularly when they have the trees spotting for them, so once they noticed the players they only took distance penalties to attack. Retreating was a wise decision!
It would have been nice to play out the extended fight/chase scene as the PCs retreated through the woods back to where they had stashed the puppet RPG, but I didn’t think there would be a fun way to do it over a forum, so I abstracted it out with a contest of Tactics and simply narrated the outcome. The PCs won by a small margin, so they managed to get the puppets in place for Choi’s shot (which I did roll as an attack). That was the only real way to harm the enemies they had left, as they had already spent all their frag grenades on earlier encounters and those wouldn’t guarantee a kill either.
All in all, the PCs did about as well here as could be expected. I really wish we could have played out the White Mask encounter in more detail, but such is the way of play-by-forum games.