Thursday, 22 December 2011

Rippers Playtest, part 2

Continuing on from the previous session, the Rippers, under the leadership of Count Ernst von Hemming are battling to save the people of Guntersdorf from the Cabal.

Things began to go wrong for the Cabal. The Inmates, seeing the Professor on the roof of the town hall, decided against further investigation of the the northern side of the village, and went for what they saw as the easy kill - an academic and two villagers cut off from the rest of the Rippers. They entered the building and confronted the Professor on the roof. Pruzt and the Innkeeper battled to save the Nun from the Inmates.

Professor Pruzt is trapped on the roof!

Meanwhile, the last Wolfman resolved his Shaken condition and made one last effort to break down the door of the cottage, in which cowered three villagers, before he was gunned down at close range by the Wolfen Jaegers. The Jaegers entered the building and rescued the villagers.

Veneticus in the foreground leads a young damsel to safety.

In the central section of the village, two soldiers and Count von Hemming put down the Wolf they were fighting, and the marines now proceeded into the central alleyway. The surviving Wolves attacked the last two villagers hiding in the cottage nearby, killing one (Cabal 3, Rippers 0). Shortly afterwards, two marines fired through the window of the building, and both Aced, killing both Wolves (Toughness 5).

Two Jaegers guard the door to the cottage as a third goes upstairs to rescue the villagers.

As Father Veneticus and the Wolfen Jaegers retreated with four villagers towards the board edge, it became increasingly obvious that the battle on the roof of the town hall could become important. Count von Hemming joined the action, tackling the Inmates, and killing one, but after that his combat rolls seemed to be jinxed, and a string of bad luck followed for the Hero in which he burned up all his bennies to no avail.

The Jaegers leave the cottage with the villagers: things begin to look dour for the Cabal.

The inn was empty!
The Rippers decided to split up again - Father Veneticus checked the inn, but found nobody there. The Wolfen Jaegers took charge of the existing posse of six villagers and began to move them towards the eastern side of the village and safety. This freed up the marines to join the battle on the rooftop.

As the marines burst onto the rooftop, Pruzt killed another Innmate. Both he and Hemming had now burned through all their bennies, the Professor desperately soaking hits as his d4 Fighting was making little headway against a violent lunatic with d10 Fighting and no requirement to make Spirit checks.

At this point the Cabal player conceded, as we were already running out of time. The Innkeeper was Shaken, but not down, and the remaining two Inmates were facing off against the marines, Hemming and the Prof. Game over. The Rippers won 8-3.

The end of the line for the Inmates...

Post game analysis:

I was really just wanting to try out some new scenery and test-drive the Rippers rules. Although the groups were roughly equal in points - the Cabal brought three units to the party, while the Rippers had two, it was the Wild Cards that made the difference. I don't think enough was made of the Professor's Local Knowledge ability, and it was a tactical error for him to get himself trapped in the town hall. Luckily he had Count von Hemming nearby. The buildings proved harder than expected to break into, and the Wolf Men were weaker than anticipated. I'll need to look more closely at that.

NEXT: Having rescued the villagers, the Rippers now discover that the Inmates were sent by an evil vampire and Cabal leader, Baron Konig. Professor Pruzt hypnotises one of the Inmates to discover the whereabouts of the vampire's lair in nearby Bohemia. However, the vampire realises what is happening, and sends some of his acolytes to assassinate the two prisoners before Pruzt can make more use of them... 

Meanwhile, the Rippers being Rippers, will be using the bodies of the lycanthropes to make aid them in their struggle with the evil Cabal. Tune in next time for the Battle of the Gotznerhof!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Golden Age of GW boardgames

Back in the 1980s, Games Workshop used to have its fingers in many, many pies - pretty much everything apart from the nascent computer gaming industry. While its line of miniatures was expanding and the first couple of editions of Warhammer were published, it also dabbled in RPGs like Judge Dredd and Golden Heroes. In addition, apart from cutting its teeth importing board games from the US, GW also began designing and publishing board games.

Probably the most widely known of these is Talisman, now back in print thanks to Fantasy Flight Games, which appears to have the rights to publish board games based on the GW IP. It has given me the opportunity to start filling in some of the holes left in my collection when the originals went out of print. However, and here's the real point of this post, I'm hoping to also be able to play through my collection of GW board games over the course of 2012, if at all possible. We'll see how we go. Here's is what we've got:

Fury of Dracula (1st edition)

Fury of Dracula I bought when in the Lower Sixth (not sure what the US educational equivalent is). I had originally ordered some Call of Cthulhu supplements, as it was around the time I was getting more interested in playing something other than AD&D. As it happened, GW has sold out of the items I wanted, but they sent me some tokens instead, and I used them to buy FoD. We already owned a copy of Scotland Yard, which uses a similar hidden movement mechanic to FoD. I played this game a LOT between 1987 and about 1991. The new version from FFG adds a fourth hunter character to the game and slightly tweaks the way the game manages hidden movement. I'm still in two minds which is the better.

Rogue Trooper (1st edition)

Back in the Eighties, GW had the license to publish games related to 2000AD properties, and Rogue Trooper was one of the beneficiaries of this. It was an excellent game. Players took on the roles of Genetic Infantrymen, scouring Nu Earth for clues to the identity of the traitor who betrayed the GIs in the Quartz Zone Massacre. In many ways, Runebound reminds me of RT, with its hex map and card-driven encounter and equipment systems. I took this game to university with me in my third year, when we'd all run out of drinking money, and it was a major hit. We were regularly able to put together six player games.

Block Mania (1st Edition)

Staying with the 2000AD theme, my brother picked up Block Mania and Mega Mania in GW Reading at a time when they were selling off all their non-Warhammer stuff in favour of focusing on their miniatures games. He got them for £5 each. He's since 'loaned' them to me on a semi-permanent basis, as his place is too small for stockpiling games. Block Mania players each take control of a hab block in Mega City One and try to do as much damage as possible to the other players' blocks before the Judges arrive to clear up. The end-game mechanic is great, as the game automates the arriving Judges and their assets, like H-wagons and riot foam. The players can't beat the law, but the game ends once all rioters have been dealt with.

Blood Royale (1st Edition)

A friend of mine bought this and then donated it to me when he left school. We used to play this when we should have been revising for our A-levels. It's a long but entertaining game of medieval power politics, which has elements of role-playing in it. You control a dynasty, rolling attributes for the various members of your dynasty as they are born, and seeking to arrange strategically beneficial marriages with other European noble houses. Like in Imperial, there was also scope for being disenfranchised - i .e. having your kingdom taken away from you, although invading and occupying another player's realm was hard, as you still had to pay your armies, and foreign territories had more scope to rebel. I also liked the way that knights killed in battle took 10 years to replace, representing the real losses to chivalric manpower medieval battles could wreak.

Space Hulk (1st edition)

Some would argue SH is not strictly a boardgame, but that is how it was original marketed. At the time GW was beginning to publish games that combined elements of miniatures and boardgaming together, and I suspect we're getting back there now with the likes of Tannhauser and Battles of Westeros. We played a bit of SH when we first got it, but then went on to lose the pieces having made a botched attempt to paint them all. I'm now in the process of replacing them by painting up contemporary GW Space Marines and Genestealers, which I will hopefully have ready soon. My brother was the real SH afficionado, and also managed to buy Deathwing, one of its supplements, before he went off it. I see supplements for all editions of this game are still trading for silly money on eBay. We recently played some Death Angel here in Brighton, although it was not quite the same.

Dark Future (1st edition)

Now THIS I have not played before. I recall seeing it covered in White Dwarf in some detail when GW was first marketing it, but it obviously didn't sell well enough, as the effort ground to a halt. I didn't have enough sterling to buy it either, and since then it has generally been trading for £50+ on eBay. Recently, however, I jumped into an auction for two copies plus some extra bits and pieces and got it for far less. It looks to me that quite some painting time will still need to be spent on it before it is ready, so will probably kick this project into Q3 or Q4.

Warrior Knights (2nd edition)

At the time GW first published WK it seemed like a great game. I was writing a PBM game concept with a school friend called Dominion which we intended to eventually turn into a money spinner (well, £250 a month seemed like a lot of money in 1988). WK WAS, to all intents and purposes, the same game, but smaller. Our idea, the Grand Duchy of Irongrim, was a little more like George Martin's Westeros in concept. It could well have worked, but we got detoured by A-levels, university, chicks, etc. Same old story really. I got the chance to play the second edition more recently in an epic session that went on to three o'clock in the morning. I've now got my own copy and hope to play it in 2012.

Blood Bowl (3rd Edition)

I bought 1e Blood Bowl in about 1989 (another GW sale) and took it to university, playing it a lot with my flat mate in the early 1990s in North London. I quickly learned that teams like the Halflings and Skaven were a bit underpowered! Later, I progressed to 2e when my brother bought it, and then more recently have been playing 3e using a Chaos team. Overall, I think I favour the latest edition over the previous incarnations of the game, which tended to drag on a bit. 3e Blood Bowl strikes me as the most suitable for league play, although some people I know find the heavy reliance on dice rolls to be frustrating. Still, if I get a couple of games of this in during 2012, I'll be happy.

The big question is whether Talisman, which was arguably the most successful of the GW boardgame releases of the Eighties, is too close to Runebound to warrant buying...? I've never played it, so difficult to compare. I distinctly remember standing in a book store in Worcester faced with a choice between the first edition of Warhammer, ICE's Fellowship of the Ring, and GW's Talisman, but only having enough money to buy one. In the end I went with Warhammer.

That's pretty much it. I've recently been playing some of the scenarios from the Blood Bath At Orc's Drift campaign pack, which was released by GW in the 1980s for Warhammer. You can read more about it here. The plan next year is to continue with this campaign, and hopefully take it to its conclusion, using the Lord of the Rings rules from GW.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Tatters of the King

With Pathfinder temporarily on hold while Ben re-charges his batteries, Kelvin has kindly stepped up to the plate to run some Call of Cthulhu. As mentioned previously, I've generated a famous investigator, namely writer Ernest Hemingway, en route to Spain to do some research for his next book. You can read more about my char gen efforts here.

Hemingway aside, most of the other PCs have something to do with the arts or the psychology profession. We have Frannie Fitzpatrick, a professor of Italian medieval literature (Ric), Thaddeus Price, a somewhat overweight professor of psychology (Ben), Harold Fisher (Manoj), an artist and former pugilist interested in exploring dreams through his painting, and Jonathan Crust (Seb), an engineer.

"Have you seen the Yellow Sign?"
I'm not going to go into great detail on the plot, having missed one session myself. We started out attending a performance of the play, The King in Yellow, in London's West End, which ended in a riot. The investigators also got to rub shoulders with the cast and drink cocktails. Hemingway was then called away on a book signing tour (I missed the next session), while the rest of the party was called in to try to exonerate Alexander Robey, a lunatic who had apparently murdered his wealthy father and sister and was now interned in an asylum in Herefordshire.

It has swiftly become apparent that there is more to this Robey case than meets the eye: investigators are having odd dreams and premonitions, one of the staff at Robey's asylum was brutally murdered, and as Hemingway returned to the fray (and the party was reinforced with the addition of Crust), the party has become aware of Robey's membership of some kind of occult cabal which might once have practised dark rituals in a small village in Suffolk. One of the cabal, an antiques deal called Bacon, seems to be in the habit of murdering tramps in North London in order to prolong his longevity, and is dwelling in a fortified antiques shop in Islington which the party is loath to break into at the moment (despite Hemingway's urging - spineless Limeys!)

"Crust is toast!"

The visit to Clare Melford in Suffolk (a village, not a girl) could have gone better: our landlord, the owner of the local inn, turned out to be a cultist, but then seems to have been killed by a creature he summoned with a magic bone whistle, presumably to slay the investigators. SOMETHING  scrawled 'the king is coming' on the wall of the cellar the investigators had locked themselves into for safety, without tripping our alarms or anyone seeing or hearing it (Fisher slept in his room rather than cower in the cellar, but he sleeps beside an eazel as he has taken to painting strange and bizarre vistas in his sleep).

Things were not helped by the blizzard that descended on Suffolk, which prevented the police from getting through immediately. Investigating a suspect ritual site, the group found a grouchy farmer and some obelisks called the Nine Teeth. When the farmer confront the party and shot at them, he damaged an obelisk, precipitating an attack by winged beasties. The farmer was butchered immediately, his dogs fled, and in the battle that followed, Fitzpatrick and Price were badly hurt by gunfire and Crust was mauled (0 hps) by a monster. Hemingway proved useless, flailing around with his scythe, and it was really Crust and Fisher who put both critters down. The group sought refuge in the farmer's house, where Hemingway proceeded to fluff all his First Aid rolls, despite having 50%.

"It was a dog, constable..."

Eventually the law turned up, a village doctor was found, and investigators were patched up, and Fitzpatrick and Hemingway proceeded to empty the drinks cabinet at the inn. As soon as the trains were running again, they high-tailed it back into London.

"Did you bespeak the End of Day?"


"You fool Philippe, you poor, poor fool."

Reading/translation of some occult texts, including some poetry written by Robey in German, and a copy of The King in Yellow, has helped most of the investigators to boost their Cthulhu Mythos scores. An intern of Fitzpatrick's, who was doing some German translation, had to be tracked down when he failed to materialise, and was found to have gone mad, locked himself in his attic flat, and covered all his windows with newspaper. He was having premonition of his own death, brought on by learning a spell from the Robey text. Fisher has also learned the spell.

"This is the British Library sir, we do not accept bribes."

Hemingway and Crust liked the look of their shiny new guns

It seems as if the cabal may have an inside man intent on bringing down Bacon, possibly for personal reasons. We have learned that the Robey family doctor felt that Robey himself should not be released from the asylum, and was subsequently murdered in St James's Park, potentially by a man called Coombes, who acts as the cult's enforcer. We have failed to track down other members of the cabal, despite Hemingway's best efforts at the British Library to obtain the library card of one of them. It also looks as if the only cultist we have a serious lead on is Bacon, who despite surveillance, never seems to leave his abode.

Our new informat in the cabal, an individual called Gresty, who may/may not be a woman, has told us in a letter to Price that Bacon will leave the house on 27 November to again drain a vagrant of life energy. At this stage it looks like the team, which is already tooling up with firearms after the Clare Melford affair, means to do him some permanent harm. That is certainly what Gresty seems to want to happen. If Bacon does not meet his end on the 27th, the stars look as if they will be right on the 15th for some kind of summoning ritual to take place in Suffolk.

I'm really enjoying this campaign, helped I feel by the high standard of roleplaying from the group, and the easy atmosphere we seem able to conjure up. As we approach the end of the year, I think a mutual slap on the back is warranted, especially for those who still managed to participate despite spending a great deal of time in another part of the country, or are juggling additional family responsibilities. Well done all, and have a Merry Xmas! Here's to more fun in 2012.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Rippers Playtest

Scenario Background

The village of Guntersdorf in Austria is threatened by the Cabal. The villagers know this, and have hidden themselves. A group of Wolf Men, supported by a pack of Wolves and some allied Inmates freed by the Cabal, enter the hamlet from the west. At the same time, the Rippers have arrived to rescue the villagers. They are led by three Wild Cards - the Monster Hunter Count Ernst von Hemming, the Priest Father Horatio Veneticus, and the Scholar, Professor Dragomir Pruzt of the University of Zagreb (Department of Folklore). With them are some Wolfen Jaegers and a small detachment of marines from the Austrian cruiser SS Mozartkugel.

Scenario special rules: each team deploys in a zone measuring 12" x 6", equidistant from each corner of their table edge. Houses in the deployment zone are empty. Each house in the village must be searched for villagers, who have the profiles of Innocents from the Rippers rules. There is a 1/3 chance a house will contain 1d3 villagers. Searching a house is a free action - if a unit/character can move into a house, it is considered searched. If it is occupied, Innocents will barricade it against the Cabal - a -4 Str roll to get access. There is a 1/6 chance villagers will have Wolvesbane with them. Rippers must escort villagers they rescure to the eastern table edge, the Cabal simply has to kill as many villagers as possible. The winner is the team which has killed/rescued the most villagers.

Special rule: Professor Pruzt has a Local Knowledge ability which lets him make two Search rolls in each building he enters.

Both teams moved into the village. The Wolf Men and Inmates had problems getting over a high wall (successful Agility rolls needed), while the Rippers made their way through the churchyard. Father Veneticus searched the church, but found no one hiding there.

The Cabal deployed entirely in the grounds of a house with high walls, delaying their attack somewhat.

The Inmates search a building in the southwest corner of the village, but nobody is home. The Wolf Men and Wolf Pack push deeper into the settlement (green activation counter signifies house is searched).

The Wolf Men find three villagers hiding in the cottage on the right. While two try to break in, another hides in the alleyway to maintain unit integrity, giving a fourth Wolf Man the opportunity to pounce on the Wolfen Jaegers, who are moving up the street towards them. The Wolf Men have Improved Frenzy, and the monster attacks the lead hunter, Aces, and kills him. The Wolfen Jaeger pass their morale check, as they are Brave (+2 to Spirit rolls). They respond with a volley from their rifles, including two Aces. The Wolf Man is gunned down.

In the background you can just see Count von Hemming leaving the churchyard.

The Wolfen Jaeger now move to attack the next Wolf Man, who is hiding in the alley between the cottages. Another well-placed volley from these deadly marksmen, and it is down and out. Another Wolf Man fails his Spirit roll and is distracted from trying to break into the cottage.

Here we have a better view of the three cowering villagers and the monsters of the Cabal try to break down their front door. "Heinrich! What are we going to do? Hilfe!"

In the centre of the village, the Wolves check out four cottages and find three villagers in one of them. While two try to break in, they spot Professor Pruzt sneaking past the end of the alley to check out the town hall. Two of them make a go of it. The Soldiers and von Hemming are holding their actions to cover Pruzt, but they fail their opposed Agility rolls, and the Wolves get their attacks in. Luckily they fluff their Fighting rolls, and two of the Soldiers then Ace with their volley (a risk as a '1' in this situation would hit the professor). Both Wolves are downed. Two more fail their Spirit rolls as a result, and are Shaken.

However, by this stage the Wolves break down the door to a cottage and attack the three villagers inside. The village doctor is killed. 1-0 to the Cabal.

Von Hemming now tries to get a bead on the Wolves still in the alley. He burns two team bennies trying to hit one, but fails. The target Wolf counter-attacks the count. Two Soldiers rush to help the Count, and the Wolf is Shaken in the fight.

Professor Pruzt searches the town hall. At first he finds nobody in its echoing corridors, but then he stumbles across two villagers on the roof - a Nun and an Innkeeper no less.

A shot showing the Soldiers coming to the aid of Count Hemming. Two more cover the alley.

Next time: Will the Rippers save the village? What has happened to the Inmates? And what exactly were the Nun and the Innkeeper doing on the roof of the town hall in the first place? Stay tuned - same time, same Ripper channel.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Twilight Imperium 3

The main event of the board gaming weekend organised to celebrate my birthday was a game of Twilight Imperium. Did I mention that I love this game? It has everything in there - political intrigue, interplanetary warfare, commerce, skulduggery, exploration, diplomacy, etc. All on one plate. It is like Frank Herbert's Dune in a box. The downside is that it takes an entire weekend to play it. Indeed, we didn't finish the game, despite playing from 11-6 on Saturday, and following that up with 2.5 hours on Sunday.

We assembled four die-hards prepared to commit the time, namely myself, Tom, Ben and Sebastian. We used some of the new rules from the Shattered Empires expansion, including the Distant Suns optional rule for exploring neutral planets, which I thought worked very well, and the variant Imperium strategy card, which ironed out some of the wrinkles the original game had. I'd agree with the other online commentators who have said the game is 'broken' without it. Makes Shattered Empires a must-buy for TI fans, really.

We played the following races: Embers of Muaat (me - a new race from Shattered Empires), Emirates of Hacan (Ben), Xxcha Kingdom (Tom) and the Naalu Collective (Sebastian). I was pretty chuffed to be playing Muaat, as I got War Sun technology and a War Sun from the off, plus my ships could fly through the supernovas. Yay! Sebastian got confused about his command chits in the early stages, but also ignored all his race's special abilities (e.g. Naalu always go first and can retreat from battle before the first round). Ben complained about the way the board was set up. We'll need to find a variant to this to satisfy him.

My secret objective was to occupy two systems next to two opposing players' home systems - this was going to be hard. I almost managed it, using my war suns to squash a Hacan fleet, and also kicking the Xxcha out of a system next to their home planets. I would have succeeded too, but the Xxcha had just developed Deep Space Cannon technology, and managed to destroy the only surviving cruiser I had in-system before the Status phase. Aaaaaarrrrggghhh! Too much. With the Xxcha's diplomatic abilities, I knew there was no way I was going to get a second crack at that, and the Naalu were off over the other side of the galaxy.

Nice cold glass of cider in the foreground!
Here is a pic of the early stages of the game. Muaat in red with their war sun still in their home system, Hacan in yellow. You can see the Hacan fleet my war suns destroyed. The Hacan were somewhat constrained from approaching Mecatol Rex due to the presence of asteroid fields and supernovas, not something the Embers needed to worry about, as we quickly acquired the Anti-Matter Displacement technology we needed to navigate asteroid fields. The Hacan also had a technology-related secret objective, I believe, but my nefarious efforts kept them from using the Technology strategy card for three turns.

Another view of the board shows just how much space you need to play TI: this is a six foot square play area we're using for a four player game. It's not the board itself that takes up all of the space - it is all the additional bits and bobs.

I spent the second half of the game a bit on the back foot. The Embers had few votes in the Galactic Council, so little real say in the political future of the galaxy. The Council ended up being a tug of war between the politically influential Naalu, who controlled Mecatol Rex for most of the middle part of the game, and an axis between Hacan and Xxcha, who seemed to be acting as parliamentary opposition.

In addition, attacking both Hacan and Xxcha had left the Embers with no trade agreements to speak of. I was considering taking the Trade card later in the game to cancel all existing trade agreements and force a re-negotiation, but always needed other strategies like Logistics, Imperium, or Diplomacy (to keep a vengeful Hacan off my back). I was also constantly short of strategy and command pool counters in the latter stages of the game, meaning I had to think carefully about which systems to activate, a situation which eventually allowed the Xxcha to colonise some peripheral planets (like the aptly-named Perimeter) which I'd simply not been able to move against.

I managed to take and hold Mecatol Rex for about two turns (scoring 2VPs) before losing a war sun there to an attack from the dastardly Naalu, tragically for me in the same turn as the Hacan swarmed all over and destroyed my other war sun. Note to self - war suns are vulnerable to attack by fleets with large numbers of fighters, especially if they have no fighters themselves.

Towards the end I was losing ground all over the board. Here's another shot of the mid-point in the game (right). You can see my war sun near the Hacan home system (which Ben had fortified with expensive Planetary Defence Systems - but hey, he had the cash in this game), while the other is poised to strike against the unsuspecting Naalu fleet at Mecatol Rex (Sebastian made the mistake of moving some of this fleet away from Mecatol, making it even easier for me to sneak a war sun through the supernova).

You can also see the Xxcha are already on a counter-offensive, and a small Ember garrison has been isolated with no fleet protection: these guys were later nuked by an Xxcha dreadnought. Nasty.

We had to finish the game because we had a roast lunch awaiting us, plus Tom had to get back to London and Ben had some marking to do. I'm not sure I would have had the stamina to play another game in the afternoon, although it would have been nice to play TI through to its conclusion. Sebastian won with 8VPs, I came second with 4VP, and Tom and Ben had one apiece. With Sebastian back in control of Mecatol Rex, it looked unlikely that I'd have been able to catch up with him, especially as the Embers were now on the defensive, had lost both their war suns, and had to think about defending their home system against the Xcha.

This was a truly great game. Shattered Empires and the Distant Sun option have really enhanced it, and it doesn't feel broken anymore. I may need to revisit tile laying at the start of the game, especially if playing with Ben again, but otherwise feel it is really looking great. Oh, for the time to play it!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Ernest Hemingway - Cthulhu Investigator!

With a new Call of Cthulhu campaign imminent (Kelvin will be running Tatters of the King), I've turned my attention to generating a character. The game begins in London in 1929, I believe, and we're meant to be rolling up characters who live within the artistic community - actors, artists, drug dealers, etc. After mulling this over, I thought it might be fun playing a character who was - or would become - famous. I might risk changing the course of history, however, if he dies or goes mad in the course of his adventures, but with the Keeper amenable, I have alighted on American author Ernest Hemingway.

A young Hemingway
As with any CoC character, you need to generate stats first. For this, I needed to look back over Hemingway's early life, to try to get a feel to who he was as a person and thus a measure of some of his key physical attributes.

Hemingway graduated from high school, but did not attend college, so taking his high school graduation age (17) and subtracting his starting school age in Illinois in 1904, I get an EDU of 12, which seems appropriate ("an Education of 12 suggests a high school graduate," confirms the Call of Cthulhu core rules). I'll add an extra point due to some work experience at the Kansas City Star to take it to 13.

While not university educated. Hemingway was obviously intelligent and a keen observer of human behaviour, so I feel this warrants an above average INT - I'll go with 16. "Intelligence represents how well investigators learn, remember and analyse, and of how aware they are of what is around them," say the core rules. This was Hemingway down to a tee. Perhaps even 16 is too conservative?

Hemingway was also something of a ladies' man, and had a number of wives in the course of his life. By the time he was 30 he was already on his second wife, American fashion journalist Pauline Pfeiffer. I allocated him an APP score of 16, although APP rarely seems to have much of a mechanical role in CoC.

While it is difficult to assess whether Hemingway had any access to magical spells, Power is an indication of "force of will" say the core rules. I'd argue that Hemingway at 29-30 was still a man possessed of a high degree of force of will and personality, and certainly above average in that respect. It ought not to be in the average range of 9-12, but neither as high as 16. I go with 15.

Hemingway in his WW1 uniform
Hemingway was a man interested in sports, although not necessarily an amazing athlete. He was, by the age of 30, already a keen fisherman and sailor (he visited Key West for the first time in 1928). This requires a decent STR and CON score. He was still a healthy man, although he occasionally succumbed to illnesses in hostile climes. He contracted anthrax while on honeymoon in France in 1927, and later contracted amoebic dysentery while on safari in Kenya (1933). He also succumbed to pneumonia in the Hurtgen Forest while covering the fighting there in WW2 (although he was admittedly older by this time in his life). This points to a susceptibility to disease, although it would hard to describe him in his twenties as sickly, and he bounced back from serious injuries sustained during the First World War. Hence, I give him a STR of 13 and a CON of 10. In terms of size, he was not a large man, so again, a more average stat is needed here - 12. It is very difficult to assess his physical speed and reaction time, but as he does not seem to have been a natural athlete, I give him a DEX of 10, average, but not ponderous.

Hemingway served as a medical corpsman with the Allied armies in Italy in 1918, where he was wounded and almost lost his leg. He was also witness to the shelling of a field hospital by Axis forces. Hence, I trim some points of SAN from his initial score, which would have been 75. I dock him four points for his war service, leaving him at 71.

Hemingway (left) in Paris in the 1920s
Onto the skills. I am using the Foreign Correspondent template from the excellent Investigator's Companion (Chaosium, 1994). Hemingway had already published some short stories and his first successful novel by 1928 - The Sun Also Rises - and was just finishing off his second book, A Farewell To Arms. However, he was still sustaining himself via his career as a columnist and journalist, writing articles for newspapers and magazines in the US. Hemingway gets Bargain, Conceal, Fast Talk, Hide, Other Language, Persuade, Psychology and Sneak. On top of that, he is well-connected, although his connections at this stage in his career were more in the literary and artistic fraternity. While living in Paris in the Twenties, he regularly went out drinking with the likes of Pablo Picasso and James Joyce, and was also friends with Gertrud Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Hemingway has 15 x EDU to spend on his career skills, giving him 195 points. I first spend some points on his languages: Italian 15%, Spanish 25%, and French 40%. Psychology ought to be fairly high for a man with such an eye for the human character, so I give him 50 points, for a total of 55%. Fast Talk and Bargain are next in priority, so I split 30 points between them. This leaves me with 30 points for Conceal, Hide and Sneak - I put 10 points in each.

On to his general skills, and here we get 5 x INT. Again, Hemingway scores well, with 80 points to spend. Looking over the CoC career list we find a few skills that ought to be purchased to account for his background. I put 15 points into Art (this man used to hang with Picasso in Paris), 20 into First Aid (he was a trained medical orderly), 25 into Credit Rating, five into Pharmacy, and 10 into Rifle (to reflect his military training and his early interest in hunting).

Ernest Hemingway, American writer and journalist, 29

STR 13, CON 10, DEX 10, INT 16, APP 16,  SIZ 12, EDU 13, POW 15, SAN 71, Hit Points 11

Dodge 20%; Luck 75%, Magic Points 15, Damage Bonus: +1d4

Skills: Art 20%, Bargain 20%, Conceal 25%, Credit Rating 40% (50% in the US), Fast Talk 20%, First Aid 50%, Hide 20%, Pharmacy 5%, Rifle 35%, Sneak 20%.

Other Languages: Italian 15%, Spanish 25%, French 40%.

Background: Ernest Hemingway is in Europe to research a new book. He is visiting London partly to promote his recently-published work, A Farewell To Arms, and raise his profile with the British public. He is planning to continue his journey to Spain in the near future to research a new work on bull fighting, but is lingering on in London for a few more weeks. His wife and two sons will be joining him in Spain.

Monday, 14 November 2011

StuCon 1 - Imperial play test

It being my 41st birthday, rather than go sailing, as I did for my 40th, I decided instead on organising a board gaming weekend. The blueprint for this event was to rally as many folks as possible interested in board gaming to play a few of the longer, strategic board games we usually don't have time to play these days, due to work and family commitments. I've got a fair few of these, and am tired of seeing them gathering dust while shorter games get all the play time.

My original schedule was to play four games over two days, namely Twilight Imperium, Conquest of the Empire, Imperial and Shogun. Real life and the logistical practicalities of the event interfered, however, and in the end we only got two games away. I probably hoped for too much from the weekend - could we have got all of these played, I wonder? It would have required a concerted and dedicated effort from all involved, and possibly less Portuguese white port consumed on Friday night by my self and my brother Tom before the proceedings had even got underway. Still, much fun was had by those who did make it.

This post is mainly about the game of Imperial we played on the Saturday evening. Luckily, we were able to muster six players for this, which I didn't expect, but did ensure we had all the slots filled. The photos in this post, I should hasten to add, are not of our game. I was too focused on making sure it happened to snap any shots.

A game of Imperial in progress, showing the factories (brown) and ship yards (blue)

We had something of a false start with Imperial, as the rules translation from the German was not particularly clear, and led to plenty of confusion before the penny finally dropped, we voted to clear the board, and started over. The second time around the game played faster, and we were able to finish it in under three hours, which makes it playable of an evening if required. Now we've cracked the somewhat obscure wording of the rules, it ought to be easier to play in the future.

Imperial is a game about European power politics in the early 1900s. Part of the reason I decided to buy it was because it seemed to combine some of the characteristics of Diplomacy with Supremacy, two games I have played an awful lot in younger days, but which I think now show their age. Players use money to buy the bonds of the various European governments, with the player controlling the biggest share of any one country's national debt acting as its government. National treasuries are maintained by injections of cash from players acquiring bonds, and by taxing. Revenues come from functioning factories and from overseas bases. As the European board closely resembles the Diplomacy board, bases tend to be concentrated in the Balkans, Scandinavia, and the Low Countries (as well as North Africa and the Iberian peninsular). Powers cannot derive revenue from occupying other Powers' home territories, but they can close down or destroy factories/ship yards to weaken other Powers.

Note: we missed the fact that you can also tax sea zones, not just land zones, which means there is plenty of scope for an enlarged naval game.

A selection of Russian bonds
Winning is based on owning the bonds of the most highly-rated country. Countries are rated on a scale of 0-5 on the victory point track, based on how much tax they raise in the course of the game, and how often they tax. Thus, the winning country was Russia, despite the fact that it was probably less active in overseas ventures than, say, Italy or France. The key to winning as a player is to make sure you keep as much of your liquid cash invested in the bonds of the countries you think will be higher up the victory point track (3+) by the end of the game. This rewards maintaining a diversified portfolio of bonds, a strategy that also allows you to collect revenue from interest payments by Powers in the course of the game.

Thus, you could buy the bonds of the country you control to ensure nobody could take it off you, but then you would not have the money to buy more bonds from other Powers, or collect interest from them. I came second place in the end, with 63VPs, for a number of reasons:

  1. I tried to keep Russia's armed forces at a conservative size, because a large army/navy can eat into the revenue base and leave less money for interest pay-outs to you and your fellow bond holders;
  2. I tried not to get too bogged down in the ongoing conflict in the Balkans between Austria (Ric) and Italy (Ben), although I did intervene in Turkey when the Italians landed there and threatened the Black Sea area;
  3. I made sure I invested as much liquid cash as possible in bonds of at least four other Powers: apart from Russia (where I did not add to my starting holding and thus lost control over the government to Ben in the final round), I bought French, German, Italian and Austrian bonds.

Towards the end of the game I was generating a solid cash stream which I was then able to use to upgrade holdings, for example buying more Italian debt when it looked like Ben was taking control of the Mediterranean, and spreading my risk by purchasing German bonds as Germany's credit rating improved considerably mid-game (despite the Reich taking a pounding from France and Britain and getting involved in a hare-brained invasion of Italy which went badly wrong).

Manoj won because Manoj always wins, with 73VPs. I came second with 63VPs and Ben came third with 61VPs. The final round of the game became quite interesting, as the penny finally dropped around the table and a buying spree began in Russian bonds. Ben took control of Russia from me, and then lost control of it to Manoj in the final turn of the game, giving Manoj the chance to win. It was the only incidence of someone losing control of a country in the game: otherwise, it seemed investors tended to respect the authority of the incumbent governments in all cases, although I think the British government came quite close to falling (as well as nearly falling asleep!)

This is not an easy game to get your head around in the first sitting. You really need to play it with experienced players. Going at it from scratch, with six novices around the table, we were at sea for an hour before we began to understand some of its subtleties. It is hard to wean yourself of a couple of ideas:

  1. That losing control of a government is a bad thing - I think there is much to be said for studying the game and spending your investment pool wisely. Even if you have money for only the smaller bond denominations, you can still build up a diverse portfolio, allowing you to then increase holdings in some debt positions to take over a country later in the game. Manoj's ability to win in the final round with his Russian coup demonstrated how this could be done.
  2. That embarking on a program of world conquest is the only way to win the game - it isn't. I ran a very conservative foreign policy in Russia, focusing on keeping costs down and the army within conservative levels. A prudent fiscal policy eventually led other players to realise that Russia was a good game-winning bet, leading to a big injection of cash into the Russian treasury, and in turn allowing Russia to pay investors - including myself - some interest. Prior to that, Russia spent the first half of the game looking rather cash-strapped.

As another example, take France, which was played by Manoj throughout the game. France did not tax very much, relying on the fact that players were buying French bonds consistently - indeed, the French government at one point cancelled a dividend when the premier realised just how much debt had already been farmed out, and that his bonds would not be paying out in totality as a consequence.

Armies - they take money away from investors!
The real game is the bonds and the money. Running Powers is really a secondary game, but it is so easy to get distracted from the financial game by what is going on in the political game. We really only all woke up to  this in the last 40 minutes of play. Consequently, I think it would be great to play this again, with at least two or three experienced players round the table, in order to try out some of the other theories and tactics that are now going through my head. It would also be interesting to see how the taxation of sea zones changes the revenue base of some of the Powers.

Thanks to all for a good game and for your patience in giving this a second go when all seemed lost! I'd like to give this another shot before the rules evaporate from my mind, although I'm hoping this blog entry will help to serve as a reference point.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Carrion Crown: the End of the Splatterman

Knock, knock!
The first story arc of the Carrion Crown campaign finished on Friday, leaving the party at 4th level. It was a most enjoyable session, with four players round the table. We knew we were in for a tough battle, as we were facing the Splatterman, the last of the five ghosts that haunted the ruins of Harrowstone prison. Of the five, the Splatterman was the only one that had demonstrated an ability to possess people in the village of Ravengro, and cause them to vandalise a local monument. Hence, we were already pretty sure he would provide us with the sternest test of our party to date.

Third level left us feeling a bit more powerful, however, although having played a Barbarian in the last campaign (Kingmaker), I'm finding my Cleric, Veneticus, a little underpowered by comparison. With only 22 hit points at 3rd level, he was still a little weak for my liking, particularly against foes that could cast Magic Missile at an automatic -20hps damage rating!

This game session felt more like a 4e session than any previous chapter of this campaign to date. It boiled down to a confrontation against the last of the 'bosses'. Critical to our success was going to be choice of spells, but also choice of feat at 3rd level was going to be important. I went with Extra Channelling to take Veneticus' daily channels to seven, which I felt was a good move given the predominantly undead opposition we have faced to date in Carrion Crown.

We had a pretty good idea where we were going to find the Splatterman, and so it proved. He was in a semi-flooded cellblock in the dungeon under Harrowstone. He tried to lure Sir Erudil into knocking down some walls on which he was scrawling the Paladin's name, and he almost succeeded in bringing the cieling down on top of the holy knight as a consequence. The ghost then manifested, targeting Veneticus with a variety of particularly lethal spells (having been Ben's 'go to' target in the previous campaign as well, this felt like familiar territory).

Veneticus ended up having to use his actions to either cast healing spells on himself, to keep himself alive, or to cast Hide Fron Undead to conceal himself from the Splatterman. He couldn't really contribute more meaningfully to the battle. Meanwhile, Sir Erudil and the Ranger Brevan tried to engage the ghost, which kept melting into the walls of the cellblock, or using them to avoid attacks of opportunity while he fired off more spells at me!

Luckily we also had the Necromancer Nicodemus on hand....

"Have at ye, spawn of darkness!"

Not only did he set fire to the Splatterman's spellbook, which seemed to reduce the range of spells he had access to, but he also revived Veneticus at a critical juncture when he dropped to -5hps. Veneticus was eventually able to crawl over the floor of the cellblock to hide, from where he could cast channelling in safety, healing the other characters and eventually destroying the Splatterman (he can do 2d6 damage to undead now). Such was the nature of this duel, some of the other spells in Veneticus' arsenal simply had to be switched out for healing spells or were too risky to cast - a successful save by the Splatterman was too much of a risk when he could retaliate against PCs with less than 10 hit points.

With the Splatterman destroyed, Brevan found a well, at the bottom of which were the Splatterman's human remains. While the half elf was diving for gold, a grey ooze invaded the complex through a hole we'd discovered in one of the cells, and smothered Nicodemus! Luckily, Sir Erudil was on hand to kill it while Veneticus kept Nicodemus alive with channelling (remember that feat he took?)

Nicodemus was in for a bit of a shock!
Here endeth the lesson really. Another haunt was encountered in the torture chamber which has possessed an iron maiden, and was able to lure Brevan into its maw before it was destroyed. Brevan survived, but will probably have nightmares for a month! We also recovered the warden's badge of office, which was returned to the ghost of his wife, giving her power over the other lesser haunts. In the end, Sir Erudil gave orders that the prison be demolished, brick by brick, just in case. Hopefully that will suffice, and also thwart the nefarious schemes of the Whispering Way.

Thus ended the campaign arc. The party is obliged to remain in Ravengro until the end of the month, before taking Professor Lorrimor's trunk of nasty literature to the university at Leppedstadt. His daughter, Kendra, has given Nicodemus the professor's old spellbook as a going away present. Sweet.

Oh yes, two weeks from now we kick off some Call of Cthulhu with Kelvin in the hot seat.  I still need to get my character suitably mapped out. I'm not sure my original request to play a young Ernest Hemingway will be accepted!

Monday, 31 October 2011

"The horror...": Cthulhu gaming in Vietnam

You're not in Dunwich anymore...
Still labouring away at my book on forex trading and won't really be getting behind the GM's screen again until that has been finished! I'm almost a month over the deadline date for the book, so really need to get my skates on.

My group's ruminations about playing the Tatters of the King campaign from Chaosium has got me thinking about running some more Cthulhu of my own once that manuscript has been finished. At the moment, my penchant lies more towards Mythos adventures in non-traditional settings, with 1960s Vietnam in the frame.

Secondly, I'm planning on using Savage Worlds rather than Basic Roleplaying as the rules system for the game. This would involve a cross-over between, say, Realms of Cthulhu and Tour of Darkness. I've only got so much room in my head for gaming rules these days, and as far as RPGs are concerned, it is Pathfinder/D20, BRP/RuneQuest, and Savage Worlds. Luckily these are all fairly generic and can be ported across a range of different genres.

The other thing I like about running Cthulhu is that it is ideally suited to the sort of mini-campaign I enjoy running - namely no more than three to six sessions, and certainly less than 20 hours of play time. Thus, you need a system where it is relatively easy to generate characters and to drop PCs into the gaming milieu, but at the same time is dangerous enough that the party can all die horribly and convincingly at the end! In this case, I'm hoping the entire plot cycle will cover no more than four sessions.

Still some way to go to get to Seasoned...
The background to the campaign is fairly generic: the PCs are all part of a single squad, itself part of a platoon in the I Corps area of operations in South Vietnam in 1966. They are mostly fresh-faced rookies (Novice level - see right), just arrived in-country unless any players take any Edges to earn them veteran status. Their unit is assigned to the A Shau Valley, up near the border with Laos, as part of the 1st Cavalry Brigade. The area is important because it is a conduit for supplies and North Vietnamese troops coming down the Ho Chi Minh trail, which debouches into the South right about where the 1st Cav area of operations sits.

I'm going to allow players to buy Edges and Hindrances from both Tour of Darkness (e.g. Bullet Magnet, Grizzled, Thumper King) and Realms of Cthulhu (e.g. Dark Secret, Milquetoast, Unusual Lineage). I will probably also add the grity damage and gritty sanity rules from RoC, just to make it that bit darker for the grunts. That means no using bennies to make Soak rolls, which should be interesting.

This should be interesting, as it takes the game away from the usual civilized, developed world setting, and drops it straight into the mosquito-infested foothills of Vietnam, with the added complication of a shooting war going on as well. The emphasis is less on investigation and saving the world and more on just getting out alive. The PCs are equipped with state-of-the-art military hardware and can call on the support of the most powerful army and air force in the world, but will that be enough to keep them alive?

I also want to use miniatures for this game, so part of the delay in getting it out will be based on the speed at which I can paint...

What lies dreaming in the jungles of South Vietnam?

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Carrion Crown Episode #4: Party 3, Harrowstone 0

We finally got back into the swing of things with Pathfinder last night, after a short hiatus. As we left things, our colleague Doctor Pruce, a half-crazed alchemist, had seemingly been slain by the spectre of the Charlatan, a deceased con man haunting the ruins of Harrowstone prison near the hamlet of Ravengro. The Charlatan had apparently hijacked an attempt by the cleric Veneticus to Cure Light Wounds on the fallen Pruce, using the cleric to channel negative energy into the good doctor, and kill him on the spot (Pruce was already badly injured in a fight with another ghost, the Executioner).

We began the session in the middle of a battle with the Charlatan, who had chosen to manifest and fought with the paladin of Iomedae, Sir Erudil. Meanwhile, the spectre of Pruce rose to attack Veneticus. In an act of desperation, Veneticus hit the ghost of Pruce with his mace, only to realise that in fact it was Pruce himself, healed by the Charlatan, but then disguised as a ghost via an illusion spell. Down went Pruce again!

Brevan gets a bead on the Charlatan
The Charlatan, however, was dispatched shortly afterwards by a magic ghost touch arrow shot by the ranger Brevan, and Pruce was restored with healing magics. The adventurers returned to town to rest up and restore spells, leaving Pruce to continue to explore the prison on his own (his player was away in Manchester).

Further research was conducted into the books of the recently deceased Professor Lorrimer, but little new was learned about the ghosts of Harrowstone. Nicodemus tried to use the spellbook of the Splatterman to hit out at the ghost, possibly by removing his name from its pages, but it proved to no avail. The necromancer ignored Veneticus' suggestion that the cursed tome by tossed into the fire. It was decided that the ghosts would probaby still need to be physically confronted, as similar efforts with the Charlatan's holy symbols had also failed.

Can you smell something burning?
Returning to the ruined prison, the adventurers now descended into the dungeon level, having cleared out the other two levels. Our first encounter was with some haunts, namely two creatures that rose out of a flooded section of the dungeon. After these were dealt with, the party fought some flaming skeletons which were able to do some considerable damage by simply standing in proximity to the party (although they also had active attacks). Channelling from Veneticus and Nicodemus inflicted substantial damage on the undead), and Sir Erudil is coming into his own with his Lucerne hammer, making him a lethal opponent.

Our first serious encounter of the night was with a headless flaming skeletion which was again able to inflict heavy proximity burn damage, plus was handing out some fairly serious damage with its Power Attack. This was the first time Erudil was reduced to zero hit points (although still standing). The monster was, however, taken down after Veneticus compelled it to retreat and then Erudil smashed it with his hammer on the opportunity attack, his last action before blacking out. This encounter forced the party to return to Ravengro to rest up.

It is becoming obvious that each night the Splatterman is possessing a villager and writing another letter of Vasoria's name on the monument in the town, and that we are living on borrowed time. Exactly what happens when he completes her name is anyone's guess, but it seems that Vasoria is the only thing preventing the ghosts of Harrowstone from escaping completely.

Who's next for the chop, eh?
Returning to the ruins, we continued to explore, and next ran into another of the main cabal of ghosts, the Lopper. He proved singularly hard to defeat, inflicting severe damage on the valiant Sir Erudil, who again went toe-to-toe with the ghost, wielding its hatchet (a +1 hand axe) in an effort to destroy it. We were hard-pressed on this one - with Sir Erudil at one stage urging retreat. Braven and Veneticus buffed the paladin using Cure Light Wounds and our magic wand to keep him in the fight, and the Lopper was finally brought down.

At this point in the evening we realised the clocks were going back in the UK, as British Summer Time ended, and that we technically had an EXTRA HOUR TO GAME! We carried on with our exploration, and duly encountered the Mosswater Marauder, the fourth of the cabal of spectres were are looking to banish. He was the ghost of a dwarf, supported with three flying skulls that screamed blue murder and quite unnerved poor Brevan, who proceeded to attack - and miss - Nicodemus while the necromancer remained totally oblivious to the ranger. Brevan then came to his senses! The Mosswater Marauder proved somewhat easier to take down than the Lopper, with Veneticus destroying all his flying skulls using channelling, and indirectly inflicting 15 hit points on the ghost. Veneticus now has a magic mace +1 for his troubles, which should make future encounters with spectres a little easier.

We ended the game with the tired party trekking back to Ravengro to level up to third (we were one XP short of third, and there was talk of finding a rat to stamp on, but the GM was kind), painfully aware that we still have to face down the Splatterman!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Carrion Crown Episode #3: The Demise of Herr Doctor Pruce

We left our heroes in the middle of the haunted Harrowstone prison, or what was left of it after it was destroyed by fire five decades earlier. Now, it is haunted by ghosts seeking to break out of the protective wards that have held them in check, wards it seems that have been weakened by a secret cabal of necromancers called The Whispering Way.

"You can trust me - I'm a doctor."
Early in the session our party ran into Doctor Victor Pruce, an Alchemist researching the nature of spirits. Pruce was clearly quite mad, and had little regard for his personal safety, for example frequently accompanying the paladin, Sir Erudil, in perilous situations.

We spent the session exploring those areas of the ground floor of the prison still unknown to us. Nicodemus banished a haunt from the infirmary using his Turn Undead ability to good effect. We found some cots for infants in the infirmary, which seemed out of place.

We also explored the wing of the ground floor overlooking the nearby Lake Bicsz, which had seemingly collapsed, and it was here that we were attacked by a haunted forge, where Sir Erudil received a severe toasting from its tongue of flame attack. He was duly restored to health by Veneticus. We also encountered some flying skulls that emerged from the hole in the ground which looks to lead to the lower levels. We destroyed these two - Erudil dispatched two in a goodly fury, while Pruce took care of the other.

Worryingly, Pruce continued to place himself in harm's way.

The party retired to Ravengor to rest - and level up - before continuing the exploration of Harrowstone prison. This time it was decided to take a look at the upper floor, accessed via a stairwell. We were relatively happy that we had cleared the ground floor out.

Poop, poop, parp!
The upper floor looked to have been a detention block, with numerous skeletal remains in the cells. We stumbled on what looked like the skeleton of the Charlatan, one of the mega bads that is now haunting the place. Sir Erudil and Nicodemus began to smash some of the skulls, but before they could finish, a ghostly piping announced the arrival of the Piper, accompanied by two large stirges and a posse of skeletons from the cell block. An epic battle ensued, but the piper was weakened by Nicodemus, playing his pipe and casting a Cure Light Wounds on him. Magic arrows from the ranger Braven helped him on his way.

While this was going on, Erudil and Veneticus were busy battling the stirges and skeletons. Veneticus was badly wounded, losing three CON points and having to expend a charge from his Wand of Restoration.

Pruce decided that we ought to seek to communicate with the Charlatan using a ouija board. He told us the warden's bade of office, which we need to subdue the lesser haunts, is in the dungeons. He admitted the holy symbols now in Veneticus' possession are his weakness. The Charlatan also managed to possess Pruce, levitating him into the air and causing him to vomit black blood. We tried to use the ghost trap to catch the Charlatan, but in vain. Pouring holy water on his symbols, and channeling godly energy into them also seems not to have worked.

Don't lose your head...
Proceeding onto the balcony, we encounted the scythe-wielding Executioner, another haunt. This fight turned against us for a while, with Pruce taking a critical hit, felling him and leaving him at negative seven (again, the good doctor hurled himself into the fray, although his leather coat was not up to the task). With the Executioner destroyed, Veneticus sought to restore Pruce with a Cure Light Wounds, but the ghost of the Charlatan intervened, turning the spell into an inflict wounds casting, and slaying the unconscious Pruce. At this point, the Charlatan chose to manifest...

Unfortunately, I'm not going to make the next session as I will be in Portugal. Veneticus is down to only one channeling charge, plus he has used a single Cure Light Wounds, swapped in for Detect Evil. This still leaves him with Hide From Undead, Summon Moster Level 1, and Protection From Chaos (his domain spell). He has also yet to use his other power which will enhance team AC by +2 in a 20ft radius, which is a daily. He still has all five uses of Touch of Law, for what they're worth. Let's hope we don't lose anyone else, eh?

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Carrion Crown Episode #2: It all goes Scooby Doo

Is that paint?
Back to the mysterious little village of Ravengro on Friday evening for the next part of the current Pathfinder campaign. It was time for the party to find out who the mysterious graffiti artist was who had defaced a monument to the dead of Harrowstone jail. We were already fairly suspicious of a local farmer, Gilbert, having tracked bloody foot prints back to his abode. We managed to blag (British urban slang - to gain entry, usually to a restricted area) our way into his house, and discovered bloody clothes on the premises. Gilbert seemed surprised and confused, but we collared (British urban slang - to detain or keep from proceeding) him anyway and took him off to the town gaol. It looks as if the blood he used to paint a 'V' sign on the monument came from some chickens he slaughtered.

Veneticus reluctantly agreed that it was time to take a closer look at Professor Lorrimer's trunk of tomes, but despite the enthusiasm of the necromancer Nicodemus Eldritch, who wanted to remove the books to study in private, Veneticus insisted they only be examined with at least one other present, and then returned to the trunk. Still not too sure about Nicodemus, and whose side he's really on!

Ex Libris Professor Lorrimer
Apart from a strange box that looked like it required some kind of triangular key, there was a book called Serving Your Hunger, which seemed to be a treatise on cannibalism, and was bound in human skin, and another called Umbral Leaves. We discovered from these that there were some fairly hefty criminals resident at Harrowstone when it burned down, including The Lopper, the Mosswater Marauder, The Piper and the Splatterman. It looks as if our phantom graffiti artist is the ghost of the Splatterman, and is possessing villagers. It also seems as if he likes to torment victims before he kills them, for example by painting their name on a monument.

Veneticus stayed the night in the village gaol in an effort to study Gilbert in his cell, and saw the man sleep walk, and try to escape from his confinement, before returning to his pallet. This further reinforces the theory that the phantom of the Splatterman intends to use the villagers as its tools.

In the morning, the letters VE had been painted in blood on the monument. Another villager was found to be the perpertrator, but was obviously again an innocent victim. It also looks as if the Splatterman is singling out Veneticus for his attention.  Let him come!

During this session the party questioned some gypsy children they overhead singing a song about the Lopper. Although questioned politely, they publicly insulted the characters, and more importantly, the authority of the church. Veneticus threw stones at the little brats in an effort to instil some degree of respect for authority in them, but this seems to have shocked his less Lawful comrades. Honestly! If nobody is prepared to stand up for the institutions that keep the very fabric of society from unravelling, especially in a land such as this where the forces of Chaos stand ready at every quarter, what will become of us all? The forces of evil can win over their followers at an early age unless they are taught to respect legitimate authority. Weakness will be our undoing.

We have learned that the Harrowstone prison burned down because prisoners rioted and took over the dungeon level. The warden used a deadfall to seal the dungeons, and the fire was deliberately started when it looked like the prisoners might still escape.

Harrowstone prison - yikes Shaggy!
We finally plucked up our courage to investigate the ruins of the prison and have begun exploring the upper level. We have encountered a couple of haunts and some giant spiders. One of the haunts was the wife of the warden, and we have learned from her that Professor Lorrimer was killed by a member of the necromantic cabal, the Whispering Way, and that it was they who removed the warden's ghost, which was keeping the evil spirits from escaping. They have also damaged the warding runes which kept the evil within the ruins, and now its influence is being felt further afield. We also know that if we can find the warden's badge of office, we can banish many of the lesser spirits.

In a secret room, we have found objects of importance to the five key prisoners, including a hand axe, a collection of holy symbols, a flute, a hammer and a spell book. The ghost Vasoria thinks these will aid us in defeating the phantoms.

NB: I'm still getting my head around playing a cleric at the moment. Veneticus has used two of his daily channels, one Touch of Law, and his daily Deflection Aura. He's also mistakenly used his domain spell, Protection from Chaos, against a non-Chaotic haunt, and has switched out his Summon Monster for a Cure Light Wounds on Sir Erudil, who was wounded in the fight with the spiders. The Light spell has been coming in useful as well...

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Ambush Alley: first playtest

With all the fuss being created in the wargames community with the launch of Force on Force in April, I've been swotting up on the rules for Ambush Alley this week. AA was really the predecessor of FoF, and while FoF has a fairly broad coverage in terms of post-1945 conflicts, AA is focused heavily on urban combat in the contemporary Middle East, particularly Iraq.

I chose one of the scenarios from the back of the AA book to give it a test drive this weekend The key was to get a feel for the game, and whether this was something Sebastian and I could play in the future. The mission sees three US Marine fire teams led by a squad leader, travelling in an APC with a sniper team. The two man sniper team has to establish itself in a building to provide fire support to a battle happening off the table, while the Marines provide security.

The game reminds me a little of Savage Worlds, in that troops are rated according to Training and Morale using different dice. Hence, the Marines were using d10s while the insurgents were largely using d6s with the odd d8 leader. It is therefore possible for the Marines to be heavily outnumbered, but still hold their own, as most activities require a target number of 4 to succeed. To hit a target, you need 4s, for example.

The initiative seems to lie very much with the Marines, and it is up to the insurgents to try to interrupt their mission and play merry hall with them. I think Sebastian found it a bit frustrating as a first game, as he surprisingly opted to play the insurgents, and while this gave him theoretically unlimited reinforcements, his lack of heavy firepower meant that the US APC became a nut he could not crack. In the whole game, he only hit it once with a rocket-propelled grenade.

The game started well for me, with the armoured car speeding to its destination. In the picture you can see the entire table, with the APC already making progress towards the target building in the top right corner of the table. We drew a Fog of War card at the start of the game, that revealed there was a notorious insurgent leader on site who would also need to be eliminated before the Marines withdrew. Luckily, he popped up on the roof of a building early on and was shot by the .50 calibre MG mounted on the APC.

The unit reached its destination building and took up position, with the sniper team moving inside. This is where I made the beginner's error of not putting my fireteams on Overwatch, something that is critical in AA. It allows you to fire on insurgents who pop up and try to attack your men. Consequently, Sebastian got the drop on my teams and some amazing early dice rolling saw five Marines wounded. It began to look like the Americans were in trouble.

Here you can see the situation as it stood when I bungled. One fire team is already inside the building, one has taken cover behind a wall on the north side of the plaza, and another with the NCO is against the wall on the south side. We did not occupy any other buildings overlooking the target - BIG MISTAKE!

I counteracted this by putting one fire team in the building on overwatch, laying down covering fire while the corporal on the ground collected up his wounded. But things got worse, with three more Marines taking wounds. They all had to be loaded into the back of the APC while the team in the building continued to strafe occupied buildings in the vicinity.

The Marines ARE pretty tough in this game - a typical fire team wears body armour and carries a grenade launcher and a Squad Assault Weapon (SAW) as back up firepower. They get 2d10 extra for the support weapons and 1d10 in defence for their body armour. Still, if the insurgents can lay down enough fire into a small area, people start getting hit.

Luckily Marines don't need to make morale checks very often. Things have to be going very badly wrong before they begin to lose it. I realised I would not be able to get 100% fire suppression on the enemy, particularly as more reinforcements were turning up all the time. They can make something called an Out of Contact move, which means if the Marines can't see them, they can move anywhere they like until they are seen. This allows the insurgent player to bring reserves up fairly quickly to where they can do the most damage.

I had to risk putting my sniper team on the roof while the overwatch team continued to provide cover and keep the surrounding roofs empty. The snipers completed their mission, but the spotter was KIA as they were coming off the roof, and the other sniper was hit and wounded trying to get from the building back to the APC. In addition, we had to draw another Fog of War card this turn, which saw a communications break down with HQ, forcing the team to stay put in the building for another turn. It was left to the final fire team to drag the wounded sniper with them as they exited the building.

This shot [right] shows another insurgent squad on the roof of the building we SHOULD HAVE OCCUPIED. The sniper team can be seen on the roof of the derelict target building (next to the die used to track how many turns they'd been up there). An overwatch team is also in the same building, blazing away at anything that moved.

The game ended with the Marines escaping in their vehicle. The insurgents lacked anything that could damage the APC at this stage in the game, and as it was lunchtime we decided to call it a day.

I have to say I really liked Ambush Alley. It seems overwhelming at first, because of some of the odd concepts, like interruption rolls, only being able to fire on units where you have line of sight to at least 50% of the members of the unit, and the ability of troops to zoom around the table in fairly quick order. But it does seem to do a good job of simulating modern urban combat, particularly in scenarios where trained regulars are battling guerrillas. I'd be interested to see how it fares with Vietnam, and I understand that a Vietnam War supplement called Ambush Valley is out imminently.

In some ways it also reminds me of Space Hulk, in that one side is trying to complete an objective, while the other is trying to stop them, and has unlimited reinforcements coming on-table. I think we had just about enough figures to cover all the insurgents - we only once reached a point where we were one man short. I particularly like the way the insurgent player can nominate 'hot spots' which spawn reinforcements, giving them effectively a number of random entry points, and the way the Marines can neutralise these. All in all, a really good game, and I'd be keen to play it again some time.