Monday, 29 October 2012

So what's going on this week...?

Well, for starters, it is half term week part two, with one child back to school, and another just starting her half term. The weather here in the UK is finally taking a turn for the worse, as winter proper begins to set in.

What am I playing?

The Pathfinder campaign continues, and our party of adventurers has now reached 6th level. Ric came down from Manchester last week to take over Sebastian's character, as Sebastian was away at a Warhammer 40,000 party (I hasten to add that Ric did not come down especially to run Sebastian's PC...he did have other reasons!) We have now completed the second story arc in the Carrion Crown campaign.

On the PS3 I've started playing some Oblivion - the Elder Scrolls, although I'll leave first impressions for another post. I'm also preparing the next installment of my Lord of the Rings miniatures campaign, which sees Frodo setting off from Hobbiton into the wilds of the East Farthing as well as a play test of Tomorrow's War in the Star Wars universe.

What am I reading?

I am about halfway through Guy Sajer's excellent and gripping The Forgotten Soldier, about his experiences as an infantryman in the German army on the Eastern Front in WW2. In my quieter moments, I'm continuing to dip into 1812 - Napoleon's Fatal March On Moscow (Adam Zamoyski), as this is the bicentenary of the events depicted in that book. On the comics front I'm reading the second story arc in the Baltimore series from Dark Horse Comics, The Curse Bells. More on this as a potential setting for the Savage Worlds RPG in a future post. Another comic I'm just getting into is the hardback first installment of David Petersen's awesome  Mouse Guard series, Fall 1152.

On the gaming front, I'm dipping into Kenneth Hite's Trail of Cthulhu, largely as I try to get my head further around the Gumshoe system with a view to finally running it at some stage, possibly using my own Dunchester setting.

What am I eating?

As the clocks have now changed and the nights are drawing back in, my tastes are also changing from summer fare to something more autumnal. In this case I've been experimenting with pumpkins, as you can buy decent-sized pumpkins here in England for a pound in the run up to Halloween, making them cheaper than chips, literally. I slice off the top, take out the core, and cook a filling made of mince, chopped peppers, chick peas, onions and garlic. I usually add some Vegeta and a bit of paprika and Worcester sauce to taste. I stuff the pumpkin, put the lid back on, and cook in a pre-heated oven at 190 Celsius for about 60 minutes, although much will depend on the size of your pumpkin. You can eat it on its own or with steamed vegetables. Wash it down with some 2008 Bestue Finca Rableros or a good cider, ideally Breton.

What am I listening to?

I'm doing most of my listening in the car at the moment, ferrying family members around Brighton. Most of the time we're listening to Ellie Goulding's album Halcyon, which is actually not bad. When left to my own devices, I'm listening to Burning Copper, by Live. On the podcast front, I've been really impressed by Ken Hite and Robin D. Laws' podcast, Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff. This is not just about gaming, although both contributors are games writers. I'd say gaming makes up about 40% of each podcast on average. There is a fair amount of chit-chat about the history of the occult, world politics, and what-if/alternative history scenarios, plus plenty of discussion about themes that impact gaming, like Kickstarter for example. I got into podcasts in a big way when I was down with a horrendous cold a few weeks ago, and started listening to this when I was waking up in the night at 3.00 a.m. I got hooked and have now branched into other podcasts, although luckily I'm not waking up in the middle of the night anymore!

What am I painting?

I'm slowly working my way through my core Tyranids army for WH40K. This is creeping along like a hungover slug. The aim is to paint up two Genestealer broods plus a brood of Termagants and some Ripper swarms. I'm hoping to muster 500-600 points before Xmas with any luck, although I've yet to figure out what my HQ option will be. I've temporarily shelved my 6mm Carthaginian army which I was starting to find a tad fiddly. I've also got some Barrow Wights on the table for Lord of the Rings and some Bretonnian knights who have turned into something of a communal painting project with the kids (I'm doing the final tidy up and basing work).

Sebastian and one of his friends have been busy over the weekend building more Space Marines as well as some Orks, and they have also got some Lizardman Cold One cavalry painted up, which look rather fine. I'm hoping I can mobilise the kids to do more painting work going forwards, as I'm simply have not got time to paint units for armies, preferring instead to worry away at personality models and figures for RPGs and skirmish games.

What am I watching?

Having recently finished The West Wing, all seven series of it, I'm now embarking on Lost in a big way. I completely missed this when it was on television here in the UK. I picked up the first three series for a song at an open air market last year, and now the nights are drawing in, I'm settling into it. I'm actually quite enjoying it. I can't believe it was a hard sell to the cast: "Hey, wanna come and make a TV series with J. J. Abrams? We're going to be filming on a beach. In Hawaii." Hmmm....let me think about that one.

As discussed in a previous post, I'm also following Hunted on BBC iPlayer. If you don't live in the UK, it will no doubt be coming to a small screen near you in the not too distant future. I also finally managed to catch Inglorious Basterds on DVD last week, which I loved. Trademark Tarantino, and interesting how he managed to sew the whole theme of cinematic entertainment into a tale of WW2 espionage. Great stuff.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Ambush at Sarn Ford: how it played

Regular visitors to this blog will already know about the scenario I wrote recently in a quiet moment of introspection, for the excellent miniatures game, Song of Blades & Heroes. Entitled 'Ambush At Sarn Ford', it deals with the ambush laid by the Dunedain rangers assigned by Gandalf and Aragon to guard the Shire during their absence.

According to The Unfinished Tales, the Nazgul approached the Shire from the south, aiming for Sarn Ford, the crossing of the River Brandywine into the South Farthing. A party of rangers laid an ambush there, hoping to prevent the Dark Riders from getting into the Shire. This little scenario depicts that ambush.

The road to Sarn Ford lies peaceful in the evening light.

Sebastian being on half term, we used the opportunity to give the scenario a test run. I played the Nazgul while Sebastian deployed his ambush. The Nazgul got to move first, and I set them off in line abreast, careful to give the Witch King scope to use his Leader ability and superior Quality (3+). Both he and one of the other Nazgul got a double move in early, which surprised my opponent, as they shot past some of his carefully laid ambush positions.

A ranger pops up and takes a shot as a Nazgul tries to sneak past.

However, the rangers were soon activating, although in the first turn few of them got to grips with the Ringwraiths. The Terror rule makes it hard to tackle them in melee, and Undead makes it hard to shoot them from a distance. In addition, the Free Disengage for wraiths made it essential that the rangers work together to stop them.

A spot of bother for the Witch King in the centre of the table.

I lost one Nazgul in just this way. A lucky shot brought him down, and Seb had one last Dunedain to activate. The blighter won two actions, crossed a field, and finished off the fallen Ringwraith.

What you don't want to see on a 3d6 Q4+ activation...

In the centre of the table, most of the rangers converged on the Witch King. I forgot completely that he could have used the Cry of the Nazgul special rule. Luckily, he was tough enough with Terror and Combat 4 to hold his own, knocking two Dunedain prone. He could have made a break for it then, but the activation dice chose that point to turn against me. The same went for the Nazgul out on the left, who had a clear run at the exit, but again fluffed his activation roll.

The Witch King puts down a Dunedain with his Morgul blade!

The rangers had a couple more opportunities to bring down the Witch King, but he slipped through their grasp, even putting one down temporarily with his Morgul Blade. He was the first Nazgul to escape, and the second followed soon after, granting victory to Sauron in this particular skirmish.

All in all, a very successful game, and easy to fit into the back end of an afternoon. It also helped to get His Nibs away from the Playstation and Oblivion (where he is in the process of joining the Thieves' Guild). I remain torn between this system and Games Workshop's Lord of the Rings skirmish game - both are great fun in their own ways.

Tactics wise, I tried to play a fairly conservative game, but was helped by the fact that I had to worry only about three, fairly powerful characters. Hence, I was activating with 2d6 most of the game, at least until I got within striking range of the far board edge, when I started gambling (and my luck began ebbing). Sebastian, on the other hand, was tempted into the beginner's error of going with 3d6 uniformly for his activations, and it did bite him in the butt a couple of times (although it also helped him to take down a Nazgul).

I think the key for the ranger player is to attack each Ringwraith in teams, allowing you to exploit any falls and move in for the kill. The evil player just has to keep his boys moving, and use that Cry of the Nazgul if things start getting difficult. I feel I got the balance right too - three is enough for the evil player. More Ringwraiths would unbalance the scenario in this system.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Star Wars X-wing and morning coffee

There's no better way to start the week than with a cup of coffee, or indeed a cup of coffee and a game of Star Wars X-wing. Working for oneself, you do have the luxury of occasionally downing tools and breaking out the toys on a week day morning. In this case I had the opportunity to play against Mark, who also being self-employed, can do the same.

In what I hope will be an emerging trend, we alighted on Mark's new game for a test drive. This seems to be generating plenty of excitement amongst sci fi wargamers since its release by FFG. As we only had limited time - I had to go do some work after lunch and Mark had to prep for his trip to the Essen games fair - we went with the basic scenario, of Luke Skywalker with R2D2 flying against two TIE fighters.

Luke Skywalker in X-wing out on patrol on my space grid

X-wing feels very like Wings of War, but an improved version. While the ships are expensive - and pricey, given that they are plastic - each ship is configured as an individual pilot, even the remorseless Imperial TIEs. Thus, every pilot has his own abilities (or lack thereof in the case of rookie rebel cannon fodder) and an associated points value. As with WoW, you get a measuring stick, but unlike WoW, you also have card turning templates which help you regulate movement of your ships.

Fighters are further configured - at least on the rebel side - with droids and, I assume, other kit. My R2D2 card allowed Luke to get his shields fixed if he performed a conservative (green) maneuver.

Two TIEs are spotted!

One of the best aspects of the game is the small orders wheel that comes with each ship. You use this to decide on what your course will be in advance. Moves are then executed in order of pilot ability, with the worst pilot moving first, but the best pilot shooting first (after moves are completed). This gives good pilots like Luke an edge, although it is not huge.

You can see the order wheels in this shot - they are flipped over in pilot order.

Pilots are also given action counters which they can use in the course of their turn, usually to change dice rolls, re-roll dice or add extra dice. Thus, Luke had a lock on ability which allowed him to target an individual ship and receive a bonus die when shooting at it, while the TIEs get a rather nifty barrel roll extra move. The game uses a d8 dice pool mechanic with special dice (see my beef here about the march of the 'special' dice game) used for shooting and evading. You roll attack dice against the defender's defence dice. Hits are tracked with cards. Each hit card can be flipped over if it is a critical, to show further conditions/special rules crunch.

The counter with the exclamation mark = earned frame stress from high speed moves.

Mark told me that some folks on the boards are complaining that the game is too simple, and have been trying to make it more complex. I would argue not to, as I feel the special abilities and critical hits mechanic adds an additional layer of complexity which requires that basic rules stay simple. There's nothing worse than being bogged down in a three hour game meant to simulate an encounter that might occur in less than three minutes. I once played a very, very long game of Flight Leader with my brother that involved two North Korean MiGs against a couple of American Sabres that took us the best part of a day to complete, and came away thoroughly dissatisfied. I think air and space combat games need to be fast paced.

Luke faces off against the TIEs - his lock on marker is the small cross counter.

Our game was finished in under two hours, which was pleasantly fast. Luke failed to get in any significant hits on the TIEs, but his shields were also absorbing any hits on him. I got blinded once on a critical, but shook that off. My mistake was not to ensure R2 had enough opportunity between my more imaginative maneuvers to repair shields (and I also ignored one of Luke's key special abilities). Eventually Luke popped up in the sights of a TIE with no shields up and got blown - rightly so - into space dust.

A very fun game and something I feel would find a ready audience at home, where everyone is well-versed from infancy in Star Wars. Now I have to ponder whether to invest in a basic set with my November games budget...

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Great Fire of London

As my daughter is now studying the Great Fire of London at school, I thought it was time to get this game by  Medusa Games out of the garage and give it another go. It plays with three to six people, and can be completed, in my view, in under three hours if you know what you're doing, possibly even two. This makes it an ideal game for a week day evening.

GFoL 1666 casts you as a London landlord with considerable holdings around the city at the time of the Great Fire. Your objective is to try to contain and put out fires, saving as many of your own buildings as possible (these are randomly distributed around the city at the start of the game). At the same time, each player is tasked with defending three strategic buildings/neighbourhoods. You can do this using one of the six Trained Bands available for fire fighting duties.

Mid game: red cones off to the side of the board are fires that have been put out already. The red zone on the board is Pudding Lane, which acts as a central reserve for additional cones.

Each player starts the game with 40 victory points, plus a further 12 from his strategic buildings (split into 6/4/2 respectively). You then LOSE points as you lose buildings on the board. You gain points from putting out fires.

Each turn the fire spreads. A player has a hand of five cards which, when played, dictate the direction in which one or more fire cones spread across London from a central reserve around Pudding Lane. In addition, at certain points in the game, more fire cones can be added to intensify the blaze in specific neighbourhoods chosen by a player. This lets you mess with your opponents.

Fire spreads based on a priority list, with unattended buildings at the top, and vacant areas with Trained Bands in them at the bottom. This makes an empty area (e.g. demolished - see below) less likely to catch fire again.

Towards the end game - a black Trained Band cone bottom right is containing a fire, while two isolated blazes continue. Black ice hockey pucks can grant VPs, gunpowder charges or double burns. Apologies for being out of focus with this one - still trying to get the hang of the camera on the new iPhone.

As the fire spreads, you can pick up tokens (black ice hockey pucks in the picture above) which can either provide you with more VPs, give your Trained Bands the ability to blow up a district to act as a fire break, or allow you to fan the flames, and make a double fire move.

I must stress that this is not a Eurogame. The lack of dice and only a small random element will appeal to the Europhile, BUT, with enough people playing it can create somewhat of a chaotic scrum which will not be something the true Eurogamer will appreciate. I've not played this with six people could get interesting!

When we played, the fire spread quickly east towards the Tower of London, largely because many of the buildings there did not belong to any of the players. It then started to spread west. I managed to keep it carefully contained to the north, stopping it from reaching the Royal Exchange, which was my 6VP strategic objective. I did this by keeping a couple of the Trained Bands on station, plus blowing up on district.

I also had a 4VP location (Baynards Castle) to the west, that eventually came under threat. I managed to stop more aggressive westward spread of the fire by interdicting it in one district close to Pudding Lane (Voyners Hall). This involved putting the fire out, and stopped more cones spreading west, although by this stage one of my opponents had successfully torched St Paul's.

East London is an inferno: trained bands are deploying up towards Shoreditch in an effort to curb the flames. The purple meeple on the left is my landlord with another trained band, keeping an eye on the situation at Royal Exchange.

In the later stages, the fire spread northwards, through Leadenhall and Whitechapel, and worked its way quickly through Portsoken and Bethnall to threaten my 2VP objective at Shoreditch. Aggressive demolition around Bishopsgate and the Duke's Palace prevented it from getting any further, and keeping a couple of Trained Bands loitering around the Royal Exchange stopped the centre of the city taking more damage. As the game ended (no more fire cards to be drawn), the flames had reached Smithfield, their furthest extent.

This was really a walk through to get the hang of the game and iron out any rules queries, but it seemed to play well. With three players you always have at least a couple of Trained Bands you can rely on, which if focused properly, can also put out any dangerous flames threatening your objectives.Sending fire cones into less threatening areas can backfire for you, however, as if enough players get the same idea, you can suddenly find a key objective under threat, as I did in Shoreditch.

I'd like to give this another go in the near future - with the focus on the Great Fire at the moment, there seems to be plenty of appetite for it.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Carrion Crown: Lepidstadt Law

With Ben fully recovered by Friday evening, we were able to continue with our regular Pathfinder campaign. The characters are now all 5th level, and some players are dabbling in the multi-classing features of the game - Tarion is now Ranger 3/Rogue 2, while Sir Erudil has gone for Paladin 4 and we suspect Sorceror 1, although he is playing his cards close to his chest! Manoj simply can't keep his hands off the arcane magic in this game.

We were a bit slow to start the session, but the PCs eventually got their butts moving back to Lepidstadt, having cleansed the village of Herzstag of wraiths. They brought with them the bones of two of the victims.

The following morning the trial of the Beast known as Frank continued, and while initially it looked as though it might prove harder to defend him against the charges - as the Beast WAS present at Herzstag - we were able to make use of divine magic again. Veneticus cast Zone of Truth and Speak with Dead to clearly demonstrate that it was some kind of boss wraith that was the culprit. We are still concerned that at least one of the judges is clearly evil (according to Sir Erudil) and that either agents of darkness on the bench, or the blood lust of the mob, could make things more...complicated in the medium term.

Our third trip out of Lepidstadt was to the ruins of the asylum that the Beast was alleged to have destroyed. Before leaving, we spoke with the only survivor of the fire, one of the staff, who had been blinded. He announced he would be standing as a witness for the prosecution (throughout the trial, Frank has sadly lacked witnesses in his defence, other than members of the adventuring party). From his testimony, it does sound like the Beast - or possibly an alchemist posing as him - was there.

Exploring the charred ruins, we stumbled across evidence that the owner of the asylum was being supplied with chemicals by Grime & Vorkstag. Eventually we found a shaft leading to some kind of basement level. Veneticus cast Hide from Undead on the entire party and then descended by rope. Sir Erudil cast Featherfall to drift down alongside him.

Reaching the bottom, Veneticus was attacked by two ghouls. He used his positive channelling on them before he was knocked down and paralysed. Luckily Sir Erudil arrived shortly afterwards, and began laying around with his mighty warhammer. Nicodemus came into the dank cellar third, cast his Turn Undead to drive off two ghouls, and then was promptly knocked down and paralysed himself, leaving Sir Erudil facing two more ghouls.

Eventually, the paladin slew three of the beasts, with Tarion arriving last, and making short work of the fourth ghoul. Methinks in future Sir Erudil and Tarion should be first into those areas where we suspect the presence of undead. Tarion has two weapon fighting and favoured enemy - undead, which helped him enourmously in this fight.

Further exploration of the cellar and the ruins uncovered more evidence of the delivery of supplies by Grime & Vorkstag, plus we noticed that the ghouls were wearing belts with severed heads on them, presumably belonging to the dead doctor and his patients. More disturbingly, we also exhumed some creatures in the asylum's cemetery, obviously hybrid creations similar to Frank, but really of an inferior quality, mindless abominations that had been buried alive.

It seems as if the asylum's owner may have something to do with the creation of Frank himself, leaving open the possibility that he could indeed have attacked the asylum and destroyed it. This could make it a tad more difficult to defend him against the arson charges he faces on the morrow!

Poor old Sebastian again turned in before the fighting started. It is unfortunately the case that in the last three sessions he has participated in, he's been around for the roleplaying part of the session, with the exploration and combat falling into the second half!

Monday, 8 October 2012

Hunted hits the small screen

Hunted is a new TV series that has just started here in the UK on the BBC and will no doubt be doing the rounds of the rest of the world in short order. It stars Melissa George, who some folks may recognise from, amongst others, The Slap, and more importantly Alias and 30 Days of Night (we're not going to mention Home & Away in the 1990s). She is looking...remarkably paraphrase Gandalf, and has obviously been studying hard at the Angelina Jolie school of pouting.

Here George plays an agent working for what, to all intents and purposes, is a private espionage outfit, the sort of City of London cosmopolitan enterprise staffed by former intelligence agents who have decided to turn their back on the flag and embrace the dollar. The sort of people you stumble across on the fringes of Russian energy conferences or in form-hugging Armani suits at arms fairs...

Hunted takes a leaf out of The Bourne Identity and Burn Notice, with the main character betrayed and initially on the run, before walking back through the front door of her former employer and asking for her job back. There are echoes here too of Ronin, although George lacks the intimidation skills of a Robert DeNiro or a Jean Renaud (she probably has a d4 in Savage Worlds terms versus their d10s).

I've only seen the first episode but was favourably impressed. Unlike Spooks, the characters here lack the back up of Her Majesty's Government, which makes a big difference. Hunted is also a little reminiscent of Greg Rucka's Queen & Country, with a tough and independent female lead and a group of somewhat troubled male support cast.

Part of the interest for me is that Hunted also resembles a campaign idea I had for Spycraft, with the characters working for a similar private enterprise outfit in Switzerland. Given that I have Agents of Oblivion on order and recently took delivery of Night's Dark Agents, it may well be an idea I resurrect at some point in the not-too-distant future, as I love the genre.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Lords of Waterdeep

Ben was too sick to run Pathfinder on Friday, and Kelvin ended up helping somebody move house, which left us denuded somewhat to myself, Manoj and Sebastian, plus an enthusiastic Maya as ever. I pondered running either Crypts & Things or a Call of Cthulhu scenario I keep in the back of my pocket for just such an eventuality. Crypts & Things is a very interesting swords and sorcery variant of Swords & Wizardry, and it takes no time at all to generate characters and get adventuring, but when I saw Lords of Waterdeep poking out of Manoj's bag, I thought it could wait for another time, as I was keen to try the former.

I've never played D&D in the Forgotten Realms, largely because most of the GMs I've played D&D with - with one notable exception - are allergic to the setting. Myself, I'm more of a Greyhawk man, with Eberron running a close second. But Sebastian and I have played a lot of Baldur's Gate and BG 2 on the PS2, and consequently Waterdeep and its factions are more than a little familiar to us.

Lords of Waterdeep, for those who don't know it, is one of the series of D&D-themed board games produced by Wizards of the Coast. Players take the role of factions seeking to accumulate victory points by completing quests. You do this by recruiting adventurers, represented by coloured wooden cubes - fighters, mages, thieves and clerics - to meet the personnel requirements of the different quests that come up in the game. Each player has a limited number of actions per turn, represented by 'agents' who can be sent on various missions around Waterdeep - e.g. to collect adventurers and bring them back to the faction's tavern.

There is something of the El Grande in this game, although there is more to LoW than shuffling little coloured cubes around. It also has a building construction element, where factions can invest in specific structures that can be used to produce adventurers more quickly than the fixed locations in Waterdeep. This feels a little like Puerto Rico (which I play on the iPad), and also ensures that no game is exactly alike.

Finally, Intrigue cards also allow you to mess with other players or achieve your own objectives more quickly. These can only be played in the harbour area, which seems to be the only location which can contain more than one agent per turn (it takes three). In addition, agents who go to the harbour can be used at the end of the round to visit an additional unoccupied location, which can be quite useful.

LoW is an interesting game that seems to offer a number of different paths to victory, although I'm not entirely sure whether this is the case, or whether these is a specific formula you need to follow. As there are no dice, it does seem to suit the mathematically minded, like Manoj and Sebastian, who like to pore over their various options. Sebastian and I committed a number of silly errors, as it was our first game, foremost of which was probably failing to realise that more than five buildings can be constructed! Maya pitched in happily and quickly got into the spirit of things, and was even leading in VPs in the early stages. She needed a bit of help at the start, and towards the end as she got tired, but overall seemed to be fighting her corner well.

I really enjoyed it. I'd like to play it again soon, as with the first game of LoW you do tend to blunder around a bit and just hope for the best. Now I've got more of a feel for it, I'd like to give it another try, before I start to forget how to play it. Six months from now, I'll have forgotten a great deal. Sad, really. LoW can readily be played in a single evening, perhaps twice with a group who knows it.

After Maya turned in, we played a short game of Saboteur, which I've been compelled to buy after having been exposed to it at Hove Area Wargames Society. This is a very entertaining little number about dwarves digging for gold, which has a traitor mechanic in it reminiscent of Shadows Over Camelot. Sebastian won the first round as the saboteur, and in the two subsequent rounds there were no active saboteurs, leading to quick conclusions in both rounds. On the strength of his four nugget score in round one, Sebastian won.

Saboteur is a great little game to play at the end of an evening, when the main event is finished, it's too early to go home, and you need something that can be played to a result in less than an hour. It also comes with an expansion, which I've not ordered as yet.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Carrion Crown - the Wraiths of Herzstag

Monster on trial
The Carrion Crown investigation continued on Friday night. We began by pondering whether we should break into the mysterious factory in Lepidstadt controlled by Grime and Vorkstag. In the end, after much debate, including the possibility of a break in by the two non-Lawful characters in the party, we elected to head back to the town gaol to get the Beast (now re-named Frank) cleaned up for his first court appearance. On the morrow, we arrived at the court beset by a hostile crowd keen to see the Beast/Frank burned alive.

Frank was facing the first of a series of charges, these relating to the disappearance of villagers in nearby Morass. Several of these swamp folk attended the hearing. We sat through the prosecution's opening statements, and then heard Frank's barrister make a pig's ear of his own defence, after which the first - and only -witness for the prosecution was called. This was the headman from Morass, who proceeded to relate much of the information we discovered on our initial visit to Morass (see previous post).

It was time for the necromancer Nicodemus to replace our failure of a barrister, which the somewhat hostile bench of magistrates did not object to. Nicodemus' pedigree as an affluent aristocrat and son of a famous vampire hunter helped him to by-pass any legal irregularities. His cross-examination of the headman was masterful, and he followed this up with a slam dunk as we cast Zone of Truth on Frank to prove he had not been anywhere near Morass.

"Enter my Zone of Truth creature!"
Which sort of brings me to the theme of playing out legal cases in Pathfinder. With magic like Detect Evil and Zone of Truth readily available for even low level casters in the game, one wonders whether a court case is really even needed to prove guilt/innocence when a cleric or paladin could easily do the same? Courts would become religious sites, with clerics sitting on the bench and casting divine magic to establish whether someone should hang or not. We were even able in this instance to detect the fact that one of the magistrates is evil, and the 20' radius for the ZoT spell was enough to capture the prosecution as well. It could prove useful in Frank's other hearings.

I don't remember there being any verdict from the magistrates - one of my fellow players may be able to shed more light on this. I think they may have said they were going to deliberate, but I popped out of the room a couple of times to make tea, so may have missed that.

We then proceeded to the next site of Frank's alleged crimes, the village of Herzstag, where he is accused of having murdered six local children. Frank himself warned us that the slayings had been the work of a multi-eyed wraith-like creature. Frank had - somewhat inconveniently - been at the village when at least one of the murders occurred, he had been trying to rescue a girl who had become his friend. We travelled by coach to Herzstag, deploying into the village to find it somewhat overgrown, seemingly abandoned.

Small...but dangerous.
The first building we entered was haunted - we were assailed by a wraith child, which spent most of its time attacking Sir Erudil. Eventually it was beaten, mainly through the paladin's efforts. We worked through a considerable amount of magic to defeat it, including several charges from our Wand of Lesser Restoration and a couple of Veneticus' channelings. Thus it was that when we entered the local churchyard and got attacked by another wraith - again defeating it after some struggle - we began to reconsider our house to house approach. Veneticus had not learned Ghost Dirge that morning, which could have proved of considerable help, but then again he was expecting a court case, not to be spending his afternoon battling incorporeal undead. He is going to look into creating scrolls as soon as he gets back to Lepidstadt, as Ghost Dirge is too useful in this campaign not to have available.

A brief conference saw the party heading up a hill overlooking the village, as Frank had mentioned that the multi-eyed wraith beastie had been hiding in a cave, and the hill looked a likely candidate. At its summit, we found a scarecrow, and nearby the entrance to a small cave. We entered it and almost immediately encountered the boss wraith, which was taken out in short order by some handy sword work from Sir Erudil. This also banished the remaining wraiths still lurking in the village.

Now it seems we must return to Lepidstadt to face the next part of the trial of Frank. What we don't seem to have is quite as solid a defence case as we had for his alleged crimes at Morass.

Back to Lepidstadt - to face more grilling from the judges.