Thursday, 28 November 2013

We play Nuns on the Run

Nuns on the Run - what an awesome title for a game! I bought this after watching the review on Dice Tower, as I felt it met a number of key criteria I'm looking for from board games at the moment. These boil down as follows:
  • They can be played inside a couple of hours.
  • They have simple rules which are not too involved, and can be taught to kids
  • There is not too much warfare / combat in them - this a specific request from my daughter who feels too many of my games involve fighting!
Nuns on the Run meets all of these criteria. If I had any concern, I would say the slightly complex line of sight rules preclude it from being played by anyone under the age of eight, although it is probably possible for a young player of 7-8 to play the nuns, of which more later.

The game is set in a convent, at night. Most of the players take the roles of novices who must creep around looking for keys which they need to access their Secret Wish. These are items located in locked rooms in the convent which they must retrieve and return with to their cells (e.g. the Abbess' birthday cake is locked in the kitchen). The first player to return to their cell wins, UNLESS the patrolling nuns catch a number of novices equal to the number of players.

One player takes the role of the Abbess and the Prioress. They follow patrol routes in the convent marked by coloured lines, and can only deviate from these if they hear something. They get to listen TWICE a turn, once when the novices have moved, and again when the nuns have moved. A D6 determines how far they can hear.

Players record on paper how far they are moving, where they are moving to and how fast they are going. Novices who run are easier for the nuns to hear than novices who sneak or are completely still. Nuns can also see in a 180 degree arc in front of them, but cannot see novices behind this axis. Thus, a nun in a north-south corridor, facing west, can see all the way down both ends of the corridor, but cannot see someone behind them.

Novices are not placed on the map. Like Dracula in Fury of Dracula, they are only placed when seen by nuns (well, in Dracula's case, when found by hunters, but you get the drift I'm sure). The nuns have to move into the same spot as a novice to catch them: if the novice manages to run out of sight before a nun can get to them, they can evade, as happened in our game. Some areas of the board, like the gardens and church, are easier to be spotted in. Also, some areas, off the main patrol routes, might make better hiding places (my son's novice managed to evade the Abbess by hiding in a toilet).

The player of the nuns has a slightly more regimented game, which is why I feel this role is best reserved for the youngest player, as all their moves are out in the open, and you can see whether they are getting anything wrong. The nun player uses cards which determine patrol routes: each route can only be used once in the game, although the nuns also have two cards which allow them to go back on the same route. Once these are used, however, that's it. The nuns really only engage when they hear novices, when they can then decide to go looking for them. Counters are used to show which direction sounds came from, or where a novice was last seen. These stay on the board until the end of the nun's go, at which point they are removed. Consequently, nuns really only have one move in which to find a novice: if they fail, they tend to have to return to their patrol route.



In our only game of Nuns on the Run so far, I failed to catch any novices. I only had two to hunt for, but it is harder for the nuns with a smaller number of novices. This is balanced with a lower victory requirement, of course, but I suspect that with six novices running around, the nuns will certainly start catching them. Being caught is not the end of the game for a novice, but it does make it much harder for them to win. You get sent back to your cell, but can go AWOL as soon as the nun is out of sight. however, you do have to give up any cards you had, like your keys, for example. This can make it much harder to accomplish your goals in the 15 turn game limit.



Nuns of the Run is a great game if you are playing with kids or people who don't want to kill orcs or trample over Tokyo. It reminds me of Fury of Dracula, stripped down and without the horror elements. But instead of Dracula being invisible, the hunters are hidden and it is Dracula doing the searching. It is good fun and not too complex. I think it can easily be played inside 90 minutes, and this goal is certainly helped by the fact that most of the players move simultaneously.

I have included the review from the Dice Tower below if you need further convincing -




Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The land of forgotten armies....


I'm in the process of clearing out and re-arranging my workspace at home. This is not a complete re-modelling project - that will have to wait until the rest of the house is done. But I am going through all my games and figures, not only re-arranging them, but also putting some things on eBay, because really, I don't think I'll ever use them. However, this also prompts one to focus on all the unfinished war gaming projects that litter my space, assessing those in progress and those yet to launch, and trying to come up with some idea of what is likely to get played, and what is likely to go to Mister eBay.

Given that I have also pre-ordered copies of the new Firefly and Ogre games, I am also in need of some space to fit these into the games museum. Hence, it is time to rationalise what we're likely to be painting in 2014, and what we're likely to be playing. I've also decided I may see if I can get along to some actual tournaments in 2014. If I can make one per quarter, I'll be happy.

Ancients: A 6mm Carthaginian army project in progress, based for Impetus. I estimate I've got approximately 400 points. I'd like to give Impetus a go in 2014, and possibly even aim to attend the tournament in Derby in September. Hence, this army is a top priority. IF I like the system, I'll look to get a 28mm Carthaginian army off the production line in 2014, but that's a big ask.

Warhammer 40,000: Approximately 2000 points of Necrons, much of it unfinished, needs to be rounded off. I've also got a 1000 point Tyranid army on the boil. The plan here is to get some WH40K played in the New Year, and then maybe play a few competition games in the second half of the year. A combined Space Marine / Imperial Guard army is only just beginning to take shape. This may only be used for internal play testing of other army lists. Given the fragility of the plastics, I'm going to need a better carry case for my troops! Getting that Tyranid army up to scratch should be a priority.

Warhammer Fantasy Battle: Still very much a work in progress, with both Bretonnians and Lizardmen on the table. I don't really know where to go with WFB. The figures have been used largely as a testing ground for the kids when they want to paint or model - a convenient creative direction to point them in. I'm almost content to let them get on with these, and see how we go. I don't expect much progress here in 2014. The WH40K Space Marine (Dark Angels) army is similarly being painted by the small folk.

Lord of the Rings / War of the Ring: I seem to have amassed a fair amount of GW Lord of the Rings figures over the last decade or so, ranging from free, to eBay, to sales. Very little of it was bought at RRP. I have used some of this in my Bloodbath At Orc's Drift campaign, but am wondering now whether we're close to having enough figures to play a War of the Ring battle. I'm going to review the collection when I have time and maybe play a few smaller skirmish games first.

Blood Bowl: With an Elf team and a part-painted Chaos team (and a Human team in its very early stages), I'd like to play some Blood Bowl in 2014. A few games here and there could inspire me to finish off the Chaos team. BB seems to be one of those games which, while not supported by its original manufacturer Games Workshop, still enjoys a busy and vibrant tournament scene in the UK and abroad. Given that I'm close to having two teams, with a third in the wings, it seems silly not to pay more attention to BB in 2014.

Dystopian Wars: A Russian fleet that is probably 20% complete (the tiny flyers are done, and the frigates are underway). After the Impetus army, this is the next priority. Exactly how long it will take to paint this is anyone's guess, but I'd like to get it finished asap.

Bolt Action: As I have a platoon of Russians and a platoon of Germans, I will be play testing Bolt Action from Warlord Games, possibly even over the Xmas break. BA seems very popular with tournament organisers at the moment, so it could be worthwhile becoming more familiar with the system and generating a couple of army lists. As with WH40K and Blood Bowl, it should not take much to get into this.

Battlefleet Gothic: Really not sure whether I'll get much use out of my BFG Necron fleet in 2014. Part of me wonders whether it might not make more sense to sell my BFG stuff, particularly as Firestorm Armada now seems to have taken its place as the go-to large ship space combat game. To sell or not to sell, that is the question...? I'll keep my fleet mothballed for the time being, but if there is no opportunity to play soon, will likely sell it.

Judge Dredd: I seem to have picked up quite a few 1980s Judge Dredd miniatures (back from when Games Workshop had the license). Now that Warlord is supporting the JD game that Mongoose originally developed, Judge Dredd skirmish gaming has come to the fore again. I've probaby almost got enough to get playing straight away.

In Her Majesty's Name: Finally, in lieu of Mordheim, there is this new and interesting setting from Osprey. Like Mordheim, it uses small warbands / posses although I'm not sure whether it would work so well as a multi-player game. I can probably put together a number of factions for this almost immediately, including using my colonial troops for some of them. Look out for a play test of this in the not too distant future.

So that's 2014 in a nutshell kids. Looking around, there are still a lot of other projects gathering dust which will not get touched next year if I stick to the above plan. This includes expanding my Zulu impi for Black Powder, my Peninsular War project, the Sikh Wars, All Things Zombie, and WW2 naval gaming. All on the back burner sadly, although I might give Black Powder another go when the new Zulu War supplement emerges from Warlord.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Milestones in gaming #3: Red Box Dungeons and Dragons

The so-called 'Red Box' Dungeons and Dragons set was also known as Basic Dungeons and Dragons. I received this as my Christmas present in December 1983 from my parents. At the time I'd been showing some interest in the Advanced version of the game, having already become embroiled in the Fighting Fantasy game books of Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone (see previous post). I think they may have wanted me to get into a hobby that might stimulate my intellect somewhat, as there was some concern I was going to flunk my Common Entrance exams.

[Note to readers unfamiliar with the UK private school system: the Common Entrance exam or CE is sat by pupils in the equivalent of Year 8 (12/13 years) in UK state school parlance. It is intended to help private schools to measure the intellectual capability of applicants for entry in Year 9, which is the typical starting age group at most UK private schools, although many now take pupils at 11+ and set their own exams. It features a range of papers on most key subjects, with the exam papers then sent for marking to the school(s) the candidate is applying for.]

I think the feeling was that the game might help me to improve my Maths grades,which were at that point less than impressive. With my Latin and Religious Studies also in the basement, things were looking bleak. It seems obvious at the time that the Red Box was a good starting point and indeed, it was a clever marketing ploy by TSR, as it made the game far more accessible than Advanced, which was impenetrable to most (and written like a tax manual).

Basic featured two booklets, one for players and one for Dungeon Masters, and also came with a set of polyhedral dice and a starting module (mine had B2 - The Keep on the Borderlands). Basic was also written in easy to understand language, with many of the core game concepts introduced via a step by step solo adventure. Finally, the game had great art from Larry Elmore, including the fantastic box cover painting. Elmore went on to do even better work with the Dragonlance modules and for me became the definitive artist for the game.

I had massive fun with this. It was the first RPG I owned, but I quickly added to it the blue Expert set, which brought new monsters, the idea of hex crawl wilderness adventures, and the Isle of Dread module.

This RPG quickly caught on as the accessory of choice for many of the kids in my year at school. As we were in boarding school, we frequently had to fill our Sundays with something, as the school had limited ideas about how to entertain pupils on weekends, other than with sport, cross country rambles and church. Dungeons and Dragons leaped into this vacuum with alacrity and we soon had a number of boys running their own homebrew campaigns. It even became possible to move from one campaign to another with your character, which I understand is what happened originally with the early campaigns in the US in the 1970s.

Bear in mind that at this stage we had no access to computer games of any sort. The first personal computers for home use were only just appearing. Hence, in many ways, the game represented a sort of pen and paper computer game which we could readily access at school, where resources were limited. We didn't use miniatures, and we had all gone our separate ways by the time the Companion set came out (in 1985 IIRC).

Few characters ever got to Lord level (9+) and most died at 1-2. Indeed, I only got a character past 6th level in Pathfinder last year! The attrition rate amongst low level PCs was high, but then they didn't take long to roll up. You would regularly see an AC 9 Magic User wandering into a dungeon with nothing but a dagger, a couple of hit points, and two first level spells to rub together. A kobold with a knife became serious opposition for him! There was one guy who ran an Advanced campaign, but he was a Maths whizz, went on to Eton, and is now a millionaire, so I guess that says it all.

Next time - I discover White Dwarf...

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Previously, on the Enemy Within

WARNING: the following contains spoilers for Fantasy Flight's The Enemy Within campaign (but not the earlier Games Workshop classic)...read on at your peril.

Our little band of heroes is currently in Averheim, in the Empire. Let's introduce our posse of hardy stalwarts:

Rudiger Adler - ruggedly handsome in an earthy sort of way, Adler is a former Outlaw, and now works part-time as a Thief, while being in the service of the elven lord Aelric. Rudiger deserted from the Count's army following a battle with orcs in the Black Fire Pass. Rudiger is looking for his brother, Ralf, who seems to have disappeared in Averheim.

Magnar - a Dwarf of ill-repute, it is rumoured he was drummed out of dwarf society due to certain 'irregularities' during a Blood Bowl tourney, but we do not speak of it. Magnar and Rudiger were outlaws together before arriving in Averheim.

Aelric - an Elf, an aristocrat and a budding Wizard. Aelric has the advantage of being good looking and having his own house and a butler. We generally leave him to do most of the talking and answering the hard questions that sometimes arise from the town authorities.

Thorik - a Trollslayer, Thorik and Magnar knew each other back in the Blood Bowl days, and may have been involved in the same 'misunderstanding' that led to Magnar's banishment, but we do not speak of it. Thorik is busy trying to get himself killed as quickly as possible.

Drandruel - an elf Sergeant and former Mercenary, she hails from the Great Forest. Although still young, she has seen service in Tilean armies. She does not speak much, but has mentioned she has ambitions to become a Knight. She is arguably our best fighter, but always seems to be somewhere else when the blood starts flying.

Thorik
So where were we? Oh yes, Averheim. The party has been doing a bit of this and that, including looking into some mysterious disappearances in the docks, breaking up the odd gang fight, rescuing people from burning barges, and escorting countesses out to their country estates. Rudiger has been looking fruitlessly for his brother, while he and Magnar have been trying to keep Aelric out of trouble and Thorik in one piece (the latter task proving particularly difficult).

Due to suspicions that some members of the City Watch might be moonlighting as bandits, the party was hired to provide security at a garden party and exhibition staged by Frederick von Kaufmann, to show off some artefacts gathered by an expedition he sponsored to the Southern Continent, including a gold plaque and a strange green mask. In a previous session, someone used alchemical magic to break up the garden party, steal the mask and the plaque, and release a griffon from its cage into the Count's maze, where it killed a couple of guests and almost did for Magnar and Thorik. Rudiger, meanwhile, prudently hid under a hedge, having learned his lesson about violence during an earlier encounter with bandits (when he was shot in the face).

The griffon having been slain by the City Watch, Aelric, Rudiger and Drandruel investigated the crime scene while the two dwarfs were carted off bleeding to the temple of Shallya for healing (and an eating competition). The investigators that stayed behind discovered some kind of envenomed throwing star had been used to enrage the griffon before it went on the rampage. They also found traces of a form of quicklime solution that had been used by an intruder with clawed feet, a small intruder, one with fangs. Said intruder was also seen by a drunk outside, leaving the crime scene, shrouded in a dark cloak. Could this be the mysterious Hooded One, allegedly muscling in on the protection racket at the docks?

While waiting for the dwarfs to recover, Adler went to see Captain Marcus Bauerfast, the City Watch officer who seems to have become our contact in the Averheim law enforcement fraternity. Adler wanted to find out who the mysterious female witch hunter was, the one we'd seen him leave with at the garden party. Bauerfast seemed oddly ignorant of her whereabouts, but we got her name, Adele Ketzenboom. Apparently she's bad news, and we should stay out of her way. This probably means we'll almost certainly end up doing anything but.

We then consulted Konrad Mauer, a white wizard who, when not picking fights with aristocrats, is investigating murders down at the docks. Luckily, he seems to be even more paranoid than we are, and following a pooling of information, deduced that we could be dealing with rat men (note: Warhammer afficionados will know them as Skaven, but in our game they have a very low profile, and this was the first time the characters had heard of them - in a world populated by orcs and undead, the public is strangely sceptical about the existence of chaos rat men).

Suspecting the Skaven would have another go at the racketeer Frederick Grosz, we went by his house to see if he was interested in protection, only to discover he had gone to Aelric's house, to tell us he was leaving town and request armed escort to the town gates. Still, a job's a job, and after the usual haggling session, we walked Herr Grosz to the town gates and saw him on his way. Adler then popped by his house again, to break in and rifle through his things in search of valuables and information on his racketeering business. Sadly, there was neither, although Adler and Magnar are working on the beginnings of a plan to fill the protection business vacuum that the recent murders and the sudden departure of Grosz has created.

I'm going to skip over our luncheon with von Kaufmann, probably because Adler missed some of it, and was also chatting with Drandruel about her plans to join the knighthood, and I shall move forthwith to the resumption of the investigation in the docks (still, very surprised was I that von Kaufmann was happy to stump up lunch, accommodation for the dwarfs at the temple of Shallya and pay us our full fee for the wreck of a garden party and failing to kill a rampaging griffon).

We then worried away at the docks like a dog with the body of a mangy rat, going down the sewers, setting traps, and generally getting filthy. There were traces of Skaven activity, including a discarded throwing star, foot prints, more disappearances and the scent of quicklime which they may have been using to disguise their scent. After two days knee deep in excrement (it is WFRP after all), we finally got a break by picking up a trail that led us to a tanner's yard by the river We bumbled into the tanner's yard, not really expecting to find anything that useful, and promptly discovered a pit full of bodies, including several citizens who had been relieved of their lives and their hearts.

"So," we said to ourselves, "here's a rum turn." We sent the Trollslayer round the front of the tannery while the rest of us went in the back and burst in. A big mistake that was. We were facing a massive, four armed rat man the size of an ogre, plus three of his smaller brethren who were armed to the teeth. While the Trollslayer burst in the front door, everyone else was paralysed with fear. The big rodent took out Thorik in pretty short order, Magnar and Aelric tried to flee, and Adler climbed onto the roof, where he found himself eye to toe with another rat creature.

Chaos, literally and figuratively, ensued. Aelric had been casting spells at the rat ogre with seemingly little effect. He and Magnar managed to escape over the wall of the tannery before the raging monster could get to grips with them, while Adler scuttled over the roof, dropping down to the front of the tannery. With no sign of Skaven there, he crept in and relieved them of the gold plaque they had stolen, and some kind of silver bell clapper, before dragging the unconscious Thorik out with him into the street.

By this time curious crowds were gathering, causing the Skaven to slip away unseen. The City Watch duly arrived, followed by Mauer. Upon closer examination of the scene, it seems as if the hearts of 13 humans were needed to enact a ritual to enchant the bell clapper for some nefarious purposes. Adler was not able to identify his brother's body amongst the dead, although one body was wearing a coat belonging to said fraternal relation. The wounded Thorik went back to see his friends at the temple of Shallya to have his spleen re-stitched. The party kept the gold plaque, and omitted to mention its discovery to anyone (including our patron von Kaufmann) before Magnar had a chance to melt it down into ingots. I can't for the life of me remember what happened to the clapper, as it was getting late, but I think we left it with Mauer. And that, bar the obligatory wine and cake back at Aelric's house, was that.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Hillfolk - first thoughts

On Friday I received my copy of Robin D. Laws' Hillfolk, which I've been dipping into periodically over the weekend when time allowed (I was a Kickstarter backer). This is really just a first impressions piece, and I've by no means read it cover-to-cover or been able to fully digest it.

Some time ago I was working on a Savage Worlds scenario called Village People. While I never got around to running it, the premise of the scenario was that the characters were the burghers of a small village in a typical fantasy roleplaying world. For example, one of the PCs was the local blacksmith, another was the sheriff, etc. They were tied to their community and to their fellow villagers. The action would be driven by primarily external events, but the hope was that a mini-campaign could be procured through the dynamics of interplayer interaction was well as via external threats and intrigues.

In retrospect, Savage Worlds might not have been the right system to use. Hillfolk, on the other hand, probably is. Hillfolk uses a default Bronze Age tribal setting, in a fictitious Levant of circa 2000 BC before the big empires of the next 1000 years or so really got rolling. It is the beginning of recorded history, and because details are so sketchy about the people of this time, players can improvise with confidence.

Hillfolk is driven by the emotional dynamics and relationships of the player characters themselves. It does not use dice, but there look to be some random elements involved using a deck of cards. It is not a complex game, and has shrugged off much of the tactical wargame elements that have dominated previous generations of RPG design. It feels in some respects like Cold City, an RPG I love, and seeks to deliver a high degree of narrative control to the players.

Unlike in Cold City or Paranoia, characters in Hillfolk are not necessarily plotting against one another, but they do want / need things from each other. There are no secret agendas between players, although there may be between characters. In some ways, Hillfolk reminds me a little bit of Pendragon, but it travels further, and is more genre neutral. While things that happen to the players are still important, like a TV series, it is the relationships between the players which really make it tick. Think about Battlestar Galactica the TV series, and you will know what I mean.

The idea of Hillfolk is almost to create a TV series on your tabletop, with each session of the game being one episode in that series. I have to say that, in my experience of GMing in the last couple of years, some of the most entertaining bits of the games I've run have come from when the party has gone off script, and left the adventure as written for parts new and undefined. Frequently they have not realised when they have been doing it, but being able to roll with it has ended up generating some of the most brilliant RPG incidents.

The second half of the book is comprised of 'series pitches' - alternative settings. While it is recommended that groups use the default setting as their first attempt in this area, there are some great ideas for subsequent forays. It seems as if a group could really only play through the default setting once, so having tons of other options in the wings to follow on with is great.

I have yet to finish reading Hillfolk, and may revert with more conclusions once I have.

Friday, 1 November 2013

New ideas for Action Points

I'm currently writing a d20 Modern one-shot scenario for use at some point this winter. As some of you may know, d20 Modern uses Action Points. It came out, IIRC, around the same time as the Eberron setting, and both settings initially made use of APs. However, for the purposes of my scenario, Operation Fallen Angel, I'm tweaking the AP rules. The below incorporates ideas from Cold City and Shadowrun, as well as some of my own ideas. I may still tweak them before the final scenario.
 
Each character has SEVEN Action Points (APs) at the beginning of the adventure. I should stress that this is intended for use in a one-shot; if you were planning to use the below in a campaign, it would require additional tweaking, for example, how to restore APs, and short-term objectives against longer term objectives.
 
At the start of the scenario, you can assign your APs in three ways:
  • Assign them to your personal mission: you can spend these APs only if this furthers your personal mission goals (each PC has a personal mission at the start of the scenario, some harder than others to achieve). If you fail your personal mission in the course of the game, you immediately lose all your APs remaining in this pool.
  •  Assign them to another player character as Trust points. This measures how much you trust that player character. You can assign APs to multiple characters, but not GM characters.
  •  Assign them to the Team Karma pool.
 At the start of the game, players take it in turns to assign APs in a clockwise direction. Each player must assign one of his pools before the next player in turn. Pools may not be topped up in the initial allocation session and remain in place until the GM says that players can start changing them. Pools may only be changed out of combat.
 

Personal missions

 
Every character has a secret personal mission they wish to accomplish in the course of the game. If your action supports the accomplishment of your personal mission, you may use APs from that pool.
 

Trust

 
If you have Trust APs assigned to you, you may spend them only on actions that either aid other team members or are used to actively betray other team members. You can only use Trust that has been allocated to you by the player concerned - e.g. if you wanted to spend Bob’s Trust in you, then it can only be spent on actions that directly affect Bob. Trust can be re-assigned by the assigning player at any time in the game, other than during combat.
 

Team Karma

 
Players allocate team karma to a central pool at the start of the game. Players can spend karma from the team pool whenever they are doing something that benefits the team or appears to benefit the team. The GM has final decision on this. Players may take their own karma tokens out of the pool whenever they like. If a character is killed or incapacitated, their karma tokens are removed from the pool.
 

What can I use my APs for?

 
  • APs can be used to add 1d6 to an existing roll you have made before the GM says whether the roll has succeeded or failed. Alternatively, they can be used to subtract 1d6 from either a GM’s roll or another player’s roll. In the latter cases, these have to be rolls that directly affect your character. You may spend APs to boost damage rolls.
  • APs can be used to re-roll any roll, including combat damage.
  • APs sometimes need to be used to activate class specific features.