Monday, 2 July 2018

My top 10 Dungeons and Dragons adventures of all time

Trial of the Beast
I've been playing Dungeons and Dragons pretty much continuously since 1983, when my parents gave me the famous red box game for Christmas. At the time I was really only vaguely aware of the game thanks to an ad at the back of Ian Livingstone's Warlock of Firetop Mountain. It started me off on a journey into tabletop RPGs which I'm still travelling today. In the course of that I've played in many, many adventures and campaigns, some of the best of which have been home brew affairs. However, the following are my top five published adventures that I've actually experienced or run to date...

Note: If you have recently started playing 5th edition D&D and are worried about converting the below to that game, I would argue that most, if not all of these can be readily converted to 5e. The only edition of the game where real conversion problems exist I would say is 4e, which was a radically different game in many ways. However, even here I think a 5e conversion could be attempted. None of the below adventures were written for 4e, which speaks volumes about 4e generally.

A Murder At Flaxton

This adventure appeared in White Dwarf 67 IIRC. It was one of the first D&D adventures I ran that involved more than simply kicking down doors and killing whatever was inside. We had already begun to realise there was more to the D&D game when we played module B6, The Veiled Society, but this one was even better. The adventurers are tasked with looking for missing customs agents along a strip of remote coast line. It is written for low level characters and the opposition is tough but not insurmountable. The scenario provides enough flexibility for the GM that the NPC opposition can react according to what the adventurers themselves can get up to. I ran this again recently using Lamentations of the Flame Princess, for which it is ideally suited, and it went swimmingly again. A Murder At Flaxton should still work well with 5th edition characters. I particularly enjoy the atmosphere of the little village on the coast, reminiscent of 17th century Cornwall or Devon, hence its possible appeal to Lamentations GMs.

Star of Darkness

This adventure was published in issue 68 of White Dwarf in the mid-1980s for AD&D and was partly intended to serve as a stage for the brand new Artificer class for the game. Star of Darkness came at a time when the White Dwarf team were at the top of their game - there was just so much excellent content in the magazine between 1984 and 1988. Star of Darkness was the first proper wilderness adventure I ran after The Isle of Dread. I believe I had a party of 3rd level adventurers at the time, but this one was a cracker, a real challenge for them. There are dungeons, there is a conspiracy, there are numerous personalities, all with their own agendas. Several of my best anecdotes in roleplaying come from Star of Darkness - there is an awesome sting in the tail awaiting characters as well. It should be quite easy to slot this adventure into your own campaign, as it is pretty generic. Watching my players piece together the puzzle and seeing it suddenly dawn on their faces - priceless.

The Keep on the Borderlands

The is the classic scenario which came with the original D&D red box. It features a fully-detailed stronghold on the edge of civilization, some wilderness encounters and a large network of caves for the adventurers to explore. This was effectively a sandbox before that word was in common circulation in adventure games design. Characters could establish themselves in the eponymous keep and then spend their time looking for the Caves of Chaos out in the wilderness. It shows its age a little now, but it gets so many things right which some writers continue to get wrong these days. A sequel was published for 2e AD&D which is also worth a look and works on the premise that the Caves have again fallen under the sway of evil. It builds on the original and I think was published to celebrate 25 years of D&D.

Trial of the Beast (Carrion Crown Adventure Path)

This is actually a Pathfinder scenario and comes as the second part on the 2011 adventure path Carrion Crown. It is designed for 4th level player characters and to make sense probably needs to be played in sequence after Haunting of Harrowstone, although I expect an enterprising GM could adapt it to their own campaign. The scenario is inspired by Frankenstein, but has the characters cast in the role of trying to defend a flesh golem on trial for his 'life' while he seeks revenge himself. It is an interesting story which still includes some more traditional dungeon bashing coupled with investigation and intrigue. One of its best elements is the constant question mark hanging over the monster himself - whose side is he on? Can he be trusted? Frequently evidence emerges to cast new doubts on his innocence. There should be more adventures like this one. As you're probably guessing by now, I'm a fan of adventures with a bit of mystery. This is harder to achieve with D&D at higher levels, however, when characters are de facto superheroes. One downside I think is the presence of Alchemist NPCs, who play an important part in the plot - you'd need some alternative if not playing Pathfinder.

A Strange Storm (Lamentations of the Flame Princess)

This is the starter scenario which appears in the Grindhouse Edition of Lamentations of the Flame Princess I can't speak for later editions, it may be in them too. A Strange Storm should be easily adaptable to most other editions of D&D, although 4th edition might be a challenge. It is very difficult to say much about this adventure without spoiling it. As a scenario, it requires an experienced GM who is both familiar with his rules and can manage the activities of the various protagonists, which will become increasingly complex.  The scenario begins with the adventurers travelling towards an inn, through a forest in a storm. I can't really say more than that. But I've played as a character in this and it was very enjoyable as we struggled to get to the bottom of the mystery. I'd heartily recommend it to veteran GMs with a party of low level characters. It is easily playable in a single evening in my view. Higher level (4+) PCs will make short shrift of this in my view, but worth a crack with lower level chaps.

Palace of the Silver Princess

This is another of the early Basic D&D modules (B3) which followed shortly after The Keep on the Borderlands. This module was written with the concept of introducing complete beginners to the whole role playing hobby, and it does it very well. The early part of the adventure is constructed along a multiple choice format, letting the newbie DM walk their newbie party through the first few rooms. After that it all gets a bit more free form. I do like this scenario, however, which is written around a Sleeping Beauty theme - a curse that falls upon a kingdom and seals its rulers and their princess behind an energy field. What is going on in the palace while they sleep? This is a great adventure for younger players too, as there are few - if any - scary moments. Experienced DMs may need to do a bit of ad libbing to go through the early multiple choice stages, but that bit really only covers the gatehouse of the castle, and about 2-3 locations.

Horror on the Hill

This was the fifth in the Basic D&D series and arguably my favourite of the lot. While it does not include a settlement for the adventurers to base themselves in, it does feature an extensive wilderness area and and awesome dungeon with some excellent twists. It would only really be a challenge for adventurers up to about 4th level in my view, after which some of the key encounters would be too easy. It is probably too tough for 1st level characters; I'd advise a party of at least 2nd level. The wilderness section is very interesting because it covers the wooded slopes of a dormant volcano. Some of the wildlife is pretty unique - e.g. steam weevils - and there are some interesting encounters, like a turbulent family of ogres and some mysterious old women, not to mention a huge hobgoblin camp which adventurers are best advised to steer clear of. Horror is also easily dropped into a conventional campaign setting like the Forgotten Realms. D&D 5e GMs might need to do a bit of work on the stats but this adventure is much easier to drop into a 5e campaign than a 4e one.

The Witchfire Trilogy

This is actually a sequence of adventures written for low level characters and using the world setting of the very popular War Machine miniatures wargame. It takes place in a fantasy steam punk world, hence there is some reference to the more advanced technology, but to be honest, IIRC the party of adventurers I was a part of had the most sophisticated technology on the block when we played this and much of the steampunk took a back seat otherwise. One would almost suspect that the author had written this originally for an earlier edition of D&D, updated that stats for 3e, and then dropped it into the Iron Kingdoms. Since Witchfire, Iron Kingdoms has gone its own way as a stand alone RPG outside D&D, but this series is particularly memorable for its strong NPCs and the sense of mystery and working against tough foes that it engenders. You do get the impression that there is a conspiracy on the march in this campaign, and you are never sure who you can trust completely.

Trouble At Grag's (Dungeon Magazine)

Trouble At Grag's first appeared as an adventure in Dungeon magazine, and was later republished in Road To Danger for AD&D. I ran it as a starter adventure for a party of novice adventurers in 3e. It is really suited to low level adventurers, as there are some spells and powers that could blow the plot wide open. In my case it was a druid's Speak With Animals spell. DM's need to be aware of this. Having said that, this is a great little adventure set in the little hamlet of Dagger Rock, which is fully detailed with locations and NPCs, and a compact little conspiracy for players to get their teeth into. It is quite different to a traditional D&D adventure, as most of the monsters are NPCs, but there is scope for a little bit of underground exploration if your players are into that. Be aware that the version of the adventure contained in Road To Danger does not come with a map. I ended up drawing my own map and presenting that to the players, who then explored the locations available. Much of the secret architecture of Dagger Rock was left off the player map. It seemed to work very well. Grag, by the way, is the half ogre who owns the local hostelry in Dagger Rock.

Blizzard Pass

Blizzard Pass was actually a solo adventure for Basic D&D, but it included a multi-player version of the same adventure at the back, which I think is always a good idea. My cousin ran this one for us, back in 1986-87. It is really more of an extended encounter for low level characters, but it is good fun. The weather plays a big role in this, as the player characters are crossing a high pass in some mountains when the blizzard sweeps in and they get ambushed by goblins. There is more to these goblins than meets the eye, of course. This is a good, short adventure which should consume no more than one, maybe two sessions at the most. It is very atmospheric, which is what I liked about it. It was really written for early stage Dungeon Masters and their players, but would be ideal for someone looking to introduce a group of kids to D&D. What I didn't realise was that the adventure was turned into a text-based game for the Spectrum ZX in 1986 - there is a video walk through below. I'm presuming that this must still be available for download.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Ambush Valley - it all goes Pete Tong for the Marines

Marines about to cross the canal.
Following on from our last game, we were able to finish our Force on Force battle, set in Hue during the street fighting in that city in February 1968, just over 50 years ago! I adapted a scenario from the Road to Baghdad supplement (Scenario 10: the Footbridge) and took on the role of a platoon of US Marines tasked with capturing a bridge across the Dong Na canal in Hue.

I have envisaged this as part of a rolling campaign - one section of the battlefield will feature in a future scenario that is projected to take place about an hour in game time after this one. What happens after the Marines get across the bridge and manage to re-group?

But on with the action. We left the game last time with one section of Marines pinned down on the bridge, itself ruined by the efforts of Viet Cong sappers and mortars to destroy it (maximum 6" move on the bridge). A second squad was moving onto the bridge to take over the assault while the platoon FAC vectored in a helicopter gunship to attack one of the buildings across the canal.

It all goes Pete Tong

This session started very badly for me: although the VC air defence was rated as Low, they managed to shoot down my helicopter almost immediately, depriving me of air support for the second half of the game. I pressed ahead with my attack in true Marine Corps spirit. An M60 and a squad on overwatch on my side of the canal rained fire onto the remaining guerrillas and rendered another VC squad combat ineffective (all members dead or seriously wounded - i.e. no longer able to fight). The VC had morale rated as d12 so it was highly unlikely any of Kelvin's troops would be pinned, although this did occur in one instance where he managed to roll snake eyes on 2d12 for a squad with two men left...
Bridgehead established!

I began moving up another Marine squad I'd had on my left flank to help take the bridge, as I was not sure my new point squad would be up to the task on their own. Kelvin's FO was beginning to zero his mortars in on the bridge and the Marines were taking some casualties.

I moved my M60 team to one end of the bridge to give them more of an opportunity to lay down fire on the VC, what was left of them. The last building holding out was taking a ton of fire.

And then it happened. My point squad reached the other side of the bridge, which was my victory condition. It was turn 9. They only needed to hold out for one more turn. Another squad was coming across the bridge, but would not reach them in time to reinforce them. But all seemed well. Then an RPG (rocket propelled grenade - AP3 in this instance) attack caused the squad to fail its morale check, and they became pinned, which in FoF results in degraded morale. Okay, so no biggie. They had less than one turn left and we agreed a pinned unit still counted as the required bridgehead.

Checking out the victory conditions, all I required was to keep one squad established on that side of the canal. That was when the VC mortars landed on the squad, forcing another morale check while they were still pinned. This resulted in the squad breaking and fleeing the battle. I had another squad on the bridge and about to get across the canal...if there had been a turn 11.

Reinforcements en route from the left.
But no, that was it. The VC had jammily squeaked a victory. Full kudos to them. It can be tough playing irregulars against regular veterans like US Marines in FoF, but they managed to hold their ground.

The Marines lost four KIA in the end, and another four seriously wounded, giving the VC another +8 VPs for an 18-0 win. It could so easily have been a 10-8 win for the Americans, but it was not to be.

Overall it was a good scenario. I've tweaked it slightly from the original, and there are elements I've left out - e.g. more US fire support, opposition armour (which didn't exist at Hue), civilians running around (I lack Vietnamese civilian models at the moment but they are on the list).

Post-game analysis

My mistake was changing my game plan. Kelvin stuck to his plan from the outset, which was characteristic of communist officers in this conflict and others of the Cold War period, and it worked out for him. He just had to hold onto his position. He was wise to keep some of his men back as a reserve which he committed once he started to take losses. He was unlucky with his efforts to coordinate mortar fire, but it came good for him in the end.

I wasted two squads, one of which loitered ineffectually on my left flank. I don't think they were needed there and they did not really contribute to the engagement. By the time I committed them to the battle on the bridge it was too late in the game. Another substantial squad was left to loiter in the rear with one casualty. They had taken a lot of light wounds in the initial attempt on the bridge, but this should not have been enough to deter them. They could have left the casualty where he was or detached a single Marine to get him to the rear. He didn't need the whole squad to baby sit him. I did not think I would need them, but in the event I should have either used them to lay down more fire or attack the bridge again.

One note on the rules - the FoF book contradicts itself on first aid checks. It says at one point they should be made at the end of a turn, while elsewhere that they should be made as soon as a unit takes hits. We checked first aid consistently at turn end for this game, but in retrospect I think the checks and morale checks should be made as hits come in. This seems more realistic.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Monster of the Week

Let's do it to them before they do it to us...!
At Free RPG Day last week I got the opportunity to play Monster of the Week. MoW is one of the new and hip generation of RPGs that are 'Powered by the Apocalypse', namely inspired by the mechanics of Apocalypse World, an RPG written by Vincent Baker. Previously I'd only played in one other PbtA game, namely Dungeon World, a couple of years ago at another Free RPG Day.

Both Monster of the Week and Dungeon World work on exactly the same premise. The mechanics of the game are very simple - roll 2d6 and make some adjustments based on your Traits and some special abilities. Roll under a 7 and you fail / bad things happen; roll 7-9 and you succeed, but frequently with complications; roll 10+ and it's all good. With Monster of the Week you can also use XP to purchase additional advantages that kick in if you really nail it with 12+.

XP, by the way, is earned if you roll 6 or less. You fail, but you learn.

What I really like about PbtA, and why I'd like to run it myself at some point, is that so much of the game is contained in the character play books. For example, in Monster of the Week I played the Crooked. MoW is a game about monster hunting in the modern world, inspired by TV series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Supernatural. You play part of a team of people who for one reason or another hunt evil creatures for a living.

The Crooked play book is just one personality in the group, but by playing that archetype, I was playing the only person in the team with a criminal background. In my case I chose Assassin as my background - I picked the name Marco Ambrosius, a former hit man for the mob who had gone 'straight' after he was assigned the job of killing what turned out to be a troll. This opened his eyes to the existence of the supernatural. I imagined him somewhat like Tom Cruise's character in Collateral.

The other characters included the Spooky (a psychic), the Divine (an actual creature sent by divine forces to fight evil on Earth, in this case some form of angel) and a Monster (only one player can play an actual monster fighting on the side of good, in this case a ghost).

But all your information and abilities are right there on your play book. You choose a lot of your background options and resources simply by ticking boxes and then you go around the table and take it in turns to work out your relationships with the other characters. I think this is less important in a one shot but can be very interesting indeed as the basis for a campaign. I know FATE RPG has this focus on character relationships too, and believe it ought to be standard for any good RPG design.

So, take for example Marco's relationship with Frank, the Spooky. Frank, who has premonitions of disaster, managed to save one of Marco's targets. This is how they met. Subsequently, as both Frank and Marco have contacts in the City of London, they have worked together to make money on the side using Frank's psychic abilities to realise a small fortune on the stock market. This has freed them up to spend more time monster hunting.

Marco's relationship with the ghost, Molly, is even better. He is the descendant of one of her sisters from the 1800s.

It really helps to wire the party up in this way, particularly if you have a group of players who have not met each other before. It also provides the basis for relationships between the characters well before the play actually begins.

PbtA games are a little more restricted in terms of so-called moves, actions that you can take. Even the GM has a list of moves. These take a bit of getting used to, but in 90% of cases you will find something you want to do covered either by basic moves like Investigate A Mystery or Kick Some Ass. Taking the Crooked as an example, I picked Driver and Notorious. These are not stand alone moves, but add bonuses when doing something else - for example, Driver helps with tasks that involve motor transport, plus I also gained the ability to hot wire vehicles.

Each character really makes you feel like you are playing a classic archetype from the genre, but at the same time bringing your own take on it, your own level of personalisation.

And on to the action...

A quick summary of the plot then - our team was recruited by a bar tender in Brighton who was actually one of the fae (and a patron of Marco's having given him the botched troll assassination mission) and tasked with finding out why the population of buskers in Brighton seemed to be going down. The fae were upset about this, as it meant the town's high levels of glamour were declining, one of their main reasons for being in Brighton was the town's the high levels of creativity, she explained.

We also had a run-in with Damien, a vampire who was tasked with policing Brighton's supernatural population, but who was somewhat in awe of our team, particularly the Divine.

We established fairly quickly through our ghostly comrade Molly (who damned herself via a demonic pact in the Old West in the 1800s) that the buskers were not being murdered. A stake out near the pier led to Molly being on the scene when another busker was kidnapped. Leaning on a contact of Marco's at Sussex Police (using my Notorious ability) gave us access to CCTV footage which in turn led us to the missing busker in an alley way. She was still alive and it looked as if someone had fabricated the attack to look like a vampire was responsible. Damien arrived shortly thereafter to explain that he did not believe a vampire was to blame. We could see that the cameras had failed to pick up the entity which removed her - it resembled a blur on the footage.

Frank hit his occult library for clues while our Divine used his ability to teleport into the recovery ward at the Royal Sussex Hospital to speak with the busker, Mia. It turned out that she had had all her creative impulse drained from her and now wanted nothing better than to pursue a clerical job. This helped us to zero in on the fae and in particular a banshee as the likely culprit, according to Frank.

A second stake out on the pier was set up, with Frank summoning a demon as back up (it perched on the roof tops and snacked on sea gulls).We were ambushed by the missing buskers who had been drained of their creative urges and armed with knives to attack us. The Divine managed to banish the evil power motivating them while the banshee was tackled by Molly and stunned. Marco, in case you are curious, spent most of the time shooting at the banshee and missing. However, it then teleported out to the Fae Wyld to save itself.

Now keen to nail this fae before it assaulted any more of Brighton's buskers, we consulted our night club contact who was eventually - reluctantly - persuaded to part with some 9mm cold iron rounds which could harm the banshee.

As it turned out, we noticed two former buskers hanging around one of the beach huts in Hove (the western half of Brighton, although some would argue it is still a separate city). We set our demon to apprehend them, allowing the rest of us to kick down the door of the hut they were guarding and enter the Fae Wyld. This turned out to be a huge dining hall inhabited by our banshee foe. A short fight ensued, but she made the mistake of going toe to toe with the Divine and his blessed crystal hammer which put her down for good - imagine a combination of Thor and St Michael in jogging pants and sandals and you are getting close to the concept of our Divine ally.

That was pretty much it for the evening. Much fun was had by all and I'm more convinced than ever that PbtA should be one of my go to RPGs in the future. I have a copy of Monster of the Week myself and it may well prove to be a good starting point.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Free RPG Day - Pathfinder's new science fiction brother

A Skittermander - ready for action!
So Free RPG Day has come and gone again. I have to say that this is a wonderful institution, and have the good fortune to live about 10 minutes by car from the Dice Saloon, now in new premises in the heart of Brighton, which hosted the event last weekend. If you are in the Sussex area, the Dice Saloon is well worth checking out.

This year I managed to get along to Free RPG Day in Brighton for the third year running, which has to be a record for me, as I failed to get to Dragonmeet in December 2017 and also failed to go to Salute in London in April of this year.

One of the attractions of Free RPG Day is the swag - free stuff that is given away by publishers to promote their games. Among the items I picked up were an excellent little one shot for Paizo's new Starfinder science fiction RPG. I was in two minds when Starfinder came out, partly because I wondered whether it would be a clone of the original Pathfinder RPG, but in space, which I suppose you could say it largely is.

BUT, I've found myself recently becoming a little jaded with horror RPGs, which have been my mainstay over a number of years, even though, if you looked at the number of hours I have spent actually playing horror RPGs versus Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder and other FRPGs, then horror still stands in a distinct minority. I have tended to run horror / pulp as my favoured genres on those occasions when I have been behind the GM's screen, be it in 1960s Vietnam, 1930s New Orleans or even Renaissance Spain.

However, more recently I've been playing more science fiction. I think this comes more through force of circumstance, since at the Dice Saloon I've been able to dip in and out of Star Wars D6 and a Judge Dredd D20 campaign that was in its final stages, and bend this around my work schedule. I've also been inspired by a fellow player to start watching Star Trek.

Star Trek is a setting I've never been that familiar with, always being at heart a Star Wars fan when it comes to the whole Trek vs Wars debate. Yet as I become more jaded by the global political situation and the financial markets, somehow the wide eyed optimism of Star Trek becomes more attractive. I've started watching Star Trek: the Next Generation on Netflix, which I missed out on when it first came out as I was at school/university and had other things to worry about. This I'm finding quite entertaining. I'm still on series one, mind you, but I enjoy dipping into it at the end of a long day, and at 45 minutes per episode, there is less chance of being interrupted!

Starfinder RPG

Back to science fiction RPGs. I've played quite a bit in my time, including forays into SLA Industries, Shadowrun, and more recently Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader from the Warhammer 40,000 stable since moving to Brighton. But many of these settings have been very pessimistic and dystopian in nature - SLA Industries' World of Progress is a very nihilistic vision, while Dark Heresy's inquisitors work to preserve a ghastly pseudo-medieval bureaucracy. By contrast Star Trek is bounding with optimism and a drive to explore and improve the galaxy. We need a bit more of that in today's world.

Reading between the lines, and I don't own the game yet, Starfinder looks a little more positive. coming to science fiction as it does from a more heroic/generic perspective, dare I say, space opera. Like Pathfinder, it does have its own setting, and is not generic, unlike for instance the early d20 Modern offering from Wizards of the Coast in the early 2000s, which included a science fiction expansion I have since sold on eBay. That was a setting you could use as the basis for any science fiction campaign - Starfinder comes with a ready-made setting into which you can shoe horn your own plots.

During Free RPG Day Paizo released 'Skitter Shot' for Starfinder. This is a one shot which, dare I say it, has been inspired by the success of their series for their fantasy RPG based on the exploits of a mischievous tribe of goblins, which kicked off with 'We Be Goblins!' some years ago. In Skitter Shot the characters play skittermanders, a new alien race created for Starfinder, which remind me a little of Stich from the Lilo & Stitch TV series.

Is it a dungeon bash in space? It certainly looks like one, but it is a realisation of a universe which is a little less...negative...than the Imperium of Dark Heresy. And it is a universe which can probably cater to quite a wide range of styles of play. It may well help to scratch a science fiction itch. I am seriously considering buying Starfinder and giving this one a go at some point. Stay tuned.

Next time: Monster of the Week at Free RPG Day in Brighton...

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Resurrecting the Grand Duchy of Irongrim

Many moons ago, when I was still at school, a friend and I, both keen players of what was then Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (this was 1987 or thereabouts) dreamed up a new campaign area called the Grand Duchy of Irongrim. There were two regions to this world, and Irongrim was part of one region. It was very much a committee-generated campaign setting, but I think that is what made it work.

The plan was never, however, to set RPG games in this environment. We wanted to create a multi-player feudal political environment, very similar in fact to what was later created by George R. R. Martin with his Game of Thrones series. Our world still included magic, demi-human races and other such tom foolery, but the humans were most certainly in charge.

Irongrim was a classic feudal society. It sat on the eastern shore of a continent, and across the sea from it was a second continent ruled over by a powerful empire that had a Byzantine feel to it. Irongrim had been an imperial province but had successfully rebelled against the empire and become its own state, ruled by a Duke from Irongrad, its capital.

The realm was dominated by at least 12 baronial factions, possibly more. One plan included having up to 30. Part of it was still ruled by a small colony of wood elves who had successfully fenced themselves off from humanity using a massive, magically-grown wall of thorns called the High Hedge. Relations with the elves were cordial, bot not many of these folk ventured out into human lands.

To the west was a massive dyke, originally raised by slave labour, designed to keep out hostile nomadic tribes that dwelt out in the wastes to the west. I originally envisaged these people as very similar to the Huns or Tartars, generally more concerned about their herds of goats and sheep, but with the potential to become very dangerous if united. I was reading a lot of David Gemmell when I was 16-17, and was partly inspired by the Nadir tribes from Legend and The King Beyond The Gate. I went on to study the Mongol empire in my first year at university.

To the north were mountains, including a number of dwarf holds. These chaps were fiercely independent and I envisaged them as somewhat like the highland clans of medieval Scotland - under nominal control from Irongrim but in reality very troublesome and reluctant to have the Duke interfering in their affairs. Beyond them there lay a somewhat chaotic realm inspired by dark ages Norway, a collection of jarls ruled occasionally by a king, but generally more interested in piracy and feuding.

Finally, to the south was a gulf / inlet, on the other side of which, 10 leagues or so, lay the Sultanate of Hahsir. Yes, this was our Arabian Nights realm, but it was 90% desert, much of it uninhabited or roamed by warlike nomads. The civilized bits were the towns and cities along the coast. The sultan claimed most of this large realm - five or six times the size of Irongrim in terms of space, but likely about the same size in terms of population. The sultan had a pretty impressive navy but lacked the ability to really invade Irongrim.

So there we have it. Two kids dreamed this up at school. Our plan was initially to use it as the setting for miniatures wargames campaigns, but at that time neither of us had either the space or the budget for such. We subsequently turned it into a sort of informal Diplomacy-inspired campaign game, with a number of players managing realms and submitting their orders to a GM who interpreted the results. It was very rules light. I recall getting my ass kicked during the naval blockade of an island similar to Rhodes that I was trying to take off the Empire. I didn't reckon with the governor's siege engines. I also recall assigning one of my best generals and a small party of adventurers to the quest for a magic sword which I believed would solve all my problems - rumours picked up by my court astrologer indicated that this could be a game changer at a time when my fleet was in tatters.

Sadly we never really played this to a conclusion, as A-level exams got in the way, and then we were sucked into playing other games like Blood Royal and Titan. I also remember TSR brought out Birthright for AD&D in 1995 which reminded me a great deal of the Irongrim project, although Irongrim's magic was more under stated. I've also lost all the magnificent maps we created.

So why bring up Irongrim again? For the most part because I now have more miniatures to my name, plus some scenery to be able to put on wargames like the Fords of the Isen and Kachas Pass. Secondly, I've stumbled across an interesting and generic campaign system that could work well, helping to generate battles for fantasy armies. I'm going to take a closer look at this to see where it takes me. The objective would be to try to get as many figures from the various types I own on the table as possible - for example, some Games Workshop Bretonnian knights and some Wargames Foundry Republican Romans, among others. The more the merrier!