Thursday, 13 December 2012

Conspiracy of Shadows/Warhammer crossover

So I've been reading Keith Senkowski's Conspiracy of Shadows RPG on the train and in the very rare spare moment I've been getting recently. It is an intriguing little indie game, in which the players taken on the roles of a small cell of heroes opposed to a dangerous conspiracy that seeks to plunge the land into despair and darkness. Rules-wise, it seems fairly light, and uses the same mechanics for both combat and personal interaction, which is...different. Like Conspiracy X, it also has a chapter on creating your cell - i.e. once all the PCs have been generated, you also determine where your cell is based, their contacts and resources, etc.

Inspirations for this game are many. Senkowski lists, amongst many, the movie Dark City, the RPG Delta Green, and the X Files televsion series, although the milieu is very much a fantastical one, albeit of a darkly gritty nature. Personally, it reminds me a little bit of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The adventurers are relatively low powered, with little or no access to magic. The civilization level is pitched at what I'd call Late Renaissance.

The world Senkowski has created in one that bears no small resemblance to Eastern Europe, particularly Poland and Bohemia, during the 1500s. However, this also means it ought to be relatively easy to port the system wholesale straight into the Warhammer Old World, which purports to enjoy a similar technology level, and is also besieged by the forces of Chaos, creating instant fodder for conspiracies.

One of the things I liked about early Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (WFRP) was the idea of adventurers being roped into foil the foul schemes of Chaos cultists. With every edition of the game, it seems to be creeping closer to the battle miniatures game and losing much of the dark and grisly trappings that clad it in the late 1980s. CoS still has this, but something about the proposed campaign world irritates me.

It may be because I travel to Eastern Europe regularly, and while the world of Polonia sounds like Eastern Europe on paper, it does not 'feel' right. It is like something that has been migrated out of a textbook, which is fine if you don't spend a lot of time in the region, but somehow rubs you up the wrong way if you do - another good example is the Robin Hood milieu as envisaged by those who have not spent a lot of time in England.

I'm not here to bash Polonia however. What struck me most about CoS is how easy it would be to port this to the Duchy of Kislev, the WFRP world's pseudo-Russia. You could keep the mechanics of the system quite easily, and go from there. The cell of adventurers could be either native Kislevites or visitors from further afield. This would have the additional advantage of using a world that many gamers are already familiar with, and I certainly find that the more ease the players have with the setting, the more comfortable they are playing in it, even if they are not using the rules originally designed for it.

This idea will stay on the back-burner for a while yet. I'm hoping to GM some Hot War in the near future, and possibly some HeroQuest, before I get into Conspiracy of Shadows. But once I do, I'll be testing it in Kislev or one of the eastern provinces of the Empire.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Review of Red November

It's been a bit quiet on this blog lately, largely because I've been horrendously busy, but as we're approaching 50,000 page impressions, I thought I'd do a little bit to help these along with a quick review of Red November from Fantasy Flight Games.

Red November is a co-op board game about gnomes trying to save their experimental submarine from sinking. It is highly reminiscent of some aspects of Battlestar Galactica, but does not require as much time to play and is not as complicated. I successfully taught a six year old to play it, so there you go. Each player takes on the role of one of the gnome crew, running around the submarine trying to fix problems and save it from disaster. The gnomes need to stay alive for 60 minutes in order to be rescued.

Time is measured on a track around the board. Each action, from opening a hatch to fixing the missile system, takes up time. On the one hand this is a good thing, as burning time brings you closer to your goal. On the other, it is bad, because the more time you spend on a task, the more additional event cards you have to pull, and the more likely that something else will go wrong while your character is busy.

You fix things by deciding how long you want to spend on the task: between one and 10 minutes. You then need to roll that number or less on 1d10. You can raise your chances by using additional items, like a crow bar or a tool box, which usually give you a +3 or +4 bonus. You get assigned extra equipment in the course of the game, or can spend time in the sub's Equipment Locker to draw more items from the deck.

In addition to all this, there is the booze. Bottles of vodka/gin can be swigged to give your gnome the courage to enter burning rooms to put the fire out, or just give you a generic +3 bonus on fix it rolls. However, they also mean your gnome becomes increasingly intoxicated, growing the chance that he will pass out at an inconvenient moment, resulting in an automatic loss of 10 minutes.

The turn order is also very innovative: the player whose character is highest up on the turn track - i.e. has spent the least amount of time - always goes first. This way you can end up with multiple turns, especially if your colleagues have drunk themselves into a stupour.

Many, many things can go wrong with the sub. There are three tracks which measure how deep the sub is, increasing pressure on the hull, how hot the reactor is, and how much air is in the sub (fires burn this up, naturally). If any of these tracks gets to critical, it is game over (cf Battlestar Galactica). In addition, sometimes you receive a critical disaster task, which gives the crew 10-15 minutes to fix something or lose the game anyway. In addition, the sub can catch fire, get flooded, doors can jam, and it can even be attacked by a giant squid!

This is a really fast game. In our first effort, our reactor over-heated and the sub blew up inside 15 minutes. On the second, we did well with three gnomes, winning the game for the loss of one gnome (my character, who passed out in the air pump room which then got promptly flooded).

Red November can be really tense too: there were a couple of occasions in the second game where the entire game pivoted on one roll of the dice. There are never periods of downtime while you're twiddling your thumbs, and it is rules light enough that there is little scope for the analysis paralysis that some games occasionally suffer from. It does not have the same level of crunch as Battlestar Galactica (not that I'm knocking BG - it is an awesome game with the right crew to play it). You could describe it a Battlestar Galactica 'lite' if you will.

Traitor mechanic? Not really. There is scope for a gnome who has an aqualung to escape from the sub once the countdown passes a certain point. If the sub sinks, he wins. If it doesn't, he loses. It is a calculated gamble based on an assessment of the situation at the time. But there is no plotting against the other players.

Overall, I really like this game. Plus it is easy enough for the kids to both get stuck into it.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Whatever happened to Golden Heroes?

An early cover of WD!
Back in the early days, when I was still at school and playing Dungeons and Dragons, I picked up a copy of White Dwarf at the newsagent. Big mistake. It opened up a whole world of RPG opportunity for me. While I was most interested in anything to do with D and D (most of it was AD and D, so still a bit intimidating for me at 15), it was the Dwarf's articles on Call of Cthulhu that first led me to buy that game, a game that would dominate much of my RPGing in the 1990s.

Interestingly, if you look back at the White Dwarfs published in the 1980s, particularly when I was a regular reader (from about #65 to #100), there were very few games covered, simply because there weren't that many in print. To begin with, it seems to be AD and D, Call of Cthulhu, RuneQuest and Traveller. Games Workshop then acquired the license to a number of other RPGs and republished them. These games also received coverage, including Stormbringer and Paranoia. There was cursory writing for the likes of Bushido, Pendragon and Rolemaster. GW published a Judge Dredd RPG off its own bat to seemingly mixed success in about 1986.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay debuted in, I think, 1987, and subsequently this continued to get regular articles until elbowed out by all the wargaming. This was a GW in-house system, mind you, so not surprising really. And then there was MERP, or Middle Earth Role Playing for those born after the Berlin Wall came down who have no idea what I'm talking about, which seemed to be more popular than Rolemaster.

Angus McBride helped to define MERP
I stopped subscribing to the Dwarf round about 1988. I didn't have the money or the space to play miniatures games (I've only really begun collecting miniatures since I came to Brighton), and I also had my A-levels to worry about. Of all the RPGs mentioned above, however, only MERP is not back in print (and it could be argued that AD and D never went out of print). Some have evolved more than others - today's WFRP from Fantasy Flight is very different from Rick Priestley's creation of 1987. MERP, being a licensed property, is a goner, although here you could argue that The One Ring from Cubicle 7 is a worthy successor.

But, although we have seen WFRP earn thousands of fans around the world, and it is still played by my gaming group today (albeit in the Black Library edition), there is one game missing here, and that's Golden Heroes.

GH was GW's superhero RPG and it DID get plenty of space in White Dwarf, around the 60s and 70s in terms of issue chronology. It was first published in 1982 on an amateur basis, and then republished by GW in 1984. A number of supplements also came out. Although I never played it myself, I hear veteran gamers liked it because of its UK-centric approach and the random chargen process. It fell off the map in about 1986 as GW began focusing on Judge Dredd and other RPG properties.

There seems to be a move at the moment to resurrect it. GW, however, has issued a cease and desist order on the first effort, by Simon Burley, but another edition, called Codename: Spandex has emerged with many of the copyright protected elements stripped off, and is being made freely available on the Internet. I'm curious about GH as I never got around to playing it as a schoolboy, but CS aspires to deliver much of the mechanical system of the game without using the art or adventures published by GW. I'll be back with more once I've had a chance to read this in more depth.

Looking back at the period 1985-90, I was playing Dungeons and Dragons fairly solidly. I never really got into RQ or Traveller, never played MERP before it died a death. I've since had the chance to play or GM many of the systems that GW published during my school years, but some games have continued to elude me: I've never played Traveller or Bushido for example. And Golden Heroes has been way off the radar, partly because it never really returned to print. While I realise that superhero gaming is not for everyone, I remain curious about GH, if only for nostalgia's sake. I'm also a fan of random character generation systems, simply because they're so old school and can end up producing more entertaining characters than today's optimised combat monsters.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Mike Mignola's Baltimore

I first got into Baltimore partly through the excellent Mike Mignola covers, and partly because of the free comic provided on Free Comic Book Day 2011, which was one of the first strips I downloaded onto my iPad using the Dark Horse comics app. Mike Mignola also wrote that stand alone episode, entitled A Passing Stranger, which really set the scene for Lord Baltimore's future exploits.

In A Passing Stranger we learn very little about Baltimore himself, but it does give you an idea of the kind of story you can expect with this superb series. The tale begins in 1916, where a plague of undead has swept across Europe and brought hostilities to an end. The armies of the great powers have dissolved, and bands of soldiers are wandering across the devastated continent. One such is Baltimore, a lone British army officer on the trail of a vampire. In A Passing Stranger we meet him for the first time, in Tulingart, Germany. Here we get a measure of the plight Europe is facing as well as the Central European background against which this bloody epic is enacted.

For me much of the appeal of Baltimore is the art. I've recently been heard to criticise the Conan graphic novel Free Companions for its so-so art, which I felt really detracted from the story and had me in two minds about continuing to follow this series. You can still tell a good story if your art is less than sumptuous - check out From Hell or Queen & Country to see what I mean - but somehow the art in the recent Conan stories has been...struggling...particularly with such a rich and colourful setting at Robert E. Howard's Hyboria.

Baltimore, on the other hand, is in the capable hands of Ben Stenbeck, who seems to have taken a lot of his inspiration from Mignola's work on Hellboy. I could be wrong here, but the shadowy setting he evokes with his work does justice to the gloomy plot and reminds me a little of some of Hellboy's early missions in Europe - The Wolves of St August, for example.

Baltimore as a character has something of the Clint Eastwood about him, particularly the Man With No Name. A combat veteran of the trenches, a British aristocrat, an officer with his own code of honour, but also a man equipped to fight the undead and ready to take on enormous odds to reach his goal. He is very handy in a fight, and always being underestimated by the opposition, and I kinda like that. He is generally a solo warrior (although in the more recent The Curse Bells, he is teamed up with an American journalist), a mysterious wanderer with no attachments and few sympathies for the ordinary mortals he comes across in his travels.

Mignola certainly encourages this with the script. Early in the first series, The Plague Ships, he is ambushed by a vampire in a French sea port during a thunderstorm:

Max (vampire): "Max doesn't hide. Max doesn't run! You don't hunt us...we hunt you!"

BAMM! [Max takes a .45 bullet between the eyes]

Baltimore: "Max should've run."

So far I've read the first series, The Plague Ships, and now I'm onto the second, which is similarly excellent. I'm also mulling over whether the setting can sustain a Savage Worlds RPG campaign. Let's hope Mignola and Stenbeck can keep this up! Full marks guys.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Carrion Crown vs Kingmaker: a comparison

So we played Pathfinder again last night, and it was a late one, but somehow quite satisfactory. We are still on the second story arc of the Carrion Crown campaign, which seems to be inspired by Frankstein, with plenty of constructs and mobs of enraged peasants to deal with. But it also got me thinking about how Carrion Crown compares with the Kingmaker campaign, which our group played back in 2010-11 and has returned to sporadically.

I have to say that I enjoy Carrion Crown more than Kingmaker. The latter campaign was a domain building game, where the party was tasked with pacifying and settling an area of wilderness. This required plenty of exploration and the defeat of various factions within the assigned zone of conquest, as well as defending our domain against external threats. In the middle of all this, there was plenty of book keeping which was ably managed by Manoj, as we expanded our core settlement of Staghelm, and founded others around the realm. It felt a bit like the Romans arriving in Britain, defeating the local tribes of Celts, and then building new towns around their new province.

In the early stages, Kingmaker does feel like an old school Dungeons and Dragons hex bash, which is quite fun. Once we passed 8th level it changed into something different, and at around this point it began to feel as if the party of PCs was becoming overpowered. I was ruminating last night - having difficulty getting to sleep after playing Pathfinder - about whether this was the fault of Pathfinder itself, or the fault of the writers of the Kingmaker campaign. By 13th level we seem to have reached the point where we won't even play it when Ric, our absent player, is in town on a visit. But is this an issue of Pathfinder, or a failure of Kingmaker, or because PCs started Kingmaker with their attributes set too high? Does Pathfinder begin to break down once your characters pass 10-11th level?

Last night, our Carrion Crown campaign experienced a very challenging encounter with an erinyes, which summoned a trio of bearded devils to support it. Our point man, the half elven ranger/rogue Tarion, triggered a summoning trap while on a rope bridge over a 200 foot waterfall. It led to an intense battle which I was not sure we would even win. This followed an encounter with trolls last week which also proved so draining for the party that we were forced to rest overnight. The campaign seems capable of generating tough and tactically interesting encounters for the adventurers to deal with, which at 6th level seem to be capable of taxing them to the hilt.

This is not to say Kingmaker did not also have some challenging encounters - my barbarian character Artemisia was almost killed in a battle with trolls (again!) in the second story arc of Kingmaker. But in many cases, the Kingmaker writers seem to have simply thrown bigger and bigger solo monsters our way, forgetting that a large, mid-level party with plenty of hangers on (charmed monsters, animal companions, followers, etc) can be launching literally dozens of attacks at them, to the extent that even a fearsome critter like a hydra would only last a few rounds of combat.

Carrion Crown, by contrast, uses a combination of difficult terrain and multiple creatures to make life harder for the characters. The presence of a cleric in this campaign has meant we are able to restore PCs to full health relatively quickly, so that even a damaging encounter like last night's can still leave us standing on our feet at full hit points within a matter of minutes of the battle finishing. But the challenges are hard. The same can be said for the first story arc, which featured ghosts as its primary theme.

However, the PCs are approaching 7th level. Tarion will, I believe, have an animal companion and our necromancer Nicodemus could well have an NPC retainer following us around. Plus monster summoning spells are beginning to come into their own - my PC Veneticus summoned a pack of air elementals to our aid last night which effectively stopped one of the bearded devils from being an offensive threat, forcing him to abandon his evil glaive and fight with claws against the wind entities. It looks as if summoned creatures will be playing a bigger role for us in the future. We will have to see how the next story arc for Carrion Crown holds up for us once we get up to 9th or 10th level. It should prove interesting.

I should end by also saying that Carrion Crown has a more compelling plot than Kingmaker. Many encounters happen because of that plot; there is a logical sequence of events; plus there is increasing evidence of an overarching scheme by the necromancers of the Whispering Way. Clues do play a role in piecing together a bigger puzzle, which is great, but the game does not become too bogged down with investigation and opaque mystery. It gets the balance right.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

My ideal GMing recipe

A busy week this week, so I'll try to keep this short. I've been trying to work out what sort of game I like running as a GM these days, and I'm starting to get a clearer idea of the sort of parameters I enjoy when I'm on that side of the screen. This does not stretch to my preferences as a player in an RPG, where the quality of the group of people assembled and the general bonhomie it generates is just as important as the rules used.

For some time now I've been conscious that I've not the stamina to run a campaign, week in, week out. I like running shorter games which stretch to about three sessions maximum and reach some form of definite conclusion. One of the bonuses of this is that player characters can convincingly die in the course of the adventure, particularly in the last session, and nobody will be as put out as they might be if their character bought the farm after six months of play. Because of this, the chargen process also needs to be relatively swift. One of the reasons I like Gumshoe, for example, is that it requires the players to sit down together and create the party at the outset, and to do this in about 30-40 minutes. Call of Cthulhu is also very easy - when we generated our characters for a recent campaign, I was amazed at how quick it was compared with, say, Pathfinder. I'd forgotten. But then CoC investigators suffer a higher attrition rate than their Pathfinder counterparts.

The days of my running lengthy campaigns, like the old Fungi From Yuggoth Cthulhu campaign, are, I feel, over. I simply have not got the time - or the mental stamina - for it.

Secondly, the system needs to be relatively simple. By that, I mean it should not take that long to teach a complete novice how to play it. If this can't be achieved in less than 10 minutes, it is probably too complex. People simply don't have the attention spans for highly complex games, if they are only going to be playing for two or three sessions. Heck, people don't seem to have the attention spans full stop.

Thirdly, there must be some form of mechanics governing a character's personality. Taking Call of Cthulhu again as an example, the Sanity mechanic in this game helps to measure a character's descent into madness. It was one of the first RPGs to actually move away from purely combat-related stats and seek to impose a form of game mechanic on personality, in this case mental stability. King Arthur Pendragon was another example, with its passions rules, and Vampire most famously, with its measure of a character's remaining humanity once they became undead.

Fourth, the setting or environment must be familiar to the players. If they spend too long having to ask questions about the setting, or make false assumptions based on lack of knowledge, then that milieu is simply unsuitable for the task at hand. One of the reasons - again - Call of Cthulhu has been so successful, is that it is easy to drop a newbie into the environment, and they are almost completely familiar with the world they are adventuring in. The GM/Keeper does not need to do much in the way of setting explanation. It helps to have some knowledge of the 1920s, if the game is taking place in the 1920s, but that's about it. I am ruminating about a Trail of Cthulhu game in Shanghai in the 1930s, which would take investigators slightly further out of their comfort zone, but if they are non-Chinese characters, this lack of familiarity with Asia would only serve to reinforce their plight.

Finally, I like giving the PCs their own agendas. I loved Paranoia and Cold City because of this: PCs have their own factional and personal agendas which help to dictate their actions. Cold City has it all really: a contemporary setting, espionage, hidden agendas, horror and even some dungeon bashing on occasion. As a campaign setting, it stands as an appropriate heir to Call of Cthulhu. Mechanically, it still needs some work/adaptation, to suit my style of play.

A level of intra-party conflict/suspicion is ideal for the shorter game. I'm not sure it works as well over the longer term, although I was once playing in a Legend of the Five Rings game where this was made to work perfectly, and the multi-clan nature of a typical Lot5R party just helps to add fuel to this fire of intrigue and double dealing (particularly if the Scorpion clan is represented).

That's it in a nutshell really. Next time I will be posting on Hot War, why I like it as a successor to Cold City, and what I think of the changes to the core Cold City mechanics. Do they represent enough of an improvement?

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Book of the month: The Forgotten Soldier

Now and then you stumble upon a book which really just blows you away with its sheer intensity, and The Forgotten Soldier is one of these. It was written by Guy Sajer, a young man of mixed Franco-German parentage who volunteered to serve as an infantryman with the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front in WW2. It is intriguing because it is his account of what it felt like to be on the ground as part of Army Group Centre during some of the biggest and bloodiest land battles of WW2.

I have not yet finished the book, and have resisted doing further research on Sajer himself, because I don't want to find out what happens to him in 1944-45 (the last section of the book). He obviously survives, as he mentions returning to live in France after the war (listening quietly to the boasts of French 'veterans' in a cafe), but the intensity of his exposition and the drama of the events he relates is so gripping that the reader literally can't put it down, which does not often happen with memoirs of this kind (although there are some good examples out there - I've raved about Robert Mason's Chickenhawk before). This has much to do with Sajer's ability as a writer, but also because of the emotional experience comes through in a way that it doesn't in some other memoirs, which can seem detached when the author is recalling events separated from them by decades.

Increasingly, WW2 accounts by German soldiers are finding their way into English, but up until recently the war in the east was not as well covered in this language, when it comes down to the accounts of individual combatants. Even Sajer occasionally gets vague about events, individuals and units that could be held to account for war crimes, as there is obviously a fear of guilt by association - e.g. when he is on a train which is attacked by Soviet partisans and takes part in a brutal follow-up operation.

It also seems to have quickly become generally accepted by both sides that prisoners only be taken when there were orders to do so. Some German units seem to have simply disarmed their prisoners and turned them loose, which given the weather conditions was probably tantamount to shooting them anyway. Others lacked the food and resources to feed prisoners, so simply shot anyone surrendering. It all contributed to a do-or-die attitude on both sides: the epic last stand of 7000 German troops caught on the wrong side of the river Dnieper during the retreat to Kiev is related in bloody detail, the last sad chapter in a Dunkirk-like evacuation operation of more than 150,000 troops across the river, under daily attack from enemy planes.

Sajer does a great job of remembering how he felt at the age of 16 when he first enlisted, and why he did it (as a French national he did not get drafted). He relates, for example, his hope - certainty even - that the French would join the fight on the Eastern Front, and his disappointment when this did not occur. It is interesting how his idealism about the mission of the Third Reich is gradually beaten out of him in the course of events, as he begins to realise the war in Russia in unwinnable. Soldiers on the ground obviously hoped that Hitler would at some point come to terms with Stalin, or that the Soviet Union would accept a frontier on the Dnieper river. There was an assumption that a higher degree of rationality prevailed in Berlin than was actually the case.

German troops in the Soviet Union, circa 1943
Information and communications were also very poor: the German high command obviously realised that morale could quickly become a problem, and managed information dissemination very carefully. Many soldiers did not realise that the Sixth Army in Stalingrad had become cut off until it was close to collapse. The shock of Stalingrad's fall in 1943 was enormous, as it transformed the entire character of the war for the Germans, and sowed the first doubt in the minds of ordinary soldiers that the USSR could be beaten.

Without radios and limited accurate maps (generally only officers had these), soldiers were often left to blunder around in the dark. Sajer and his colleagues were constantly getting lost before, during and after battles, and bumping into other units and tanks that were also lost. The Russians had similar problems.

The conditions of fighting in the east were some of the worst faced by any combat soldiers in WW2, particularly in the winter months. Casualties from cold and disease were substantial, and half the battle for Sajer was a struggle against the elements and disease, particularly in his case, dysentery. Soldiers were badly fed, often badly led, and were expected to stand and die in the face of enormous firepower from the Russian side. Sajer is caught in a number of heavy bombardments, including from katushya rocket batteries, and this more than anything else seems to have come close to unhinging him. When morale started to ebb, it seems to have drained out of the army en masse. Belief in the mission simply evaporated, and the struggle became more on of survival than anything else.

The young Guy Sajer
There are also moments of humour, and here Sajer's dry sense of wit comes across from what I assume was originally French (as German was his second language). There were funny moments amidst all the tragedy. One of my favourites is when the survivors of a random bombardment of a front line village - both Russian and German - try to figure out who should be surrendering to who, or when a Soviet T34 tank is chased off a battlefield by a lone German half track with no AT weapons to speak of. Sajer's sense of irony also comes through in his relations with the German non-coms (whom he hates) and the officers (who seem to be generally worshiped).

This has to stand as one of the classic WW2 memoirs, and anyone interested in the war on the Eastern Front from the perspective of the man on the ground should read it. Frankly, I think it ought to be compulsory reading at school, far superior to much of the tosh I had to read, and an important lesson to the iPhone generation, who have only GCSE exams to face at 16, not Russian tanks.

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.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Of dice and (little) men...

Have you noticed it recently? The new trend in tabletop gaming? I'm talking about the dice dude. Yes, the dice. It is a slow, but creeping trend amongst manufacturers of games to make their dice, those innocent pieces of plastic used to generate random numbers, a proprietary part of their game.

Back in the day, when Dungeons & Dragons first hit the shelves, you needed some unusual polyhedral dice to play it. Lucky owners of the D&D Basic set, the famous red box, had a set of dice that game with it. But one of the crazy - and funky - things about the new game was the dice. It was novel.

Today game designers are beginning to realise they can make MORE money by also requiring that proprietary dice be used with the game. A good example is War of the Ring, where there is a set of dice that plays a key role in dictating what both players can do in any given turn. Similarly, Commands & Colours has its own set of dice for determining combat results. This is all fine, as the dice come with the game.

Action dice for War of the Ring

However...Blood Bowl was one of the first games to dictate that the player needed to own a special set of dice to play it. The conventional d6 was no longer sufficient. The recent Saga Dark Ages miniatures rules from Gripping Beast needs its own set of dice, and requires that each faction in the game use a different set. Your Anglo Danes use different dice from your Norse.

Typical faction dice set for Saga

Fantasy Flight has leaped onto the bandwagon, with special dice for its new version of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and it seems as if its new Star Wars game will go the same way. Cubicle 7 has produced special dice for use with its One Ring RPG, and wait for it, even the recent Bolt Action WW2 miniatures rules from Warlord has special orders dice you can buy from Warlord for that complete experience.

Dice set for the One Ring RPG
Dice are easy to lose too. I own dozens of d6s and d20s, so losing one here or there is not a problem. But some games are now going to be hostage to having the right dice. And replacing them won't be cheap. Oh no. I was recently quoted £16 for a set of Saga dice. I doubt there's much we can do about this trend - games manufacturers have obviously realised that linking a game to sets of 'special' dice gives them the opportunity to make a few more bucks on the side.

I'm all for innovative mechanics in miniatures games and RPGs, but I wonder whether these can still be achieved using conventional dice...