Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Scoring Orc's Drift

I'm hoping to play out the fourth and final battle from the Bloodbath at Orc's Drift narrative campaign this summer, before moving on to Terror of the Lichemaster. This is the finale, with all three of the orc tribes led by King Fyar himself converging on Orc's Drift. I'm hoping to be able to stage this with six players around the table, if at all possible.

To determine when the respective tribes arrive at Orc's Drift, how many troops they have, and how many more orcs I need, I just want to review the action from the three preliminary encounters.

The Battle of Kachas Pass

This was a convincing victory for the orcs, who wiped out an elf garrison in fairly short order, with the aid of the giant Guthrum Mane. The elves made a number of tactical errors, including sending half the garrison out of the stockade on a sortie, where they were cut down willy nilly, and dispatching their commander Erdolas Thringal in pursuit of the escaping half orc spy. One elf managed to flee the scene - all the others were slain, although the spy was killed too. The orcs lost seven KIA. Kelvin and Ben commanded the orcs between them, with Sebastian playing the elves.

Points: 14 Elves KIA (+14), Erdolas KIA (+2), Silas Meel KIA (+3), stockade destroyed (+20), Orcs slain, 27% (-3) = 36pts.

Vile Rune at Orc's Drift: Fangor Gripe (leader), Guthrum Mane (giant), 29 orcs. Break point: 15 (Lord of the Rings).

The Battle of Ashak Rise

In this encounter some dwarf deserters, prospecting for gold, ended up on the receiving end of the Severed Hand orcs. We played this scenario three times, with the intention of averaging out the results. The orcs were accompanied for this battle by a pack of 10 dire wolves.

The first battle saw Kelvin as the orcs playing against Ric. It ended up as a disaster for the orcs, as they were routed and their leader slain. In the second, I played the dwarves and Ben took the orcs. I toned down the two dwarf leaders for this battle, and they were wiped out. The orcs got the gold, but their leader Hagar Sheol was again killed and they lost five warriors and seven wolves. In the final battle, Sebastian took the orcs and I again played dwarves. One dwarf escaped with two bags of gold, two orcs were killed and five wolves.


Game 1 - 10 Dwarves KIA (+10), Orcs routed (-10), Orc commander slain (-2) = -2 points.

Game 2 - 12 Dwarves KIA (+12), Dwarf leader KIA (+3), all gold recovered (+20), Orc commander slain (-2),  30% casualties, wolves and orcs (-3) = 30 points.

Game 3 - 11 Dwarves KIA (+11), Dwarf leader KIA (+3), x4 bags of gold recovered (+16), 20% casualties, orcs and wolves (-2) = 28 points.

Total = 56/3 = 19 points.

Severed Hand at Orc's Drift: Grashak Kra (hobgoblin 2 i/c), three dire wolves, 18 orcs. Break point: 11.

The Battle of Linden Way

Linden Way saw some men defending a small village to give its inhabitants time to flee as the Kwae Karr orcs, led by Kelvin and Manoj, assaulted the settlement. I gave the Kwae Karr King Fyar's personal bodyguard of five armoured uruk hai to support them. The defenders, under Ben's command, were wiped out, although four villagers escaped. The Kwae Karr lost four warriors and one uruk hai was slain.

Points: 25 militia KIA (+25), Captain of militia KIA (+2), five settlers slain (+2.5), 10% orc casualties (-1), mad witch KIA (+2) = 30 points.

Severed Hand at Orc's Drift: Magyar Ironfist (leader), Bagrash (goblin shaman), 36 orcs, four armoured uruk hai (I might let the orc players decide between themselves who gets Fyar and the uruk hai). Break point: 18.

Total orcs required: 83 (not including uruk hai or officers). Break points will be changed somewhat if uruk hai are added to a tribe.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Bringing the feudal power game to the tabeltop

I'm reading George R. Martin's Clash of Kings while travelling in South America, and frankly, it is even more depressing than the first book. I wonder to myself why I'm putting myself through the experience, and will have to turn again to the Winter King trilogy by Bernard Cornwell when I return in order to boost flagging morale.

BUT, it has got me thinking about how you play a good feudal power game on the tabletop. I like the setting of Westeros, although were I ever to run a game of this type, I'd probably create my own campaign world rather than spend valuable man hours trying to research and reproduce Martin's world accurately. Heck, even reading the book I can't keep track of all the intricate relationships between the noble families of Westeros, and keep finding myself praying the Dothraki invade and slaughter everybody - a bit like the Mongols in Poland in 1241!

"What? You've taken no chargen points in Longsword?"

I've participated in a small number of what I would call feudally-based roleplaying campaigns over the years. By this I mean games in which the player characters are nobles or allies to a noble family with a large political or economic stake in the realm in which they dwell. They are closer to the centre of power than the average group of D&D adventurers, and have a vested interest in the political destiny of the kingdom in which they dwell.

For example, take Pendragon. Here the players are knights in Arthur's Britain. Pendragon can be a political campaign, particularly if you plug estate management rules into it. In the early stages of the Pendragon campaign - i.e. after the death of Uther Pendragon but before the coronation of Arthur - the knights spend much of their time exploring and slaying monsters, as well as fighting off the dastardly Saxons. To date I've not played a Pendragon game that strayed too far off the accepted path of heroic chivalry, although Ben's most recent effort did see us investing a lot of time in managing our estates to the extent that the idea of Saxon raiders turning up to burn one's gazebo and trample one's vegetable gardens was a horrific prospect. At the end of the day, however, Pendragon is about knights aspiring to a chivalric ideal, which some Westeros knights do as well - e.g. the Knight of Flowers - but which most seem to ignore.

Don't neglect your Horsemanship in a feudal campaign!

I've also played in an excellent game of Legend of the Five Rings, again set in a feudal society, this time in Rokugan. Thanks to the accompanying CCG, Rokugan is now vastly more detailed than it was when it was first published in 1996, and thanks to the feudal nature of its Japano-Korean culture, well suited to a power/politics game, if a GM chooses this route. The characters are all samurai, making them automatic members of the ruling class, and all are strongly tied into the family groupings that make up the major and minor samurai clans. I personally enjoy Japanese history, and feudal era Japan is arguably the setting I'd most likely opt for in the event I chose to run a feudal power/politics campaign. It was reading James Clavell's excellent Shogun that got me into Japanese history in the first place, and any fan of A Game of Thrones is advised to read this book and Clavell's Tai Pan if they can find them.

Westeros was first explored as an RPG in a d20 edition game which I have since sold - for a tidy profit - on eBay. We played a short Westeros-based campaign where all the characters were attached to a noble house in the northwestern reaches of the kingdom, shortly before the events in the books. This was a great setting for a d20 campaign, and the GM, who was/is a massive fan of Game of Thrones, entered into the spirit of the setting with relish. He has since left Brighton, however, so sadly the campaign went into dormancy, perhaps never to be resurrected.

Feudal PCs need to put food on the table for more than just themselves.

A western feudal game would need, in my view, some kind of mechanism that would permit a degree of realm management and campaign back story mechanics to help simulate the wealth - or lack thereof - of the characters' holdings, as well as the actions of NPC family members. There would also need to be realistic combat mechanics to help simulate mass battles and campaigns. Magic would need to be toned down considerably, as mages of D&D-grade power would really rise to become the dominant class, as we discovered in our own Pathfinder Kingmaker campaign, where our magic user PC became easily the most powerful member of the party by 13th level. With characters of Saruman's power level running around, there is less room for Baratheons or Lannisters - they'd just become his playthings. But even Saruman could not teleport an entire assault squad into a fortress and knock off a rival lord, as occurred in Kingmaker. Who needs subtlety once you have that level of power at your fingertips?

A potential candidate for a feudal level RPG might be Burning Wheel, strangely enough, as the system is flexible enough for players to generate characters with noble backgrounds, and the Resources/Circles mechanic can help to drive a political campaign in ways that d20 could not. What it lacks is a decent mass battle system, particularly for engagements where the PCs are involved. It should, however, be relatively simple to move this to the table top and play it out with miniatures, for example using Hostile Realms or even Warhammer Ancient Battles. This would then give the player a real possibility that he could lose a battle, and potentially see his beloved PC slain into the bargain.

Sir Reginald would need a few more d6 to get him out of this one.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Gearing up for Games Expo 2012

Hola! Not much activity here on the blog in the past few weeks, largely because I'm still lurking in South America. I've brought a few games down here to Argentina to amuse the kids, and we've largely been playing O Sole Mio and Guillotine, both firm family favourites and easy to transport, as they're card games. The iPad has come with us, and a number of games have been getting air time on that, including the excellent Battleheart. But enough of that for now, I say. Soon I shall - reluctantly - be returning to European shores, leaving behind the delights of Argentine wine, beef moaning about Las Malvinas.

On to business. This year I'm planning to attend UK Games Expo in Birmingham, and as part of this decided I'd run an RPG there. In my enthusiasm, I pitched three ideas at the organisers, hoping that one might be accepted, but also cautiously suggesting slots for each that would position them as wide apart as possible during the event's schedule - i.e. one on the Friday, one on the Saturday and one on Sunday. Much to my surprise, all three slots were approved and timetabled.

Not to worry, I thought. I'll probably be able to drop one due to lack of interest. As it turns out, one is already fully booked, another has four players on board (out of a maximum on six - a limit I set myself generally as a GM), and one has two. So, the moment I get off the plane I'm going to be feverishly planning my adventures.

So what's on offer?

SLA Industries: Assault on Precinct 130 [Friday slot]

I've played a lot of SLA Industries: much of my roleplaying time in the 1990s was spent playing characters in Mort, the sprawling dystopian capital of the SLA Corp's galactic 'empire'. With my then group it served as a sort of successor to a very successful Shadowrun campaign, and possesses many of the same characteristics as Shadowrun, albeit with a darker tone.

The pre-gen characters for this game will be up to four Shivers (SLA's police force) and a couple of Slops (SLA Operatives, the default character class in the game, essentially the media-friendly mercenaries who go out and solve problems for SLA). The premise is that the Shivers are part of a unit tasked with closing down an old precinct house in a desolate and devastated part of one of SLA's notorious Cannibal sectors. This outpost was little better than a listening post, but cut-backs amongst Mort's finest have forced the Shivers to abandon it.

The team have largely completed their task, removing anything that the armed gangs that roam the sector might find of value (including surplus weapons, ammo, and most of the communications equipment). They need to keep the post operational for another 24 hours at most, before they are picked up and the building is demolished by pre-placed charges. Readers will have recognised the similarity to John Carpenter's classic 1976 film, Assault on Precinct 13.

Right now I've got two people signed up for this, with four slots vacant, so will leave this to last.

Ethan Hawke doing an excellent impression of an SLA shiver...

Savage Worlds: Weird War Two [Saturday slot]

Regular visitors to this blog will also know I'm a big fan of Savage Worlds and a keen WW2 wargamer. I've never run a game in the Weird War Two milieu before, but this offers me the opportunity to plunge some characters into the midst of this setting, using a rules set I'm familiar with. I feel WWW2 games are well-suited to one-shot play, where combatants run into something odd/scary and have to battle to survive, despite being equipped with some fairly serious firepower.

In this case, also being a fan of Band of Brothers, I decided to use the background of the Battle of the Bulge and Hitler's offensive in the Ardennes forest in January 1945. Film buffs will also know about Ken Annakin's 1965 film Battle of the Bulge, which starred Robert Shaw and Henry Fonda, and which also serves as part of the inspiration for this scenario. More particularly Castle Keep (1969), another Bulge movie with Burt Lancaster and Peter Falk, is probably of most relevance to this particular game, which follows a similar theme to Assault on Precinct 160.

The characters are members of an American paratrooper unit send to secure a nearby chateau and use it as an OP (observation post). They are escorting an artillery spotter and a radio operator. Savage World works well with this sort of scenario in a convention game, as it can handle serious firepower and multiple combatants without bogging down. Given that I'm running these games in four hour slots (I think), I don't want to get bogged down with detailed number crunching once bullets start flying.

As with Assault on Precinct 130, I want to explore themes of isolation and paranoia in combination with creeping horror. More on how I plan to structure these in a subsequent post.

A young Peter Falk in 1969's 'Castle Keep'

Battlestar Galactica [Sunday slot]

The final scenario, and the one already sold out, is Battlestar Galactica. Of the three, this is the rules system I'm least familiar with. BG can be a tough milieu for RPG campaigns, because as GM you need to decide early on how far you will deviate from the original plot/setting, and how you will integrate your game into the universe without it becoming too predictable.

Having watched all the series, I've veered towards the gaps in the plot that were left unfilled, in particular the fall of the Twelve Colonies in the original mini-series, and whether there were any other survivors. For example, we know that there was some resistance against the Cylons on Caprica, but what about the other colonies and their deep space outposts? We see some evidence of this in the episode Night 2, in the mini series, which introduces the Ragnar Anchorage, an abandoned colonial armoury.

In my scenario, I'm focusing on the remote Hades sector and an airless moon on the frontiers of colonial space, which is used as a base for a small squadron of Vipers and as a prison for some of the toughest criminals from the Twelve Colonies. Again, an ideal setting for isolation, paranoia, and a sense of creeping dread. The scenario opens as the Cylons begin their assault against the Twelve Colonies.

In terms of the pre-gens for this scenario, I know I will have to have six. I'm thinking of splitting these into three factions: two prisoners, two wardens, and two military personnel, or even trading in one soldier for a lawyer who has come with release papers for his client. I'm going to play on the fact that many participants in the game will be familiar with the series, and use that to stoke up the level of paranoia even further!

BG: exploring themes of imprisonment and identity...