Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Return to Pathfinder

Half term is here and both my children have been working on their respective adventures. Both have chosen to create in Pathfinder, which for some reason they prefer to either 13th Age or 5e Dungeons and Dragons. This probably boils down to the fact that they have played more Pathfinder than anything else. With the senior child currently ensconced in his exams, the junior offspring has begun work on a Pathfinder adventure featuring two pre-generated characters. However, she is still not sure of the rules, so I've offered to help her with her studies.

In my view the best way to learn a game is start playing it, and the best way to get to grips with an RPG is to generate a character or two. Pathfinder, like Shadowrun, can be a shockingly complex experience for those not familiar with it, but luckily HeroLab was to hand. HeroLab is a great way to generate a Pathfinder PC swiftly without all the flicking through pages, sitting next to a pile of hardcover books. Without it, Pathfinder can start to feel like preparing for an exam!

Here, then is the character we came up with together - a 4th level halfling rogue. More on her once we actually manage to get some kind of adventure scenario going.

Chi Tomo
Female halfling rogue 4
N Small humanoid (halfling)
Init +4; Senses Perception +8


AC 16, touch 14, flat-footed 13 (+3 Dex, +1 size)
hp 25 (4d8+4)
Fort +2, Ref +9, Will +1; +2 vs. fear
Defensive Abilities evasion, trap sense +1, uncanny dodge


Speed 20 ft. (15 ft. in armor)
Melee dagger +2 (1d3-2/19-20) or
   rapier +2 (1d4-2/18-20)
Ranged shortbow +8 (1d4-2/×3)
Special Attacks sneak attack +2d6


Str 6, Dex 18, Con 10, Int 12, Wis 8, Cha 16
Base Atk +3; CMB +0; CMD 14
Feats AntagonizeUM, Persuasive
Traits child of the streets, well-informed
Skills Acrobatics +7 (-1 to jump), Bluff +7, Climb +4, Diplomacy +5 (+6 to gather information), Disable Device +5, Escape Artist +5, Handle Animal +4, Heal +3, Intimidate +10, Knowledge (history) +3, Linguistics +5, Perception +8, Ride +4, Sense Motive +3, Sleight of Hand +6, Spellcraft +2, Survival +2, Swim +2, Use Magic Device +7; Racial Modifiers +2 Acrobatics, +2 Climb, +2 Perception
Languages Common, Dwarven, Elven, Halfling
SQ rogue talents (charmerAPG, rogue crawl), trapfinding +2
Combat Gear potion of bull's strength (4), caltrops; Other Gear neraplast armor, arrows (40), dagger, rapier, shortbow, backpack, bedroll, belt pouch, chalk (10), flint and steel, mirror, piton (10), soap, thieves' tools, trail rations (5), waterskin, pony (combat trained), cheating gambler's kit, grappling hook, hemp rope (50 ft.), mess kit, pot, riding saddle, saddlebags, torch, 3,137 gp

Special Abilities

Antagonize Use Diplomacy or Intimidate to goad creatures
Charmer (1/day) (Ex) Can roll 2d20 for Diplomacy check and take the better result.
Evasion (Ex) If succeed on Reflex save for half dam, take none instead.
Fearless +2 bonus to save vs. fear (stacks with halfling luck).
Rogue Crawl (Ex) Can move at 1/2 speed provoking AoO and can 5 ft step while prone.
Sneak Attack +2d6 Attacks deal extra dam if flank foe or if foe is flat-footed.
Trap Sense +1 (Ex) +1 bonus on reflex saves and AC against traps.
Trapfinding +2 Gain a bonus to find or disable traps, including magical ones.
Uncanny Dodge (Ex) Retain DEX bonus to AC when flat-footed.

As a child, Chi was an adopted street urchin in her village in the Duchy of Ulek. Having no relaives to live with, she was looked after by a lovely lady (Senora Ljiveto) who worked at the village tavern (The Golden Sword). She did not inherit a lot but managed to establish her reputation by slaying her first goblin while on a hunting expedition in the Axewood. Her parents (adventurers) would have been proud. Since then she has been respected as a person in her village. When the Greyhawk Wars broke out, she left to build her career in the north. In Veluna City she found a small lodging and fought hard as a scout for the big folk. The wars ended with victory, yet she did not return home and sought more adventure instead in Furyondy and the New Shield Lands.

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Saturday, 27 May 2017

Waterloo: the Corsican ogre is here!

Charleroi, 11.45 in the morning, 16 June 1815

'Nice weather for a big battle, eh, mon frere?'

Battle has been well and truly joined. However, I fear things are not going well for my Prussian army this morning. Firstly, the damned French have severed my supply lines at Liege and at Huy. The French cavalry are across the Meuse in numbers and in the Prussian rear. This is a problem - at some point my troops will run out of supplies unless I can restore this situation. I have detached a brigade of light cavalry from III Corps to go to Huy and try to sort the situation out, plus possibly provide me with some decent intelligence on the situation there. If nothing else, they will force the French to allocate troops to cover their flank. One can only hope.

And now Napoleon has been spotted at Yvoir. Battle has been joined there and at Namur, and at Charleroi. We are defending a U-shaped position defined by the rivers Sambre, Heure and Lesse. Zeithen with I Corps and II Corps is holding off Ney at Charleroi, and seems quietly confident, as is his manner. I will consult with him further before I move to assume command of III Corps at Namur.

Our best course of action now is to extricate our forces from Yvoir and seek to focus them around Namur as quickly as possible, and to make the most of our internal lines of communication. The bigger question is whether we concede Namur and Charleroi and seek to concentrate our forces in the open country around Ligny.

The situation around Charleroi, Prussians in black, French in blue.

The British are at Quatre Bras, although I am not sure in what numbers. I have sent news to Wellington to inform him that Napoleon is at Yvoir, along with the Young Guard and the Guard cavalry. I have asked him to reinforce us as soon as possible.

My biggest question remains my supply lines, and the best means of re-establishing communications with Germany. But this must not be allowed to distract me from defeating the Corsican Ogre now, and speedily.

Gebhardt Leberecht von Blucher

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

A rather spiffing idea...

It suddenly struck me today that I might be a lot closer to achieving the objective of combining wargaming and roleplaying than I initially thought. It occurred to me that it is possible to offer a tiered campaign that uses an RPG setting and adventures to also generate tabletop wargame scenarios...

Such a combination is not all that outlandish. After all, the original Dungeons and Dragons grew out of a miniatures campaign, and a read through of the original World of Greyhawk boxed set will yield plenty of data on the armies of Greyhawk which would seem of little use of a dungeon master, but of interest to someone running a Greyhawk wargames campaign.

So my idea - to run a Middle-earth campaign using The One Ring system from Cubicle 7. However, the larger fights in the campaign would not be resolved using the TOR rules, but rather with the Lord of the Rings rules from Games Workshop. I'd just need to work out a formula for porting characters from TOR to the LotR Strategy Battle Game.

Plus, another consideration. Characters taking part in a tabletop skirmish would also have to acquire experience from their feats, hence there needs to be some way of translating events in the skirmish game into experience in the RPG. LotR as a game simulates the exploits of heroic individuals very well, and can also help ensure that player characters are less likely to get hewn down in the affray.

Finally, we also have the War of the Ring rules for any particularly large battles. By this I mean battles bigger than the skirmish game could handle in a few hours; again, WotR seems to be a good way to streamline a larger battle so that it can still be completed in an evening. A campaign would feature one or two of these at most.

If you go down to the woods today...

Initially I considered just dropping skirmish and battle scenarios in as events unrelated to the main plot, but then I realised that the detailed Wilderlands setting that Cubicle 7 has been describing has so much in-depth background, that any RPG campaign will easily toss up opportunities for bigger engagements. This gives the battles a little more context within the campaign - they are happening for a reason, player characters have a personal stake in their outcome, and the miniatures game will have a bearing on the wider conflict.

One of the things RPGs have never been very good at is the simulation of mass battles, and generally rules writers are tempted to wing them via abstractions that focus on the behaviour of the heroes while the rest of the battle rushes past in a blur. Having an action on the tabletop that could go either way and that will have an impact on the larger plot seems so much more interesting, and becomes a sub-game within the campaign as well.

Finally, The One Ring has the additional attraction of its sophisticated downtime system - characters have scope to develop important relations with the communities of the Mirkwood region over a period of years, and again, miniatures battles will fit seamlessly into this saga of their ongoing story.

I will need to devote some more thought to this, particularly to how characters in the RPG port into the miniatures game(s); an easy formula will be required, but we'll get there.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Sihayo's Kraal, 1879 (The Men Who Would Be Kings)

So last night we had a go at The Men Who Would Be Kings (TMWWBK), a new set of colonial miniatures rules from the pen of Dan Mersey, who also authored Lion Rampant and Dragon Rampant, to name two other games using the same system. As a scenario, we used the historical engagement of the British attack on Sihayo's kraal, really the opening engagement of the Anglo Zulu War in 1879. Full details of this scenario can be found in the scenario book published by Skirmish Campaigns.

Sihayo's Kraal is very much a skirmish battle: it was a small engagement, ordered by Lord Chelmsford, commander of the British centre column entering Zululand in January 1879. The kraal sat on Chelmsford's lines of communications with Natal, hence needed to be dealt with if still occupied by Zulus. It was sitting on top of a hard to approach plateau, and while most of Sihayo's warriors had already been dispatched to the main Zulu muster at Ulundi, a significant number of warriors remained at the kraal.

The British objective, assisted by the Natal Mounted Police (NMP) and Natal Native Contingent (NNC) is to storm up the side of the plateau, making best use of trails to navigate the slopes. The scenario is deliberately set up so that they must achieve certain objectives by certain turns. I should point out that it was originally written for The Sword and The Flame, and to convert it I increased the turn number an objective should be reached by one, aware as I was that the movement distances might be less for these rules.

TMWWBK is a relatively simple rules system, and I really wanted to use this exercise to get a feel for it. In particular, each unit has an activation score that must be rolled over on 2d6. In our game, this varied from 4+ to 7+. Activation score is based on leadership - should a unit lose its leader, it defaults to 8+. The NNC was particularly badly led and seemingly unmotivated from the beginning, making it very hard for the British players to move them off their start line. This meant that they had to rely on the NMP and the British regular soldiers of the 24th foot to do the lion's share of the fighting.

Natal Mounted Police heading up to the kraal.
 The NMP were well-suited to the task, in that they could charge straight up the side of the hill with a good chance of achieving their objectives. However, they were only one cavalry unit, and were soon taking fire from musket-armed Zulus, while the British foot sloggers struggled to keep up.

Suffice to say, the British players missed their first two objectives, but seemed close to achieving some of their next ones. However, at that stage it was getting late and becoming increasingly obvious that the distances were too great for the British side to get where they needed to go in time, and win the game.

Was the game the fault of the scenario or the fault of the rules? Personally, I blame the scenario more than the rules. It is difficult, however, to say whether it would play better using different rules. TMWWBK is a decent enough rules system for small unit colonials - there is sufficient crunch in there to inject some of the colonial flavour into the battle. However, I'm slightly disappointed that it was not able to manage Sihayo's Kraal, which ultimately is based on a real-life situation. It is an interesting battle, in that the British are being forced to assault a Zulu stronghold on top of a hill, and a substantial part of the British force is composed of native volunteers who are less than enthusiastic. This certainly did come through in our battle. However, the fact that poor rolling meant that the NNC held back early in the game really made life harder for the British regulars.

The question remains as to whether I'll attempt a walkthrough of the scenario using some other rules. I'm leaning towards Death in a Dark Continent as I write this post, and may well give that a try to see how it fares. DiaDC is specifically intended for African colonial battles of the smaller kind, which fits the bill very well indeed. More on this as I progress with my reading.

NMP coming under fire from Zulu muskets on the ridge line.

The other issue this throws up is the question of the projected fantasy battle, Green Dragon Bridge, and whether we bother using Dragon Rampant for that...it can be frustrating for players to see units failing to respond due to poor activation rolls, even though this probably reflects real life combat situations more accurately. In Dragon Rampant, I think this is even more punitive. I will likely mull this one over and see where it takes me.

I also failed to print out cheat sheets for players in time - while players did have their briefings and unit stats, they weren't given the rules digest for the game, which might have helped to move things along a little faster. I will need to pay more attention to this next time.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Dragon Rampant - the Battle of Green Dragon Bridge

So here I am keen to fight a multi-player fantasy battle using Dragon Rampant. Before I get to that, however, I'm hoping to umpire a colonial battle using The Men Who Would Be Kings, by the same author, just to get a bit of a feel for the system. Dragon Rampant is the fantasy variant of TMWWBK, and includes some generic scenarios in the back of the book, but I have been looking around for something a little more...meaty.

The idea here is also to use the existing collection of miniatures of my gaming group, which is gradually expanding the number of available painted miniatures to choose from. While by no means massive, this collection is looking respectable, and there is enough metal and plastic here to put on a decent-sized battle. However, we need something that can be resolved in an evening's play of no more than 3-4 hours maximum, and can take place on a table no bigger than 8' x 6' or smaller. And it can't be too complex, or slow the game down too much. Dragon Rampant seems to fit the bill, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

The Battle

I'm just going to sketch this out briefly. It is largely inspired by the excellent scenario from page 25 of Scenarios For All Ages by Charles Grant and Stuart Asquith (CSG Publications, 1996). The Green Dragon Inn sits on the main north-south highway bisecting the wilderness region known only as the Lonely Hallows. Nearby is a ruined stronghold, built by the ancestors of the inn's owner, Grubble Sticklebottom.

Old Grubble has been running the inn for as long as anyone can remember. Rumour has it the place was once a toll house for the king's revenue men, collecting money for people using the bridge across the nearby river Havoc. Now, with war brewing in the north between rival lords, claimants to the throne, the bridge has become a little more important. Armies loyal to the royal line would need to use it to cross the Havoc and bring up supplies from the south. The Black Baron of Kress, the dastardly mind thought to be assembling a coalition of rebels to seize the throne, has bribed the orc warlord, Gaz the Ghastly, to grab the bridge and hold it against anyone seeking to interfere in the succession crisis.

Having delivered their bribe to Gaz, the Black Baron's agents were on their way homewards, but spent the night at the Green Dragon Inn on the way back. They over-imbibed on Grubble's Ruddy Fox, his latest brew, and inadvertently told the innkeeper of the plot. The next morning, with the agents safely on their way, Grubble made all haste to the manor of the local lord, Cout Larkey of Dunsmashn, a fanatical loyalist to the crown. Dunshmashn has quickly rallied all the troops he has readily to hand, and has set out for the bridge, sending word - and money - to a nearby group of barbarian freebooters to assist him.

Count Larkey of Dunsmashn

  • Count Larkey with small retinue of household knights - reduced model unit, Elite Riders, 6pts
  • 2 units of feudal levy archers - Light Missiles, 8pts
  • A hill giant - Elite Foot, 6pts
  • A unit of rangers - Scouts, 2pts
  • A unit of war dogs -  Lesser Warbeasts, 4pts

Barbarian Mercenaries From Cold Places

  • Brandigan, mercenary captain - single model unit, Elite Rider, 6pts
  •  2 units of Northmen - Bellicose Foot, Mixed Weapons, 12pts
  • 2 units of Northmen outriders - Light Riders, Short Range Missiles, 6pts
  • 2 Werebears - Lesser Warbeasts, 4pts

Gaz the Ghastly, the Bane of Barrockdown

  •  Gaz the Ghastly with armored bodyguard - reduced model unit, Leader, Offensive, Orc Heavy Foot, 6pts
  • 2 units of forest goblins - Light Foot, Mixed Weapons, 10pts
  • 2 units of Orc raiders - Light Foot, Short Range Missiles, 6pts
  • 2 units of Orc warriors - Bellicose Foot, Mixed Weapons, 12pts
Also entering the fray is the Chaos Necromancer, Daskard Kell. Exactly why Daskard has chosen to enter the fight on the side of Gaz is unknown, but it is suspected that he has cut a deal of some kind with the Black Baron, who has sent him south to assist Gaz at Green Dragon Bridge.

Daskard Kell, Chaos Sorceror, the Unlooked For One, or "Hoohee?"
  •  Daskard Kell, Chaos Sorceror - single model unit, Summoner, Leader, Heavy Artillery (lightning bolts), 7pts
  • 1 unit of goblins - Light Foot, Mixed Weapons, 5pts
  • Fell Chaos Demon - Greater Warbeast, 10pts
  • 2 units of Mummies - Lesser Warbeasts, Undead (No Feelings), 8pts
As the various forces converge on the bridge, who will hold it by sundown...?

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Frostgrave: it's Elementary my dear Watson

Having cooked up one warband for Frostgrave without breaking a sweat, I have decided to have a go at another. I envisage at some point that we can organise a multi-player game, perhaps with four, even five groups on a single table. This could be quite interesting. Who knows, perhaps even a campaign might be in the offing?

My second warband is that of the Elementalist, Gost Woodlight. Having created one warband relatively easily, I have decided to be a little more experimental. Key to the Frostgrave warband is your wizard and in the early stages, his selection of spells. I must confess that I have not read through the very extensive list of spells in the core rules, but in the interests of learning the game, and keeping things interesting, I'm going to to seek not to duplicate the spells chosen for Ragner MacDervish.

Gost Woodlight - Elementalist

Gost is an Elementalist, which in Frostgrave terms, means, "the most outwardly powerful type of wizard." Excellent. Gost gets to pick three Elemental spells, one each from his Aligned schools (Summoner, Enchanter, Chronomancer) and two from the neutral schools (Thaumaturge, Soothsayer, Sigilist, Witch and Necromancer). It is at this point that I realise I've given Ragner too many spells, with FIVE from his neutral schools, when he should have only had TWO. Hence, I decide to revise Ragner's neutral spells to Furious Quill and Imp.

Getting back to Gost, then, we decide to go with the following:

  • Call Storm (Elemental)
  • Elemental Bolt (Elemental)
  • Wall (Elemental) - was one of Ragner's
  • Raise Zombie (Necromancy) - was one of Ragner's
  • Plane Walk (Summoner)
  • Grenade (Enchanter)
  • Petrify (Chronomancer)
  • Will Power (Soothsayer)
As you will see with my picks for the rest of the warband, this group of adventurers is going to be a little light on ranged attacks. Thus, several of Gost's spells have a ranged component, allowing him to really range across the field of battle.

Gost has a staff already, and eschews a dagger. He hires an apprentice, this time a halfling called Bagbo Biggins, a former purveyor of pricey pickles now fallen on hard times, and resolved to start a new career as an apprenticee Elementalist, as out of luck hobbits do. Bagbo carries a staff.

Los soldados

So here is my thinking on Woodlight's retinue of scoundrels. I'm going to keep this group small, but dangerous. It will also incentivise me to paint up a couple of Bretonnian men at arms. Gost hires the following:
  1. Sir Gristle of Weevilhaven - a Knight, he carries a sword and shield, and is clad in plate mail armour. He is clean cut and a hit with the ladies. Cost - 100gps (ouch!)
  2. Masket - a man at arms, and formerly Sir Gristle's butler, he is equipped with shield, spear and leather armour. Cost - 80gps.
  3. Bozrik - another man at arms, he is Masket's cousin and was Sir Gristle's stable boy at one stage. He is armed and equipped like Masket. Cost - 80gps.
  4. Bindlebough - a hobbit thief, a bit of a good for nothing, he has a dagger to defend himself with and seems to really be there to make up the numbers. Gost does not expect him to survive for long in Frostgrave. Cost - 20gps.
  5. Gnar - a thug, Gnar is a violent wretch of dubious morals and Bindlebough's drinking buddy. Cost - 20gps. 
So there you go. In conclusion, it is still possible to build a respectable warband with seven members for 500gps. Bindlebough and Gnar are really only there to make up the numbers, as they are cheap hirelings, badly armed, and likely to die horribly.

Next time - we take a look at what's cooking in the cauldron of the Witch, Jessica, the Mad Hag of Hangmorton...

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Frostgrave warbands: the Soothsayer

I'm in the process of concocting a number of warbands for Frostgrave, with a view to potentially launching a campaign at some stage. The great thing about Frostgrave is that you don't need many miniatures, and the game is not wedded to a particular range. Hence, it is quite easy to slot in figures you already own in your collection. I'm sure this has played a large role in its commercial success.

I'm going to start by generating a number of warbands using figures I own. In each case, I'll be taking you through the decision making process as each warband is assembled. Much of this will be dictated by the availability of my own figures, and because I've never played the game, it may be obvious to veterans that I'm making some schoolboy errors. We'll have to see as we go along whether drastic mistakes have been made.

Frostgrave requires that first you choose your wizard. Your wizard is a bit like a quarterback in [American] football: it is hard to win with a poor one! Hence, it bears spending some time on mulling this one over.

The Soothsayer: Ragner MacDervish

Ragner wears a kilt, and little else apart from his prized tatoos. Anyone who asks him whether he might be a little chilly will be treated to a diatribe about "wee southern jessies".

All new wizards begin with eight spells, of which three must come from the wizard's own school of magic, one must come from each of his aligned schools, and the final two may come from any of the five neutral schools. Each of these latter spells must come from a different school of magic.

Starting with his own spells then, Ragner picks Awareness, Reveal Invisible (largely because I HATE people sneaking around with some form of cloaking, be it Harry Potter or the Predator), and Combat Awareness.

Ragner's aligned schools are Thaumaturge, Chronomancer and Illusionist. I'm aware that these are going to be harder for him to cast, so best pick ones which are quite easy: Heal for Thaumaturge, Fast Act for Chronomancer (this looks rather good on paper, but we'll have to see how it works in practice), and Fool's Gold for Illusionism (because it looks rather fun).

Now Ragner comes to his neutral schools, which are Enchanter, Summoner, Necromancer, Elementalist and Sigilist. Again, he has a +4 penalty on these spells, so may be worth going for the easier ones...Wall (Elementalist), Animate Construct (Enchanter - I like this one, he needs to roll pre-game to see if he can bring it with him and it counts as a warband slot regardless), Raise Zombie (Necromancy - nice and easy, and it gives him a zombie without filling a warband slot), Furious Quill (Sigilism - amusing) and Imp (Summonor - not too testing).

Ragner has a staff and decides to buy a dagger (5gp) from his budget of 500.

Next we move to the apprentice. The rules say that "while it is not strictly necessary for a wizard to have an apprentice, it would be both unusual and probably unwise to go without." An apprentice costs 200gps to hire, which is a BIG slice of the total budget, but heck, I'll go with the game designer's advice. Ragner is joined by his nephew, Nordgrint, who is interested in becoming a soothsayer himself. Nordgrint also carries a staff. He has flowing blond hair and seems to have left his trousers at home, but eschews his uncle's kilt.

Nordgrint knows all Ragner's spells, but casts them with a -2 penalty, being an apprentice. It seems an apprentice is just like a back up quarterback in [American] football.

The Soldiers

So who it is that is mad enough to follow Ragner and Nordgrint to Frostgrave, eh? Ragner now has 295gp left, which is not much.

Ragner recruits Skeggi Boozehound, a dwarf adventurer who will count as a man-at-arms, as he has a hand axe and a shield. Skeggi does not suffer penalties for being a dwarf - in the basic rules, there do not seem to be additional rules for adventurers from other races, so Skeggi collects his 80gp signing fee.

I quite fancy giving Ragner a couple of trackers as well - this will cost him 80gp each, but I think they're worth it, as they also have bows. He hires Gosted and Lumbard, two trackers from the north country. He now has 55gp left to spend.

Ragner now has a decision to make - he could either spend some money on an archer or a crossbowman, or add a few hounds to his retinue. He decides to go with the hounds. Bear in mind he has now filled four slots, plus his construct, which makes it five. A warband can have a maximum of 10 members, counting the wizard. He pays 40gp and gets himself four hounds.

Thus, the final warband looks like this:

  • Ragner MacDervish, Soothsayer
  • Nordgrint, Apprentice Soothsayer
  • Skeggi Boozehound, Dwarf Man At Arms
  • Gosted, Tracker
  • Lumbard, Tracker
  • Hounds (x4)
Ragner keeps 15gp in the bank for a rainy day.

Next time: We look at the warband of the Elementalist, Gost Woodlight...

Skeggi is nopw