Saturday 25 December 2021

3 Yarthmont - I have a bone to pick with you!

 Broneslav left the entrance room and turned right this time. The bird people who had flapped around him had gone in this direction. Immediately ahead of him the corridor became a T-junction with a door on the opposite wall. Broneslav opened the door a crack and peered in.

A mummified human in plate armour stood with a halberd against the wall to his left. An honour guard of  nine skeletons surrounded the mummy. Each had a sword in its hand and each stood to attention too. Suddenly they moved. 

Broneslav dived into the fray, smashing one skeleton down with a shield charge. The skeletons responded by attacking him. It was fortunate that only a few could get to him at any one time, and he was able to dodge or block their blows. He took another skeleton down, only for one of the others to take its place. Two more skeletons fell in quick succession but one of the remaining ones got through his defences (1 DAM). The pain galvanised him and four more skeletons were crushed by his shield and smashed by his sword. One remained and it was easy to destroy without its allies.

Throughout all this, the mummy had not moved. Looking more closely at it, Broneslav decided that it would not move either. With nothing else to seize his attention, Broneslav bandaged his wound and left the room, turning right.

He followed the winding corridor until it ended at a door. Broneslav pushed the door open carefully. His light showed that the room was inhabited. Two large white apes were sitting on a large sarcophagus. Rubble and debris surrounded them, as did the bones of their meals. The walls of the room were painted with scenes of warfare. An unnaturally handsome man in armour, clearly a noble, was the central focus of all these paintings.

As he looked in the apes began to beat their chests and howl. Broneslav took the hint and backed out of the room, closing the door behind him. That left just one direction to investigate. he walked back past the room with the skeletons and reached a junction where he could either go straight ahead or to the left. There seemed little to choose between the two so he mentally flipped a coin again.

Saturday 18 December 2021

3 Yarthmont - Ghost Walk

 Being a young man with no real sense of his own mortality, Broneslav decided that he would push on while he could. There would be time to return to the Magi and rest up later. After all, his wounds were not that bad, and he was sure he could deal with anything he found.

He returned to the main corridor and turned left, still heading away from the mad bird people he had encountered before. The corridor turned right and then left and then left again. Walking stealthily and carefully, Broneslav advanced steadily until he saw something glowing ahead of him. Two human-sized shapes. He slowed his steps but continued to move forwards, prepared to fight. The figures did not move.

As he got closer he could see more details. Both figures were translucent and dressed in expensive clothes. One was a man and the other a woman. Each wore a crown.

The male figure spoke in heavily accented and antiquated common, "GO NO FURTHER OR THE CURSE OF KING ALEXANDER WILL OVERTAKE YOU!"

The female figure spoke after him, "I AM QUEEN ZENOBIA. TURN BACK, FOR ONLY DEATH AWAITS YOU!"

As the male figure spoke, fear began to build in Broneslav. As the female figure spoke, the fear built further. Suddenly, Broneslav found himself running away from them and back toward the room he had entered by. Only as he climbed the ramp did he regain his wits and stop running.

After catching his breath, he decided that following the bird-people might not be so bad after all. Even knowing the spell put on him by the two figures he had seen, he could not be certain to overcome the compulsion to run, so he would try a different route.

Saturday 11 December 2021

3 Yarthmont - Requiem for a Jester

 Broneslav walked carefully down the ramp. The walls of the room he entered were painted with scenes of a royal court. The centre of attention in these paintings is a dwarven jester. The paint was peeling and faded, but a lot of effort had been expended in its application, so the jester must have been someone important. A small, brightly painted coffin rested by the wall. In each corner of the room stood a  large brass jar.

There seemed little threatening here, and Broneslav did not wish to tempt fate, so he moved quickly to the door in the north wall and opened it. Beyond lay a long corridor. As he crept pantherlike down the corridor, he heard voices from ahead of him. Their squawk-like voices carried and it was clear they had seen his light as they rushed towards him.

From the dark emerged  four people flapping their arms and squawking. Each wore a bird mask and a feathered cape. None was armed, so he relaxed a little. As they neared Broneslav, they started squawking more urgently in a bird-like version of the language he had heard the Magi use. Not knowing what they were saying, Broneslav stayed quiet and did his best to appear non-threatening. The people flapped around him a bit and then flapped off again in disgust, throwing what must have been insults in Broneslav's direction. He had noticed this about the Cynidiceans. They seemed to inhabit a different world from him, and he had no clue what was up with them, not even those who were close to normal, like the Magi.

With the people gone, Broneslav stalked down the stone corridor of the pyramid. The people had run off to the right down a side corridor, so Broneslav kept going straight on. Soon he was faced with a choice of going straight on or turning left. He opted to turn left. He found himself in a short corridor with a door in one wall.

The door and the end of the corridor were soot-blackened. The image of a human-sized humanoid form on the wall marred the otherwise perfect sootiness of it. The door itself was open a hand's width. It was dark within, as far as Broneslav could see. Figuring that anything within would have been alerted by the light from his torch, Broneslav kicked the door open.

The walls of the room within were covered in murals depicting a priest performing ceremonies. In this room, the priest was clearly the focus of the paintings. The priest was also clearly the focus of three humanoid creaters with grey skin and long claws on their fingers. As Broneslav stepped into the room, they looked up from their grisly repast. His injuries from the day before still bothered him, and Broneslav only nicked one of the ghouls. The three hideous monstrosities immediately leapt towards him. Despite his best efforts, one of the ghouls raked his arm with its claws (1 DAM) and another bit him (1 DAM). A cold like the chill of the grave started spreading through his veins. Mustering every ounce of determination he had, Broneslav willed himself to keep going (Defy death after failing to save versus paralysis, 1 DAM).

This time he was able to behead the ghoul he had wounded before, but it was clear his wounds and burns were bothering him. The eldritch poison that the ghoul's touch injected was really not helping either. Fending the monsters off was proving hard, as one of the ghouls raked his body with its claws once more (2 DAM). Once more the ghoul's poison chilled his body and slowed his movements. Once more Broneslav mustered every ounce of willpower to keep going (Defy death again, 1 DAM).

Drawing on everything he could, Broneslav fought on and skewered a ghoul to leave it twitching on the ground, while knocking the other one back. It renewed its attack, but with just one ghoul left, Broneslav was able to fend it off easily and to ripost with a stroke that cleaved it from shoulder to waist.

Breathing hard, he looked around to see if any new challenges had emerged. Seeing nothing around, he closed the door to the room and bandaged his wounds. Searching the room, he found a valuable necklace and a pair of valuable-looking bracelets. He put them in his back, being all in favour of highly portable wealth.

Where to now? Should he return to the Magi and rest up to heal his wounds, or should he risk carrying on a bit further?

Saturday 4 December 2021

3 Yarthmont - Welcome to the Magi

 Broneslav awoke in a room full of snoring people. It took him a moment to realise where he was.

"Well," he thought, "At least I wasn't murdered in my sleep."

He left the room and returned to the chamber where the ritual had taken place. Auriga was there already.

"I hope you slept well, initiate," Auriga greeted him, "I have your ring here. Wear this ring and the Magi will recognise you as one of their own. This means that they may call upon your services, but it also means that you may call on theirs too. You may always return here to rest, if you need to. Consider this a safe haven for you, but beware of the treacherous Brotherhood and Warrior Maidens. They will take advantage of you, if not worse! Now, I shall show you out of here. If you can journey further into the pyramid and weaken them, then we Magi will be able to deal with the Demon Zargon who stole our home from us. Now, let me show you the way out of here. The other rooms of this tier are the homes of the Brotherhood of Gorm and the Warrior Maidens of Madarua. It might be unwise to antagonise them, although we will always be happy if you weaken them."

Auriga showed Broneslav to a door with a button beside it. The carving beside this one was different from the last one he had seen. Auriga pushed the button and a familiar grinding noise was heard. When the door opened, Auriga explained that this was a revolving corridor. Each of the eight buttons inside the corridor corresponded to an exit. Pushing the right button would turn the corridor to that exit so that Broneslav could head off in that direction. Broneslav memorised the symbol for this exit, and spotted the symbol from the door where the room with the statue was. He did not recognise the other six.

"This button here will align the shifting corridor to the route to Zargon's realm below," declared Auriga, "Follow the corridor to the room with the shifting floor and you will be able to enter the tier below. Any damage you can do to Zargon will be rewarded."

Auriga bade him farewell, and Broneslav pushed the button Auriga had indicated. He felt the revolving corridor kick into motion. Then it stopped and he opened the door at the other end. The corridor beyond ended in a T-junction. Auriga had failed to mention this detail so Broneslav mentally flipped a coin. Right. He turned right and followed the corridor to where it turned to the right again. There was a door here. He could here nothing through it so he entered the room carefully. It appeared empty.

Looking around, he saw an old chapel that had clearly been trashed at some point in the past. Something was scrawled on the wall. It seemed to be words to Broneslav but he did not recognise the language it was written in. One area of the floor seemed clearer of rubbish than the rest. He went to investigate and found that it tipped gently downwards as he stepped on it. This was the way to Zargon then. He hitched his sword belt up and walked down the ramp.

There are a few issues with it, but here is a higher resolution map of the whole of Tier 3 of The Lost City. I'm still getting to grips with aspects of CC3+ which I had not touched since last I played this solo Scarlet Heroes campaign ages ago and which I had never mastered, so I shall continue learning by mapping the next level down, and hope that Broneslav does not die so that I have a reason to keep mapping the dungeon.

Saturday 27 November 2021

2 Yarthmont - Behind the Statue

After twenty minutes, Broneslav had eaten his fill and was feeling rested enough to continue, although the burns from the beetle's attach were very distracting. He carefully opened the door from the storage room and looked through into the corridor. The choking gas appeared to have dissipated. He stepped through and sniffed carefully. There was a slight smell of the gas, but he did not choke as he entered the passage. The corridor looked the same as it had before apart from the smell. The wand was still twisted to the right as he had left it when he fled.

Thinking about the situation, Broneslav decided to investigate the door first. He listened but could hear nothing. He tried the handle. It turned but the door would not open. Taking a deep breath, Broneslav tensed as he tried the button beside the door. There was a grinding noise and then silence again. He tried the door once more and this time it opened onto a corridor ending in another door. Just inside the corridor were eight buttons. One of them had the same symbol carved above it as the button he had just pressed. Clearly there was a connection but he decided to mull that one over while he checked the statue again.

Broneslav had concluded that the statue would not have got that shiny if it was just a trap for unwary explorers. Therefore, it seemed likely that the wand was meant to turn widdershins instead. Holding his breath and tensed against whatever might happen he twisted the wand to the left. Nothing happened immediately, but then there was a slight grinding noise and the statue, together with the wall behind it, started to move away from him. When it stopped, a long corridor was revealed with a door on the right hand side.

Not one to be overly careful, Broneslav moved quickly to the door. He could hear faint chanting from within. He paused. Thoughts of what might be going on in there filled his head. With a certain amount of trepidation, he decided to enter, prepared for whatever he might encounter. Pushing the door open as gently as he could, he peeked inside the room.

"Well, I wasn't expecting that," he thought.

The room he was peering into had tapestries hanging on the walls. They showed all the major constellations. A stone altar stood towards the far end of the room and thirteen people in rainbow-coloured robes were gathered before it. They were all wearing silver masks featuring the face of the child whose statue he had seen. A stout figure front and centre of the group was also wearing a silver crown. The chanting continued as Broneslav took stock of what was going on.

The previous encounter had gone badly. He presumed it was because he had surprised the other people, so he sheathed his sword and stood waiting at the back of the room until the ritual was over. Once it was over and the people looked like they were preparing to finish, he spoke up.

"What ho, fellow pyramid dwellers," he tried in Common.

The stout figure rounded on him and said something that he did not understand.

"I'm sorry, I don't understand. I am a lost traveller who found his way in here."

The stout figure replied in Common this time, "Why do you wear the mask of Gorm then?"

Broneslav took off the mask, "This? I found it in the tier above."

The thirteen figures relaxed a little at this. Broneslav was soon able to explain that he was lost and found his way into the pyramid after a sandstorm. He inadvertently mentioned the men he had slain who wore the mask he had been wearing and the atmosphere in the room became decidedly more welcoming.

"Welcome to the chamber of the Magi of Usamigaras," declared the stout figure, "I am Auriga Sirkinos, leader of the Magi. It seems to me that your footsteps have been guided here by Usamigaras himself. If you, doughty warrior that you are, will pledge yourself as an initiate of Usamigaras, then we shall pledge to help you. Your aid as an initiate can surely help us lead Cynidicea back to greatness, even though you are only a warrior, and not a great mage like we are."

Broneslav accepted the suggestion to become an initiate.

Auriga explained that Usamigaras was the god of healing, messengers and thieves and that the Magi were the only ones capable of restoring Cynidicea's greatness. The Brotherhood of Gorm were all slow-witted warriors, while the Warrior Maidens of Madarua were all too soft to do what needed to be done. He also explained that Broneslav would need stop wearing his golden mask and that an apprentice Magus would return with a silver ring to mark his pledge to the cause. Broneslav should rest in the Magi's quarters while the apprentice ran the errand. This would take half a day, they said.

Seeing no alternative, and thinking that a good sleep would really help, Broneslav acquiesced and went along with their plans. Soon he was snoring away on a bunk bed in the Magi's dormitory on this level.

Saturday 20 November 2021

2 Yarthmont - A Statuesque Conundrum

Broneslav strode over to the door of the storage room and listened at it. His exceptional hearing picked out nothing on the other side. He eased the door open and peeked through. The corridor beyond was dark, lit only by his own torch. He stepped through and followed it a short way to a T-junction. To his left, the light of his torch glittered off an 8' tall statue of a winged child with two snakes twined around its body. In one hand, the statue held a wand, while the other had been carved holding a few coins. Broneslav noticed that the wand was shinier than the rest of the statue, suggesting that it was touched or polished by whoever lived here. He wondered who this statue was meant to represent.

To his right, Broneslav could see that the the short corridor ended in a door. Beside the door was a button with a squiggly symbol carved above it. The young warrior thought quickly. The door was the obvious way out, but the statue showed signs of use. He would check it first before leaving via the door.

With quick, panther-like strides Broneslav approached the statue and studied it. The wand was the obvious part to check. It had clearly been handled more than any other part, so he checked it carefully. On looking closely at it, Broneslav could see that it was hinged at the wrist of the statue, indicating that it could possibly be turned both sunwise and widdershins. The question was: which way? Looking more closely, he could see no clues, so he was just going to have to try and see. Sunwise was usually lucky, so he took hold and pulled. The wand moved easily.

Suddenly clouds of choking gas started pouring out of the statue's mouth. Broneslav sprinted back away from the statue and towards the storeroom. He held his breath as he did so, and only breathed out when the door was safely shut behind him. Panting, he sat on the floor with his back to the door and collected his thoughts. Should he wait and see if the gas cleared? His one brief breath of it had left him choking, so going in while it was still there was not really an option. That said, he could try holding his breath long enough to get to the door he had seen, but he had not idea what was on the other side. That could leave him both fighting for his life and out of breath. The final option was to return through the secret door and see where the corridor led.

Broneslav decided to wait (the first option scored higher on a die roll than the other two by enough to make it a clear choice despite the danger). He needed a rest anyway, so waiting was less of an issue, and it would probably be good to grab food and a drink while he was in a room replete with both. He blocked both the doors with crates and settled down to a good meal of what appeared to be dried mushrooms and some other preserved vegetable matter. The wine helped a lot though. That was a decent drink, although it too carried a slightly strange aftertaste.

Saturday 13 November 2021

2 Yarthmont - Delving deeper

Faced with the prospect of returning to the surface or delving deeper in the hope of finding better help, Broneslav chooses to venture deeper into the pyramid. He returned to the stairs he had found earlier in his explorations, reasoning that the man who escaped might be waiting below the trapdoor in the room he had found.

The stairs down ended in a door. Broneslav paused and listened before opening it. Beyond lay a corridor which he followed around a corner. The wall on his left at this point looked slightly odd to him (hard spot check succeeded), and there were scuff marks on the floor that made it look as though people had been walking through the wall. Broneslav tested the wall and eventually found a stone that pushed in. A section of the wall then swung inwards and he could see into a storage room packed with barrels and crates.

Broneslav's eye was drawn to four large beetles that were gnawing at the wood of several of the barrels. There was obviously something in the barrels that the beetles wanted, so maybe there was something for Broneslav in there too. He stepped forward, sword drawn. As he did so, the beetles turned to face this threat. Broneslav leapt towards the beetles. His sword flashed like lightning as he cleaved two beetles in quick succession, and kicked a third into the wall. The injured beetle and its one remaining mate raised their hind ends and noxious oil sprayed towards Broneslav. Our hero was too fast though. He stepped aside, whirling past the spatter of oil to impale the the uninjured beetle on his sword. As he did so, the injured beetle expressed its displeasure by covering Broneslav in a caustic oil (1 DAM plus -2 penalty on all actions until the burns are healed). He responded in kind by stamping on its head. As the beetle twitched its last on the floor, Broneslav poured the contents of his waterskin over his burns in a bid to dilute the caustic oil, and bandaged his now blistered skin (Healed 1 DAM).

With this done, he had time to take stock of his surroundings and to investigate. The crates and barrels were full of wine and dried food. Broneslav replaced the fresh food in his pack with dried rations and refilled his waterskin with wine. With this done, he had a choice. He could return to the corridor and follow it further along, or he could leave the room via the only door which lay opposite the secret door he had entered by.

Tuesday 9 November 2021

New Book: Myths and Realities of the Viking Berserkr

 My new book will be published on 24th December 2021. It is available for preorder now, currently with 20% discount on the Routledge website. Even with that discount, the hardback is eye-wateringly expensive, but the e-book may be a more realistic solution for most. There is also a Kindle edition that is heading towards cheap enough, if you prefer that format. Unfortunately, it is in the nature of academic publishing that prices are through the roof and that the author does not benefit from those costs. I doubt I shall earn enough from the royalties to pay the licensing costs for the images I used. Still, it will be nice to finally have this book out there. I've worked with this material far longer than is healthy! I should note that there will also be a paperback edition available one year after the publication of the hardback. That is likely to be the most realistic prospect for those interested in hardcopy.

The book is substantially a reworking of my PhD thesis and draws largely the same conclusions. It refocuses the thesis, brings the research up to date so that the most recent academic work, as of mid-2021, is addressed, and expands some of the sections to make my reasoning clearer. It is clear from responses to my thesis online that this was needed. I have also used this opportunity to add a short discussion of approaches to researching this sort of topic that I hope will prove useful to future researchers.

In the book I demonstrate that most of what we believe about berserkir is a product of later research and is not actually reflected in the primary sources. I show that not everything written about berserkir should be taken literally. Those who wrote the sagas down were perfectly capable of using figurative language, hyperbole, etc. and often did; any reading of the sagas shows that many of them were adept with words and storytelling. I also demonstrate that the medieval audience for these sagas would not have understood the action in the same way as we do now. All of this affects how we interpret the Viking Age berserkr, and I use my analysis to create a model of the Viking Age warriors who went by that name.

Publisher blurb:

The viking berserkr is an iconic warrior normally associated with violent fits of temper and the notorious berserksgangr or berserker frenzy. This book challenges the orthodox view that these men went ‘berserk’ in the modern English sense of the word. It examines all the evidence for medieval perceptions of berserkir and builds a model of how the medieval audience would have viewed them. Then, it extrapolates a Viking Age model of berserkir from this model, and supports the analysis with anthropological and archaeological evidence, to create a new and more accurate paradigm of the Viking Age berserkr and his place in society. This shows that berserkir were the champions of lords and kings, members of the social elite, and that much of what is believed about them is based on 17th-century and later scholarship and mythologizing: the medieval audience would have had a very different understanding of the Old Norse berserkr from that which people have now. The book sets out a challenge to rethink and reframe our perceptions of the past in a way that is less influenced by our own modern ideas.

So, what do I need to say here, as this is a gaming blog? For the wargamer, this work may appear too focused on language and meaning. However, words mean things. The way they are used affects how we interpret the past. Without analysing what the words mean, we cannot understand who and what these men were, or where they fitted into Viking Age society. That, in turn, affects how we model them on the tabletop. About the time that my thesis was published online, I wrote a blog post addressing my views on how berserkir should be depicted on the tabletop, and I am largely satisfied with that post still.

It's hard to reframe and reassess things we have grown up with and that are so much a part of our daily existence. This applies as much to the vocabulary we use as it does to the broader questions of our identity and lives. The word 'berserk' is so inextricably linked to ideas of loss of control these days that it is almost impossible to imagine it meaning anything else. I know that it took me a while, even after I had begun my research, to question whether berserkir went berserk or not, and to realise that no one had seriously asked that question and researched it. The question arose as I examined the less commonly read primary sources and looked at broader usage of Old Norse berserkr beyond the most commonly read sagas.

When you combine this underlying assumption with translations that unthinkingly use the word 'berserk' in the modern English sense and that favour readability over accuracy, you have a recipe for serious misunderstanding of what is going on in the narrative. This problem is further compounded by the fact that some of the texts I have analysed are not available in translation. How do you analyse the meaning and usage of a word when you cannot access the literature it is written in?

I don't suppose I shall convince my critics who deploy (often older and unreliable) translations of sagas as evidence that I am wrong. I do hope that my new book will help people question those ingrained ideas anyway and approach reading the sagas afresh, learning to question better what they read. I also hope that it leads to Viking army lists with no 'lunatic nudists' (to quote Bernard Cornwell) and wargames figure ranges with no naked berserkir, but I suspect it will be some while before that can happen. Sometimes the legend is just too popular, and, to be honest, in a fantasy context I would deploy them too, complete with (fictional) mushroom pot.

Monday 8 November 2021

Keeping solo roleplaying interesting?

 Now that I am back running my Scarlet Heroes solo game again, I got to thinking about my approach to solo role-playing and how to keep it interesting. I've read a few pieces on how to do this in the past, and these musings do draw on what I have read, even though I cannot remember where I read it any more. The question is how to roleplay when you have full knowledge of the environment.

Scarlet Heroes is designed around the idea that the game will feature just a single character. D&D scenarios can be very easily adapted to these rules on the fly and still run with one character instead of a full party.

I'm running old Basic D&D modules for the nostalgia of it, so there is nothing for me to discover as I send my character into them. I already know what the modules contain. I have to. I can't run the modules without knowing. That means that I know the secret doors, the traps, and anything else that would be hidden DM information.

This really puts my role in the game into perspective. I have DM-level knowledge, so really I have to be the DM in these games. That means that I have to programme the character, not the dungeon. Realising this changed my view of how satisfying solo roleplaying could be. It is still my character, but the satisfaction lies in seeing who they become as a result of the rolls I make to decide how they act.

I created the character at the start of the campaign, and have a vision of the type of person they are. I use that vision to decide how likely they are to act in certain ways. Scarlet Heroes has a series of oracle tables to roll on when making decisions. You rate how likely the character is to act in a certain way and then roll on the table that corresponds to that probability. In all likelihood the character will act as expected, but there is always the chance for an upset.

My character is a young man of Lawful alignment. He is most likely to obey authority if it tells him to do something. However, the table could tell me that he does not obey that authority or that he dithers about it. The table can also raise complications, so he obeys but does something or sees something that makes his obeying problematic. When the character acts unexpectedly, there is the opportunity to explore him in more depth.

Another example would be a decision based on his age. Does he continue further into the dungeon despite being badly wounded or does he stop to rest up and patch himself up? The sensible choice would be to stop, but he is a young man of 16. Young men are not renowned for their sense of self-preservation, so I rate his chance of stopping as unlikely and roll on the appropriate table.

The roleplaying element then lies in how I rate his chances of doing something, and I can amend his character traits as he responds to events. If he lives, he may grow to be a cynical warrior, perhaps even shifting alignment to Neutral as he learns that authority cannot always be trusted. The dice will help to tell this tale.

For other hidden elements, I also resolve those as rolls. If there is a hidden door, I always roll to see if he spots it. Likewise, if there is a trap, then he gets to roll to spot it. When finding something hidden is essential to progress or completion of the dungeon, then I make it an automatic spot. I might roll to see how the character spots the item but I ensure that they do. Likewise, if specific actions are required to make progress, then I find a way for the character to do them. Dice rolls can fill out the details here but the action has to happen. There's little point coming to a full stop when you are solo roleplaying.

Black Streams is a free supplement from Sine Nomine Publishing that details how to adapt D&D-alike games so that a single character can run through a dungeon designed for a party of characters

I find roleplaying as the DM more satisfying than the random dungeon method I have used before. It required a shift of focus and emphasis, but that was worth it to return to these old modules that have such nostalgia value for me. I have also found that using a system designed for single characters keeps things simpler. I'm not sure I would enjoy the game as much having to keep track of everything for a party of characters.

Saturday 6 November 2021

2 Yarthmont - Onwards

I'm back in the mood for some solo RPG action using Scarlet Heroes. It's been five years since last I posted about my character Broneslav's adventures. I find myself in the mood to continue now, so here we are. I love the Scarlet Heroes game system but have no interest in the background included with the rules. For nostalgia's sake, my adventures all take place in the D&D world of Mystara and I started the campaign with the Basic D&D adventures. This is what we played when I first got D&D and the pull of the nostalgia is too strong. 

I tend to play a bit fast and loose with conversion from D&D to Scarlet Heroes, but I am planning to try to codify things better this time around. Ideally, this will mean pages on the blog recording how I have converted spells and monsters to try to keep things consistent. I guess we shall see how well that works out and how long I manage to keep going with it.

There is a separate page on this blog for my character sheet. It represents the point that the character has reached in my game. I schedule posts to appear one per week for as long as my enthusiasm holds up, so the character sheet represents the situation at the end of the last scheduled post, and not the situation at the time of the visible posts. 

Previously on Broneslav's adventures

Broneslav was travelling through the desert when he got separated from the caravan he was with by a  violent sandstorm. As he tried to find his way to civilisation, he stumbled upon the lost city of Cynidicea. He entered the city in search of food and water ...

You can catch up with his adventures here.

We return you to the action

Broneslav left the room. The corridor ahead of him offered a choice of turning left or turning right. There were doors visible along its length. He looked to the left. It appeared to be a dead end with no doors in it. To his right, there were doors on the right hand side of the corridor. Treading carefully, he moved towards the first door. As he advanced up the corridor, something glittered golden in the light of his torch towards the end. He decided to investigate this first.

As he moved up the corridor his torch soon revealed a golden statue of a bearded man wielding a lightning bolt. He thought he recognised it from somewhere, but was not sure. Looking more closely, he realised it was actually a wooden statue, but painted gold.

Broneslav moved back to the first door he had passed. Listening at it, he could hear voices from within. Carefully, sword in hand, Broneslav opened the door. The men within looked up quickly. Broneslav had time to notice that each wore a golden mask depicting the same person as the statue. Then there was a shout as each of the mail-clad men grabbed their weapons and charged at him (I rolled for their reaction to Broneslav and got a very poor one. sigh. New dice, you know. Got to break them in before they roll properly). He ran the first of them through with his sword, before slamming the second against the wall, snapping his neck. Then they were upon him. He fended off a flurry of blows from the men, reversed his parry into a cut that nearly took one man's head off, and bounced another's head off his shield rim. The final man tried a slice to Broneslav's leg which he dodged easily. Behind him he could hear the noise of more men approaching.

Broneslav stepped in close to the man and felled him with a blow to the head before turning to parry a blow from one of the newcomers and then cutting that man down too. There were five more, well, four more now, of the men in the plain blue robes and golden masks. Behind them was a man who was obviously a commander. His clothes and mask were clearly of better quality. These new attackers closed on Broneslav. A slice to the arm got past his guard (1 DAM) but he blocked the other blows with his shield. A backhand cut and a face smash with his shield felled two more of the men, and he pressed his advantage, pushing them back to the door of the room, even as he blocked their blows. This cost him another cut to the arm (1 DAM), but he still managed to kill another of his attackers. Only two remained. Their leader was a good swordsman and cut him again, this time on the leg (1 DAM). Broneslav redoubled his efforts and slew the last of the swordsmen, before cutting the leader across his chest.

Suddenly, the leader turned and ran towards the statue. He dived into the room beside it. Broneslav chased hard after the man. Breathing hard, he reached the room just in time to see a trapdoor closing as the leader dived down through it. Broneslav paused. He could give chase into the unknown, or he could take stock of his situation and plan his advance. He opted for the latter choice.

The Lost City, Tier 2

The room he now found himself in was like the previous one, with bunk beds lining the walls and small chests at the end of each. Broneslav weighed the trapdoor down with a chest and pushed one of the beds over the top of it for good measure. Then he bandaged his wounds (+2 HP). At this rate, he would run out of bandages! A search of the rooms found water and food aplenty. Broneslav was able to slake his thirst properly for the first time in ages. He filled his waterskin and filled his backpack with food. He also swapped his filthy tunic for a clean blue one from one of the chests at the foot of a bed. Taking his cue from the men he had just been attacked by, he put on one of the golden masks, while stashing the others in his pack. Perhaps he could get a chance to speak to the men before they attacked him next time.

With the tier cleared and the unfortunate misunderstanding between these mysterious and incredibly pale men resolved to their detriment, Broneslav is faced with a choice. He can return to the surface with the supplies he has now found, or he can venture deeper into the pyramid in the hope of finding aid.

Saturday 30 October 2021

Gloomhaven - Euro dungeon adventuring (Cephalofair)

I've been playing a lot of Gloomhaven since I moved to Norway. If you've missed the hype, it's a Euro-style dungeon bash game with a big campaign and a legacy mechanic that changes the game permanently as you adventure. It also weighs 10kg, which nearly killed me getting it up the hill to my flat. It has two things I particularly like about it.

The first is that each dungeon you enter is a puzzle to be solved. You have a limited number of actions for the scenario defined by how many cards you get in your hand. Some character classes get more cards, but the effect is balanced overall by the power and synergies between cards. This means that you have to find the most effective and efficient way through the dungeon for the combination of characters in your party.

The Gloomhaven board at the end of my campaign

The second is the legacy mechanic. I get to stick stickers on the main gameboard and on the cards in each character's decks. Sticking stickers down is fun. The stickers on the board are for dungeon locations that I have made accessible to my party, and for global achievements that affect the larger campaign. When I first set out to play the campaign, I thought I should get card sleeves so that I could remove enhancement stickers if I decided to reset the game, and removable stickers for the board. In the end, I did not. If I want to reset the whole campaign, I can use one or more of the many apps and websites to record progress instead. Enhancements on the character cards are limited and generally expensive, so I figure I can just dial up the difficulty for scenarios, if the enhancements make them too easy. I also don't see me returning quickly to Gloomhaven to play a full campaign now that I have finished the current one, simply because it's a huge undertaking that has taken me 18 months to complete with regular game play. So, that means that stickering and enhancements are not really an issue.

I have recorded 145 plays of Gloomhaven since getting the game. These are all solo scenarios, and many were losses. Especially in the early days, it took me several goes to 'solve' the scenarios I was playing. I am still very keen on the game, even after all these plays. It's fun, engaging and challenging, which is not always the case with games played solo, and it still feels quite fresh. This is partly because of the way the scenarios are created. There are 'kill all the monster' scenarios, but there are others with different objectives, so each game can be different. The game also remains fresh because there are a lot of different character classes to try. Each character gets a personal goal when it starts and will retire once that is achieved. This leaves you free to try different character classes as the game progresses. I mean, you could stick to the same class and start a new character of the same class as the one you have just retired, but where is the fun in that?

One other advantage of the game is that scenarios can be quite quick, so it is easy to fit a game in of a weekday evening when you have a spare moment. This fits well with where my life is at. I can leave most of the game set up and run through a scenario in an evening if the mood takes me. It helps keep the momentum going.

Overall, this is a game I would recommend. It's not your typical dungeon crawl. It feels more like a video game where you try to solve the level by finding the most efficient way through it. Each of the character classes is different, some being more difficult to play effectively than others, and with different strengths and weaknesses. It's also cooperative and I am much more interested in cooperative games than competitive ones these days. Given how much I have got out of this game, it may well be one of my best purchases after Advanced Squad Leader.

Having played little but Gloomhaven for 18 months now, it is time for a change. Still, I do have plans for the game components. I just received the pdf of Fantasy Fistful of Lead in advance of them sending me the hardcopy rules, and I think that my Gloomhaven tiles, figures and standees may well see the table as FFoL teams and monsters once I have read the rules. Playing fantasy skirmish games with the components was certainly in my mind when I bought Gloomhaven originally and it is something I intend to try at some point in the near future.

Saturday 11 September 2021

Micro Ancient - A trip down memory lane

My first exposure to ancients gaming was the old Tabletop Games Micro Ancient game. This was part of the Micro Warfare series that covered warfare from the ancients period through to WW1 naval. It came in an A5 sized ziplock bag and contained a simple rules set and two army cards to cut out and use. The base game modelled a battle from the Punic Wars. The two army cards were a Republican Roman army of around 22000 men and a Carthaginian army of around 30000 men. You had to cut out the unit counters and could then play games on any flat surface. Terrain would generally be templates cut from card. The cool thing was that this set was cheap enough to be affordable, and that here was a supplement with Normans, Saxons (Anglo-Danish really) and (most importantly of all) Vikings. Just the ticket for a cash-strapped youth.

Romans (purple) versus Carthaginians (red)

The rules required you to track actual losses in each unit, so the unit counters had unique identifiers for every counter and you needed a roster to track these things. I know I tried the game a couple of times as a teenager around 1980 or so, but I cannot remember what I thought of it. I have vague recollections of being a bit confused about things because I was not an experienced gamer at that time. That confusion probably led to the game being put away. I also have no idea what happened to my copy of the game. I may have traded it away or it may have been destroyed or lost as a result of the various vicissitudes of life. Either way, I no longer have my original copy.

Enter Hurlbat Games. They released the game along with its supplements as a pdf download from WargameVault in 2012. I noticed this at some point recently and was struck by nostalgia, so I bought a copy of the base game and the Normans, Saxons (and of course) Vikings supplement. I printed out the armies onto label paper and stuck that onto matte board to make slightly more robust counters than the original game. I then spent a happy weekend cutting out the counters and edging the coloured ones with Sharpie markers to make them look a bit neater. There is something quite peaceful about this activity, much more so than painting figures to my mind.

Vikings (black) face off against an Anglo-Danish (blue) army

The end result was that I now had five armies for Micro Ancient. I suppose I should read the rules and set up a game soon. First, though, I need to make terrain. Fortunately, I have a large sheet of cardboard in the flat that protected the table I shall be playing on when it was delivered. Time to dig out the scissors and cut out some randomly oval templates. Using the Sharpie markers I can mark crestlines for hills and draw on tree or rough ground symbols for other terrain. I'll maybe need some roads and rivers too, but there is plenty of cardboard for all of those.

The Anglo-Danish (blue) army defends a hill from the Norman (purple) army

One thing that I find particularly interesting is the presence in both the Viking and Saxon/Anglo-Danish armies of mounted contingents. In recent years, I have seen and been involved in some quite heated debates about the presence of cavalry in both Anglo-Danish and Viking armies, so it is particularly interesting to see mounted combat units in these armies in a game from 1976. Personally, I think that half the problem here is 19th-century antiquarianism/historiography and the other half is the terminology. The second you talk about 'cavalry', people get in their heads permanent formations of mounted combat troops and this obscures the probable reality of elite warriors who could fight mounted or dismounted as needed, like the medieval knights of whom they were the forebears both socially and literally. But, that is an argument for another time.

So, what next? Well, I really do need to try the game out again and see what I think of it. It would be awesome if it worked well. As a readily portable game set, it suits my needs beautifully and does not require a huge area to play on. It also has me wondering about using the counters with other miniatures rules sets, or making counters of the right size for those other games. It also has me wondering about Kriegsspiel blocks and whether I would find 18th-century warfare as interesting to play out using counters or blocks. The flexibility of having a red army and a blue army without worrying about uniform details appeals a lot. We'll see. I need to get these bad boys deployed in simulated anger first, and see how the reality matches up to my nostalgia.

Saturday 21 August 2021

RAF: The Battle of Britain 1940 (Decision Games)

 September 6 1940

A hectic day with half a dozen raids, mostly focused on John's gaming shed near Canterbury. The Luftwaffe has been gunning for that shed since the start of their attempt to grind the RAF into the ground and pave the way for Operation Sealion. It was a good day for the RAF. Losses were low and enemy losses were high. And the shed was still standing despite a month of attempts to bomb it.

September 7 1940

My campaign was over. It had been hard fought, especially in the beginning, but the might of the Luftwaffe had been thrown back by the heroic pilots of Fighter Command just a few days after the Luftwaffe terror campaign had begun. In this version of reality, there was no Blitz. London was never even attacked. Kent was the real focus of the Luftwaffe's ire. I've no idea why I drew so many target cards for Kent, unless it really all was about the gaming shed after all.

I used to own the original version of this game many years ago, about the time it first came out. I played it a bit but never finished the whole campaign, and can only assume that I sold it somewhere along the way, although it is possible my mother's dog ate it, like it did to my copy of Hornet Leader. With the new version of the game in hand, and more time for gaming, I sat down a week ago to first learn the rules and then to play the campaign from the perspective of Fighter Command.

The rules were easy to follow, and it was simple to set the game up and learn by following the sequence of play. I then set up again to try the shorter campaign covering the first four raid days of the campaign (days on which raids happened). Things were looking bad after just those few raids but not hopeless, so I decided to continue the full campaign. As I gained experience with the game, things started getting better. I stopped trying to stop every raid, and started focusing on those where I thought I might do most damage. The Luftwaffe started getting worn down and my new approach paid dividends in fewer of my own planes getting shot down. Suddenly, the two factors led to a snowballing of victory points and on September 6th 1940, I reached the critical victory point score. I had won the game. This took me about a week and ten raid days.

The game is quite repetitive in that you draw a target card and roll to see whether this is a real raid, a minor raid or a major raid. Then you dice to see what warning you get of the raid and how accurate that warning is. The point at which you deploy your fighters and find out what the raid consists of depends upon what level of warning you get. Which of your fighters you can deploy depends upon how early the warning is. It is possible to get no warning, where only fighters actually on patrol on the raid's flight path can deploy against it, to very early warning so you can call in the fighters from all the surrounding airfields.

With both fighters deployed and the raiding aircraft identified, you have to fight your way through the fighter screen before you can attack the bombers. There are random raid events along the way and much of the narrative is driven by card draws for events on the approach, at the target and at the end of each day. With the raid outcome determined for good or ill, you start all over again with the same process, only this time some or all of your pilots could be refuelling and rearming their planes and unable to respond. It is also possible to have multiple raids happening at the same time, either as follow-up raids or in different areas. I think my record in this campaign was four follow-up raids on John's gaming shed, or RAF Hornchurch as the cards called it. By the end of all this action in the one place, I had no fighters left able to respond from any of the surrounding areas and the bombs were falling thick and fast around the shed.

I've seen some complain about the sheer repetitiveness of the game but I found that it was not an issue. I played a raid day or two every night and was soon looking forward to returning to the table and seeing what would happen next. The relentness repetitiveness of the raids was what built the tension in the game as I tried to work out where the next attack would be and which fighters I needed to send up on patrol. If I sent the wrong ones up now, they would not be available in an hour's time if there were a raid over their sector then instead. Likewise, do I send supporting fighters from a neighbouring sector, or will I need them for the next raid? It's very much a resource and risk management game, and I enjoyed it a lot.

I also like that the new edition allows you to play as the Luftwaffe and to play it as a two-player game. I don't particularly have any desire to play the Luftwaffe in this, having grown up thrilling to the sound of Spitfires and Hurricanes at air shows and on a diet of movies like The Battle of Britain and Angels One Five, but I do like having the option. The two-player option offers an interesting challenge too, because a human player is unlikely to manage resources in the same way as the game's AI.

Saturday 14 August 2021

Heroes of Telemark (Decision Games)

I remember watching The Heroes of Telemark on the TV many years ago. It wasn't a movie that really stayed with me, just another in a long line of WW2 movies that formed a large part of my diet as a child. Still, I remembered it enough that I was reminded of it in 2020 when I moved to Stavanger. It turned out that my flat would be next to the graveyard where the dead from Operation Freshman were buried. This made me reflect on the movie and on the reality of this period, although I don't have any great insights to offer. It's just a purely personal reflection on the morality of wargaming generally, my relationship to the past, and my reasons for not usually gaming anything more recent than WW2 these days. If you want more depth and discussion of these topics, I recommend the Polemarch blog instead. The discussions about the morality and philosophy of wargaming there are very interesting.

Eiganes cemetery in Stavanger is home to more than just the members of Operation Freshman. Solveig Bergslien, a member of the Norwegian resistance who died in a Gestapo cell, has her grave here, and there are the graves of Soviet soldiers who died in Rogaland, as well as the Norwegian war dead. Visiting the cemetery really does make you think, but that's not the point of this post.

I picked up Decision Games' Heroes of Telemark, Commando Raids in Norway, 1942-43 recently as part of my quest for more solitaire wargames. I felt a bit weird about it because of my proximity to the dead from one of the raids depicted in the game, but pushed past that and tried it out. It's an interesting game with only four pages of core rules and two of game-specific rules. Knowing the core rules makes other games in this series more accessible because you only need to take on board the game specific rules then.

The game itself has a small footprint (about A3 but actually one of those funny American paper sizes). This makes it ideal for the space-challenged. The map depicts Telemark (if I have done it right, this link should show you the map area on Google Maps), where the heavy water plant was.

The game offers four scenarios that can be played in turn: Operations Grouse, Freshman, Gunnerside and Tinnsjo. Played in order, these set up the narrative of the WW2 operations, but they can also be played in a random order if you just want a slightly different campaign. Success in one operation will increase your chance of encountering Germans in later operations, so the difficulty of each game ramps up through the campaign. You can replay operations if you lose them, but if you lose two operations, the campaign is over and you have failed.

Game length is determined by the number of event cards in a deck. This number is set by the scenario but can go up or down as you encounter and defeat or lose to German patrols. You draw one card each turn and the game is over when the last card is drawn.

Each scenario also gives you recruit points to buy troops and gear. These start in Britain and arrive on the map either by glider landing or parachute according to what type of troops they are. Then you have to move to the various objectives and reveal them. Once revealed, you can capture some of them, destroy others, or find that you have been ambushed and must fight. Operation Grouse requires you to scout the objectives. The other operations are about capturing plutonium or destroying heavy water plants and resources.

In my first game, my entire force was wiped out by an encounter with a massive German patrol. I then moved on to the campaign, having worked out the rules. I succeeded easily in Operation Grouse, encountering little resistance and dodging an ambush by scouting an objective from an adjacent space with my Commandos. Unfortunately, I lost most of my troops to an enemy encounter in Operation Freshman but still managed to win the operation. My engineers all died when my gliders crashed in Operation Gunnerside; they did not even make it onto the map, in a repeat of the historical Operation Freshman. My second try at this operation was a success and I moved on to Operation Tinnsjo, which I lost because of massive hostile activity, and thus I lost the campaign.

Despite my being a bit weirded out by being too close to elements of this game's subject matter, this is an interesting game. It is very random in that your encounters with the Germans can be overwhelming if you roll high for the number of Germans present or they can be a walkover if you roll low. The random distribution of your base and the objectives will also affect how easy or difficult your game is.  However, this just means that you need to manage your risks as best you can and the meaningful choices in the game are made around that risk management, while the pressure to push your luck is provided by drawing the event cards and counting down to the end of the game. The combination of these elements and the short playing time for each operation make the game highly replayable, although I would not want to play it exclusively.

For me, it is a good filler game for when I don't want to, or don't have the time to, sit down for a couple of hours with something meatier. The main down side of this game is that I found the rules a little messy. Despite being short, or perhaps because of that, it took me a little while to piece together how to play.

I have two more of Decision Games' solitaire games: Vikings: Scourge of the North and Border War: Angola Raiders. I expect more of the same from each of these, and look forward to trying them out in the future.

Sunday 8 August 2021

Babysitting duty (Five Parsecs from Home)

Location: Zircon/Jewell

Date: 001/1105

I rolled for the planet's attributes twice and got a Fuel Refinery result and a Gloom result. The former means that travel only costs 3Cr and the latter that visibility will be 1d6+6". I interpreted the fuel refinery as meaning there was a scout base in system. For the latter, I decided it either meant a tainted or an exotic atmosphere. I picked the Jewell subsector to check for a suitable planet first, because it is at the border of Zhodani and Imperial space. I have a vague idea that conflict along the border will be part of any future campaign, although that could change according to whatever whim takes my fancy. So, looking through the systems with scout bases, I noted that Zircon has a dense tainted atmosphere and a scout base. Perfect. Whatever taints the atmosphere causes reduced visibility. It's a non-industrial planet so I think the taint must be natural and may be dust because of the planet's low hydrographic index. At this period in the history of the Spinward Marches Zircon is a non-aligned planet.

The team had dropped in at the scout base for a cheap refuel and Eshtovr went off to see the local commander while the others ran errands. Shelby was in the local market playing dice and doing rather well. Weeb was nearby dickering with a trader and arranging delivery of some trade goods to their ship. Just as he was raking in his latest winnings, Shelby's comms rang.

"Gotta mission," announced Eshtovr, "Some kind of drop being made. I need you to escort the VIP to a data terminal downtown where they will need to access it. Hostiles are likely to be limited in number, but don't take any chances. Seems we could be looking at Cyclan involvement. You and Weeb get over there. We'll follow up as quick as we can. Remember that all weapons are illegal here, so be careful. If you must take that cannon of yours with you, don't let the local cops catch you. Sending coordinates for pick-up and drop off to your comm now."

Sector government (one of the team's patrons) assigned a protection mission. It involves getting the target to the centre of the board for a full turn. The enemy is Converted which I am interpreting as Cyclan, based on E. C. Tubb's Dumarest Saga. I only rolled one enemy, but will be using random events, so let's see how it goes.

Weeb and Shelby met up with the VIP quickly and set off at full speed for the data terminal. The area was not too busy at this time of day, so Shelby powered up his jump belt and hopped onto the roof of the Penneys Building. He took cover behind an air processing unit directly above the objective. Weeb moved quickly up the opposite pavement but paused when finding a data stick in the mouth of an alley he passed. The bot grabbed it, thinking it might have something useful on it. The VIP followed as close behind them as she could. There was no sign of any enemy presence yet.

The team got the drop on the enemy and made a full move before the enemy got to move. On top of that, I rolled low enough that both of my crew were able to act in the quick actions phase. Woohoo. That got Shelby into position while Weeb was able to pick up documentation that would give the team a quest rumour. Who knows where that will lead? The enemy figure advanced at full speed, but did not get into line of sight yet.

Weeb advanced to the corner of the Penneys Building. The bot's sensors quickly detected a suspicious figure moving quickly into cover behind a parked car. It's suspicions were confirmed when the figure pulled an assault rifle out from under it's duster coat and fired at Shelby on the roof. Shelby yelled and pitched over, dropping his rifle. Weeb groaned mechanically as it heard Shelby fall, and again when two ROUS crawled out of a nearby vent. It pinged Eshtovr and told her to hurry up as it raced across the street to get a clear shot at the Cyclan infiltrator. Weeb blasted the infiltrator with both barrels. It would not be getting up again. Now to deal with the ROUS that was launching itself at it. The ROUS's claws were sharp but failed to damage Weeb's plasteel shell. Weeb's shotgun, however, crushed the vermin's skull. One down, one to go, as the other ROUS raced as fast as it could towards the bot. The VIP raced past the bot and the ROUS, reaching the data terminal. Hopefully, she could do whatever she needed to do before anything else could go wrong.

The hostile managed to roll the 6 needed to hit Shelby, taking him out of the fight. I only remembered about using story points later on so I let this result stand. Weeb got to act and moved to a spot where the hostile could not count as in cover. It blasted the infiltrator before being attacked in a brawl by one of the ROUS (vent crawlers). The two brawlers tied but Weeb rolled high enough to kill the ROUS while the ROUS rolled a 1 and did not hurt Weeb. I used giant rats as the vent crawlers because that is what I had to hand.

Weeb quickly pumped the action of its shotgun and let the second ROUS have it right in the face. Two solid hits and the ROUS practically disintegrated. Meanwhile, Eshtovr and Garth had finally arrived! Out of breath, they raced towards the ongoing fight. When they arrived, the VIP was done with their task and disappeared into the crowd. The crew quickly recovered Shelby and looted the corpse of the infiltrator before merging into the crowds that were gathering and then disappearing back to the Saucy Sue where they found that Shelby was just winded. His jump belt had taken the full brunt of the shot and been destroyed in the process.

 The crew earned 9 Credits for this mission, including danger pay and bonuses for completing it quickly. They also gained a Military Rifle and a Blade, and a CredCard that they were able to cash in for 3 Credits.

Shelby was not hurt but lost a random item of equipment.

At this point I awarded experience and moved on to other post-battle activities. No character had enough experience to spend the points yet, and I did not have enough credits to invest in advanced training. I did decide to spend 6 Credits to get a roll on the Gear table and a roll on the Gadget table. The crew snagged a set of Combat Armour and a Repair Bot. With law levels in mind, and the thought that I can introduce the police as a programmed problem in some scenarios, I also spent 2 Credits on Hand Guns for those worlds where rifles are illegal and 3 Credits on Blades for those worlds where even Hand Guns are illegal. I foresee issues where the bad guys pay no heed to the law, but I'll deal with that when the time comes. To offset the cost, I sold a spare shotgun.

The help I gave the VIP has led to making friends among the locals (+1 story point). I suspect we are no involved in some attempt to free the planet from its extra-system rulers.

Shelby and Eshtovr had a heart to heart after his near death experience and Eshtovr was able to both guide and encourage him (+1 XP each). Meanwhile Weeb cracked the data stick and the team gained a Quest Rumour.

And so the crew of the Saucy Sue has been blooded. They took down their first bad guy and made some progress on something bigger than themselves. With the events that have happened, they will stay on this planet and see what opportunities occur. I'll let the dice decide it, but it may be that the planet is being targeted by the Converted and we have to do something about it. I like that idea, but I'm sure the dice will have something else in mind for me. Unfortunately, the next game will have to be when I return home at Christmas as I am now back at work and separated from my figures by the North Sea.

One thought I had before setting up this game was that I really should add civilians to the table and a system for moving the cars. I chose not to for simplicity's sake this time around. I justified this decision by assuming it was very early morning and all the cars were parked, but it feels wrong to have games in an urban environment without moving cars and civilians that we have to watch out for. I might borrow the 'flock of seagulls' rule from TwoHourWargames for pedestrians where they will panic and run in random directions and random distances. The cars will probably just move along the roads at a fixed rate, stopping at junctions if other cars are in their way. I might also dice to see if they crash because of shots fired near them or figures running in front of them.

Saturday 31 July 2021

The Saucy Sue in Space (Five Parsecs from Home)

So, I recently picked up Five Parsecs from Home 3rd Edition. I love the digest-sized hardback rulebook. Aesthetically, this is my ideal. This probably stems from getting into sci-fi gaming via Traveller and the Little Black Books in the late seventies and the digest-sized Laserburn rulebook with its supplements in the early eighties.

Better yet, this rulebook really does hark back to the Traveller adventures we had back then. The contents very clearly show a debt to Traveller. I've bought a lot of the Nordic Weasel material along the way and found it interesting, but I always found it hard to read because of the layout. It just did not suit my reading style and made learning the rules harder, which is a shame because the games are just the kinds of things I wanted. This rulebook is a sea change in that. It is easily readable and I love what I have read. I am really looking forward to getting a few games in soon.

The first thing I decided when reading the rules was that they mapped so clearly onto the Traveller background that I would set my adventures in the Spinward Marches in the period covered by the earliest adventures and supplements I owned. This is the first decade of the year 1100 of the Third Imperium. It is a time when things start to unravel culminating in the Fifth Frontier War. This will give me background events to set my own crew's adventures against, and perhaps for them to get involved in. Who knows? They might even change the course of history!

Five Parsecs from Home uses a lot of tables to procedurally generate encounters and worlds. I shall need to fudge things a little so that these results make sense within the Traveller universe. I'll be limiting myself to the Traveller jump technology, so it will probably be a case of checking the details on whichever planet I land on and picking among the various Five Parsecs from Home options for worlds. There will be a fair bit of fudging things and winging it but the tools are all there in the rulebook and it should adapt easily. And, to be honest, that will not be much different from how I GMed my Traveller games all those years ago. It will also be interesting to see if I can deconstruct the original adventures into a series of set pieces with perhaps some procedural dice rolling between episodes. Some of them will probably work better than others for this, so we'll have to see how I go.

The other thing that is fun is to dig out my old Traveller figures. So much nostalgia! And that is despite the fact that some were painted thirty years ago and it shows. I shall have to see about patching up the paintwork a bit here, and it might encourage me to return to some of the others sitting around the house.  I did rebase a lot of them not so long back, so there is that, at least.
The crew of the Saucy Sue

So, on to my team. I mostly diced randomly for them, but did make a couple of executive decisions about their backgrounds to fit the storyline I had in mind, which is based on ideas from the introductory adventure The Imperial Fringe that came with the Deluxe Traveller boxed set. This also meant that I decided to keep my team to just four crew, because the standard Type S Scout/Courier in Traveller has berths for only four crew. I wonder how much trouble they will get in, and how long they will survive. I'll be running them in some test games first to get to know the rules, before starting out in the campaign proper, so there may well be a few games that turned out to be all just a dream.

The concept here is a team that starts with a patron: The Sector Government. This will be an enduring patron who will give the team missions occasionally. I need to figure out how the survey work that the team is meant to do fits in. Not sure how to do that yet, but I'm sure it will become clear as the game progresses. Hopefully, I shall have time to do that before I have to return to work and find myself once more in a different country from my figures.

Nudge Unit 3561

***detached scout team on roving commission***
***assignment: Spinward Marches***
***team assigned to Type S Scout/Courier Saucy Sue***

Commander Eshtovr Vindenes

  • Team leader of Nudge Unit 3561
  • Homeworld: Jewell/Jewell
  • Empath. Psi powers believed inherited from her Zhodani mother. Nothing distinguishes her human father to suggest they come from him.
  • Successful career in Contact & Liaison with specialism in intelligence analysis.
  • Now mustered out but engaged by Senior Scout Administrator Galadden for the Imperial Fringe Audit. Mission to conduct surveys of planets in the Spinward Marches. Secondary mission to nudge societies towards desired future paths.
  • Vindenes is known to be particularly dedicated to the Scout Service and the Third Imperium in that order. Her early upbringing on Jewell was characterised by alienation from both human and Zhodani societies because of her mixed heritage. The Scout Service gave her a home where she belonged and she is fiercely loyal to it.

Supervisor Garth Burnside

  • Security chief of Nudge Unit 3561
  • Homeworld: Squanine/Trin's Veil
  • Standard Imperial human
  • Successful career as security specialist in Contact & Liaison.
  • Now mustered out but engaged by Senior Scout Administrator Galadden for the Imperial Fringe Audit.
  • Burnside grew up in the Feudal Technocracy of Squanine and is known to crave recognition for his successes since leaving there. This has occasionally led to him taking too many chances in the field. Since joining Commander Vindenes' team he has shown more moderation. She appears able to manage him better than many of his previous commanders.

Skilled Worker Shelby Kutts

  • Engineer of Nudge Unit 3561
  • Homeworld: Rethe/Regina
  • Standard Imperial human
  • Undistinguished career as engineer with Contact & Liaison.
  • Now mustered out but engaged by Senior Scout Administrator Galadden for the Imperial Fringe Audit.
  • Kutts grew up in the arcologies of Rethe as part of the underclass in the lower levels Arcology Pinochet XXIII. Although a good engineer, he lacks seriousness and is only interested in the gadgets rather than knuckling down and doing the routine work. His attitude has improved under Commander Vindenes.

W33-b Omnibot 'Weeb'

  • Assigned bot to the Scout/Courier Saucy Sue
  • Standard programming package
  • The Omnibot series is an anthropomorphic general support bot designed for flexibility rather than specialist use.
  • W33-b is usually called Weeb by the crew of the Saucy Sue.
  • Intelligence suspects that W33-b may have gone AI sometime around 1103. This is unconfirmed. Intelligence continues to monitor the situation.

Saturday 24 July 2021

The Thrappled Lemmings and The Infected Trees (Rangers of Shadow Deep)

 "Barkeep, drinks for my companions! It's been an infernum of a day. Oh, spiders, why did it have to be spiders?" Aethelwyrd demanded and complained in equal measure.

The ranger was bespattered with mud and blood and what looked like some kind of noxious ichor. She had a greenish cast to her face that was not normal either.

"Let me tell you the tale," she said, "of how we went in search of your fellow countryfolk, for our bard is still recovering from an encounter that could have been his end." She motioned in the direction of Ash the Scop, who was bandaged and also rather green about the gills too. His hand with the beer tankard in it shook badly, but such was his fortitude that he spilled not one drop.

"We followed the trail from the village to the forest, where we found the remains of several of the villagers we had been tasked with finding. There were several huge web cocoons among the trees. We surmised that the spiders had saved some of your folk for later so we resolved to investigate. As we did so, we heard a ghastly chittering and rustling noise. Spiders as large as horses were descending from trees ahead of us, intent upon saving their dinner."
"We raced forward, their sickening chittering ever around us. A horripilating dread seized us but we bravely soldiered forth for that is our calling. Diarmuid launched a magic bolt and slew a spider while Aelfwynn loosed a volley of arrows to send another to its damnation. We reached the first cocoon and found a zombie within. More spiders approached, emerging from the very undergrowth around us."
"We pushed ever onwards, investigating each cocoon and finding only corpses and zombies until, at last, we found a survivor from the village. He told us that the spider's had attacked the village, and that those that were slain by the spiders soon arose as grim, undead monstrosities. A spider leapt upon this plucky villager, who slew it with his bare hands. Berserk with rage and horror he charged forth, only to be slain in turn by the next spider. Still we fought on. More spiders emerged from all around and new zombies appeared among the trees."
"Alas, Diarmuid Oakstream, our conjuror fell, overcome by spiders, and Ash was struck to the ground unconscious. None of us was unscathed by this point and I could feel the spider's venom coursing in my own veins, slowing me down. Despite this adversity, we drove onwards and burnt the trees where we surmised that the spiders had their nests. Too late we spotted a fifth nest tree, as ever more spiders sought to ensnare us for a late night repast. We had done more than our job by this point and we retreated to bring this news to you. You townsfolk must rally the militia and burn out the spiders lest you too fall to their venom and walk again as hideous caricatures of your living selves."

Aethelwyrd paused for breath and a long draught of ale.

"A toast to Diarmuid the Conjuror. Let his name never be forgotten in the battle against the Shadow Deep."

The Thrappled Lemmings raised their tankards and drank deep of their ale.

"Umm, excuse me." A young man had approached Aethelwyrd as she spoke. "I am Bergsveinn, an Archer of this town. Would you be looking for a new companion now? I realise it may be a bad time to ask, but I think I could be useful to you."

Aethelwyrd looked the pimply, young man up and down. He was unkempt and unprepossessing, but he did at least claim to be capable of using a bow. There was also about him an indefinable air of needing to be out of town fairly quickly that was very much in keeping with the aesthetic of the Thrappled Lemmings.

"Ok, Bergsveinn the Grubby, pay for these drinks for us and let's go. We have another date with destiny at Tor Varden and it cannot wait."

This was another fun scenario. Only two of the companions were put out of action, but sadly Diarmuid the Conjuror rolled a 2 and died of his wounds. Ash the Scop rolled well and returned uninjured. Even with the two casualties, the scenario went quite well. The spiders were numerous but not individually too challenging. I did roll poorly for the cocoons. Three of them held zombies, one held nothing and one held a survivor. The survivor got unlucky with a spider appearing right next to him as a result of an event card, and it ate him. Aethelwyrd the Ranger was the only figure to be poisoned by the spiders and survive. The loss of an action meant that when a nest tree spawned on our start line, she could not get there in time to burn it, so I lost out on the XPs for burning out all the nest trees. My dice rolling was, on average, better than in the last scenario, which was nice.

After a second game, I am very happy with these rules. I like the structure of the scenarios and the pressure that the event cards put on you to keep moving. Weirdly, the d20 rolls which I found too swingy and frustrating in Frostgrave do not feel that way in Rangers of Shadow Deep. I suspect this has to do with me focusing on the story, instead of being competitive and trying to beat my opponent. Still, it works and I am interested in working up some additions to the Rangers AI that might work for NPC warbands in Frostgrave, allowing me to play the various campaigns solo. We'll see if I ever get around to it, or if I get distracted by something else before then.

In the meantime, I need to finish painting the monsters for the next Rangers mission, so I had better get on with that.