Tuesday 30 January 2024

Turn 31: The Thrappled Lemmings and the Deranged Cultist (Five Leagues from the Borderland)

 The locals have been harassed lately by bandits and the locals are keen for the Lemmings to patrol and deal with the threat. Sir Thiebault says he will take it under advisement. The villagers seem satisfied with this. The Lemmings use up some of their supplies to save money, wary of being overcharged for being insufficiently enthusiastic about patrolling. Sir Thiebault then sets Fulrad and Wido to training so that they will be properly prepared for the next expedition to Gamla Utstein (+1 XP each). Meanwhile, Lysanthir was able to find a buyer for the artworks and added 6 Marks to the party's purse. With the trading done, the Thrappled Lemmings set out once more for Gamla Utstein, claiming that they were going to patrol in that direction.

They made their way quickly through the carnage they had left behind and descended lower towards the bowels of the earth. As they approached the next level of the catacombs, they heard eldritch chanting echoing around the chambers and corridors ahead. Worse yet, there was an infernal buzzing noise like a thousand bluebottles trapped in a tiny room on a hot summer day. The noises combined to cause even the Thrappled Lemmings to contemplate their own existences.

As Fulrad scouted ahead, he realised quickly that this was an active tomb.

"It's quiet," he muttered, "too quiet."

He waved the others forward.

"Looks like this is a proper tomb", he informed them, "There'll be undead guards here for sure."

As the Lemmings advanced further into the tombs, the infernal buzzing showed itself to be hellish imps summoned from another plane. In Utavoll they had taken on the semblance of giant flies whose buzzing would drive anyone insane. The first of them attacked Sir Thiebault, but was driven back.Fulrad took a shot that bounced off the demon's hardened hide.

"Scrag them!" yelled Sir Thiebault, voicing the Thrappled Lemmings' battle cry. The other's took up the cry, "Scrag them!"

As Sir Thiebault and Drogo waded into the imps and cut them down, the others saw skeletons approaching from the other direction. Meanwhile, the chanting had taken on a different tone and got louder. The Lemmings could hear an unpleasant whining noise on the edge of their hearing.

"Whoever is chanting is starting to get their act together," announced Lysanthir, "Expect summoned monsters incoming unless we can find them soon!"

As the Lemmings destroyed the last of the skeletons guards, the buzzing of more imps grew closer and the chanting increased in volume once more. It took on a tone that gave them all a toothace as the whining noise got stronger.

"I think I hear where the chanting is coming from," yelled Wido, "Follow me!"

He raced off through the tombs with the other Lemmings following as fast as they could. Even as he did so, Lysanthir realised it was too late as a cracking, rending noise echoed through the tombs. Hastily, Lysanthir yelled a counter spell. It was too late to stop the summoning, but not too late to interfere with the ritual. He grunted hard as if hit in the belly and paused a moment.

"I think that did it."

Lysanthir used "Did I ever tell you how I learned to do this?" to automatically pass the Devotion test to disrupt the ritual and learned the skill Devotion as part of that. The disruption means that the Troll will attack anybody it is near, not just the party.

"Ah, crap," yelled Wido, "It's a troll!"

As the others ran to take up defensive positions, Wido raced towards where he though the deranged cultist was hiding, while Onesipe went in search of treasure. At the rear of the party, the Imps had caught up with Lysanthir and Drogo and a grim fight began, while the Troll, realising it could not catch Wido turned to attack Sir Thiebault. Its first blow splintered several ribs and only desperate flailing stopped the Troll from turning him into paste. Fulrad's arrow splintered on the Troll's stony skin. Instead of counterattacking immediately, Sir Thiebault paused to apply a healing salve.

The Troll attacked and Sir Thiebault responded with renewed vigour, his sword cutting deeply into the Troll's side but he soon found himself laid out on the floor as the Troll smashed him to the ground apparently lifeless. Elsewhere, Wido had found the deranged cultist's hiding place. Puffing hard from his sprint, his first attack was turned aside but he soon caught his breath and speared the cultist through the heart with a spirited counterattack.

Onesipe tucked the gold bars (4 Marks) into his backpack. He could hear the others fighting but figured he had time to grab what loot he could while they were dealing with the monsters.

Lysanthir and Drogo quickly killed several more imps and this was enough to drive the others off. With strange bamfing noises the Imps returned to their home dimension.

Having smashed aside Sir Thiebault, the Troll then smashed Fulrad to the floor. Lysanthir and Drogo turned to face it. Lysanthir cast a wall of flame across the corridor and Drogo used his bow to wound the Troll. As the wall of flame died down, the wound closed of its own accord though.

By now, Wido had caught up and was able to attack the Troll from behind while Lysanthir and Drogo attacked it from the front. Faced with a concerted attack by all three, the Troll was soon cut down. They burnt the corpse just in case and went off in search of Onesipe, who was about to get an earbashing at best.

Once they had found him and told him what they thought of him, the others dragged Onesipe round the rest of the tombs. On the way, they encountered yet more groups of Imps. Fortunately, these were worth fighting because they were all gathered around heaps of treasure. By the end of the day, Jarnhauss the Mule was laden under a king's ransom and the Lemmings staggered back to Utstein Marknad with their injured comrades.

Fortunately, Fulrad was only knocked out and would have a sore head for a while but was otherwise alright. Sir Thiebault's ribs would take longer to heal but he was not seriously wounded, and the sheer weight of treasure they had looted quickly made him forget the pain. And a letter arrived from Sigrid the Beggar telling them that their legend was growing all across Utavoll now, and could they send her a Mark or three for the courtesy she had shown them. Sir Thiebault chuckled and then winced as his ribs protested. Things were really not bad for now.

Well, I can't believe how many guarded stashes the group found, and the Troll was not much fun, but the Lemmings have come out of this adventure sitting on a pretty pile of loot. I wonder how long it will take them to drink it away.

Monday 29 January 2024

Turn 30: The Thrappled Lemmings versus The Big Bugs (Five Leagues from the Borderlands)

 Thorvald was so pleased at hearing from his sister that he packed up the Thrappled Lemmings with a massive hamper of food, which they promptly ate. Sir Thiebault was now fully healed and spent time training and limbering up. His sparring partner, Fulrad, was not overly impressed by the bruises he received as a result of this, but he learned to keep his guard up better, so it was not in vain (+1 XP each).

Having marched for what felt like an age to reach Utstein Marknad, the Lemmings decided to do less walking for a while. They had good intelligence of a delve on the site of Gamla Utstein, on the outskirts of Utstein Marknad, so they decided to combine their objective of less walking with their objective of more gold and headed off there. With any luck, they could fill their backpacks with gold and be back in time for a mug of mead at The Battered Broo by nightfall.

With the delve so close to the settlement, it was only a short walk before the Thrappled Lemmings were standing in the ruins of the Ancients. The remains of the town comprised just low walls and mounds where there had been houses. Little else remained. It had either been mined for reuse or had rotted. From above ground, there were numerous routes to the city below. They picked one of these at random. Knowing so little about what lay below, there was little point in trying to guess which entrance would be best. They picked the first one that looked like it would not fall on their heads and went down the stairs to the ruined city below.

As they advanced into the underground, ominous chittering echoed around the walls, barely deadened by the mosses and lichens that softened the harsh stone.

"Bugs," muttered Wido, "Why did it have to be bugs?"

"Oh shuttup!" barked Sir Thiebault, "Fulrad, scout ahead and let us know what's what!"

Fulrad moved off silently into the stairwell and quickly came to a crossroads.

"C'mon, Lemmings. Looks as safe as these things ever are."

He noted that there was a hidden passage off to one side that seemed to lead off into the distance. Perhaps there were other catacombs nearby that were linked to this one (Unexplored location added to map).

Fulrad advanced towards the nearest chamber and quickly found the corpse of a former adventurer. Looking more closely, he realised that the unfortunate soul had left behind edible rations in their backpack (2 Rations found).

"Shame to waste them," he muttered as he put them in his backpack.

As the Lemmings advanced further into the crypts, the hideous chittering grew louder. It was clear that the bugs knew they were there and were coming for them. Onesipe and Wido took up positions to defend a narrow passage with Lysanthir and Fulrad moving to support them. Sir Thiebault and Drogo had already disappeared off on their own in search of treasure.

Onesipe's first shot killed a giant scorpion. Fulrad moved up and shot between Wido and Onesipe. Another giant scorpion died. Wido charged up the passage to attack the remaining scorpion and suddenly realised that there were more behind it. Distracted, he let the scorpion gain the advantage, but quickly counterattacked and then skewered the scorpion. Lysanthir raced up the passage to support him.

As Drogo entered a different chamber, a block of stone from the ceiling swung down and pinned him in place.

"It's a trap!" he yelled to Sir Thiebault.

The chittering of outraged scorpions grew louder again.

Sir Thiebault moved up to the stone block and quickly discerned how it was hinged. He released Drogo and helped him up.

More hideous chitinous horrors raced down the passage towards Wido. He rapidly counterattacked and skewered the first of the monstrosities before stepping forward and slaying the next one. The unspeakable chittering grew less. Some of the scorpions must have fled on hearing the crunch of chitinous corpses being trampled under Wido's feet and well they did as he made short work of the last one in the narrow passage.

Freed of the trap, Drogo was able to investigate what had attracted him to this chamber in the first place. A small box of valuable artworks (6 Marks) had been laid around the bier of the person buried here.

Wido slew the last of the scorpions in front of him, wielding his war spear with deadly aplomb. The Lemmings advanced further into the crypts. The place was almost silent now but for a tiny bit of chittering in the distance. Then Wido tripped an alarm. The chittering noises increased again. More scorpions were coming.

Hearing a chitinous monster heading in his direction, Lysanthir cast a wall of flame across the corridor in front of him. The advancing scorpion balked at the flames and Onesipe took aim. He shot true and the scorpion died. Meanwhile, two more scorpions, attracted by the noise from the trap Wido had set off, had Wido in their sites. They scuttled menacingly forward. He scuttled towards them. The first one died before it could even raise a pincer. The second one followed suit in short order. There was no more chittering.

The Thrappled Lemmings gathered in a large crypt and then set out to methodically explore the rest of the crypt. They had learned their lesson and two more alarm traps were avoided, but Drogo got pinned again trying to grab the treasure. After the others had freed him, they grabbed a sack of silver bars (5 Marks) from the crypt and a fine helmet from another corpse of someone that had dared to invade this realm of giant scorpions.

"Right, lads," announced Sir Thiebault, "Time to go home."

Returning to town, they settled in to The Battered Broo and began to regale the locals with tales of their derring do. In return, a visiting merchant told them that cowherds looking for their lost cows had spotted an old ruined Castle of the Ancients near the swamps to the west of Haitabu. The cowherds had not dared venture in, but they said it looked like the kind of place where treasure might be had.

Sunday 28 January 2024

Turn 29: The Thrappled Lemmings and Helga's Letter (Five Leagues from the Borderlands)

 With Sir Thiebault wounded still, the Lemmings decided to deliver Helga's letter to her brother Thorvald in Utstein Marknad. A little travelling would do their credit balance with the local taverns some good and then they could decide where to try to make their fortune next.

Annoyingly, Sir Thiebault's wounds seemed infected too, so they were taking longer to heal than usual, and the Lemmings had to resort to giving him the last of their tonic. This also meant he needed more and better food and the Lemmings spent 3 Marks on their upkeep. Lysanthir and Fulrad spent their time training while waiting for the others to get sorted out (+1 XP each).

Packed and ready, they set out. As they marched, the Lemmings spotted the smoke of possible camp fires in the distance. They noted this as an unexplored location on their map and continued their journey to Utstein Marknad.

The rest of the journey was uneventful and they had soon delivered the letter (+1 Mark, +1 Adventure Point) and were settling in for yet another liquid dinner. While eating and drinking they planned their next move.

Nothing Gained But Glory: Seven Battles of the Scanian War (GMT)

 Nothing Gained But Glory is part of the Musket and Pike Battles series from GMT. It covers seven battles fought between 1659 and 1678 with Sweden on one side and primarily Denmark and Brandenburg on the other, although other contingents do show their faces. Each battle has its own map and set of force counters. Set-up is easy because the counters are marked to show which battle they are part of, and the maps are pretty. Better yet, the battles are small, which means that games don't have to take a long time.

I decided to begin this year learning to play this game, so I have played through a couple of scenarios solo. The rules are not overly complicated, but there are quite a lot of moving parts, what with the possibility of preemption of initiative, reactions and interception, so the gameplay can require a bit of thought.

My first attempt was the Battle of Warksow, which took place on the island of RĂ¼gen in 1678. I managed to play this on the anniversary of the battle, which was nice. The battle involved the Swedes trying to cross a stream and drive off the Danish-Brandenburg army.

Set-up at the start of the Battle of Warksow

The Swedish army advanced to the stream, while its right wing attempted to loop around the enemy flank. The Danes redeployed their left flank to prevent this manoeuvre. Despite being disordered by the stream, the Swedish army made good headway and very quickly rolled up the enemy army for a decisive victory. It was fun, despite me getting the rules wrong a lot, so I moved on and set up Fehrbellin.

Set-up for the Battle of Fehrbellin

The Battle of Fehrbellin took place in June 1675 between Sweden and Brandenburg-Prussia. This is a very different battle because so much of the Brandenburg army was cavalry, and because the Brandenburg artillery bombardment was particularly effective. The Brandenburg left flank turned out to be impossible to attack effectively, and the other flank was impassable marsh, so neither side could be flanked. I made mistakes with the Brandenburgers that led to their cavalry getting shot to bits by the Swedish infantry, and it might have been better to form up the main body of Brandenburger cavalry and let the Swedes come to me. I'm not sure about that. This time, I did manage to get most of the rules right though.

Both games were fun, but I am not sure I shall follow through on my plan to play all the battles, because the opportunities for interrupting your opponent's move are too many, and that spoils the solo gameplay for me. I was tempted to use something like the Mythic GM Emulator as a semi-AI, but I think it would slow the gameplay down too much for this to be an enjoyable solo experience. Clearly I need to get myself an opponent who is also willing to learn these rules. It's a good game and I would love to play it face to face rather than solo.

Saturday 27 January 2024

The Diary of "Spud" McGonagall, WW1 ace and poetic Pup pilot

It was the summer of 2016. I was on holiday in northern France near the town of St Omer when I chanced upon a small, secondhand bookshop tucked away unassumingly down a narrow side street. I might never have seen it but for the need to leap out of the way of an oncoming bicycle steered erratically by an aging nun. As I dusted myself off, I looked around and spotted this shop with its inconspicuous sign. There are few better souvenirs than a good book with a bit of history to it from one's travels, so naturally I went in. I hoped to find something of local interest, perhaps with an epigraph to connect me to the book's former owner, that would inspire memories of this holiday whenever I chanced to take it off the shelf and peruse its content.

The shop was tended by a somewhat shabby, but still respectable, older man in carpet slippers. He peered over his pince-nez and greeted me in French. I deployed my schoolboy French in return and he immediately switched to English, which was a relief. I mentioned that I was travelling in France and that the Great War was much on my mind because of the centenary and also because of some photographs I had found among my grandmother's possessions.

The proprietor of the shop showed interest in my family connections to the area and we discussed the war some more before he pointed me to a section hidden away at the back of the shop. He indicated that I might find something of interest there as indeed I did. My eye chanced upon a slim volume that purported to be the wartime tale of a grandson of the Scottish poet William McGonagall by an illegitimate line called Ross McGonagall, who went by the nickname "Spud" and was a pilot with the RFC. The author, one James "Stinkers" MacDougall was his wingman, according to the introduction.

I bought the book instantly and soon found myself enthralled by the story of an RFC pilot as told in his own poetry with linking text by the author. It is clear to me that Spud aspired to emulate his grandfather's poetic skills and did so in almost every respect. I reproduce for you, Dear Reader, some highlights from this book to illustrate the wartime career of "Spud" McGonagall, an otherwise unknown ace and knight of the air.

September 1916

Spud joined 13 Sqn at St Omer flying an Airco DH2 in September 1916. He had enlisted in the RFC because he hated walking, or so he told me, when I became his wingman. He was a solid chap in every respect with a positive outlook and not prone to the blues. Nevertheless, Spud did not distinguish himself during his earliest exploits in the air, although his comrades on the ground soon learnt what it meant for him to declare "Now shall I regale you with a poetic composition of my own!" Sometimes, this sentence would contain the word "extemporaneous" and then all would cringe inside. Alas, our friend was not a great judge of his own poetic talents. I offer as evidence, this short poem that Spud composed after being forced down on our side of the lines.

There was a young pilot called Spud

Whose flying skills were not totally dud

He took to the air

A Hun to ensnare

And an Albatros fell to the mud.

With one victory under his belt, Spud was reassigned from the DH2 to a Sopwith Pup, a kite that seemed to really suit him.

October 1916

October was a busy month for Spud. He engaged a lot of enemy planes and bagged three more Gerrman planes, but it was not all plain sailing for him. His encounter with a CL III saw him walking home after an emergency landing just the right side of our lines.

The great pilot

Liked to fly a lot

But some rounds through his fuel tank

Were no kind of prank

And forced him to land

Before he had got home

Naturally, the entire squadron thought this was hilarious, especially after he told the story in verse.

November 1916

A fleeting encounter with a roving Albatros left saw Spud catch a bullet at the start of November, and he sat out most of the month in the field hospital. Despite this, he was promoted to Lieutenant and, at the end of November 1916, I joined Spud as his wingman. I got to see firsthand how his flying skills developed while his poetic skills languished.

The top brass had voted and Spud was promoted.

He would lead a flight, into the fight

From now on.

Again, he celebrated his activities in verse that was met with cheers (according to Spud) or jeers (according to the rest of us).

December 1916

December was a busy month as I followed Spud into the skies. We took on balloons and planes galore as Spud finally got his fifth victory and became an Ace.

Spad shot the Rumpler

And made it crumple

Out of the sky

No more to fly

As Spud became an Ace.

It was a hard fight that one and Spud found himself hitching a lift home again after yet another emergency landing. Between that and mechanical troubles, Spud and I missed a fair bit of flying time.

January 1917

January was a very busy month and Spud bagged four victories in this one month alone. For his skill and bravery, he was awarded the Military Cross and the Croix de Guerre. Spud went on to prove himself a good pilot and gallant, who was not willing to take unfair advantage of his foes. This gallantry saved his life on two occasions as the Bosche pilots recognised Spud's plane and showed him the same respect that he showed them. 

When Spud shot his guns

The Hun came undone.

But Spud was gallant and gave quarter

From the slaughter just like he ought to

As a knight of the Air

Who plays fair and cares

How the game is played.

The Hun played a fair game

And did the same thanks to Spud's fame

As a good sport who did nought

That was not what he ought.

February 1917

Spud had built a reputation for himself as a pilot to watch and I learned much from being his wingman.  It was with horror that I saw his plane disintegrate under an unexpected hail of bullets one day in early February 1917. The Halberstadt had dived right out of the sun and neither of us saw it coming. One moment we were flying along looking for the enemy, the next Spud was plummeting to the ground amid the wreckage of his trusty Sopwith Pup. I engaged the enemy plane, but it escaped unscathed rather than stay without the advantage of surprise. I composed the following poem in honour of him. I know it is what he would have done for me.

An Ode to Spud McGonagall the Poetic Pup Pilot by his wingman James "Stinkers" MacDougall

The poetic Pup pilot,

Took to the air in his plane.

He hunted the Hun

And shot down more than one.

His exploits were daring

And well he was faring

Until a dastardly Hun

Dived from the sun

And the faithful Sopwith Pup

No longer stayed up.

Spud crashed to the ground

And was no longer around

To regale his comrades

With poetical tirades

About his aerial exploits

That were so adroit.

Spud had scored 9 victories and contributed much to the war effort. He was a thoroughly good egg, even if his poetry did stink. 


I picked up Western Front Ace from Compass Games before Christmas and have now had time to play it a few times. It's quite a brutal game. My first few pilots failed to survive more than six weeks at the front. And then came "Spud" McGonagall, who survived a whole five months!

The game gives you the option of choosing or rolling randomly for nationality, starting base and starting plane. Then you send your pilot out on sorties and hope he survives. There is a little dogfighting mini-game when you encounter the enemy, and you have to dice to land again if you survive. All this involves quite a lot of dice rolling. There are a few meaningful decisions to make and there is a definite risk management element, but a lot of the game is controlled by the dice.

Even with this in mind, the game creates stories and it is easy to get very involved in the life of your pilot. You cheer when they are promoted or are awarded medals for their actions, and feel sad when they are shot down. It's not for everyone, but the narrative campaign really works for me, and this iteration of the game engine works better for me than the submarine versions.

Tuesday 23 January 2024

A 2023 Retrospective

 Unfortunately, 2023 ended on a bum note for the family, so it has taken a while to work up the enthusiasm to indulge in the obligatory retrospective. Because I am currently living in the wrong country, I seem to have managed a fair bit of gaming over the course of the year. Most of this was solo, and I realise that I have not logged plays of boardgames that I play on Steam, so Scythe and Wingspan are underrepresented in the list below:

Five Leagues From The Borderlands: 3rd Edition20
Thunderbolt Apache Leader8
DreadBall (Second Edition)3
Red Sand Black Moon: Fantasy Gladiatorial Combat3
Rail Raiders Infinite2
Super Dungeon Explore: Forgotten King2
Hail Hydra1
Laserburn: Sci-Fi Combat Rules1
Warfighter Shadow War: Expansion #40 – East European Adversaries!1
Warfighter Shadow War: The Modern Night Combat Card Game1
Western Front Ace: The Great War in the Air, 1916-19181
Wings of War: Famous Aces1

It should be no surprise to my reader that Five Leagues from the Borderlands is my most played game. I've really enjoyed the campaign so far and need to get back into the gaming headspace to continue the campaign.

There are worse places to live, even if I do not know any gamers here

Thunderbolt / Apache Leader is a solid second place. Again no surprises there. It's a game that is easy to pick up and put away as needed.

Dreadball is my favourite sports game. I just wish more people played it so that I could find opponents more easily. All my games of Dreadball were against the poor, long-suffering Steve. He deserves a medal! I hope to continue the Dreadball league next time I am back in the UK.

Over Christmas, Steve and I managed a couple of games of Rail Raiders Infinite and Chronology. Honours were even with each of us winning twice. Rail Raiders Infinite has a lovely chibi aesthetic. I wonder how much longevity it has though. Each session seemed quite similar to the last. Great for a pick-up game when you need a gaming fix in a hurry.

I find it odd that Warfighter does not feature much in the list here. I could have sworn I had played a lot more warfighter than this, but I must have forgotten to log the games.

All in all, it was a good year for gaming, and I got a bunch of figures painted too. Unfortunately I bought more figures than I actually painted but you take the victories where you can.

We'll have to wait and see what 2024 brings now. It has begun promisingly with several games of Western Front Ace and Nothing Gained But Glory (blog posts to follow) and I spent a bit of time sorting my Red Army counters for ASL into their luxury RAACO barracks. I have several copies of Beyond Valor and wanted to have just one full set of counters in the counter trays. This done, I plan to sort the German army next with a view to being able to play some Solitaire Advanced Squad Leader set in Stalingrad here at work. I also plan to return to the Five Leagues campaign soon. The goal for the year needs to be to stick to games I already play, which is likely to mean more of the solo boardgames I already own, due to lack of opponents. This will help my finances and make me feel better about the games I have. Beyond that, I am making no promises, because I have no idea what might take my fancy as the year progresses.