Thursday, 11 October 2018

Rangers of Shadow Deep Mission 1: The Missing (Scenario 2: The Infected Trees)

Pale wisps floated through the group as Grey Leopard led his companions through the trees. The tracks discovered by the adventurers had confirmed Grey Leopard’s worse fears: giant spiders were scuttling out of the darkness to infect the living, turning them into… something unholy…

Following the tracks into the forest brought the heroes to an area of woodland draped with cobwebs. Bloated cocoons littered the forest floor and gnarled and twisted trees, where the foul things made their nests, lurked in the shadows.

Grim faced he turned to his companions.

“Burn them.”

(Note: This is a playtest of the draft document. Rules and scenarios in the finished publication may differ)

Despite not being well versed in ancient lore, Grey Leopard knew enough to find one nest tree and destroy it immediately (pre-game lore skill roll passed). Aided by Hunter he was also able to locate and kill one giant spider (pre-game tracking skill roll passed) and also discover a patch of Farlight Leaf growing nearby (pre-game survival skill roll passed). This gave him an extra +1 to his shooting stat, at the expense of other abilities.

As the heroes moved cautiously through the woods, they came upon an evil spider (well, ladybird – I didn’t have enough spiders!) As they battled this creature, Grey Leopard stumbled upon a nest tree (random event card that happened to spawn one right next to him). Fumbling for his tinder box he immediately set it alight.

Spiders came skittering through the undergrowth at alarming speed, but the adventurers managed to fight them off. In the meantime the two rogues managed to creep along the spider-free left flank and towards the nest trees at the other side of the table.

Pressing forward, Ungarra slew another spider and investigated a cocoon, finding it to contain the corpse of some poor individual. Grey Leopard did his best to cover his companions, but, as with the first scenario, he was missing every shot, despite the Farlight Leaf.

Ulf waded into the undergrowth to slay another spider, as more were emerging from the nest trees. Luckily, on the flank, Stabbs the rogue had reached one unmolested and quickly set fire to it. The others poked their swords through more cocoons, only to find more dead bodies.

However Ungarra noticed something struggling among the cobwebs – a survivor! The swordswoman quickly cut the villager free and sent the grateful girl on her way. Meanwhile the rogues continued to set the nest trees alight while the others chopped up cocoons.

One cocoon however yielded a zombie! Ned the archer fired, but missed. Behind him, Grey Leopard drew his bow and concentrated. With Farlight Leaf coursing through is veins he fired… and hit! Finally a kill for the ranger!

Ulf the swordsman was not so lucky: sluggish from a poisoned spider bite, he was too slow to react as a spider leapt from the undergrowth and tore a chunk out of his neck. A critical hit, which is not as critical as in Frostgrave, but still critical enough to down him!

Hunter and Ungarra quickly ganged up on this final spider and tore it into a foul-smelling mess, finally clearing the area of the evil stain of infection.

Another fast, furious and fun game, made a little easier by the initial run of successful skill rolls and the lucky placing of a nest tree next to the Ranger.

Over the two scenarios Grey Leopard earned enough experience to advance to level 2, gaining an extra ability (‘Focus’) and an improvement to one of his skills. He was also the proud owner of a Fishglass.

That concluded the first mission. It was obvious that the unpleasant things sneaking out of the Shadow Deep’s miasma were merely the vanguard of a wider invasion. Could the line be held, or would the kingdom fall to the greater evils about to be unleashed?

Monday, 8 October 2018

Enter the Dragon

Since time immemorial Atrrakza the Blackhorn had slumbered beneath the magical city, dreaming great saurian dreams atop the vast pile of treasure it had accumulated over the aeons.

Once every few centuries something would awaken the great beast: a shift in the magical field, the sudden craving for more glittering things, the intense cold and frost that had as of late settled on his mighty scales… or simply just hunger for flesh…

Who knows what had roused Atrrakza the Blackhorn this time. Perhaps it was the prattling of the small ape-like creatures that scrabbled around the tunnels near it’s cavernous chamber with their torches and feeble spells. Maybe it was their squabbling over trinkets that were rightfully the property of the dragon.

Either way, as it’s eyelids opened to reveal jet-black eyes that gazed balefully into the darkness and it’s nostrils flared with sulphurous clouds, Atrrakza the Blackhorn stirred…

Wargamers can be a very nice bunch of people. Last December I posted a little update, talking about the latest issue of Spellcaster magazine, which features rules for dragons. I also uploaded a photo of my kids’ toy dragon, which I intended to use until I got around to buying a proper model.

Months later and I received a very nice email from my chum Phil Curran, who told me he had a spare one, and would I like it? I of course said yes, and within days I was the proud owner of this lovely beast from Mantic’s Kings of War range.

It’s a massive model – a really nice chunk of plastic which painted up a treat (despite my heavy-handed drybrushing on some areas that I managed to avoid photographing). The red colour scheme I wanted has come out lighter and more orangery than I anticipated, so I decided to go for black horns, claws and teeth to add some contrast.

All-in-all though I’m very pleased with how the dragon came out, so thanks very much Phil for your generosity – you’re a true gent!

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Rangers of Shadow Deep Mission 1: The Missing (Scenario 1: The Deserted Village)

The ruined village lay below them, smoke rising lazily from still smouldering fires. Grey Leopard crouched at the edge of the rise that overlooked the settlement and looked down. Even from his vantage point it was difficult to work out what had transpired here, or why his fellow ranger Aventine had not returned from his scouting mission, but his sharp senses told him that there were clues to be found. Slowly he beckoned his companions and together they made their way forward…

(Note: This is a playtest of the draft document. Rules and scenarios in the finished publication may differ)

Time then to take the mantle of Ranger. I decided to create a ‘rangery’ Ranger – a woodsman, survivalist and tracker – called Grey Leopard. After improving my ‘move’ and ‘shoot’ stats, my BPs were spent of abilities like ‘steady aim’ and ‘evade’ and skills such as ‘navigation’, ‘stealth’, ‘survival’ and a handful of others that I thought represented my idea of the Ranger.

This left enough BP to recruit seven companions: bloodhound, raptor, two rogues, two swordsmen and an archer. I kitted out Grey Leopard with a bow, quiver, sword, light armour and a dagger.

The heroic adventurers warily fanned out from the centre of the village, looking for any clues that might provide information. Grey Leopard used his skills to pass a perception test, allowing me to move one of the clue markers to a more convenient location.

Suddenly a low moaning sound alerted the heroes to the presence of zombies! Grey Leopard fired at one, but missed. His companion Ned the archer tutted, before calmly drawing his own bow and dropping the creature.

Other creatures scuttled towards the heroes – giant rats, squealing with malicious glee. Hunter the bloodhound and Ulf the swordsman quickly dispatched one of the rodents, but another one was lurking in the nearby undergrowth.

Catching it’s scent, Hunter dived into the bushes, but the rat’s sharp jaws overpowered the hound. Luckily this rat was in turn dispatched by Blackwing the raptor – blood for the bloodhound!

More zombies were shambling into view. One was shot at close range by Ned, while Ungarra the swordswoman slew another. Meanwhile Sneaks the rogue used her lock picking skills to gain entry to one of the ruins, within which was a clue.

Or was it? No – it was a survivor! After the injured villager gained consciousness he joined the band, swearing revenge upon whatever evil had destroyed his home.

Ungarra stumbled upon another clue: another Human, but dead this time. A quick search of the body and after passing an armoury skills test, she recognised the corpse’s weapon as the magic sword of the Ranger Aventine. So he had also been slain by the evil…

More rats could be heard scurrying through the undergrowth as Sneaks and her injured friend investigated another clue. Another corpse, but this time reanimated! Outnumbered, the creature was quickly slain by the pair.

Rats and zombies were now converging on the adventurers, bringing a pallid stink of fetid air in their wake. A random event card heralded disease, meaning that any hero reduced to zero health would have to pass a health test to stave off the pestilence, or begin the next scenario with -3 health.

Stabbs the rogue uncovered another clue, his keen senses telling him that it was treasure even before he fished it out of the rubble. Meanwhile the adventurers converged on another ruined hut. Blackwing flew in to investigate, but was pounced on by a rat!

Ulf investigated a further clue, finding a pouch of rare anthalas herbs, while at the hut, Sneaks picked the lock and stepped back to allow access to Ungarra. She swept in and killed the giant rat, leaving the next clue free to be investigated.

It turned out to be a set of strange tracks. Luckily Ungarra passed the tracking skill roll and ascertained that something very unpleasant had skittered into the village, turning the inhabitants into zombies. The tracks of these creatures led into the forests…

A great game to start off with. All the clues were uncovered and much experience earned, but the heroes didn’t get it their own way, with Hunter the bloodhound gaining a permanent injury, despite having a +1 to his survival roll thanks to the herbs.

Blackwing survived her injuries, but succumbed to disease after failing her health test. Being at -2 health meant that she would miss the next scenario. The treasure turned out to be a Fishglass, which would come in handy if any swimming was required, while Ungarra claimed temporary ownership of Aventine’s magic sword (which would have to be returned to the King’s armoury at the end of the mission).

A fantastic game full of thrills and spills - solo gaming has never been such fun! Onwards then, to the deep dark woods…

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Introducing Rangers of Shadow Deep

I’m privileged to have been asked by His Royal Awesomeness, Joe McCullough, to playtest a draft copy of his latest set of Frostgrave-based rules, Rangers of Shadow Deep.

Rangers of Shadow Deep is a soon to be released self-published book that takes the core Frostgrave rules, gives them a solo/co-op twist and adds a dash of roleplaying.

The game is set in the kingdom of Alladore. Alladore is being threatened by the Shadow Deep: an ever-expanding realm of darkness and evil that is swallowing up the neighbouring kingdoms.

Art by Barrett Stanley from the book
Now it’s Alladore’s turn, and so the young King has gathered the kingdom’s greatest heroes; the Rangers; to hold back the dread tide.

Your first task is to create your Ranger – the hero of this story. You start off with a number of Build Points (BP), which you can spend on beefing up your stats, gaining heroic abilities, improving skills or recruiting companions to aid you in your quest.

On first read through the above process looks a little daunting, but in reality it was very easy to do! In fact, Joe has written a nice how-to guide on his blog, which you can find here.

The next section of the book goes into the rule mechanics. If you’ve played Frostgrave or Ghost Archipelago you’ll be pretty familiar with these, but, as this is a solo or co-op game, there are some very interesting changes.

The most obvious is the initiative order. I won’t go into too many details, but the phases are different to, say, Frostgrave. Let’s just say you don’t have as much time to react to the wandering monsters any more…

Haters of the critical hit rule can relax, but only just a little bit, and there are other tweaks which make the game challenging and fun. Experience and levelling up is also different, with shades of D&D character progression. You might also be pleased to hear that companions (warband members if you like) also level up too.

Art by Barrett Stanley from the book

The actual games are split into missions, each consisting of two or more scenarios – rather like the games in Forgotten Pacts. However you can only re-jig your companions or heal any poorly ones at the end of each mission, not each scenario in most cases. Other factors such as hunger and disease are also carried across into subsequent inter-mission scenarios.

This is also where the roleplaying feel kicks in, as the games are in effect a linked series of quests, as opposed to treasure hunts of various flavours. Instead of playing morally ambiguous wizards, there’s a nice good vs evil theme where you and your band of companions represent the forces of good.

If I've piqued your interest, please check out the Rangers of Shadow Deep Facebook page. I’ve had great fun solo-playing the game and I think you will too!

Onwards then, to the first game. Shadows are creeping ever closer to Alladore and in the vulnerable border villages people are going missing…

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Aeon Flixx and the Henge of Hell

Aeon Flixx, Chronomancer, peered through a gap in the rubble, crouching low as yet another group of barbarian warriors sauntered down the ancient alleyway. Waiting until the coast was clear, she beckoned the others.

Brunhilde squatted awkwardly beside her, the apprentice’s large frame unsuited to such stealth. “More of them?”

Aeon nodded. “I’m afraid so dear. They’re definitely up to something.”

“Then we should follow them!” Brunhilde, as up for the challenge as ever, began to crawl forward.

Aeon sighed – her apprentice was much too keen for her liking. “Yes, yes I suppose we should…” She rose stiffly to her feet. “If the old maps are correct, there’s an ancient stone circle further on ahead. You can bet your life that’s where they’re heading. C’mon.”

She let her captain Grey Leopard  take the lead while the others followed. They were a motley bunch, she mused – thieves, thugs and archers in the main. She had read unsettling things about the stone circle, and the strange bones her archaeologist colleagues had dug up there in the future – would her warband have what it takes to face whatever lurked among the stones?

“Only time will tell,” she muttered. “It always does…”

On to the second and final game of last week’s session and the next part of the second scenario from Forgotten Pacts: Mortal Shells. The table was rejigged, with a circle of mystical standing stones in the centre. Crackling with arcane energy, the runes inscribed on these stones would have to be read by the spellcasters (well, three of them, including the central one, at least). To complicate matters, a pair each of barbarian berserkers and treasure hunters lurked in and around the circle.

After the treasures were placed (3 each plus any Revealed Secrets and Fool’s Gold) Aeon Flixx’s band deployed on one table edge and won the initiative. Cautiously they moved forward with the demon hunter taking the lead to attack a nearby barbarian and free up the treasure he was guarding.

On the opposite side of the table, Illusionist Shazzam! appeared with his bunch of reprobates. Likewise they advanced; a nice line of treasure lying invitingly before them. Both wizards were keen to clear the table of barbarians so that they, or their apprentices, could get into the centre and read those runes.

The general kerfuffle attracted a hungry ghoul on the right flank. Thankfully this undead creature didn’t have much of a sense of direction and spent most of the game wandering around the shadowy edges of the board.

Brunhilde and one of the archers shot down another barbarian, clearing the way for them to move up towards the stone circle. For her part, Aeon had cast Time Store, giving herself a handy extra action for future use.

More treasure was taken, bringing forth a demonic Bile Hound on the right hand side of the table. Sniffing around for victims, this creature had a terrible acidic bite, which if successful would reduce it’s victim’s armour. Best avoided!

But worse was to come in the form of a terrible frost giant! This massive brute lumbered onto the field right behind Aeon’s warband and turned it’s shaggy head to the nearest morsel – Brunhilde the apprentice!

Meanwhile Shazzam’s team were advancing to the edge of the circle, engaging the nearest barbarian. Despite going in mob-handed, the warrior was able to inflict a wound on their templar.

Aeon’s warhound decided to get a piece of the action and launched itself at a barbarian treasure hunter. The warrior was too quick however, and skewers the dog instead.

Brunhilde orderd a thief to get in between her and the giant. He reluctantly did so, resulting in what was probably the most uneven round of combat in Frostgrave history. Needless to say the end result was a flattened thief within a giant-sized footprint.

Shazzam’s band continued to take on the barbarians and seize treasure, enabling the Illusionist to read some of the mystical runes on the standing stones. Each stone yielded 50 XP (2 stones max) while the central one gave 75 XP, so a whopping total of 175 XP was available.

Other members of the Illusionist’s warband took on the Bile Hound, which had wandered into line of sight. Luckily for them, the captain was able to kill the beast before it’s bite to eat away at his armour.

With the thief dead, Brunhilde prepared to face the giant by hurriedly conjuring up an Elemental Bolt. Succeeding, she launched it at the monster and I rolled… a 20! I kid you not. But was it enough? +8 shoot + 20 dice roll - 15 giant’s armour = 13 damage. Double this due to critical hit = 26. Minus 25 giant’s health = a kill with 1 point to spare! Phew!

Grey Leopard the captain was also successful, shooting the barbarian treasure hunter that had killed the warhound. By now Aeon had also managed to read some runes, using her Time Store extra action to get to the stone, read the runes and then get behind some cover.

But what was this? Throughout the game we had been rolling for each surviving barbarian to see if the power of the stones changed them. By now the only barbarian left was one under Shazzam’s Mind Control. Suddenly the berserker’s body twisted and convulsed, changing into something horrible…

He had changed into a demonic Chilopendra! In the scenario there are no rules regarding what happens to mutated barbarians under a spellcaster’s control, so we rolled another will test. The creature passed, allowing the Illusionist to temporarily add the demon to his roster. Looking on aghast, Aeon’s band began shooting at this unholy alliance.

Brunhilde also began to shoot, blasting one of her opponents with an Elemental Bolt, despite the dampening effect the stone circle had on magic. This cleared the way for her to also move to the stones and read the runes.

More treasure was picked up and a small construct in the shape of a clockwork monkey clanked and clattered onto the field behind Shazzam’s warband.

With all the barbarians either dead or mutated, it was time for the Chronomancer’s band to move forward. Grey Leopard shot an enemy ranger as he advanced.

Both sides had picked up treasure and for once Aeon could foresee and equal share coming to her. For his part Shazzam, having read all the runes he needed, was beginning to pull his forces back.

Clearing the way for this withdrawal, the Illusionist’s men spanked the monkey (sorry). Aeon now felt comfortable enough to read the runes on the central pillar, thus also finishing her studies. Meanwhile Brunhilde cast Control Undead on the still wandering ghoul, just in case an extra pair of hands was needed.

Demon, hunter, captain and thug all ganged up on the Chilopendra, which had advanced into combat but was unable to use it’s horned charge bonus (which necessitated move and combat actions in a single turn). The demon was swiftly banished, thanks to the magic weapons that the soldiers carried.

With the field clear of perils, Aeon’s warband pursued Shazzam’s retreating men as much as they could. As the curtain fell, an archer fired a last-minute shot, cutting down an opponent.

And so the game finished with both wizards reading the required runes and claiming four treasures apiece. However I won on points, having dispatched more barbarians and the Chilopendra. It was a great game once again, made easier perhaps by the fact that we dealt with most of the barbarians before they could mutate into demons. Thankfully my treasure rolls were much better this time, allowing me to tool up the warband for the coming confrontation…

Aeon grinned as her soldiers admired the glittering sheen on their new magical weapons.
“Look at them – like kids at Wintertide…”
Brunhilde grunted. “Huh, baubles and trinkets!” She casually tossed one of her battle-wands, catching it by the handle mid-air. “Give me a decent bolt any time.”
“Indeed,” chuckled Aeon. “I saw what you did to that giant.” She raised her glass in a toast. “Bravo to you dearie.”
She pulled the recently-looted grimoire off the table and began to read. “Let’s hope your luck will hold out for next time. I suspect we’ll need it…”