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…”

Monday, 24 September 2018

Aeon Flixx and the Hairy Horde

It had taken many weeks for the effects of Aeon’s meddling to be felt along her personal timeline, but eventually her memories changed.

No longer had a demonic entity broken through the containment field to wreak destruction upon her people. Instead something else had happened.
People began to change…

Scientists, engineers, researchers; all began to mutate into horrific insect-like creatures. It was they who descended on the populace and forced the Chronomancer to flee back into the past.
She shivered as she remembered launching the time capsule, seconds before the chittering tide engulfed the laboratory. As she faded from the present, all she could hear were the maddened voices screeching the name of their new master…

And now, as she struggled in the past to change the future, the same name was being chanted by the horde of barbarian tribesmen that infested the northern temple complexes of Felstad that Aeon Flixx was forced to explore: “Tiszirain! Tiszirain! TISZIRAIN!”

After a long break from gaming, I managed to get a spare day to meet up with Giles and continue through the Forgotten Pacts expansion. This time it’s part 1 of a 3 part scenario – Enemies Without Number. The table was set up the night before by my 9 year-old nephew. Three treasure tokens each were placed, next to which stood a barbarian berserker. Each time a berserker was killed, two more would take it’s place on random board edges.

Aeon Flixx the Chronomancer deployed along one table edge, having successfully cast Reveal Secret. This practically guaranteed her at least one treasure, but what of the rest of the loot? Would she be able to escape the barbaric tide?

Illusionist Shazzam! and his band deployed opposite. He had also cast Reveal Secret, as well as Fool’s Gold. After playing a few games at our mate Alan’s, Giles’ wizard was about 10 levels higher than mine.

Winning the initiative roll, Shazzam’s band advanced to take on the barbarians and steal the treasure they guarded. Mobbing one such fellow, a templar swung his weapon, only for the berserker to strike back, fatally! (Rolling for the berserker I got a 20!)

Undaunted, and still outnumbering the berserker, the tunnel fighter took his turn… Yes, I rolled another 20! The soldier went down, cursing his luck. (Dice placed in the above 2 photos for dramatic effect).

Aeon’s turn came, with her demon slayer and warhound immediately sought out the nearest berserker, only for him to slay the hound. They breed ‘em tough in these parts! Meanwhile Aeon cast Telekinesis to bring some treasure closer her way.

Brunhilde the apprentice moved up with the thieves, casting Telekinesis (learned from a bought grimoire after the previous game) to drag some treasure into their hands.

The opposition was also grabbing more treasure by Mind Controlling a berserker and having him drag some loot down from a ruined building.

Giles’ turn to get a 20! My demon hunter was slain by a berserker as a thief looked nervously on. Once again the opposing warband was more adept at getting to the treasure than mine.

Atop a creaking wooden walkway, the enemy captain and his chum fought off another berserker to get to the loot. The barbarian was pushed off the walkway, landing unharmed and perilously close to Shazzam’s apprentice Marvo.

The pesky berserker that had critted two of the Illusionist’s band was now Mind Controlled and tasked to pick up treasure, but another barbarian was charging into the fray.

Each dead berserker brought on two more. Worryingly, one such warrior wandered on right behind Aeon! She had retreated behind cover to launch off a few Elemental Bolts but was now caught off-guard.

More berserkers were infiltrating the field on other table edges, one such brute accompanied by a zombie, which had been attracted by the presence of tasty wizard flesh. This pairing was uncomfortably close to my captain and his thug comrade, but seemed happy enough randomly wandering around the board edge.

The fallen berserker fought Marvo and his chums, dispatching a treasure hunter and wounding a ranger before being felled by the apprentice.

Aeon’s captain Grey Leopard shot and wounded a berserker who was guarding another treasure token. Apart from the occasional pot-shot, both warbands had their hands full with the barbarians to bother each other too much.

Aeon fought the berserker sneaking up behind her and was wounded for her trouble. The only nearby assistance was in the shape of the apothecary and an archer atop a nearby ruin.

Shazzam and his cronies put paid to another berserker. Luckily for him, the barbarians he and his apprentice had under their control were mostly failing their will rolls and staying under their influence.

Thankfully Aeon survived the wrath of the berserker with the help of the apothecary and archer. It was a close-run thing though!

Grey Leopard and his chum took on a pair of berserkers and won, leaving a treasure ripe for the taking but also unleashing four more barbarians into the battle.

Many of these were arriving on my left flank. Most of the time they were out of sight and moved randomly along the board edge, but it was only a matter of time before they would spot someone and come charging in…

Other berserkers were arriving behind Shazzam’s band. By now I had run out of berserker models and was using Bugbear minis too (giving them berserker stats of course).

Brunhilde kept wisely under cover, blasting berserkers with Elemental Bolt, while above her an archer peppered the brutes with arrows.

By now Giles’ crew had picked up a fine haul of treasure and was more occupied with whittling down the ever-increasing horde behind them.

Speaking of which, more berserkers were charging into the fray behind Aeon! Her gallant apothecary protector was soon battered into the ground.

Some of the barbarians milling around my left flank had also gotten into gear, attacking and defeating Grey Leopard, whose chum had left him to pick up the treasure.

Once again the archer was called upon to protect the wounded Chronomancer. Barbarian berserkers were pouring in from all sides by now and it was time for Aeon tocast Fleet Feet and withdraw with whatever treasure she had found.

But not before shooting some of the brutes in revenge! Could the last unclaimed treasure be grabbed before the withdrawal became a rout?

No. The brave thug had originally picked it up, but had to drop it again in the face of the barbaric onslaught. He didn’t last very long alas.

Time then for the survivors to get the hell out of there! It was a fantastic game with lots of thrills and spills. The ever-growing barbarian horde was a force to be reckoned with, especially when they appeared behind you!

In the end, Giles got four treasures to my three, earning him the win. Aeon’s warband had been decimated, but thankfully, while I had a lot of injury rolls to make, only the warhound perished. A mere trifle to hire a new one, which is just as well as my treasure rolls were rubbish!

The inn resounded to the groans of the wounded as the apothecary painfully made his rounds among them. Aeon, herself wounded in the battle, stiffly eased herself into her armchair and poured herself a generous measure of wine.

“Did you hear them my dear? The barbarians? Did you hear what they chanted?”

“Aye ma’am.” Brunhilde sat awkwardly opposite, her face grave. “The name of the demon we must face.”

“Indeed. It seems this one commands a veritable battalion.” She glanced at where the demon hunter was having her cuts bandaged. “Let us hope we can stop it in time before it commands an army…”