Wednesday, October 26, 2005
My little Old World: From Middenheim to Delberz #2
The 'bodies' scrambled to their feet and, with their 2 fellows, drew weapons and shields to ready themselves for combat. Two arrows whipped out of the trees on the right and Berthold suffered a wound.
Siegfried advanced through the woods to take the decoy group in the flank, only to have the left flank of the ambush party rush up behind him. Alane readied herself to use her longbow. Mordrin charged in to attack the decoy party, closely followed by Grundi and his axe. Not wanting to stand out in the open and be pin-cushioned, Berthold charged into the trees to attack the bowmen.
This band of outlaws were no idiots. Not only had they decoyed the PC's into a classic ambush, but they knew how to fight too. Of the 4 members of the decoy party, 3 concentrated their attacks on Mordrin while the other attacked Grundi. The right flanking group were attacking Seigfried. Faced only with the puny Berthold, the left flanking party split its attentions: 1 of them fought the desperate scribe while the other kept up a steady fire at the elf, still in the middle of the road and firing off shots with her own longbow.
Alane was the first to go. Cursing her crude longbow she resorted to a magic dart, with instant results. This was a good move, but unfortunately had the immediate consequence of confirming to the bowman the wisdom of maintaining his fire at the elf instead of turning to attack the young fellow swapping blows with his companion. An arrow whipped out, straight and true, and took the elf right in the chest.
Already wounded, Berthold didn't survive much longer. With a wicked leer, the 2nd bowman drew his sword and felled the young scribe with a single blow to the head. Pausing only contemptously to deliver a few kicks to the brave young fellow's body, the 2 murderous lowlives charged up to join in finishing off the dwarfs.
Up ahead Seigfried had a sinking feeling when he realised that he could no longer hear the sounds of action from the rear. These bandits were much sterner stuff than the rabble they'd fought before. Mordrin was performing prodigious feats in fighting off 3, then 4, then 3 again(!) of the villanous scum singlehanded, but was having a hard time taking them down. And Ulric had chosen today of all days not to bless Grundi's axe quite so lavishly as he had in the past. If these bandits couldn't be broken, and soon, then they were all doomed.
The painful and bloody battle of attrition continued. All of the PC's had parried blows that had shivered their bones and almost threatened to rip their weapons from their weary hands. Seigfried found himself fighting just one attacker, and took heart. Having already delievered a crippling blow to the leg of his attacker, then crushing his shield arm, Grundi finally felled his opponent. The bandits began to panic, and their attacks became uncoordinated.
This wasn't enough to save brave Mordrin though: an axe took him square in the forehead, and he was down and out. Now facing only 2 victims, the outlaws took heart again, and pressed home their attacks once more. All the same, their well-planned ambush hadn't given them the easy marks they'd expected, so their nerves were shaky. Thus it was that, when Seigfreid finally felled his remaining assailant, the last 3 outlaws took to their heels and fled.
Reeling from the after-effects of combat, Siegfried paused a moment to catch his breath. Grundi meanwhile took a look at the bandit he'd felled. Finding that the man was lying doggo, the dwarf finished him off where he lay. Then he attended to his fallen companions while Seigfreid took stock of their fallen enemies. The dwarf soon found that everyone was still living.
Alane had been saved by one of the small darts she kept for her magic dart spells. It wouldn't help her with a spell in the future but- by absorbing the impact of the otherwise fatal arrow- the dart had, it turned out, been much more useful to the elf.
Mordrin had been saved by his mail coif, which had turned the axehead aside at the last moment. Miraculously, this invaluable piece of armour wasn't even damaged.
Berthold too had been saved by his headgear, but also by his right ear: his leather cap had turned the blow aside and the top of his ear had been lopped off.
While Seigfried gathered up the dead outlaws' gear and other valuables he found that they had a pony tethered in the woods a small distance off the road. This was to prove useful. Meanwhile Alane and Mordrin soon regained consciousness after Grundi had tended to their wounds.
It was still only early afternoon, so the party decided that they must press on to Delberz. The equipment looted from the dead outlaws was piled onto the pony while Mordrin constructed a simple travois to carry the still unconscious Berthold. The remainder of the journey passed without incident.
Breaking out of the Drakwald on the west bank of the river Delb, the first thing the party saw was a large shanty town stretched out along the river bank. More refugees from the Storm of Chaos they realised- hundreds and hundreds of them it seemed. Passing through another watch interrogation, they decided to head straight for the merchants' quarter to sell off their booty. Arriving at the close of the trading day as they had, the PC's were fortunate enough to get all of this done without a hitch.
Thus rewarded over and above the simple fact of sheer survival, they set out to look for an inn for the night, there perhaps to ask themselves what price friendship in the grim and perilous Old World.
From Middenheim to Delberz
- #1 Distractions then departure
- Index:- My little Old World: Ashes of Middenheim
Monday, October 24, 2005
My little Old World: From Middenheim to Delberz #1
Awakening after another drunken night in the Wolf's Teeth tavern, Grundi and Mordrin nursed hangovers while the party made their preparations for the journey south to Delberz. Berthold and Siegfried were to go out to investigate getting places on a coach. Just before they left young Athelus, initiate of Sigmar, arrived with a message for Berthold: he was being offered a job by Father Greimold at the temple of Sigmar. The young scribe was torn between loyalty to his adventuring companions, and the thought of a cushy life.
Berthold and Seigfried soon discovered that the cost of a coach was prohibitive and decided that the party was going to have to walk. Siegfried noticed 2 people haggling over a ring not unlike the one he'd sold to a fence the previous day, and discovered that it had been worth some 10 times what he'd received for it. And Berthold and Seigfreid both also overhead someone talking about Karl, the librarian at the Collegium Theologica, who'd just plain disappeared a couple of days ago. Both characters decided to keep this information to themselves.
Their task completed, Berthold hastened to the temple of Sigmar. He met Father Greimold and explained to the priest that he couldn't accept the man's offer of employment. Greimold praised the young scribe's loyalty and courage, and offered him Sigmar's blessings, but nothing else [Andy fluffed 2 Fel rolls by too many degrees of failure for comfort].
Meanwhile Mordrin had decided to pay a visit to the Chapel of Grungni to pray for good fortune on the journey and to find out what the dwarfen community was planning to do about the shrine he had found in the sewers. On the latter he found that a proper expedition was being planned to locate the shrine and then to decide what to do. He was invited to join this party, but, just like Berthold, he had to decline. And, just like Berthold, he was praised for his loyalty and courage, and offered Grungni's blessings, but nothing else.
Mordrin also met a messenger from Firengul- his contact with his smuggler brother's organisation. Firengul wanted to meet the young runerunner that evening, but Mordrin had to send back a reply saying that he'd be out of Middenheim for some time.
These distractions sorted, and the party's equipment piled on the shoulders of the sturdy dwarfs so that no one was overencumbered, the PC's set off late that morning. They arrived at the gate of the southern aqueduct to discover that Kaltenbach and his crew- including the mysterious Beyer- were on duty. Covert thieves' signals passed between Seigfreid and Beyer to inform the latter that the PC's were acting on the information passed on the other day.
Meanwhile Kaltenbach looked the PC's up and down, and demanded 2gc and 10s toll, adding the explanation that it was for the ongoing repairs to the war-torn city. The party were sure that this was a con. Siegfried aired this opinion loudly, looking for support from those behind him waiting to pass out the gate. The man behind him gave him a look as if to say you might be right, but I'm not getting involved. Most of the PC's noticed Beyer frantically signalling for them to just pay up and get going. Something about this left Siegfreid once more utterly convinced that this Beyer was, in fact, a woman. Grundi stumped up the cash Kaltenbach was demanding, and the party moved on without further incident.
The stench of death was ripe in the air as the party set out for a second time to cross the burnt-out wasteland left by Archaon's besieging horde. Corpses of Flayerkin still dotted the city walls. Work parties could be seen hard at work cleaning up the detruitus of battle. Palls of thick smoke hung in the air here and there from great funeral pyres. Several hours later the PC's encountered a party of militia. After a brief interrogation as to their identities and their intentions, they were allowed to pass. They moved on and the Drakwald quickly swallowed them up.
The rest of that day's journey passed uneventfully under a chilly drizzle. Deciding to make up as much time as possible, the party pushed on for a couple of extra hours and camped out at the side of the road.
Berthold had found the previous day's hard march more taxing than the others so that he delayed the departure the next day. Still the party were making good time on the last leg of their march to Delberz. Then they heard a couple of human voices arguing loudly just round a bend in the road. Pausing only for a brief confab that resulted more in confusion than in clarity, Mordrin and Grundi pushed on round the corner to see what was what, Alane and Berthold followed up cautiously, awaiting developments, and Seigfreid slipped into the woods out of sight on the left.
Turning the corner the 2 dwarfs saw 2 men standing arguing while 2 bodies lay on the ground. What's going on the dwarfs asked. The 2 humans just turned and looked at the PC's. At that moment the sounds of movement were heard in the woods to the left and right behind Alane and Berthold. Mordrin's sixth sense went off.
Ambush!- the young dwarf shouted.
From Middenheim to Delberz
- #2 Fate's dark hand
- Index:- My little Old World: Ashes of Middenheim
Last week after WFRP and dinner Donald and I sat down for a game of M44. We decided randomly to choose a scenario from those I'd downloaded from the DoW website, and ended with me playing the Yanks against Donald's Germans in Scenario 25s: Ardennes- Bastogne Corridor, West. Lots and lots of tanks and some artillery: a good game in prospect one way or another in other words.
After a bit of careful manoeuvring, my tanks crashed into Donald's forces on my right flank, and did what was expected. Donald responded. And then I made what I still maintain was my Big Mistake of the Game: calling on long range artillery instead of getting stuck in with infantry. Long story short: Donald's shattered tank units survived, and proceeded to get stuck in amongst me- with the aid of support moving in rapidly from his centre- and I was ripped a new one (I lost 3 tank units in a single turn!).
I was on my uppers for the rest of the game, and lost quite crushingly shortly thereafter. I still maintain that it all might've been different had I played a different card after my initial armoured attack had been so successful. But then: that's the psychology that makes cardplay commmand and control so exciting. So what can I say?
On top of that, Ros and I played some Ivanhoe last night, and I lost 6-3. Some of these games were close, and others were exactly the sort I've talked about before: games where you just couldn't do anything because you simply didn't have the cards. Even so, there were still games I feel I lost because I gave the initiative away when I had nothing in hand to regain control of play. So that particular bitching is a bit of swings and roundabouts really I guess.
Moreover, I was 5-1 down at one point, so I would like to claim some small crumb of comfort from pulling back to a less than utterly humiliating margin of defeat. But all the same... Well, :(
Saturday, October 22, 2005
I've been a wild rover
In GW one of the staffers' advance orders had come in, giving me a chance to take a good long look at the new plastic space marine scouts sprues. These look very nice and no doubt I will be picking up a box when they appear on the shelves early in December.
Thereafter it was a quick bus ride uptown to Annfield Road to pay another visit to Dundee's FLGS. I had hoped to get some gaming done this time, but unfortunately had left my visit too late. Which was a shame because the place was really buzzing.
As the ever-cheerful Gary explained: there had been a CCG tournament only the previous day: and there was a M:tG event planned for today. So there were quite a few avid cardgamers present, trying out new decks and comparing notes about tricks and strategies. Other games I saw being played were Upper Deck Entertainment's Marvel VS TCG, and WoTC's Axis & Allies Miniatures CMG.
I also caught up with some of the local Advanced Squad Leader (ASL) crew. The presence of these guys is something that still boggles me a bit when I visit Highlander Games. Let me explain: ASL is a game for the grognard's grognard. Highlander games aside I have only ever met 4 other ASL players in the 20 or so years since I first got into the game after having been a fan of the original Squad Leader series of games. And one of those 4 ASL'ers was the cheesehead in Prague only last month.
Imagine my amazement then to discover a whole group of them meeting monthly in Highlander Games in my old home town! And imagine my frustration to discover that their get togethers clash with my Sunday roleplaying group. Talk about the fortunes of war! Still, I met a couple of them yesterday and we were able to share a dose of our enthusiasm, while I added a rash of my own for Memoir'44, naturally enough.
Caught up in the thrill of the moment, I finally got my hands on a copy of the ASL Starter Set #1. The only set available had had the counters popped out for the 1st scenario and then been put aside for a shop copy, so Gary gave it to me for a generous discount. Which was nice.
Sitting down thereafter for a bit of a gloat, and to enjoy the crack of a bunch of gamers at play, I was able to look over the aforementioned set of the Axis & Allies Miniatures CMG. This looked interesting so, throwing caution to the winds, I got myself a starter set of this too.
After nothing more than a gloat over the box contents and a quick scan of the rules I can report that this looks like a very plausible introductory level WW2 tacsim. If- along with games like M44- this serves to generate new interest in WW2 boardgaming, then grognards everywhere should be celebrating.
And that's it: another gamer's afternoon in Dundee. Thanks to all concerned for making me feel welcome, and to Gary in particular for his generosity to this wanderer. I'll be back, and I'm still hoping to get down to some dice-rolling and ass-kicking just asap. Cheers one and all! ;)
This is from right inside the central courtyard: I saw the arch that was to be our exit, and I took the notion to do a series passing through the arch and into the area beyond. So this is how it started.
Here I am just heading under the archway, obviously enough. The gilded gate I put up the other day is just inside the arch, to the right IIRC.
So, here I am passsing under the arch into the yard beyond. The building out is already looking pretty cool, eh?
And here it is- the southern courtyard of the castle. I don't know what that building in the background is, but it's quite some sight don't you think? There is a truly awesome view of the centre of Prague from a vantage point just to the left of here, but my pictures unfortunately fell victim to the problems with my camera.
Anyhoo, that's the end of my series of Prague snapshots. I hope you liked them, and that some of my roleplaying readers might've found something to inspire them for their games. ;)
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Well I'm over east again visiting my folks, and my sister and her family are visiting too. So today we went out for a bit of sightseeing. We visited Dunnottar castle, just a couple of miles south of Stonehaven. I last visited this place many years ago as a child, and was pleased finally to get to visit it again because it is a very interesting place with a lot of history behind it.
The first thing that is notable about Dunnottar is its location: perched atop a large rock jutting out into a small bay on the North Sea. It looks a bit like a miniature Fauschlag of Middenheim fame in the WFRP Old World. Here is a picture that my brother-in-law took showing the ruined castle's imposing presence on the coastline.
The location itself positively reeks of history. The rock has been a site of importance since the earliest days of Christian Scotland; there was a Pictish castle here that was captured and destroyed by the Vikings during a 9th century invasion; and an earth an timber fort was built there some 250 years later. The history of the site as we see it today dates to the 14th century. Thereafter, the site played a role in pretty much every major conflict over the next 300 years, from Wallace's wars with the English to Cromwell's revolutionary wars against the royalists.
These ruins are a great place for roleplayers to visit to get an idea of the sort of castle that could be a major strategic location in a region of a campaign setting. Although ruined, enough of the castle's shell remains to give visitors an idea of the scale and the layout of both defences and the amenities of everyday life. The place is full of all sorts of nooks and crannies that are fascinating to wander through. Moreover, the ruins have just been preserved and not turned into some kind of miniature theme park, so that they convey all the better a sense of the bleakness that must surely have characterised life at Dunnottar even at the height of its fortunes.
All in all then a fascinating place to visit. My WFRP players can expect to see Dunnottar standing in for one of the fortresses of the Empire in the Old World one of these days. ;)
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
This is a shot of the castle courtyard. I was just passing through, so I have no idea what all the different parts of the building are- that round tower especially- but once again, this is a shot that would be great for establishing a scene for your players in an rpg. So long as the tourists didn't interfere with their willing suspension of disbelief I guess.
Another shot of the cathedral behind the castle, this time showing exactly how it looms over everything in the vicinity. I can think of a lot of things that could be happening in a scene constructed around this particular establishing shot, but after Sunday's Flashing Blades game I find it hard to get crossbow-armed would-be assassins out of my mind! Ranting demagogues at the palace windows with the cathedral bells tolling dolorously in the background is another possibility I guess.
These gates are a feature I found inside the castle when I stopped to change my camera film (which is where it all started to go horribly wrong for my Prague snapshots). I just had to get a picture because they were so lovely. I'll leave it to my readers' imaginations what nefarious deeds PC's might be engaged were they to be confronted by gilded gates like these. That's it for today.
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
The Adventures of Felix Mephisto, Gentleman: Part 2
Arriving at the Baron's apartments still groggy and sore, Felix made to head off to get some sleep, but this was to be delayed. While the others divested themselves of their outdoor garments so as to get comfortable, Hugo took off his hat to reveal a shock of long hair and an obvious talent for disguise: 'he' was none other than Marie Hugo- a female, of all things! The Baron and Piedro's surprise wasn't shared by Felix, still too intent on sleep to care. But he still wasn't going to get his much needed rest, for there came an immediate and unexpected knock at the door.
Upon answering the Baron was surprised to see none other than the Constable General himself. Expressing irritation at the fact that our intrepid investigators hadn't made a report as per instructions (which Felix deflected with a reference to what had befallen that afternoon), the Constable General explained that, in the light of France's victory at the Battle of Rocroi last May, it had been decided at Court to build a series of fortifications along the Spanish-Dutch border. A certain M. Moulin- head of the already familiar Bank of the Brothers de Vittoria- was going to be in charge of funding, while some Baron de Gras was going to oversee the project. Our heroes didn't need the Constable General's word that this was relevant to their investigations, but they listened politely enough in any event.
The Constable General's amateur agents gave their tardy report thereafter. Pronouncing himself satisfied with their efforts thus far, the Constable General gave his assent to the plan to seek the Chevalier Didonner in his town house. He prepared a warrant permitting our heroes to search the premises, telling them that they could call on a patrol of his guard if their assistance should prove needful. Then he took his leave.
Felix finally got the sleep he so craved. The others whiled the time away at cards and general idling.
And so it was that, a couple of hours before dawn, our fearless four set out in a carriage to the Chevalier's by now familiar house. Confronting the door, Marie found herself baffled by the lock. Piedro wasn't so baffled, but his strength was defeated by the door being solidly barred on the inside.
Our heroes knocked.
As the door swung open, Piedro kicked it in and Felix burst through to point his pistol at the same old flunkey. Brooking neither argument nor dissent, and with a startlingly threatening demeanour, Felix explained that the man's master was a traitor to France and that he himself would suffer an accomplice's fate if he didn't cooperate fully- a point that was reiterated whenever our hero felt it needful (which was quite often, given the young man's wrathful desire for vengance on his would-be assassin and the evil fellow's masters).
Didonner's servants were rounded up at gunpoint and locked in the dining room, by which time a goodly proportion of them were hysterical- something which left Felix not quite as unmoved as he appeared to demonstrate. The house was searched. The Baron and Marie found the Chevalier's cellars, which they promptly sampled. Van Horstmann soon found a message written in a cipher the key to which had been found at the start of the investigation, which key Piedro had wisely retained. Decoded, the message revealed that a meeting was to take place in a nearby graveyard at 7 of the evening.
The Chevalier's flunkey explained that his master had departed at about 7 the previous evening, which news led Felix to believe that the undated message referred to the evening of the day just dawning. Marie and Piedro confirmed this with a quick visit to the appointed rendezvous point, where Piedro quickly found that the ground didn't show the footprints of a recent large gathering.
Meanwhile Felix and the Baron soon attracted the attention of a passing patrol of the city guard, who were deputised to fetch the reinforcements promised by the Constable General. Marie and Piedro returned and the reinforcments having arrived, it was decided to make an attempt at the basement of the bank into which so many wearers of the red kerchief had been seen to descend only the other day.
Two guards were left to watch the Chevalier's servants, with instructions from Felix to keep them securely under lock and key, while the remaining 7 accompanied our intrepid heroes up the street ready to assist in case of resistance. Face swathed in a scarf purloined from Didonner's house and red kerchief worn just so, Felix descended to the basement door and knocked.
Some thought was given to breaking in by use of pry-bars or black powder, until it dawned on our companions that breaking into the basement of a bank in the service of the Crown might not be... appropriate. Felix in particular began to realise that- having spent his entire annual disposal and his savings in the few days of this mission, the last thing he wanted to do was to endanger the lucrative reward which he felt must be his just desserts on completion of his hazardous service to France. So our agents of the Crown returned to the Chevalier's house to consider their next move, to be astonished and stunned to find it empty.
Their first thought was treachery on the part of one of the guards- the Constable General had repeatedly warned our heroes about infiltration of his department. Felix's next thought was the cook, who he knew had keys. In any event our 4 companions made haste to the offices of the Constable General to report to him this dire news. There they discovered that the entire household of servants had been carted off to the Bastille by a guard who had taken Felix's instruction about 'under lock and key' a lot more literally than our young gentleman had intended.
Even the vengeful young Felix felt a twinge of guilt at his part in such a fate visited upon the innocent servants of a treacherous man, and he put in a plea for their release upon the conclusion of the whole affair, a plea which he hoped the Constable General would hear and attend to. Thereafter everyone repaired again to the Chevalier's townhouse there to await their confrontation with the red kerchief plotters that same evening.
Monday, October 17, 2005
The Adventures of Felix Mephisto, Gentleman: Part 2
Well, Brian being away on holiday this week, I felt uncomfortable at the thought of pushing his PC into the background of the session I've been planning for so long. So we all agreed to play Donald's Flashing Blades yesterday instead of the expected WFRP. So this time there were 4 PC's to pursue the investigation into the affair of the Red Kerchief Plotters.
Recovered from the rigours of their visit to the Baron's aunt, Felix and Jean-Claude met up late the next morning at the Club of St. George. They were joined there by Piedro van Horstmann, his pressing family business now concluded.
By this time Felix and the Baron had realised that the Chevalier was no victim, but was undoubtedly a key conspirator. As a result the note they had left for him must mean that the red kerchief plotters knew that our heroes were on their trail. In fact, mayhap the activity seen the previous day had been a response to this exposure of their schemes. As our 3 heroes planned their next move, Felix insisted they had to move fast and hope to exploit any potential confusion that their own sudden intrusion into the course of events might've engendered.
While the 3 companions considered what this would entail, word came that there was someone waiting to see Felix. The visitor was brought in. Introducing himself only as Hugo, the newcomer turned out to be bearing a message from the Constable General. The message told that events at court were unfolding which might have some bearing on our heroes' investigations, and insisted that a report be delivered that day.
Taking the Constable General's confidence in this Hugo at face value, Felix, Piedro and Jean-Claude outlined the situation and options were discussed with the newcomer over a game of cards or two (in which fortune favoured the Baron as ever). The decision was that it was time to try the ruse with the red kerchief at the basement door of the bank of the Brothers de Vittoria. Three more kerchiefs were obtained through the services of van Horstmann's handy flunkey.
Our party set off.
Someone soon noticed that 2 men were following our intrepid band. Felix quickly brought the party to a halt. Giving the impression of talking animatedly and adding some extravagant gesticulation, Felix proposed to continue on ahead while everyone else should take to a side alley to outflank the shadowers for the sake of an ambush. This was agreed. With a last gesture, Felix set off as before.
The next thing Felix knew a crossbow bolt skidded off his sturdy leather boot. The busy street left Felix unable to spot the attacker, so he turned about and headed back down towards his fellows by which time the hidden attacker had had time to reload, and his 2nd bolt hit home more solidly. Felix winced as the bolt bit into his right thigh- painful, but fortunately only a flesh wound.
At this point the others spotted not only the crossbow-armed assassin on a nearby rooftop but also the 2 shadowers moving up to the attack. Van Horstmann went to Felix's assistance while Hugo and the Baron turned to face their pursuers one of whom unleashed a hail of throwing knives. Thankfully our heroes were prepared for hazard and the Baron's cuirass saved him from injury.
Felix and Piedro sought cover from the rooftop assassin. Pistols were pulled and several shots discharged by to no avail. Hugo drew his sword and closed in to attack. He avoided his opponent's attempt to parry and delivered a slashing cut which left his man staggering backwards to fall to the ground. Putting the point of his blade to his hapless assailant's throat Hugo waited for the man to surrender. He tried instead to knock the blade aside and strike out at Hugo, for which he paid with his foolish life just as the Baron was calling out to take him alive.
Meanwhile Felix and Piedro were moving to cut off the retreating rooftop assassin, Felix looking for a side-alley for the sake of getting round behind the villain. Ignoring the pain of his wound and the blood dripping into his boot Felix threw himself against the wall under the eaves. Suddenly he felt strangely woozy. Poison!- he thought. As van Horstmann drew a bead on the assassin and fired- to no avail- Felix's head swam more and more and he soon passed out altogether.
As Felix lay unconscious in the street van Horstmann made a last attempt to pursue the crossbow armed assassin, but gave it up as futile as said villain made his escape across the Paris rooftops. Piedro then returned to attend to the health of his young companion. A local doctor soon arrived on the scene, and Felix was carried to his house nearby.
Nearby, the villainous companion of Hugo's victim having fled, and the Jean-Claude having given up the chase as futile, the Baron and his new companion were searching the corpse for clues when a city magistrate arrived. With the aid of his rank and the Constable General's warrant the Baron was soon able to convince the magistrate of the true circumstances of the murderous situation. Grasping these realities the magistrate sent for a contingent of the city guard to dispose of the corpse.
By this time the doctor was investigating Felix's injuries. Sure enough: he diagnosed a poisoned wound. With the help of van Horstmann's chemical knowledge, he was able to prescribe an antidote. The doctor's daughter was sent to procure the ingredients while his wife attended to cleaning and bandaging our young gentleman's wound. Baron Tourné and Hugo caught up with their companions, having watched their would-be assassin's corpse being unceremoniously dumped into a wagon for removal, then being directed to the doctor's house by a bystander at the scene.
Everyone watched as Felix was fed the antidote drip by drip. He'll be unconscious for several more hours, the doctor told them. Come back later this evening.
And so it was that Felix awoke, naked, and in a strange room. His head was sore beyond a mere ache as he struggled even to sit up, but he still made a determined effort to get to his pistol and sword which he could see nearby. At this point the doctor's plain young daughter stuck her head round the door, whereupon, espying that the patient was awake, she fetched her parents.
Felix was soon being sat up in bed with pillows fluffed behind him, and being fed a bowl of heartening broth. This'll need some bleeding suggested the doctor. No replied Felix, I've bled enough today. Then the doctor gave the young man an unpleasant tasting concoction to drink. This'll soothe the pain he told our young hero. It did that, and more too, leaving Felix without a care in the world despite all the trials, tribulations and excessive expenses of the past few days.
Sometime thereafter the rest of the party arrived to collect their unfortunate companion. Paying the doctor his fee on the spot (10 livres!- Felix's annual disposable- not to mention his meagre savings- had pretty much been disposed of by now) Felix was given a bottle of the miraculously soothing medication and told to return in a few days for a final check-up. More expense?- was Felix’s immediate thought.
Ensconced in the carriage the Baron Tourné had brought, the PC's decided to repair to the good Baron's apartments, there to prepare for the next stage of the investigation. This had become a simple matter for Felix:- as he repeated time and time again: these people were traitors to France and lowlife scum employing evil means like poison- there was nothing for it but to track them down and kill them. No one demurred.
Sunday, October 16, 2005
Meanwhile, here are some more shots from just behind the castle.
This is another shot of the area pictured last time, so that the cathedral looms to your right in this shot. Once again this is a great view that could be shown to players to establish a scene in an rpg: who knows what might be lurking in those trees!
This shot was taken just outside the north gate taking you into the courtyard. There was a lot of building work going on here, but I managed to take a shot that cut out the scaffolding that is just to the left of this shot. Another great shot for establishing a scene in an rpg: this time a good place for an encounter with palace guards, or maybe for a secret assignation of some kind. Prague is just chock-full of this sort of stuff, believe me. And you haven't seen the last of it from me yet either, believe me!
Saturday, October 15, 2005
It's filler time!
Glasgow GW today ran a 40Kin40 tournament to mark the release of the new edition of 40K. Some 2 dozen 40K gamers turned up to test their mettle. The day consisted of 3 games. I took along an army of my DIY Penumbra's Talons to join in the fun. My army consisted of 5 tacmarines w/lascannon and plasma gun; 6 scouts w/autocannon, 2 sniper rifles and bolters; 5 assault marines w/2 plasma pistols; and a heavy bolter landspeeder.
My first game was against Biel-Tan Eldar, a force consisting of 3 Dark Reapers including an Exarch, 6 Howling Banshees (Exarch again), and a Vyper jetbike. This turned out to be my crushing victory for the day.
Taking the first turn, I held my fast attack out of sight ready to react to my opponent, while my tac squad advanced and my scouts brought desultory (ie. ineffectual) fire down on the Dark Reapers. Then my opponent brought his Vyper and Banshees out, and I took some casualties. I replied by moving my landspeeder out, and my jump packers forward ready to assault the Dark Reapers. The Vyper crashed and burned under a hail of fire from the landspeeder's heavy bolter, and the Banshees took some casualties from my Troops. The Banshees then did some damage in close combat to my tacmarines, who fell back out of range. I won the game in the next turn as my jump packers moved in on the Dark Reapers, while everything else finished off the Banshees, who had consolidated into some nearby woods.
My second game was against Chaos Marines. My opponent surprised me by opting for the open side of the board. I gave him first turn, expecting him to advance. But he had a shooty force consisting of 1 squad of Chaos marines and 2 squads of Havocs, wisely armed with lots of heavy bolters and autocannons, as well as ML and lascannon. An early potshot at my unexpectedly visible landspeeder had no fatal effect.
My first turn consisted of a landspeeder drift [a mistake- this was a 3rd ed. rule that hadn't carried over into the new edition], and snake eyes on my difficult terrain roll for my tac squad, who therefore couldn't even enter the terrain they were aiming for! So my scouts stayed put waiting for support. In the end, facing an opponent who was just sitting tight and shooting, I chose to withdraw to cover to play for a minimum loss after I rolled 3 1's for saves and lost what remained of my tac squad who had finally got into the terrain they were aiming for (I had killed 1 chaos marine and lost 10 of my own 16 men at this point). The highlight of this game was my landspeeder surviving 3 hits from krak missiles and a lascannon!
My third game was also against Chaos marines, this time an assault-oriented force with a lieutenant and a unit of Bloodthirsters. This was the best game of all. On a board of fairly dense terrain including lots of ruins and some fortifications, I got my position of choice. I was able to set up a firezone (into which my opponent duly advanced), while covering my jump packers with terrain. I took a wound off the Chaos lieutenant on turn 1 thanks to my landspeeder. Unfortunately this guy was able to survive 2 subsequent turns of fire, and this was to prove decisive.
I went for victory in turn 3, at which point my opponent only had his lieutenant and 7 chaos marines in 2 uints on the table. I killed off one unit but unfortunately everything else survived everything I could throw at them. This meant that he could use his lieutenant to bring on his bloodletters. These promptly scythed through my 5-man tac-squad and into my scouts next turn (if the lieutenant had died, then the Bloodletters would've had to have joined in the existing close combat, and would therefore have been wide open to the firepower of my tac and scout squads). The game then devolved into bloody close combat.
Long story short: after 5 turns of teeth-grinding tension in which each and every turn after turn 1 (beginning with the lieutenant surviving hail after hail of heavy bolter fire) contained a potential or actual decisive turning point, I lost the game with my assault and scout sergeants remaining, while my opponent had one Bloodletter and 3 Chaos marines left. I thought I had this one more or less sewn-up from turn 2; then the Bloodletters appeared; but I still could've won it right down to the last close combat. We both agreed that this had been an outstanding game, and I took some small measure of satisfaction from the fact that my scouts had survived 3 turns after it had taken only 1 turn to wipe out my tac marines.
My second opponent was the tournament winner, while my last opponent came third. I was quite pleased therefore that the people who had beaten me had both figured in the placings. Also my army, which had attracted a lot of positive comments, won best-painted army. I was very pleased about this because I had stayed up till 2am trying in vain to finish every last detail, and, having failed to do so, had written-off my chances off winning anything on this front. This is the first time I have ever won anything at a GW event, so I was well pleased as you can imagine. I got a Battlegear badge and keyring for my efforts.
All in all then, GW Glasgow got the release of the new edition of 40K off to a flying start, and much fun was had by all. ;)
There’s very little to add to this really, so that’s all for today. ;)
Friday, October 14, 2005
Gamers and the internet? Yay!
I've been hard at work preparing for Sunday's WFRP game, which regular readers will know is going to be a scenario of my own devising. I still don't quite know what possessed me to go for this, after all I've said about how much pregenerated material I have to hand with my collection of the new WFRP line.
So, I've been doing things like preparing lists of pregenerated random NPC names- to save time when I have to improvise an NPC on the spot (OK Andy?); working out other NPC's; giving thought to encounters for the PC's on their long journey back to the Strutting Cock in Stirland; checking out loose ends and other stuff from the sessions I ran in this vicinity way back in May/June; and so on and so on. I've also had to give some thought to river travel in the Old World, which is not well covered in the existing WFRP2 material.
Thank goodness then for the internet.
As soon as I knew I was going to be devising my own scenario, I went to the Black Industries (BI) forum and started 2 threads asking for help on specific issues arising from my plans. They're in 'The Games Master's section', so any of my players who're reading this: don't go there OK? I got some useful replies which helped me shape up the basic ideas for my upcoming adventure. My thanks to all concerned.
I also found a couple of threads about river barges. One of them led me to a page from which I was able to download and print out the floorplan for a river barge. Another turned out to be started by someone else whose PC's were taking the exact same journey as my own party are embarking on: namely from Delberz to Altdorf. So the answers to this thread were of great use to me. I printed that thread out.
More even than that, a couple of BI forum members emailed me via the forum to offer me background material from their own files, offers I was pleased to accept. So thanks very much to you both Didz and jackdays. Your generous help made me feel a little less overwhelmed when I was already feeling that maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew.
And there we have it:- one of the good sides of gamers and the internet: GM's struggling to keep up with their own plotting ambitions are no longer lone individuals beavering away in a vacuum. We can now get immediate and specific help and advice from fellow GM's who've successfully faced down the same issues in their own games. And that's only scratching the surface really. As I said before: this ICT s**t just rocks!
Thursday, October 13, 2005
Here is the street where I stayed. As you can see it is a leafy tree-lined avenue spoiled only by also being lined with cars parked on both sides of the street. I really lucked-in when I got this place, and I expect I'll be back just as soon as possible.
This is a shot of the neighbourhood- the main drag as far I was concerned. That's an open-air market on the right (well, it was actually in a line of small shacks), and the trams and metro were conveniently located just a few minutes' walk out of the back of this shot. Also, that's a nice bar at the street corner on the left there, where I a couple of drinks on my last night in town, with the young Scottish guy who had been so helpful in helping me find my way about.
And here is the place where I had my breakfasts (and where I made quite an impression on a blonde waitress, unless I am very much mistaken). It's a Mexican cafe-bar. What I hear you cry, go all the way to Prague and settle in a Mexican cafe-bar? Well, yes, but, well: it was very handy; the locals themselves did seem to like it; and, well, just look at that verandah- it was a lovely place to sit of a sunny morning I can tell you. I was surprised to see it being dismantled on my last morning, but figured that the date for this work had been set before the unexpected spell of warm weather that just happened to coincide with my visit for the wedding.
That's it for today. ;)
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
While out being busy myself I had some time to kill before an appointment, so I popped in to a local 2nd hand bookshop. I made a lucky find: The Battle Book, by well known military history writer Bryan Perrett. One look, and I knew I was buying it.
Subtitled Crucial Conflicts in History from 1469BC to the present, this is one of those books that is an unexpected boon to the GM. At its core are summaries of 500 battles from history, the earliest being Megiddo in ancient Egypt in 1469BC, the most recent being the 1st Gulf War in 1990-1. These are presented in the form of tables containing information such as: date, war, and campaign; commanders, forces, and outcome. There is also a brief account of each battle too.
Another nice feature of the book are its appendices, one of which gives a chronological index of the various battles by the war in which they occured. Testing this out, I looked for the Thirty Years' war, which is contemporaneous with The Adventures of Felix Mephisto, Gentleman. There I found that the battle of Rocroi took place only last month in the campaign, as a result of which France replaced Spain as the continent of Europe's leading military power- consequences which I doubt have become fully manifest a mere few weeks later.
I'm a fan of encyclopedic overviews in general, finding that the scope of the overview usually makes up for the lack of detail. This is exactly what The Battle Book does, giving any GM running historically-based roleplaying campaigns information adequate to most purposes, including searching out more detailed accounts in libraries or online should that prove necessary. Should you see a copy of this book, I would recommend taking a good look. ;)
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
These 3 shots were all taken in the vicinity immediately behind the castle.
This is me with the cathedral beside the castle in the background. This part of Prague is every bit as impressive as you might imagine. The cathedral in particular looms most impressively!
Another shot of the cathedral. I saw this angle and just had to snap it. This would be a neat shot to show to PC's approaching a big city through the forest in an appropriate rpg. It certainly gives a great flavour for the gothic splendour of Prague.
A shot of the courtyard in which the above shots were taken. Another great example of Prague's olde worlde (and Old World, naturally enough) character: take away the car, and you could be walking into the yard of a frpg inn. Lovely.
That's it for now. More soon I hope. ;)
Monday, October 10, 2005
My little Old World
We finally got the WFRP going again yesterday, after 4 weeks off- too long a break for comfort really. The session suffered as a consequence. It didn't bomb like the one back in early September, but it was a bit lacklustre.
There were several reasons for this.
1. The month-long layoff meant that we'd all lost our sense of momentum, and the tensions that had built up around the unfolding plot had all dissipated.
2. My preparations were insufficient, so I didn't have a strong enough hand on the tiller properly to force the pace to start to revive these tensions: not for the best when I'm trying to get the PC's engaged in a heroic mission to find out what has happened to their friends back in Stirland.
3. This being our first get together in so long, I broke the rule about starting promptly and decided to wait for a latecomer, with predictable consequences for the atmosphere.
4. The party will insist on splitting up to pursue their own agendas- and there's really not a lot I can about it, because, well: because their decisions are often sensible; and because that's partly what I wanted to do yesterday- to round of a few of the loose ends from the last session.
In the end though roleplaying did get done, and the party did get themselves organised for their trip.
The PC's awakened the morning after the night before from troubling dreams. My favourite was Siegfreid's: he dreamt that he met Beyer again, and that they ended up sharing a passionate kiss. Shocked awake, Seigfried faced the new day with the utter certainty that Beyer is, in fact, a woman. He didn't know why, he just knew that it was so.
[Basically: Brian has long thought that Beyer looked female from the picture in the GM's Pack. I had thought otherwise, but decided to go along with this, because it should be fun. So I'd been working towards revealing this in some suitable fashion. Then, last session, I let slip a reference to Beyer as 'she', and the jig was up. On reflection I realised that there was nothing for it but to make a feature of this, hence the dream.]
Alane dreamt that her 2 brothers were accusing her of being responsible for something unspecified. Which was odd, because she has sisters not brothers, as Tony reminded me later. But that was OK, because it turned out to be a twist in the unfolding of the consequences of Alane's unusual background.
Berthold dreamt about his dwarfen chapbook, and of mysterious shadowy figures trying to read it over his shoulder.
Grundi dreamt of facing death as a Trollslayer- a fate Antony insists Grundi will not meet.
Mordrin- alone of all the PC's- had pleasant dreams that night: he dreamt that Grungni was smiling down upon him.
So, after breakfast- and a few questions from Siegfried to find out if anyone else in the party thought that Beyer was unusually good-looking, or feminine even; after that came the inevitable 3-way split.
The dwarfs went to the watchtower where Mordrin collected his armour, then straight to the Wynd to visit the Chapel of Grungni to pass on the news about the discovery of the lost temple in the sewers. They were introduced to Hargund, chief priest of Grungni in Middenheim, and told their tale. The sight of a young devotee obviously blessed by Grungni himself sparked great animation in the aging dwarf. Messengers were sent out, and our 2 dwarfs found themselves at a celebratory lunch as a gathering of senior dwarfs from the city began to digest the news and to consider their next move.
Mordrin and Grundi had been expecting to lead a party down into the sewers to the site of the temple that very day, but they soon realised that things weren't going to be happening that fast. So after a good meal and a few beers they headed back to meet up with everyone else at the warehouse in Southgate-Ostwald. Oh, and Grundi raised a few eyebrows by being a bit grumpy because Mordrin was the centre of attention, being the devotee who had found the lost temple.
Alane in the meantime had set out to visit the Guild of Wizards and Alchemists, in the Freiburg district. Siegfried decided to accompany her. There they met a wizard by the name of Klaus. Alane paid for her licence to practice magic in Middenheim and her Guild membership. Siegfreid cased Klaus' office. At first preoccupied with the elf before him- whose reputation had preceded her, Klaus eventually became suspicious of Seigfried's shifty demeanour. The wizard kept a close eye on our thief as he showed the pair out after Alane's business was concluded.
As farewells were said at the front door, who should appear but Jocelin Herzog and companion, from the Wolf's Tail tavern the night before. The woman this time betrayed only a momentary trace of the shock- at the sight of our witch- from their first encounter. Alane was left wondering why this woman seemed to be dogging her footsteps, and why the human apprentice wizard seemed to have taken an instant dislike to her.
Suffering from a heavy hangover, Berthold had decided to stay at the warehouse while the others had gone wandering. Thus it was that he got embroiled in a dispute between young Gustav- who Berthold had met the night outside Middenheim, when they had fought a wolf together, and Otwin. Gustav- an orphaned young man- was claiming that Otwin had stolen the ornate claspknife that had been handed down to him from his great grandfather. Otwin denied this, but was vague about how he had come into possession of the knife.
Berthold unfortunately couldn't remember seeing Gustav with the knife, so the situation had to be contained by Captain Schiller taking charge of the knife, and sending Otwin off to his post at the watchtower. Berthold and Schiller talked about the matter, but it remained unresolved.
When the dwarfs returned after their lunch, the party set to planning their journey back to the Strutting Cock. Siegfreid's part in this consisted of heading out to try to sell the gold ring that Alane had found in the sewers the other day. He soon discovered the problems- for a thief trying to reestablish old underworld contacts, of being known for having been deputised to the city watch. But he did manage to sell the ring.
As the afternoon wore on, the PC's set upon marching south to Delberz, and taking a river barge from there all the way to their destination. With that decision made, they organised themselves to buy on the morrow what was needful for their trip. Then it was time to eat.
The 2 dwarfs set off for the Morkai's Axe tavern in the Wynd, there hoping to meet one young Thrunbor Gimrigson. They had been supposed to meet him the previous evening, but the events of the day had led them to miss their rendezvous. Gimrigson was disappointed at having been stood up. He declined to enlarge upon his reasons for having wanted to meet them, saying that the moment had passed. A couple of beers left him somewhat mollified, and they parted on tolerable terms.
And thus the party spent a 2nd evening in the Wolf's Teeth tavern. Beyer and companions were there when our PC's arrived. Seigfried flashed what he hoped was his most winning smile in Beyer's direction. This was noticed by Beyer's bearded companion, who immediately set about badgering Beyer for reasons not discovered.
Confused by this strange situation, Siegfried sought advice from his old mum Ingrid. She told him that Beyer's companion- one Tankred Kaltenbach- was a shady character of dubious reputation. Not a man to cross in other words. She also pointed out that if Beyer was indeed a woman disguised as a man, then she must have good reasons for this subterfuge. Siegfried got the point, and realised that he couldn't just blunder in and expose 'her'. Apart from that, he remained none the wiser.
Herzog and her companion made an appearance too. But as soon as they saw Alane already there, they turned on their heels and left.
The dwarfs proceeded to get drunk- suitable preparation for an early start and a long day on the morrow!
- Index:- My little Old World: Ashes of Middenheim
Sunday, October 09, 2005
Ros and Di are both very good Settlers players. Ros specialises in sitting there quietly and buying lots of development cards. Di is just uber competitive and a devil of a negotiator. Tony and I were expecting to be put on our mettle, and so it turned out.
I can't write up detailed reports of the games for obvious reasons, but they were good fun. Neither Ros nor Di had played Settlers for a couple of years, so they were both a bit rusty. This didn't stop Ros winning the 1st game in her traditional fashion, and by what I remember being a convincing margin. This was helped by Ros having almost total control of the robber IIRC.
The next game was the closest of all, with all of us vying for victory in the endgame. Things got quite tense as debates opened up about the validity of my perpetual call for the 'pick on the person in front' tactic when dishing out the dirty with the robber- Di is just so competitive that the very notion of any kind of cooperation beyond that entailed by trading just wouldn't compute for her that night!
In the end, I managed to sneak in another close victory: barring a 7 Di would've won the very next turn. The pleasure of victory aside, this game was noteworthy for my long battle with Ros over the Longest Road, which I eventually secured.
The 3rd game went my way too. This game we decided to play without a balanced layout, restricting ourselves to ensuring a minimum of 2 of each region type on the table. Di went for an audacious setup which proved to be a disaster, leaving Ros, Tony and myself to fight it out. The night was getting on at this point, so I can remember less about this game than the others, but I do remember winning it with 2 builds- a settlement and a city- in my winning turn. A nice feeling.
Final score on the night then:
Saturday, October 08, 2005
Writer: Garth Ennis
Art: Carlos Ezquerra
Colours: David Baron
Letters: Phil Balsman
Picked up #2 of this new Authority miniseries the other day. The high quality I enjoyed so much in #1 is maintained, and there are even a few laughs. But this issue deals with how Kevin helps the Midnighter out of the fix he got into in #1. In the course of this we are treated to the story of Kev's army career, and the reasons why he joined the SAS in the first place. So this is not a funny comic really. In fact, in places it is one of the most genuinely spooky comics I've read in a long time. Good stuff, and I'm looking forward to seeing where this goes in the next 3 issues.
The Call of Chaos
GW: Black Library
Still looking for more material to feed my WFRP GM's imagination, I picked this volume up in my local GW the other day. Just like the Tales of Hellbrandt Grimm (ToHB) which I reviewed a few weeks ago this is a compilation of stories reprinted from the old Warhammer Monthly (WM) comic.
My previous negative comments about WM notwithstanding, one thing I do remember finding interesting about it was that it was an American-style comic that used the familiar British editorial format (and not just British btw). That is to say: it was the size of the Marvel/DC comics with which we are all so familiar, but it contained several different stories each issue, after the fashion of the comics I remember reading as a youngster.
This was the source of what I felt was one of WM's weaknesses: it was very bitty, and few of its stories developed the sort of epic plot-arcs common to both American and British comics. Even when a promising character did come along for more than an issue or two, they never really lasted long enough for the character to take off to this reader's satisfaction.
Anyhoo, oddly enough, I would have to say that this weakness of the original WM appears as more of a strength in the compendia I have read so far.
The Call of Chaos (TCoC) treats us to a total of 15 stories, ranging from 1-shot shorts, to mini-series. As with ToHG these are all 'sting-in-the-tail' stories, in this case all themed around the idea of the path to damnation that is falling for the lures of Chaos in the Warhammer Old World. Futile bloody vengance, the trials and tribulations of the servants of Chaos, grudge-bearing dwarfs, ancient curses, foolish alliances: all this and more is to be found in the stories collected in this little volume.
To single out a favourite story, I guess I would have to plump for 'Hammerbildt': the story of a man who retutns to the place of his birth from an adventurous life to discover that the adventure has followed him home. This is a nice wee story that would be a boon to any WFRP GM looking for ideas for a scenario of their own devising (as would most of the stories in this volume, naturally enough).
As for my favourite artwork, Logan Lubera's work on the 'Curse of Dubois' gets my vote here, because I've liked his style ever since I first saw him in action. This was in the Space Hulk short he illustrated for WM#0 IIRC.
I also liked the fact that the text in this compilation was largely much, much more readable than the tiny wee script I complained about in ToHG.
My remarks about TCoC can't all be positive though. There was one story that I didn't like when read it on its first publication in WM, and which I liked no more on rereading it here. That story is 'Dwarf Lords', the single longest piece in this compilation. I'm sorry to have to dump on writer/artist Paul Davidson, but this story just didn't work for me on every count. Well OK, to be fair, the idea of a bunch of grumpy and foul-mouthed dwarfs cast through a dimensional gate and having to trek and fight their way home is a good one, to be sure. But something went wrong between conception and execution I have to say.
The first thing that went wrong was the artwork. In a certain way the artwork is not bad. I mean to say Davidson can certainly draw, and he has a natural feel for the denizens of the Old World. The problem here is that, in 'Dwarf Lords', he didn't seem to know how to illustrate a comic. Page after page is full of panels whose detail is almost impossible to make out because of poor use of light and shade on top of too little simple line work to define forms. It's a bit like watching TV with the brightness turned way down.
On top of this, the flow of the narrative is poor, being more like a series of jump-cuts sustained by an endless series of retorts like “Wazzocks!” as these invincible dwarfs hack their way through a selection from an Old World bestiary.
And the plot itself is really quite poor. There are too many different encounters with not enough happening in each one, making the story read more like a violent travelogue than any kind of epic quest. And then to discover- after wading through 51 pages of this- that it is all just a shaggy dog story in the end... Well, let's just say I was not impressed.
To sum up: the 14 short strips that make up the bulk of this compilation vary from not bad to really quite good. The remaining strip is not celebrated by yours truly. For this reason I would only recommend this comic to GW fans, or to WFRP players looking for a taste of the Old World, and I would recommend ToHG first. But if you see TCoC on a shelf, take a look, because you might disagree with me.
Good reading everyone. ;)
Friday, October 07, 2005
A rash of enthusiasm...
Part 4: The authenticity of sheer playability
This has been the hardest part of this series to write. I mean: it's easy enough really to analyse the different elements of the rules to expound their simulationist merits. But the authenticity of sheer playability? This is a new one on me. I hinted at my take on this issue in the 1st part of this short series: with my reference to the 'learning curve'. I will expand on this, but it is not where I propose to start.
The sheer playability of Memoir'44
M44 is an astonishingly playable game. If you've been following my series on the game, then you should by now have some idea of how neat and clean its rules are. Add in components whose sheer vividness give a board that is easy to read and to keep track of, and playaids that distill all the key rules into near ideal forms for quick reference, and you have a game that plays about as smoothly as it is possible to get with a boardgame.
Among my own many games are those I played with my 14-year old cousin and a friend of mine who has played some Eurogames, but never a wargame: 2 people who represent a small sample of the wider family audience Days of Wonder (DoW) were aiming this game at. Both players took to the game very quickly. Both enjoyed the cardplay and the tactical puzzles it offered. And both- naturally enough- enjoyed the experience of winning their first game by taking Pegasus Bridge.
In terms of replay value and accessibility to new players both then, M44 is a cut above the rest. But this is still hardly an aspect of its simulationist credentials, so I'd better get a move on, eh?
'Here's the situation, Sir'
One thing that has struck me about how the cardplay makes this game easy to pick up is that it focuses the players' attentions on making immediate choices from a limited set of options. I mean to say: when you play your first game- as the British in Pegasus Bridge, say- you have a 6-card hand. This means that you don't have to sit there figuring out layer upon layer of 'what-ifs' based on premises you can barely grasp. Instead, you have a much simpler problem to deal with: unfolding your preferred sequence of events based on a clear array of choices.
In simulationist terms, this is again a matter of the enforcement of POV through cardplay. What we have here is not only the way in which players' hands represent the sitreps and available command decisions fed to a field commander by his staff. More than that, we also have a neat simulacrum of the way in which an exising staff would work gently to ease into place a newly promoted commander.
The learning curve
This last point feeds into the idea of the learning curve where I began. As I have already said: players in M44 typically represent brigade/regimental or maybe divisional commanders (unit and ground scale in M44 is notional, and ultimately dependent on the scenario in play). Although I would imagine that few officers of this rank in WW2 came through from the ranks, they would at least have been time-served soldiers, many with experience from WW1.
The upshot of this is that, through a combination of training and field experience, the prototypes the players represent would have studied, played out and taken part in dozens if not hundreds of actions of the type M44 presents. M44 is so playable and appealing that anyone who takes to it can easily play several games in a single sitting, even on their first session, with back-to-back play of the same scenario being particularly suitable for beginnners.
As a result of this, M44 provides not only a neat simulacrum of the viewpoint of the players' notional counterparts in any given action, but also a similarly neat representation of how that same viewpoint develops with experience. And this is more than just a matter of sheer replay value. Simply by swapping sides you can also get a taste for the way that good military training would include studies of the major armies of the day, especially likely enemies. More even than that: with its card-driven command system M44 is a game in which there is no such thing as a perfect plan. Add to that the sheer playability, and you have a game that really encourages tactical experimentation.
I mean to say: there are many great board wargames out there that can take a whole day- or even much, much longer- to play to a conclusion. By their very nature these are games which only the most dedicated of hardcore grognards are going to play more than a few times. So you're going to pick what you think is the ideal strategy and stick to it, if you've got any sense. Playing M44 though, you can really try out things that might immediately appear dumb. And they might even work, cardplay being what it is. This goes beyond the learning curve too:- it also recreates something intrinsic to its subject: the power of the unexpected.
I'm not really sure what else I can add here. I have restated my fondness for cardplay command and control, surveyed the basic rules of M44 in all their deceptive simplicity, and explained how the game's sheer playability deepens the authenticity offered by Borg's fusion of cardplay and the classic board and counters. All I can say now is: buy this game! Play it! Enjoy it! Celebrate it! ;)
- Part 1: another hymn of praise to cardplay
- Part 2: The Elements of Fire and Movement
- Part 3: A few little details
Thursday, October 06, 2005
In review: Blood Bowl, the novel
GW: Black Library
Well, as alert regular readers might've guessed, I was lucky enough to blag myself a copy of this from author Matt Forbeck when we met in Prague recently.
This is my review.
Before giving my opinion of this novel, I must enter some traditional disclaimers.
- I was given this book by its author, so don't expect me to turn round and 'bite the hand that fed me', although I can promise no bs.
- I am a big fan of the game this novel is based on: in fact, I regard 3rd ed. Blood Bowl (BB3) as one of the slickest new editions of any game I have ever seen; so expect my enthusiasm for Mr. Forbeck's subject matter to shine through.
- I like the gridiron game, and have followed the fortunes of the Green Bay Packers on and off ever since this sport hit British TV- to the extent that my own Orc BB team is called the Green Bogey Pickers; so while I would never call myself a 'cheesehead', expect enthusiasm as per #2 above.
This question provides the first hurdle that this novel has to get over: can it credibly make this game of fantasy football feel at home in an Old World which doesn't really admit that the sport exists in the first place?
The second hurdle that Matt Forbeck's first BL novel has to cross is that of bringing to life the on and off-field antics of a team participating in a Blood Bowl season.
So what has our author given us in his run at these hurdles?
Our hero is one Dunk Hoffnung, elder scion of a disgraced family. We first meet him on an adventure upon which he has embarked to restore the family's honour. When this proves to be a futile quest, he falls in with a smooth-talking halfling- Slick Fullbelly, who just happens to be a Blood Bowl agent on the lookout for new talent. There follows a long journey so that Dunk can attend the training camp of the Bad Bay Hackers- the only Blood Bowl team down-at-heel enough to take a tip from Fullbelly.
Long story short: Dunk makes the team and is plunged into a world of murderous rivalries, treachery, backstabbing, the attentions of media hacks, Blood Bowl officials, and sundry other lowlives. By the time he takes to the Astrogranite for his first play as a would-be star player, young Dunk finds himself in a world that is, if anything, even more dangerous than the adventuring life whose grim and perilous realities had proved such a shock.
Throw in some sibling rivalry, a dash of romance, heavy doses of skullduggery, and the stage is set for a dilemma in which Dunk must chose between a rock and hard place with more than just his life at stake. At least he makes a friend or two he can rely on.
By now you might have twigged that I liked this book quite a lot. It captured my attention quickly, and kept it.
I liked the idea of playing Blood Bowl being a survival option for those would-be adventurers who would otherwise be unsung for being less than heroes. This part of the story thrust me immediately into the Old World that I like so much, thus getting Mr. Forbeck quickly and neatly over the first hurdle. Matt kept this up throughout the book too:- whether it is the various journeys our hero and his companions take, or the places like Altdorf where the games are staged: the strangely 'invisible' #1 sport of the Warhammer Old World is put right where it belongs with nice attention to detail.
If Forbeck's treatment of the Old World is as convincing as you'd expect from someone with the Blood Bowl game in his resume, then his handling of the game itself is also up to scratch. As the name of the story's team- the Bad Bay Hackers- suggests: Matt is a longtime fan of the gridiron game (a.k.a. American football), being a 'cheesehead'; ie. a hardcore fan of the Green Bay Packers. The knowledge this implies shines through in the story: whether in the high jinks on and off the field of play; or in the cast of supporting characters our author has assembled for our entertainment- they are all archetypes recognisable to pretty much any and all fans of BB the game, or of real-life sports for that matter.
All of this is helped by the book being rather well written. The story moves along briskly, with good dialogue, evocative descriptions, plenty of jokes (some of which I am laughing at from memory even as I type this), and enough plot twists to keep this reader at least guessing to the last. Mr. Forbeck's treatment of the actual games deserves some mention. He cleverly restricts himself to a key moment or two from each game. This gives a good flavour of how the game works and of Dunk's early career therein, while at the same time allowing the book the scope to cover an entire Blood Bowl season, something I would regard as more-or-less essential for a successful novel about this lethal sport.
So, after all these nice words, do I have any complaints? Well, yes, and no. There are a couple of moments when I thought that Matt had taken his eye off the ball (if you'll pardon such egregious punning) with accounts of events that didn't ring true to me. But these are really quite minor, and they certainly don't undermine plot or character development. Yes and no #1.
And I also have to repeat what someone else said to me after reading the first couple of chapters of my copy: Dunk Hoffnung is a homage to Felix Jaeger from Bill King's Gotrek and Felix novels. I would like to suggest that this goes further: there is a 'mutt and jeff' thing going on in this novel which is a homage to Gotrek and Felix both. Is this a problem? Well, only if you want to make it one. I mean to say: as Matt himself tells us in his own blog: Bill King is one of his best friends. It's sufficient to add that the 'mutt and jeff' pair-up is one of the classic narrative archetypes; and that Bill King's Gotrek and Felix are the Old World archetypes of this well-used duo; so that..., well just draw your own conclusions.
In sum then: Blood Bowl is a thumping good read, and one I would recommend to anyone with an interest in fantasy without a po-face. If you like the Blood Bowl boardgame, or even just sports, then that'll be a bonus.
Score: 4/5 (Because it can't be perfect, can it?)
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Who'd've thunk it?
Worldwide? WOW! This is just so far beyond what I imagine any of us geeking geezers could've expected when we tasted our own personal first thrill of roleplaying taking those very first steps as PC dungeonbashers.
Tony and I talked about this yesterday, and we've decided that we can't miss the chance of doing something that day. I don't expect that we'll be on the list of official events, but I'm sure we'll get together and get a taste of the d20 D&D incarnation. And I've got an excuse (as if I needed one!) to invest in my first d20 fantasy supplement. I wonder which one will suit my purposes? More on all of this later I hope. ;)
We did meet up in town though, and ended up in the local GW. Money changed hands as ever, and I ended up walking out with a box of the new plastic assault marines. These are hardly news to 40K fans, but I’ve somehow managed to miss the sight of them on the shelves for I don’t know how long. Really- I don’t know. The thing is you see that GW had such a large stock of the 3rd ed space marine plastics that none of the new 40K4 plastics were being put out on the shelves until the old stock had shifted. So I guess I’d just gotten used to going into my local GW knowing that none of the new stuff that I was interested in would be available.
Anyhoo, I got my hands on the new box today. What do I think then? Pretty damn good, all in all.
What GW have been doing with their 40K4 plastics range is largely rationalisation. I mean to say: the 3rd ed. plastic assault marines came something like this:
- 5 separate leg and torso sprues, each with head and 2 accessories
- 5 separate sprues with chainsword, bolt pistol, plasma pistol and shoulder pads
- 5 separate sprues with jump packs.
- 5 regular torsos and backpacks- so you can make assault marines without jump packs (or veteran/HQ squads with BP/CCW) should you wish
- 19 additional accessories, ranging from a new power fist and combat shield to enough grenades fully to kit out the entire squad.
All in all this is very impressive, being just yet another example of how GW continues to provide a multitude of extra parts with which even the newest modeller can start to build a serious bits box. This has long been one of the company’s strengths, and remains something which improves with each new release.
That said, I do have some complaints about this set. The first is the casting quality. I have for a year or two now been of the opinion that GW’s production schedule is forcing them to overwork their venerable old casting machines. This speculative opinion is sustained by the flash on the set before me. The mould lines are very marked in places, and one of the standard backpacks has flash fully 1mm deep in addition. This is not good, and GW should be doing better.
My other complaint is minor compared to this: despite the generous allocation of extra accessories, and some brand new parts (plastic right-handed powerfist- yay!), the leg parts in this kit remain the same as ever. I find this disappointing. There are 2 new legs available already in the other new space marine plastic sets released for 40K4. So why then are there no new leg parts in this kit? Likewise, I would’ve liked to have seen some variants on the ‘left arm straight’, ‘right arm bent’ pattern established by the 3rd ed. assault marine kit.
That’s about it really.
So, to sum up: this is a kit that fans of space marines old and new will be wanting to get their hands on. It contains a generous allocation of extra stuff making it more worth its purchase price than its mere 5 figures might at first seem, although some might still shrink from spending up to £3 for plastic minis. And it contains some of those priceless new parts that online space marine fans have been clamouring after for simply ages. It’s just a shame that there weren’t more of these.
3.5/5 (Negs for casting and the new parts that weren’t there.)
Monday, October 03, 2005
Sunday, October 02, 2005
Not my little Old World
There were a quick couple of games of Ivanhoe thereafter, which went to crafty Sir Andy and brave Sir John respectively. Which was nice. Donald and I rounded off the night with a very nice meal at a pub by the river Kelvin. And that was it really.
Righto, off to get something done ready for next week’s game I feel. ;)
Saturday, October 01, 2005
We set to with some M44: 2 games, with random selection of scenario and sides each time. That meant me taking the Canadians into Juno Beach, then leading them into Operation Spring- part of the Falaise operations in late July. These gave me more tanks to play with, but Badger had the Tigers of the 9th and 10th SS Panzer divisions at his disposal in the 2nd game.
I don’t have the time for lengthy replays, but they both ended up fairly serious pastings for Badger, even if he was in with a shout till the last moment in both games.
At Juno, I cleared the right flank with little difficulty, then slowly and painstaking pulled everything over to swing round from the left. Seeing what I was up to, Badger launched some well-timed local counter attacks which kept me on my toes. A game that could easily have gone either way then, despite my feeling that I never really lost the upper hand.
In Operation Spring I ended up doing pretty much the same: clear the right then swing left. This game saw some really bloody tank battles on the left; a nicely timed airstrike that broke the back of a German reserve massing to attack my right; and Badger’s daring final assault that came within 2 missed dice of victory. As it was though he failed, and his brave lads were promptly surrounded by 8 (yes-8!… heh!) Canadian units the very next turn. I liked that bit.
Badger had had a hard day at work so by the time we’d finished 2 gruelling games of M44 (by M44’s easygoing standards naturally enough) he didn’t fancy UF. So we had a quick couple of games of this great cardgame.
I won the first with what I again remember as significant pwnage. The second was much closer, with Badger’s canny play leaving him victorious in the end. My main memory of this game is going for broke on a minimal hand because Badger looked to have even less cards than me. I was pipped at the post! Still…