I was back at my parents’ this weekend to celebrate my dad’s birthday (74 and no signs of stopping, bless his wrinkly old socks), and that usually means meeting up with Ian for an afternoon of wargaming. Actually, it was around about this sort of time last year when I dipped my toe back into Warhammer 40,000 for an afternoon (and massively regretted it); this is basically because my parents’ house has a nice big dining table, something my pokey little flat lacks!
Ian and I did actually play some Warhammer 40,000; or rather, 1-Page 40k, which was surprisingly good fun. I may talk about 1-Page 40k some other time, but for the most part we liked it. Who knows, we may go back to it more regularly; Ian certainly has enough 40k stuff that’s just hanging around collecting dust.
Our main gaming event was the latest addition to my collection; Mars Attacks, from the lovely chaps at Mantic. It was dirt-cheap in their January sale and I’d been itching to pick it up for a while, so it seemed a no-brainer.
The box is jammed full of good stuff; aside from the obligatory rulebook and counters, you get loads of Martian invaders, US Army guys, wrecked buildings, and special characters. All the models are pre-assembled coloured plastic, so you can get playing right away.
As for rules, MA is essentially a simplified version of Mantic’s other grid-based skirmish game Deadzone, a game I desperately wanted to love, but it fell a little bit flat for me as some rules were just a little bit too fiddly, game setup was fairly tedious, and game balance a little bit off-centre; but hey, Deadzone v2 is right round the corner, so there’s some hope. It’s an opposed dicepool based system, like Dreadball (another Mantic game I’ve harped on about before); one player rolls dice, typically three, against a certain stat, and the opponent rolls their dice against their stat, for example Shoot vs. Survive. Whoever gets the most successes wins, and in the case of Shooting, it typically means that the enemy is killed. It’s pretty streamlined; there’s very few modifiers to these dice rolls, and a model’s stats are never lowered, they just get more or less dice depending on the circumstances.
In terms of differences between Humans and Martians? Humans are better at close combat and their special Hero characters are excellent, whereas the Martians are better at shooting and have body armour. Things are pretty well-balanced.
The rulebook comes with ten missions. We played the first two, swapping sides between games. Ideally, we’ll play through the entire campaign!
The first mission is the “tutorial”; five Martians against eight US Troopers. Each mission has its own conditions for victory, but typically it’s the first player to get 8 Victory Points. Victory Points can be gained by killing enemy Heroes, picking up Alien Intelligence or Critter counters, or something else; each mission clearly explains what’s needed to do. In the first mission, it’s just kill or be killed! I took the forces of glorious Mars, and Ian was the pathetic human meatsacks. ACK ACK ACK!
Okay, so maybe I’d have better luck in the next game. We swapped sides, and I took the humans. This time, I had some punch; a US Sergeant, who buffs up the normal troopers, and two Heroes, the badass cop Eva, and sneaky crossbow-wielding teen Troy. My mission? Get them off the table. Sounds easy, except for the 16 mother-loving Martians in the way.
Despite the two crushing defeats, I had still had great fun with Mars Attacks; it’s a very quick, easy game, with fun, flavourful mechanics. I may need to house-rule a few things due to a few discrepancies and inconsistencies in the rulebook (for example, the mechanic Joe can’t use his ability to steal Martian guns, as he’s never used in a scenario where he can meet the conditions to do it, a disappointing oversight) but for the most part it’s a very solid game. And obviously it lends itself well to comedy. Just try playing it without repeatedly going ACK ACK ACK, I dare you.
So last time, I talked about quick games to play on lunch breaks ; quick, simple, inexpensive, and easy-to-carry, perfect for relaxing with your work buddies in the middle of a busy day. But what about at the end of the working day? What if it’s a Friday and you don’t have anything specific planned for the evening? Well, that’s when the party games come out.
I’m lucky enough to have a pretty great group of friends at work; some guys, some girls, we all get along and have a great time and like to blow off steam. For the past year, we typically arrange every month or every 6 weeks or so to go out for dinner after work on Friday, have a few drinks, yadda yadda. A few times we’ve done that, we’ve ended up back at mine (I live in town whereas the others typically live out in the suburbs) and we’ve had a hankering for a game; something a bit meatier than the quick lunchtime games, something that I wouldn’t really be able to easily transport into work, so that’s when a Party Game comes out.
What does a game need for me to consider it a Party Game? Well, it follows many of the rules I set for a Lunchtime Quickie. At the very least, it should…
Be easy for new players to pick up, with simple rules and a clear goal;
Allow for at least four players.
Other bonuses for a Party Game include…
Encourage player interaction. I know board games are inherently a social activity, but I think a good party game should go the extra mile. I’ll talk about this more as I look at each of the games below.
Not be too long to play. An hour at most really.
Not be too SRS BSNS. What do I mean? I mean that every player should go into the game with an equal chance to win; victory shouldn’t always go to someone who knows an obscure strategy, or who has read the rulebook back to front. This is why I typically don’t like trivia games; more often than not, at least one person will get every answer wrong (whether their level of general knowledge is just bad or they get legitimately tough questions), have a terrible game experience, and generally feel like they’re wasting their time.
So let’s kick off this list.
Holy hell, do I love this game.
Dixit is a game about creative interpretation and imagination. Each player has a hand of cards depicting very cool, unique, abstract art, and on their turn, a player picks a card in their hand and chooses a description for that card, which can be as literal or as vague as they want. Then, every other player picks a card in their hand that they think could match that description and passes it to the active player, who mixes them up and lays them down; the others players then each guess which card is the active player’s. “Oh, I’ll just give a really obvious clue, like girl playing a cello”, you may think. Well, here’s the thing; you don’t want everyone to guess which card is yours, otherwise you don’t get points and advance around the board. Of course, if no one guesses which card is yours, your clue was probably too vague and you don’t get points either, so you have to strike this balance between obvious and abstract when giving your clue. It’s brilliant, and it’s interesting to see how some people’s minds work.
This game is also a great ice-breaker. Example; Emma and I went to a games evening thing a few years back that a mutual friend was hosting, but there were a few people that we didn’t really know too well. Conversation wasn’t flowing, things were awkward… and then we started playing Dixit, and then we’re all laughing and joking and having a good time.
There’s about a zillion variants of Dixit, with different art cards. I have a version called Dixit Journey, which has a separate board rather than having it built into the box itself, and astonishingly better art on the cards. I mean, look at these;
That one with the woman appearing out of the tidal wave? Hnnngh.
As with many of the games in my collection, I found out about this one from Joe, who advised me at the time that it was the hot new thing according to Boardgamegeek.com. Who am I to argue with those guys?
Codenames is a team game; two opposing teams of spies are trying to contact their undercover operatives based on the clues provided to them by their spymaster. The two spymasters (and only the spymasters) both look at a grid that correlates to the five-by-five grid of codename cards, showing them which of the cards are theirs, their opponent’s, innocent bystanders, or the dreaded assassin! The spymasters alternate giving a single word clue to their team. The word is a hint for one or more of their colour’s codename cards; for example, a spymaster could give the clue “food:2” if two of their colour’s codenames are beef and banana. The pressure comes from making sure that you don’t give a clue that helps out your rivals, or which may result in your team choosing the assassin and automatically losing. Sometimes your words have no obvious link and the spymaster takes a gamble with a cryptic clue and has to hope that his team is on the same wavelength as them.
This game scales up really nicely with big groups; the more people you have on a team debating what the spymaster’s clue meant, the better. It’s also got pretty much unlimited replay value; no layout of codenames and colour grid is ever going to be the same. It has a very “just one more” feeling to it. I haven’t had a chance to play it much since I only got my copy for my birthday in December, but it’s been met with approval so far.
FORBIDDEN DESERT / ISLAND
I’ll lump these two in together, since they’re both very similar, but I’ll focus on Desert for the purpose of this summary, as it’s the one I own and have played more often.
Forbidden Desert is a cooperative game where it’s the group versus the game. The premise is that you’ve crash-landed in the desert, and you have to navigate the treacherous dunes to find the pieces of a flying machine and escape before you’re engulfed in a sandstorm or die of dehydration. On a player’s turn, they can move around, remove sand from tiles, and excavate cleared tiles to find useful items such as jet packs and sun shields, or to find clues that point to the location of one of the four flying machine pieces. Each player also has a role that gives them a unique ability, like the climber being able to move through blocked tiles, or the meteorologist being able to manipulate the sandstorm deck to try and lessen the damage. The sandstorm moves every turn, as dictated by the sandstorm deck, placing more sand on tiles. Occasionally, the sandstorm may increase in ferocity so that in future it moves around more, or the heat may cause everyone to drink some of their precious water.
It’s a game very reliant on communication and cooperation. If one person dies, everyone loses, so players really need to work together. It is very hard though, so don’t feel bad if you keep losing; I’ve only won a few times, and that was playing on the easiest difficulty setting! Oh, and the one house rule I’d suggest? Make sure at least one person is the water carrier. You’re fucked otherwise.
If you don’t like the “stranded in a desert/on an island” thing, you may want to give Pandemic a look, which is another cooperative game about running around the world, working together to wipe out diseases. I personally find Pandemic a little too stressful, but it’s still a great game.
From dying in the desert to racing in the desert! Camel Up! is a very fun, very casual betting game involving – you guessed it – camels.
In Camel Up!, players take turns in taking bets on which position certain camels will end up in at the end of a round, and at the end of the game, which happens when a camel crosses the finish line. The fun part comes from how the camels interact. See, the camels move at random; there’s five different coloured camels, and a dice for each. The dice are placed inside the cool-as-fuck pyramid, and when a player chooses to roll, they move the camel that many spaces. When all the camels have moved, that’s the end of the round. Simple so far. But then you have the stacking. When a camel lands on the same space as another camel, it goes on top of that camel. When a camel moves, it takes all camels on top of it with it; this could mean that if there’s a stack of three camels, depending on what order the dice come out, the top camel could effectively get two lots of free movement, catapulting it into the lead! Or the top camel may move first, and wind up on the bottom of the pile as the others move next and end up on top of it. Nothing is certain, and everything can change because of what order the camels move. Players can also place Desert tiles (double-sided, showing an oasis or a mirage) to modify a camel’s movement, moving it forwards or backwards.
I love Camel Up! because it’s quite fast to play; again, it has a very “just one more” feel to it. It also helps that it looks more like a “traditional” game than some of the others, with a board and dice and pieces, etc, so it’s good to set a board gaming newbie – someone who might be a bit intimidated with all the cards and guesswork of the other games I’ve mentioned – at ease.
Obviously there’s lots of other games that work well for a casual games night; I’ve talked about Palazzo before, a fun game about Renaissance architects (no, wait, come back!), and King of Tokyo for all your monster-fight needs, and there’s other stuff in my cupboard like Labyrinth, Indigo, Samurai, Escape From Atlantis… the list goes on.
Whatever you pick for your party, I hope you have fun!
Okay, let’s get back to this blogging lark properly.
My D&D game is still on hiatus, but due to pick up in a few weeks so that our Sixguns & Sinners game (along with my session reports) can resume. In the meantime, we’ve all been taking advantage of the break from RP’ing to get some “normal” board games played. Emma and I usually play a game or two at the weekend, but even I have to admit that after the two-hundredth game of Cryptozoic’s DC Heroes deckbuilder, a breath of fresh air is needed.
One thing I love doing is introducing people to board games. We’re lucky enough to be going through a board game Renaissance at the moment, and it’s a perfect time to show people that there’s more to board games than outdated traditional games like Monopoly and Cluedo. There’s two great ways to get new players feeling the itch for more; one way is a few quick games during a lunch break at work, and the other is the full party evening. I’ve done both, and I’m happy to say that I’ve successfully converted several people at work, and nothing makes me happier than when we take over a big table in the breakroom at Friday lunchtime and draw confused, jealous stares from the Normals, or when we crack open some drinks and snacks and have a great, cheap evening in.
I have a preferred list of games that I use to gently usher newbies into the world of tabletop games; some of them are quick lunchtime games, and others are better for the evening party. In this post, I’ll mention a few of my favourite Lunchtime Quickies!
What does a game need for me to consider it a Lunchtime Quickie? It should…
Be quick to play (duh) and easy for new players to pick up, with simple rules and a clear goal;
Have only a few components for easy set-up and put-away;
Be small and easy to transport;
Allow for more than two players.
In Love Letter, players take the role of suitors trying to seduce a prince/ss. How do they do this? By making sure that their love letters manage to get to their royal crush by passing it among the various members of the castle! Players draw from a shared deck, and the game follows a simple “draw one, play one” structure. Each card played represents a member of the castle; it may be a Soldier or Knight trying to stop another player’s messenger, or a Priestess who protects your own messenger. Of course, you may be in the precarious position of holding onto the treacherous Minister or the Princess herself! All cards remain face-up on the table after being played so that players can see what’s been used so far, which helps your choices when playing a Soldier or Knight. At the end of a round, the last player whose messenger hasn’t been eliminated (or the player with the highest rank card in their hand if there are two or more players left and the deck has run out) gets a single token of affection; get four of those and you win!
Rounds of Love Letter can pass by at lightning speed; it’s possible that they’ll be a winner for the round before all players even get a turn! Thankfully it plays so fast that it’s not an issue. There’s also tons of variants; the rules are the same, but the card names and art are different. I have the super-sexy Kanai Factory edition, but there’s versions for Batman, the Hobbit and Adventure Time, and there’s loads of fan-made sets all over the Internet for franchises like Star Wars, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and Walking Dead.
Normally I’m not one for bluffing games; I suck at One-Night Ultimate Werewolf and Spyfall and Sheriff of Nottingham, all of which require the ability to lie your tits off. But Coup? I like Coup.
In Coup, each player is some bigwig in what is probably a very intricate sci-fi setting. You have two cards dealt to you from the deck; each card represents someone that you have influence with. Lose your influence, and you’re out. The cards are kept face down in front of you, and on your turn you claim you have a particular character and perform an action; Assassins kill someone for you, Dukes give you cash (to eliminate an opponent’s influence by way of bribes and blackmail), Captains steal said cash, and Ambassadors let you change your influence cards. Contessas do nothing on their own, but can thwart assassinations. Of course, the important thing is that you’re not limited by the cards you have. Want to kill off someone but don’t have an Assassin? Claim you have one! It’s then up to other players to decide whether you’re lying or not. If they call you on it, then you lose influence. But if you’re telling the truth and they challenge you? Then they lose influence! The potential for bluffing and mind games is incredible, but this means that it may not be a game for everyone; some people just aren’t great at lying. It’s like poker in some regards; an old pro who knows all the sorts of tricks and feints can totally toy with a new player. Of course, it’s still perfectly feasible to win by being totally honest about the cards you have. And, like Love Letter, it’s a very quick game, so if a player is knocked out early then they won’t be waiting long for a new round.
So, after all that lying and backstabbing, what better game to repair those damaged friendships than a lovely game about organising a fireworks display?
In Hanabi, players cooperate and take turns to put down coloured fireworks cards in ascending number order. Sounds easy! What’s the catch? You can’t see your own cards. You hold your cards so that they’re facing away from you, so you can see everyone else’s but your own. What follows is a game of communication and memory-testing. On your turn, you can give a clue to another player what they have in their hand; however you’re only allowed to give a clue relating to a number or a colour, like “these two cards are 2s,” or “that card on the end is yellow”. Hopefully the information you’ll give them – provided they remember what you told them – will be enough for them to make an informed decision, because your number of clues is limited, and the event organiser won’t tolerate too many mistakes…
It may still not sound difficult, but you won’t think that way after playing it. The aim of the game is simply to get as high a score as possible as a group, and you should be happy with anything over 20.
The one downside of the game is that it is colour-reliant, so it may not be super-friendly for colourblind players, though this is mitigated somewhat by each colour of firework having a noticeably different design, so it’s not completely unworkable; one game we had with a colourblind player left us with a score of 23 out of 25!
I always like to describe Gloom to new players as “Tim Burton’s Happy Families“. In Gloom, you control a macabre family of freaks, miscreants, and deviants… and you’re trying to kill them off!
Gloom always gets a few interested looks when I pull it out, as the cards are clear plastic. The reason for this is that many of the cards have numbers down the left side, which may be positive or negative. These modifier cards are placed over character cards, and if the numbers add up to a negative amount, that character is eligible to be the victim of an Untimely Death card! Of course, other players may put modifier cards on your character, and the numbers on their cards may overlap the ones you placed, reducing or even negating the score! The game ends when one player’s entire family is deceased, and the winner is the player with the highest negative score on dead family members only.
It’s a really great game if you have a love for dark comedy; who wouldn’t get a morbid chuckle out of terrorising Darius Dark the sinister ringmaster with a horde of carnivorous poodles before he’s haunted by poltergeists and breaks his neck by falling down the stairs? The one downside I’ve found is that the cards, by dint of being clear plastic, can be a bit slippery and go flying across the table without much effort. There’s also a small issue of the box being woefully inadequate; I keep my copy in a normal Deckmaster box which works great.
I don’t actually own this one yet, but after a few games it’s definitely on the shopping list!
In Guillotine, each player is an executioner during the French Revolution, trying to grab the most distinguished heads. This could be the head of a military official, or a judge or a bishop, or even the King or Marie Antoinette herself!
The setup is pretty cool; the game comes with a little cardboard stand-up guillotine, and twelve Noble cards are set out in a line. During a player’s turn, they can play a card from their hand, which will usually alter the order of the line, and then take the noble at the front of the line. Obviously, the cards played should be ones that will push a higher-rank noble to the front of the line for collection, or push them back so that an opponent won’t get them on their turn! There are also “innocent” nobles that reduce your score, so you need to watch out for them. It’s a very simple and fun mechanic with a lot of strategy in it. There’s also cards that reward you for collecting more nobles of certain colours (civil servants are green, royalty is purple, etc), and the dreaded Scarlet Pimpernel, who rescues the nobles and ends the round early! The game is played for three “days” (i.e. three lines of nobles) and the player with the highest score at the end wins. Easy! As with all the games I’ve mentioned, this one has a downside, and it’s that it takes up a bit more room that the others; setting out a line of twelve (or more, depending if more are added due to certain cards being played) plus allowing space for each player’s score area can make things a bit cramped.
So there we go, five fun little games for lunchtimes. Next time I’ll talk about some party games!
Happy new year to you, my Tricerareaders! I hope the holiday period was kind to you; I made out like a bandit with all manner of geeky literature like the omnibus of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the Star Wars Edge of the Empire core book. And on the subject of Star Wars, that The Force Awakens is a bit good, isn’t it?
But enough of that! This year, I’ve made a resolution to self-publish more stuff, and tidy up and reorganise what I’ve already published. Last year was a bit light on offerings, as I only self-published my WW1 horror/ghost story, No Man’s Land, but I spent a good few months writing my own grimdark take on paranormal romance. The result is Broken Bird.
Fourteen year-old Becca has just started her summer holidays, and the next few weeks promise to be boring. Her friends are changing and taking the next step on the road to adulthood, and she can’t help but feel that she’s being left behind, even though she’s the one who’s changing the most.
That all changes when she meets Mal, a strange and charming boy who is as perfect as she could hope for. Young love starts to blossom between the two, but her family notice the sinister influence that Mal has over her; an influence that may not be entirely human.
Ho-hum. I’m not what you’d call a Scrooge, but this time of year is not a great time for getting gaming done. People rushing around, doing Christmas shopping and attending family occasions, which means no time to get together, sit down, and chuck dice. So, yes, unfortunately our Wild West D&D game is currently on hiatus because of accursed Real Life.
I’ve been DMing for my latest group (Joe, Trev, Darryl, and occasionally Liam) solidly for about a year and a half now; we had a blast with the Lost Mine of Phandelver (which itself had a hiatus of several months) and once we’re finished with Sixguns – we’re probably past the halfway point of my overarching plot – I want to give Edge of the Empire a whirl, specifically the pre-published Long Arm of the Hutt adventure just so we can break up the d20 games with a new system. If the group likes it, I want to homebrew a Gamma World style game using the Edge rules, and then run that.
Of course, all this may inevitably lead to me getting burned out. I’m dropping heavy, not-so-subtle hints that maybe one of the others may want to try DMing a short campaign just so that a little pressure can come off me, and I can relax for a while and only worry about running one character, rather than a whole world of NPCs.
I’ve recently replayed the excellent (and slightly obscure) Capcom JRPG Breath of Fire III. Garr is one of the main characters, and pretty important to the story; he’s a warrior angel tasked by God to wipe out the Brood, a race of dragons who God says will destroy the world. It’s not that simple though, and Garr ends up teaming up with Ryu, the last surviving member of the Brood, and bish-bash-bosh.
Half-orc may be a strange choice for race, but this is a time when the crunch is perfect; half-orcs get all sorts of bonuses to Strength, Intimidation, weapon criticals… all stuff that’s perfect to represent Garr. And those wings? He never uses them in game, so as far as I’m concerned they’re cosmetic. I was tempted to go with a red-heritage dragonborn (Garr mostly uses fire magic in the game, which a breath weapon could represent) but the half-orc rules suit him better.
Being a paladin suits his background as a holy warrior, and his combat tactics can boil down to 1) Smite enemy with massive halberd, and 2) Repeat Step 1 until enemy is dead. Smiting gives bonus damage against undead and fiends, but I’d try and bend the DM’s ear to let me get the bonus against dragons instead; after all, that’s what Garr was made to fight. Oh, and Oath of Vengeance all the way.
Personality Trait: I may seem scary and violent, but in actual fact I’m very devout and a loyal, caring companion.
Ideal: Truth. I have to know God’s real reasons for wanting to exterminate the peaceful Brood.
Bond: I promised my closest friend – the last surviving member of the Brood – that we would seek out God and demand answers for what she ordered the other Guardians and I to do.
Flaw: I’m full of doubt and self-loathing about what I did all those years ago. I was a fool to blindly follow God’s commands.
PRINCESS NINA OF WYNDIA
Half-elf sorcerer (noble background)
Yeah, another BoFIII character; this time the game’s resident squishy mage, Princess Nina. I don’t know why, but I really like the idea of a royal spellcaster; not a member of the court, like the king’s personal wizard or whatever, but one of the actual royalty. It’s fun to have a royal who actually goes out and gets shit done!
Nina is a mage of the blasty variety; it’s all lightning and fireballs (and some really shit debuff spells), so a sorcerer seemed like the best choice. As for the half-elf race choice; well, it’s sort of implied that the Wyndian royalty aren’t completely human. Because, um, you know. Wings.
So evocation spells out the wazoo; burning hands, thunderwave, scorching ray, lightning bolt… all that good stuff that can get really fun when paired with the sorcerer’s metamagic abilities. And as for Nina’s choice of Sorcerous Origin, there’s a fun little Unearthed Arcana called Waterborne Adventures that gives sorcerers the option for Storm Magic, perfect for representing Nina’s particular type of wind-based magic, culminating in a permanent flight speed and immunity to thunder and lightning damage at 18th level. I’d just have to make sure she’s nowhere near the front lines, the Wyndian royalty aren’t known for their ability to take a punch…
Personality Trait: I always try and see the good in people and stand up for them, regardless of race or social class.
Ideal: Duty. It’s the obligation of the royal family to protect and care for those less fortunate.
Bond: One day, I’ll be the Queen of Wyndia. It’s a responsibility I can’t ignore…
Flaw: … except for today, when I *might* sneak out of the castle and go and help my friends. Look, I’m a princess, I can do what I want!
Human monk (hermit background)
Look, I just want to play a cool martial arts guy.
Back in the days of 3.5, there was a controversial splatbook called Book of Nine Swords, or, as 1d4chan loves to call it, the Book of Weeabo Fightan Magic. It essentially gave combat classes a whole slew of flashy special moves. I thought it was pretty cool, because it actually made playing a monk fun and possible, rather than a grinding ordeal. Okay, so it was a “swordsage” with “Radiant Dawn” techniques, but hell with that, I had a few good games where I did all sorts of cool Jackie Chan stuff. 4th edition monks were similar in that they had a load of explicitly supernatural powers, but I found their rules mechanics were gimmicky and over-complicated. 5th edition to the rescue!
Not much more to say; I want to fight zombies and orcs with roundhouse kicks, one-inch punches, and judo throws. Oh, and a spear, one of the ones with a massive red twirly horsetail on it for maximum spinning. As for which Way I’d take? Eh, Open Hand seems okay, but Four Elements lets you throw hadokens.
Personality Trait, Ideal, Bond, Flaw: Generic humble-but-aloof martial artist bullshit. Look, you’re lucky he even got a name.
Silver dragonborn mystic (soldier background)
Ha! I know, right? It’s like the most obnoxious, adolescent, bad-fanfiction-Mary-Sue character ever. Well, whatever. We all have our guilty pleasures. Sometimes, like with the monk guy above, you want to play something that’s just straight-forward, and a little dumb.
I’ve actually played a few incarnations of Siegund before, back when friends were kind enough to run adventures so I could play. One was a d20 Modern Urban Arcana game, Siegund was a nightclub owner, he had a pair of knuckledusters and a Desert Eagle, and that was all he needed to take down a crime syndicate of cyborg ninjas. Another was a 4th edition game where he was a warlord leading a couple of new adventurers. I have a soft spot for the shiny, scaly old bastard.
The mystic is a class from another Unearthed Arcana in which we’ve been given a preview of how psionics will play out in 5th edition; no longer are they a “true” spellcasting class like the wizard or cleric, now they have a set number of disciplines which grant passive perks and spell-like abilities activated by spending psi points. Siegund is a mystic of the Immortal Order; what would be called a battlemind in previous editions. This means he gets fun things like bullet time and turning his skin into iron. To reflect his military training, I’d take the Martial Adept feat as soon as possible so he can bark orders after he’s done barfing liquid nitrogen on his enemies.
Military Specialty: Officer
Personality Trait: Never give up! There’s always another way! In my veins is the blood of Bahamut! I will not fail!
Ideal: The Greater Good. If I have to die to save others, then so be it!
Bond: My draconic parent was slain by the red dragon Kasulifon. I won’t rest until he is destroyed.
Flaw: I have little patience for the whining of cowards and sycophants. There are also times when I have been… overconfident in my abilities.
Maybe one day, one or more of these characters will grace the tabletop, but until then they’ll be on the shelf in the back of my mind, waiting for their chance to shine. And people wonder why DMPCs are a thing…
Back to the Territories, and this session was more of a laid-back chatty roleplaying one; I think it’s important to have one of those after a combat-heavy session so that people can catch their breath and we can get some plot underway.
In Attendance: John Dwyte (Darryl), Magnus Dwyte (Trev), Jebediah Underwood (Joe).
An’ naturally, I’ll be servin’ as the Lawman.
So, last time the Dwyte brothers and Jeb snuck into the Krupp warehouse and found it was full of strange duergar relics. After tangling with the Red Brands and one of the Quiet Brothers, they burned the warehouse down and escaped with some of the relics, but not before they found out that the relics were due to be shipped off to Tributary Falls, a town on the border of aelfar territory.
After hiding out at the old Dwyte Manor for a few days to let some of the heat die down, the group head down to the docks to see if they can arrange travel down the Azure to Tributary Falls. As luck would have it, there’s a merchant steamer called The Spirit of Lancaster due to head out that morning! The group asks to see the captain so that they can book passage. The captain of the Spirit is a woman called Iris Hawke.
World building time! We decided that we wanted the Territories to be more advanced in attitudes towards women and ethnicity compared to actual 19th-century America was (i.e. a bit rather than not at all), but the general consensus was that it would still be unusual for a woman to be the captain of a merchant vessel; so basically an excuse to make Iris – who was going to serve as a glorified taxi service – more memorable than Generic Man Number 38. I thoroughly recommend that DMs involve players part of the world-building process – when I need a NPC or town name on the fly, I now ask the guys to pitch me something; it keeps them engaged and gets them a bit more invested in the game world.
As the face, negotiation for transport falls to Magnus, who immediately turns on the charm with Iris. Trev rolls really well, and Iris manages to look past that he’s a criminal who stinks of arson, so she accepts them as passengers, though she warns them that she doesn’t tolerate lazy travelers, so they’ll have to pitch in with the chores on the journey. She then tells them that they’re due to set off for Tributary Falls soon.
The guys board and ingratiate themselves with the crew. However, they notice that a search party led by the local sheriff and Mr. Krupp has shown up at the docks! They go and hide below decks, and Magnus asks Iris to cover for them. Again, Trev rolls really well and manages to convince Iris that they’re the good guys.
While hiding below decks, the three of them hear the sheriff and Mr. Krupp board the Spirit and speak with Iris. They tell her that they’re looking for dangerous criminals who killed some of Krupp’s employees, stole from him, and burned down his warehouse (technically all true). Iris keeps her word and covers for the guys; she lies and said that she refused to take them as passengers, and the search party leaves. However, she’s pissed that her new passengers weren’t entirely truthful with her and confronts them.
“Captain, please… it’s a long story. I’d be happy to tell you all about it.” (produces a bottle of Dwyte Orchard Red) “Maybe over a few drinks?”
Well, how could anyone turn down such an offer?
So the Spirit sets off for Tributary Falls, a three-day journey down the River Azure. John pitches in and bonds with the crew, Jeb manages to dodge doing any work (claiming that it wouldn’t be appropriate for a MAN OF THE LAWRD), and Magnus and Hawke swaps pillow talk; Magnus tells her about their escapades, and Iris tells him what she shows about the Aeolus, the ship chartered to collect the relics from the Krupp warehouse. She knows the captain is called Edwin Drake, and he’s a bit of a dick, but nothing comprehensive.
After an uneventful three days, they dock in Tributary Falls and do what they usually do; hit up the sheriff’s office, and the local saloon. While walking through town, they see a couple of Red Brand gang members. At the sheriff’s office, there’s a few low-pay bounties… but nothing on the Red Brands. Clearly the gang has more influence in this smaller town than they did in River’s End. At the saloon, a group of Red Brands are getting drunk and boisterous. The guys still have a couple of Red Brand scarfs from their raid on the warehouse which they didn’t turn in for bounty, so John and Magnus put them on and ingratiate themselves with the Red Brands, passing themselves off as fellow gang members from River’s End. Jeb lingers nearby and plays the piano, keeping an ear out.
As John and Magnus talk with the Red Brands, they learn two things; that someone called Dutch is worried about the missing shipment and is waiting for instructions from Morgan, and, more importantly, that the gang has captured an aelfar warrior!
Background Break! Aelfars are the setting’s elves and serve as the obligatory Native American proxy; you know, in touch with nature, a clan structure, ancestor spirit worship, fighting back against the expansion of the colonists… all that stuff. They’re the indigenous people of the Territories, and they’re probably the only ones who know what actually happened to the duergar.
Then Dutchie, the local Red Brand leader, walks in. He’s a big guy; your stereotypical wall of muscle bruiser.
“Right boys, let’s go.” *points to John and Magnus* “Who the hell are you two?”
“We’re… Hank and…”
“Errr… yes…? Hank and Sting. From River’s End. Morgan sent us over, figured you could use some extra help around here with that shipment.”
“It hasn’t arrived yet, but you’re welcome to hang around until then. Funny… Morgan said it should be here by now.”
The Dwytes go with their new Red Brand buddies back to their hideout in a waterfront warehouse. As they’re walking, Magnus asks a few question about the aelfar prisoner. Dutchie says that they’ve been keeping him because “those creepy guys in black” have some questions for him. No prizes for guessing that the creepy guys in black are the Quiet Brothers. John proposes that they may be able to get some answers out of the aelfar. Dutchie shrugs and lets them have a go. “Don’t go easy on the pointy-ears though,” he says. What a dick.
At the warehouse, John and Magnus go down into the basement and sure enough there’s an aelfar warrior chained up. John manages to intimidate the Red Brand with the keys and convinces him that he’s not going to hang around and see what they’re going to do the aelfar. The Red Brand hands them the keys telling them to lock up when they’re done and leaves. The Dwytes then try to convince the aelfar that they’re on his side. He’s more than a little suspicious, obviously. While talking to him, Magnus notices that the aelfar’s tribal tattoos have some similarities to the markings on the bow owned by Jeb. Magnus makes the educated guess that the aelfar is from the same clan, the Selai-Thua, and drops the name, which manages to get the aelfar’s attention.
While John fakes up a lot of noise to give the impression that they’re actually beating the crap out of the aelfar, Magnus asks him what the Red Brands are doing with him.
“Men in black clothes. They come to me, with things made by duergar hands, and things from the old place of grey houses. They ask me questions, but I tell them nothing except that they are fools and they meddle with the treasures of the spirits.”
“Listen, we’re going to get you out of here. We’re friends of Jebediah Underwood. He’s a friend of your clan. The preacher with the golden eye?”
“Spirit-Eye is here? It is as the clan elder foretold; his wanderings will lead him back to my people, so that he may once again aid us in a time of trouble. I will come with you, friends of Spirit-Eye.”
A plan is made to come back later that night and spring the aelfar from captivity. Magnus uses his always prepared ability to produce a bar of soap and uses it to make casts of the keys to the room and to the aelfar’s manacles. They then head out, telling Dutchie that the aelfar didn’t tell them anything, and that they’re just going to go and loiter around town. With nothing else going on, Dutchie lets them go without question.
Back at the saloon, Jeb, with nothing else to do, has been playing piano all this time. The Dwytes come and grab him and tell him about the captured aelfar. They bribe an apprentice blacksmith in town to make replica keys out of the impromptu casts (which led to an educational break as we Googled how long it would actually take to forge a key), and then head back to the hideout.
Jeb waits outside while the Dwytes go in. There’s only a few Red Brands hanging around, and Magnus distracts them with booze and dirty jokes while John uses the forged keys to get into the store room where the aelfar is kept and free him.
While waiting outside, Jeb sees Dutchie and a few more Red Brands approaching. He steps out of the shadows and confronts them.
“Gentlemen, good evening.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“My name’s Father Harper. I’m an associate of Mr. Krupp.”
… which gets me and Trev really excited at the brass balls that Joe’s displaying.
“Oh my god, Joe, that’s such an awesome idea to pass yourself of as one of the Quiet Brothers!”
To which Joe pauses.
(OOC) “Oh. Oh! Yeah, that’s a much better idea than what I was going to say!”
“Yeah, I was going to say I was just some guy who worked for Krupp, but yeah, pretending to be one of the Quiet Brothers is a much better idea! Thanks!”
Let this be a warning, my fellow DMs; never give your players ideas. Though to be fair we all had a good laugh about it, which is the important thing at the end of the day.
So while Jeb keeps Dutchie distracted, John sneaks the aelfar outside. Seeing his brother get out, Magnus then makes his excuses and ducks out, just as Dutchie finishes talking to Jeb and comes inside. All according to plan! When they all meet up in a quiet part of down, the aelfar shows great respect to Jeb and says that the clan leader will be pleased to see him again.
“He ain’t the only one. I got some questions that I figger he’s got answers for.”
With their new friend leading the way, Jeb and the Dwytes sneak out of town and head into aelfar territory…
After a long hiatus, Em and I have resumed the adventures of the Black River Irregulars. Last time, we had to capture escaping suspects. This time, we have to… oh. Capture escaping suspects. Hm. Ah well, on with it I suppose!
In this mission, our goal was to make sure that a gobber didn’t make it off the board with an important package that was important for the alchemical smuggling ring we were investigating. We had to take him down and retrieve the package for ourselves. Of course, the roaming patrols of thugs were bound to make things difficult.
We started off and the gobber and his trollkin friend made a beeline for the exit. Fortunately the map is laid out so that they have to take a fairly long, winding route, but still… we were in for a chase. There was a gate that could be opened and give us a shortcut, but the control room was on the other side of the board! Thankfully there was a narrow passage in the wall where we started that led straight to the control room, so Canice the gunmage went through to do some technical jiggerypokery.
Milo, Pog and Doorstop ran forward while Gardek hung back to serve as a roadblock to the enemy patrol that would be coming to greet us very shortly.
Canice got to the control room and flipped the switch, opening up the gates and giving us a way to cut off the running gobber and trollkin. Milo started carving through thugs thanks to his new Anatomical Precision ability, and Doorstop and Gardek kept breaking heads. But the gobber and trollkin were getting further and further away, and a new patrol had just shown up. Milo threw the fear gas grenade we’d obtained back in chapter 1 at the patrol and knocked them all down, effectively taking them out for a turn. We were rolling a little too well for the bad guys though, and Gardek was starting to take some heavy hits.
Another patrol of guys showed up, this time down near Canice. The gunmage was on her own, and given her track record, it wasn’t looking great for her.
However, we didn’t actually have to worry. Thanks to a mix of Feat cards and other shenanigas, Canice managed to take down two of the thugs coming for her, and managed to set up a permanent stun-lock on the ogrun bruiser with her Leveler rune shot.
Pog and Doorstop meanwhile was chasing after the gobber (the trollkin having been smashed by Doorstop), and Gardek was having trouble with some Rhulic mercs. Milo, on the other hand, was positioning himself at the open gate, acid flask ready. Sure enough, Doorstop got bogged down by another enemy patrol, and the gobber got away… only to end up perfectly in range for Milo. One flask of Potent Acid and a boosted damage roll later, the gobber was just a smear on the floor and we had the package!
Now, the mission actually calls for the heroes to retrieve the package themselves and get to the exit, but if I’m honest we couldn’t be bothered; if the gobber and trollkin are both dead, no other enemy can pick up the package and attempt to make off with it, so it seemed a bit of a foregone conclusion. Besides, we had lunch in the oven. Priorities and all that. So we called it there, figuring that there’d be no harm done; in fact we’d probably miss out on some extra experience points! As it was, we hadn’t had time to go and explore the side quests, though given that one of those would’ve spawned a pack of drudges, that may have been for the best.
Then it was time to spend some experience and get some tasty upgrades.
Canice took Rune Shot: Thunderbolt, which will let her do all sorts of forced movement trickery with enemies she shoots. She has 5 XP remaining.
Milo took Concussion Grenade, which means he can now lock down whole squares of enemies by knocking them flat on their behinds. He has 3 XP remaining.
Pog took Master Toolkit, which lets him use any of his Feat cards to boost either Doorstop’s attack rolls or damage rolls for the whole turn, turning his ‘jack into a literal murdermachine. He has 5 XP remaining.
Gardek took Great Strength: Rusher, meaning that he can charge 3 squares and get into the thick of the fight even sooner. He has 9 XP remaining.
I’m really digging Undercity so far, and I’m looking forward to our next game!