Betrayal At House On The Hill, With Widow’s Walk Expansion – First Impressions

Last night a few of us got together to play Avalon Hill’s classic 2004 spooktacular: Betrayal At House On The Hill with the 2016 expansion: Widow’s Walk. Now, this first impression review will focus on the style and function of the base game; as this was my first time playing the game, I have no frame of reference to tell you whether the expansion makes a difference or changes anything. From what I can tell though, Widow’s Walk mainly adds new bits and bobs to expand your options if you’ve played the base game a few times.

I felt very excited when I sat down and saw all the little pieces laid out ready to play. One of our group (Doddy, of SummonedGames) had played the game a fair few times so we were in safe hands, but everything seemed pretty intuitive and not much prep was really needed before we got right in and chose our characters.

You get a little pentagonal card with your character’s identity and stats on it which has plastic slider clips to keep track of the numbers; a very nice little tracking system, better than a load of counters clogging up table space that you get in games like Talisman.

Once we’d picked our character (I chose the erstwhile Professor Longfellow) and claimed a pre-painted playing piece, all which were fairly thematic, we placed our “explorer” on the Entrance Hall tile and were ready to kick off.

The game starts you out with a few tiles on the board which represent the “landings” in the house, which are points from which the floors of the house branch off. Each of the landings are connected to each other , so you can actually travel in 3 dimensions in the game, which is very interesting.

The style of the game is very simple: you have a “speed” stat, which allows you to move that number of spaces along the board, until you hit a doorway, at which point you declare that you are heading into the next room and you pluck a new, obscured, tile off the top of the stack. Theses tiles can include all kinds of special room with rules on them which surprise you or give you choices you can use to gain effects or items. Normally there is a little symbol on the tiles which correspond to one of the three card types in the game: Item, Event or Omen. If the tile you draw has one of these symbols, you draw that type of card and resolve the effect, or claim the item if it is one.

The above describes the gameplay loop when you begin, so each character goes off on their own, usually exploring a different part of the house and laughing at each other’s misfortune as you face spooky ghosts in the garden or fall down the coal chute into the basement, or becoming envious of the shotgun they just found in a drawer.

The game heats up when, after a few rounds, you begin resolving more and more of the Omen type card. Whenever you draw a tile with an omen symbol, you draw an omen card, which can be good or bad or even an item – after which, you must roll a “Haunt Roll”. At the beginning of the game, when you’ve only drawn a couple of omen cards, you’re not at a high risk of resolving the Haunt, but as more and more get flipped and the Omen Counter grows higher and higher, each Haunt roll gets more and more risky and the tension builds.

Then it happens. If you roll under the number of omen cards that have been drawn on the Haunt Roll, then the Haunt resolves and the game pauses while the players look at the grid table that will determine which particular Haunt scenario is going to befall the group.

The Haunt is really where the game comes into it’s own: depending on the scenario outlined in the “Traitor’s Tome”, one or more players – determined randomly, become a traitor and from that point on, each side has specific and secret objectives which they have to meet in order to win the game. So the traitor takes the tome and rushes into another room to read their secret dossier and the remaining explorers do the same. After that, the traitor comes back in with a smirk on their face and quietly sets up the various tokens and adjustments to the board as specified in the special rules of the Haunt.

In our playthrough, I was actually the traitor. My explorer immediately died and became a zombie lord with accompanying undead minions and it was my objective to mercilessly murder the rest of them. Only one player could harm the zombie lord, so what was a casually paced exploration game with a few twists and turns, became a mad dash to grab as much stuff as possible to be able to face off against the enemy.

I quickly dispatched the players who were unable to harm my zombie lord and after a few turns, on the first floor landing, there stood poor Peter and his loyal dog, wielding a sacrificial dagger covered in chalk. He drove it deeply into the zombie and won the game.

One thing you can really say about this game is that it’s exciting. You never really know what you’re going to get and most of the strategy in the first phase, before the haunt, seems to be gathering as much stuff as you can in the hopes that it will help you post-haunt. The amount of emergent gameplay is astounding, I’ve never really seen a game like it for this; you can literally play tens of thousands of times and never play the same game twice. Very good value for money at being around the 35 dollar mark, with the expansion another 15 or so. There are tons of other haunts too; the scenario we played was only one of around 150 or so unique scenarios if you include the expansion.

I’d say the strengths of the game are also its weaknesses. The game is more of a wild ride that you feel yourself taking part in rather than a true test of your strategic thinking; you make choices and go your own way, but I’d imagine that most of the time you’re basically trying to make the best of the random items you’ve picked up by the time the haunt rolls round, at which point a lot of your agency goes out of the window as the game state changes altogether.

The proof of the pudding, they say, is in the eating and so it really speaks volumes to how I’d rate this game when the first thing that came into my head when we’d finished was “I want to play again!”. You can’t really put a price on a game that values your time like this one does, especially with the plethora of replayability options on offer. I’d say that Betrayal is good for gamers of any skill or experience level – not necessarily the best intro game, but I don’t think anyone would object if it was pulled out of the cupboard.

Click the link and head over to SummonedGames to check out the video of our Playthrough

Handling Creative Projects: Motivation, Content & Formatting

The Godless Realm was born whilst travelling at 70 mph on a dark, rainy motorway somewhere near Coventry. The Godless Realm is a fantasy world setting for tabletop role-playing (TTRPG, or just RPG). It’s not out yet, but we wanted to write about how we’re doing things to give you an insight in what is involved and maybe pick up a few tips along the way.

Since its initial inception we’ve fleshed out ideas, cut and pasted countless more ideas and edited so many documents and versions of documents that we’ve lost count – our Google Drive is a bit of a mess at the moment too. I started to ask myself, what needs to be done?

Here are a few points on what we’ve tried, failed and retried to give you an idea on how to keep a project going…

Share It

Doing a project by yourself is all fine if you’ve got the motivation and the skills to get a project done. But if you’re like most people, sharing your content with trusted friends really helps, especially if they into the same things as you are. We use Google Drive to share, make suggestions and comments and leave helpful little motivational “likes” here and there for bits we particularly enjoy.

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Motivation

One of the hardest things to maintain over a long project like this is keeping motivated and getting the task done. On a personal level, this is something I have to do after getting home from work or spending time with my partner (or for others, juggling a young family). So how do we do it?

Once a week, we meet up for coffee or food somewhere that isn’t our home. The reason for this is quite simple: we get out of the house, have an excuse to meet up and hang our mental washing out to dry. Coffee is great for thinking up ideas and energizing the imagination – and the meal is a great place to discuss ideas without having to dedicate your entire concentration. The key is that it’s a relaxing thing to do.

Since doing this we’ve found that our ideas flow more readily and feel natural without having to engage and force ideas.

Personally, I drive home from work and listen to thematic music to fit the nature of the project (anything from Lustmord to Lord of the Rings), get in, walk the vintage Labrador, eat food and sit down for an hour and write solely for that hour. If I find my attention failing, I spend 2 minutes on Twitter or Facebook, checking the stats and analytics of the various social media platforms, have a stand up stretch and get back to it.

Once that is done, the evening is my own to do with as I wish (which usually involves board games, doggo playtime or friends). Do this for five days a week, you’ve spent a minimum of 5 hours working solidly on your project.

A quality 5 hours too.

As a real example, we manage to proof or edit 10 pages of content. If we’re purely writing, you’re looking at 5 good pages a week – and this based on the assumption that it’s just me working! I’m lucky to have the imagination of Mr James and sometimes Mr Steadman working at the same time.

Proof & Edit

This isn’t something you can really do as you go along. If you’ve ever tried NaNoWriMo you’ll see that proofing and editing should be done at set stages or strictly at the end of the project. The reason for this is simple: you need to give you mind time to forget the details of what you’ve written. Do that and the text seems fresh – mistakes stand out like a whale at a cheetahs party.

Personally I find reading something out loud (or just whispering it to yourself) allows you to see when you need to pause to take in a comfortable breath. If you’re not sure on how something sounds, send it to a friend to look over (maybe just a snippet so they don’t lose focus), or get yourself a few books on writing in the language you’re using. Penguin books are good for this, and there’s a host on free online content with good ideas.

Mark in your document how far you’ve got and go back to it when you’re feeling too tired or bored – it’s perfectly fine to feel tired or bored, just give it time and go back to it again.

If you use Google Docs, you can make comments on your work as you go, leaving yourself little messages so that you don’t forget things. We also tag each other at the points where we feel the content is more in someone else’s domain, or if you need help with a section.

Take your time, and read the content for what it is, don’t just skim read it.

creator consortium master page affinity development blog RPG roleplaying game DnD Fantasy Godless Realm

Formulating Ideas

Ideas do not just come to a person in a complete form – you need to develop something into more refined or expanding ideas. For the Godless Realm project, this meant that we would start with something small in the form of questions:

“How do the Guilds pay their workforce?”

  • Workers are given a station which supplies their food, an abode and expected duties.
  • To gain more money, luxury or influence a worker must gain promotion to a better, hierarchical post, with more responsibility – but these are limited!
  • So who makes the food? Who manages the houses? Who lights the streets? Who cleans the streets? Are there sewers, who cleans them?

The list of extra questions  builds and goes on and on. You don’t have to answer all of them, but building up the picture gives you avenues to explore and ideas from which to build on. From this method we created various guilds, factions and gangs to fulfill the niches we felt needed filling, whilst making them important to the citizens of the Godless Realm.

Formatting

This should be your final step in any written project!

Formatting is where many of the issues can arise. What program do you use to help format your documents into something legible and professional looking? How professional do you want it to look? Where do you need to add spot-filler art or page breakers?

creator consortium master page affinity development blog RPG roleplaying game DnD Fantasy Godless Realm DriveThruRPG

We purchased some stock art from DriveThruRPG (it’s usually a few dollars / GBP for some sets) and grabbed a copy of Affinity Publisher – this was the most expensive part of the project so far, as Affinity costs £48 – but it’s a one-off payment… no subscription (looking at you, Microsoft!).

You can get free versions of publisher style programs such as Scribus, but I found them to be old and stuffy and not as user friendly or efficient with my computers CPU. Affinity also do video tutorials, which I found very easy to follow. That’s my endorsement for the week!

creator consortium master page affinity development blog RPG roleplaying game DnD Fantasy Godless Realm

With Affinity and some simple stock art I was able to start producing master pages and spreads which look reasonably professional quickly – less than an hour in fact.

I’ll say it again: At this stage, you need to have all of your project text finalised, with no changes, edits or additions or subtractions from the main body of text – because doing so once it is formatted is just undoing a lot of the work you’ve already done, i.e, wasting your own time!

That’s it for today – I hope this insight has been a little helpful or inspiring. The key conclusion I think is that if you think it’s impossible, it will be. Set yourself little goals and read around the subject and you’ll start to formulate your own patterns of working.

If you have any questions, leave a comment below or contact me on Twitter (@FerrisWrites) or Like our Facebook page!

Here’s a little free “bare bones” RPG adventure, feel free to try it out and let us know what you think… constructively…

Bare Bones Adventure 1

Ferris, CC

Credit: Some artwork copyright William McAusland, used with permission.

Runaljod: The Sound of the Runes – Heroic Battles in A Frozen Apocalypse

Our streak of luck is maintained as this week we were able to get our hands on the early version of a rather cool and epic sounding board game, Runaljod: The Sound of the Runes! Runaljod is brought to us by Tempo Games, a Spanish company.

In the competitive world of indie board games, it is quite common to see some interesting and beguiling game mechanics. Runaljod is one such game, but we think it stands out as a game that most of us will enjoy more because of its fusion of tactics and chance.

Runaljod is an adventure board game. It combines tactical combat with dice rolls and special abilities, board exploration with random encounters, and casting runes to provide power to your characters actions and abilities.

If you have played; Hero Quest, Star Wars: Imperial Assault or Mice & Mystics you will be familiar with the mechanics of this game. Runaljod does all of these games justice too.

It is worth mentioning that the prototype game we played is still going through adjustments and testing. The rules were also hastily translated from Spanish to English, so we hope we got things right!

Let’s take a look at the game as a whole.

runaljod sound of the runes creator consortium board game tabletop game action fantasy norse early review kickstarter miniatures

What is Runaljod?

Runaljod is a cooperative game, putting the players and their characters against enemies and creatures found in Norse mythology. The game takes place on small board sections which are revealed as the game unfolds. The game is broken down into the hero phase and the enemy phase. The heroes do not follow a turn sequence as in other board games, instead they decide who will perform an action before deciding who can carry out the next action.

This player driven sequence means players must discuss and weigh up their options, because the enemy follow a simple artificial intelligence system… which we found to be quite lethal.

Now for a little more detail…

Narrative

In Runaljod, four heroes attempt to stem the flow of monsters and enemies who are flooding into their realm for reasons as yet unknown. Spoiler: there’s a big ass giant.

The game can be played in several modes, from single, one-off adventures, to campaigns where several adventures are linked together in the form of a narrative. Don’t have four players? No problem, the rules we received cover special circumstances so you can play the game all by yourself if you can’t find budding heroes to help on your quest.

We think it’s early days for the creators – there’s still very little out there regarding the rest of the story, but we think Runaljod to be a sleeping giant, an avalanche of story potential to really pack the game with world lore!

Setting Up

Runaljod seems a little complicated at first, but in hindsight this observation proved false. The process involves creating a deck of exploration cards, which determine the board pieces you use, the starting location of the enemies, monsters and heroes. The exploration cards also shows where there may be treasure and where to move to when you’re ready to try the next board section.

 

This exploration deck always contains particular start and finish cards, with random cards assigned to the middle of the deck. We liked this because it provides an element of chance to the game, providing us with different scenarios and challenges – in theory each game should be unique depending on how many cards are provided in the final released version of the game.

There are several other decks, which provide abilities for characters, equipment, random events and finally the enemy data cards and artificial intelligence deck. There’s also a host of tokens, which are used for special abilities, such as stun or bleed tokens, tokens for wounds, trance tokens (used by the Volva character) and coloured cubes for the hero character cards to keep track of health points and glory points.

runaljod sound of the runes creator consortium board game tabletop game action fantasy norse early review kickstarter miniatures

 

The board pieces vary in size and shape, from rectangles of 24x11cm to squares as large as 30x30cm. They’re also double sided, so the box isn’t quite so heavy, and we save ourselves a bit of deforestation – all new considerations to the board gaming world! There’s also the “Altar of the Gods” which is where the extra runes are placed, and acts as a home for the exploration cards and time tracker.

Finally, the miniatures are all placed on the board – and these are pretty well sculpted – but more on those later!

Your Characters

The four characters available are classic Norse / viking archetypes, each with their own special abilities and equipment: the berzerker, with a powerful axe and very little armour, the shield maiden with her stout shield to defend her allies, to the spell weaving Volva (a type of Witch) and the keen eyed Hunter with his bow.

Each character comes with their own “dashboard” which is where most of your planning and actions will take place, and of course a finely detailed miniature. Now, we know that these are prototype miniatures but the detail is rather impressive! Take a look at the 3D render of some of these miniatures, and compare them to the hastily taken photographs I took – check out that chain-mail detail!

The level of detail in the miniatures is carried into the enemy and monster miniatures too, more on those in a moment!

Their Abilities

Each character has their own specific deck of cards, which provide certain abilities to perform as actions. These actions require you to use a particular rune to activate, and once activated, that rune cannot be used again that turn – or even the turn after! This is because at the start of each phase you recast the runes, which we’ve described below.

Characters can purchase additional equipment which provides greater offensive and defensive measures during the game, which leads us nicely to the…

Novel Mechanics

There are several novel game mechanics which we found particularly pleasing. Not only are they novel, they’re also a bit of very cunning game design expertly disguised as fun game play elements.

The one we want to talk about the most is casting runes. Yes, much like in a real reading of the runes, you as the player takes up the handful of rune stones, shake them vigorously in both hands, and cast them down onto the table in front of you!

How these runes land determine how you may use them: if they land face up you may use them to perform actions and abilities – some abilities require specific runes to use, so if that rune landed face down, you cannot use that rune! However, if the rune landed on its edge, you can collect extra runes to throw later, or even harness the power of the gods by activating a specific godly rune which possesses a powerful ability.

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Why do we like this unusual system?

It feels good, it feels real and brings you to the table in a way that other games cannot. It’s a great way of bringing energy to the game too, because you’re all hoping to get to use as many runes as you can – Runaljod is a cooperative game, so to succeed you need to cast those runes as best as you can, or rely on others to help you when you don’t.

A good rune casting can also make you feel like a hero, without a poor rune casting making you feel like a useless chump – there’s always something you can do, even if you’re just formulating a plan and being the voice of that plan.

Interestingly, any runes you do not use to access an ability or skill are saved for the next turn, so if you’re struggling to throw some good runes you can save some, guaranteeing you actions on your next turn.

runaljod sound of the runes creator consortium board game tabletop game action fantasy norse early review kickstarter miniatures

There’s a time wheel in Runaljod, which marks how many turns you have left to complete the current section of the board – run out of time and you lose the game. Different events and exploration cads may reset this time tracker, or it may only partially reset the time tracker – we actually liked this, because it means you are sometimes forced to make decisions which you normally wouldn’t in a typical board game.

The attention to detail in Runaljod is great, because the time tracker uses a serpent motif with the head of the serpent approaching the tail, bringing the world to its end – if you’re not familiar with Norse mythology, this is Jormungandr, the world serpent who takes part in the end of the world, Ragnarok!

With a single turn left, you may have to decide who dies and who lives from amongst the heroes, as the goal is to defeat the enemy in time. Make a poor choice, or attempt to heal your allies and you potentially waste time. Don’t be put off by this though, as it’s part of the game challenge and shouldn’t be seen as a negative impact – it adds tension and a dash of excitement.

Your Enemies & Artificial Intelligence

Enemies in Runaljod are savage. The enemies act depending on the draw of a card. This makes the game particularly blood thirsty on occasions, particularly when enemies are told to target a specific character over others!

Each type of enemy is given up to two actions, sometimes stating the direction or target they should take. And it’s not always the nearest hero they have to target! What we liked about this card system is that some detail the order in which the specific heroes are targeted, using the different coloured shields present on the character cards.

Sometimes an enemy miniature may be told to move and attack a hero with a specific damage token. When no target has that specific token, what does the enemy do? It simply defaults to the nearest target it can, and performs actions accordingly.

The exception to the A.I deck are enemies or monsters that have their own decks, which provides in detail what actions that miniature does. This gives them specific attacks and allows them to act differently from the rest of the enemies.

Combat in the Frozen Land

Combat is straightforward in Runaljod, but that doesn’t make it easy!Every offensive action or item has colour coded squares present on their card. Thee translate into dice. There are three types of dice, white, black and red.Each dice has a face of different weapons, which roughly translate to 1, 2 or 3 points of damage.

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Each enemy, monster and hero has a defence value, which deducts the damage dealt by the dice. But be warned! Each dice also has the infinity symbol, which allows the attacker to perform special attacks, which can include powerful abilities such as being unable to defend against the dealt damage.

Damage is translated to health points, and when a hero uses up all their health points, they are knocked down! But there is an action to get yourself up again!

We like the combat dice, they are reminiscent of good old Hero Quest (remember those dice with skulls and shields on them?) So there’s a nice nostalgic feel whilst being efficient and quick. That isn’t to say making the choices or having the runes available make it the combat easy!

Appearance & Artwork

The artwork is superb, evocative of the cold northern climate that Norse sagas are famous for. It also adds an epic element to the game, as we see titanic wolves, colossal giants and other nightmarish creatures.

Rodrigo Flores is responsible for the artwork here, but much like Tempo Games, I cannot find a link to showcase his other artwork. I’ll be in touch and see what I can find for you! For now, enjoy some of the samples Tempo Games have to offer…

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Miniaturas Alemany produced for the excellent miniatures for Runaljod – the same company who produce high quality miniatures for Avatars of War and Chaos Factory. These are not your regular run of the mill miniatures, and I suspect that the resin casts are probably going to be just as well defined in the final product. They’re awesome miniatures!

Final Thoughts

We think Runaljod is a game for gamers. It is a little more complicated than the likes of traditional or abstract board games. That said, once we got started the game become more intuitive and easy to follow. We tried the game with four players and a “games master” to speed things up. With a proper translation and some proofing, we think this issue will be resolved easily.

The game feels great, it is a high fantasy sword and sorcery style board game with a focus on combat, but also includes some character advancement. It can be fast paced with practice, and it really can punish you for a mistake. We love it because it was atmospheric, a challenge and delicately balanced. The artwork and miniatures are evocative and perfectly detailed, making this game the best polished game we’ve tried so far – even CMON would struggle to get this level of detail!

We’re told that Tempo Games are hoping to create Runaljod: The Sound of the Runes for German, Italy and Spain, covering the entire of the EU, or as close as they can!

Runaljod kick starts in 22nd October, assuming no delays!

If you want to see some of the mayhem played out, you can check out Summoned Games on YouTube. We’d like to thank them for giving us the opportunity to play the game early!

That’s all from me, drop us a comment and tell us what you think of Runaljod so far!

Ferris, CC

@FerrisWrites for Twitter, or our Facebook page!

Damnation: The Gothic Game, Revamp of the 90’s Classic Horror Game (for all the family?)

You walk alone down a dark corridor, footsteps muffled on an ancient red carpet. Candles burn in the gloom, their light muted by the cold and damp. You pause, as a familiar figure glides across an intersection – it was someone far worse than Dracula…

It was your friend.

The Gothic Game, a game of murderous mayhem for friends, is getting a revamp (pun intended) from the original game edition from 1992. Soon we will see Damnation: The Gothic Game!

What was the Gothic Game?

Originally dreamt up in 1966 by Nigel Andrews & Robert Wynne-Simmons, the Gothic game didn’t get an official release as a full board game until the early 90’s, when the game was published with full artwork board by Angela White. The game-play is described as a battle royale of player elimination.

The game took place in Dracula’s castle and involved fast paced action, with the last player standing as the winner. Much like a game of Cluedo, players travelled around the board using a maze of corridors and rooms, making discoveries and collecting items with which to kill others or defend themselves. Players could end up in the moat, stuck in the dungeon or in a bottomless pit of doom.

Each player started the game with 100 points of stamina, which were lost when another player attacked them, or they draw a card from a room they entered and set off traps or suffered supernatural events. If they were lucky, they’d find a weapon or armour of some sort.

To top it all off, Dracula could use an unfortunate player to roam the corridors of his castle draining others of blood and eliminating them from the game!

The Gothic Game had a great feel to it, from an age where the objective was to have fun with family and friends. It was easy to learn and fast to play, with scope to outwit your opponents or throw yourself into danger to not give them the satisfaction of killing you!

Even when Dracula assumed a player, that player had limited turns to kill and get back to his vault. The more Dracula killed the more time he got to roam and hunt, making a terrifying prospect a legitimate game tactic!

But all of this passed quite quickly, and the Gothic Game was lost to the annals of time. And that was it for decades – a limited edition board game that was popular, fast and fun.

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Until now…

We have been fortunate enough to play the old version of the game. But what about the upcoming revision by Black Letter Games (BLG)? BLG has assumed the rights of the game and plans on kick starting in late October (suitably, near Halloween).

I was even luckier, because Summoned Games invited me over to trial the revised version of the game, and I’ve got the chance to write up the review! There’s a chance to get your hands on the old version of the game, which I’ll give you the details for later on.

First though, let’s take a look at the new, darker and grittier Gothic Game, Damnation: The Gothic Game!

damnation the gothic game horror Dracula fury dark castle creator consortium murder adversarial terror hellish hell

What’s New?

First off, it’s a hell of a lot darker than it once was. Reading the top paragraph of the rule book makes it pretty clear:

“Damnation: The Gothic Game takes place on a plane of Hell where Count Dracula holds dominion. Here, a group of villains from the Victorian era find themselves damned for all eternity.”

It gets worse, as the introduction unfolds: each dusk the villains are both resurrected and cursed – cursed to have no memory of the day before, stuck in endless horror of stalking and stalked by one another, presumably for the terror and violence they caused in their lives.  Already this game sets the tone quite clearly: you’re not good people and you’re not getting out. It makes perfect sense for a board game where you pay the same game over and over again, and yet retains its charm!

The Artwork

You know we mentioned Dracula? Well the art for Damnation: The Gothic Game has been brought to life visually by two Romanian artists, that of Hue Teo and Anca Albu. We’re impressed with how much (un)life they’ve brought to the graphics and art of the game. We could go on and on about it, but you can see for yourself what they’ve managed, just read on!

Characters

Character cards did not exist in the original version of the game. It is a sign of game development over the years, as Gothic turns from board game for all the family to a game that is heaped in atmosphere. These nameless anti-heroes fit particular character archetypes from the Victorian era, adding layers to the dark and Gothic vibes.

We have the Gentleman – dashing, refined, but is this gentleman all that he seems? The dark Stranger from a foreign land, and the Mystic a traveller driven from her homeland who conceals a terrible power.

These are just a few of the six playable characters in the game so far. Frankly, these changes make the game more colourful and characterful (obviously), lending the game that extra personal dimension compared to the original which provided simple coloured, plastic meeple!

Characters have some special abilities and a wound tracker, and we’re told there may also be the introduction of a sanity tracker too – even more ways to die!

Extra Dice

Players would roll a dice and work out in what direction they want to move, but now there’s a special extra dice which can make the game harder or easier: roll a candle symbol and your character may move one space more or less, which can be the difference between falling into a trap or not.

Or roll the castle symbol and draw a card from the special Castle Deck… hoping to god you don’t uncover more horrors!

Or you could roll the dark circle, where you trigger the first trap you come across regardless of how far you could move past the trap space!

Card Decks

The new version of the game adds literal variety in the form of card decks. No, don’t get put off, this isn’t a deck building game. These new decks are used to create tense moments at the roll of a dice or provide solace as the night unfolds.

The obvious deck are those found in each room which are unique to that room. When a player enters the room they draw a card, which may be beneficial or utterly crushing. And be warned, these decks are not huge or countless, and cards drawn are placed back into the deck after use… it pays to keep your attention on the other players!

New to the game are the Heirloom deck and the best deck in my opinion the Death Knell deck!

Heirlooms are provided to the players at random at the start of the game. They are given three, which are made up of trinkets and curiosities to help you win the game.

The Death Knell cards are randomly placed face down on the board. When a player is eliminated a random death-knell card is turned over by that player. In rare situations they may be saved, but likely it will hinder those players still alive, such as Hunters Moon; a curse that means players to the left cannot use protection cards to prevent incoming damage. Nice!

Finally, the Castle Deck, which as mentioned before only gets drawn from if you roll the necessary dice. These cards are random encounters, such as a ravenous wolf hound (which may or may not savage you or an opponent, if you play your cards right).

Once again, the new edition is adding many modern layers to the older Gothic Game, but in doing so it’s not taking away some of the charm. It felt nice to play the game, but the feeling was improved by the breadth and depth of these new decks.

Don’t get me wrong, the old game is full of charm, but by today’s standards it lacks that personal feeling of involvement. According to the Damnation: Gothic website, there are in total 130 unique cards, presumably portioned out into the many various rooms and play decks. Layered up like an onion – prepare for tears!

Game Board Revamp

Although the layout is similar, the artwork is vastly updated and improved. The addition of the cemetery adds a location outside of the castle itself, which carries with it risks and rewards of its own. Then there’s the Dark Tower, which can only be entered if you’ve claimed another’s soul (token)!

The board is littered with secret passageways, and trap points. What we found fun about the traps is that trap tokens are placed face down at random, so it’s unlikely you’ll have the same setup each time, unlike in the original. Step onto a trapdoor and find yourself drowning in the moat. Trigger a classic trap, the Pendulum, and lose half of your health. Or worse still, discover the Oubliette and end the game for yourself!

The artwork is second to none and instils the dark and seething dread that the game evokes so effortlessly: lonely narrow corridors and dark and mysterious rooms filled with thinly veiled threats all add to the atmosphere. This is a game for dark and windy winter nights.damnation the gothic game horror Dracula fury dark castle creator consortium murder adversarial terror hellish anca albu hue teo

 

Fate Tokens & Character Talents

Characters now have some extra abilities with which to survive! Fate tokens are added to a character sheet, providing some universal one-off abilities. Each character has at least one unique ability. The extra layers provide a bit of variation to the game, which is never a bad thing!

Soul Tokens

Yup, not only can you kill each other with an array of weapons, you can steal their soul too… and use them in a certain place in the castle to unlock new cards, items and abilities… harvest them as much as you can, you’ll need them win! You can trade soul tokens for extra fate tokens, or as mentioned earlier, gain access to the Dark Tower.

Special Rooms

There’s a lot we could talk about here, so we’ll pick a couple to give you an idea of the mayhem and suffering you can inflict on your friends!

The first is our favourite – The Vault. This is the lair of Dracula. When a player enters the vault and Dracula is not already in play, they become the beast! This can be an entertaining venture for the players – Dracula has a limited number of turns to roam the corridors of the castle, hunting for the other players. If he passes over a character, he gains more blood and a little more time to keep hunting. If he gets back to the Vault in time, the player assumes their normal role, perhaps a little dizzy and unsure why their mouth is filled with the tang of blood!

damnation the gothic game horror Dracula fury dark castle creator consortium murder adversarial terror hellish anca albu hue teo

The Great Spiral Staircase. This bad boy is a slippery slope to death. If a player ends up in this room, they can only use their movement to travel down the staircase. At the bottom of the Great Spiral Staircase? Death, instant and inexorable! The only way to escape this room is by rolling a six on the dice, which you can then combine with your normal dice roll. You could be there a while!

“The Power of Adjacency Compels You!”

But why would you want to enter this room? Well kids, life isn’t always fair. A player can invoke the power of adjacency over players they pass in the castle corridors. This essentially allows them to decide the direction in which that player must move on their next turn… like a horrible pit of death!

Battle in the Darkness

When in possession of a weapon card, players may target each other to perform attacks, dealing damage to their victim. Of course, the target player can use items to defend themselves in the form of equipment or action cards. So be careful who you target – they may be more than they seem! 

Not all death comes from Dracula, traps and hidden rooms – the players are here to be the winner, the last player standing. Naturally, this will involve direct conflict with each other.

What we would like to see…

We played the prototype version of the game, but there are few things we’d like to see:

  • Reference cards, which may reduce the amount of rule book referencing.
  • More character choices, but in honesty, we’re just being greedy!
  • Sudden Death Mode for the final players (optional).
  • Someway of making doors more visible (a simple standee could add a bit more dimension!)
  • Some different ways to play or ways to win (which BLG say they may be looking into!)
  • Expansions: extra rooms to tag onto the board or replacement tiles for extra variation and playability!

damnation the gothic game horror Dracula fury dark castle creator consortium murder adversarial terror hellish anca albu hue teo

Final Overview

This game is fast paced, amusingly adversarial and filled with graphic, bloody fun. It can be quite a quick game to play, although we found towards the end with just two players left it can become a face-off (later we learned we had not played some things correctly, however). That said, there are hundreds of ways to die in Dracula’s hellish domain, and he is just one of them!

Overall, we think the game is set to receive a lot of interest over the next few months. It looks great, it feels great and as we mentioned several times already, there’s so many layers of interest to keep even the most jaded tastes interested.

There’s a lot going on in this game, but it’s not too heavy to take the fun out of playing. It is definitely a game for friends and family, although some of the concepts are a little more grown up.

We still have access to the prototype, so if you have any questions, drop us a comment down below, or find us on Twitter (@FerrisWrites) or our Facebook page.

damnation the gothic game horror Dracula fury dark castle creator consortium murder adversarial terror hellish hell

Want to Win a Copy of the one of the few remaining Original copies?

If you want to see some of the mayhem played out, you can check out Summoned Games on YouTube. They are offering an original copy of the game, from 1992 as a prize. To enter, you just need to subscribe, comment on the video and / or like their Facebook page. What’s more, it is open to anyone anywhere in the world – they’re willing to ship it anywhere in the world.

We’d like to thank Summoned Games for letting us take part in the early game, and of course, Blackletter Games, for creating an amazing revamp of the original Gothic Game, and having faith in letting us see, play and review the game before its release and kick start.

We’re reliably informed it will be available for pledges late in October, and be in the region of £40-£50 (though this is still to be confirmed).

That’s all from me, enjoy your weekend!

Ferris, CC

@FerrisWrites on Twitter

Cthulhu: The Horror in Dunwich – Horror that won’t let you win

Cthulhu: The Horror in Dunwich (HiD) is a stand alone deck building game for people who find fun and mirth in being repeatedly defeated.

Allow me to explain…

HiD is set in the Cthulhu mythos, based on the legendary cosmic horror from the fiendish mind of H.P. Lovecraft. The mythos is a popular area to explore for anyone wishing to be caught up in the dark cults and weird extraplanar horrors found in any of Lovecraft’s stories.

If you’re not familiar with the narrative of Lovecraft, the best way to explain the concept is that normal everyday people get caught up in supernatural tales utterly beyond their control. Humanity is so insignificant, it simply will not last should the dark and awesome power of beings far stronger than any human concept of Gods, awaken.

HiD is a game that brings this existential dread to the fore, and it does so with an abundance of gritty flare!

Synopsis

HiD is a stand alone expansion to Cthulhu: A Deck Building Game. This just means that it is a continuation of the story, as Investigators (you) are thrown into the unbearably harsh task of defeating the Elder Gods and their horrific minions.

The investigators are called upon again to defeat the terrors of the night in Dunwich, a place well known to readers of The Dunwich Horror (Lovecraft, 1928). Invited by Dr. Armitage of Miskatonic University, the investigators must research strange and terrible spells and tactics to defeat nameless and cosmic forces to save the world.

Characters

Each player assumes a character which posses a set number of sanity and health points (counted with some funky Cthulhu clips that attach to the character card). Each character also has a special ability and an ability which can be used each turn even if the investigator has died in the cosmic struggle, the After Death ability.

Cthulhu horror Dunwich Lovecraft deck builder building pulp creator consortium

Setup

There are many variables here that the game could be played so many times before getting the same game twice!

Depending on the number of investigators, a number of Elder Gods are randomly deployed. These Elder Gods are the likes of Cthulhu himself or Dagon from under the sea. Elder Gods are picked at random.

Next, a Location is randomly picked. Locations offer up effects for the duration of the game. In our play through we fought in an ancient tomb, where minion creatures had double their health points!

Finally a deck of Mythos cards and Library cards are shuffled a stacked up. Mythos cards are bad stuff that happen each round, helping the Elder Gods in their diabolical schemes, and Library cards are the skills and tactics that you use during play.

 

 

Mechanics

HiD is pretty standard for deck building games. Players begin with a simple and very small deck of cards, and take it in turns to purchase more cards from the library, with Moxie as the currency.

Interestingly, not all the starting cards in the investigators library are good cards. Amongst the cards are three damaging cards (Stagger cards) aimed at wounding the investigator – sometimes an event during the game, such as a Mythos card, will force a player to use all of the cards in their hand – woe betide the investigator who gets an axe to the ribs!

 

 

The game is split into 3 phases: planning, combat and cleanup.

Briefly…

Planning is when cards are “bought” from the library, but only the cards on display. When all the cards are bought that’s it for the turn, no more until later! During planning the investigators use their Moxie as a currency. Be warned however, any moxie you spend now can’t be used in the later steps so spend wisely!

Combat is when the elder god and its minions act! This also includes drawing a mythos card which is usually a special twist to the combat round… to the detriment of the investigators, no less! After the elder god(s) have beaten you to a pulp or shredded your mind and their minions have taken their fill, it’s your turn to fight back, assuming you can!

Finally in the Cleanup phase damage is calculated, the corpses are cleared away and the investigators get to check out what other tactics or spells they can use next time (assuming they made it thus far!)

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How does it feel?

From the outset it feels difficult. You need to create a deck of cards quickly. This is a frenetic feeling, so when you combine this with the systematic destructive powers of the elder gods the game gets dark fast.

The odds are stacked against you before the start, and randomly picking the elder gods and location create an amusing sense of tense dread. It’s nice to know that you’ll likely never play the same game twice.

This after death malarkey for each character is actually quite good because it allows unfortunate players who are out of the fight early on to stay in the game as more than just an adviser or spectator. Kudos to Wyvern Games!

The artwork really inspires the Lovecraftian theme, with the spells, action and equipment cards looking dark and detailed. The fact that you can play the Hobo wearing chain mail and carrying a rifle really helps too!

Ideally you’d play this game as a group of 3 – this optimises your chances of winning… well, not that your chances are good!

Cthulhu horror Dunwich Lovecraft deck builder building pulp creator consortium

Cost

At the time of writing, the Kickstarter has already closed and late backing is no longer possible. We were told by Wyvern Games (via Twitter) that you can talk to your local gaming store who can place orders through Impressions – I suspect this is US based only, so I’ll poke for more information!

We estimate the game to cost around £40, using the Kickstarter pledges as a guide.

Find Wyvern Gaming here!

Conclude…

If you want to watch us bumble our way through the first game you can follow the YouTube link here, by Summoned Games. Mr Dodd is steaming through his reviews and we’ll be working closely with him to bring you more helpful content.Watch this space for yet to be released game reviews!

Watch this space for yet to be released game reviews!

We hope you’ve enjoyed our micro review, if you’ve got any questions or comments you can post them below!

Bye for now!

Ferris, CC

 

Warcry – What’s all the Shout About?

Introduction

Games Workshop released Warcry a few months ago, and it is our habit to let the commotion calm down a little before throwing our own review into the arena.

Warcry is the latest skirmish game from Games Workshop, set somewhere in the vast expanse of a world gripped by Chaos, where warbands of cultist, warriors and beasts battle for control, fame, glory and the attention of the ruinous Gods of Chaos.

Don’t confuse Warcry (the topic of this article) with WarCry, a collectable card game set in the Warhammer Fantasy setting (Sabertooth Games, 2003).

warcry war cry Games Workshop tabletop games fantasy battles age of sigmar

What are Skirmish Games?

For those not in the know, skirmish scale games involve small teams of miniatures played on smaller wargaming tables. This is compared to much larger armies of potentially hundreds of miniatures over wargaming tables that will fill most people’s living room. The idea behind skirmish games is that they usually involve more tactical thinking, with a focus on in-depth actions or sequences of events for individual miniatures in the game. It’s a bit like micro-managing a battlefield. Skirmish games are generally perceived as faster to play, ideal for those who have lives beyond the armchair general.

Lore

Warcry takes place in or around a portion of land known as the Eightpoints, the seat of Archaon the Everchosen (one of a handful of characters still around from the shift from Warhammer Fantasy Battles to Age of Sigmar – controversial article here). The lore is fresh, but a little ropy at the moment – that said, it doesn’t need to be grandiose, we’re playing a game where warbands slaughter each other and that’s the simple message.

warcry war cry Games Workshop tabletop games fantasy battles age of sigmar

Game Mechanics

From what we can tell from playing a number of games, the rules are quite straightforward, even for beginners. Arguably you could introduce a young player to this game without much of a problem. 10+ years would be fine (give or take) depending on their ability to understand turn sequences and planning ahead. There’s very little mathematics, and what there is, is quite straight forward.

Setup

Players create their warbands using information cards, representing their miniatures. Each card comes with an image for reference with an associated points value and attributes. Attributes include the number of attack dice they roll, the damage they can cause and how far they move in inches, along with symbols to show what special abilities they can call upon (more on these later).

When each warband totals 1000 points (anywhere from 3 to 15 miniatures) the players can determine the terrain, the goal of the skirmish and any twists to the mission parameters. Once these are set up, the players divide their warband into smaller groups, some of which will be reinforcements for the second or later turns.

The terrain setup, mission type and twist are all randomly generated. If you have bought the complete box set you’ll have some nice card decks to do this for you, or if you purchased just the rule book you can roll dice to determine the setup.

The missions are usually pretty clear and straightforward, with deployment of the miniatures normally split up between an initial group with 1 or 2 reinforcement forces. Often these are on opposite sides of the battlefield, forcing the players to get stuck in very quickly or risk losing the game.

Starting the Game & Turn Sequence

Each player keeps a pool of six dice, with a further dice acting a ‘wild dice’ (more on this later). The purpose of these dice is to allow the player to perform special functions with their miniatures. These abilities require multiples of the same number to permit use of these special functions, often a double, triple or even quadruple.

warcry war cry Games Workshop tabletop games fantasy battles age of sigmar

For example, a special ability that adds bonuses to an attack action may require a double. It doesn’t matter what the number on the dice is – it could be a double 1 or a double 6. Some abilities require a triple or even quadruple score, which are obviously rare and unlikely to be rolled but possess much more significant power. A few of these abilities use the number on the dice that score a multiple.

Special abilities are usually faction-specific, although we noticed that some abilities are the same just by a different name. There are several universal abilities which any faction can use, found in the rule book. Oddly, some of these are more powerful than the faction specific ones.

A strange but interesting mechanic of the game is determining the initiative sequence, that is, who will go first that turn. The dice pool is rolled at the start of each turn. The player with the most single dice rolls acts first. So, if you roll an amazing dice pool of a series of multiples, you forfeit taking the first turn.

The wild dice mentioned earlier comes into play here. You can use it to seize the initiative or risk it to score a multiple dice result… or save it to add to your next turn. A player can bide their time and on the final turn potentially at 3 to 4 more dice to their initiative roll. This game is all about the small gambles.

warcry war cry Games Workshop tabletop games fantasy battles age of sigmar

Activation & Actions

Players take it in turns, activating a single model, with the winner of the initiative roll going first. A model always has two activations, which can be used to move, attack, rest or wait (a bit like waiting in readiness). Only when a model has finished their two actions, does the other player gets to activate one of their own models. This goes back and forth until all models have activated, which ends the turn.

This brings in a nice tactical feel and eliminates the one sided crush an unfortunate player may feel from other tabletop wargames. It brings its own challenges however, since the ability to plan further ahead and be able to adapt that plan to unforeseen circumstances will greatly help win the game.

Wounds & Casualties

Models in Warcry have many more wounds than they do in larger tabletop fantasy battles. This simulates the more personal scope of fighting. Generally larger or more expensive models have more wounds, but even a simple thrall has 8 wounds, which is usually enough to survive a couple of turns.

Models can rest to recover wounds, but some missions forbid this, making those games brutally fast and efficient!

There is no armour save attribute as such in Warcry, instead toughness is the primary “defence” attribute. A simple table tells the attacking player what they need to roll on each dice; if your strength matches the toughness, you need to roll a 4 or more to successfully wound your target, if it is lower you need 5 or more, and if it is higher you need 3 or more. Rolls of a 6 are always considered a critical hit, dealing more damage.

Most attacks cause 1 or 2 wounds on a successful hit, whereas an attack dice that rolled a 6 causes 2 to 3 times that damage, known as a critical hit. The element of random damage rolls is taken away, meaning players can predict the level of attrition their warriors can endure.

warcry war cry Games Workshop tabletop games fantasy battles age of sigmar

Game Duration

The game recommends 40 minutes give or take. We found this about right, although missions are much faster due to very simplified goal, such as nominating a model, which is the target of the other warband attention to win.

Experienced players could probably zip through a game in 20-30 minutes, but some missions are very tactical and time to mentally plan eat into this.

Each scenario is limited to 3-5 turns, so each game ends regardless of the kill count, assuming you do not wipe your enemy out – but slaughter doesn’t always win you the game.

What’s Different?

To those familiar with tabletop war games, particularly those from Games Workshop, Warcry is a little different. The general mechanical system of tabletop war games is a pool of dice that are rolled to determine attacks that hit, then wound and then a roll to determine if the targets armour saves their lives. These pools of dice are often ever decreasing as only some will score hits, even fewer will score wounds and a few may succeed in rolling a miniatures save. As you can imagine, the process takes a little longer for large scale battles.

Warcry has gone further to reduce the dice rolling, even for the fewer miniatures involved. Now a miniature rolls to attack and wound with the same dice, with a required score based on the strength of the attack and toughness of the target.

Although there is a section in the rule book that supplies rules for campaigns, Warcry is not a reskinned version of Mordheim – it simply doesn’t have the complexities and intricacies of that beloved skirmish game. Who knows, maybe Games Workshop will publish future rule sets to make it closer to the original?

warcry war cry Games Workshop tabletop games fantasy battles age of sigmar

Game Feel

Warcry is a brilliant little game. Its simplicity and speed of play gives you a wonderful sense of satisfaction. No need for a lengthy setup, no need for hours of tortuous game play, no losing before you’ve taken your first turn!

The small scale and game setting / lore keeps the focus on gritty combat, and the feel this provides is kind of cinematic. I get impressions of dark and gritty anti heroes fighting in rain slick ruins of slate ala “Iron Clad” style (film, 2011). This is good, as games that instill emotion beyond prideful victory gives us more reason to play it and keep playing it.

The tactical choices of the variety of mission goals appear balanced, if a little contrived: the deployment zones make it hard to avoid combat, and you can lose a game if you keep VIP models too far out of the way, even if they’re meant to survive to win the game. Not such a bad thing, but we’re feeling this is a manufactured response from Games Workshop – you’ll see the same kind of missions and quests in just about all of their recent games. Meh, you can play the game anyway you like.

That said, working out a tactic that has to develop each turn is closer to real-time battlefield tactics than any full scale tabletop war game. Several games we’ve had to clutch at our faces and rock back and forth trying to figure out how we can win and the tension is palpable. For us, this is great.

The lack of variety in the choice of your warband composition takes away the “math-hammer” aspect of most battle systems by Games Workshop. A massive plus if you play for a games theme, vibes and narrative, but not great if you want specific structure to your warband. There’s an excessive amount of name generating lore in the core rule book, which frankly seems a bit of a waste of paper and money…

Games Workshop, stop padding out your books with this nonsense, we know how to make up names!

Costs

We need to say this right now: The core rule book is NOT everything you need to play the game. Not even close. What annoyed me the most was that the rule book contains no stats for characters or models… it doesn’t even explicitly say that you need to buy these elsewhere.

No, to play the game, you need to have a minimum of 1 rule book and 2 gangs, or if you’re lucky and your Age of Sigmar faction has them, add two card sets with the abilities and attributes for the gangs.

That needed to be said, because we think it is bloody cheeky of Games Workshop. Effective at getting you to spend money no doubt, but even Kill Team (the science fiction version of Warcry) provides all the stats and attributes you need to play the core elements of the game.

Boxed set, £100: with terrain, play mat, 2 war bands, a rule book, dice, cards. A lot of stuff, but how much are you going to play?

Rulebook on it’s own: £25 but you get no cards for any warband, which will set you back an extra £5 for a regular age of Sigmar faction, or…

A boxed warband: £30 which includes the miniatures and game cards. Some players have reported that not all boxed warband add up to the 1000 point limit – keep this in mind when you’re assembling your warband, particularly for tournaments where the miniatures equipment must be represented exactly as on the warband list.

Minimum spend without glues etc, £35 – £55. That’s quite a bit of 10 miniatures and some card, but if you’re into your gaming it’s not a huge outset.

Best Advice – buy from a 3rd party where ever you can.

That said, we’re already seeing expansions coming out for Warcry. So as previously mentioned, the GW Sale M.O suggests extensive additional content, and likely if you don’t keep up, you’ll find yourself at a disadvantage..!

warcry war cry Games Workshop tabletop games fantasy battles age of sigmar

Final Thoughts

We like it, but we’re open about liking games generally. If you’re already into Games Workshop products, you’ll like it because it’s a little different (and the miniatures are, as always, amazing).

If you’re looking for a fast way into the tabletop hobby this is a great start, but it’s going to cost you at least ££85 starting from nothing to get into it. That said, the complete box set gives you everything apart from the glue for £15 more.

Definitely worth a group share if you chip in with friends, but then you’ll need more gangs or one of the £5 card sets.

What Gives?

It seems that despite all its good points, Warcry is fitting nicely into the Games Workshop sale modus operandi, in that the basic game is very simple, leaving questions such as to the details of the warbands, or lack of special rules or “Why didn’t they just…?”

This is because we should be expecting expansions to the game to include all these wonderful things. This is great if you love the game and want to see more, but the sale M.O. means if you want to stay up to date you’re going to have to fork out more of your precious pennies. Veteran players will hear an echoing voice telling them to “pay to win…

This leads me to the small card sets you can purchase for some pf the current factions in Age of Sigmar, Games Workshops mainstream fantasy battles game. These card sets allow you to use your faction in Warcry, such as the Idoneth Deepkin. Great, but again we’re paying for content we don’t need, such as all the special abilities in several different languages. You can’t even sell on these cards, because there’s one for each language, and each miniature card is entirely pictorial. Games Workshop, stop making us buy stuff that we’re going to throw into our recycling.

We’ve recently learned a rumour that these card sets will not be continued. This forces a choice on players: buy a box set of a faction you won’t use in any other game, or just don’t get involved and avoid playing Warcry. What gives? Comment below if you’ve got any ideas what this means!

Finally, we’re already seeing more content coming for Warcry in the form of monster hunting and mercenaries. Seems GW are already using the same methods to promote Kill Team. Expect more soon…

That’s it for now, we’ll go into more detail of the campaign mechanics of Warcry another time, but for now, thanks for reading and we hope this has given you something to think about before buying into Warcry!

Ferris, CC.

Terrain Ideas here, with UK supply suggestions here.

(All miniature images taken from Games Workshop, 14/9/19)

GM Section: Low Fantasy Gaming – A Return to the Old Days of Gritty Dungeons & Dragons?

Last week we took a look at Low Fantasy Gaming (LFG) by Pickpocket Press. Our focus then was aspects of the game most relevant to the players around the table. This week we’re going to look at the Games Master (GM) potions of the book, namely: exploration, traps, treasure, monsters and some of the extra content not always considered in fantasy roleplaying games.

There was some criticism on the title phrase of last week’s article, mainly that Betteridge’s Law of Headlines was true (in that, when a headline generally ends in a question mark, the answer is usually ‘no’). It was interesting to learn about something new (thank you reddit user) however, in part 2, I think Betteridge’s Law of Headlines will prove false this time: it is a damn sight grittier and a return to the old style of D&D!

I wanted to know why LFG was made, so I got in contact with Stephen Grodzicki at Pickpocket Press and asked that very question, here’s the answer:

“… it all stemmed from wanting to GM a Primeval Thule campaign with 5e. But the mechanics didn’t mesh with the setting. I wanted something gritty and dangerous, with magic that was rare, dark and unpredictable. Which is pretty much the opposite of 5e’s heroic, high magic system. And LFG was the result.”

I think they nailed it on the head. So, here comes the second part of the Low Fantasy Gaming review…

The GM Section

From the outset, we’ve seen LFG adjust many of the regular or common place rules, and completely get rid of others. So far most of this has been aimed at the character makeup and  their interactions within the game. Now though, we’ll take a look at some of the content aimed specifically at the games master, and check out some of the cool mechanics included in LFG!

fantasy D&D dungeons and dragons Low fantasy gaming RPG gritty Creator Consortium

Exploration is often overlooked in modern adventures. The fact that exploration in 5th edition D&D is only mentioned in the DM guide as a form of travel, consisting of a few small random encounter tables, suggests that the element of exploration is now considered secondary to most tabletop role-play gamers. Indeed, we at CC have even written about how much more exploration should be part of a standard game. We feel that strongly about it.

So, how has LFG tackled exploration?

Pretty smoothly, it seems. While it’s not mind blowing in its approach, it certainly covers all the bases. Travel speed, weather effects, then broken down into divisions of overland, underground, voyage and even flight encounters are covered. Not all of these encounters are monsters or NPC interactions. LFG covers weather change, being off-course (i.e. lost!) and some tasty little role-play events.

Our favourite is the Inspiring Tale event, where the characters are having an uneventful travel day: one of the players may wish to regale the whole gaming group with a story or song of some sort. If most of the people at the gaming table are entertained, the GM may allow one of them to advance to their next level. It’s a pretty random occurrence, requiring a one in twenty dice roll, but it’s a wonderful learning and role-playing experience which has an in game effect. We feel this is a very encouraging element to any RPG and we’re glad it’s made it into the game! Not much on the gritty side, but certainly something you would expect in an early version of Dungeons & Dragons.

Finally, there’s a table of random encounters covering 20 aerial encounters, 100 city or settlement encounters, and sets of 20 encounters for deserts, jungles, forests & woodlands, mountains and hills, oceans lakes & rivers, plains & grasslands, roads and trails, snow and ice and swamps… pretty much LFG has got you covered wherever your adventure is taking you, and it looks pretty thorough!

And since monsters do not have associated experience points, any ‘level’ of monster could be encountered (in theory). Fear not though, this is simply another challenge for the players to overcome without battle. Maybe they really should let sleeping dragons lie?

fantasy D&D dungeons and dragons Low fantasy gaming RPG gritty Creator Consortium

Hirelings are included in the game too. It’s a small section with tables to generate names, catchphrases and other personal identifying traits. There’s even some scope for pets as hirelings.

What’s new and different about LFG is that there’s a simple advancement table for hirelings. And its not simply going up in levels, instead they can advance, for example, in their ability to increase their attributes, learn a skill or gain advantage to moral checks. This keeps the distinction between player characters and NPCs and does not permit an allie as powerful as the players.

And my favorite but about hirelings… there’s a 2D6 point table dedicated entirely to payback if you mistreat your hirelings. It’s another great little story and role-play element to the game. These little touches really do add up.

I don’t think we have ever used hirelings in a game of D&D since second edition, because since third edition they always just seemed like faceless add-ons rather than an opportunity to develop and become entertaining and useful.

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Disease is pretty grim, and covers everything from Oozy Eye to Flesh Grubs. And we’re not talking about some minor afflictions that last a few hours or are passed on for a day or two. Some of these effects can last for months if they don’t get cured. Oozy Eye for example can affect one or both eyes and last for 1 to 4 months, suffering perception loss. For a game of low magic, diseases for player characters can really make a lasting impact on the gaming sessions.

Purge the Accursed is a 3rd level spell which removes a curse or disease from the target of the spell… but not right away, no, it could take up to 3 or 4 days. Otherwise, you need to find an apothecary who is familiar with the disease to cure it. Side-line adventure ideas should be boundless. And yes, pretty gritty even for early D&D editions.

As for Madness effects, well I am a great fan of madness effects in tabletop RPGs. There are 20 possible madness traits, described from the first person perspective, such as: “I keep my dear friends ear with me always. As long as I have it, I know he can still hear me.”

Messed up. Quite cool.

These madness traits can vary in severity and intensity, with another small table to help define how serious the affliction is. It could be a day or two, or last for years and there’s no direct cure: a character has to pass up or down the intensity rather than just negate the effects. Much like in real life, and this suitably gritty!

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Mass Battles, have a very good narrative feel without the need to roll thousands of dice.

This is something to be excited about. In most mass battle mechanics there’s a clunky or crunchy aspect which seems to either miss the personal role-play aspect or goes completely the other way to create a purely story driven battle. LFG manages to combine both in their mass battle chapter.

Mass battles then are broken down into two broad sets of rules; the party spotlight, where the characters are driving the story, and unit combat which details the battle field, managing, manoeuvring, fighting and moral of troops. LFG make it clear that these rules can be used separately or they can be  combined.

In the party spotlight, it is the player characters’ exploits that are defined. This is achieved by the GM throwing critical events at one or more of the characters. Critical events include a variety of situations, each with a description and resolution followed by a player character impact and a unit impact. This can only really be explained by an example:

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Hold the Line: In this example the characters are aware that the enemy is about to break through an allied line during the intense fighting. The resolution is simple: stay in the fight for 2D6 rounds, facing cumulative 1D3 enemies each turn. The impact of this is that if the players do not succeed a friendly unit is utterly overrun and destroyed. One less friendly unit to worry about!

Now this doesn’t sound too insane for a traditional game of Dungeons & Dragons where the warrior classes are capable of smiting down a good number of enemies in a single action, even helping the less martial characters in a close shave. But in LFG, it’s much easier to get laid low. There’s one extra facet of the mass battles which ties in nicely here; sudden twists!

Sudden twists occur when the players roll a 1 or 20, with a further roll to consult the sudden twist table. The table includes positive and negative effects, such as hirelings or allies being knocked unconscious (dead weight) or the opportunity to engage an enemy champion or officer with a successful dexterity check. An element of heroic actions, or the ill-fated meeting in the melee against a terrible foe. The GM gets to decide…

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Unit combat works almost like a nicely polished mini-game. It could easily be employed with miniatures or tokens to represent different units on the battlefield. There’s a simple turn order, starting with ranged attacks, followed by movement, melee attacks and then a resolution setup for victory points. I’ve seen corporate gaming facilities create worse systems than this.

Each method of attack is simply a roll of two dice, with some modifiers to the roll for exceptional circumstances (such as units in heavy woodlands) along with more serious options, such as resource attrition. Consulting the table determines a units effectiveness on the battlefield that turn. What I like about this is that it’s not a direct amount of damage, it’s narrative effects created with mechanical elements. Check out the table for ranged combat for units in mass battles as an example.

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There are unit attributes and stats for the main types of units found on battlefields such as cavalry, heavy infantry and the like. There’s also an Ogre warband and a dragon for when the battle needs an extra injection of adrenaline.

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To top it all off, the characters may reach the final encounter: the final confrontation of generals or villains. It may happen early, by chance or it could happen after days of gruelling slaughter. As it says in the text, it is the battles ultimate encounter. This is a nice little touch because it creates a sense of actual achievement rather than the GM plotting or narrating the story. By giving the GM the option to fall back on chance (well, in part at least) it can give the players a real sense of taking part in the battle.

All in all, the feeling the mass battle mechanics generate is one of energetic, nay, frantic encounters in what could potentially be a very flat large scale combat session. Some GM’s do not need help with this sort of thing, but the content is usually not included in source books, or a game system may rely on third party homebrew mechanics. LFG though get it right on the pages, no doubt inspiring newer gamers and offering veteran gamers some interesting ideas or adaptations..

Traps. Blimey, I’m just going to give an example here. There are tables to generate random traps or to give you a good idea of how traps may operate in an adventure, but nothing is as grim as the example below:

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The Harpoon Crusher is horrific:

  • A room covered in tiles, which, if the wrong tile is stepped on triggers a series of harpoons to strike out. Now, here’s the fun bit: there are a series of rolls to judge just how unfortunate the character is – Dex save to avoid 2D6 damage, Dex save to avoid being knocked prone, a luck save will determine if your armour is snagged by the barbed harpoon or if its a body part that is snagged. We’re not done yet though!
  • The harpoons, which are attached to chains, will then hoist the character into the air, retracting at the rate of 1D6 feet per round (while other harpoons are primed and ready to fire again that round). The rate of lifting increases by 1D6 feet per round, as it gains momentum.
  • Panels surrounding the harpoon that struck the player open, and large grinders whirr to life. At 25 feet the character is dragged into the grinders and dies horribly in a spray of gore and crunching bone, forever dead and losing all of their gear too.
  • Sure, you can try to save them by breaking the chain, but it’s bloody difficult, or you could pull your friend to safety but they’ll suffer more damage and likely fall onto another panel if you haven’t triggered another harpoon yourself!
  • Helpfully, there are methods of resolving the traps (which won’t be mentioned here in case you want to find out for yourself and there’s also suggested variants should the GM wants to make the trap easier to overcome, or indeed harder!

This is just one example, others include: the Flesheater Tank (made me shiver), Snare & Roast or the Whirlpool of Reduction (yikes!).

Treasure is broken down into some nice and easy to manage tables. The most helpful I found is the table of carry loot, which is used for the treasure lining the pockets of monsters or NPCs. It’s a D100 table so there’s quite a bit of variety. There are tables for lair treasure, trinkets & curios, valuables and potions.

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For magical items there’s a nice mechanic which may be familiar to some veteran gamers: obvious properties and discreet properties. This is a nice touch to the game and provides a bit of mystery for the players, such as “Why am I never surprised by an ambush, is it the weapon I’m carrying or the trinket I found?”

These simple but cool tables certainly bring out the questions and the sense of mystery lost in mainstream D&D games. It’s all too easy to become familiar with the same list of iconic magical items throughout the various editions of D&D, and although some of these are similar in LFG, they certainly will raise and prompt questions around the gaming table.

Monsters

From the lowliest goblin to the mightiest dragon, you’re f****d…

There’s a good variety of monsters from the lowliest goblins to the mighty dragons.

Some monsters receive the cause injuries ability, which, rather than just knocking off hit points produce lingering effects that can range from impressive scars to internal bleeding. They really do bring the game of death to life!

Off-turn attacks means player characters must consider that monsters are not always out of the game if they’ve already taken their turn. It adds a new dimension to the turn sequence and requires more tactical thinking from the players. This ability means characters cannot simply pile in if the monster has taken its turn, so it’s always going to be capable of dealing damage throughout the turn. The mental imagery of this violence is quite visceral, and combined with the added level of destruction really highlights the danger level.

Magic resistance works as a percentage, making them better or worse than the characters resistances. Quite good as it harks back to older versions old D&D but also provides more variation for creatures resistant to magic, eg, a minor resistance (10%) or a major resistance (90%).

Boss monsters are improved monsters from the typical monster type. They almost always have off-turn attacks, have greater hit points and cannot be instantly killed by major exploits from the players. They also gain re-rolls and can cause injuries on a roll of 19-20. The designer’s thoughts on this is that boss monsters should be capable of taking on the player characters by themselves.

There’s also scope for Custom & Improv Monsters as a way of creating your own monsters or perhaps making existing monsters harder or easier encounters for your player characters.

There are mainly classic monsters, such as Medusa, Merrow and the Minotaur to Wraiths and Wyverns, along with regular animals and example NPC humans, elves and dwarves. Added to these are more unique monsters to the LFG such as the Slop Gorger, as slug like monster who is surprisingly fast overland and the Urgot, remnants of cursed humanoids bloodlines

Conclusions

How does it feel?

Harder, grittier and dangerous. Excited just reading through the pages. Very much nostalgic feel to it from first viewing of the AD&D in the 90’s – my character can die so easily!

From the outset, everything is geared towards choices. The GM decides on how hard the game is going to be by selecting what options to take. And there are plenty of options for the GM to choose from (or ignore).

Is it gritty? YES.

Would I play LFG or run it as a game? (thanks for the suggestion, reddit user!)

Yes, but I think as a player I personally would get more out of it. The excitement of losing a character permanently and knowing that it could happen at any moment really gets the juices flowing. The effort of creating a character, their persona and motivations means they become more than just a literary device – will my character live to see their dreams come true? Better be careful!

As a GM, I think the game runs very smoothly. Just reading through the book makes it very clear that Pickpocket Press has put time and effort into writing something that makes sense and keeps to the style of a very dangerous adventure game. Nothing is in there without considering the impact on the speed and flow of the game. The optional rules, or indeed the ability to remove rules from the game without the whole thing breaking down is a selling point for GM’s who may like to plan a game with out too much focus on mechanics and more on story also really helps.

Value for Money

20 dollars gets you the watermarked PDF, 45 gets you the colour softback book. Current at the time of writing, you can get the deluxe version of the book for 60 dollars (down from $80). I’m a collector of RPG books, so for me the discounted Kickstarter pledge was great, and the book looks tasty and fragrant. It feels good in the hands and the pages are a nice thick feel too. That said, you could grab a couple of the $20 PDFs and have enough content for the gaming table.

That is all for LFG.

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