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!

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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?

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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.

If you’ve enjoyed reading about Low Fantasy Gaming, or you have some interesting ideas yourself, please drop us a comment!

Alternatively you can find me @FerrisWrites for Twitter,

Or through our Facebook Page!

Interested in how to become a great games master or dungeon master? Take a look here and here!

Maybe you want to learn more about how exploration could work in your role-play games? Check out our article here.

Ferris, CC 😉

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

Part One

Like the dodgy dealer in the side-street, I’m wearing a long coat, stuffed, you believe, with all the content of some knock-off role-playing games. But when I speak, the words are not what you’re expecting…

“Wanna play some high risk D&D, do ya?”

This is Low Fantasy Gaming, and if it was a drug, it would be up there with the class A’s.

Pickpocket Press (Stephen Grodzicki and co.) successfully completed and shipped their kickstarter for Low Fantasy Gaming. For the primary backers, that meant that some of us received a link to make use of a discounted print version using DriveThruRPG. As a backer, I decided to get the hardback deluxe version and take a look!

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In this article, part 1 of 2, I’m going to look at the character creation and aspects of the game that relate mostly to the payers. Part 2 will focus on the GM section and go into detail on the various game elements introduced to widen the scope of the game and bring it to life!

Read on…

Why did I back LFG?

Mainstream Dungeons & Dragons, to some, has lost its danger element. It seems too easy to safely succeed. Clearly some of this is down to the GM’s style, but the game system itself feels designed to permit “winning.” The general feeling is that players are expected to win, with the rare exceptional circumstances. This is a huge area for debate, which won’t get covered here but it outlines why I wanted to see what LFG had to offer.

So, LFG takes D&D away from the safety of a kids animated TV show and throws it into a bloody meat grinder operated by Stephen King and the reanimated corpse of Howard Lovecraft. Frankly, no one is safe… which makes the game feel far more exciting. The tension is going to build easily when players realise their fighter is not the steaming tank of hit points, but rather a human with human weaknesses!

So what is Low Fantasy Gaming? What’s the book and its content like and how does it feel? Is it just a grittier version of Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition or is it something else? We’ve got you covered, so read on for more!

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A Note on OSR & OGL

Low Fantasy Gaming seems to be part of the old school revival (OSR) of role-play games. This revival focuses on less about keeping in line with the rules and more about full immersion into fantasy. The point of any exercise was to test the players themselves, encouraging them to test their ingenuity and creativity.

According to Wikipedia the OSR was only made possible by Wizards of the Coast introducing the Open Game Licence (OGL) way back in 2000. The OGL allowed for unofficial creative content that was in line with the traditional Dungeons & Dragons game content. The explosion of home brew rules and adventures from third parties exploded in the early 2000 because of this and is attributed to much of the long life of 3 and 3.5 editions of Dungeons and Dragons.

Low Fantasy Gaming is definetly part of the OSR, and it’s content is 99% OGL.

General Overview

Low Fantasy Gaming (LFG) is a primary source book, made up of a players handbook, a games masters guide and a monstrous manual all rolled into one. It is fully compatible with D20 system material RPG’s and with a bit of work compatible with content from Wizards of the Coast material such as Dungeons & Dragons. Saying that, why would you want to? This game is perfectly standalone and seems to have itself balanced out!

LFG is set in its own “quasi-realistic world” in which magic and monsters are present, but are not as common place as in your typical fantasy world setting. In its default setting, LFG is a game where player-characters are human and one of the 9 classes. Those classes are much less magically inclined but are still greatly inspiring.

The deluxe edition of LFG is 286 pages (from contents page to the end of the index) and covers everything from character creation, equipment, spells and magic, how to play the game and then onto the GM specific chapters, such as monsters, how to prepare adventures, traps, treasures and a whole host of other cool mechanics and ideas.

It is everything you need in one book. You just need paper, pencils and dice!

It may not be for everyone however, as the game is very much swords and a bit of sorcery, rather than the high fantasy heroics of its mainstream counterpart.

If you’re not a fan of tables you may struggle a little too. Although it’s not reliant on tables (the GM can, after all choose to ignore them), they do add a strong element to the game, particularly  if the GM likes to add a bit of chaos to the table!

The artwork is second to none too. The quality and variety of styles could be found in any professional quality gaming book. I would happily rank it right up there with Wizards of the Coast. You can find examples of the artwork throughout this article!

So what’s in the book?

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Character Creation

The first obvious change to the standard is that character attributes, those numbers which determine how strong, wise or fast your character is, have been altered. Whereas a score of 14 in an attribute would provide a bonus to a dice roll of +2, it now only provides a bonus of +1. The maximum score for an attribute for humans is set at 18, not 20. So we see a reduction of ability score bonuses and their maximum.

However, we also see the introduction of several more attributes. In “regular” D&D we have six attributes; 3 physical (strength, dexterity & constitution) and 3 mental (intelligence, wisdom and charisma). In LFG there’s a split of the wisdom attribute into Perception and Willpower and they’ve also introduced Luck as an attribute. Luck as an attribute isn’t new to role-playing games (we even have it in our own Pulp RPG beta system).

So, perception covers your characters physical wisdom, sight, hearing and observations, whereas Willpower is described as self confidence and mental fortitude. I suspect that these will either mean you must spread out your strong attribute scores or have to pick between one or the other. It does however mean you’ll likely be “OK” for at least one of them!

The Luck attribute is interesting. It is broken down into two primary functions; luck saves and luck checks. A luck save deals with direct attacks and reflects your characters adventuring expertise to avoid hazards.

The luck check is way more interesting. You can use luck checks to perform unusual actions which are situational, defined by LFG as “Major Exploits.” These are essentially like ‘get out of jail free’ cards but a bit more fun. For example, you can use your luck checks to escape from dangerous or ill-fated battles. This may seem like a role-play cop-out but the players need to explain how they will execute this tactical withdraw and there’s no guarantee it will work!

So as you can imagine, a game with this sort of narrative-enabling mechanic is going to have moments where the players decide it’s time to bug-out. The expectations are great, because in every game I’ve ever run for players, retreat never seems to be an option considered. It is a lesson that has cost them dearly, but I suspect a quick lesson for LFG gamers.

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Races are not limited to humans, but there is very little in the way of advantages per se. Dwarves for example gain advantage on rolls associated with resisting poison and magic of all kinds (which is quite a strong benefit but a low intensity mechanic). They have some benefits in low light conditions, but are just as blind in total darkness as humans.

In opposition to this, each race gains a less desirable trait, such as gold lust and highly honorific for dwarves – they must undertake willpower checks to resist opportunities for riches (making them reckless prospectors) and similarly, a willpower if they perceive themselves to be slighted. Don’t forget, there is no single Wisdom attribute, so be prepared to pull the dwarf out of the furnace trap!

Gone are the attribute score improvements and randomly assigned bonus skills and abilities. At most, a race other than human will receive advantage rolls of some sort, but that is all. The disadvantages may seem meekly role-play ones, but they will no doubt get the characters in trouble… and in a system like this, trouble can mean death.

Character classes are a lot less magically inclined and much more martial. This does not rule out characters with magical abilities. In the place of wizards, sorcerers, warlocks, clerics and priests we have the Cultist and the Magic User. Appropriate names in modern society? Probably.

Classes include: the artificer, barbarian, bard, cultist, fighter, magic user, monk, ranger and the rogue. Some of these may seem like magically themed classes, but they are not so obviously brimming with magical powers.

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Hit Points act much the same way as they do in other 5th Edition games but have undergone some changes: class hit-dice are half the potential maximum hit points for a higher minimum (for example, 1D5)… and since you’re only reaching level 12, you’re not due to get many more, especially when you realise that towards the upper levels, your characters bonus hit points are capped by class.

So far many of the changes are aimed at reducing numbers. In a strange way they also seem to be streamlining the game system. Compared to Dungeons & Dragons, we already begin to feel that the game is closer to a real life experience with believable heroes, compared to a heroic world with unrealistic and death defying mundanity. There’s less messing about too, which I like.

What about character Advancement and variety?

So where does the character variety and customisation appear from? They would be the Unique Features. Unique features (UF) are gained as characters advance in levels. There are 37 unique features to choose from but unlike Feats in Dungeons & Dragons, many of the UFs are tiered. This gives many more options to customise a character, where a player can dedicate their efforts into a single UF or spread out in a variety, becoming adaptable. Here’s “Iron Grit” as an example (edited so as to avoid spoilers!):

  1. Increase your hit point maximum by x per level.
  2. Whenever you suffer a critical hit, you can perform an attribute check (X) to turn it into a normal hit instead.
  3. Gain advantage (re-roll 2 dice and choose the best result) on all Dead or Mostly dead checks.

Interestingly, there are no tables of experience points to advance your character through levels 1-12. Instead, the games master is meant to decide with the players when they think they’ve earned it. This brings the game to both the players and GM: involving both sides pulls the cohesion of the game together and breaks down some of the barriers over the table. It also cuts out the farming of experience points in a desperate race to gain levels.

It worth noting too that monsters do not earn characters experience points for slaying them. This introduces the status quo element to LFG. Go to Dragontop Mountain, expect dragons. Fully grown dragons!

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The Magic System is both dangerously mysterious, and oft unpredictable!

Despite being low fantasy, there are some surprising little tricks in the magic mechanics f LFG. Firstly, anyone can “sense magic” with an appropriate Intelligence or Perception check. That’s quite cool, it means that any character can get a foreboding sense or eerie feeling about something – very flavourful!

On the down side for spellcasters, if you take damage before your turn, you simply can’t cast a spell. Quite limiting but in tune with the low fantasy setting – casting spells requires a lot of concentration, so rather than pump a stat or skill to overcome this, the option is simply taken away. Good or bad, I’m not too sure. I like the flavour, but others may see it as a little too constrictive.

Casting a spell is great though! In LFG sorcery is inherently dark and dangerous. So rather than just casting a limited number of spells per day, an extra dice roll (a D20) is required. On the roll of a 1, something bad happens when the spell is triggered (and the spell is always cast). There’s a lovely table of 100 effects for this!

And it gets better. Every time a spell is cast, the chance of rolling a dangerous effect increases by one. So if you cast 5 spells, on a D20 roll of 1-5 a dangerous effect applies. This only resets after a dangerous effect triggers or the character survives to the end of the adventure… the END OF THE ADVENTURE.

So yes… a cumulative 5% chance of things going wrong!

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Negative effects can include having ones lips fused together for upto 24 hours, aberrant terrors, demons or undead appearing nearby for several minutes or a limb turning into a giant tentacle for several days! Preserve your spells or go nuts for a touch of chaosivity!

Cultists (the divine casters if you like) don’t get away easily either. If you do not follow the tenets of your faith, or displease your god in some way, you can lose Favour. There’s a whole set of rules similar to sorcery which can hinder and play with the mind of your player character. The essence is as above; it’s all about flavour and enhancing the roleplay and excitement of the game.

So far, there are 120 spells in LFG each of which follow an easy to read and execute format. The spell names are colourful but termed in a way which makes them easy to identify. The descriptions also contain a lot of variety or variations. What I really like is that the GM often has control over how some of them work in the form of “The GM may allow a perception check to identify if something is wrong.” Essentially, it cuts out those players who are rules lawyers (that is, those who stick to the word of the rules and does not like any sort of variation or GM flavour to permit a smooth game). Empowering the GM or players in equal yet different ways. Good skills LFG!

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In Battle your character is not just a sack of hit points encased in a numbered armour class in need of being reduced. No, it’s far worse than that!

The warning signs come on pretty early – when a character is reduced to half of their maximum hit points they incur penalties as they slowly get beaten to death. Just when they thought they could lie down and wait for help, the end may be sooner than they expected.

A character that is reduced to 0 hit points is out of the fight. To add some tension, no one around the gaming table knows if they are truly dead or mostly dead (those are the actual terms used in LFG) until, and I quote “… someone turns the body over for a closer look (rummaging through pockets optional).”

No dice rolling to pass three fifty/fifty saves, no sudden burst of hit points in a ranged heal. Just quiet, excruciating death-tension.

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Let’s assume your character survives the ordeal, you’re still not out trouble: there’s a table for injuries and setbacks. Now, I loved the old Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying injury system, with its visceral and character building effects, but it’s very crunchy and can slow down the game, reducing the tension as the GM begins rolling on several tables and calculating just how messed up a character gets. LFG gives a simple table of 17 effects, each of which can only be dealt with in a certain way… sometimes with very particular spells to help you out.

So far this RPG system feels wonderfully gritty, with a real measure of danger that goes beyond the GM simply killing of their player characters or fudging dice.

That’s the end of part 1 of our review of Low Fantasy Gaming.

Next week we’ll be looking in depth at the GM side of the game, review the cool mechanics and content, such as mass battles and the scary monsters that lurk within it’s pages!

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You can find Pickpocket Press on twitter with @LowFantasyGamin or their website. With thanks to Stephen Grodzicki (author of Low Fantasy Gaming) for being a top bloke, and generally making us here at CC really happy with a cool RPG system, and a fancy book (we’re so happy we backed it!).

You can find me @FerrisWrites for Twitter,

Our Facebook Page!

Interested in how to become a great games master or dungeon master? Take a look here and here!

Maybe you want to learn more about how exploration could work in your role-play games? Check out our article here.

Creator Consortium’s Summer Project Update

For the last few months we’ve been working hard on many levels. With full time jobs and weekends away for creative role play events, it’s quite easy to forget where we’re up to and what we’re doing. August is the end of the LRP season and the summer is waning slowly to the darker hours of the winter – the perfect excuse to stay in and play games or write reviews without the guilt!

So, that said, it’s time to give an update! Here goes…

The CC Website

We’re hoping to be taking the website to a different level, stepping away from WordPress.com and switching to WordPress.org. We realise, now that we’ve played around a bit with various site settings, that wordpress.com is quite expensive, more so when you want some simple functions.

We’ve got some help in the form of friendly expertise and hopefully, in the next couple of months we’ll be switching sites and porting everything over. We’ll keep you in the loop when this is likely to happen and chances are we won’t be posting any content during that time.

You probably won’t notice any immediate changes, but there will be space to properly organise our articles and feed. Fingers crossed it all goes to plan without a hitch!

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Pulp RPG

We’ve not had chance to get much more written for our various Pulp RPG game systems, and as always, there’s bound to be some creative differences. Hopefully by the new year we’ll have something more concrete to present! We still have ideas for the chase across Panama to stop Zombie Hitler and his diabolical plans! And of course, our Fantasy game still needs a lot of work, along with Mr Steadman’s space combat pulp RPG (which we did play test a while back and we’re keen to see where it goes!)

The Godless Realm

We’ve been plugging away at the Godless Realm, CC’s (currently) system neutral fantasy setting. While we have the majority of the metropolis written and planned out, we’re now moving to the outer regions of the setting. If you use Twitter, @FerrisWrites has been posting teasers about the various aspects of the setting.

We’ve made some changes to the cosmology and fleshed out some of the unwritten context for the eyes of the GM only. This, we hope, will provide a lot more variation for future writing and give us writers a bit more juice when we’re dreaming up ideas!

9th Age warhammer fantasy battle Games Workshop WFB tabletop gaming wargame Fantasy

The 9th Age

We caught the eye of the 9th Age assembly and they liked our review! The 9th Age is a tabletop war game set in a pseudo-medieval fantasy setting. It mirrors very closely (and frankly performs better) than the old Warhammer Fantasy Battles (no longer in production) by Games Workshop.

We’d like to take a moment to thank them for all of their support, and look forward to seeing 2 out of 3 articles in their online magazine, the 9th Scroll. Part three of the trilogy will be ready when we’ve mustered up some players and miniatures and get some battles under our belts!

We’re also going to have a look at the 9th Age Army Builder site and app and compare it to BattleScribe to see which of the two we think is easier to use and provides the best output regarding army lists and details. We’ll do this in our part three article and run the battles with those outputs and see how seamless they are!

warhammer 40000 40k fantasy battlescribe army list army builder armylist armybuilder gamesworkshop games workshop

Upcoming Reviews

Cthulhu Mythos (5th ed) – Sandy Petersen has done it again with Cthulhu Mythos, a source book for 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons… and it’s more than just a list of monster stats!

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Low Fantasy Gaming by Pickpocket Press, a grim and gritty variant on mainstream Dungeons & Dragons, and possibly a better spiritual successor than 5th edition D&D? We shall see!

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Key Forge, made by the same guy who created Magic the Gathering only this is better than MtG, for your pocket and your blood pressure!

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Arcworlde, a skirmish game for 32mm miniatures in a fantasy setting! With rumours of a second edition, Alex Huntley is set to impress us yet again with his miniature line and games!

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All of this extra content should keep us going over the next few months!

Calling all Artists!

We’re getting to the point where we are hoping to start formatting our content for the Godless Realm fantasy role-play setting. Although we have the skills to manipulate some free media, we would really like to get some budding artists to donate sketches and doodles that could appear in the final PDF.

We’re still not there yet and we obviously need to get everything into one place, but in the distant future we’re considering kick-starting the Godless Realm to get professional editing, proofing and formatting. This means that if you’re able to donate some art, we may also be able to provide you with some financial rewards for artwork you’ve developed (if we successfully kick-start) – essentially, get in early and join us in this endeavour and perhaps we can create something amazing!

Of course, the written content will always be free in its raw form, we’re not taking that away from the world, but it would be great to have a print-to-order service from the likes of DriveThruRPG!

Fantasy RPG Pulp Adventure Hero Knight Cavalry D&D

New Friends!

Last but not least, we’re having a bit of fun with Summon Games, where we’re having a go at playing games for the first time under the scrutiny of YouTube viewers. It’s early days yet for Mr Dodd (@Doddymaster). You can find Summond Games YouTube channel here.

Stay tuned, and if there’s anything you want us to take a look or, or indeed join us as an affiliate Creator, get in touch!

You can find me @FerrisWrites for Twitter, or on our Facebook Page!

Bye for now!

Ferris, CC

Apocalypse, Warhammer 40,000 – First Impressions

Ever wanted to recreate the crazy and intense battes of the art of Warhammer 40,000 Universe on your tabletop and still be playable? Well, we’re told Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse is the game that can help you do just that… assuming you have enough miniatures of course!

Recently Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse was released and with it a tonne of new hype and excitement that we expect from the community of the world’s best marketed distributor of fantasy & science fiction wargaming miniatures, Games Workshop.

In this article we’re going to take a look at Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse to see what all the hype is about and what the actual gameplay is like. We’ll address some questions regarding its accessibility to players and outline how hard or easy it is to play. Finally, we’ll look at the costs involved and whether the game is worth the effort and financial commitment to regular players.

warhammer 40,000 apocalypse tabletop war game Games Workshop

History

It turns out that Apocalypse isn’t a new thing at all; way back toward the end of fourth edition of Warhammer 40K (circa 2007) Apocalypse was first released. It was then updated a year later and then again in 2013. I was busy during much for this time, and totally missed anything to do with it!

What is Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse?

It’s pretty simple if you’re familiar with tabletop wargaming, but if you’re not, here’s the low-down:

Apocalypse is a game system that emulates large battlefields of miniatures and models set in a dark and gritty futuristic science fiction setting. Unlike the regular Warhammer 40,000 game, the system is designed to allow for a huge number of models to be placed on large gaming tables.

The differences between regular Warhammer 40,000 and Apocalypse are a little subtle to new gamers. The games run in a very similar fashion, in that each player takes turns to move and attack with portions of their armies. Armies are drawn up using a points system, with better “veteran” or command type models costing more points than regular or less experienced models. A typical game of Warhammer 40,000 can range from 1000-2000 points. For Apocalypse, the potential points values of the armies can exceed 5000 points or more, depending on the physical size of the gaming table.

warhammer 40,000 apocalypse tabletop war game Games Workshop

What are the Key Differences between Warhammer 40,000 & Apocalypse

Playing a game of Warhammer 40,000 can take several hours, not including the time taken to draw up a points compliant battle force or army. To be fair, few tabletop wargames are quick to setup, and often entire afternoons or evenings are required to play. Looking at these new rules, it seems that a small game of Apocalypse should take no more than a 1-2 hours.

Apocalypse only uses the alternative points system called power level to draw up an army list. This version takes out much of the detailed choices of picking and choosing a force to play. So the footwork to setup a game is reduced in one aspect, but perhaps more if you take into account the much larger forces required to play.

If we’re to believe the game runs faster as detachments of units, instead of individual units or character models, then we can assume that the game has the potential to be very quick for smaller sized as well.

warhammer 40,000 apocalypse tabletop war game Games Workshop

Six and twelve sided dice are used to determine when units successfully attack and wound their targets. Interestingly we think power playing antics are removed here, because the game is about huge battles where the individual models do not necessarily make much difference. Thus, most units possess only 2 wounds, which is unheard of for regular Warhammer 40,000 where commanders and huge aliens may have 5 wounds or more all to themselves (now, a commander character has a single wound, as we discovered during our play test).

T wound a successfully hit  target, each unit has a required number to roll on a dice, which is found on the unit data sheet. Cutting out all of the extra work from Warhammer 40,000, the data cards give two very important weapon statistics: Strength Against Personel (SAP) and Strength Against Tanks (SAT). These represent the number you need to roll (or above) to successfully wound your target. Even the smallest weapon has the potential to cause damage to a tank… it’s just very unlikely… or 1 in 12 chance, perhaps!

Players will have to be careful where they place their comanders and warlords (commanders who are specifically character models), otherwise their detchment may find itself without leadership, potentially suffering more losses.

warhammer 40,000 apocalypse tabletop war game Games Workshop

Orders are a way of telling your detachments what to do. They are given in secret at the start of the turn sequence with facedown tokens (to whole detachments instead of to units and characters, one at a time). This implies a level of forward thinking is required by the player to second guess their opponents, and practice their poker face. Where one unit goes, the others in the detachment must follow.

Wounds are given in the form of blast markers, which may increase in size the more a unit receives, for example, two minor blast markers go up to one large. Interestingly however, damage is not calculated until the final phase of the turn sequence, meaning both players get to take actions and execute their plans before wiping each other out in sequence – this is a HUGE selling to point to regular players who have ever experienced defeat before even taking a turn! Units are permitted a save and, if at the end of the damage phase, they have more blast markers than wounds, they are removed from the battle as losses.

The game system looks promising. Are we perhaps going to see more of this style of game system from Games Workshop? I suspect that a similar version for Age of Sigmar, Games Workshop’s fantasy tabletop wargame, would sell pretty well…

All gaming elements so far suggest fast-paced action and a balanced gaming system…

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So, is it?

We set up a small game power level of 101 (don’t ask us why!), which equates to somewhere in the region of 2000-2500 points. This isn’t the scale that Apocalypse is designed for, however we felt it’s probably a good size to learn the core concepts of the game and see how smoothly it runs. We had in mind that if all goes well, we could ramp up the power level to somewhere in the region 200 or more another time.

Setup. Play. Findings.

Marines Force:

  • Battalion 3 units of Intercessors lead by a Primaris Lieutenant with a Redemptor Dreadnought.
  • Spearhead detachment of 3 units of Hellblasters and 1 unit of Aggressors lead by a Primaris Captain.
  • 2 Auxillary super heavy detachments; a Knight Errant and an Armiger Warglave.

Ork Force:

  • Battalion of 5 units of Ork Boyz lead by a Big Mek with a Shock-attack-gun
  • Spearhead of 2 units of Flashgitz and a unit of Killakans lead by Captain Badrukk.
  • Auxillary Superheavy stompa, Da Hunger of Gork.

As the marine player, I had in my force 3 warlords: the big mech, the captain and the leutenant. This was important for assets, which are cards drawn at the start of each turn depending on the number of warlords in your force. Three cards (to a hand size of 10 maximum) seemed like a good thing.

warhammer 40,000 apocalypse games workshop tabletop war game miniatures citadel

Setup Time

It took us mere minutes to setup up the game board and deploy our detachments. Since detachments have to always be within 12 inches of their commander, the choices are limited by the space you have on the board. We used Games Workshop’s Battle Board, 4 pieces by 2 (about 8ft by 4ft) with a heavy scattering of scenery from some KillTeam box sets.

Playing Time

Starting, including all the rules checks and doublechecks, it took us 2 hours to play a game with a power level of 101. If this was regular Warhammer 40,000 it would equate to a game of 2500 points, which would have taken double that time, in my humble opinion. Once we are comfortable with the rules however, I think we could have compressed this game into an hour if we pushed it.

This timing is important, as not all players are capable of devoting 4-5 hours for a game (family, work and life get in the way!)

warhammer 40,000 apocalypse games workshop tabletop war game miniatures citadel

Frequency of rules checks

Not as frequent as we initially thought. There was some discussion and checking up on close-quarter fighting and shooting, along with some clarification on the separate rules for large targets (apparently on the order to Charge gartangs and the like are allowed to shoot as well as use melee weapons). But otherwise we got on OK.

Game Feel

Quite good. It took a while to get out of the regular Warhammer 40,000 mindset.

Having won 4 out of 5 initiative rolls, I’m not convinced it’s such a great advantage, which is good because theres nothing worse than getting out maneuvered twice in a row! The players take it in turns to activate detachments meaning the initiative is only gained from certain parts of the battlefield – essentially I got to shoot first, which isn’t a great advantage as all damage and moral checks are carried out AFTER all detachments have been activated. But this doesn’t mean the mechanics is useless. Sometimes moving closer or ruther away can be usefull if you move a unit out of enemy range, wasting their Aim order!

Fooling your opponent can be a great feeling: at one point the relentless green horde was getting closer, and the marines had done a good job of aiming and shooting in previous turns. In the following round I expected the Orks to be in charge range so I gave the detachment the order to move… falling back and reorganizing the firing line was not expected and gained the marines a further turn of rapid fire next time around.

A minor bad point: If a unit misses, all the models in the unit miss if they share the same weapon type! Several times the Hellblasters were useless, by missing completely. However, if we had less but bigger units the marine units would gain 2 dice instead of 1 to roll to hit. Must remember that next time!

Battle Results

The marines won, but only after taking a pasting. It felt one sided until the gargantuan was destroyed. Even then, the Dreadnought was not very effective at taking out infantry with its huge load of automatic weapons. May have to see if Games Workshop errata some of the stats!

Blast markers are not the end of the world, but for infantry a large blast marker means they use a single 6-sided dice to roll for their save. This means marines, the tough human monsters in implacable armour have a 1 in 6 chance of surviving, even it was a hail of Gretchin shot! It did make them feel paper thin, but then it was likely worse for the Ork boyz! Balanced still, so not a negative point as such.

And I had a stack of useless asset cards applicable only to the destroyed Knight Errant!

Quick to Learn?

As regular gamers, Warhammer 40,000 Apocalypse is very quick to learn. To master the game may take a couple of attempts but we found that second guessing your opponents choice of orders brings a level of cunning that you don’t often get to see in tabletop war games. If you’ve ever played Fantasy Flight’s X-Wing, you’ll get what we mean… sometimes you second guess too far! However, the anticipation and excitement has certainly been more frequent in the Apocalypse games we played.

Accessibility for Players

We found the game is very reminiscent of the old Epic scale Warhammer 40,000, only at the 28mm scale, which means if you want to harness the power of this quick to learn game, you’ll get the most out of it with a lot of miniatures. HOWEVER we’ve found it’s actually very fun to play with smaller forces as it cuts out a lot of the shenanigans you can get from some less reputable players. For smaller games, it also makes each game VERY quick.

So, accessible to new players? Only if you can borrow a lot of miniatures, otherwise quite good fun and impressive if you’re trying to get a friend into the hobby.

To regular players? Yeah, its not bad (see Cost & Worth below).

warhammer 40,000 apocalypse tabletop war game Games Workshop

Cost & Worth

Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse will set you back £60 in the UK. This buys you the rulebook, six and twelve sided dice and some 300 command cards. You also get 6 sheets of tokens which act as your blast markers and issued orders. We’re going to say this now: for essentially paper and card, this seems overpriced. Dice are cheaper than a bag of chips online, even twelve-sided ones, and massed produced card isn’t going to break the bank. So purely on a boxed goods scale, you’re not getting much if you compare it to say, a regular adventure board game complete with miniatures.

That said, if you’re the sort of player who has spent hundreds of pounds creating a large battle force of miniatures bought from Games Workshop, this isn’t exactly going to break your bank either. Personally, I think GW could have gone down the same route as they did with Age of Sigmar and provide the basic rules for free with optional physical purchases, but I’m not here to make money.

 

 

That said, the data cards required to play your chosen forces are actually free to download, so you don’t need to go out and buy any army specific literature to play.

If you have a gaming gang or group, £60 spread across 4 players is only £15 each… some people drink that in an evening! And to be fair, playing this game with mulitple allied forces could be quite good fun as friendly players can take charge of a detachment each.

As for the worth. If you have a lot of miniatures already and want to use absolutely all of them at the same time, or perhaps you and a few friends want to play a game pitting 2 vs 2 players, this is likely to be a good choice because the game is much quicker. It’s much more tactical from a birds eye view too, perfect to play if you’re into hushed combat analysis and poker faces around the gaming table.

To Conclude

We think the game is good, but not amazing. It addresses some of the issues that slow down the regular Warhammer 40,000 game system and honestly, if you have the miniatures to make it up, it would be ideal to play as an introduction for interested friends. That said, it’s quite an investment by nature of the huge amount of miniatures and models required to play, but as we point out, you can play it on a much smaller scale if required.

So, I say this, as I say about most Games Workshop products: If you’re already a fan this game will be worth playing, especially if shared across a gaming group. If you’re not into the hobby yet, this is an easier sytem to learn but with much more outlay financially.

Otherwise, this game system is a step forward for Games Workshop!

Now, if they could just address the high pricing issue… 😉

Ferris, CC
If you’re interested in creating your own terrain, I’ve got a few links to some how-to articles, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, along with an article on where to get materials and tools for terrain building (more beneficial if you’re based in the UK but helpful for the US, Canada and most of Europe).

You can find me @FerrisWrites for Twitter,

Our Facebook Page!

(All images borrowed from Games Workshop and Out of print products, unless otherwise stated.)

The 9th Age Part 2: A World of Story, A World of War

We kick off part two of our 9th Age review just after the release of the “legendary” version of the “Warriors of the Dark Gods” faction and by the gods, it’s packed full of cool stuff. This is great timing as we’re going to be looking at the background, theme and lore of the 9th Age (you can find part one, here).

In this Article

  • We shall briefly look at the world composition and history of the 9th Age,
  • Introduce some of the darker themes,
  • Take a look at a couple of the factions, comparing them to similar factions from Games Workshop’s old Warhammer Fantasy Battles,
  • Finally, we’ll look into the new Warriors of the Dark Gods faction book to see just what the 9th Age team are capable of.

The Written Lore

Before I begin, it’s worth mentioning the writing style of the lore and setting of the 9th Age. Rather than being a single monotonous view point, the style instead portrays the world through personal accounts, letters and journals, detailing the wonders and horrors of the 9th Age. Some of the characters are recurring throughout the texts providing successive layers to their often woeful stories. This style of writing was common during the early decades of the last century but dropped out of favour with the advancement of film and TV.

Pick up any fictional book from that early era and you’ll see what I mean: H.P Lovecraft (Cthulhu mythos), H.G Wells (War of the Worlds), Mary Shelly (Frankenstein / The Modern Prometheus), all use this style of writing. It’s effective because it puts the reader next to the author and immediately draws our attention. The reader knows from the outset that the account is first hand, likely to be believable. In my opinion, a well executed literary move by the 9th Age writers.

The World of the 9th Age

Dark & Gritty? We shall see. What I think stands out from the history is the poetic style. The 9th Age history is presented to us in several verses, similar to something we would find in a bible or viking saga. They call it the “World Hymn,” found on a tapestry thought to be ancient in years, perhaps a copy of a similar, older Dwarven text. The Hymn details the previous ages in allegory, of how the ancient lizards races once ruled the world, and how a comet gave the first sign to rebel and break free.

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Perhaps because it is still early days the world seems to be breathing and growing slowly. The groundwork seems to be there and we’re likely to see more content as each faction receives its legendary faction book. We must remember that the 9th Age is designed with tournaments in mind but with all the effort into creating such a beautiful world, are we asking too much to hope that there will at some point be a narrative story arc? Maybe we might one day see the “Storm of Father Chaos” as a campaign?

Indeed in the executive board mission statement it is made very clear that they believe the background is critical for players to access and fully enjoy the 9th Age. They’ve given the Background Team powers to oversee the story development, so expect to see full on Legendary versions for each faction over the coming years… and if they’re anything like Warriors of the Dark Gods, we’re all in for a great deal (free, totally free!)

9th Age tabletop wargame fantasy warhammer battles gamesworkshop

Perusing one of the 9th Age forums recently suggested by Ghiznuk (a member of the Translation Team Russian), I gained an insight into the world setting development. In it, Ghiznuk explains how the world map is designed and how it must permit different factions to have a reliable narrative reasoning for encountering one another. It’s such a simple idea but one that never seemed to be fully realised in Warhammer Fantasy Battles.An example: the Highborn Elves were once part of a huge empire which has since crumbled, leaving countless outposts in the form of harbors and ports scattered across the world. These elves are a mighty naval force and thus have strong trading routes, allowing factions to encounter them.

An example: the Highborn Elves were once part of a huge empire which has since crumbled, leaving countless outposts in the form of harbors and ports scattered across the world. These elves are a mighty naval force and thus have strong trading routes, allowing factions to encounter them.

9th Age tabletop wargame fantasy warhammer battles gamesworkshop

I think it is fair to say that in their mission to gather and develop more players, the 9th Age teams are performing a herculean effort to produce something of quality – the fact that this is essentially volunteer work towards something created by and for the community makes it more remarkable. If the last two paragraphs haven’t given you enough to believe in it, I guess you’ll just have to read on…

Killing for Fun, or with Purpose

It came to my attention on one of many frequented sub-reddits that a few people are put off by the fact that the 9th Age was, as they understood it, designed purely for tournament players. I can see where this misconception came from. One redditor went as far as to say that they wished the game had some sort of scenarios to make the game-play more engaging, much like Age of Sigmar does now (you pretty much HAVE to play Age of Sigmar as a scenario). It did not take me long to find what I was looking for…

The 9th Age Scenario Supplement!

9th Age tabletop wargame fantasy warhammer battles gamesworkshop

With a book of 18 scenarios, there’s plenty of scope to create a series of skirmishes or mammoth battles with a purpose beyond simple annihilation. Each game can be randomly generated with some dice rolls, or picked from a list to create narrative campaigns. Problem solved!

A Note on Equal Representation

Reading all the different snippets of background out there, we get the impression that female characters are more represented than in Games Workshop, even by their current standards. There’s little reason that GW can’t rectify this quickly, but it seems to be going at a slow pace for them currently. Not so for the 9th Age! This is great, and I’m certain the inclusivity will encourage players of all identities.

Moving onward, I think it is time we had a spotlight review on some of the factions. I chose these two factions because they are my favourite themes; noble elves and efficient troops of the empire!

9th Age tabletop wargame fantasy warhammer battles gamesworkshop

Factions Spotlight

I should point out that the background lore for most of the factions is pretty slim at the moment. The exceptions to this are Demon Legions, Sylvan Elves, Undying Dynasties and the newly released Warriors of the Dark Gods (which I’ll take a deeper look at later). For the time being, most of the background is contained within snippets of accounts and journals scattered throughout the 9th Age website or contained within the above mentioned faction books. There is an effort to get everything into one easy to access source, fully translated, but community driven projects on this scale can take time. As mentioned previously, there is a concerted push to achieve this grand goal!

Still, even with these little taster pieces, the nature of the different factions should be familiar to those who possessed an interest in the Warhammer Fantasy brand. Even if you’ve never played the tabletop war-game, some of you will be familiar through digital or role-playing games such as the Total War series or Warhammer Fantasy Role-playing Game (recently published again by Cubicle 7).

I’ll admit that my Warhammer lore is a little rusty, but if you get a chance, leave a comment after reading this and let me know if you’re getting a similar feeling with any of the factions currently in the 9th Age!

Highborn Elves

Look and Feel

The Highborn Elves are similar to the middle-era of Warhammer Fantasy Battles. In a nutshell they are:

  • A civilisation in retreat,
  • A nation of naval traditions with settlements all over the world,
  • Highly trained troops who are quick to strike,
  • Heavily armoured or mixed lightly armoured
  • An adaptable force, with giant dragons, powerful or swift cavalry & multipurpose infantry,
  • Brimming with high magical potential
  • Disciplined troops, less likely to behave poorly and let you down!

History

There are a tonne of similarities with the Elves of the Warhammer world and the 9th Age, which is pleasing to see because there’s such a rich and noble history involved. From the snippets of information we have we can glean that the Highborn are in retreat, very Tolkien-esque. We are told that they’re divided into three hence the factions symbol of 3 spheres, each representing an elemental theme such as wind, waves and fire.

9th Age tabletop wargame fantasy warhammer battles gamesworkshop

For ease, I’ve copied the brief history snippets for you to read here.

“The white isles of Celeda Ablan, home of the Highborn Elves, are said to be a truly awe inspiring sight. They are guarded by fleets of the finest ships to set sail, and phalanxes of Elves blessed with the natural grace and skill of their people. Led by Princes borne aloft on terrifying dragons, the Highborn have ever maintained a proud and aloof manner, yet they are capable of fighting with the same savagery their cousins display.”

“Although they have the greatest naval power the world has seen, the Highborn Elves have retreated from many of their former conquests. Despite this, they continue to hold outposts on coastlines across the globe. The fall of the Highborn’s appointed Raj, ruling over the Sagarika Kingdoms in their name, marked the extent of their decline. Yet even with increasing resources diverted to combat the Dread Elf threat, they still dominate the seas and the resulting trade.”

“In the mists of time, they rebelled against the enigmatic Saurians to become guardians of much of the world, while the ancestors of the Dwarves held the rest. Once they were a single race, yet their united rule could not endure. Even these most graceful of beings are not immune to in-fighting or betrayal. The details are veiled in allegory and myth, but it is clear a great schism rent the Elven peoples asunder, resulting in the three powers we see today.”

Note that these small parcels of information hint or mention other factions, such as their cousins, the Dread Elves and the human Sagarika Kingdoms (which we learn in other sources was sponsored by the Elves to help overthrow the rule of the Ogre Khans!)

Game Abilities

Martial discipline is a key faction ability which gives the elves some staying power. What they lack in physical resistance they make up with strong training. This ability allows the player to roll two dice instead of one, and choose the lowest (best) score for tests of leadership.

Unlike most elves in fantasy worlds, there doesn’t seem to be a huge physical weakness to them. The Resilience characteristic determines how “easily the model withstands blows” much like the toughness characteristic in Warhammer Fantasy. Compared to humans troops, Highborn troops are just as resilient however, their commanders are weaker, retaining a resilience of 3 compared to 4 for humans.

Their agility is great – in the 9th Age models with a higher agility score attack first. What I loved about the High Elves from Warhammer Fantasy was their speed but I didn’t agree with the “always strike first” rule as it seemed too forced. In 9th Age elves are fast not because of a rule, but because of their profile: a typical Highborn elf has an agility score of 5 compared to a normal human warrior who has a score of 3, making elves super agile.

I punched a simple army into BattleScribe and assuming it’s up-to-date, I was amazed that Citizen Spears (a regular unit of spear-men for the Highborn Elves faction) were even more agile in certain circumstances.

I’ll explain…

In the 9th Age, weapons all possess special rules. For spears this means they provide fighting in extra ranks (which Citizen Spears do already, so there’s plenty of attacks there), they provide a bonus to penetrating their targets armour (+1) and assuming they unit did not charge, are engaged and not flanked, grant a further bonus to agility and armour penetration. This amounts to an agility of 7, armour penetration of +2 and if they’re fighting in 3 ranks of 5, you’re looking at 15 attacks – sounds like a very effective greek-styled phalanx.

It seems that simple (basic) units are capable troops and are not just there to provide filler units to your armies. I got excited when I played around with the BattleScribe app and so purchased some Oathmark Elves – you get 30 miniatures in a box for around £25, so £50 essentially gets you 3 units of mixed spears, bows or hand weapons (I’ll review them another time).

9th Age tabletop wargame fantasy warhammer battles gamesworkshop

Empire of Sonnstahl

Look and Feel

The Empire of Sonnstahl echoes the Empire from the old Warhammer world, as you would expect. It is:

  • Blocks of trained state troops,
  • Gothic knights riding heavily armoured horses,
  • Battle mages and War Priests,
  • Cannons and siege engines galore,
  • Works best when units are used together as a whole.

History

Replace the bearded Sigmar with Sunna, a female goddess who united the human tribes, and you’ve pretty much got the gist of the Sonnstahl Empire (Sonnstahl, as we learn below, is the name of Sunnas sword).

Throughout the snippets we get the idea that the Sonnstahl Empire, while lacking the extensive age and focus of the elder races, makes up its shortfalls in dedication and record keeping. It really is an interesting and refreshing idea that humans are able to record and pass down their learnings so that each successive generation is better prepared and able to learn more. It really gives the human faction a great feel.

“A nation founded upon the exploits of Sunna, goddess given flesh, our ally has developed far from its early days. The tribes Sunna unified have endured together, never forgetting her memory and glory, symbolised by her eponymous sword Sonnstahl. The core of human supremacy in Vetia, with Destrian wealth now united through marriage with its grand armies and economy, there is no limit to the Empire’s ambition.”

“But, to command such a diverse nation, an Emperor must not simply conquer in battle, he or she must compete in the political arena, navigating the treacherous currents of rival families and churches, to unite the nation against its enemies. A true seat of learning, with magic and technology refined into effective weapons, the Empire has become a master of many trades and has begun extending its grasp to foreign lands.”

Game Abilities

The Empire has a great feeling of tradition to it. Much like in Warhammer, the main human faction is designed with cooperation in mind. What individuals lack in raw brute strength, they make up in battlefield tactics and cunning.

Detachments allow for support units to respond on behalf of their parents units, meaning they can counter charge, shoot or support those units in trouble. This low-level mastery gives the Empire faction a strong sense of unity and training which marries well with the “state troop” feel it possesses. Lines of missile troops supporting blocks of eavy infantry has nice historical feel to it, which will appeal to history buffs, while allowing the fantasy element to smooth over a need for absolute accuracy.

Generals and Commanders of the Empire can also issue “Orders” once per turn. These play into the feel of the troops, as orders allow units to move faster, embolden them against losses or near defeat, make shooting units more accurate or brace a unit against an incoming charge. Multiple characters who can give orders stack up so long as the order isn’t the same, so in theory a stout line of missile troops and spears troops could effectively gain the accurate rule and fight in extra ranks which feels nice thematically.

An example of the above is a simple army list created with BattleScribe:

1 Commander, with bits and pieces.

15 Imperials Guard with greatswords (think, WFB “Greatswords”) as a parent unit, with a magical banner, the “Banner of Unity.”

2 units of 10 handgunners, both as support units.

This combination means that if the Commander issues an order to the Imperial Guard unit, the banner allows a further free order to be given to a support unit, effectively providing a chain of command across the units. They make ideal rank and file strategies when you start to add in extra commanders capable of giving orders.

Dark Lore – the Lore of Badass

9th Age tabletop wargame fantasy warhammer battles gamesworkshop

So, the bit that’s really caught my attention and imagination this week: Warriors of the Dark Gods!

Warriors of the Dark Gods

This faction book is packed. I mean, seriously stuffed with stories and lore generating the background of the world effortlessly. It is a piece of art in its own right, with writers and artists packing in their hard work to create something that exceeds the stuff we see written by the likes of Games Workshop. I’ve said it before in previous articles, but for a group of people working for nothing, this is exceptional. It feels more like Warhammer Fantasy Battles than Warhammer Fantasy Battles! If this is what we’re to expect for all of the factions in the 9th Age, then we are to be truly blessed with something amazing.

Even the artwork is superb, but for me, the art looks REAL. It hasn’t just been banged out by a Wacom tablet and stylus, no, these artists have spent a great deal of time on their art and it really shows! (I have nothing against digital artists, I just expect more from the likes of GW who are funded by their sales!)

9th Age tabletop wargame fantasy warhammer battles gamesworkshop

We are treated with 80 pages of storytelling, lore and fantastic artwork before we even get to the game mechanics section, of which there are nearly 30 pages of army choices and stat lines, completed with a quick reference guide to make consulting your stats easy. And don’t forget, you can simply download the “slim” version of the army book, which contains only the game mechanic components.

At the beginning of the book we are given a story of the trials of commander Ilarion Yanovich, whose frontier town becomes surrounded by raiders. Yanovich is visited each night by one of seven envoys from each camp, enticing him to their dark gods. In this story, we are given insights into the dark gods and how their warriors behave. The temptations and trials are reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno, with each envoy representing what we would call a sin. Yanovich appears throughout the stories, each snippet exploring the newer peaks of his plight.

The artwork here is amazing: tall, robust warrior figures in heavy plated armour representing each of the envoys. Take a look at the images below (courtesy of the 9th Age book). I can certainly feel the nostalgia rising in the artwork. Some examples carry a 90’s style I’ve missed so much, emulated so well that they could have passed the high standard of golden age of Games Workshop and the White Dwarf magazine. It is probably unfair to keep comparing the 9th Age with a well established setting, but the creative talents behind the 9th Age have managed to not just copy the art, but perfect it further.

9th Age tabletop wargame fantasy warhammer battles gamesworkshop

Moving on: as we read further we get an idea of how the world was made, of the Mother & Father who make up the twin worlds and of the veil, a hair’s breadth barrier between the two worlds. Mother is law and Father Chaos is the opposite. We’ve learned now that there are seven dark gods, but also an extra layer to the hierarchy, with Father Chaos acting as the Overlord.

The story of Anaba by a mysterious sorcerer further defines the pantheon, describing the symbol of the dark gods, an eight-pointed star. The longest point of the star symbolising Father Chaos. In the lore, it is said that Father’s plans underpin the plans of the seven. We also learn that those dark gods fashioned themselves on the sins of mortals.

The richness of this cosmic lore could go on and on, but I can’t stress enough how much you will learn about the 9th Age from this.

I could go on, but this article is already over 3K words and it is late in the night!

Join us for the next part, where we will undertake to create some armies of the 9th Age and battle it out over several scenarios to get an actual feel for the game. We will cover:

  • Choosing and creating our armed forces,
  • Create a narrative mini-campaign using the scenarios supplement,
  • A brief overview of the battles, with some analysis,

Then we will answer some questions, such as:

  • How long does it take to setup a game,
  • How long does it take to play a game,
  • How much it costs (potentially)
  • Is it accessible to new players and how easy was it to learn.

Join us, and we’ll see if we can’t convince you to try it for yourself!

(All images borrowed from the 9th Age website library, unless otherwise stated. 11/7/19)

Ferris, for the Creator Consortium

@FerrisWrites for Twitter

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Controversial article on why we game Age of Sigmar a second chance.

Building Terrain for tabletop war games? Part One, Two, Three & Four!

The 9th Age: A New Warhammer Fantasy Battles?

A month ago I wrote an article on why I was giving Age of Sigmar (AoS) a second look. The response was brilliant – we managed 9K hits with a variety of reader interaction. Some of that interaction was, understandably, hateful. I addressed the comments, which seemed to suggest I was being paid to paint Games Workshop (GW) in a brilliant light.

In the same section of comments however, I was approached by Piteglio, founder of Veil of the Ages, one of many 9th Age supporting companies. I was asked, assuming I was impartial, whether I would review the 9th Age, a community created by not-for-profit groups of tabletop war-gaming fans.

The 9th Age website has just been published with its new, atmospheric and well presented website, so it makes sense to take a look and see what all the fuss is about.

So, welcome to what will be a 3 part series reviewing the 9th Age. In the first part I’m going to be looking at the game association as a whole, discovering its foundations and ethos. I’ll also be looking at the rules and judging them for how accessible they are to veteran and new war-gaming players.

In the later articles of this series, I’ll be looking into the theme and world lore and taking a look at some of the army lists available. My focus there will be comparing Games Workshop’s old High Elves to the Highborn Elves of 9th age, and the old Empire to that of the Sohnstal Empire.

Finally, I’ll get a few games under my belt and draw some comparisons to the old Warhammer Fantasy Battles in the last episode. This should be the culmination of the mini-series and maybe somewhere along the way I’ll convince you to try a few games for yourself!

9th Age warhammer fantasy battle Games Workshop WFB tabletop gaming wargame Fantasy

What is 9th Age

In some western cultures, if you cannot find exactly what you’re looking for, you should have a go at making it yourself – this is the core of the foundation of the 9th Age. When GW shut down their much loved Warhammer Fantasy Battles the gaming community around it had an emotional time. When Games Workshop introduced Age of Sigmar many of the players felt aggrieved, and to some degree I agree with them.

To challenge the absence of a much loved tabletop war-game, a small group of self-motivated players decided to revive their fondness of WFB by creating something of their own. 9th Age was born.

In a nutshell, The 9th Age is:

  • a tactical, rank and file tabletop battle emulation in a pseudo-medieval fantasy world,
  • maintained by hundreds of passionate players from all over the world,
  • totally free to get your hands on the rule-books and supplements, forever!
  • designed with precision for tournament gamers, yet easy to access for casual and narrative.

Initial Misconception

When I first heard of 9th Age, we played Warhammer and Dungeons & Dragons (among other games). When we realised that the 8th Edition WFB was going to be the last, we started looking for something alternative. One housemate stumbled upon 9th Age. 

The documents and rules were still in their infancy and there was a quick series of changes which made us feel the game was not yet stable. We dropped 9th Age and investigated different ideas (or in fact, kept playing 8th edition WFB).

Looking back, we should have realised that 9th Age was still in its infancy and going through a series of developmental changes, some of which I suspect was hindered by in depth balancing and potentially some copyright laws.

9th Age warhammer fantasy battle Games Workshop WFB tabletop gaming wargame Fantasy

So, who are 9th Age?

The 9th Age was created and developed by 6 competitive fantasy battle enthusiasts, coming from 5 countries around the globe. That was 2015, now 270 members work towards developing the 9th Age across 29 countries. That’s pretty staggering.

What is most remarkable is that this association of like minded enthusiasts work for free. No one, at any level, earns money or fame for their hard work. There is no formal company and members are not expected to work to hard deadlines. Of course, some of them have experience in their particular areas, but as a whole, the association is free running, headed by an executive board who put the whole lot into one efficient package.

Why is this important, I hear you ask?

Unlike like most war-games, 9th Age is not run for profit – they don’t even supply miniatures for the game they created and develop which, importantly for the players of this game, means the tabletop war-game is balanced: there is no need to create better or tougher armies to sell alongside newly released miniatures. No power creep here (looking at you, Games Workshop!) It also inspired a huge run of small independent miniature model companies, creating a staggering amount of new and unique looking tabletop miniatures.

Best of all, it means the army book / army lists are inspired by the background, the world setting. Imagine, a world rich in lore and strife with well represented armies and politics? Seems too good to be true doesn’t? Well, it took a number of years for Warhammer Fantasy Battles to develop its own rich lore, so why can’t 9th Age? In fact, 9th Age has more people working on it than probably ever entered the boardrooms of Games Workshop HQ (uncited opinion).

9th Age warhammer fantasy battle Games Workshop WFB tabletop gaming wargame Fantasy

Armies & Factions

Enough about who and what, let’s take a look at the game itself! I’ll address some of the questions I have or have been asked:

Can I play my favorite fantasy army?

Yup. Totally.

Currently 9th Age have 16 “army books” to play with. Each one is free and available from the 9th Age download page. They are currently all black and white, and mostly easy-print PDF documents with a couple of more detailed files as optional downloads. Did I mention they were free? Check out the Sylvan Elves full colour PDF – its big, but there is some seriously good artwork and background information there!

The list of available army lists include (in no particular order):

  1. Daemon Legions
  2. Sylvan Elves
  3. Undying Dynasties
  4. Warriors of the Dark Gods
  5. Beast Herds
  6. Dread Elves
  7. Dwarven Holds
  8. Empire of Sonnstahl (think state troops)
  9. Highborn Elves
  10. Infernal Dwarves
  11. Kingdom of Equitaine (think knights & peasants)
  12. Ogre Khans
  13. Orcs & Goblins
  14. Saurian Ancients (think lizard nations)
  15. The Vermin Swarm (think rats, rats everywhere)
  16. Vampire Covenant

On top of this list, there’s also the Asklanders and the Makhar which are supplementary armies (currently I believe they are under review). There’s also a quick guide to playing your first game, spell cards, printable terrain and an arcane compendium among other helpful and totally free downloads to get you started. Finally, you can get everything in one solid document, but I wouldn’t recommend you print it out…

Are the different armies up to date or will they change quickly?

With the exception of the last two (Asklanders & Makhar) all of the books are up to date. More importantly, they will not be changed for around 4-5 years, meaning tournament players can rely on stability and casual players benefit from being able to collect and use only what they want.

9th Age warhammer fantasy battle Games Workshop WFB tabletop gaming wargame Fantasy

Game Mechanics

So this is for me where the nostalgia really started to kick in. You remember when you first picked up a book for Warhammer Fantasy Battles and you had no idea how it worked, but you had the feeling that you were holding something esoteric and world changing?

That’s what I got from perusing the game mechanics. From what I could tell, everything was there that a much younger (90’s) version of myself became totally enthralled in. Armies are built based on a points system (or an amount of gold, if like me you prefer a more narrative theme), with elite troops costing more than standard troops. The design of the army starts around the leader and their entourage, with a percentage of your points allowed for certain types of troops.

The commander type characters are faceless compared to Warhammer, because the 9th Age tries to keep them realistic. They even point this out in their design statement: characters should be “folklore heroic” and not literal monsters of the battle field, something which unbalanced the later editions of Warhammer Fantasy Battles.

How hard /easy is it to learn?

This is a good question. If you are or were a player of Warhammer Fantasy Battles, you will feel totally at home. 9th Age harkens to the days where Warhammer Fantasy Battles was still balanced and made sense to the majority of its players. With the exception of names and phrases in the rule-book, I would argue 9th Age holds all the robust parts of Warhammer, with some better modifications for clarity and brevity on the tabletop. And of course, the game follows a clear turn / round system which most tabletop gamers will be comfortable with.

For totally new players, it can be quite a steep learning curve, but then so too were most tabletop war games of the time (with the exception of games like Age of Sigmar Skirmish, which I believe is a great introductory game to tabletop war-gaming). If you’re totally new to war-gaming, I suggest you read the next section.

9th Age warhammer fantasy battle Games Workshop WFB tabletop gaming wargame Fantasy

How accessible to new players is it?

Fortunately, there is a 9th Age beginners quick-guide, which talks you through the basics in easy to digest chunks. All you need is some paper, pencils, measuring rule and dice to get your started. This really appealed to me because you don’t need to spend any money before you start the game. You could set a game up on your bedroom floor or kitchen table with some cut-out squares and some random items to act as terrain. So long as you label your paper and cut them to the right size to represent units, you’ve not got anything to hold you back.

Running alongside the quick start guide there are some example army lists which you can print out and use. All the choices are made for you, so if you don’t know how to create a balanced army, you can use these. It’s a bit like using pre-made characters in Dungeons & Dragons – everything you need is there.

So you really don’t need to spend time buying, gluing and painting anything until you’re absolutely sure you want to get involved. It also means you get to try out different army compositions or entirely new factions. For me, this is great because there was nothing worse than buying into a Warhammer army and then realising they were completely under powered and your chances of success were limited based on your poorly informed decision!

I may need help creating one those army lists…

It has been pointed out in the comments that the 9th Age is fully compatible with BattleScribe (we reviewed Battle Scribe a while ago, here). BattleScribe is community driven and contains data for just about every tabletop game that requires army building lists. If you’re new to war-gaming, check it out, it’ll make you 9th Age army lists much quicker and likely more accurate too (and you can export and print out those lists for ease, with all the data you need).

Is it a tournament game or a casual game?

It seems, from what I can tell, to be a game designed for both. As I mentioned previously tournament players will enjoy the precision of the game, while not locking out new or casual players. You can play small games and large games wherever you are.

Where can I buy miniatures for 9th Age?

The other great thing about 9th Age is that you can use whatever miniatures you like, so long as they fit the scale, which is around 28mm miniatures. As I mentioned earlier, there is a tonne of new businesses creating miniatures in the glowing wake of 9th Age’s comet. I’ll link you to their community created list of potential sellers and distributors.

Their online magazine also has a spot-light for gamer’s armies, in which it shows how some players mix and match from different model companies to create their own unique looking forces. That said, if you have a preferred supplier of miniatures, then feel free to buy solely from them. That’s the great thing, you don’t have to buy from a monopolized supplier – you get to shop around to fit your own budget. This is doubly so for old Warhammer players, since you’ve already got your armies so you don’t need to get more!

Auf deutch, mo poppet, grazie!

English not your first language? Don’t worry – I forgot to mention that the 9th Age is translated in several languages, including:

English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Polish…

With work being carried out for translations into Chinese (presumably Mandarin), Russian, Serbian and potentially Korean. Again, this is staggering because all this work is being done for free – it’s amazing what people can do when they share their passion for something.

9th Age warhammer fantasy battle Games Workshop WFB tabletop gaming wargame Fantasy

Final Thoughts

  • So far I’m getting a good vibe from 9th Age.
  • It feels much more robust than it did several years ago.
  • There is a tonne of intra- and inter-faction choices, meaning you can build an army up that fits your play style or preferred narrative theme.
  • It’s completely free, and despite this, has a very solid feeling to it, which promises fair, balanced and a fun gaming experience.
  • It seems to have the finesse for tournament or competitive players.
  • It’s accessible to brand new players
  • The quick start guide is easy to follow and you’ll be playing your first game(s) within an hour if you put your heads together.

So, will the 9th Age still have me keen to learn more? Do the factions suitably feel like the much loved armies of our youth? What does the game actually play like, how long and quickly can you pick it up..?

That’s it for part one! If you’ve got any questions for the next article, where we’ll be looking at the world lore and the factions in more detail, leave a comment and I’ll try to address them as much as I can!

Here’s a sneak peek to some of the Lore we’ll be covering…

9th Age warhammer fantasy battle Games Workshop WFB tabletop gaming wargame Fantasy

All questions for part two and three. I’ll keep you posted!

If you’re interested in creating your own terrain, I’ve got a few links to some how-to articles, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, along with an article on where to get materials and tools for terrain building (more beneficial if you’re based in the UK but helpful for the US, Canada and most of Europe).

You can find me @FerrisWrites for Twitter,

Our Facebook Page!

Controversial Age of Sigmar article here Give Sigmar a Chance: Why I’m giving Games Workshops ‘Age of Sigmar’ a Second Look…!

Veil of the Ages 9th Age wargaming

And finally, as a thank you for providing information and a bit of impetus to keep writing, I’ll provide links to Veil of the Ages by Piteglio! 😉

Veil of the AgesSuccessful Kickstarter, Facebook group!

 

 

 

(All images taken from The 9th Age website and forum, they do not belong to the Creator Consortium or their writers and contributors, July 5, 2019)

Basic Leather Working 101

Introduction

When we started the Creator Consortium, we wanted to share how we did things with the world. We wanted to help people get creative and crafty, whether you’re using your hands to sculpt and create physical things or wanted to create fantastic adventures around the coffee table – we were going to be there to give you an idea of where to start.

We’ve not done much of the physical crafting yet, so this is where we start.

This is going to be a three part series looking at how we craft leather from start to finish. The first part is going to be an overview of leather; what tools and materials you will need (or later on, want) with some basics planning ideas to keep your feet grounded before making any mistakes.

In future articles I’ll go into detail on how to create masks from leather, with detailed instructions and pictures:

  • By the end of part one you should have a good idea about what tools you will need, with optional extras.
  • By the end of part two you should have a moulded piece of leather in the form of a mask which should (hopefully) fit snugly to your face.
  • By the end of part three you should have a fully coloured and treated mask, ready for your party, masquerade or LARP event.

I may reference previous parts as we go or give you snippets to future parts as they’re required. There may also be some heavy editing of previous articles as I develop this glorified tutorial.

I’ll be exclusively using vegetable tanned leather as it provides us with a variety of choices and techniques. More on this later.

Firstly, I’m going to provide an insight into the uses and types of leather and ask some questions relating to your specific leather project.

Why use Leather?

Leather is a type of old world plastic. If you know how to manipulate it, you can get it to fulfill a variety of functions. There are some considerations before you start your project however: Is leather the best option for your project? Would there be an easier medium for you to use?

Pros:

  • Easy manipulation, no expensive tools or chemicals required
  • Sturdy material that can take some serious mechanical abuse
  • Variety of uses from small items to full costumes
  • Easy to use (when you know how).

Cons:

  • Not very forgiving, expensive mistakes can happen!
  • Requires a good aftercare regime
  • Storage concerns: spores, mold & degradation can prematurely eat and destroy your hard work!

If you still think leather is for you then read on for some further considerations.

herd of cattle in daytime

Environmental Impact

Leather was once locally sourced and used extensively before plastics were introduced. Unfortunately, now being a globalised industry, it comes with its own complications.

Cattle herds are huge in America, who are one of the largest producers of beef and therefore leather. The impact on the environment is several fold – cattle create methane, farmland and agriculture impact the local atmosphere, and global transportation methods create more pollution.

Some methods of curing leather use chromium salts. These salts are toxic to living organisms (they use chromium salts to denature DNA strands in genetic laboratories). Chromium treated leathers are usually more synthetic looking, with near perfect surfaces with (usually) thinner and very supple qualities. Presumably they are cheaper, quicker to make and easier to use in manufacturing.

Composition of Leather

Leather is essentially skin. When vegetable tanned leather is cured it can become rigid (for thicker leathers) or paper like (such as thin goat skins). The curing process essentially removes the water content without cracking the surface, leaving a smooth and rough side and providing many years of age to what should naturally decompose.

Collagen (face cream adverts talk about it all the time) remains present in the leather and it is this which gives the leather its rigidity. When we wet or soaked, cured leather like vegetable tanned leather we re-hydrate the collagen, making it flexible and less brittle. As the leather dries, if we have done our job correctly, the leather should hold its shape, allowing us to craft intricate and ornate pieces of work, such as masks.

Vegetable tanned leather is used by artisans and crafters all over the world for various projects. It is generally coarser and thicker leather but has a host of applications: in some older types of vehicles it is used for fan belts, it is used for safety attire, all weather clothing, and used as armour up until the second world war, it has a host of utility uses for belts, tool holders, satchels and bags. Vellum is still used in the UK to maintain official government records due to its almost ageless qualities – it is so durable that ancient Kings used it to chronicle their lives.

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Types of Leather

There are a variety of leathers out there. I’m going to provide a brief description of the main ones that artisans and small project crafters are more likely to use.

Vegetable Tanned – There is no surface treatment to this sort of leather, meaning it is ideal for tooling and dying. You can wet mould this sort of leather. A wide variety of uses.

Dyed Through Vegetable Tanned – These leathers do not possess  exactly the same qualities as regular natural tanned vegetable as sometimes there can be a dyeing finish, meaning you can’t necessarily carve, tool or wet mould the leather. However it is durable, and looks great for heavy belts and armour.

Splits – the leather is split and the bottom portion is dyed and treated again to create a smooth surface. You’ll find it’s cheaper but it cannot be tooled or dyed again.

Suede Splits – As above, but both sides are treated with the new upper side heavily treated to create a velvety nap. This is a very versatile form of leather but again it cannot be tooled or dyed further. 

Clothing Suede, Nappa, Cow, Pig – Thin, supple and multiple uses but mainly for clothing. It usually comes pre dyed and is not suitable for most types of projects I will cover here. However, it is great for smaller projects that do not require much treatment, such as small clothing items or accessories.

Chamois – This is essentially split sheep skin and is the first thing most people think of when you mention leather. It has a host of uses and is particularly nice for buffing and polishing your car.

Saddlery – The bees knees of leather, this type of leather is pumped to the brim with waxes and dyes. It is incredibly tough and can be very rigid. It is ideal if you’re just cutting armour pieces to shape, but will require thinning at the edges for stitching. Being incredibly tough, it may take a substantial effort to prepare for stitching. People tend to use long rivets instead. You may be able to carve a pattern into it, but you will not be able to tool it.

Kid – for its thinness this type of leather is very strong due to its fine grain. You see it made into wallets or book bindings due to its fine but mighty nature.

Upholstery Hides – Huge hides! These make a great base for leather if you’re making large volumes. Again it cannot be carved or tooled, but it can be cheap if you bulk buy. I’ve made tabards from this sort of leather and studded those tabards with thicker leather plates to create simple armour.

Crafting Tools

You could really go to town and spend a lot of money to buy a huge variety of tools. In the early stages of any craft, you should only get the minimum you need to get by. If you have a precision craft knife, a stanley knife, a steel rule and some paper, pens and pencils you’ll get on without a hitch. Optionally, you could look at getting some of the following tools, but these are really for slightly more complicated projects. Where possible, I’ve provided a “cheap-cheat” alternatives, but you’ll find that getting the right tool for the job does have an impact as you advance.

My list of tools apply mostly to using vegetable tanned leather, if you’re using a different type of leather you may need a variety of different tools.

For Cutting Leather…

Cutting Knives – these are really cheap from most hobby and craft stores. Stanley knives or retractable knives and precision knives have different uses: Use precision knives to cut finer details and complicated shapes, such as eye holes for masks, and retractable knives for cutting big blocks or chunks of leather out.

leather crafting work LARP artisan masquerade armour

Metal Rule – this is, for me, an essential piece of kit for cutting leather shapes. It should go without saying that a metal rule will not get cut up like a plastic one. More importantly, it should have some form of guard to avoid cutting your fingers. When cutting leather, you will likely apply pressure, meaning that if you slip… well it won’t just be a plaster (band aid) required to hold your fingertips in place.

leather crafting work LARP artisan masquerade armour

Hole Punch – it’s not technically cutting leather, but a hole punch is pretty useful. You can get small kits which have various sized punches which you swap out and screw into place. You’ll need a mallet or hammer to use this. Avoid the type that is hand punched with a wheel of different sized punches – it just doesn’t work as well.

leather crafting work LARP artisan masquerade armour

For Carving and Tooling Leather…

Swivel Knife – this is a unique looking knife that looks a bit like a flat headed screwdriver. Swivel knives are used to cut and carve patterns into leather. You don’t need to go nuts here because using a swivel knife takes practice and patience. Some people get the knack of it early on. If you want to practice carving leather without buying one, get a small flat headed screwdriver and try it on a scrap piece of leather. More on this later.

http://i.ebayimg.com/images/i/291481826132-0-1/s-l1000.jpg
Image taken from LePrevo Leathers, http://www.leprevo.co.uk

Bevel / Foot Stamp – this little tool is used in conjunction with the swivel knife. After you have cut a line with the swivel knife you can use the bevel stamp (sometimes called a foot) to push one side of the cut down with a small mallet. The process involves moving the foot along the line while tapping the end with the mallet as you go in one smooth process. The result is an almost 3-D appearance. This is the basic technique for people wishing to tool leather and only really works on vegetable tanned leathers.

leather crafting work LARP artisan masquerade armour

For Stitching Leather…

Needles – you can get these very cheaply from haberdasheries. For working with leather you’re going to need thick needles with a larger eyelet hole. This is because simple cotton thread is too small for stitching leather pieces together. If you can afford it, an automatic stitching awl will save you a lot of time and effort, but they do cost more than just needles and thread.

Thread – thicker thread, ideally waxed will be suitable for most leather projects. Thicker threads will be less likely to cut into the hole they are threaded through, meaning you will add life to your final piece. If it is waxed, it will also not rot anywhere as quickly and provide a level of waterproofing to the holes it’s stitched through.

Pricking Awl – this nasty looking device is basically a pointed blade on the end of a handle. It will look like a vicious prison shank. They are used to create tiny cut marks which act as a guide for stitching. They also allow the needle to pass through the leather much easier than if you were trying to punch the leather with the stitching needle. I would not recommend stitching leather without first punching the holes with a pricking awl!

leather crafting work LARP artisan masquerade armour

For Colouring / Dyeing and Finishing Leather

Dyes – There are a variety of ways of colouring leather. The obvious method is to use leather dyes, which are alcohol based and miscible in water (meaning you can thin them down). I use Fiebings leather dye, which come in a variety of colours and shades. Leather dyes wet the leather, so you need to be careful with water moulded leather projects (which I will cover later).

Paints – Alternatively you could use acrylic paints, but these have a habit of cracking as they dry as solids. To avoid this, you can use flexible acrylic paints that contain natural resins or flexi-paints which are made with rubber or latex components. If you’re making something that is not expected to bend, you can just use regular acrylic paints, but I would suggest you water them down and work in two or more thinner layers.

Finishes – You are going to need to add something extra if you’re hoping to take your leather outside or use it for anything other than for display. This is really important if you’re going to use your piece in all weather, such as for LARP events. Even in the summer weather, you will need to protect the colours that you’ve so lovingly applied. Personally, I use a two or more layers of Carnauba wax cream and the thinner but highly waterproof resolene finish.

In conjunction these will waterproof and provide some level of flexibility to your piece, preventing excess moisture going in whilst stopping the leather from drying out and cracking. These make great aftercare materials too, so if you get into making expensive kit for LARP, it may be wise to sell the finishers alongside the main product.

Paint Brushes & Rags – depending on the size of your leather piece, you are going to need to apply that dye or paint somehow. For small pieces such as wallets, belts, scabbards and masks you can get away with artist brushes, for larger surface areas such as armour you may want to invest in a spray gun (you can buy these from model shops and may prove cheaper for short term projects). Rags are rags at the end of the day. Something like dishcloths don’t tend to come with a tonne of loose fibers so they won’t leave marks as you buff the leather up.

Optional pieces include:

Edge Smoother – this little wooden device is great at deburing the edges of your leather. Running it up and down the edge, with the leather in the nook will slowly polish and smooth the edge, making your final piece look cleaner and more professional. They can be expensive, so shop around for cheaper ones – after all, it’s a piece of carved wood.

leather crafting working LARP masquerade armour artisan

Boarder / Edge Cutter – this little device will add border edges to your leather, which can make a piece look finished and also carve a smooth line along the borer into which you can punch holes or run a stitching wheel into for later stitching… which saves time and effort…

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Where to Begin

So let’s assume you have all of your tools, paints and finishes ready. You’ve got your leather ready to go. But where on earth do you start? Well, I have two very important pieces of advice that you should always consider for every project you ever start.

Dream BIG, but think small

It is the best advice you can possibly get when I say: start small.

Leather is unforgiving in that if you make a mistake, you won’t be able to hide it. Unlike fabric where you could stitch a secret piece in, or hide a mistake behind a fold, leather is generally too cumbersome or thick for quick fixes. Of course, you could weather a mistake to make it look deliberate if you wanted an overall finish to match.

So, stay small for your first project. This will give you a feel for how leather behaves when you’re working with it. With that experience you can move to larger projects later.

Refine your idea with Cardboard

My next advice will also save you time and money: create a mockup piece first.

In my early days I had very little money so I had to be thrifty with my leather and consumables. Cutting out pieces of cardboard from cereal boxes and seeing how my design folded, glue or stitched saved me a lot of time and pain.

Buying your Leather & Tools

This is the hard bit.

If you live in the UK, you can get your supplies from eBay, but I would suggest you have a look at LePrevo Leathers. They are a large supplier but they are friendly and helpful people.

For other sellers of tools, you can get everything you need on eBay fairly cheaply. Most of it will be made in China, but if you’re starting out, you shouldn’t spend a fortune unless you’re absolutely certain you want to commit to this craft. Otherwise, shop around.

If you’re elsewhere in the world, you will likely have more local suppliers. Particularly in Asian and American nations, you’ll have the likes of Tandy Leather. If you’re in the UK, avoid Tandy Leather, it is generally over priced under the facade of being user and newbie friendly. That said, if you’ve got cash to throw around, go ahead!

(That said, they have supposedly repriced everything, so maybe have a sneak peek)…

So that’s it for now, in the next week or so there will be part two ready to go. I’ll link it at the bottom of this page and notify via our Facebook page, twitter account and likely various other media platforms. Alternatively, subscribe to us to get notifications!

@FerrisWrites for Twitter

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Next in the series we will look at a project in more detail, with steps on how to prepare and cut your leather to make a mask. It’s not rocket science and I’m sure there will be others with different ideas – that’s fine, lets put our heads together!

Until the next episode!

Mr Ferris