Tag Archives: tabletop gaming

How to Draw RPG Maps – Part 1, Dungeon Maps

(Step by Step)

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been tackling a growing problem in my role-playing gaming sessions – maps.

Maps can really bring your game to life, focus the players and help keep track of locations and events as the game progresses. The problem, however, is that if you’re not 100% confident of your drawing skills, you may be disinclined to draw your own or pay someone to use theirs. This is fine, but you’ll likely not get a dungeon map in the style or layout that you want.

So this is where my practice comes in: you can read the following and hopefully learn a few tricks and see just how easy it is to draw clear, atmospheric maps in a very short space of time.

I’ll be emulating some of my favourite styles, with the mind to develop my own style from the industry benchmark.

Tools

In the UK currently, it is very easy to get your hands on the tools you’ll need to draw out your own dungeon maps. Here’s a list of the pens and pencils I use, which I’ve selected for their inexpensive price tags:

  • Derwent hard pencils – a set of 5 pencils shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg. There’s a huge variety out there, but frankly you can get away with a pretty standard HB, 2H and 2B set of pencils. HB is your standard pencil, 2H is a harder pencil which gives you a harder and lighter pencil line, whereas 2B is soft, giving you a darker and softer pen line.
  • I use Uni Pin fine liners for the inking of my maps – they’re pretty common and over the last ten years have dropped in price significantly. For my practice, I use different thickness of nibs: 0.5, 0.2 and 0.05 mm pens, with a brush pen for extra thick lines.
  • For practice, I bought a really cheap pad of 50 sheets of drawing pad paper, A4. If I’m sketching I got to town a purchase A5 sketchbooks, these shouldn’t cost you too much, but I like the thicker paper sheets.

All of these items are available at the Range – I was amazed that 10 fine liner pens were around £10 per pack, giving more pens than you will ever need! A4 drawing paper can cost as little as £1. Art pencils can cost a little more than regular pencils, but there’s no need to go crazy for your first time. A simple clean eraser is helpful.

So, here follows my method for quick, simple and effective dungeon maps.

Zero

To save on buying fancy pads of paper, I start by drawing the framework on a new piece of paper. Using the edges of the paper, I mark out inch wide dots to form a series of squares. You can create 1-cm lines if you want, but for the use of tabletop maps, I prefer 1-inch tiles. It’s a standard format, with 1-inch acting as a 5ft space for your players. My example is below. I’ll only really need to do this once, so its best to get it right and save the page for multiple uses in the future.

RPG Map Dungeon Cave Dungeons and Dragons DM

One

Once I’ve got this right, I can start using it to map out my err, map. I place the framework page underneath a fresh page and mark where the lines intersect with a cross. I’ll draw in the walls of the dungeon room, all in pencil. I’m going to just be using a simple square as the dungeon tile, normally you’d leave space for a door in and out, but my examples are just that, examples.

RPG Map Dungeon Cave Dungeons and Dragons DM

Two

The next bit is where it starts to get a little more tricky. My first step here is to draw the outlines of the room in a thicker pen. Here I used the 0.5mm pen, but sometimes I use a brush pen for an extra thick line. So long as the pen you use is the thickest pen for your dungeon map tile, you’ll get a good edge. It needs to be thicker to stand out as the walls of your room.

Next, I switch to the 0.2mm pen and draw the lines of the stonework – this is a simple process, but you should be aware that you don’t want to draw the tiles like a literal grid. For best effect, you want to give the impression of the stonework. I do this by lightly bouncing the pen up and down on the paper as I draw the lines, creating a staggered line. It looks smarter and more realistic than if they were a simple grid.

Using the really fine pen, the 0.05mm pen, I add in some cracks randomly to the stonework and add a few lines to the edges of the room. This is purely fanciful and down to your own preference!

RPG Map Dungeon Cave Dungeons and Dragons DM

Three & Four

In these images, I’ve tried to convey a bit of lighting. Dark and damp dungeons are not airy and light places, so it adds atmosphere – I added some shade or shadows. Shade and shadows can be used for different purposes here – they act as both an absence of light and potentially dirt or dust.

For tile 3 I used lines to suggest shadow, for tile 4 I used simple dots that grow in concentration the darker the shadow becomes.

I added some missing chunks of stonework, which I filled in with some hatching using the 0.05mm pen. You can see where I practised this at the side of the page. You can also add some tiny rocks and surround them with simple dots to create a messy appearance – you don’t need to explain what these are, they could be moss, fungus or just bits of stone or bone.

RPG Map Dungeon Cave Dungeons and Dragons DM

Five

Next, I draw a simple border around the room, about half a centimetre, which you can see in tile 5. You’ll notice that I’ve not drawn using a rule at all in my process – I like it to look natural and a bit rough… adds to the atmosphere!

RPG Map Dungeon Cave Dungeons and Dragons DM

Six

In tile 6 you can see the different border techniques that you can use to provide a bit of depth to your maps and also define what is solid rock and what is room space. These three techniques are used extensively across the internet. I’ve adapted mine from Dyson and Dark Realm Maps – both industry leaders and heavily involved in the RPG community – you should check them out on Twitter!

RPG Map Dungeon Cave Dungeons and Dragons DM

So, at the top of the tile, there is line hatching – this is just a series of lines running in the same direction, repeated and twisted to create a pleasing mess to the eye. To top it off, I just added some random singular lines, dots and small stones to give it a more natural feel. It takes quite a long time to do and easy to mess up – make sure your lines come to a stop with another oblique line for a nice finish.

On the right side of the tile is simple dotting – the closer to the wall you are the more dense the dots become. A simple method that doesn’t take too long to do, but keep in mind how many dots it takes to do a single centimetre square!

Finally on the bottom of the tile is “stone support.” You can use this method for underground dungeons or for free-standing buildings above ground. Each building block has its own shape and size but is organised in clear lines. I tend to keep some stones to the guidelines we drew in tile 5, whereas some go beyond it – I prefer to keep it even as a rule of averages: for every extra tall block, there should be a shorter block to match it.

And that is pretty much it!

I’ve included some of my own tiles which I first started a week or so ago. You can see where I’ve messed up in some places. Overall though, this method is actually quite quick and easy for a small to a medium-sized dungeon. You can keep your map to a single piece of paper or cut out your tiles to allow the players to only see them when they enter a new room.

I hope this has been informative, and we’d love to see some of your creations on our facebook page or tag us on twitter with @ FerrisWrites.

Next week I’ll go into more detail about cave dungeon maps and tiles, which can be a little more time consuming but require less initial setup.

Bye for now!

Ferris

Part 2 – Cave Maps can be found here.

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

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

It was your friend.

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

What was the Gothic Game?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Until now…

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

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

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

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What’s New?

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

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

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

The Artwork

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

Characters

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

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

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

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

Extra Dice

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

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

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

Card Decks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game Board Revamp

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

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

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

 

Fate Tokens & Character Talents

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

Soul Tokens

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

Special Rooms

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

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

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

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

“The Power of Adjacency Compels You!”

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

Battle in the Darkness

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

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

What we would like to see…

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

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

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

Final Overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s all from me, enjoy your weekend!

Ferris, CC

@FerrisWrites on Twitter

Warcry – What’s all the Shout About?

Introduction

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

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

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

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

What are Skirmish Games?

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

Lore

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

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

Game Mechanics

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

Setup

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

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

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

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

Starting the Game & Turn Sequence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Activation & Actions

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

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

Wounds & Casualties

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

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

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

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

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

Game Duration

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

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

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

What’s Different?

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

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

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

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

Game Feel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Costs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

What Gives?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ferris, CC.

Terrain Ideas here, with UK supply suggestions here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The GM Section

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

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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,

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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!)

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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).

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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

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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!)

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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)