Saturday, 17 September 2016

Idea for a collaborative sandbox type adventure, feedback wanted

So I have an idea for a game. It's based on the games of 3rd ed I've most enjoyed, where each player is only bringing a handful of figures. My idea is sort of a collaborative sandbox type game, but I'm trying to figure how you'd work it so it wouldn't be a total mess. I thought I'd put the idea out here and see what people think...

The setting would be your standard fantasy adventure village, you know, something like this (from John Higgins' Grailquest gamebook The Den of Dragons):

Or if we were thinkingmore exotic, something like this (from Titan):

Each player would be tasked with bringing two things to the game:

1) A character and a retinue. Probably no more than a level 10 character (just to give him the extra wound for stickaroundability) and a couple of henchmen. Standard issue adventurers looking for a job. Or blackguards running from a fight. Or pilgrims on their way somewhere and requiring shelter and rest. Or whatever.

2) An NPC encounter. A market trader with something to hide. A comely barmaid who asks the adventurer to do them just a teeny tiny favour and they'd be forever grateful. A shack that looks abandoned, but in fact... Well you get the idea.

So in effect, the village that we set up on the table is divided up so that each of the people playing has designed something interesting that will happen at a particular location in the village (and maybe the encounter in one place will lead to the characters having to head off somewhere else, thus stumbling into the path of the other PCs). The characters all converge on the village, and based on the motivations, explore - perhaps a pious pilgrim will want to visit the chapel first to give thanks. Some may be in need of supplies and head to the shop. The thirsty will head to the tavern. When the characters get to the location of a particular NPC encounter, the person who designed it takes the role of GMing that particular interaction - bringing out the guarddogs if the shopkeeper feels threatened, for example... or controlling the barmaid's jealous half-orc boyfriend... or, hang on, I'm wasting too many good ideas already.

Does that make any sense? Would it work?

None of us would know what the other players had planned in terms of NPC encounters, so ALMOST all of the village would be a total mystery for each player, except of course for the one encounter they had designed (and one would presume they'd have the grace not to take their PCs to the NPC encounter they themselves had designed. Unless they had a serious case of split personality disorder.). What would be interesting is to see what stories (if any...) would organically develop as the characters explored the mysterious village and the different NPC encounters were 'triggered'. My primary concern is the mechanics of turn taking with all of these different things going on, for which reason there's probably a perfect number of players which is large enough to make for an village filled with intrigue and curiosity, but small enough not to be unwieldy and lead to people waiting around scratching their arse while other people resolve an encounter that they're not part of.

This is sort of inspired by the spooky Shadows of Rensburg game Bane GMed at Bring Out Your Lead 2014 and which I greatly enjoyed:

And by jointly GMing Gnomophobia with Steve Beales:

But comes from a desire for wanting to try something a bit more collaborative and experimental where we all have a stake in the mystery and no single person knows quite how the story might develop. Is the idea workable? Thoughts? Refinements?

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

After the Blood Bath

Well what a bloody fantastic day! Many thanks to Warlord Paul for GMing, to Thantsants for bringing all his terrain and minis (and letting me interlope with mine), to Nik for hosting, and to Steve Casey and Ashley for losing being such wonderful gentleman gamers.

In order to get through the whole campaign in a day, Paul made a few crucial tweaks to the classic boxed scenario.

1) The numbers were slimmed down, so generals had the following at their disposal (and remember, for the alliance side, the majority of these would only figure in the final scenario, together with survivors from the earlier action):

Alliance Player A: 2 wood elf characters, 15 wood elf archers and 1 injured elf.
Alliance Player B: 3 human characters (2 of which are wizards, a druid and a crazy old hermit), 10 spearmen, 3 longbowmen, 10 poorly-armed civilians and 1 injured human.
Alliance Player C: 3 dwarf characters, 11 dwarf warriors, and 1 injured dwarf.

Orc Player 1: The Kwae Karr orc tribe (Magyar Ironfist, Bagrash the Shaman, 15 orc warriors and 5 orc archers).
Orc Player 2: King F'yar, 3 F'yar Guards, Silas the half-orc spy, The Severed Hand orc tribe (Hagar Sheal, Grashak Kra and 5 Hobhounds, 15 orc warriors, 5 orc archers).
Orc Player 3: The Vile Rune orc tribe (Fangor Gripe, Guthrum Mane the rock giant, 20 orc warriors).

2) Rather than 2nd edition, we used the 6th edition skirmish/ Mordheim rules, with models moving independently rather than as units.

3) The first three scenarios - Kachas Pass, Ashak Rise, and Linden Way - were all played at the same time; with 6 of us playing we were able to pair off and do these simultaneously, before combining for the final big battle.

How did we fare? Well, Thantsants will be writing up a report in due course, but just to give some highlights from the perspective of the dwarves under my command (illustrated with pictures I've nicked from Thantsants - thanks!):

At Ashak Rise, a rearguard of dwarves bravely bought time to allow Snorinn Fimbul to load gold onto a pack mule and lead the gold (and mule) away to safety.

The orcs, characteristically getting hold of the wrong end of the stick, thought the gold was with the mules, and attacked them (suffering fatalities in the process), while Snorrin's dad Borinn ran off with another bag of gold.

At Orc's Drift itself, my engineers undermined the bridge they had been building, so that when the orcs came thundering over, several died and more were washed away as the bridge collapsed underfoot. Alas, all gave their lives for this vallant (and sneaky) action, although not in vain, as the casualties were a major contributor to this side of the Orc attack losing its morale and fleeing.

(The other major contributor was the Drunken Druid Snart casting "Plague of squirrels", which Paul swears is a real spell in Mordheim.)

In the farm compound, casualties were also high.

In the end, King F'yar himself was slaughtered along with his Wyvern mount - here's Borinn posing for a photo, smoking his pipe while perched on the body of his monstrous foe.

A victory for the grand alliance as the remaining attackers fled. Not many survivors were left to toast the victory, however. Though the paychest never left the surviving Dwarves sight...

I'm led to believe that alliance victories are rare, so I'm very pleased by the outcome - I think the changes made for a campaign that was very much in the balance throughout. For most of the final scenario we really thought we had no chance whatsoever - until the Orcs turned tail.

From Orc's Drift to Glazer's Creek
I've always had a weakness for last stand scenarios - perhaps my most treasured memory from teenage gaming is a campaign where my High Elves petulantly occupied a dwarfish brewery and held it against all the odds just to stop the dwarves getting a drink. And of course, Rorke's Drift - or more precisely, the depiction of Rorke's Drift in the film Zulu is the holy grail for wargamers looking for a heroic last stand. Bloodbath at Orc's Drift is a wonderful campaign that captures the backs-to-the-wall guts and glory. I loved the buildup scenarios and the little subplots, and the final battle really had a feel of desperation to the defence.

Fast forwarding to the late 90s, games workshop had another shot at adapting "Rorke's Drift" in the scenario and battle report "Last Stand at Glazer's Creek" (WD222) - one of the major highlights of what I consider a golden age of White Dwarf. Here's the scenario itself, written by Jervis Johnson.

I never played 40k, but I always thought this was a brilliantly designed scenario, and thought long and hard about adapting it for fantasy battle (though never got round to it in my youth - perhaps I will now?). It really works out as a series of battles, simulating wave after wave of attacks from a randomly determined feral Ork force who back off when they drop below a certain number, only to attack again later. The Ork general secretly chooses between 3 and 5 assaults - fewer attacks means that he can roll up a bigger attacking force each time. More attacks, the smaller the force, but the more opportunities they have to grind the defenders down. Each time, the attackers roll up a fresh force, while the defenders only get the survivors from the previous game, so the number is whittled down more and more. There are special rules for casualties winding up in the hospital, and crawling out of their beds as a last ditch defence, adding to the fun. Victory conditions are simple: by the end of the last assault, the defenders are either dead, or some still living. If some are still living, they've won.

What I love about the way this scenario is designed is the way it simulates the attrition of the siege, as the defending forces become more and more stretched. It's a different approach to the final scenario of Orc's Drift, but I think its a fantastic 'take' on Zulu in its own right, and if I can work out a way to port it over to Warhammer fantasy battle (still no interest in 40k!), I'd love to try it out, perhaps for 6th edition to keep it at a reasonable pace? (3rd edition might grind too much to play over multiple assaults).

Lessons from history
I'm unlikely to get into historical gaming of the Colonial Wars (although given my interest in Space 1889, stranger things have happened), but those who are may be interested to note Warlord Games are now selling a Rorke's Drift Battle set featuring suitable terrain and both forces:

And all gamers interested in wargames inspired by Rorke's Drift should have a read of the Osprey Campaign book on Rorke's Drift, 'Pinned like rats in a hole', by Ian Knight.

With illustrations by the Perry's there's obvious oldhammer interest there, but of most use are the pages of notes for wargamers at the back which highlight important considerations for anybody trying to simulate the campaign - such as ammunition constraints in dealing with a numerically superior opposition, and also the "apparent contempt with which the British regarded their opponents", leading to terrible decision making in the early engagements of the Zulu War (given the roleplaying approach oldhammer gamers take, such arrogance is well worth incoporating into the game design). More generally, Knight points out that it's well worth thinking about these encounters from the Zulu point of view rather than getting all hung up on the plucky last-ditch defenders and their stiff upper lips. I agree.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Militant Tendency Entryists at Orc's Drift!

"Dig for victory!" - Dwarvish wartime propaganda campaign

Followers of the blog may recall I made a start painting up figures for McDeath with Arka Zargul and 4 miners - and promptly sent the trade union militants off to battle in one of Warlord Paul's skirmishes. Well I'm now up to 9 out of the 10 figures needed for that particular band of workers. I just need one more - I'm hoping to find one or other of these to complete the unit:

Perhaps ironically, they'll be getting an outing tomorrow not in McDeath, but in a somewhat streamlined version of Blood Bath at Orc's Drift that Warlord Paul will be running tomorrow with The M1 Marauders, where they'll be doing double duty as The Engineers of Osrim Chardz/ The Dwarfs of Ashak Rise. In fact, we'll mostly be using Thantsants' amazing collection of Orc's Drift miniatures, and he's such a bloody good painter I always feel a bit shamefaced lining up my own efforts next to his. But I do like to play with my own little fellas and I needed the encouragment to work on some painting after missing out on BOYL. The engineers are accompanied by a couple of dwarves armed with Crossbows, borrowed from my Chaos warband, and a wounded fella (or is he just drunk?)
. Oh, and a donkey. As you can see, I have the models used for Borinn and Snorinn Fimbul, but not the scenario-exclusive model for Osrim Chardz, so we'll use Thantsants model for King Gorrin from the Dwarf Lords of Legend box, as he's practically in the same pose. (Full disclosure - I have King Gorrin myself, but made such a balls up of painting him, he's back in the dettol.)

The version of the campaign we'll be playing tomorrow will be with a smaller number of figures and using the mordheim rules to get through it in one day. All the same, having never played Orc's Drift in any way, shape, or form, I'm really looking forward to it.