Sunday, 11 March 2018

Playtesting Fireside Tales for PDEE

Without giving away too many reveals, we have been beavering away play testing the forthcoming expansion for Palaeo Diet: Eat or be Eaten. Once provisionally called 'Tales of Herc the Hero', it will be called the more open-ended Fireside Tales.

The expansion takes the form of a narrative campaign of five scenarios. There is a simple system for randomising the landscape of each game, and the first four scenarios have both primary and secondary objectives to be achieved; no two games should ever play the same way. 

There are four new beast profiles and reaction charts (bringing the total number of beast types up to ten), and two new ways for beasts to react. 

And for those who don't find life hard enough, Fireside Tales introduces optional rules for smelly hominids meaning that players will want to keep downwind of both predators and prey if they can.

Friday, 2 March 2018

More support for the 10mm halflings

From the least tamed borders of Hearthshire, the squire's cousin, Barmbrack Hamfist, gathers support from among the wilder neighbours such as the Treefolk. Luckily, his giant guinea peeg allows him to scurry swiftly through undergrowth and avoid detection for the spies of the shire's foes.

There appears to be a dearth of 10mm halfling magic users out there (strange...), so Barmbrack is a bit of a conversion. Starting with a Magister Militum halfing pony rider, I cut him, drilled him, and stuck him with bits of a cut up pin (one bit as a support for his impressive hat, and another for his wand. He was then glued to the back of a spare Bad Squiddo Games guinea pig. If you don't have a pack of those floating around, you should head over and get some!

A spot of greenstuffing later, and Barmbrack had some trousers, feet and a hat. Sorted! Only now that he is painted have I noticed the size difference between Magiter Militum halfling pony riders and halfling foot by Magister Militum and Eureka (which mix very well). Barmbrack would stand about 7-8mm tall, while the halfling infantry, including the squire, Puck Goodfellow, only stand 5-6mm tall. I'll try not to have the two characters standing next to each other to often.

Treefolk from Pendraken. Cracking - and cranky - little figures these are.

Lord and Lands

What is it?
Written by Craig Armstrong and published through Lulu, Lord and Lands is framed as a fast-play, unit based, scale agnostic, mass battle* game. It is written with both historical and fantasy games in mind.

As the author says, the game was inspired by Microworld's 6mm fantasy ranges, but LaL is not written in anyway to be restricted by those ranges, nor is is written specifically for 6mm armies. All distances are measured in base widths, so as long as the opposing armies are based using the same conventions, there are no limits to the scale of miniatures used.

There is no individual figure removal. Instead, units have set hit points which they can sustain before the unit breaks and is removed from play. Units can be rallied by commanders and can also be pushed back in a melee. There are rules for missile units making closing shots against charging opponents, and rules for evading skirmishers. For me, these are all very nice things to see in a game.

There is command friction. Players dice for pips at the start of a turn and use the pips to activate units. Pips can also be held back and used later to buff a unit's movement (by up to 2BW), their shooting or their melee effectiveness (by up to +2). Players alternate moving units, shooting, and choosing which melees to resolve, so both players are always engaged in the game.

Melee and shooting can be resolved with dice rolls (using a rule of 4+), or by 'dipping' a hand into a bag of chips. Depending on the effectiveness of a unit and modifiers, you might only get to roll one die/make one dip, or you get six or eight rolls/dips, but you will never be asked to roll a whole bucket of dice. Modifiers to attacks impact on the number of roll/dips you make, keeping rolling to hit quite simple. Melees used opposed rolls/dips, so both units have a chance to harm the other.

*Armies are built on a points basis. I have been advised to start with 1000 point armies, but you can clearly play with many more and, in that sense, the game seems very scaleable.

For what it's worth, it looks like 1000 points will by me 13 units and three characters for my Hearthshire militia. You'd get a few less units in an army with more capable fighters.

Pre-made army lists are available as a free download from the author's website, and these seem pretty open and flexible. There are a range of different unresticted troop types in each list, and then one or two units that have a 'Only one unit per 1000 points of the army' type restrictions. Reading over the lists, you can see the clear influence of the Microworld Miniatures ranges, but there are some really nice ideas.

The only thing that made me raise an eyebrow is that some of the movement rates don't seem compatible between lists. Rexunus (human) levy have a move of 4BW, while most cavalry (including Rexunus cavalry) move 5BW. Dwarves only have a 1BW , and gnolls only move 2BW, while viking warriors move 3BW. However, players are permitted (encouraged?) to play around and create their own profiles. There is a pdf unit builder/points calculator that makes tweaking or creating profiles super easy. For my halflings and my son's legion of super evil, I think we will use movement guidelines of 2BW for halflings, dwarves, undead, heavily armoured human foot knights and other slower types, 3BW for most humans, elves and orcs, and 4, 5, or 6 BW for mounted, depending on the miniatures.

I put this to Craig and he responded with the following:
I think you’ve made fair and valid comments dude, if players don’t like movement rates they have the means to change them and adjust points values accordingly. I suppose all I’d say is a movement does not necessarily mean this group of men move 150ft in 3 mins, they also encompass maintaining formation, orders, rough ground etc plus game play and ‘feel’ of the army.
Fair enough. :)

There are seven generic spells, and 14 race specific spells, so if you want magic on the table (and why not have it in a fantasy game!?), you are well catered for with a range of aggressive, defensive and buffing spells.

Oh, and if you are interested in sieges, there are rules for fortifications, buildings and siege equipment - even mining under a wall!

How does it read?
The hardcopy version of the rule book is a well presented 6"x9" softcover, using colour throughout and making use of easy to read fonts.

The rules read very well on the whole. There are a couple of small typos, but they are easily forgiven. After all, I misspelt 'ordnance' throughout Irregular Wars 2nd edition. These things can happen quite easily! However, the author shows a reckless disregard for possessive apostrophes which did cause me to re-read a couple of lines to work out what was being said. That's it though, that is about the limit of my complaints.

Everything seems very logical. and well laid out. There are also sporadic diagrams to illustrate various mechanics. There were no points in the rules that made me scratch my head and wonder at the reasoning.

How does it play?
Not sure yet, I'll let you know!

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Return of the Grey Wolf Clan

Following on from their previous adventures (1, 2, 3), Mark's Grey Wolf Clan are back!


Hi all,

In this installment of PreHistory month I played five games representing episodes from the hunting season of the Grey Wolf Clan, my Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer band (as interpreted by Mark Copplestone via Hollywood). There will be guest appearances by the new snow terrain discussed last time, the last Gomphotherium, and also the Trout Clan, my “other” band of Palaeolithic people.

I’m doing only a brief report for each hunt and limiting it to one or two photos each.

(1) The first Spring hunt
With snow still on the ground, a party of the four fittest surviving hunters have been sent out from the winter camp to find fresh food. They must kill 4 Bulk, not only as badly-needed food for the Clan but also to fulfill a pledge to the Spirits. Failure may mean the ancestors look on their descendants with disdain - or worse.

The photo shows two of the hunters, Charlie and Wills, skulking towards a small herd of caribou (2 Bulk each). The other two hunters have circled the other way. The hunters will leave the young rhino (Giant Grazer, 4 Bulk) alone, it’s too difficult and risky to tackle on this mission. The caribou are nervous, already one has been spooked by the other hunters and moved away.

The Spirits will be pleased this year. The hunters pulled off a neat converging attack, from across the open ground and from over the hill, so that a stampede away from one hunter usually took them closer to another. Two caribou were killed, two others escaped, both wounded. One hunter, Lucky Eddy, was trampled and wounded by a stampeding beast

(2) The Gomphotherium
Rumours have reached the Grey Wolf Clan of a really, really big mammoth that lives in a remote lowland valley. A party of the best hunters is given permission to seek the giant and report back - with tusks if possible. Five hunters, all spear-armed, set off to prove their fitness and courage.

They find the beast complacently shovelling up water plants in a marshy valley, and watch it for awhile from a nearby hilltop. The Gomphotherium ignores them. They wonder what it tastes like.

After taking auguries (consulting the Giant Grazers Reaction Table) the hunters agreed to all sneak up and attack together, rather than spread out and surround the beast first. This tactic was successful, as the beast was harried relentlessly, and dealt two wounds. It reacted by alternately fleeing then turning to attack the closest pursuer, which resulted in one hunter being killed and two being wounded. The Gomphotherium gradually retreated along the valley and finally a flee move too many ran it over a steep bluff.

The surviving hunters will now have to patch up their wounds, dispose of their fallen comrade, and cut out the tusks of the fallen giant. But before any of that it’s time for the “fresh gooey bits” (PDEE p14).

(3) Who Are These People?
A four-person hunting party has been tracking a lone mammoth for several days now. They are well outside the Clan’s familiar territory, and seriously considering giving up. Maybe one more day ...

They close in on the mammoth as it grazes near a small stream. The spear throwing was unusually proficient, and the mammoth was killed (4 wounds) before it could flee across the stream. But there was a heavy price to pay. One hunter was killed, and another wounded by the enraged beast. And then ...

First contact. Across the stream a hunting party from the Trout Clan appear, on the lookout for anything edible, alive or dead. The Grey Wolf Clan have heard stories about the “others” from travellers, but this is the first actual sighting. The people of the Trout Clan likewise.

Game notes: (a) the Trout Clan are Pulp Miniatures figures by Bob Murch. They are smaller than the Grey Wolf Copplestones, so won’t pass as Neanderthalers. I’m calling them, naturally, Homo pattayaviensus. They have darker skin than the Grey Wolf Clan members, and all seem to have red hair. They also prefer clubs over spears as weapons. (b) my house rules for this game use weighted dice to decide the options of flight/fight/cooperate. The weighting takes account of (i) the mammoth is already dead and there is enough for all, (ii) one group is significantly stronger than the other because of hunting casualties.

Driven by curiosity both parties came down to the stream to take a closer look. The Grey Wolf hunters took care to stand between the “others” and the mammoth carcass. Then (against the odds) one of the Grey Wolf Band threw a spear at a Trout hunter. It missed, but as the first hostile act it meant the Trout band now took on the “beast” role for the rest of the game (as pack predators).

Two Grey Wolf hunters crossed the stream to attack the others. Initial success (two others wounded) turned to disaster as both Grey Wolfs were killed. The sole survivor ran away as fast as he could, wondering if he could get back alive, and what he was going to tell the Elders. The Trout band rejoiced, with a mammoth and three humans as fresh kills to feast on.

(4) Adventure at the Big Bluffs
A band of young men, women and children trek to the Big Bluffs to gather birds eggs, fruit, and mushrooms. Details: 2 x Women (spear-armed hunters); 2 x Young Men (1 bow, 1 club armed hunters); 2 x Children (can throw stones, and gather eggs etc, but not attack. Resilience 3+, Bulk 1).

The Big Bluffs are a lakeside vale rich in seasonal gatherables which the Clan visits at this time every year. These is even a footbridge across the marshes to make access easier. No large animals have lived in this little oasis for several years now, they were all hunted. But unknown to the Clan recolonisation is under way.

Each time a figure inside a thicket or marsh fails an activation roll, a warthog (Pack Predator) one of a family of up to three) will immediately Attack. 

The band has eight Turns to achieve the following goals:
(1) Gather at least six “resources” from inside the thickets and marshes. There is only one resource per marsh and thicket. To gather it requires a figure to Roll a “6” for activation and remain stationary, undisturbed, for that action. Also a dead warthog counts as a resource.
(2) Both children must survive to exit the tabletop over the footbridge (or no plausible impediment to their doing so).
(3) One hunter must spend the whole day within 1M of the footbridge, making minor repairs, fishing in the swamp etc.

The resource gathering begins. The band has entered (and must leave) over the footbridge at L). The bow armed hunter stays behind to start repairs. Two groups each of an adult and a child approach terrain features to start gathering. The last hunter stands in open ground as backup. The two hounds at top R of the tabletop are an oversight. 

It turned out the whole warthog family was foraging in this marsh. The young hunter killed the first one that attacked, but the other two were right behind it. They wounded the hunter and killed the child. Oops. Then they killed the hunter too. Oops again.

Elsewhere the gathering proceeded apace, undisturbed by further warthogs. They were dealt with by the bowman on the footbridge, with help from one of the other hunters coming back at the end of the day (Turn 7/8).

The band gathered four sacks of eggs, snails, mushrooms etc, and a further three will come from the warthogs when they are butchered. But overall the day has been a draw at best for the Grey Wolf Clan. The loss of a promising young hunter, and the favourite child of an influential elder, is not something they’ll be looking forward to reporting at the campfire.

(5) Last hunt of the season
The days are getting shorter, and the first frosts have appeared. Now the herds are starting to migrate away from the Grey Wolf Clan’s range. There is talk among the young men of following them wherever they go, but for this year at least the wisdom of the elders prevails. It’s time for the annual drive, to top up the smokehouse with fat and meat for the long winter.

The plan is to trap as many of the beasts as possible, using fire and howling to drive them into the kill zone. There are six Giant Grazers on the table at 4 Bulk each, and a calf with no Savagery rating, Resilience and Bulk = 1. The Clan needs to kill 18 Bulk for the hunt to be a success, 2 Bulk for each hunter taking part in the drive).

The river is impassable. The thickets are per the rules: passable for beasts at normal speed and humans at reduced speed.

This year the drive was a big success, unlike last year when most of the beasts broke though and escaped. One Aurochs and one mammoth were killed by rolling boulders. The other mammoth and the rhino fell over the bluffs. Another Aurochs, and the little calf, were trapped and speared inside the corral. Only one Aurochs escaped, wounded, so the hunters probably will be able to track and finish it tomorrow,

A scene of barbaric carnage? Or “mum the smokehouse is full!” You choose.

A good end to an ordinary year for the Grey Wolf Clan. They have lost four out of their nineteen adult hunters killed this year, plus the young man and the elite child. But they have the tusks of the Gomphotherium which can be carved into prestige objects, and an overflowing, indeed covfefe, larder to see them through the winter.

That’s all from the Grey Wolf Clan for this season (barring any winter activities if I make a lot more snow).