Saturday, 28 May 2016

Review of Dark Waters (No Spoilers)

Having just downloaded Dark Waters, the next supplement to Ganesha's Four Against Darkness (4AD), I was keen to give it a play.

4AD is a solo pen and paper RPG, which tries to capture the classic feel of the dungeon bash. The game has a lot of replay-ability as dungeons and monsters are randomly generated. One "scripted" supplement has already come out, Caves of the Kobold Slave Masters (CotKSM), which follows a set theme with a background plot.

Dark Waters is second supplement to come out, and like CotKSM, has a scripted background plot and a strong sea-faring/swashbuckler theme. It also introduces an entirely new character class - the Swashbuckler, a sort of fighter with some thematic abilities suiting the class.

The first part of Dark Waters is similar to the first part of CotKSM, in that there is an already generated map with it's own set of bosses and minions. One major difference is that the party can choose from two separate narratives to start with, each with it's own benefits and outcomes (what these are is not known before the choice is made).

So I created the following 1st level party to venture through the first section;
  • A Swashbuckler (Jacabo)
  • A Wizard (Balthazar)
  • A Cleric (Ethelred)
  • A Dwarf (Thorgrim)
It is hard to write about what happened without giving away spoilers, but it felt more difficult for a 1st level party than the core 4AD. A lot can go wrong, some of the situations and bosses were challenging. Though no-one was lost, Balthazar (the Wizard) and Ethelred (the Cleric) came close. They all got to level up, but had to spend most of their treasure to remove certain conditions that happened to them. There are things that can happen to characters that seems quite bad at the time, but can end up being a cool (and really pirate thematic) character effect.

The second section is in the dungeon crawl format of 4AD. It is thematically tied into the world of Norindaal, and is the exploration of a sunken temple somewhere near Atlis, with its corresponding sea creatures. There are new tables for the various monsters, events, treasures, features and other things. During the game I rolled up 21 rooms before completing. After running into a lot of the different minions and vermin, I found that the attack abilities of the monsters in this adventure probably favours a different party/character mix than what works in 4AD. This is good, as what works in one game should not necessarily work as well in another.

In the end, more through good luck then good management, the party survived intact. One thing I did (hopefully correctly) was that I found 3 clues, and used them on the "weakness of a monster" ability, which can make all attacks on the final boss at +2. Clues are one of the great things in 4AD, and give some extra narrative. I just need to think up something creative as to what the clues could represent :) Ultimately, Jacabo and Thorgrim ended up on level 4 each, while Ethelred and Balthazar ended up on level 3 each. There was a fair bit of cash and magic items at the end, as the intrepid party awaits it's next adventure.

One feature of Dark Waters was that some campaign benefits are bestowed upon the party. How these can come into play are probably up to the players imagination and forthcoming supplements.

Overall, there is a lot of bang for your buck here. For the price of a few dollars, there is at least 2 hours plus of entertainment. The new swashbuckler character class also looks quite usable outside of Dark Waters.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Through the Mud and Blood

Tonight at the "club" Steve & Martin had a game of "Through the Mud and Blood". This is a WWI game using individual figures. I was mainly a spectator of sorts, providing unwanted tactical advice at various critical points. However, I did provide the figures for the German side, with Martin providing the British. Steve provided the cards, blinds and extensive knowledge of the rules.

The game was scenario 1 from the rules. It is an introductory scenario, with small forces. I had played this before with Steve, I was the Germans and lost. Steve since that time played the same scenario three more times, and every time the British won, mainly as they have more numbers and more commanders. So here with his 5th attempt, the challenge was to see whether the Germans could win. Steve took the Germans, Martin the British.

Below is the initial set up. Both sides deploy with cards. The Germans start in trenches, whereas the British are attacking, coming in from the board edge.

As the game progressed, the troops got revealed, first were the Germans in the trenches;

Then everything was fully deployed - here is the scene from the British perspective;

It was an interesting game, initially the main British command stayed back out of harms way (thanks to bad movement dice), which meant the advance was not that well co-ordinated, and units fell back in shock from the German shooting. The consensus was that a German victory was possible at this point.

However, as this scenario tends to turn out, the British command (called "big men" in the rules) got its act together, rallied the troops and they slowly wore down the outnumbered Germans for another British win.

The rules are interesting in that they simulate difficulties in command during the era, and also the suppressive effects of firepower. Units can take casualties or accumulate "shock" points - and shock points reduce movement and shooting ability unless rallied off. A lot of shock points will force a unit to fall back.

Anyway, onto scenario 2 next time to see who can win that one....

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Gladiator Campaign

Last night at the Sutherland Shire Gamers, I played in a three way gladiator campaign with Steve and Martin using the free Munera Sine Missione rules. We tried a few experimental amendments to version 2.3 that are mentioned on Alan Saunders' Stronghold Rebuilt site, and other ideas to provide some narrative between campaign fights.

In brief, the way the campaign works is that each player has 6 gladiators, and fights with two of them every round, so that with three players, there are three fights each round (each player effectively fights the other). The fights are sort of conducted simultaneously, one turn is conducted by both players in fight 1, the one turn in fight 2, then one turn in fight 3, and then back to fight one. This continues until all fights are complete. It also means that all players will know what is happening in every fight, and does tend to keep everyone engaged.

A winning gladiator can gain a skill if they beat an opponent with equal or more skills (but not less). For each gladiator that wins, the player (their ludus) gains 1 prestige point. 2 prestige points are gained if a gladiator with more skills is defeated, and 1 prestige point is lost if a gladiator is beaten by one with less skills. This method seems to favour all gladiators skilling up at the same time, as there is a fair amount of downside risk with little reward to running your better gladiators against rookies.

Anyway, with printed cards for each gladiator, this is how the three side-by-side games looked;

In the first round, all three of us won a fight, so all got 1 prestige point, and we all had a gladiator that had acquired a skill. There were also two deaths, one was an outright mortal wound in the arena, the other by the crowd giving the thumbs down. In general, the crowd was quite miserable, and despite many attempts by gladiators working the crowd, the reaction received was lukewarm at best.

In the second round, Steve and Martin won a game each, the third between myself and Martin ended in a draw. As none of the gladiators selected in this round had any skills, Martin and Steve both now had 2 gladiators with 1 skill each, and also had 2 prestige points, whereas I was stuck on 1 prestige point. However, all gladiators survived.

Martin in particular had a tendency to use a Retiarius in the fights, managing to net his opponents in each game. In the below scene, Afra managed to entangle Tigris;

In the third round, Steve and myself had a skilled gladiator each facing a rookie gladiator put forward by Martin, the third fight was between two rookies. I gained 2 wins, so going to 3 prestige points, however, as my skilled gladiator beat someone of lower skills, he was not able to test for a new skill. Martin beat Steve's skilled gladiator, so he gained 2 prestige points, whereas Steve lost 1 prestige point. One of Steve's gladiators even suffered the dread double 2 result and lost the appeal to the crowd, who's demeanor never improved.

There were the usual highlights such as broken weapons, dropped shields and helmets and knockdowns. In one fight, both gladiators lost their weapons! Even the referees were used to effect as they bumbled around, getting in the way of an attacker and in one instance, standing on a dropped shield. However, the crowds were generally unmoved by the spectacle, rarely giving out any favour.

As it turned out, each fight took about 15 minutes to resolve, so one campaign round took around 45 minutes, so we only got the three rounds (12 fights in total) in for the evening. I thought we would get through it a little faster, but it might be too ambitious thinking that the campaign can complete in a normal evening.

Even though the fights are very dice luck dependent, I thought the campaign as a background did give some objectives to aim for and made it into an engaging multiplayer game.