Sunday 22 July 2018

Dolorous Stroke - Playtests!

So, I've been playtesting The Dolorous Stroke with my partner Holly. She's not wargamed before, but seems to have been getting into it. Two games so far.

Game 1: The Black Apple Shenanigan!
The participants: On one side, commanded by Holly, Sir Elis (an elf knight with a hypnotic voice) and his huorn bodyguard, Sile. On the other side, under my control, Sir Braccus (wight, necromancer, owner of an unreasonably big sword).
The place: Saint Boddle's Graveyard: a wall, then a row of graves, then a single huge apple-tree.
The Motivations: Sir Elis is on a quest to taste the best apple in the world  (elves are weird), and has heard that Saint Boddle's Graveyard has a tree that grows magnificent black apples. So he sets out to purloin one. He is met by Sir Braccus, defending the graves of him and his descendants, who just wants they fey knight to sod off.

How it went down: Braccus kicked things off by animating a bunch of skeletons out of various graves, and swifly surrounded Sir Elis with corpses. Alas, such was the power of Sir Elis's hypnotic voice, Sir Braccus could not bring himself to land a blow on the knight.
Sile, meanwhile, plodded stolidly down the middle of the battlefield, and began to climb the tree. After a short fight, with Sir Elis fending off waves of corpses as he tried to push through them and take out the wight summoning them, Sile reached his target and dropped out of the tree.
At this point, the skellies all mobbed Sile and tore his fucking legs off, followed by Sir Braccus using necromantic power to drag Sile's soul bit by bit into a nearby open grave. Sile threw the apple to Sir Elis, who took a bite from it and concluded that it was 'good but not brilliant', and declined the chance to devour it and gain necromantic power. Negotiation ensued, and in the end Sir Elis gave the 'less than perfect' apple back in return for Sile being released.
Sir Elis went on his merry way, in search of a way to fix Sile's legs.

Thoughs: In a tightly packed fight, activation order is crucial for getting fights in your favour. Positioning is arguably less important than tempo, as you can lock down and manipulate enemies jsut by charging them.
Armour penetration is really swingy: without a reliable way to punch through armour, most knights are total tanks.
Actually taking models out is pretty hard, and damage is mostly slow attrition. I like this, as it makes going for your objectives much more significant than simply tabling your opponent: the similar slow pace of fights similarly led to players actually roleplaying at each other, shouting threats and offers at each other as part of their actions.

Holly's Response: She's gone from sceptical to keen, and insisted on writing up her own little band (that I will have to produce figures for).

Game 2: Looting the Chapel
The participants: On one side, Sir Rutger (a Knight of the Order of the Red Maw, with vivimantic powers, and vampirism), Daisy (a ghoul child adopted by Sir Rutger as something approaching a daughter, who seems harmless, acts as a bloodbag/medic for Sir Rutger, and who has a rather nasty bite if you get her angry),  and his 'wife' Melissa (a swarm of worms puppeting a human skin, and thoroughly horrible in a fight). This lot were Holly's.
On the other side, under my command, Sir Godric (a Knight of the Order of Herne, with a longbow and a fast horse), Lady Jeanette (his liege, a noblewoman with the power of enchantment), Agnes (a peasant girl with a sling) and Pietre (a peasant lad with a bow).
The place: The Chapel of the Ermine Heart, a ruined shrine scattered with old treasures.
Motivations: Both sides are looking for an ancient codex filled with arcane secrets... and the rest of the treasure doesn't hurt either.

How it went down: Sir Rutger bolstered Melissa to frankly terrifying levels with his vivimancy, sending her sprinting towards Pietr and Jeanette: Pietr spent the next few turns shooting at her ineffectually. Meanwhile, Daisy crept forwards to claim an easy bit of treasure, as did Rutger.
Meanwhile, Sir Godric gallopped recklessly across the field scooping up treasure as he went, until there was only one bit of loot left unclaimed. This shiny chest of gold was sat between Rutger and Melissa, and on the other side of a tumbled-down wall. Godric, being a bit foolhardy, lept over the wall on his horse, and scooped up the treasure, only to realise that he was between a heavilly armed vampire and a magically empowered worm-monster, who promptly charged him from either side.
The fight was brief, and Godric's defensive efforts were to little avail. Although Rutger's blows bounced off Godric's armour, Melissa tore into one leg, and infested his armour with maggots that began devouring his flesh bit by bit. Grabbing what treasure he could hold onto, Godric nobly fled.
In response, Melissa charged back after Jeanette (who had spent the entire fight merely shouting helpful suggestions to her men), and was finally shot down by Pietre as she loomed mere feet from Pietre's liege-lady. Meanwhile, not even bothering to gallop after Godric, Rutger worked his magic and Godric's blood exploded, instantly taking him out of commision.
The game ended with Agnes, who'd spent the entire fight hiding in the ruins, grabbing Godric and his loot, and dragging him to safety as Rutger harried them.
It turns out none of the treasure Godric picked up was even the book we were looking for, so even though Jeanette came away richer, Rutger got the real prize.

Thoughs: Violence once again proved to be more important as a threat than actually to win: archers pointing down certain firing-lanes managed to lock down one flank, and Melissa's rampage didn't achieve much but kept me too busy fending her off to really concentrate on the treasure.
The densely-packed terrain of the ruined chapel made maneuvering very useful in this fight. Being able to get into position to claim treasure or threaten key areas with charges or missiles is very useful. I found that tempo abilities (such as those used by Lady Jeanette) were key to pulling this off.
Magic is balls-to-the-wall good, the only downside is that if the fight drags out, magic saps your will, meaning you'll run out of mojo, and be vulnerable to psychological stuff.

Holly's Response: Well, she's decided that the book contained information on how to make homonculi, so Sir Rutger is now accompanied by a little gremlin made of entrails. She's also pursuaded me to convert custom miniatures for Rutger's twisted little family, and seems keen to make this a campaign. So it's working pretty well.

Overall? It's working out pretty well. It's a relatively fast-paced skirmish game, which seems to be good at producing funny or tense situations, and doesn't put so much weight behind using violence to kill all your threats: every game has ended with only a couple of wounds, with most of the play being around claiming objectives and trying to outmaneuver the enemy. Which I like.
Holly seems into it, which is nice.

Friday 20 July 2018

Wendigo Sickness

Or: does eating human flesh turn you into a ghoul?

So, I saw a bit of discussion about whether eating people should do something nasty to you, and a lot of cultures have a myth about how eating human flesh turns you into a monster. Wendigos, ghuls and gaki spring to mind, but there are others. Cannibalism is a very common theme in mythology, after all.
Here's some mechanics for that. Each time a PC eats a person, they go one step down the Wendigo Sickness tracker. You get the effects of your current level of Wendigo Sickness, and everything from previous levels. Eating the same person more than once doesn't count multiple times. If you were tricked/would have starved if you didn't eat/were compelled, you get to make a Save vs Magic (if you want) and if you pass, you can chose not to go down the Wendigo sickness tracker.

The first meal: No mechanical effects, but the eater knows they will risk becoming a Wendigo if they eat again.
The second meal: No mechanical effects, but roll for Signs of the Wendigo.
The third meal: A mouthful of human flesh is enough to sustain you for a day.
The fourth: You get a bite attack that deals d4 damage, that you can make instead of attacking with a weapon.
The fifth: Each time you eat a person, you heal 1 hp. Only once per person.
The sixth: Roll another Sign of the Wendigo.
The seventh: You get no sustenance from food that isn't meat, & the damage of your bite increases to a d6.
The eighth: You may make your bite attack in addition to attacking with a weapon.
The ninth: Roll another Sign of the Wendigo.
The tenth: When given the opportunity to eat a person (such as somebody you could kill and eat without being found out) but don't want to do so, you must Save vs Magic; if you fail you must attempt to eat them and roll up a new Sign of the Wendigo. No need to save if you're going to eat them anyway.
The eleventh: You heal as much damage as your character level when you eat a person, instead of 1 hp.
The twelfth: Roll another Sign of the Wendigo
The thirteenth:  You get no benefit from food that isn't people meat, & the damage of your bite increases to a d8.
Each time thereafter: Every time you roll a Save vs Magic to avoid eating somebody and fail, roll your class's hit-dice; if it comes up as a 1, you transform fully into a Wendigo and become an NPC driven only by their hunger. Roll up a new character.

The Signs of the Wendigo:
Roll d30, take the next down if a duplicate is rolled. Physical mutations emerge over the course of a few days.
  1. Your feet lengthen, toes warping into hooves.
  2. Your jaw lengthens into a muzzle.
  3. You begin sprouting little antlers from your brow. 
  4. Fur grows over your shoulders, upper arms and back.
  5. The skin peels from your fingers, leaving claws of sharp bone.
  6. Skin peels from your limbs, revealing muscle and sinew beneath.
  7. Your eyes become yellow and reflect light like a wolf or cat.
  8. Your teeth lengthen into fangs.
  9. Your neck elongates and hunches forwards.
  10. You grow emaciated and deathly pale.
  11. You become cold to the touch.
  12. All your teeth save your canines and incisors drop out.
  13. You smell of rotting meat.
  14. Your voice becomes raspy and hoarse.
  15. Your eyelids and lips recede, exposing your teeth and preventing you from blinking.
  16. You become immune to the cold.
  17. Your feet don't touch the ground when you walk.
  18. All natural animals instinctively fear you, failing all morale checks against you.
  19. Damage from your bite increases to a d8.
  20. You are never slowed or hindered by natural terrain such as steep slopes, thick woodland, marshes etc.
  21. So long as you stand perfectly still, there is a 5-in-6 chance that mundane humans will be unable to perceive you. Animals, wizards, the insane and so on still notice you.
  22. You no longer need to sleep.
  23. You become immune to ingested poisons.
  24. Those damaged by your bite must Save vs Paralysis or be frozen in horror for 2d6 rounds.
  25. Those who survive your bite are immediately pushed d6 steps down the Wendigo tracker.
  26. You can see in moonlight or starlight as well as if it was broad daylight.
  27. You can walk up walls and over ceilings like a spider.
  28. You can smell people out to a range of thirty feet, and track people by scent like a wolf.
  29. You never leave tracks, scent or other traces of your passing.
  30. Your movement speed doubles.

Thursday 19 July 2018

Henry Justice Ford project - Giant Dispair

Armour class: As Chain.
Hit dice: 13
Move: Double human.
Attacks: Club (3d8) and Snare (d4 and save vs Hopelessness)
No. Appearing: 1 (unique).
Morale: 10
Treasure: 3d8*10 gold, also Hope.
Alignment: Neutral

When an encounter with the Giant Despair is first indicated, he does not show up immediately. Instead, each time a player expresses pessimism about their situation*, there is a chance he will arrive.  The first time the players are pessimistic, there is a 1-in-10 chance he will arrive, then 2-in-10, etc.
The giant will loom up from behind the nearest cover. It has been waiting. When unobserved, it can move from one concealed position to another in the blink of an eye.
The giant seeks to take prisoners that he will enslave, and attacks those who’s will is already failing them.
The giant projects an air of hopelessness. Each round during the fight, each PC must make a Save vs Paralysis. If failed, they take -1 to every dice roll, until the giant is defeated (if they flee, the penalty lasts indefinitely). If they expressed pessimism during the previous round, they automatically fail the save.
A victim hit by the giant’s Snare must make another Save to resist hopelessness.
As soon as a party member places their faith in an outside power to rescue them, they regain hope. From this point on, they are immune to the giant’s hopelessness, hit it automatically, and do maximum damage to it.
A party that defeats Giant Despair wins Hope: each PC can, at some point in the future, take the best result of a single dice roll rather than actually rolling.

*This could be a simple statement like ‘we should flee’ or something more philosophical like ‘this was doomed from the start’.

(For publishing purposes, I'm sticking this under this:
creative commons licence, so you can do what you want with it.)

Thursday 5 July 2018

Henry Justice Ford Project - The Trees That Bleed

Armour class: As Leather.
Hit dice: 2
Move: Rooted to the spot.
Attacks: Branches (d6) and roots (d4)
No. Appearing: 3d8

Morale: 12

Treasure: 50 GP per tree.

Alignment: Neutral

Trees That Bleed are a perversion of the natural order in which plants are inanimate and don't resist the depredations of the animal kingdom. These trees seem, at first glance, to be much like any other. Their only distinguishing feature visually is that, instead of sap, thick red blood flows through their woody veins.A careful observer can spot scabs of congealed blood on the tree's bark.

They are found growing in dense copses, each tree within reach of several of its peers. For the most part, the trees are dormant. They remain inanimate, content to simply grow and photosynthesize. Only when one of their number is threatened - perhaps by woodcutters or dangerous beasts - do they stir into motion. At this point, the whole grove goes berserk, lashing at intruders with branches and roots.

An encounter with Trees That Bleed is all about positioning. By the time the trees animate, the PCs are probably in their midst. Draw a map of the grove, put the PCs somewhere in the middle. Each tree ought to be within 10 feet of one or more of its peers. Each tree has 15 feet reach with its branches and 5 feet with its roots. With the large numbers of trees present, the skill in the fight is to find points where fewer trees can reach you: the gaps and clearings. 

As plants, Trees That Bleed are affected by spells like 'command plants' and 'talk to plants' but not by spells like 'hold monster'. Their tough, woody nature means that they take a maximum of 1 damage from everything except Axes & Fire. 

(For publishing purposes, I'm sticking this under this:
creative commons licence, so you can do what you want with it.)

Turn Sequence in The Dolorous Stroke

I've been thinking about how the turn procedure and activations work in my wargame. I initially had a setup very much like GW's LotR game: roll for inits, player 1 moves, player 2 moves, player 1 does actions, player 2 does actions, resolve fights.
It was... okay, I guess.

But I've moved away from that. I dare say what I came up with isn't massively revolutionary, but it's working nicely for what I have in mind.

The turn starts with a roll for inits. After that, players alternate acting with their models until everybody has done something, and then a new turn begins.
When you activate a model it gets to do one thing. It can move, or shoot, or fight, or cast spells, or whatever. But each turn it gets one action. So, if you use your action to charge into combat, you don't resolve the fight on the same action.
Any model in base-to-base contact with the enemy is locked in combat. When it activates, it must use its action to resolve the fight: both sides roll off, the winning side strikes blows against the losing side, and the fighters are seperated (meaning they're then no longer locked in combat). 

What this means is that charging is good because you get to control the tempo of the game with it: you force your opponent's model to use their action to resolve the fight (which could go either way). Effectively, you lock them out of doing anything but fight for the turn, whilst the charging model still gets their charge move. 
Since you don't have to activate a model locked in combat immediately, you can charge more of your own models in to try to get a numerical advantage. Or you can activate early and resolve the fight 1-on-1 to prevent your opponent from ganging up on you. 
It makes the order you activate stuff in become critically important. Activating the right stuff in the right sequence becomes how you control the action-economy, and controlling tempo and so on is a thing I want to be a focus of the game.

To reinforce this, I'm putting a few options in that are explicitly tempo-based mechanics. 
Every model has a 'delay' action available to them. You do nothing for your action, but if you pass a Wits roll, you get to make a second activation. You can only delay once per turn, or it gets silly. Effectively it gives you a chance to wait and see what your opponent is doing before actually acting, letting you slow down in the normal pattern of alternating.
There's a fighting style (Hold the Line!) that characters can learn that lets them Delay even if locked in combat. Basically, it lets a character locked in combat delay to keep their enemies pinned in place without resolving the fight and thus seperating the combatants.
Duels and Jousts also mess with the normal action economy: in a duel, you don't separate the fighters after resolving the fight. They stay locked in combat until one side wins. Both sides need to agree to the duel, but when they do you're efectively putting two models out of the running for several turns as they only focus on each other. Jousts are kinda the opposite of this: after resolving a joust both sides get a free move as they hurtle past each other. So, jousting becomes a way to get disproportionate mobility whilst also getting hits in against your enemy.
I've put in a few skills that directly fuck with the alternating action sequence. Leader lets you chain activate: after you activate the leader, you can immediately activate somebody under their command before your opponent gets to respond. Follower is the inverse of this: after activating a model, you can immediately activate a follower. Both of these let you get a burst of two actions (or three if you go leader-normal-follower in sequence) without your opponent getting to react. You don't get to do more stuff but, again, I've found it gives players ways to control the tempo.

One thing that was mentioned in response to my post about fiddling with gender-roles is that it makes sense for noblewomen in the game to have more of a behind-the-lines leadership role. Giving them a lot of the tempo-control tools seems like a good way to realise this. Similarly, giving peasant characters abilities that make their interaction with tempo reactive means that they'll always be following the lead set by the knights, which feels right.

Wednesday 4 July 2018

Gender in the Dolorous Stroke

I've been thinking about the role of women in the world I'm slowly building up for my Arthurian-inspired skirmish game. As False Patrick talks about in this post, gender roles are rather strong in the chivalric romances I'm taking inspiration from. Courtly love, questing to win the favor of a particular lady, damsels needing rescuing and so on are central to most of these stories. On the other hand, I'm a bit of a lefty, and I like playing chicks in the games I'm in, and this is a skirmish wargame about knights fighting each other. The normal roles of women in these tales would keep them from the battlefield. So, if I'm to find a place for women in the setting beyond 'the object of the main characters' quest', what should it be?
Right away, I rejected the idea that we just make the setting gender-blind. I've seen this done well; for example, the larp Empire has the nation of dawn, which are strongly Arthurian inspired and feature a lot of themes of courtly love and so forth, in a setting which doesn't distinguish along gender lines. However, I wanted to stick to the narratives seen in the stories I was emulating more closely.
In the end, I decided to flip the assumed power structure in the setting, making things essentially matriarchal. Essentially, the business of leadership is seen as a woman's task; the setting is ruled by queens and princesses rather than kings and princes. Men (at least as far as the nobility are concerned), are essentially subservient to female rulers. Their place is to serve a queen or other (female) liege. 
Of course, with women in all the positions of political power, the status of noblemen depends entirely on their queen's favor. This, naturally, leads to men jostling to attract the affection of their rulers. Which, in turn, leads to the quests for a lady's favor that make up so much of the canon of chivalric romances.

This, of course, contrasts with the ideas of knightly orders as a more exclusively male arena. Like with many esoteric societies (medieval mason's guilds, the cult of mithras, etc) there's probably quite a strong gay undercurrent here. Probably nothing worth going into in much depth, but in the same way that IRL the Navy has a reputation for being the gayest of the armed services...
Interestingly, in the historical medieval period, there was actually a similar phenomenon with monasteries and nunneries. People for whom normal marriage wasn't at all appealing often got out of it by joining a cloistered community, so the number of gay individuals in cloisters seems likely to be quite high. Indeed, the catholic church even had particular recognitions for pairs of male monks with 'a particularly strong brotherly love for one another'. Whilst not recognised as gay in the sense a modern audience might, the parallels are clearly there. But I digress.

I'm also writing the setting so that breaking expected gender roles is more possible than it was historically. A nobleman who's driven to rule as a seneschal can do that, it will just be seen as effeminate and out of place. Providing he's good at the job, though, nobody's going to stop him. Likewise, women who want to take up armour and become knights can do that, they just open themselves up to all sorts of scandalous gossip. At least a few of the example PCs I'm writing up subvert the expectations of their sex in this way.

So yeah. That's where my thoughts are on the matter. 
Incidentally, anybody who starts shitting up the comments by shouting about the culture wars/SJWs/pol/whatever is getting blocked and deleted. This is far more about creating the atmosphere I want for the game than any sort of political agenda.