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.


  1. Sounds pretty cool, emmy. I hope you get it into PoD mode, because that sounds lit as fuck

  2. This sounds like it's shaping up to be a pretty great system. I really like the greater emphasis on Objectives than killing people, and the character options your world-building allows for are just amazing. Worm people and ghoul children sound really cool.

    Also an excellent sign that someone with no previous experience is finding herself drawn in. That's definitely a sign of a good system.

  3. A skirmish game that works well with three miniatures a side sounds great. Knights should be tanks, I think, so that aspect sounds like it's working fine. The big sin of most RPG/skirmish rules is to underestimate the importance of the shield. So, by the same token, when you get the sort of plate armour that makes a shield redundant, the wearer should be very hard to hurt indeed.

    Your magic sounds very characterful too: great stuff!

  4. If there's one thing I hate in wargame design, it's winning wargames by going for casualties with the objectives being largely meaningless. So ratcheting down the ability to take out enemies was important here: you can threaten them and debuff them, but actually destroying them is hard.

    Shields I'm giving a slight boost to defence, but more importantly let you fight all-out defensively (rolling twice as many dice to win the fight, but not able to strike blows if you do) as if you were defending an obstacle: each one is, basically, a little mobile barricade that you carry with you.

    Because each PC has so many moving parts to track (as well as their profile and gear, you also use cards to track each PC's injuries, blood loss, willpower and spiritual strength) the game ends up with far too much information to track once you get past five models. Even two dudes, particularly if they have magic or a selection of weapons and fighting styles, will give you a lot decisions to make from turn to turn.

    1. If this turns into something workable you can publish, I’d certainly be interested. If its not too complicated. But having objectives and a bit of skill and style rather than just a hackfest is an attractive prospect. But to be honest I’m just enjoying the world building so far, and I reckon with only a little effort I can turn your posts into an entertainingly and thoroughly alarming and deadly arthurian forest setting for my players. Those two fights would be marvellous scenes for a PC group to encounter. So I’m ahead even if you don’t make a publishable game out of it.

    2. A published game is definately coming.

  5. I am absolutely loving this series. Please keep it up! Would love to playtest this for you as well.

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