A monster on the verge of eating an adventurer.

Clayton takes a look at what elements make for a compelling cover, highlighting some of my own favourite books in the process. This post was likely sparked by Wizards of the Coast teasing the cover of the Player’s Handbook for the next update to D&D. The cover is pretty boring and uninspired, but I think at this point Dungeons & Dragons doesn’t need a fancy cover to sell itself. It is Transformers to everyone else’s Gobots. The new D&D cover tells its fans, “don’t worry, this is more of the same.”

I enjoyed this post from Ty over on Mindstorm, where he takes Jason Cordova’s Paint the Scene idea and tries to jam it into OSR gaming. Collaborative Worldbuilding: Glimpses is all about sharing elements of world building with your players. Mindstorm puts out consistently good blog posts: well worth adding to your RSS feed.

Alone in the Labyrinth talk about their solo campaging of Gangs of Titan City. I’ve had the game city on my bookshelf for some time now. I still hope to get it to the table one day. It sounds like my local gaming club is getting into Necromunda, and that might be a good spingboard for some Necromunda themed RPGing. I wrote a little bit about the game when I picked it up from my brother in the UK.

I’ve started running another Mothership campaign to hopefully play through all of Another Bug Hunt. I’ve made a new mini-site over here to catalog what’s happened so far, and share play reports and my thoguhts on running the module.

Review: Another Bug Hunt

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on April 29, 2024

Tagged: mothership osr

Another Bug Hunt Cover

My copy of the Mothership Starter set arrived on the weekend. I love it. The box is dense, packed with all sorts of good stuff. What I was excited about was the new adventure, Another Bug Hunt. This will be the first adventure people new to Mothership will encounter. It’s quite possible this will be the first adventure someone new to gaming may run, period. The Mothership Kickstarter was wildly successful: I have to believe there are a non-trivial number of people for whom Mothership will be their first RPG. I assume the brainiacs at Mothership HQ realized how important this module would be, because there is a lot of talent tied up in its creation. It’s amazing to read such a fully realized introductory adventure.

Another Bug Hunt is split into four scenarios, the first a classic of the genre: players find themselves exploring an “abandoned” base, trying to piece together what happened to its MIA staff. The base is a small complex, a 10 room “dungeon”. There are two entrances to the base, the one around back leading straight to the big-bad monster. I love that you could start the adventure stumbling upon the encounter that feels like the end. This is the OSR nonsense I am here for.

Advice for running this adventure, and running games in general, is scattered throughout Another Bug Hunt. The adventure pairs well with the (wonderful) Warden’s Guide. A short prologue to the scenarios has the players make a fear save. The adventure explains the purpose of the save, when to make them, and how you might give players bonuses on the roll based on what they say their character is doing to cope with what is going on. This is an important part of Mothership, so it makes sense to have it be the players first interaction with the game. The fist scenario contains the most advice, and feels the most introductory. A lot of effort has gone it trying to highlight the invisibile assumptions of OSR play. (Of course, being seeped in this stuff, perhaps i’m not the best person to comment on whether they’ve succeeded or not.)

The next scenario in Another Bug Hunt involves working with three factions, each with their own plan for how to best deal with what is happening on the planet. One group wants to get the fuck out here—why wouldn’t you? The next wants to retrieve all the research they have done on the weird alien monsters they’ve encountered. The last wants to save their friends and make sure they have power to weather an incoming dangerous storm. There are three missions to tackle, but a twist after the first one will make the subsequent missions far trickier to deal with. Each also provides important information or benefits, so it will all play out differently depending on the choices players make. It’s a nice dynamic set up.

The third scenario in Another Bug Hunt is when the characters in the movie say the name of the movie. The players explore an alien mothership, in search of more of the missing crew and a better understanding of what’s happening on this world. This is a very deadly dungeon. Or could be, if players are incautious or overly bold. The third scenario reminded me of Gradient Descent, with complex rooms that are more alien. It provides a nice contrast to the first dungeon.

The adventure ends with players trying to get off the planet. Players earlier choices will factor into how easy or hard escape will be. This is another scenario that feels it’s a classic of this genre: escaping hordes of aliens. This scenario is very open ended. There is a timeline, some rough rules for how things will play out, but what the players do could be all over the place.

Another Bug Hunt looks to be another fantastic adventure from the Mothership crew. I am hoping I will be able to run it soon. I am very curious to see how it plays. Each adventure has advice for running it as a one shot, though they seem best suited to be run as a single campaign. Running through this zine will probably take several sessions. That feels like a good way to kick off your new career as a Mothership Warden.

Players try and escape the planet as aliens rush their ship!

Comments

Some friends were discussing how one might approach making RPGs play a bit more like skirmish war games. From my perspective, playing with minis and measuring distances are the only ingredients you need in order to change how a game feels. A good wargame will make the choices you make around positioning matter.

It’s often the case when playing D&D using “theatre of the mind” that characters simply move from monster to monster, fire their ranged weapons from anywhere to anywhere, etc. It’s hard to keep track of where everyone is, what the complex state of the game world looks like. To mitigate this I will sometimes sketch on paper (or on the screen) when playing to help players better understand their circumstances, what they can and can’t do. I am just as likely to simply eat the messy abstraction: it makes combat play much faster. When I was playing 4th Edition D&D a single combat might be the bulk of a gaming session!

Approaching running a skirmish style RPG by looking directly at indie narrative skirmish wargames might be interesting and fruitful as well. Games to checkout include: Forbiden Psalms (based on Mork Borg) and it’s many variations, Brawl Arcane 28, A Song of Blades and Heroes, and Sword Weirdoes. These games feel like they could form the basis for playing an RPG in and of themselves.

Horus Heresy: Age of Darkness

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on April 23, 2024

Tagged: warhammer 40K horusheresy toronto hogtown40k

My Luna Wolves Dreadnaught

I recently attended a Horus Heresy tournament organized by local gaming group Hogtown 40K. This was a full day of gaming, the most warhammer I have played in quite some time. (My last epic adventure in Warhammer was playing a never ending game of 40K in Lexington, with my friend’s husband before their wedding.) I have been painting my Horus Heresy: Age of Darkness boxed set in slow motion since it was released, so playing in this tournament felt like a nice conclusion to that hobby project.

For those unfamiliar, the Horus Heresy is the galactic civil war that sets up many of the important elements of the 40K setting as we know it: a probably dead emperor of mankind on a golden throne, chaos space marines, demons, etc. The Horus Heresy takes place 10,000 years before the time period of 40K. The game Horus Heresy: Age of Darkness is essentially Games Workshops’ take on Napoleonics. There is an emphasis on treating the game like any other historical, except the history of this game is 100% made up. People will paint armies appropriate for particular time periods of the war. They will make sure their colour schemes are consistent and correct.1 Compared to larger Warhammer 40,000 scene, there is a greater emphasis on the narrative side of the game.

Horus Heresy: Age of Darkness feels like a modern take on retro rulesets. If you played Warhammer 40K prior to its 8th edition, Horus Heresy will feel familiar. You’ll see universal special rules, vehicle facing, blast templates, etc. There are lots of niche rules, which makes for a very flavourful game, but also one that is a bit tricky to keep entirely in your head. You will need at least two (giant) rulebooks to play, with rules for your units spread between both. The game would have felt impossible to play if I didn’t create my army list on New Recruit, which collects all the rules for your units together in one place.

Most of Games Workshop’s games share a lot of DNA, and this game is no exception. You use d6s throughout. You roll to hit, then to wound, then make armour saves. Like all GW games, you often roll a fuck-ton of dice to accomplish very little. There are lots of small differences between Horus Heresy and modern 40K. Armour Piercing isn’t a modifier, you either ignore armour saves or you don’t. When a unit loses a combat, there is a chance they will rout and just be cut down by the opposing side. Similarly a unit that is routing can be killed outright by any unit that manages to charge into it. These changes will lead to faster game play: you just lift models. Some changes slow the game down, but make for fun situations. Melee combat happens in initiative order, like Mordheim: you might be able to kill a few dudes carrying massive thunder hammers before they 100% blow you up. Like most Games Workshop games, Horus Heresy’s turn structure is “I go, you go”. They have introduced a pool of reactions you can make during each phase of the opposing players turn, making the games feel a bit more dynamic, and ensuring both players are engaged throughout each turn. You might shoot back when shot, fire overwatch when being charged, etc. The number of reactions you can make is small and intuitive. It’s a nice addition to the game.

The format for the tournament was cute: each player made a list of 1250 points, a little under half of what is recommended for a full game of Horus Heresy (3000 points); players were paired up and played as a team against their opponents. I was encouraged to sign up for the tournament, even though I had never played a game of Horus Heresy before, because the format of the tournament lends itself to teaching and learning the game. My first partner was someone with a lot of experience playing the game.2 That ended up being the case in subsequent games as well.3 Games that would have been a slog to get through if I was playing alone flew by with ease.

I honestly had no good reason to pick up the Age of Darkness boxed set, but i’m glad I did. Getting into Heresy has been a fun hobby project these last months and years. Getting ready for this tournament, painting my last few minies, was particularly fun. I always find it motivating painting for an event or game, trying to get a unit done under the wire. Up next is getting my Sons of Horus army up to 3000 points.

Reavers

  1. One thing Games Workshop does well is make sure the lore of their setting allows for maximal creativity when it comes to the hobby of building and painting miniatures. In Horus Heresy, if your Ultramarines are a platoon that turned to Chaos and have black helmets because you like black, that would work. There is space in the setting for this sort of deviation. The scene around the Horus Heresy seems to value people taking the time to think through what they are making, and putting care into their hobby activities. 

  2. Harrison: what a god damn hero! 

  3. Shout out to Graeme and Matt as well! 

Comments

Smaller Games of 40K

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on March 20, 2024

Tagged: 40k combatpatrol warhammer youtube 28mm

Necons

I’m enjoying the latest iteration of Warhammer 40,000. With the release of its 10th Edition, the designers created a smaller scale game mode they dubbed Combat Patrol. The armies you play are all built from the models in the start collecting boxes they sell. There is no list building. The units (sometimes) have simpler rules than the corresponding unit in the full game. Most armies only have 5 or so units in their list. This all comes together to produce a game that is simple to play. I’ve played many games of Combat Patrol at this point. If you are trying to learn the game, I can’t recommend this format enough: it’s really well done.

What if you want some variety? Warhammer 40K is a game that’s designed with bigger games in mind, so simply making smaller lists can lead to weird situations. Play on Tabletop, a Canadian Warhammer YouTube Channel, has been running a tournament where they pit 500 point lists against one another. To try and avoid some unfortunate pairings have added a small set of additional restrictions when building lists for these 500 point games:

  1. You must have at least one character.
  2. You cannot include any epic heroes.
  3. The maximum toughness of any unit is 9.
  4. You must have two units with the infantry keyword, excluding characters.

They are playing a tournament, and the additional caveat for their games is the winner keeps playing their list till they are beaten. This feels like another, more organic, approach to balance. Challengers will know what they are facing, and try and build a list with that in mind. They also need to keep in mind their list will be frozen in amber if they win.

I’m a big fan of smaller scale games of 40K. I’m curious what other attempts at playing 40K in sub-1000 point lists might look like.

Update 2024-05-10: Play on Tabletop are running a few King of the Colosseum tournaments, and have shared their rules online.

Necons

Comments

Mordheim 2024

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on March 02, 2024

Tagged: warhammer wargame minis mordheim 28mm

vampire

Since I last wrote about Mordheim I have played through two 10-game campaigns. The first was with the Undead warband feature in my last post about the game, Volchyakrov’s Wolves. The second campaign was set in Games Workshop’s Lustria setting, their take on Amazon adventures. I played a Pirate warband, the Motley Crew. After playing several games of Mordheim I can now its appeal. Mordheim does narrative war gaming incredible well. It is the model and inspiration for so many games that follow.

Mordheim is meant to be played as a campaign, and those campaigns begin with the creation of a warband. You start with a leader and recruit a few heroes and henchmen to join them. In most cases, your starting crew will feel underpowered. The dregs in my undead warband were incredibly crap out of the gate, as were the cabin boys of my pirates. The expectation of the game is your crew’s power will grow over the course of a campaign. (Though injury and death is a very real threat.) You’ll want as many heroes as you can take, as they can explore Mordheim after each game in search of treasure. You should round out your warband with henchmen only after recruiting a full compliment of heroes. I would prioritize bodies over equipment for your first games. Mordheim is a game that rewards ganging up on your foes.

The rules of the game are old-school: roll to hit, roll to wound, roll to save, roll to determine injury, etc, etc. Like a lot of Games Workshop games, there is often a lot of rolling to accomplish nothing. The saving grace of Mordheim is you are generally rolling 1-2 dice, rather than 10-20. Once you’re familiar with your warband the game will play fairly quickly. The core rules of the game aren’t that long: and there are some good cheat sheets out there. The rules aren’t always as clearly written as one would hope, but in the year 2024 we have 25 years of discussion to help us fill in any gaps.

undead warband

Games are split into a recovery phase, movement phase, a shooting phase, and a hand-to-hand combat phase. You need to set up all your charges and reposition all your models before getting into the nitty gritty of combat. Shooting can be effective, but this feels like a game where your crews are meant to get stuck into one another. Most models have one wound. When they lose that wound, you’ll roll to see if you’ve knocked them down, stunned them, or taken them out of action. You don’t need to roll to hit a knocked down model, and if you attack a stunned model it’s automatically taken out of action. Ganging up is the name of the game. My (pretty useless) zombies ended up being surprisingly effective in that first campaign. My pirate crew consisted of a lot of mediocre men, but would often get the kill through teamwork. Most games will end with a warband routing. When you lose 25% of your team you’ll need to make rout tests, rolling under your leader’s leadership skill. You can also choose to voluntarily concede at this point. You want to avoid making injury rolls, so taking the loss may still put you ahead in the grand scheme of a campaign.

After a game you run through a post-game sequence, the beating heart of Mordheim. To start, you will check if downed models are dead, injured, or totally fine. There is a lot of flavour in the injury tables for heroes. Your out of action model might end up in a pit fight, sold to slavers, or other such nonsense. My vampire lost an inch of movement and can’t run because of leg injuries. Your models will gain experience, and in turn gain levels. The initially useless cabin boys in my pirate warband were quite effective by the end of the game. Your heroes can explore Mordheim, rolling on big tables to figure out if they discover anything exciting beyond the Wyrdstone that’s central to the game. Finally you will use the income you’ve earned to buy new equipment for your crew, recruit more models, and get ready for your next game.

The mechanics and gameplay are a small part of what makes the game really compelling. John Blanche did all the art. The various warbands are all very flavourful. This is a seriously vibes-forward game. The game lends itself to maximum creativity. There are lots of beautiful warbands and fan art out there if you go looking.

I am just about to start another campaign at the Sword and Board. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this one plays, now that I’m a lot more comfortable with the game. Mordheim is an incredible game. The 25th Anniversary of the games release is happening this year. There is no better time to give the game a try if you haven’t played before, or jump back in for old times

pirate warband

Comments

I am a man with too many hobbies and interests, but James’s lovely ode to OD&D has me thinking about the game once again. Some of the longest campaigns I’ve ran and played in have been OD&D games: impressive for a game that came out 6 years before I was born. The 50th anniversary of D&D is this year. I suspect we’ll see a lot of writing about the game over the coming months. For example, here is a great post from Gus that looks at the history and design of the earliest D&D dungeons: The Underground Maze or Primordial Stack. Something worth revisiting this year is Philotomy’s Musings by the enigmatic Jason Cone. A lot of the modern thinking about OD&D feels like it comes directly from his writing about the game. I plan to re-read the OD&D booklets: it’s been a while.